Raised Bed Gardening

Robert and Billie Nicholson

Getting to the Root of the Problem

We have been enjoying raised bed gardening for years and have had great success growing a wide variety of healthy, delicious and cost effective fresh vegetables. We use artificial soil as described below. This works great, so great that everything wants to be in the soil, including roots from other nearby trees, shrubs, etc. Our solution was to build a raised square foot garden so that nearby roots are not aware of our rich soil. Other advantages include not stooping to tend the plants and those with disabilities can sit in a wheelchair to continue the pleasures of gardening. Also when building the raised portion of your growing bed you can adjust the length of the legs to accommodate the slope of your property. We can build a few beds at our lake house and not have our veggies tumbling into the lake.

Our raised garden bed table was made from pressure treated lumber and placed on cement blocks. To keep the chemicals used to preserve the wood frame isolated from our soil we installed a plastic barrier, plastic composite decking and ground cloth before placing our plastic composite garden kit (4’x8’) on top. We secured the garden kit to the table with metal braces and 3 ½ inch #10 stainless steel screws.  The finishing touch was to place strips of ground cloth at right angles inside the garden bed to prevent soil from washing through the cracks as the unit ages.

Raised Bed Gardening

Raised Bed Gardening

For The Growing Medium:
We buy our growing medium from the local farm store and get a better price.
1/3 – (4 cu foot bail) – Peat Moss
1/3 – (4 cu foot bag) – Vermiculite
1/3 blend of the following:
– Composted cow manure
– Composted chicken manure
– Composted mushroom


Start by opening the peat moss and break it up into small pieces in the bed. Add vermiculite and mix well. Open other bags and mix well working out lumps. Mix all growing medium dry. When finished mixing, water in the growing medium well (about one hour), test bed by checking bottom for dampness. If the bottom is dry, water until damp. This soil mixture has its good & bad issues. Good: Very rich mixture & great 1st year yields with no weed seeds. Bad: Very rich mixture so that every root in the area wants to invade the rich soil.

This rich bed is so delicious that garden worms will come to live. If you see worms in the yard pick them up and place into your new raised bed garden to speed up the worming process. We buy garden worms every 5 years or so. This year we ordered 1000 worms from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm. They come with homecoming instructions. Go to http://unclejimswormfarm.com

NEVER step into your raised bed, as this will compact the soil and impede the great things to come. Reach in from either side to do your gardening work.

You are now ready to plant. Remember that this method of growing will yield bigger plants than you are used to seeing, so be careful to not plant your new seedlings too close together. More information is found at http://www.squarefootgardening.com

Raised Bed Gardening

Photos Rusty Buggy Enterprises, Inc.

Billie Nicholson, editor
April 2015

Gardening by the Moon

Planting a garden using the phases of the moon is a method of cultivation as old as agriculture itself. For centuries, farming records show a reliance on using the proper phase of the moon for timing planting, crop maintenance and harvesting.  Astrology and it’s symbolic figures were used as guides for many parts of everyday life including planting, harvesting, raising, butchering meats, and even marrying. The Farmer’s Almanac, still published today, includes these directions along with a long range weather forecast and suggestions for other life activities. This old style knowledge provides a schedule for planting that we can use just as gardeners in days passed. Today it is referred to as “Biodynamic Gardening.” 1
As the moon revolves around the earth the sun’s light creates a changing shape or phase of the moon as seen from earth. The earth’s gravity is affected by both the sun, moon and planets. The ocean tides are highest during a full moon, when the sun and moon are lined up with the earth.  Our forefathers believed that as the moon draws the tides, it also draws upon all water, causing moisture to swell up in the earth promoting growth. This is the best time to plant.

