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To prune, or not to prune? That is the question. 

Anyone who has grown tomatoes before will tell you a crop can quickly overtake the garden, especially when growing indeterminate varieties. 

While some gardeners choose to leave every leaf and stem intact, there are many valid arguments as to why a little pruning should be done.

I was torn. Last year, I let my gardens go wild, and the result was, well… wild. I couldn’t see the forest through the trees. But my plants still performed quite well. 

The book Growing Tomatoes: Your Guide to Growing Delicious Tomatoes at Home, by Jason Johns, helped me make my decision.

Why Prune?   

Before flowers appear, a tomato plant focuses its efforts on producing leaves. Before you know it, your little seedlings will be 4 or 5 feet high and very bushy. 

But too many leaves or axillary stems aren’t necessarily a good thing. They quickly take over, but more importantly, too many leaves mean fewer flowers and fruit. The plant will focus its energy on growing greenery rather than beautiful, plump tomatoes. 

Fungus and disease are also more likely for an unpruned plant, as air circulation is poor and any leaves or stems that hang to the ground are more prone to spreading bacteria. 

And that’s where the argument for pruning a tomato plant wins. For me, anyway. I’ve babied these precious things far too long to have an unsuccessful crop.  

How To Prune

Start by pinching off the tomato plant’s suckers. These are the shoots that develop between a leaf and a stem, essentially sucking valuable energy away from the good stuff. 

They tend to snowball out of control, so be sure to check your garden every few days and take them off as they appear. 

You can use your fingers to pinch them off gently when they’re small. If they get away from you and grow a little too big, use a clean pair of pruners or a sharp knife to remove them, so you don’t damage the stem in the process. 

Beyond the suckers, you want to clear away any side stems and leaves below the first flower/fruit clusters on the vine (especially if they’ve started to yellow). 

Trust me; I cringed every time one of the beautiful-looking branches hit the ground. But sometimes, you have to be cruel to be kind. 

Clearing things out lower down on the stem will keep diseases at bay, as more air will be able to circulate throughout the plant and leaves will no longer touch the soil. 

Pruning The Tops

Matt Mattus, the author of Mastering the Art of Vegetable Gardening, recommends giving tomato plants a bit of a haircut once they’ve grown to the top of your staking material.

The sky is the limit for indeterminate varieties, so manually stopping their growth at a certain point will help them focus on maturing fruit. 

Snap off the growing tip just above the highest cluster of flowers or fruit on the plant. 

Easy Does It

Don’t go overboard, especially if you live in a warmer climate. A tomato plant still needs a lot of its foliage to survive, and in the blistering heat, the leaves will protect the fruit from burning. 

Remember to clean up all of the cut suckers and leaves from around the base of the plant. Leaving them there to decompose will only make your crop more susceptible to pests and diseases. 

Need more growing tips? Read Six Ways To Get The Biggest Plants Outdoors for more advice! 

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This article was originally published in Garden Culture Magazine US27 & UK29.

Sometimes, we cannot see wonderful things that are right under our noses. Many gardeners are looking for plants that are unique and exquisite. This is often the case with medicinal herbs; the exotic, rare, high-potency herb that grows only once in a blue moon is favored over the everyday weed that grows abundantly on the lawn or between the majestic rows of our gardens. It’s time to look at weeds from a new perspective, appreciating the simple plants that are well within reach and full of potent medicine.

Powerful Plantain

No matter where you live in the world, whether the city or countryside, you likely have already seen this humble weed. The genus Plantain includes several species; the most common is Plantago major (also known as broadleaf plantain, ribwort, or greater plantain), as well as the narrow-leaved one, Plantago lanceolata (English plantain or lambs tongue).

The modest-looking plant was brought to North America by the European Settlers, eventually given the name “White man’s foot” because plantain was found everywhere along the paths of the white man. The weed has very few demands, growing happily between two slabs of concrete, or in the freshly tilled soil of the gardens.

Not All Is What It Seems

Plantain is dull in appearance and as a result, gardeners often choose to rip the weed out of the soil. It is essential that we begin to look past its bland, green, rubbery leaves, and see the superhero powers they have within them. 

The First-Aid Kit 

If you’re planning on doing any outdoor activities, the tough leaves of the all-terrain plantain can be your first line of defense against insect stings and bites, scratches, first-degree sunburns, minor wounds, Poison Ivy, or itchy, irritated skin. 

All you have to do is chew on one or two fresh leaves, apply them directly to the affected area, and let the plantain do its magic. The medicinal weed will soothe and cool the skin, but plantain also holds properties that will draw things like splinters, dirt, stingers, or even venom, poison, and other infections from the body.

