Molecular composition of DIRT

Dirt molecule

While walking down the hallways at work I noticed a coworker with a caffeine molecular T-Shirt and made me think of the question, “What does a simple spec of dirt look look?”   I know my brain works in weird ways…but anyway what I found was pretty amazing.  Above is what an average molecule’s chemical composition looks like.

For any of you chemistry nerds more specifically this is C349H401N26O173S which is visually represented above. 

Humic Acid

The majority of this molecule is Humic acid which comprises of the majority of organic soil matter (or dirt) which is a very weak acid group partially visualized below as groupings of Carboxylic/Phenolic/Alcoholic/Quinonic/Ketone/Methoxl. 

Humic Acid molecule

Saccharides (sugars)

Next we have the saccharides or as we more commonly refer to as sugar…

 Saccharide sugar molecule

Proteinaceous material

I don’t even know where to start on this amazing hexapeptide…so I will jump to the pretty picture.

proteinaceous molecule

Water

Of course you also have to have some good ole’ H20

Water molecule

Aromatic carbon

Which is a hydrocarbon with alternating double and single bonds between carbon atoms forming rings. 

Aromatic carbon molecule

Now of course not every piece of dirt appears exactly like what is shown above, but this would be the more common of the bunch.  Depending on how you compost and/or sourced your soil you will also have all kinds of neat trace minerals in your soil that will help your plants grow but also provide digestible nutrients to the foods you grow. 

So next time you pick up a handful of soil you can have a even greater appreciation for the cool chemistry that made it all possible.

Source: The Virtual Museum of Minerals and Molecules

Keeping Your Garden Insect Free

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Nothing is tastier during the summer than home-grown vegetables. Unfortunately, insects feel the same way and often destroy vegetable gardens in short amounts of time. To prevent these pests from reaping the benefits of diligent gardening, consider the following tips.

Plant transfers early. While it may be somewhat risky in cooler climates to plant early, this practice can prevent initial pest problems. Insects are not as common during the earlier months, so this is the perfect time to get a head start on a healthy garden.

Keep the garden cultivated and weeded. Healthy soil is a great contributor to pest prevention. Organic mulches often attract insects, so try to avoid these. Weeds should be removed regularly. It is also helpful to add fertilizer frequently and ensure the soil stays moist.

Keep crops covered. Plastic mesh is useful for keeping common insects away, and it is an affordable prevention method.

Plant insect-resistant produce. Some types of vegetables and herbs are naturally unattractive to pests. It is also helpful to rotate crop planting locations by avoiding planting the same families in the same areas for three years. This will lower the risks of damages from overwintering pests living in the soil.

Use pesticides or pest-specific control methods.
Both organic and commercial pesticides can be harmful if they are not washed off before consuming produce. However, they may be necessary for keeping certain insect populations under control. It is best to avoid using pesticides that kill both harmful and beneficial pests. Whenever possible, use a pesticide that is only targeted at a specific problematic insect. The following tips are also helpful for preventing specific pests:

  • Grow chives, mint or basil to keep aphids away.
  • Put crushed eggshells around the bases of plants to prevent snails and caterpillars.
  • Use a repellent with eucalyptol to discourage mosquitoes.
  • Grow thyme, dill or cilantro to keep leafhoppers control.
  • Grow garlic, catnip or yarrow to prevent potato beetles.

Pest problems are not always limited to insects. In addition to these measures, install some chicken wire or mesh fencing around the garden to keep rabbits and other rodents out. Each of these prevention methods are affordable and easy, so they will work for any budget and skill level. And of course, if all else fails, there is always the option to call a pest control professional. Most companies have proven methods and systems to both exterminate pests and ensure that they don’t return.

Growing Fruits in Small Spaces

Strawberries

Are you planning a garden this year? If so, you are in good company. Over 50 million American households will be growing some or all of their own fruits, vegetables, herbs, or berries. Plant nurseries, garden centers, farm supply and home improvement centers have all noticed an uptick on sales of seeds, plants, seedlings, Fruit Plants, fertilizers and gardening tools this month.

So many people have taken an interest in gardening that even people who live in apartments, condos and houses with small yards can satisfy their urge for a green thumb. You do not need large plots of land to be a gardener.  Patios, balconies and tiny back yards can be decorated with flowers, herbs, vegetables and fruits – thanks to container gardening and new types or varieties of plants. Community gardens are another way to find the space needed to grow your own fruit and vegetables.

Benefits of growing your own produce include:

  • improved quality,
  • better taste,
  • guaranteed freshness,
  • bigger variety of choices,
  • control over the use of pesticides and chemicals, and
  • average cost savings of about $500 per year!

If you have the urge to try your hand at growing your own produce, consider starting out with some inexpensive container plants. Everyone has seen the TV commercials for kits that hang from the roof or a shepherd’s hook to produce fresh strawberries and cherry tomatoes. But container gardening can go much farther than that.