Moon phases

Gardening By Moon Phases

  1. New moon to first quarter – This is the time to plant above ground crops; those you can see. Examples are cabbage, celery, broccoli, brussels sprouts, asparagus, grains, leeks, celery, lettuce, spinach, parsley, cauliflower.
  2. First quarter to full moon – At this time you would plant above ground crops that you can see that have seed within a fruit or pod, and flowers. Examples are tomatoes, peppers, beans, melons, cucumbers, beans, squash.
  3. Full moon to last quarter – This is when you plant root crops, bulbs, perennials and biennials. The idea is that these plants need strong roots. Examples are onion, turnips, garlic, carrots, beets and radishes.
  4. Last quarter to new moon – If you have to plant during this time, it must be in a fruitful sign such as Scorpio, Pisces, Cancer, Taurus, Libra or Capricorn. If you need to weed, or cultivate, do it in a barren sign like Virgo, Leo, Aquarius, Gemini, Sagittarius or Aries. Harvest in Aquarius, Gemini, Leo, Aries, or Sagittarius. 2

Our Moon zooms around the Zodiac wheel while visiting each of the 12 signs in only 28 and a quarter days, thus having to change into a different astrological sign every 2-3 days. With the understanding that each of our 12 signs are categorized into the 4 elements of fire, earth, air and water- this is the basis of how one can determine what sign the Moon is passing through is the best one to plant under to make sure that a successful harvest will be the end result. Moon phase gardening has been around a long time. It is worth trying if you haven’t yet.    Learn More

Billie Nicholson, Editor
January 2015


1.   http://www.moongrow.com/moon_phase_gardening.html
2.   http://www.vegetablegardener.com/item/10141/using-moon-phases-as-a-planting-guide


Our January 2015 issue of “Every Needful Thing”  also includes:

The Motivation Factor

The Magic of the Side by Stephen D. Palmer

9 Simple Tips to Prevent Antibiotic Resistance by Gaye Levy

How Many Plastic Bags Do You Use?

and from Our Solar Chef – Vegetarian Chickpea Curry Pie

Don’t miss our January Special on case lots of fuel disks for your Cube Stove

Growing Your Own Food All Year

As the summer season draws to a close, many gardeners wish for a longer growing season. Never fear, the answers are here. There are several things that the everyday gardener can do to extend the growing season for our gardens. As the weather cools, it is time to select new seeds or slips to plant that can tolerate cooler temperatures. Just as in the spring we planted lettuce, radishes, beets and carrots, the same pattern can be repeated in the fall. In addition, you can add more cold tolerant vegetables that will produce leaves and roots to eat. These can be divided into temperature tolerances, for example:

  • growing your own food all year


    Low temperature tolerant plants that can grow outside but are very sensitive to frost

    • lettuce
    • chickory, endive, escarole
    • broccoli
    • cauliflower
    • parsley, cilantro
    • radishes, celery, bok choy
  •     Medium cold tolerant plants can grow outside but it helps to cover them as the temperature
    Grow Your Own Food All Year



    • Chinese cabbage, sorrel
    • rutabaga
    • collards, kale, spinach
    • beets
    • carrots
    • parsnips
    • snow peas
  • High cold tolerant may survive uncovered but can be protected by
    Grow Your Own Food All Year


    row cover

    • turnips
    • Brussels sprouts
    • cabbage



The most important factor is knowing when to plant in the fall. As the weather gets cooler and day length decreases, plant growth slows down and will eventually come to a stop when the day length gets below 10 hours. In much of the US, land north of the 30º latitude has day length shorter than 10 hours between mid-November and mid-January. Check your location here. Your goal is to get plants to maturity before that day length happens. If you get them nearly mature, they will hold in the ground until you harvest them. Review the maturation date on the seed packets and plant those seeds within a time that will work. You can vary planting days to stretch your harvest. Pay attention as the night temperature begins to drop. Cover plants that are most delicate upon threats of frost. Find your average frost dates here.

There are several techniques to protect plants as the temperatures drop.

  1. Plant your garden in a south facing field. These beds will get more sun exposure and soil will retain heat longer each day.
  2. Protect from wind. Wind can cause more damage than cold. Planting near a protective wall, fence or hedge can raise the air  temperature several degrees
  3. Plant in cold frames. These boxes are constructed with slanted walls and designed to have a topGrowing Your Own Food All Year cover of plastic or glass. The top can be raised during the day and during watering but replaced at night when temperatures may drop to the frost level.  There are many ways to build cold frames, but the idea is to create a warm place for plants to continue growing. See  “The Cold Frame Handbook”  to get plans and more details.
  4. Grow Your Own Food All YearUse row covers. Made from wire or 1/2” PVC electrical conduit pipe bent into the ground. A 10’ pipe can be bent to cover a 5-6’ bed. Use sand bags to secure at each hoop or insert a small piece of rebar in each end . Cover with spun fabric which is light weight, translucent, and breathable. This will provide wind protection and increase ground temperatures 5-10º F. Fabric that is made to 1 oz thickness allows 70% sunlight through. You can double this cover in real cold weather. Be sure to take it off during the warmest part of the day. Get precise construction directions here.
  5. Greenhouses are the final answer for those gardeners who feel the need for dirty fingers all year
    Grow Your Own Food All Year


