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Don’t Let the Evil Weevil Get Your Agaves!

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Bill’s Best: A Top Designer’s Favorite Aloes

Looking for great succulents for your garden?

Plant aloes in well-draining soil and “they’ll soon become your favorite succulents,” says Bill Schnetz, one of Southern CA’s most sought-after landscape designers. Bill uses aloes of all sizes in mild-climate residential gardens. For a natural look, he suggests mixing one or two kinds with tough, drought-tolerant ornamental grasses and flowering perennials. For a contemporary look, he recommends planting similar aloes “in rows and geometric blocks.”

Bill’s 14 Favorite Aloes

I asked Bill if he’d share which aloes he uses most often in clients’ gardens, and why. This list was compiled by Schnetz Landscape, Inc. with Rebecca Simpson.

Small aloes. These tough, toothed aloes handle adverse conditions.  Height: 8 to 18 inches.

Aloe x nobilis, Aloe aristata, and Aloe humilis all grow tight and stay low.

Aloe ‘Rooikappie’ is Bill’s favorite small aloe. It gets a little bigger than the three above and is a good fit for small and large landscapes. It’s a repeat bloomer and transplants easily.

Mid-size aloes are good for borders and large-scale massing.  Height: 18 to 36 inches.

Aloe striata has nice plump leaves and good floral color.

Aloe vera is dramatic planted en masse, and yes, the gel is useful for burns and cuts.

Aloe x spinosissima is a 2- to 3-foot sprawler great on hillsides and rocky soil.

Aloe cameronii is Bill’s favorite 2-foot aloe. Stays red all year if given full sun.

Tree aloes tend to be slow growing and may not look their best in cold winter months. Don’t plant them near foundations or under eaves—they do get big.

Aloe bainesii is a moderate grower, 15 to 30 feet tall. Leaves may turn yellow and get black spots, but with summer warmth and feeding they’ll green up.

Aloe dichotoma is slow-growing to 15 to 20 feet. It has nice gray leaves and is very drought tolerant.

Aloe ferox is slow growing to 6-10 feet with a single trunk that holds dead leaves.

Aloe ‘Hercules’ is a faster-growing hybrid with a thick, strong trunk. Give it plenty of room.

Shade-tolerant aloes useful as firebreak plants are fast-growing and spreading.

Aloe ciliaris is a sprawling succulent that will climb palm tree trunks. Take care that it doesn’t get buried in leaves and melt away. Sometimes called ‘Fire Wall’ aloe, when grown on a slope, the plants form a 3- to 4-foot mat of fire-resistant growth.

Aloe arborescens is probably the most commonly grown aloe in the world. If you have room for it, you can’t go wrong. It solves a multitude of landscape problems, and thrives everywhere—coast, low desert, foothills—from Mexico to San Francisco. Originally from South Africa, it’s also found all around the Mediterranean. This multiheaded aloe makes a good background plant and tolerates filtered shade beneath tall trees. For a dense barrier, plant 6 to 8 feet apart in a line or triangles. Height: 4 to 8 feet and spreading.

More Info

In my books: Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed., pp. 182-190; Succulents Simplified, pp. 185-197.

On my site:

My photos of aloes on this page are identified according to genus and species, and sometimes common names… [Continue reading]
My ultimate aloes are any large, sculptural species with brilliant, Popsicle-like flowers that make striking garden plants even… [Continue reading]
View my YouTube video: Spectacular Aloes in Flower

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Chicken coop and chicken update

The post Chicken coop and chicken update appeared first on The Cheap Vegetable Gardener.

Well good news I got the chicken coop done just in time for the little guys to move out there this weekend.  In all I like how it turned out and for now feel it should be pretty secure with the solid floor, elevated coop, and entirely wrapped in 1/2 inch hardware cloth (a bit pricey but probably worth the cost of waking up to raccoons in the coop…)



I did have a couple additions after taking this picture by adding a little window at the bottom of the clean out door so the kids and take a peek at the chickens without having to open the door.  I also installed the ramp to get from the coop to the run.


Inside the coop I went natural with a simple stick to use as a roost since I have so many of these around the property…though at the moment the chickens are more interested in pecking at it than standing on it.  I also have a standard light with 75 watt bulb which I am keeping on all day and a infrared heat lamp I am just turning on at night in case they get a little chilly.