Suburban and urban households – even many retirement village and nursing home residents – can join in the fun of watching fruit plants and vegetables grow, and then harvest them at home. You can buy seed packets or young seedlings that were started commercially for harvesting in late summer and early fall, or try for years of production and harvesting by planting dwarf fruit trees.

Small spaces can use:

  • Window boxes
  • Trellises
  • Hanging baskets
  • Raised beds in a variety of sizes and shapes, and
  • Thousands of types and sizes of pots

to help grow a variety of fruits and vegetables on patios, balconies and in small yards.

Fruit trees designated as appropriate for your growing region will be disease resistant and tolerant of the climate in your area. Citrus trees do well in Florida, along the Gulf Coast and throughout California. Blueberries and cherries do well along the East Coast and mild climate zones. Apples come in dozens of varieties. Both apple trees and pear trees can be found in every state of the continental U.S. For container gardening, there are dwarf versions of dozens of types of fruit trees.

To start your successful container gardening, community garden or home vegetable garden project, find good internet resources to research want you hope to grow, and talk to local nurseries and orchards about the types of plants and trees that will work for your climate and site. There are many decisions to make early, including:

  • preparation of area: tilling, testing and adjusting the pH balance, and spacing
  • type of fruits and vegetables: bush plants versus pole or trailing plants
  • variety/rootstock combination: dwarf trees, hybrids, grafted twigs, crossbreeds, etc.
  • recommended planting techniques and timing,
  • pruning, thinning, training,
  • nutrition
  • disease and pest control

Check back later this summer for pictures of my own container plants!

Controlling weeds using a flamethrower

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Ok maybe a flamethrower is a bit of an exaggeration but just got done weeding my small yard in about 20 minutes and never had so much fun.  The product I used was the Red Dragon (Weed Dragon 100,000 BTU) Vapor Torch which I picked up at Amazon for $50 with free shipping.  Not only is this 2000 degree Fahrenheit blast to use it also is a much better alternative to using chemical herbicides which can make their way into our fishes and our very own drinking water.

The torch simply attaches to the same propane tank I use for my BBQ and you can control the intensity of the heat with a simple valve at the end of the handle.

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This torch definitely exceeded my expectations, when I bought this I was really expecting maximum flame like seen below but this is about as low as it goes.

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As you can see from the video below this baby pushes out quite a bit of heat when you turn it up and also kills the weeds by exposing them to the extreme heat causing the cells to explode, eliminating its stores of water thus causing a quick death which should be apparent in a couple hours.  Now personally I found more pleasure burning them to a crisp with an evil laugh (kept in my head to not freak out the neighbors) but if you have a larger area to cover just a fraction of a second exposure should be enough to eliminate the weeds and possibly having to come back for a second application.

Flaming weeds in general is most effective when weeds are not quite established (1-2) inches, more established weeds may take a few more applications to finish them off.  Personally I pull established weeds by hand so using them in the remaining small and tedious weeds seems a like a great option. 

Flaming weeds is also less effective on weeds that have a considerable amount of water stores underground for my yard this would be my annoying horsetail and grasses which are much more effective in killing using weed smothering methods.  Though I still get some pleasure hitting them with the torch while I killing other weeds.

Now the manufacture has also come up with some pretty awesome uses for this torch other them simply taking care of your of your weed problem which the detail below:

The Weed Dragon is not just for weeding – hundreds of other uses year round: FLAME weeds in your yard, garden, concrete cracks, rock gardens, driveways and along fence lines. Perfect along chainlink fences. Flaming reduces or eliminates spraying chemicals and is a lot more fun than pulling weeds. BURN heavy weeds and brush, stumps, debris and more. Perfect to burn off irrigation ditches, fields, culverts, pond edges etc. Start charcoal, campfires, burn barrels and back fires. THAW frozen water pipes. MELT snow and ice off steps, sidewalks, driveways and any nonflammable surfaces. HEAT metal castings, pipe and tubing, branding irons, pots, kettles, tar, asphalt and roofing materials. STERILIZE bird and animal cages, pens and other nonflammable confinement areas. REMOVE paint, grease, oil, plastic and other residues from metal, concrete and other nonflammable objects.

Romantic Garden Date

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If you’re looking for something romantic to do with your sweetheart and have run out of ideas, try gardening together.  Gardening has become one of the most popular ways couples spend time together because it brings you together while giving you something to show for it with lasting effects.

There are a few ways you can do it to make it work best for you.  If you want to work on a single patch of yard together, it can really give you a lot of time together as you regularly make trips out into the garden.  Likewise, if you’d rather you both have your own separate plots, it could turn into a fun game.

Before you start, take a look at an online floral site to see what awesome finds you can grab.  If you’re careful, you can re-plot pretty much anything you buy and barring that, you might be able to take the seeds or stems and try to grow something completely new.  Having a ton of great flowers and plants around will also give you guys the motivation you need to keep up with your garden in the long term.

The fun part about gardening with your significant other is that it’s a great way to get your creativity going and spend time together while you’re doing it.  As you go through your options to figure out what compost you’re going to use or what different types of plants you’re going to grow, you’ll be able to bring together your personalities and get closer to one another in the process.