    long. The sky is the limit for greenhouse kits. They can range in size from table-top starter boxes to arboretums. They can be attached or free standing. A greenhouse should be large enough to walk into. The frame cover can be plastic sheets, vinyl panels or glass inserts. You will need a source of water, vents and perhaps a fan to make it most useful. Here is an extensive article on “Choosing the Best Greenhouse Kit” . In locations that have harsh winters, use row  covers in the green house.





Billie Nicholson, editor
September 2014





Additional articles in the September 2014 newsletter include:

Home Security Checklist

Emergency Preparedness for people with disabilities

Introducing the UV Paqlite

Solar Moroccan Style Meatballs from our Solar Chef

Be Disaster Aware

Leadership: Restoring order during catastrophic chaos

Gardening with Epsom Salt

Billie Nicholson

      epsom saltDid your grand parents use Epsom salt for something more than a hot tub bath after a hard day’s work? In addition to human health and wellness, it can help garden plants thrive, too. Epsom salt, Magnesium Sulfate, gets it’s name from the town of Epsom, England, where it was first distilled from water in the late 1500’s. It works to correct a magnesium or sulfur deficiency in the soil as an “organic fertilizer.”

Magnesium is an essential element in the chlorophyll molecule that allows plants to be able to convert light into energy. Photosynthesis is the chemical process that makes this conversion of light into energy-rich glucose molecules using water and carbon dioxide. It is the basis for life.1  Magnesium aids in nitrogen and phosphorus absorption and helps seeds germinate. Sulfur is an ingredient in two of the amino acids, methionine and cysteine, necessary to synthesize proteins. It also aids in other nutrient absorption.  The chemical compound, magnesium sulfate, is a highly soluble soil amendment, which means it can be absorbed by plants through their leaves as well as through their roots. It is also pH neutral, so it will not alter the soil pH. It promotes growth, color and overall plant health.2

Before you plant, add one cup of Epsom salt to every 100 square feet of soil. Mix it in thoroughly. If you have already planted, lightly sprinkle it over the newly planted area and water in with a hose sprinkler. Once plants are established, make a liquid fertilizer mixture of one tablespoon Epsom Salt to each gallon of water and apply four times during the season.3 Tomatoes and peppers are prone to magnesium deficiency. Add a tablespoon or two per hole before planting seeds or transplants and supplement with the liquid as they grow and develop fruit.

Epsom salt can revitalize your garden. It does not cause a chemical build up in the soil or harm plants when used.  Many gardeners credit their garden success to Epsom salt applications.


  1. http://drsircus.com/medicine/magnesium/magnesium-the-lamp-of-life
  2. http://www.ehow.com/way_5714066_much-salt-should-put-plants_.html
  3. http://www.saltworks.us/gardening-with-epsom-salt.asp


Additional Articles in the April 2014 Issue:

  • A reminder to review and rotate three types of items in your 72 hour emergency kit.
  • A discussion of the importance of “duck and cover” in surviving a nuclear attack
  • What are your plans to provide protein in your diet in an emergency situation? Here are some items to add to your supplies
  • Are members of your family hearing impaired that might not hear a smoke alarm?
  • Our featured contributor this month is Tess Pennington of ReadyNutrition.com. She shares an article about Bio Mass Briquettes. Now you’ll have an environmentally friendly use for those shredded documents.
  • Sun Ovens are a perfect partner for bio mass briquettes, here’s how …
  • Some of our friends have complained that their yards were so shady that they doubted they could grow anything in a garden. In answer to their questions, here are some plants that can be grown in shade. Don’t give up on your yard either. Read more
  • We can all be prepared to take the initiative to save a life, should we be faced with a life or death situation. Here are three critical first aid procedures that can be accomplished with one dressing.
  • Our Solar Chef has included a wonderful recipe for Solar Stuffed Shells. Give it a try, these are yummy.

