Friday, October 30, 2009

Solar Decathlon and Living Walls

The Solar Decathlon places 20 university teams from around the world against each other to see who can design, build, and operate the most energy-efficient, solar-powered and good looking home. While I was there for the 2009 competition (without my camera, d'oh!), these pics are from the 2007 competition. I loved the German entry (lower picture), and apparently team Germany outdid themselves again this year, earning 1st place for their design. I also LOVED the living walls installed on the top picture. Beauty and function all in one place! The living wall helps keep the home cool in the summer, and insulates during the winter.
PNC bank recently installed a 2,380 square foot living wall at their headquarters in Pittsburgh, PA. They even sourced all the plants locally, and used many native plants in the design. Engineering comes into play when you have a 24 ton living wall attached to your building, but many smaller versions can be installed on the side of a garage or shed quite easily. Some companies are now offering modular systems that make it even easier. or doing a major project on your home, it is always a good idea to check and see if any permitting is required...usually attainable by working with a local contractor or landscape contractor. Who will be the first garden center to incorporate a living wall into their operation? The race is on!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Local Farmers Markets Rock!

Ahhh, the local farmers market! West Chester, PA holds a Growers Market, simply to differentiate that if you sell it here, you must have grown it yourself...none of that buying potatoes from Idaho and passing them off as your own! I appreciate the local farms bringing in the freshest produce, fruit, flowers, meats, cheeses, mushrooms, jams, wines, prepared foods, perennials...the list just goes on!
Our market goes from May 1 to December...depending on weather most of the vendors make it each weekend. It is the Saturday morning ritual for my wife and I to enjoy our coffee, then get there nice and early. If you make it to the market early, not only do you get to see the beautiful displays created to entice passing shoppers, but you also get the best selection.
Don't know where the closest farmers market is to you? Check out to find out! Saturday is the day for farmers markets...although many are now open during the week to make it easy for people to pick up fresh food on the way home from work.
These pictures are from our local vendors....Queens Farm and North Star Orchard....two of the 16 or so vendors at the West Chester Growers Market each week. Love the oyster mushrooms from Queens Farm and those Asian Pears from North Star Orchard!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Burlap Deer Fence

Once again the good folks at North Creek Nurseries have outdone themselves in creativity. Check out this alternative to a traditional deer fence! In the Mid-Atlantic region, especially here in southeast PA, we have more deer than can be supported by the native vegetation (like most areas of the country), so the hungry deer set themselves upon our gardens with blissful intent...much to our dismay when we step outside in the morning only to find your lettuce patch or hosta collection eaten to the nubs!
Traditional deer fence is a black woven poly fence, available at heights from 6' to 10'. FYI...most deer are able to jump any 6' fence. There are tricks to planting hedges close to the fence, as research shows most deer are reluctant to make a double jump, as they cannot get up the momentum needed to clear a second hurdle that is taller than the next. Also, creating garden rooms where the deer cannot clearly see out, or an excape route, makes deer nervous and less likely to linger while nibbling on your prized perennial or veggie garden.

This fence was put up by sinking posts on 20' centers and running wire from post to post. #2 wire works great, the thicker the better to stand up over time. The wire was tightened up as much as possible, then nailed into the posts. Next, a 8' wide roll of burlap was unrolled along the length of the fence, and looped over the wire that stretches from post to post. To secure the burlap in place (here comes another genius moment) they used common nails woven through the layers of burlap, much like you pin a button on a shirt. Check out the close up to see how its done.

Need a door for that fence? Make one out of PVC and attach the burlap in the same way. When asked about deer encounters, I was surprised to here they did not have any deer problems this year, nor did they have any rips or tears in the burlap, due to animals or weather. This summer was particularly brutal in terms of constant rain and wind, but their burlap fence has remained intact all year. I will report back next year to see how it fares in year #2. Until then, if youre having deer problems and need a economical solution, try out the burlap fence! It probably would work on bunnies too! Although you might want to run another wire at the base to strengthen up the fence. Dont want to go to all that trouble, or have neighbors that would chastize you for putting up any fence? Try liquid fence products (

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Our ingredients: Compost, Worm Castings, Rice Hulls, and Coconut Fiber

I thought it might be interesting for people to see pictures of our raw ingredients, used to make Organic Mechanics premium potting soils. On the right we have a picture of beautiful compost. Note the dark rich color and small particle size.

This next picture shows our rice hulls, an ingredient in our Container Blend.

These rice hulls are parboiled to remove any weed seed and diseases that may have been on the rice. It is just the shell of the rice grain. These rice hulls come from Arkansas! They make Organic Mechanics Container Blend very fluffy and improve drainage. We use them in some of our mixes in place of perlite to increase the earth-friendlyness of our Blends. They will break down slowly over time and leave pore space for water and oxygen exchange.

Next we have a close up of pure worm castings! If you look closely you can see the individual castings! Worm castings are a plants best friend. Castings help retain moisture and are a vital source of beneficial biology. Check out how to make "worm casting tea" for your plants, instructions on our Products page. Organic Mechanics Premium Blend Potting Soil contains the optimum amount of worm castings, so no additional amending is required to grow perfect herbs and veggies.

Finally we have a picture of the coconut husk fiber. Coconut husk fiber is a by-product of the coconut industry. Each coconut has multiple products used to make many things from food to makeup to potting soil. The products are coconut oil, coconut meat, coconut shell, coconut fiber, and finally coconut dust/fiber. This amazing product is dried and compressed before shipping to us. Each block expands over 4 times its size, just like those sponges shaped like animals you put in water when you were a kid.

