This is a guest post by Krystal Dwyer of The Crooked Chicken.
My love for gardening was largely influenced by my boyfriend, Andy, and his family. His sister, Lora, started growing beautiful dahlias many years ago, and her parents joined in on this venture. Pretty soon the field at their home was filled with the most amazing colors of dahlias. I came into the family five years ago and the rest, as they say, is history.
- Recycle your egg containers and start seeds in them in the springtime. We already collect used egg containers from neighbors for our chicken eggs, so I set some aside for seed starting. It’s a nice way to get the kids involved too. In each spot that would normally hold an egg, poke a hole in the bottom, then you can fill it with soil and plant your seed. I write the plant name on the bottom of the carton, and when it’s time to move to the garden, you can just tear each section apart (keeping the cardboard) and plant directly into your garden.
- I do not use pesticides in my garden. We have researched ways to eliminate insects or pests without using a harsh chemical which could potentially cause harm to our family. I’ve had great success using natural diatomaceous earth clay to treat my aphid-ridden plants. Natural diatomaceous earth comes from crumbled sedimentary rock. The powder is nontoxic to humans, and animals. I sprinkle the powder (only use in the natural, powder form) onto the base, stems, and leaves of the plants (anywhere it will come into contact with the insects). When insects crawl over the powder it will cut them and cause dehydration and eventually death. One caution when using diatomaceous earth is that it can also kill honeybees and lady bugs in the same way. In order to avoid that, I recommend covering the treated plants with lightweight garden fabric, and rinsing the clay off after two days.
- I purchase ladybugs from a local nursery (Bark & Garden Center, 4004 Harrison Ave NW) and release them into my garden in hopes that they will stay for a while. One lady bug eats an average of 5,000 aphids in their lifetime. Aphids have been my number one problem in the garden and finding a more natural solution has been a relief.
- COMPOST! Instead of throwing away food scraps, compost them! We have a countertop container that is kept by the kitchen sink. Throughout the day all food waste, paper towels, and coffee filters are thrown into the container that gets emptied into the garden at least once weekly. These scraps still have useful nutrients that can be used in the garden to improve soil quality.
- Coffee grounds. Save your used coffee grounds and use them when growing acid loving plants like hydrangeas, blueberries, carrots and radish to name a few. It’s important to do your research on which plants thrive on acidity in soil, and which do not. Coffee grounds are also abrasive and can keep pests away, while also improving the water drainage in your soil. Check with your local coffee shop and see if they can bag up their used coffee grounds for your garden. It would otherwise be thrown away, so why not reuse?
- Chickens. In late winter and early spring, let them roam in your garden. They will eat your food scraps and fertilize the soil in preparation for planting. I cannot say enough good things about how much my chickens have improved my soil,. However, once you start planting in your garden it is time for them to go. I have lost many vegetables, sunflowers and dahlias to my chickens.
- Use larger rocks to label your garden. Throughout the year our kids collect rocks on our many adventures. Then in the spring we paint all of the rocks and use a permanent marker to label each plant in our garden. My garden continues to provide organic food for my family for a fraction of the cost, but also provides a great stress relief for me. There is something so calming about working in the garden when you can’t turn your thoughts off. Gardening has inspired me to start my business, The Crooked Chicken, and ignited my love for dahlias.