Once they get a little less “chicken” and actually venture outside during the day I will turn off the light during the day and as they get a little bigger will wean them off the heat lamp as well (possible bringing it back this winter if we get some colder than typical winters.

Will plan on creating another post eventually with some specifics of construction and the cool features I added as well as things I probably would have done differently.

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When to start garden seeds indoors: Seed starting calculator

The post When to start garden seeds indoors: Seed starting calculator appeared first on The Cheap Vegetable Gardener.

When you start seeds indoors in a vegetable garden, it can be difficult getting your schedule down to ensure that start your vegetable seeds with enough lead time that they are mature enough to venture outside but also not so large they take over your growing area.

Personally this has been a difficult part for me where I am really good getting the early vegetables started on time (onions, peppers, tomatoes) but when it comes to the later plants and/or second/third plantings is where I begin to get forgetful.  Over the years I have come across a couple of great tools to make this easier that I thought I would share.

No matter which option you choose to start garden seeds indoors you will need to determine an important date, your last frost date. There are many sites/tables out there that will give an estimate I actually have a couple posts on the subject but at the moment my favorite site that makes this very easy is WeatherSpark, it uses historical data with great visuals to easily determine when the best probability of picking the right date. Here you can take a look at this historical data and make your call of what date you think will be safe.


1. Create a garden schedule.  Just by figuring out your last frost date and doing a little math (Excel works great for this) you can determine the optimal seed starting dates and even get a general idea of when your plants should be ready for transplanting.  What I love about this technique is you can tweak it each year as things worked well (or not so well) in previous years to get the schedule finely tuned to your particular garden and the micro-climates within it.

In addition knowing an estimate of when these plants will be venturing out in the wild can assist in your space planning for your seeding area as well as having a reality check if you see your peppers will be ready to be transplanted in March when it doesn’t get above freezing until mid-June.

Here is my schedule for starting seeds indoors my area and estimated last frost date (April 20th), though sure everyone that is reading this will not have the same date as mine so thanks to my infinite nerdiness I made the following table so you can adjust the “Last Frost Date” to yours and see how my schedule would look in your area.

 Last Frost Date:  
Vegetable Name Seed Start Date Estimated
Celery 1/19/2013 3/18/2013 4/24/2013
Onion 1/19/2013 3/25/2013 5/24/2013
Leeks 1/19/2013 3/21/2013 6/3/2013
Kale 1/26/2013 3/7/2013 3/22/2013
Artichoke 1/31/2013 4/27/2013 6/20/2013
Kohlrabi 2/9/2013 3/15/2013 4/5/2013
Pak Choi 2/9/2013 3/6/2013 4/10/2013
Parsley 2/8/2013 4/6/2013 4/24/2013
Lettuce 2/9/2013 3/6/2013 4/5/2013
Broccoli 2/9/2013 3/15/2013 4/20/2013
Pepper – Jalapeno 2/9/2013 4/28/2013 4/25/2013
Pepper – Bell 2/9/2013 5/4/2013 4/25/2013
Swiss Chard 2/16/2013 3/20/2013 4/7/2013
Cabbage 2/16/2013 3/31/2013 5/7/2013
Brussel Sprouts 2/22/2013 3/31/2013 5/23/2013
Collards 3/2/2013 3/24/2013 5/1/2013
Tomato 3/2/2013 5/4/2013 5/21/2013
Spinach 3/9/2013 4/23/2013
Peas 3/9/2013 5/13/2013
Turnips 3/9/2013 5/8/2013
Watermelon 3/16/2013 5/27/2013 6/14/2013
Basil 3/24/2013 5/14/2013 6/22/2013
Potatoes 3/30/2013 7/8/2013
Radish 3/31/2013 5/5/2013
Beets 3/31/2013 6/4/2013
Carrots 4/9/2013 6/23/2013
Corn 4/9/2013 5/7/2013 6/28/2013
Cucumber 4/9/2013 5/16/2013 6/8/2013
Okra 4/9/2013 5/11/2013 6/13/2013
Pumpkin 4/9/2013 5/7/2013 7/28/2013
Summer Squash – Sunburst 4/9/2013 5/16/2013 6/3/2013
Winter Squash – Hunter 4/9/2013 5/16/2013 7/3/2013
Zucchini 4/9/2013 5/16/2013 6/3/2013
Lettuce 4/13/2013 6/7/2013
Beans 5/4/2013 7/13/2013
Dill 5/11/2013 7/15/2013
Carrots 5/27/2013 8/10/2013
Broccoli 6/22/2013 8/2/2013 8/31/2013
Cabbage 6/22/2013 8/2/2013 9/10/2013
Kale 6/22/2013 7/22/2013 8/16/2013
Kohlrabi 6/22/2013 7/29/2013 8/16/2013
Cabbage – Napa 7/24/2013 8/21/2013 10/7/2013
Pak Choi 7/24/2013 8/21/2013 9/22/2013
Onion – Bunching 7/24/2013 10/2/2013
Turnip 7/24/2013 9/22/2013
Lettuce 8/3/2013 9/27/2013
Spinach 8/10/2013 9/24/2013
Corn Salad 8/10/2013 9/29/2013
Garlic 10/12/2013 2/14/2014
Pak Choi 12/14/2013 1/26/2014 2/12/2014