If you find a small nugget of coconut fiber or compost in Organic Mechanics, simply break up gently as you are potting your plants.

Next time you put your hands into a bag of Organic Mechanics, see if you can spot these ingredients!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sarah P. Duke Gardens

I was lucky enough to visit the triangle or Raleigh - Durham - Chapel Hill this summer, and fell in love with the Sarah P. Duke Garden on Duke's campus. How lucky are the students to have this treasure to enjoy! I saw about a dozen students tucked into corners of the garden, headphones on, studying away. The Yellow Flowers are Hedychium, or ginger. Looked for a name tag, but alas, it was either not there or covered by giant plants!

The landscape shot is in the heart of the garden, apparently the popular spot for weddings! There were wedding planners and brides-to-be walking the grounds when we were there! This shot represents only 1/20th of this garden space. I like how they designed garden rooms, so you have to explore to see everything.
Do you recognize this flower? Blooms in spring, white flowers, a beacon of hope in the understory forest, or a specimen tree in many a backyard, has red showy fruit this time of year that persists into the winter, birds love the fruit.....have you guessed it yet? Its a Dogwood...Cornus florida.

This last picture is in the water garden area. You can see hybrid water lilies on the pond surface, and a Tacca sp. (bat plant) in the center growing out of the water. These water lily pads are giant! These things are almost 3 feet across! These large pads originally came from the Amazon, likely selected for flower color, flower size, pad size, and WOW factor!
Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square PA also has a collection of these massive waterlily hybrids. Worth the visit if you have not been...though you will need to wait until August or so to see large pads...they get bigger as the summer progresses.
If you havent been to your local public garden in a while, check it out! This is the ideal time to experience fall in the garden. Between fall blooming plants, red, orange, and golden leaves, and berries galore...there is much to see and marvel over in the fall garden. Plus, what better time to get out and breathe some fresh crisp air! And, I bet they have lots of fun classes during the winter to keep you dreaming of spring....
My advice? Make up a thermos of hot chocolate to take along the way. Hot chocolate makes everybody happy...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Anyone know what species caterpillar this is?

I found this caterpillar on my Aster tartarica when I was cutting flowers to bring into the house. I nearly cut him in half! He was as thick as my thumb, and about 4 inches long. Look closely to see his teeth up front! (it is upsidedown in the picture) The flowers are of Aster tartarica. It is in full bloom now, and about 9 feet tall! Next year we plan to cut it back early in the season, before it sets flower buds, so it stays more compact in the garden. Hopefully we will see more of these guys eating it! This plant is so vigorous, I cannot even tell where the caterpillar ate! Thats my personal philosophy....plant enough so the caterpillars and insects can have their fill, in addition to harvesting enough for us to enjoy.

Friday, October 9, 2009

DC Green Festival!

This weekend is the DC green festival! A 2-day celebration of all things positively earth-friendly. Its a great chance to come see over 300 vendors with everything from home building products, to grocery products, original artwork, acclaimed speakers, and lots of non-profits making a difference everyday. Check it out at

These pictures show the size of the show and the awesome recycling centers set up around the show & stationed by volunteers. I do love a festival that actually walks the talk!

Saturday 10-7, Sunday 11-6. Washington Convention Center. While youre out and about, if you havent been over to the US National Arboretum or the US Botanical Garden in a while...check them out! The Botanic Garden has rotating exhibits in addition to their beautiful garden collections.

Need a bite to eat while in DC? Check out the Good Stuff Eatery for burgers & housemade ice cream and milkshakes!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Plastic Pot Recycling!

Plastic pots. Love em or hate em, there is no other cheap alternative for many nursery growers. Even though there has been much progress made in recent years with biodegradable pots, plastic will remain king for quite some time. As an earth friendly gardener it hurts my soul to see a dumpster or trash can full of nothing but plastic trash generated by gardening activities. Which is why I got so excited the other day!
I was out and about in Bucks County visiting customers, and look what I found at Bucks Country Gardens! I think the bin is new this year, but look how easy this garden center made it for their customers to recycle unwanted plastic pots. The message on the sides of the wire bin is simple and effective. All you need is a banner to wrap around the bin! Whenever possible, I think garden centers should accept and recycle plastic pots. Not only is this a benefit for your customers, and a reason for them to come back to your business, but also a benefit to gardeners, so we do not have to look at a small mountain of plastic in the garden or garage.
In case you were wondering, any and all plastic pots and flats can go into the bin. In some cases, garden center staff will have to sort the plastics before a recycler will come pick it up. My advice to you garden center managers out there, ask your local recycling center what they require. My advice to you gardeners out there, if your favorite garden center doesnt yet have a plastic pot recycling center, request it! Dont forget to remind them it will mean you will be there more often, dropping off old pots and buying new plants!
Until next time...Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and love your garden!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

American Beauties

Recently I was at North Creek Nurseries for their open house. North Creek is a wholesale nursery pumping out great plants all year long. Their most recent passion has been introducing native American Beauties into the garden center trade. With garden designed for butterfly gardens, bird gardens, moist sun or dry shade.

These pictures are of monarch butterflies, part of the butterfly release they did with over 75 local elementary school students. The kids loved it and learned a lot about butterfly host plants! The plants featured in these pictures are Echinacea and Phlox.