The plant’s antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties disinfect and help kill pathogenic organisms, speeding up the healing process and repair of damaged tissues. 

The really good news? Plantain grows in abundance and is free and extremely safe medicine. 

Internal Repair

Plantain is not only an incredible medicinal herb for external conditions; it also works wonders for the body’s internal organs. From the roots to the seeds, the entire plant is edible and is a wonderful ally of both the gastrointestinal tract and the digestive system!

The small, young leaves, as well as the immature shoots and green seeds, can be enjoyed as a delicious vegetable. The leaves contain vitamins A, C and K, beta carotene, silica, calcium, and potassium. 

As for the seeds, they are an excellent source of protein and fiber. When the seeds are mature and brown in color, they can be used similar to psyllium seeds, which are produced by their not so far cousin, Plantago ovata. Plantain seeds are packed with mucilaginous components, just like pectin. Once the seeds are hydrated, they will form the precious mucilage, a process called myxospermy. 

  • Take 1-2 tbsp of dried plantain seeds and soak them in a glass of hot water until the mucilage forms. Then, drink to soothe and lubricate the whole digestive system.  

Taken as a tea, dried plantain leaves will detoxify the body, working well to treat colds and flu, bronchitis, and bladder infections. It is also an excellent treatment for inflamed tissues. Plantain is a demulcent and will relieve minor discomfort and irritation by forming a soothing film over the affected mucous membrane. 

  • Infuse 1/4–1/2 tsp (1–3 grams) of the dried leaves in a cup of hot water for 10-15 minutes. Drink up to three cups a day to reap the benefits. 

The next time you encounter the plantain weed in your garden, instead of harshly sentencing it to the compost pile, rejoice, dry the plants, and make some wholesome medicine for the year to come! Plantain is a staple of the herbal apothecary; it’s a wonderful gift from Nature. 

Craving more medicinal weeds? Read the rest of our series:

Featured imaged courtesy of Living Green and Frugally.

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It’s easy to get carried away with a gardening venture and buy every tool and gadget available on the market. But are they all necessary for success? In reality, a beginning gardener needs these three basic tools:

  1. Hoe
  2. Watering can or hose
  3. Thermometer–Hygrometer
A gardener’s “series of unfortunate events”

In a garden, the wind can blow things away, the sun can burn our plants, the rain can drown them, and our hectic lifestyles often lead to a fair bit of neglect.

Let’s face it: gardening, whether pursued as a profession or a hobby, can be expensive. Why not spare the money whenever possible?

The Garden Hoe

Many people will use a shovel or rake to open little furrows for their delicate seeds. But a shovel is excellent for digging holes and piling dirt and a rake is handy for leveling light-textured soil.

The hoe, on the other hand, is the ultimate tool. Regardless of its shape, you’ll be able to use it in virtually every stage throughout the growing season.

Dig with it, open furrows, fluff up the crusty soil around your plants’ feet so that water can better access their roots, or use it to bend that high branch of your fig tree that’s loaded with fruit and you wouldn’t be able to reach without a ladder.

In other words, it’ll be hard for you to come by a day when the blessed hoe won’t be asked to leave the shack and get dirty, so buy yourself one and get growing.

The Watering Can or Hose

Many gardeners have a hose at their disposal, especially if they have many plants and/or a yard. People with small gardens don’t need one and will instead opt for a good watering can, which is always a good tool to have, no matter what size your property is. Some common problems with a hose include:

  • The pressure being a little high or at least not entirely controllable;
  • Muddy drops all over the leaves, having a negative impact on gas exchange and photosynthesis rates;
  • Wastage of water when compared to the methodic application via watering can;
  • Gradual impermeabilization of the soil;
  • And the dreaded destruction of plants by running them over with a stiff hose.

As your skills improve and your garden beds become larger, an upgrade to your watering system will be necessary.

Once you get there, find a decently sized hose with a good nozzle; you could also give sprinklers a chance. The choices are plentiful, so feel free to choose anything that suits your requirements.

The Thermometer–Hygrometer

More experienced gardeners know better than to be fooled by the local weather forecast that seems to change every hour, anyway. Serious gardeners can learn every detail about their soil with a thermometer and hygrometer.

I have long used these tools on my balcony’s flower stand. Once you install them, you’ll be amazed how often your eyes will wander towards the pointers that fluctuate from dawn till dusk.

Using the hygrometer’s clues for relative humidity, you can play with how your plants respond to the temperatures around them. Knowing that high moisture levels when the temperatures are highest will protect your flowers against quick dehydration, you’ll learn to keep a spray bottle nearby.

During cold winters, the effects of low temperature are also best prevented by increasing the relative air humidity. Once the mornings become chilly and there is little rain, wake up early and give your plants a drink to keep them free of rime-induced frost burns.

