All posts by Claire Atkin

Claire is an oya lover from the West Coast, where she grew up gardening with her mom, dad, and two sisters, five bunnies, six gerbils, eleven fish, one cat, two dogs, and a plethora of avian garden visitors. She loves farm animals, the beach, and running our social media. Please say hi for questions, comments, or virtual high fives! Our contact page is below. While you’re there, sign up for our newsletter to get the best deals on oyas when you most need them!

Oya Giveaways For The Holidays!

Dear Oya Lovers,

We are SO excited to announce our weekly holiday giveaway! Every Saturday until Christmas this year, one of you will win a FREE OYA! This is a great way to celebrate sustainable gardening with your loved ones.

Here’s how to enter:

On Instagram, post gardening photos using the #Growoya hashtag! That’s ALL you have to do.

On Twitter, Tweet your favorite gardening stories (multiple tweets allowed) OR favorite ways to save water in the garden. Use the hashtag #Growoya to be entered!

On Facebook, comment to share your gardening stories. That’s it! We want to hear about all the love you put into your vegetable bounty. It helps us feel good, and helps inspire all our fellow gardeners to get our hands dirty more often.

We will announce the winner of the week every Saturday morning at 10:00 am PST. Also, you must live in the USA to be eligible (for now).

Can you enter more than once? Yes! We’d love to hear from you on all social media channels! Why just share a story when you could also share a photo? Not everyone has all three, so more people will see it!

Will the post with the most likes win? Any post can win! We like to give everyone a fair chance.

How can I increase my chances of winning? We’re so glad you asked! If you want to be entered twice, there are a few things you can do: On Instagram, comment on friends’ photos about the competition. On Twitter, Tweet at gardening lovers you know. On Facebook, tag friends in your comments! Tag us using @Growoya so that we know you’ve been sharing the love!

Starting To Grow Worms

I found out some really terrible news today. It turns out that worms, when you cut them in half, do not in fact grow both parts back. If this isn’t devastating to you, maybe you never cut a worm in half accidentally as a kid? Or, your parents were better informed than mine and you felt the appropriate sorrow in the moment. Either way, I live with new knowledge that I am a murderer with my shovel. I found this out in a book, on worms.

This book said that depending on where the worm was cut, the tail end can sometimes grow back. The tail, though, cannot grow a new head. This makes a lot more sense when you think about it for half a second. Sometimes, it’s possible to find a worm with two tails, like a fork. This is usually caused by some injury to the worm’s tail end where it had to grow a new one, I imagine, just in case.

Worms As a Trend

Worms are especially fascinating to me because, growing up in a 12 foot wide townhouse in the middle of the city, I distinctly remember discovering a big red bin full of red wrigglers in my parents basement when I was about three years old. At three, I thought it was super gross. Now, years later, I think it’s totally awesome, and interviewed my parents about their worm habits this afternoon. My favorite question was “so… dad… was this like, a thing? Like, was there some sort of worm trend that you were on to? Or were you and mum just totally wacky?

It turns out, that they were definitely wacky, but they were also on to something! Reading gardening manuals from the late 1980’s, worm composting inside the home was kind of a thing, maybe. Please, people who were adults during that time, confirm or deny for us?

Vermicomposting, I’ve found, has a whole subculture to it. After interviewing my parents I went and bought a second hand book called Worms Eat My Garbage: How to set up and maintain a composting system by Mary Appelhof. Written in 1982, it tells you how to recycle kitchen food waste, save energy, produce fertilizer for house plants and gardens, grow fishing worms, and reduce waste disposal cost. It sold hundreds of thousands of copies.

Doing It!

Making up for my earlier years of brutal murderous ways, I’ve immediately and unequivocally decided to start a vermicomposting system in our urban apartment at home. Will my boyfriend appreciate it? Maybe. Will the four year old? Yes.

Looking in to some resources now, this one seems like a pretty good starting point, along with Worms Eat My Garbage. I’m also wary of what can go wrong, especially after reading about this atrocity. We’d love to hear about any experiences you’ve had with vermicomposting! Please let us know in the comments whether this has worked for you or not.

Food Diversity Is Decreasing. Grow Something Rare!

Grocery stores today carry on average forty thousand items. This sounds like a big number, but when you look at groceries, it’s actually nothing compared to what nature has to offer. According Jennifer Cockrall-King, author of Food and The City, the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization believes that over 75% of the world’s biodiversity of foods has vanished as a result of industrial agriculture. These days, despite economic and scientific expansion in the agricultural industry, we actually eat fewer diverse vegetables and fruit than our grandparents did!

