Organic

Eradicating Fungus Gnats

| January 28, 2018
Photo Credit: Keith Knoxsville
A Hen and a Drake Green Teal on the truck bed. Not a limit on anything, but a fun morning out.

If you just want to know what I used to kill fungus gnats successfully, and don’t need my whole long winded spiel on use case and situation, here you go! Captain Jacks Dead Bug Brew, by Bonide and Fungicide 3 by Garden Safe.

I had a recent outbreak of fungus gnats, beyond anything I’d ever seen before. My best guess is that a big box store ‘living Christmas tree’ brought them home in the soil. My dormant figs that were sitting in the corner of the living room became inundated with them.

Look at this evil bastard, as he awaits his fate.

fungus gnat living

Although I’ve never seen fungus gnats do anything extremely detrimental to a plant, perhaps I’ve just never let it get that far, they are a disgusting and incredibly annoying inside a household.

I’ve read and tried all the hippy dippy home remedy approaches to the problem. Use of a potato, a sand topsoil topping, apple-cider vinegar traps, etc. None of them work like a specific and liberal attack with organic plant safe bug spray, fungicide, and sticky traps.

What I used to get rid of them was a direct application of organic Spinosad spray, Captain Jacks Dead Bug Brew, by Bonide, to the surfaces of the pots. I made sure to scrape away the top surface of the soil and give a thorough spray to the soil as well. I paid particular attention to drainage holes.

This causes fungus gnats to die and flee. When they flee they are attracted to sticky traps, which are only good for catching adults, but aids in controlling the problem.

These two measures work directly on the adult and larval fungus gnats, but does not control the source of the problem, fungus growing in the soil. Fungus growing in the soil is what feeds the fungus gnat larvae. Maybe a bloom on one plant caused spores to spread like wildfire. Over-watering or warm temperatures could also have exacerbated the problem, which is something to be mindful of in the future. Regardless of why or how it happened, it needed to be controlled with a fungicide.

Organic Bug Sprays

I used an organic Neem oil based 3 in 1 fungicide, insecticide, miticide spray, Fungicide 3 by Garden Safe. Its also highly effective on contact, and controls other issues, like Powdery Mildew, Black Spot, Rust, Spider Mites, Aphids, Whiteflies.

There is no question the combination of Spinosad, Neem Oil, and sticky traps gets the job done. Its also a completely organic solution, and in experience, these treatments don’t have negative or adverse effects on plant health.

Fungus Gnat Killing Fields

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Chicks Are Grown Up and Laying Eggs

| October 28, 2016
Photo Credit: Keith Knoxsville
A Hen and a Drake Green Teal on the truck bed. Not a limit on anything, but a fun morning out.

We lost a chicken this spring, and replaced it with two chicks mid summer so that we can maintain a regular production of eggs. Well the chicks started laying, and at almost exactly 16 weeks. Check out Rosa’s first egg! She’s stoked too. She kept checking it out.

rosas first egg

We recently renovated the coop, and there is room for a couple more if we really wanted, although 5 chickens is a good number for us. Fortunately the younger girls were eager to integrate with the older hens, and started free ranging on 5 acres with them.

After they feathered out, the young girls were able to get big and strong free ranging with the hens, and hardly required feed this summer. A single 40lbs bag of feed lasted 3 full summer months for two growing pullets and 3 full grown hens. Feed is always offered, but they were filling their crops on seeds, bugs, grasses, and scratch, and had little to no interest in their layer feed.

If you consider hens will consume 1/4 lbs to 1/3 lbs per bird per day. At 40lbs, one $16 bag of feed should last a single hen between 100 and 120 days. 5 hens should cost as much as $80, or as little as $60 for cheaper quality feed.

I’m sure we’ll square up on feed costs when winter rolls in, and the girls free range a whole lot less. OR we can consider the coop costs partially recovered, but getting 2-3 eggs per day from 3 hens, and getting two young ones up to speed for dirt cheap is pretty awesome.

Considering a dozen organic free range eggs cost over 5 dollars. The economics of chicken keeping works for me.

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Winter Gardens

| December 15, 2012
Photo Credit: Keith Knoxsville
A Hen and a Drake Green Teal on the truck bed. Not a limit on anything, but a fun morning out.

Hydroponics with a winter crop of KaleYou don’t have to wait until spring to have a healthy and productive garden. The weather in your area might actually be perfect for leafy greens, root crops, and herbs.

Kale, Cabbage, Collard Greens, Carrots, Beets, Radish, Turnips, Kohlibri, Swiss Chard, Parsely, Spinach, and various herbs all have a place in a winter garden.

If you live in a warmer climate it is possible to grow potatoes in raised planter beds. The raised beds, tote boxes, or even tires, as well as planting mediums like straw provide some insulation, and allow potatoes to thrive through cold spells.