The best part about this romantic endeavor is that if you’re planting flowers, you’ll never be on short supply for those spur of the moments when you want to do something sweet for your partner.  Not only are these flowers available at all hours of the day just by walking outside your backdoor, but they’re quite more meaningful when they’re something that you’ve both cultivated together.  And of course they make great décor.

If you decide you guys would rather grow vegetables, it can still be just as romantic as growing roses or tulips.  When the spring time rolls around, you’ll be able to harvest what you’ve grown and put them into meals pretty regularly.  Not only will this be healthier, make you feel great for having achieved something, and give you a ton of bragging rights with the neighbors, but it will also give your dinners a little extra something they may not have had before.

Romantic Idea: Try planting both flowers and vegetables.  Then every once in a while, have a romantic night in where you use the flowers from the garden as a beautiful centerpiece while you eat dinner with the vegetables you’ve grown.  You’d be amazed at how much of an impact this will make with you two knowing that you’re enjoying something you guys worked hard on together.

Gardening is one of the best ways to spend time with your significant other without needing to leave the house and you’ll be able to have a fun project with it that will have lasting benefits.  No matter what you decide to grow, it will be something that both of you made together and when you’re able to enjoy it, it will bring you guys closer than you were before.

My Tomato Planting Adventures

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Tomato Plants are not known for being forgiving. They are not beginner plants. Tomatoes give seasoned gardeners nightmares. So why is it that I keep torturing myself by trying and trying to grow them?

Maybe I like a challenge.

Maybe I think that I’ll do better with a difficult crop, since my luck with “easy” plants is sporadic at best.

Maybe I really like Salsa.

Ok, so it’s mostly that last one. I like to do things for myself, and making salsa with my own tomatoes would be awesome.

Of course, my need to do everything for myself is part of my problem. When I first decided that I was going to take on tomatoes, I wanted to start from the very beginning, no pre-grown seedlings for me. I read up on how to grow my own seedlings and then I found the tip that was going to save me time, effort, and frustration.

I could direct-sow my seeds right in the garden as long as there was four months between frosts in my area! That was perfect! As soon as it started to get warm I would plant my seeds and I’d have tomatoes in no time.

So I spent the entire second weekend of March preparing my “garden” (an unearthed portion of my back yard). I had the hose system all prepared so I wouldn’t get water on the leaves or fruit; I’d read about those nasty black spots. I had chosen an area that had a decent sun/shade ratio, so I was happy with that. I had chosen the perfect tomato cages for when it was time to use them. I sat down Sunday night, exhausted, but with the taste of homemade salsa on my mind.

That Wednesday my heart broke because of frost. I swore I’d never enjoy snow again.

I looked at the weather report. I read gardening blogs. Looks like I had jumped the gun. Apparently Mother’s Day is a really popular day to plant tomatoes. Seedlings, of course, but supposedly it only took 5-6 weeks to grow seedlings. I still had plenty of time. But I wasn’t going to take a shortcut this time. I decided to pot them.

Two weeks later, I had managed to drown all of my newly planted tomato seeds. I was told by a friend that there was no way the seeds could survive the daily dousing I’d been giving them, so I didn’t end up living with false hope that I’d have tomatoes any time soon.

By this time, I was frustrated. I stayed home from work for two days and read everything I could about planting tomatoes. I was going to try this one more time.

I used a special seedling soil mix. I kept my plants in a warm, but dark area. I watered less often, but was sure that my seeds didn’t get dry.

They sprouted. I repotted them in a 6-pack, each plant in their own little home. I had a special spray bottle for my tomato plants. After germination, I had them in the light almost constantly, but not quite, after all, too much light was as harmful as not as much.

All that was in my head were facts about tomatoes. I coddled those poor plants, but they were making it. I fertilized them. I petted them so to “train” them to be strong. I may have talked to them a bit. I was getting ridiculous.

I of course had been depriving myself of salsa because I knew my own homemade salsa would be worth waiting for. I finally caved and made some from store-bought tomatoes. That moment (hour) of salsa-goodness reminded me why I was doing this, and I remembered to relax. After all, gardening is supposed to be good for you.

3 of my plants made it to my garden. 2 bore tomatoes. Many of those tomatoes were either spotted or devoured by bugs. But I did have one nice batch of salsa to show for all my hard work.

Since then, I’ve given in and bought seedlings. Some years I still start from seed. To my dismay, my second year yielded fewer tomatoes than my first. But then the third year was pretty good. I’ve learned lots of tricks, and I’ve turned my focus to other plants, but tomatoes have probably taught me more gardening lessons than any other vegetable. Most of all, they’ve taught me that I need to relax and have patience. I’ve also learned that the world doesn’t end when plants die, as sad and frustrating as it can be.

What gardening lessons have you learned?

 

Mackenzie Kupfer has been a lover of all things green since the age of six when she began gardening with her Nana. She is currently an online publisher for the tomato cage supplier, Avant Garden Decor. In her free time, Mackenzie enjoys attending garden shows, hiking, and collecting ceramic tea sets.

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