Seasonality of fruit and vegetables is obscured within the walls of the grocery store. Often, while winds howl outside in February, we find the same exact vegetables in grocery stores as we do in the peak of summer. Imagine a time traveller arriving to the interior of a grocery store. The uniform temperature, humidity, and stocked shelves full of the same things all year would make it hard to guess what season it was outside!

We actually eat fewer diverse vegetables and fruit than our grandparents did! – Jennifer Cockrall-King

Often, too, grocery stores have the same things inside each one of them. Whether you go to one company or the other, very often you’ll be buying the same things. And beyond the diversity of actual foods available, according to food activists just a handful of corporations are behind 90% of the food supply in America.

All this to say that diversity is important. Diverse nutrients help our bodies grow and maintain health and wellness, and diverse fruit and vegetables help to maintain biodiversity and resilience in natural ecosystems. And rare varieties are nothing but interesting to grow.

What are your favorite veggies? Are you curious about rare heirloom varieties of broccoli? What about a digital museum dedicated to carrots? Whatever the garden good of your choice, it’s worth some quick research into resources on rare varieties. You never know what you might find on RareSeeds.com or the Smart Seed Store.

Where are your resources for rare seeds? Do you seed swap or head to the local nursery? Where do you get inspiration to grow diverse and interesting vegetables? Write in the comments or visit us on Instagram at @Growoya to let us know!

Seed Swapping is Great

Inspired by a party conversation, I recently read Seedswap: The Gardener’s Guide to Saving and Swapping Seeds by Josie Jeffery. Seed swapping is the sharing of seeds with friends, neighbours, and relatives, and exchanging knowledge and ideas. Not only is it super fun sounding, but exchanging seeds is a gesture of community goodwill, and can help in times of economic squeezes. It maintains food security and protects biodiversity, rare species, and seed genetics. At the same time, this fascinating activity helps to make sure that species of a plant is preserved and passed on. This sounds like a whole lot of wins!

“Seeds are, in a sense, suitcases in which people can transport their cultures with them… Many families have brought their favourite seeds on tremendous journeys.” -Mike Szuberla, Organizer of a seed swap in Toledo, Ohio

In the forward, Jeffrey says that seed saving and sowing are a crucial part of a much wider sustainability and self-reliance agenda, where “small is beautiful” and where we must think globally and act locally. Ever since humankind evolved from being hunter-gatherers to farmers, communities have had a vested interest in making sure the quality and security of food supplies. This included the saving, storing, and sowing of the most reliable and productive varieties of crops.

Seed saving and swapping can be a big community event, too, says Alan Phillips, the Chairperson of Seedy Sunday in Brighton, England. “The Seedy Sunday event in Brighton started just over a decade ago on the first Sunday in February. Now thousands of people come out of their winter hibernation for this community event, to swap seeds, meet old friends, buy seed potatoes, obtain heritage varieties, have coffee and cake, and listen to talks.”

Having experienced central Africa in the middle of a great drought, Josie Jeffrey says, and seen at first hand the reliance of people, livestock, and wildlife on wild plants, she is “absolutely convinced that conserving seeds is vital for our future. The act of conserving seeds has the potential to create local food security, and when conditions are right for sowing, seeds can be shared and can help enable communities to survive drought.”

Anticipation and pleasure encapsulate the essence of seed swapping for me. Sowing new acquisitions obtained from fellow enthusiasts who had a glint in their eye of the beauty or the food that they were sharing. Hopefully, the next generation of pleasure-seeking seed swappers is well on its way.

The Internet has masses of information on seed-swapping events. Ask around your area, because it is more probable that you’ll find plants that will grow well in the conditions provided by your local climate.


How to start a “Round Robin” Seed Swap:

  1. Collect names of the willing participants and provide the final list of names to everyone involved.
  2. Send a package filled with your surplus seeds to the next person on the list. If you collect your own seeds you can make beautiful seed packets with this fun tutorial.
  3. The next person will then take on packet of seeds from the package and replace it will some more seeds.
  4. The package is sent to the next person on the list, who removes and replies as above.
  5. The chain carries on until the last person on the list mails the package (which should now contain a completely different combination of seeds) back to the original organizer.

If you want to learn more about Seed Circles, Seed Libraries, and other activities and events, I recommend Seedswap – it was a lovely read, with many facts and pictures!

How Often Should You Weed, Really?

When my family has busy years, work and sports and caring for each other takes precedence over garden activities. My mother hates this, because there is nothing she loves more than to be amongst her plants and in the soil. Some years, though, there is little we can do to spend the time with our garden that it needs. If this sounds like you, and you have years here and there that you just feel like giving up, fear not! Breaks are actually really good for your soil. Edward H. Faulkner years ago wrote Plowman’s Folly. According the the Reader’s Digest in the 1940’s, “probably no book on an agricultural subject has ever prompted so much discussion in this country.”