Our winter gardens are often a combination of leafy greens, root crops, potato boxes, and whatever we can continue to produce beyond fall. We are fortunate enough, within our microclimate in Southern California, to produce both tomatoes and corn into December.

Potato Boxes can Survive WinterIn some zones it may be unrealistic to produce anything outdoors very well. Of course there are hydroponics and indoor growing alternatives, and mini-greenhouses, but it could just be a great opportunity to fix nitrogen with a cover crop or let fall leaves compost and enrich your soil.

If you waited until December to take action on a cover crop, you may be too late. You could try and get a late start on Field Peas, Winter Wheat, Ryegrass, Oats, or Clover, but you may not get them going as you might have in September, October, or even November.

If you get your winter cover crop growing, be sure to mow down or top plants before they go to seed, or you will end up competing with your cover crops as they germinate in spring. We till our soil, and try and let the soil sit for at least a week before planting or sowing seed.

While there are some proponents of no-till techniques that you can experiment with, we have always had great success tilling cover crops and fall compost into our soil, so we are sticking to it.

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Heirloom & Open Pollinated

| September 8, 2012
Photo Credit: Keith Knoxsville
A Hen and a Drake Green Teal on the truck bed. Not a limit on anything, but a fun morning out.

An heirloom plant is a cultivar that existed before plant breeders introduced hybrid cultivars. However, authorities don’t agree on an exact cutoff date.

Although open-pollinated cultivars have been introduced after 1951, a widely accepted date, others believe the cultivar needs to have a documented history of 50 or even 100 years. Some believe the date to be 1945.

Regardless of which camp you are in, the basic principals generally apply. The plant must be open pollinated, and cannot be a hybrid produced by a breeder through controlled pollination or genetic modification.

There are some caveats and exceptions. A good example is Bloody Butcher Corn, which has a rich documented history dating back to about 1845, but originated in the 1800′s by mixing Native American corn with settlers’ corn. Which makes it a hybrid, but it predates most authorities’ standards.

Other cultivars, like Oaxacan Green Corn or Hopi Blue corn more closely adhere to the rules, and are ancient varieties that have existed for centuries.

So what is the open pollinated component to the heirloom rules? Open pollination is pollination through natural mechanisms. Those mechanisms include, insects such as bees, birds, wind, or self pollinating(cleistogamy) plants.
There are also exceptions and caveats to open pollination. Many heirloom cultivars have been propagated and maintained through cuttings and transplants, which requires no pollination. With the exception of self pollinating plants, open pollination does not regulate the parent source of pollination.

Open pollination results in plants with a wider variation in genetic traits, and increases biodiversity. In that way, the principles of open pollination clash with the definitions and principles of heirloom cultivars. A 1st generation of an open pollinated cultivar can produce undesirable ‘rogue’ plants, that exhibit genetic traits that are significantly different from their parent plant.

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DIY Organic Liquid Fertilizer

| May 22, 2012
Photo Credit: Keith Knoxsville
A Hen and a Drake Green Teal on the truck bed. Not a limit on anything, but a fun morning out.

Given the prices of already diluted or inorganic fertilizers, we thought it would be of value to our readership to get a quick guide on how to make your own organic liquid fertilizer. This is not a simple how to on the traditional ‘tea’, like compost, manure, earthworm casting, cinnamon, or chamomile tea, but an actual liquid kelp based fertilizer for use in the garden or in hydroponic system.

In addition to kelp that was freshly collected on the beach, other organic ingredients are added to the brew. They include calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, molasses, sugar, and yucca extract.

  • Wash fresh kelp to remove excess salt and non plant material.
  • Blend on a high liquefy setting with equal parts dechlorinated or spring water, until contents are a liquified.
  • Strain emulsion over a small bucket.
  • Dissolve a couple table spoons of cane sugar, into one half cup of dechlorinated water
  • Add sugar water to bucket.
  • Add molasses and any other extracts, vitamins or minerals to the liquid.
  • Agitate the brew with an air pump, just like you’d aerate water in a fish tank. Do this in warm conditions, and agitate for a few hours at a minimum. Warmer liquid temperatures will help increase good bacteria growth, but too hot a temperature will kill them.
  • When the brew looks good and dark, pour the concentrate through a fine screen or or mesh to remove solids.
  • If you seal the cap on your storage container, you may need to ‘burp’ your container regularly to release gases created by the beneficial bacteria in your living fertilizer/brew.

Usage
Usage depends on concentration and plant feeding requirements. Concentrations can range from a ½ ounce per gallon to 1 part fertilizer per 3 parts water.

The frequency of use depends on system and fertilization needs. Use weekly in deep water culture systems and in out door gardens that require fertilization. The dilutions will depend greatly on how concentrated the original concentration is and the sensitivity of the target plant. Like most garden experiments either start small, and increase your usage, or use liberally on a donor plant you are willing to lose to observe a ‘lethal’ limit.