* N/A because vegetables should be sown directly in the ground.

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2. Create a garden plan online and get reminders.  My favorite online vegetable gardening software is GrowVeg.  It is very easy to use and provides some great visuals when to specifically plant seeds and transplant your seedlings outdoors, which you can see below.


In addition you also can recreate a virtual copy of your garden and plan exactly where you want to plant your vegetables, to ensure your ambitions for growing a huge crop this year does not exceed the reality of the limited space you have to actually grow.  It also remembers where you planted vegetables in previous years to help enforce crop rotation to ensure pests/diseases will be forced to remain in check.


Though one of my favorite features is the weekly reminders, once a week you get a simple email letting you know what plants you should be starting/transplanting that week.  This was very helpful later in the season where I probably would have completely forgotten about my carrots without this helpful reminder.


3. Buy a garden planning book.  If you want something that you can really get your hands on you might want to check out the Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook helps with this problem by providing weekly reminders of what vegetables you should be order/planting and what preparations you should be doing in your garden.  This can be a very helpful tool in getting a little more organized in your vegetable garden.


Already falling behind on your seed planting here are a few great options to get a great selection of seeds without spending a lot of money:

  • One of my favorites is Burpee Seeds, they have been around since 1876 and definitely know their stuff. The actually have a seed sale going on now where you get $15 off on order of $75 (just use code AFFB4A35) expires on 1/15.
  • The name is not too exciting but Generic Seeds offers no thrills packaging with quality seeds and very reasonable prices and if you spend $20 or more shipping is on them.

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Three Ways to Make Herbal Oils for Natural Beauty Recipes

Infusing oil with herbs is a great way to add color, scent, and beneficial properties to natural skin care and soap recipes. As the basis of home skin care recipes starts with good quality oils,…

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Can Landscaping Protect a Home from Wildfire?

Dr. Camille Newton surveys her garden, the day after the Lilac Fire stopped at its perimeter.


Can landscaping protect a home from wildfire? Camille Newton, M.D., of Bonsall, CA, says yes. Dr. Newton started her six-year-old succulent garden mostly from cuttings. “It’s my go-to place after work,” she says, noting that gardening is a stress-reliever. The land’s nutrient-poor, decomposed-granite soil serves as a coarse, fast-draining substrate that she top-dresses with composted horse manure. (From another hobby: breeding Andalusians.) Irrigation is by overhead sprinklers. The land slopes, so densely-planted succulents also provide erosion control. On Dr. Newton’s frost-free, west-facing hillside grow swaths of jade (Crassula ovata), aloes, agaves, aeoniums and brilliant orange, ironically-named Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’.

A house next door burned to the ground. The only green thing left was a semi-cooked Agave vilmoriniana.


Dr. Newton, whose garden is in my book, Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.), was initially surprised that her garden “stopped the fire in its tracks,” she says, adding that houses next door and across the street burned to the ground. “You’d think succulents would burn, but they don’t.” This is likely because wildfire, which travels at around 15 MPH, doesn’t linger. Plants with thin leaves catch fire immediately and are carried aloft by strong winds, further spreading the blaze. In contrast, succulents—which by definition store moisture in thick, juicy leaves—cook and collapse. They may sizzle and char, but succulents don’t transmit flames.