Billie Nicholson, Editor
April 2014

7 Uses for Baking Soda in the Garden

Baking SodaBaking soda for is very useful for cleaning in our homes. Here are some garden uses, too.

  1. Make a non-toxic Fungicide – Mix 4 tsp baking soda in 1 gallon of water. Use on roses for black spot fungus and also on grapes when fruit appear.
  2. Spray for Powdery Mildew – 1 TBS baking soda, 1 gal of water, 1 TBS vegetable oil, 1 TBS of dishwashing liquid. Mix ingredients together and spray plants weekly. Apply on an overcast day to prevent foliage burns.
  3. Discourage Gnats in Soil & Fungus on leaves – Mix 4 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp biodegradable soap in 1 gallon of water. Mix well, spray infected foliage or soil as needed.
  4. Discourage Weeds – Pour or sweep baking soda in a thick layer into cracks on a sidewalk or patios. Baking soda should kill any small weeds already sprouted and prevent new ones from coming up.
  5. Kill Cabbage Worms – Mix equal parts of flour and baking soda. Dust plants (cabbage, kale, broccoli, etc.) when cabbage worms are seen. They will munch on the leaves and die in a day or two. Repeat as needed.
  6. Kill Crabgrass – Wet the crabgrass and pour a heavy dusting of soda on the weed. Crabgrass will start dying back in 2-3 days.
  7. Clean Your Hands – After a day in the garden and dirt, clean your hands by rubbing and scrubbing wet hands with baking soda. Rinse well.

Reproduced with Permission Plant Care Today

10 Natural Fertilizer Recipes

Cindy Rajhel at Home Grown Fun

10 Natural Fertilizer RecipesLook around the house and locally for materials you can use to make your own fertilizer. Surprises await in your waste bin.