Here is a favorite paragraph of mine. It dismisses all anxiety we may have about leaving our garden beds to lay around and do nothing:

All through the South, farmers have for generations “rested” their land for a number of years between periods of cropping. This practice used to be criticized severely as an evidence of laziness, but agriculturists have discovered that it really has merit, and that soil so treated is considerably rejuvenated and will again produce satisfactory crops. The benefits to be derived from allowing land to lie idle are directly proportionate to the abundance of wild plants that spring up. Southern farmers of the old school never kept their crops so free from weeds that there would not be plenty of seed to germinate on any land that was left to itself for a season or two. The second and third seasons’ growth of weeds registered, by their increased height and vigor, the benefit the new plants received from the decaying material produced the previous year. The longer the fields lay idle, the more completely they were restored to normal productiveness.
Weeds are not so bad, it turns out! And having the soil rest and be covered by weeds does an incredibly important job: it helps to keep the minerals and the vital nutrients in the soil. And our favorite bonus: it saves water when you do get back to planting:
Such processes of soil renewal really should not be construed as idleness for the soil. In reality the so-called idle soil is working vigorously to re-establish a non-erosive surface. If there are enough weed seeds in the soil when it is abandoned, only a few years will be required for the surface to be properly “nailed down” again, so that runoff water will not be so plentiful or so effective in moving the soil minerals.
There you have it. If you’re beating yourself up not gardening enough and leaving behind weeds, maybe that’s life telling you that, well, it’s just what your garden wants!

Now is the Time to Prepare Winter Crops!

On the tip of every gardener’s mind in the summer is the question: “how can I make this last?” The wonderful hot summer days are perfect for reaping our harvests from the spring. Bountiful harvests are satisfying and therapeutic. We love it! Luckily, the vegetable season can be extended with the right planning.

I found a great book the other day called Sow Simple by Christina Symons and John Gillespie. Here are their seven steps for growing winter greens.

  1. Site Selection for the warmest, most sheltered spot in the garden. Watch the sun carefully over the year to see where the most exposure will land in the later months. The best place for a winter garden is an open, south-facing slope. Large rocks attract and trap heat for plants, and sandy, loamy soil retains heat better than clay. To lighten the soil for heat retention, compost and rotted manure should be mixed in if needed.
  2. Containers can be made from all sorts of driftwood, mill off-cuts, or rough-cut cedar, and raised beds have the added benefit of keeping warm for longer in the winter.
  3. Line the bottom of the bed with cardboard or newspaper. This will help smother weeds or lawn underneath.
  4. Compost soil mix is the best for your bed. High quality garden mix also works. You can also layer manure, seaweed, coffee grounds, lawn clippings, peat moss, sawdust and/or chips from (untreated!) wood, compost, sand, and leaves below a good four to six inches of top soil.
  5. Planting your bed for winter is a bit different. Leave lots of space between plants to allow light and discourage slugs from moving in. It’s ideal to have summer-planted pots of broccoli, kale, leek, cauliflower, cabbage, horseradish, Jerusalem artichoke, kohlrabi, parsnip, rutabaga, or turnip ready to plant up. These crops are not worried by frost, in fact they often benefit from it! Other crops are hardy but don’t love the frost as much. These include lettuce, arugula, chard, carrots, beets, parsley, spinach and cilantro. If you haven’t started your seedlings yet, now is the time! Otherwise, many nurseries stock vegetable bedding plants for fall and winter.
  6. Plant Covers protect your plants from the colder elements. A mini greenhouse can be built from Coroplast – a flexible plastic that lets light through. Another way is to use flexible PVC pipe as bracing.  Cloches can protect single plants or seedlings. These are made from bell-shaped glass or plastic. Large deli jars and semi-transparent milk jugs can help keep baby plants warm if you don’t want to buy from a nursery. If you’re looking for something more permanent, cold frames topped with clear plastic, glass or fibreglass collect heat from the sun. These can be portable or stationary. These covers work best in south or southeast locations with good drainage and adequate shelter. Walls and hedges that provide protection from cold breezes are helpful!
  7. Ventilation is critical to the health of your plants, especially in the warmer months. Raise the top of the cover during the heat of the day and close it in the afternoon to keep the heat in. If it gets really cold at night, you can put them to bed by insulating them with burlap sacks or old blankets.

Happy gardening! May it last over the many months of 2016!

Gardening Libraries are Beautiful

Cleaning out my parents’ bookshelves, I came across the most beautiful set of gardening books. Rodale Press, Rockwell and Grayson, the BBC – these are the gardening greats! I dove in, eager for tips and tricks on the best tomatoes, the most delicious carrots, and the biggest pumpkins (Halloween is a big deal in this house).