When Dr. Newton and I were on TV, the segment was called “Saved by Succulents.”

In December 2017, soon after the Lilac Fire destroyed eight neighboring homes, Dr. Newton and I were interviewed on local TV news for a segment titled, “Saved by Succulents.” It’s available on my YouTube channel along with two other videos about  succulents as fire-retardant plants, including a post-wildfire tour of Dr. Newton’s own garden.
Because succulents are colorful, waterwise and low-maintenance, I hope landscape professionals in wildfire-prone, mild-climate regions consider adding firebreak installation to their services. It takes a lot of succulents to surround a house, but here’s good news: It’s possible to do so without buying plants. Numerous Southern CA succulent gardens are becoming so well established that owners have plenty of trimmings that they hate to throw away. “I’ll give cuttings to anyone who asks,” Dr. Newton says, adding with a laugh, “and hopefully they’ll take some manure, too.”

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Start cheap herb garden this thanksgiving using cuttings

The post Start cheap herb garden this thanksgiving using cuttings appeared first on The Cheap Vegetable Gardener.

Each thanksgiving I always end up buying rosemary and sage for our turkey dinner always having thoughts that I should plant some next spring…winter happens then of course I forget until next thanksgiving…

This year I got a bit more proactive and decided to just start the plants now using cuttings from fresh herbs I purchased from the grocery store.  I have done this before with mint and actually have done again if you look carefully in the same picture above since I remembered bringing some mint with me when I moved…though no where to be seen…maybe it is possible to kill mint who knew…

So process to clone take a cutting from an herb usually goes something like this:


Step #1: Get some herbs from your grocery store…or if you notice a nice neighbor with some growing in their yard you can ask nicely if you can take a cutting


Step #2: Cut the stem just under the node (place where new leaves are coming out…I typically cut at around a 45 degree angle with theory there is more surface area for root growth but probably doesn’t matter all that much.


Step #3: Remove all leaves except last couple and those cut about half of them off.  This ensures that energy is going towards root growth and should help with moisture loss.


Step #4: Couple ways you can go at this point…you can just drop them in water and check on them every few days and make sure they still have water…or you can plant them directly in soil and possible water a couple times a day to keep soil from drying out…prone to being easily distracted I pretty much 100% go with option 1 but if you were creating dozens of these then soil may be a better option.

Step #5: (Optional) To preserves moisture you can place a plastic bag over the glass or even better get one of those shower caps you took from the motel and really had no good use for and place that on top.  I normally skip this step since I live in Western Washington high humidity has some advantages…

Step #6: Wait a 2-3 weeks until the plant develops some pretty solid roots then transplant into some soil and be sure to keep well watered until it gets established.

Hopefully if I did all this correctly I will not be buying Sage and Rosemary next year…oh and for Rosemary you might be able to tell, I cheated and just paid the extra dollar and got a live plant with its own roots already…though probably will still take a couple cuttings for “fun” and backup just in case…and not a bad edible ornamental plant for the yard if I end up with a couple extra…

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More native musings

Fossil records show ginkgo was once found on the land mass now called North America. Does that make it native?

I’m encouraged by Tony Avent’s recent piece on the native plant debate to address a couple of points, actually open-ended questions, that may inspire more thought on this volatile issue. My hope is that it leads to more collaboration on creating more wildlife habitat, surely a mutual goal with broad support.

Plant lush layers of mannerly plants that provide good habitat, native or not.

Let me attempt to fend off the usual character assassinations that are often the result of any appeal to reconsider the idea that only native plants are “good”. I love wild things, wild areas, and embrace the Gaia principle. Nothing in the world suits me as well as taking a long ramble through the wild areas near my home. I’ve done it since I was a little tomboy, when my mother’s only rule was that I had to be home by the time the automatic security light near the barn came on at dusk. It was also my mother’s guidance that taught me to look. She was an artist when she wasn’t running our farm and she taught me to appreciate the many shades of green, the play of light and shadow, and the patterns to be seen in bark, branches and the wings of birds and dragonflies.

Chinese abelia: a long-blooming, fragrant, low maintenance shrub that provides abundant nectar for our pollinators.