  • Banana Peels – Eating a banana helps replenish lost potassium. Roses love potassium too. Simply throw one or two peels in the hole before planting or bury peels under mulch so they can compost naturally. Get bigger and more blooms.
  • Coffee Grounds – Acid loving plants such as tomatoes, blueberries, roses and azaleas love coffee grounds mixed into the soil, sprinkled on top of the ground before watering, or poured on top of the soil. If using as a soil drench, soak 6 cups of coffee grounds in a 5 gallon bucket of water. Let it sit for 2-3 days and then saturate the soil around your plants. 
  • Egg Shells – Wash them first, then crush. Work the shell pieces into the soil near tomatoes and peppers. The calcium helps fend off blossom end rot. Eggshells are 93% calcium carbonate, the same ingredient as lime, a tried and true soil amendment! I use eggshells in my homemade potting mix. This gives me healthy, beautiful fruits fit for seed saving.
  • Seaweed – Fresh seaweed should be washed well before use to remove salt. Asian markets sell dried seaweed. Both fresh and dried versions are considered excellent soil amendments. Seaweed contains trace elements and actually serves as a food source for soil microbes. Chop up a small bucket of seaweed and add it to 5 gallons of water.  Let it sit for 2-3 weeks loosely covered. Use it to drench the soil and foliage. 2 cups work well for a small plant, 4 cups for a medium plants and 6 cups for a large plant. Experiment with amounts. Combine seaweed with other tea fertilizers.
  • Weeds – You’ve got your own fertilizer growing under your feet!  Nettles, comfrey, yellow dock, burdock, horsetail and chickweed make wonderful homemade fertilizer. There are several ways you can use them to make your own brew or to speed up your compost pile. If your weeds have not gone to flower you can dry them in the sun and chop them up to use as a mulch. They are high in nitrogen and won’t rob your plants of nutrients. Borage (starflower) is an herb but for some people it’s a weed. It has many of the same nutritional properties as comfrey. I dry the entire plant, root and all, and put it in my compost tumbler. It helps break everything down and gives the pile an extra dose of heat. For this next brew, get out the bucket and your bandana! The bandana you’ll need for your nose because this technique gets stinky! Place a bunch of weed leaves and roots in a 5 gallon bucket. Weigh down the leaves with a brick to ensure the plant matter is covered and add water to cover. Stir weekly and wait 3-5 weeks for the contents to get thick an gooey. Then use that goo, diluted 1:10 or more as a soil drench fertilizer. To make it even more convenient, you can use two buckets and make a hole in the bottom of the bucket that contains the plants. The goo will seep through to the lower bucket.  It’s always best to apply the liquid fertilizer diluted – it should look like weak tea.
  • Molasses – Using molasses in compost tea increases microbes and the beneficial bacteria that microbes feed on. If you want to start out with a simple recipe for molasses fertilizer, mix 1-3 tablespoons of molasses into a gallon of water. Water your plants with this concoction and watch them grow bigger and healthier.
  • Human Urine – Sounds disgusting, but urine is considered sterile if the body it’s coming from is healthy and free of viruses and infection. High in nitrogen, urea contains more phosphorous and potassium than many of the fertilizers we buy at the store! If serving tomatoes that have been fertilized with pee gives you the “willies”, try it in the compost pile. A good ratio of urine to water would be 1:4. You can collect a cup of urine and pour it into 4 cups of water in a plastic bucket used outside for fertilizing plants. Pour 2 cups around the perimeter of each SMALL plant. For MEDIUM plants add 4 cups and LARGE plants deserve a good 6 cups of your personal home brew.
  • Grass Clippings – Rich in nitrogen, grass breaks down over time and enhances the soil. Fill a 5 gallon bucket full of grass clippings. You can even add weeds! Weeds soak up nutrients from the soil just as much as grass. Add water to the top of the bucket and let sit, covered for 3 weeks. Stir it once a week. Dilute your grass tea by mixing 1 cup of liquid grass into 10 cups of water. Apply to the base of plants using the same amounts as listed above in the urine recipe.
  • Manure – Chicken, horse, cow manure. With a little effort, you’ll find folks that are giving away composted animal manure for free. Use manure that has been exposed to air and heat for at least six months. To speed up the process, add some straw, shredded paper or leaves. Add the composted manure to a small permeable bag made from recycled cloth, e.g., a t-shirt or old towel. Let it steep in the shade for a few days and apply it to your soil to condition it before planting. Bury or discard the used bag. Some people use manure tea to soak bare root roses!
  • Cat and Dog Food – Depending on the dog food you recycle, this soil amendment may not be organic.  However, even the cheap stuff contains protein and micro-nutrients that benefit the soil. To prepare a garden plot for planting, sprinkle dry pet food on the bed, turn the soil and water. Let it decay naturally. To discourage wildlife from visiting for a snack, cover with cardboard until the food decomposes. The cardboard will also trap moisture and discourage weeds. Make sure the cardboard get wet all the way through and cover with mulch. Water thoroughly every week for four weeks. Soybean meal and alfalfa pellets from the grain store work great too. Sometimes grain stores will sell for cheap or give away spoiled grains. Check the feed for salt content and try not to add pet or animal food considered high in sodium. The AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) recommends dry dog food contain a minimum of 3% sodium to support normal growth and development.
  • Cornmeal – Contains lots of phosphorus and nitrogen and acts as an effective fungicide. Add a cup of cornmeal to 5 gallons of water. Let it soak for several hours, then strain the liquid so you can add it to a spray bottle. Spray the leaves of plants that are susceptible to fungus. You can combine this cornmeal tea with compost tea for even more benefits. I use the leftover water from cooking corn on my vegetable garden.
  • Worm Poo – Making my own worm tea is easy. I started with a handful of red wiggler worms about 6 years ago and haven’t stopped since. Check out our video below on composting with worms to see how easy it is to make this amazing fertilizer!
  • Reproduced with Permission. To read more articles by Cindy, visit her website at Home Grown Fun

General Purpose Weed Killer

SimpleWeedkillerThere are lots of references for natural weed killers.

One inexpensive herbicide is a combination of vinegar and dish soap. Apply this treatment on a sunny day. The acetic acid in vinegar will burn the weed leaves on contact and lower the pH of the soil, making recovery difficult.

To a gallon of vinegar, add a teaspoon of liquid dish soap,

which helps the vinegar stick to the plant leaves. If you plan to use the area treated for something other than plants, you can add 1/2 cup of salt as well. This will add a final blow to the ground. Remember in history and Bible classes, reading about how a conquerer salted the fields? Just in case there were battle survivors, plants would not grow for some time and the survivors would starve.