What I found, though, was not lists of best practices, or graphs and charts. There were not even that many illustrations. Instead, I found pure and inspirational prose dedicated to the love of gardening. These authors are fearless in their battlecry for everyone to pick up a spade, specifically for organic gardening. In this excerpt, from a chapter called Life After Picking, if feels very much like the fruits of the garden are characters in a novel:

If it seems odd to you to talk about how vegetables breath, you probably have plenty of company. It’s commonly assumed, after all, that fruits and vegetables are no longer alive when they’re removed from the plant that produced them. Vegetables and fruits continue to live, however, even after they’re picked. The foods you bring in from the garden are still breathing while you hold them in your hands. If you’re counting on those foods to nourish you over the winter, then, it might be a good idea to consider how their continued respiration affects their keeping and eating qualities, and what you can do to control their life processes. – Mike and Nancy Bubel, Root Cellaring, 1979

Others are more direct, willing every gardener in the country to abide by the organic way of gardening. Here, from 1955, is an except from Rodale. Feel his enthusiasm as he writes!

Organiculture is a vigorous and growing movement, in that is destined to alter our concepts of the garden and the farm and to revolutionize our methods of operating them in order to secure for ourselves more abundant and more perfect food. The seed sown by Sir Albert Howard, the great pioneer in organic farming, is beginning to bloom lustily and with such vim that it is already thriving and propagating by its own strength. J.I. Rodale, Organic Gardening, 1953

Reading these books, they read like stories. Each vegetable, each garden plot, even the tools, are given names and character traits. I can see when so many of the paragraphs are underlined – my parents must have read these books before they went to bed at night, flipping each page enthusiastically instead of going to sleep. And they are inspiring! We have had thriving organic gardens since I can remember. No wonder, with these magnificent tomes!

Rodale, in his book Organic Gardening, closed by saying “there are infinite pleasures awaiting you if you have never gardened organically.” I would add to this: there are infinite pleasures in reading about it too!

Choosing Your Oya

What do tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber, and pumpkins have in common? The all drink a ton of water! This makes oyas extra effective for these especially thirsty veggies.

But how many oyas, and what size is best for your garden? We recommend that the more water a plant uses, the bigger the oya should be. Generally, though, here are some easy rules for how to pick:

  • 2ft long small planters and in pots of at least 6″ of soil: SMALL OYA!
  • 3ft long/wide and in larger containers or beds: MEDIUM OYA!
  • 4ft long/wide with high output and veggies that drinks lots: LARGE OYA!

If your plot is 3′ x 6′, two medium sized oyas will do the trick perfectly. We recommend that you plant in a circle around the oya to help the roots get to the water easily.

Happy gardening!

Measuring how far roots will be able to drink from the medium oya
Measuring how far roots will be able to drink from the medium oya

 

 

Pest Control in the Garden

Chemicals in the garden are no fun. They might help in the short term, but they’re terrible for birds, frogs, bunnies, and other lovely creatures of the ecosystem. Here are some (often surprisingly!) effective alternatives:

  • Cover delicate seedlings with an overturned plastic bucket to protect them
  • Use bowls of beer or milk around your plants to catch slugs. They love the smell, and will drown once they fall in
  • Go around your garden with a torch in the evening, and get at any slugs or snails you find. The small ones are often the hungriest, so don’t be shy
  • Greenfly and blackfly are terrible for plants. You can take them off with your fingers or with a hosepipe, or introduce ladybugs to your garden. Ladybugs LOVE eating aphids
  • Welcome any birds or larger insects into your yard with bird baths and bird-friendly trees
  • Use old lace curtains over wire loops or plumber’s hose to keep certain bugs away from lettuce and cabbages
  • String criss crossed in all directions over a bed will keep pigeons and other birds from getting at your newly planted seedlings
  • Companion plants are a great way to manage pests. Marigolds and geraniums deter insects, for instance
  • Decoy plants are also helpful. Nasturtiums, aside from being delicious in a salad, will draw butterflies and caterpillars away from your cabbages
  • Onions, garlic and chives confuse insects that rely on their smell, like carrot root fly. Marigolds, rue, and tansy also work the same way
  • Make sure to take off any diseased or damaged leaves quickly, and to get overripe fruit away from your healthy plants
  • ‘Organic’ chemical fungicides and insecticides can be found in nurseries, but it’s still best to use them sparingly
  • One of the most effective ways to combat pests is to plant a diverse mixture of fruit, vegetables and flowers closely together. This way, no one overpowering scent attracts bad bugs, and there is lots of variety to attract the good ones! This also makes your garden extra beautiful according to us, so I say win/win/win!