When I bought my 100 acres of rough, recently timbered (and thus cheap) land, someone asked me what I intended “to do” with such a large wild property. “Look at it while it grows,” was my answer…and so it continues, though these days my knees ache, my hip twinges, and I may have to stop and catch my breath partway up a steep slope. I will roam it as long as my legs will carry me.

In all weather but hard driving rain, I look at plants, birds, reptiles, amphibians, soil, sky, insects, mushrooms, spider webs, and changes in light. I wonder, and ponder, form questions, and make connections and have revelations. I read, and research and gain from others’ knowledge and thoughts. Slowly, happily, I learn.

So when I began to hear about Doug Tallamy’s assertions that insects had to have native plants to eat, or our birds would die and so on up the food chain, I was puzzled. I saw many insects eating the foliage of non-native plants – in the wild, on the neighboring farms, in my yard, and on the plants in our display gardens at work. Many of the questions I had fielded as a horticulturist dealt with recommendations on how to deal with insects eating people’s plants, most of them, especially in the edible realm, non-native. It seemed to me that numerous denizens of the natural world had made very good use of many introduced plants.

This monarch feeds readily on the lush balloon plant, a member of the milkweed family that happens to hail from Africa.

I also saw many natives that were untouched by insects. Anisetree comes to mind as I have often commented, that the attractive smell of the foliage must not translate to flavor because I have never seen any insect damage on the leaves. Does that make this native plant a “bad” landscape plant, though it provides cover, and anchors soil, as many plants do. Must every plant have foliage that offers insect sustenance? In the wild, that does not seem to be the case.

And, many nativists will make some allowance for those non-native plants that do produce foliage eaten by insects.  Oh yes, they agreed, there are “generalist” insects that will chow down on some non-native plant foliage, but the “specialist” insects will not.

A prime example of a specialist insect is the monarch butterfly, a lovely poster child. Monarch caterpillars will feed only on plants in the milkweed family. This statement is 100% true. It does not, however, disclose that there are many members of the milkweed family, Asclepiadaceae, that are found on other continents and that serve beautifully as monarch caterpillar forage.


Fennel, not native, makes a fantastic food source for black swallowtail butterflies.

Each spring, we grow balloon plant Gomphocarpus physocarpus (from southern Africa) from seed for just that purpose. A perennial plant in Zone 8, we treat it as an easily grown annual, and sell it in our plant sales in inexpensive six-packs. Our shoppers have learned to value the tall fast-growing plant that provides enough generous willowy foliage to support numerous monarch caterpillars. We plant them in our display gardens here on the research center along with native milkweeds, several species close by, but these smaller perennial plants are susceptible to crippling infestations of aphids and the leaves are often insufficient to support more than a handful of the little munchers. Often I have carried the demonstrably hungry caterpillars in my hand to the billowing masses of balloon plant where they can continue their caterpillar phase with plenty to eat. If it were not for this “introduced exotic” we would not be nearly as successful at providing for the monarchs.

Another “crop” of monarchs raised on non-native plants as evidenced by this chrysalis ready to burst forth with winged glory.


It is of course, quite understandable that they make use of this plant. Anyone of reason understands that the continents we know now were not always distinct separated bodies of land; that many populations of plants, once divided by ocean’s rise, evolved to be only somewhat different. The human (somewhat admirable) need to establish some since of order and understanding created and imposed classifications of these plant families, enough sometimes to be classified as different genera or species, but essentially, at a molecular level, they are still the same plant once in the belly of the insect that could care less that it was not found on this continent…




Aristolochia fimbriata is a pipevine species native to south America, but these pipevine caterpillars don’t discriminate against those south of the border (like some do!)

…or was it, at one time? When I bring up the concept of native to my woody plant classes, I like to pose this question. We know from fossil record that dawn redwood Metasequoia glyptostroboides and ginkgo Ginkgo biloba were once found on the land mass we now call North America, but were wiped out by ice ages. Now that we can purchase these plants in nurseries and plant them successfully in our landscapes, are we bringing back a native, or are we introducing an exotic?

When you plant a dawn redwood, are you restoring a lost native?

If one were to say it is an exotic because it wasn’t on this continent when “we arrived”, I can only raise my eyebrows at the arrogance. Who are we to choose that tiny speck of time, legitimized only because it happened to be the plant palette that was here when the first European set boot on the continent? That move introduced the most invasive species ever, the European settler. Who among us will volunteer to clear out, along with kith and kin and return this land to the “natives” (the human species, who by the way, crossed over on Berengia, the Siberian “land bridge” from Asia).