To create a more complete nutrient solution, mix with soluble urea, and humic acid at the time of use. As always, dilute before use.

Observations
Plants treated with the kelp based liquid fertilizer are exposed to the natural hormones and over 50 trace elements. Treated plants seem to maintain a healthier rhizosphere, and an improved tolerance to environmental stress, as is expected of good mycorrhizal activity.

Of course the observations are just that, observations. We have not cultured bacteria from a treated and non-treated plant, and measured the difference in beneficial bacteria. Nor have we intentionally stressed plants that were treated and measured survivability against any controls.

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Raising Chickens

| April 17, 2012
Photo Credit: Keith Knoxsville
A Hen and a Drake Green Teal on the truck bed. Not a limit on anything, but a fun morning out.

Raising chickens can be a great way to become more self-sufficient. The most common reason why people want backyard chickens is for the fresh eggs. But besides having fresh eggs every morning, there are many other reasons to raise a flock of your own. Chickens are easy and fairly inexpensive to raise, and you’d be surprised to find out that they are friendly pets with lots of personality. Chickens produce some of the best fertilizer and are always willing to help provide chemical free bug and weed control.

Chickens have a group mentality and are very sociable, so plan to have at least 2-3 birds in your flock.  You should always check with your city’s law and ordinances before getting chickens.  Most local feed stores will have day old chicks in the spring time, or you can purchase eggs online to hatch on your own.

The first 60 days of a chick’s life are very important. You must be dedicated to keeping a clean and safe home for the chicks until they are ready to be put into a coop.  The more time you spend playing with the chicks, the friendlier they will be towards people. Letting your chicks explore the outside is also very important, just make sure they are constantly supervised as they are an easy prey. A few staple items are needed:

  • A young chick broader- A cardboard box works great, just make sure you get a bigger box when the chicks start growing (This happens quick!)
  • Flooring-  Shredded newspaper is easy. This must be changed frequently, never allow it to become too wet.
  • Temperature- 90-100 degrees the first week, decreases 5 degrees each week. A 100 watt bulb pointing in one corner of the box works well.
  • Food and water- Chicks need a starter feed or mash for the first 6-8 weeks.  Plenty of fresh water is also required.

After the first 60 days, general care of your chickens is pretty straight forward. Once your chickens get their feathers they are ready to be moved outside.  The design of your coop will vary depending on what you plan on doing with your chickens. Plan on having at least 2-3 square feet per chicken inside your coop.  You will also want to make sure the coop is protected from both predators and the elements.  If you are raising your chickens for eggs, you will want to make sure you are feeding them a laying blend of scratch or pellets and that they get their veggies too! Chickens love garden scraps, breads, and don’t forget the bugs! Most chickens can also lay around 4-6 eggs a week.

Chickens are such unique birds with personalities and amusing antics that will be sure to make you laugh. They offer you a wonderful “pets with benefits” experience, from fresh eggs to help in your gardens.

 

 

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Organic Pest Control

| April 17, 2012
Photo Credit: Keith Knoxsville
A Hen and a Drake Green Teal on the truck bed. Not a limit on anything, but a fun morning out.

No garden is perfect, or at least it doesn’t get that way without some occasional trouble caused by weather, nutrition, or pests. This article focuses on the latter, common garden pests, and how to control pests organically. Check out the common pests below, and our recommendations.

Most Small Insects
Most small insects will get consumed by larger predatory insects. The most beneficial, is probably the mantis. Hatching a mantis egg sack inside your garden can help prevent future pests, as well as take care of smaller ones.

Snails and Slugs
Copper tape. Copper creates an electrically charged barrier that repels slugs and snails, and works when wet.
Corry’s Slug and Snail Copper Tape Barier

Extracts, Oils, Acids, Salts. Organic options made from extracts, oils, acids, and salts repel and kill snails, slugs, silverfish, and other insects.
Monterey All Natural Snail and Slug Spray RTU

Ants, Aphids, Bagworms, Borers, Beetles, Caterpillars, Codling Moth, Gypsy Moth, Loopers, Leaf Miners, spider mites, Tent Caterpillars, Thrips, White Flies, Earwigs, Grasshoppers, Lace Bugs, Mealy Bugs, other larvae

Spinosad. What is Spinosad? Spinosad is a naturally occurring bacterium that has become a leading organic pesticide globally.
Captain Jack’s Dead Bug Brew

Insecticidal Soap
Ortho Elementals Insecticidal Soap

Preventative strategies
Why treat a problem when you can avoid it altogether? Try adding plants that dissuade pest insects from your garden.

Planting Garlic, Onion, Peppermint, and Marigolds in your garden can be effective in repelling beetles, ants, aphids, and other common insects.

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