Be sure to shield these instruments from direct sunlight, as the hot rays can cause the values to jump. Place them on a clean surface by your indoor flowerpots or outside in the garden, open to the air but not touching soil, leaves, and water.

In the right conditions, they work flawlessly, and technical gadgets such as these help us better understand how the needs of our plants change throughout the year.

You need very few tools to get growing. Keep it smart and minimalist. Allow entanglement to sprout naturally in your garden, not inside your head.

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Plant pathogens can be devastating; beyond putting the plant at risk, the financial impact can also be huge, especially when it happens on a large scale. 

A Vancouver Island greenhouse is under quarantine after one of its plants tested positive for a harmful pathogen called Phytophthora ramorum. Now, the future of 100,000 plants at the Island View Nursery is in jeopardy.

The discovery means the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has placed the entire 32-hectare property belonging to the Island View Nursery under lockdown for at least two weeks. 

If the spores are still present after that time, the quarantine could be extended to 90 days.

And if that doesn’t do the trick, all of the plants will be burned due to their proximity to the one infected plant. 

What is Phytophthora ramorum?

P. ramorum is a fungus-like plant pathogen on the list of pests regulated by the government of Canada because of its wide host range and potentially harmful effects.

It causes diseases such as Ramorum Blight and Leafdrop on all kinds of nursery plants.

Signs of an infection include brown patches on the leaves or lost leaves, as well as brown, dead tips on the twigs. 

It has also been linked to a disease that affects oak trees, known as “Sudden Oak Death” that was first seen in California in the 1990s and has since spread as far as southern Oregon. 

The pathogen lives in soil and can move by water. The CFIA says that when an infected plant enters a nursery, the disease can spread quickly in the environment. Greenhouses and nurseries provide the perfect microclimates for the infection and reproduction of P. ramorum. 

Nurseries that propagate from infected plants or sell them help spread the disease even further, introducing it to backyards, municipal parks, and many other settings. The natural, native environment is put at considerable risk as a result.

The pathogen poses no risk to humans, animals, or food sources.

More cases

Meanwhile, the Illinois Department of Agriculture says the same pathogen has been found on ornamental plants sold at 10 Walmart stores and one Hy-Vee.

The plants were sold to the stores from nurseries in Washington and Canada. Recalls have been issued for the infected plants, and so far, no cases of Sudden Oak Death have been reported.

Financial repercussions 

The infection will likely take a massive financial toll on a business such as the Island View Nursery in Vancouver Island.

The quarantine means nobody can come into the greenhouse, and the family-run nursery worries its reputation will be ruined.

And if it’s ordered to destroy all 100,000 of its plants, there is no government compensation for its eradication efforts. 

It will mean starting over from scratch — a sad situation for the nursery, its clients, and the plants, themselves. 

But the natural environment has to be protected.

Featured image courtesy of CBC News.

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You’ve likely already heard of the vegan diet: people who follow it don’t eat animal products, including meat, eggs, and dairy. But have you heard of veganic agriculture? Many gardeners around the world are applying the same core values to how they grow flowers and food. 

It’s no wonder this movement is taking off; today’s trends involve living ‘cleaner’ and using only the ‘purest’ products possible. National dietary guides have even been revised to include more plant-based foods and less meat and dairy.

Vegan, vegetarian, and flexitarian ways of eating are heavily promoted. In today’s world, a new veggie burger on a fast food chain menu or supermarket shelf can make headline news.

The Economist is calling 2019 ‘The Year of the Vegan,’ with more and more of us jumping on the bandwagon. And although veganism is one of today’s top trends, growing like one is anything but new. 

Veganic agriculture may not be mainstream, but its gentle approach has long been used to produce fruits, vegetables, grains, and even cannabis.

How It Works

The foundation of veganic growing is to garden or farm in a way that respects the environment, animals, and human health. 

Like organic agriculture, the method steers clear of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and GMOs. But it breaks the mold by eliminating the use of any product obtained from confined animals. 

According to the Veganic Agriculture Network, fertilizers, manure, blood meal, feather meal, and fish emulsion can all be used when growing organically, but they’re often sourced from CAFO’s and slaughterhouses.  

Please note that I am in no way against organic growing methods and have used them in my own garden. I am merely highlighting the differences between the two methods.

Veganics has moved away from all animal by-products and focuses instead on plant-based techniques to improve soil fertility; think mulch, vegetable compost, green manure, wood chips, crop rotation, and polyculture. The motto is “feed the soil, and the soil will feed the plants.” 

Plant-Based Fertilizers

There are several vegan fertilizers available for purchase at plant nurseries and greenhouses. Alfalfa meal, kelp meal, and soybean meals all enrich the soil with nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, and other essential macronutrients. 