Native is a moving target. Look at what might happen if we pass laws that dictate that we plant only natives and that mandate removal of all non-natives. Where do we draw the line? Is my grandmother’s gardenia contraband? The daffodil bulbs from my other grandmother? Will I be required to rip out my small orchard of apples, pears and figs? Are edibles exempt? What about the crabapples that serve as great pollinators for my apples?

I say we’d do better to bond over using plants that create good habitat, minimize pesticide use, and conserve water and soil. I’m on the Tony team.

Of course, plant some, many, a lot of great natives as well, like this Henry Eilers rudbeckia.

More native musings originally appeared on GardenRant on February 28, 2019.

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The Green New Deal

Finally!  Hope ! Something we can actually do about climate change.  The Green New Deal is an actual plan.  Read on.

Energy old and new – oil well pumpjack and windmill, Oklahoma

(I hope our readers at Gardening Gone Wild and gardeners everywhere will recognize this is not a political issue and turn your heads and cringe.  This is positive news, gardeners understand the Earth is not going anywhere  – it is us who need to figure out sustainability. – Saxon Holt)

When young activists stormed the Congressional office of Nancy Pelosi last week demanding an environmental plan in the wake of the Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives, I wondered why go after one of the most liberal members of Congress, in the most liberal city in America, in the heart of the environmental movement.

Is there a plan ? Is this just an attention seeking stunt by naive, idealistic newbies to politics ?  Actually no. There is an extraordinarily detailed bold plan: The Green New Deal.  Modeled after the New Deal that pulled us out of the Depression, this new New Deal proposes a massive restructuring of resources and is a real template that reorganizes our jobs and economy around a resilient future.

Old school politicians wake up !  Why delay ANY longer ?  What is it about climate change you do not get ? Urgent action is an understatement.   And let’s no make this a right vs left political issue, there is work to be done by everyone.

We have cooked the planet already, there is no turning back; but that is not an excuse for giving up.  Somehow or another humans will survive and there must be a new methodology to coexist in a sustainable future.  Here, in the Green New Deal, is something we can ask friends and communities to support in their own way, gardeners, farmers, ecologists, urban dwellers, and suburbanites alike where we can all see our own role; and a plan and we can pressure elected official to make a stand.

First publish by the policy wonks at Data for Progress here at the key points, each one a definable goal.  

Download A Green New Deal


— 100% Clean and Renewable Electricity by 2035

— Zero Net Emissions from Energy by 2050

— 100% Net-Zero Building Energy Standards by 2030

— 100% Zero Emission Passenger Vehicles by 2030

— 100% Fossil-Free Transportation by 2050


— National Clean Air Attainment

— Cut Methane Leakage 50% by 2025

— National Lead Pipe Replacement & Infrastructure Upgrades

— Guarantee Access to Affordable Drinking Water

— Protect Two Million New Miles of Waterways


— Reforest 40 Million Acres of Public and Private Land by 2035

— Restore 5 Million Acres of Wetlands by 2040

— Expand Sustainable Farming and Soil Practices to 70% of Agricultural Land by 2050

— Cleanup Brownfields and All Hazardous Sites


— Establish a National Fund for Urban and Rural Resilience

— Expand Public Green Space and Recreational Land and Waters

— Modernize Urban Mobility and Mass Transit

— Zero Waste by 2040

— Capture 50% of Wasted Methane by 2040

Each of these goals is real and tangible – a plan.  We need to start with  a plan.  The policy paper goes on to promote the benefits of jobs and details many specific policy issues that need to be addressed.  It has been adopted by a number of advocacy groups, especially among young progressives.

Yes, this is hugely ambitious but it is specific and provides a road map. Lets’ get started.  Get informed and ask your congressional representative to get informed. Contact Congress.  We can not wait.

An article in The Nation details the recent history of this movement.

The Sunshine Movement is activating young progressives on climate change with planned demonstrations and events.

350 Action is actively supporting political candidates for environment change in support go the Green New Deal.

The climate has changed.  Let’s stop wringing our hands.

Delta Fire aftermath; Shasta-Trinity National Forest, California

Stand up for working with the earth, not destroying it.