Mel Morganstein

Do you have nasty, woody, deep rooted weeds

growing in your garden amongst all the other plants you want to keep? I’m talking about the ones with taproots so deep you can’t pull them out, or even dig down to the end of the root to loosen it enough to yank! Some have roots longer than the length of plant above the ground. The problem too is that they are so close to desirable plants you simply cannot spray them with weed killer either! And for these plants you need poison ivy or “woody” weed killer and you need to somehow apply this ONLY to that plant.

“Guante de Muerto”

Here is the trick I came up with that I call my “Guante de Muerto” or “Glove of Death!” You need to mix up a small necked quart bottle of WOODY weed or POISON IVY or BRUSH killer, you can even make it a bit concentrated! For safety, I put a latex surgical type glove on my left hand, followed by a disposable polyethylene glove. THEN I put on only one left absorbent COTTON glove. They are very inexpensive! (All right handed if you are a lefty) Now, go out into the garden and pour some of the weed killer into your left glove to soak the palm and lightly grasp the stem of the plant you want to kill near the base. Carefully pull your hand up along the length of the plant, coating the undersides of "Guante de Muerto"

the leaves with the brush killer solution. You don’t want to grasp it so tightly that you strip the leaves off, but you need to coat the leaves because these herbicides by being ABSORBED INTO THE PLANT BY THE LEAVES!. The herbicide is distributed by the plant through its system and kills everything, roots and all. The neat thing about the Guante de Muerto (which has kind of a ring to it!) is that if you are careful, you are ONLY applying the killer to the plant you want to kill! You can keep reusing the glove. Be sure to extensively wash your hands when you are done!

Growing Your Own Food

This article was written from notes taken at a webinar presented by Jason Matyas and Rob Wokaty

Grow Your Own FoodThis is the time to begin planning your spring garden. Beyond Off Grid presented a webinar filled with answers to many questions you might have about growing your own food. There are four major constraints: planning factors, how much can you grow, how much can you expect to produce, and how to handle preserving the harvest. These things need to be considered before the first shovel of soil has been turned over.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Get a soil test to determine the pH (acidity) and the organic matter content.
  • Which way does the space face? Southwest facing beds get the most sun, warm earlier in the season and stay warm longer during the day.
  • What is around the growing space? Is there shade? Is there nutrient competition?
  • What about availability of water? How will you get it to your plants?
  • The space available will determine the style of gardening you do: rows, square foot, vertical towers.
  • What is the growing season length?  The difference between the date of the last spring frost and the first fall frost is your growing season. This varies with elevation and latitude, and will determine which plant varieties you should grow..
  • Do you know how to extend the growing season in your area? Cold frames help.
  • How much harvest can you expect? Some plants are one timers, and others are multi-bearing. Does what you plant have more than one edible part? Did you know that sweet potato greens are edible?

This information packed webinar can be accessed at the website: BeyondOffGrid.com There are many others scheduled. Feel free to sign up to attend.


Winter Window Garden

Are you missing green plants this winter? We were and were wondering how we could solve this, when we saw a photo of green onions growing on a window sill.  Since onions have been being used for years for  health benefits, growing some seemed to be a win-win. Early American settlers, Chinese medicine practitioners, and even the World Health Organization have used onions to treat colds, coughs, and asthma, and to repel insects and maybe a few people, too. Recently, they have been noted to keep blood free of clots and to kill tumor cells.

Winter Window Garden Directions

Starting with a recycled plastic juice jug, we cut off the top and drilled drainage holes in the bottom. The plastic was tough, so we started holes with the drill. From the starter holes we used kitchen shears and trimmed out circles less than 1” in diameter. We made three rows, shifting positions so they were not all in a vertical line. A few pebbles went in first followed by planting soil, filling to the first holes. Onion sets (we used Snowball variety) were positioned with tips protruding out the holes. On top we planted a starter pot of thyme. After a good soaking, the jug took it’s place on the kitchen window sill. The last photo was taken 1 week later. Onions are sprouting and thyme is much happier, too.

winter window garden

winter window garden

winter window garden

Billie Nicholson 2014

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