Redwood Trees, Sequoia sempervirens, some of the oldest trees on Earth.

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Growing Winter Lettuce to Produce Early Spring Harvests

Winter Lettuce is one of my favorite crops for fall planting even though it doesn’t yield a harvest until the following spring. The name is a bit deceiving because this isn’t a single plant variety, and it isn’t a crop that is harvested during winter, at least that isn’t how I use it in my garden.

I treat Winter Lettuce similar to the way that I grow garlic, it’s planted in late fall and allowed to over winter as a juvenile plant in order to get a huge jump on the spring growing season. It doesn’t require much space in the fall garden as the seed is sown thickly and the plants are crowded together in a garden bed or cold frame over the winter.

Winter Lettuce is Actually Sown during the Fall Months

These types of lettuce varieties are super hardy, and because the plants are young and small they are able to easily endure even bitterly cold winters here in Central Pennsylvania. I usually broadcast the seed thickly over a four by four foot area during October or November.

The seed will germinate and begin growing during the fall but will not attain any significant size going into the winter months. Once the ground begins to freeze I will place a cold frame over the patch to offer a little protection to the plants. But more commonly Winter Lettuce plants are covered with a light layer of straw for protection, or a snow cover would also serve the same purpose of providing insulation and to deflect harsh winds. Floating row covers could be another good option.

Hardy as Fall Planted Garlic and Just as Care-Free to Cultivate

Winter LettuceThat is all the care that these hardy plants require and it is possible that some types could survive the winters out in the open with no protection at all. These are heading lettuce varieties and by March they will begin to look the part as they send out a spurt of growth during late winter. Again just like the fall planted garlic there will be noticeable leaf gain when most other plants are still enjoying their winter slumber.

This is the time when the gardener really appreciates Winter Lettuce because the plants are so lush and more vibrant than any lettuce plants you could have started indoors. They are also perfectly acclimated to the outdoor environment since that is all they’ve known and there is no need for coddling the plants or for hardening them off as you would plants that were started inside or under lights.

Spring Thinning and Transplanting Winter Lettuce

Mid-March is the time that I usually thin and transplant the patch of Winter Lettuce,Transplanted Winter Lettuce and since I use raised garden beds I can conveniently transplant without the need for tilling or working the garden beds in advance. I can also get into the garden earlier than most gardeners and don’t need the soil to dry out at all, which is another bonus that comes in handy when it’s time to transplant Winter Lettuce.

Simply dig down and loosen a five by five inch square of plants, carry to the new growing place, and gently separate the plants for replanting. You should find nice root growth on healthy plants with six or more true leaves. Set the transplants at the same depth that they were growing before and lightly firm them into the ground. Then if desired you can mulch around the Winter Lettuce transplants with shredded leaves or chopped straw to restrict weed growth and conserve moisture.

Don’t Overlook Spring Care, Harvesting, and Seed Saving

Mulched TransplantsBecause of the weather conditions during late winter and early spring I seldom notice any transplant shock and the plants should recover quickly from being moved and resume their rapid growth. I usually transplant before a rain but otherwise you may need to irrigate to help the plants adjust to their new setting.

After transplanting it will only be a matter of a few weeks until the Winter Lettuce will be displaying nicely formed heads that can be harvested or left a little longer to reach full maturity. Leave a few heads until summer and the plants will produce seed to use for next fall’s planting and the cycle will continue.

Starting and Locating Varieties of Winter Lettuce

If you’d like to grow Winter Lettuce in your own garden start by searching for lettuceWinter Lettuce Variety varieties that are bred for this purpose and that are hardy enough to survive winters without much care or protection. When I lived on the farm there was a no name “winter lettuce” that we planted under straw and saved seed for during the summer. I don’t have that seed anymore but have been able to locate varieties such as; Landi’s Winter, Maule’s Philadelphia, Eva Snader’s Brown Winter, and Red Tinged Winter Lettuce that I am putting to the same purpose as that proven generic winter lettuce that I used to grow.

It may require a bit of trial and error to determine the timing and varieties of Winter Lettuce that will grow best for your growing region but it is worth the effort. Fall sown lettuce plants that enter into springtime are so healthy, vibrant, and in sync with the changing seasons that I believe they will outperform greenhouse produced transplants and provide an early harvest of gorgeous heads of homegrown lettuce.

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