Cover crops (also referred to as green manures) are also an excellent option for boosting soil health. Alfalfa, various types of clover, and buckwheat are examples of crops that can be sewn into the garden to restore essential nutrients taken up by the previous occupants. 

Why Grow Veganically?

Proponents of the veganic method say the reward is a living soil chock-full of microorganisms that can deliver long-term fertility. 

It is sustainable farming at its very best.

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When sowing or planting a crop, there are techniques and even mannerisms that vary among gardeners. The distinct methods are usually all valid, though they demand different kinds of soil mobilization, human skill, and effort.

So here’s the question: between raised beds and in-ground gardens, which type is better suited for your needs?

Why choose raised beds?
  • Better soil characteristics

For traditional raised beds (or this fancy one), you’ll usually dig a long furrow, about 50 cm deep, then refill it with interspersed layers of fertilizer and the dugout earth. By the end, you should have a specific elevation of enriched earth that’ll be an excellent plot for vegetables. This way, beneath the surface, there will be greater soil depth and lighter texture that allow not only for better rooting but also healthier drainage.

An alternative to this busier technique would be to buy straw, potting mix, and some compost, then go about creating a big new bed entirely above the surface. The benefits are the same, only that this one is more vulnerable to temperature changes, winds, and rain.

  • Less weeding and hoeing

Once you make your bed, it’s probable that the soil got so revolved that its layers are shuffled, making the weeds slower to sprout. If they do appear, it’ll be easier to pluck them out because the soil is so much fluffier.

  • Welcomes plants that aren’t native

One of the most exciting aspects of this type of bedding is that everything can be added to the soil. You can influence the pH and texture, the fraction of organic matter, and even the temperature of the substrate.

  • Extends the growing season

Cold is a hindrance to early crops that use the late winter to start growing their first roots. But if they’re rising from the top of a bale, then whatever ray of sunlight happens to show up in the morning will much more easily warm up the frost that the plants’ roots are sunk in.

  • More efficient to manage

When using beds, everything is forced to fit in a much smaller area, so managing such a garden can be more productive. Crop growth also tends to be higher due to overall better conditions, and the harvest time comes quicker, stretching out the production period as a result.

Disadvantages of raised beds
  • Expensive and time-consuming to build

Making beds that don’t rely on your garden’s soil and biomass means you’re going to incur some expenses. You’ll have to find the right ingredients to make your artificial patch and inject some life into it. Defying nature has its costs.

  • Limited area to work on

What is in some ways a blessing can also be our bane if space is what we lack. Bales can be pretty, but they also demand a certain amount of room, and they’ll hog precious space in the garden. 

Why choose in-ground gardens?
  • Easier and quicker to operate

Since you need not get anything from the outside world to start a natural ground garden, it’s genuinely easier to get into it and start growing. The only issue that may arise is the hardness of the ground, depending on soil type and the time of year when you’re planning to work it.

  • Needs less water, less often

As haybales stand taller, their water content usually evaporates more, causing the plants to undergo periods of drought during Summer. Common gardens, on the other hand, are less responsive to hot days because the water is better stored deep below, so any intense heat is often not as damaging to the plants.

  • More versatile

When you’re dealing with natural earth, you can plow it, pile it up, and blend it with many other components like sand or compost. Even weeds and crop residue can be incorporated and quickly become one with the soil.

Disadvantages of in-ground beds
  • Be overthrown by weeds

Spiteful weeds have always sucked the life out of gardens. They shade them, drink up water, and binge on their nutrients. Moreover, they shelter numerous plagues. Ground level gardens cannot evade their presence and even if you create barriers, it’s not from the sides that weeds reach in but from underneath, blending in with our plants.

  • Looks less appealing

This is a debatable point but, in general, a well-done raised bed will beat, looks-wise, most typical gardens filled with our archenemy weeds. They’re also less appealing because despite them being overall easier to care for, they sometimes have limited fertility.

  • Offers poorer conditions for plant growth

There can be many limitations to an in-ground garden, particularly in backyards whose dirt is hard and rocky. It’s a matter of discovering the right crops that best root under conditions of mediocre texture, drainage, and faulty fertility.

Start with the most straightforward approach and then grow to be a master in plant care. Just know that both garden types offer different possibilities, and since nothing is permanent, you’re always free to change your mind next growing season if you don’t fancy your current style.

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After long, cold winters and wet springs, gardeners look forward to capitalizing on the warm summer months by enjoying beautiful blooms and abundant yields from the fruit and veggie patch. But what happens when the warmth never arrives? 

Unfortunately, this is shaping up to be one of those summers where people wish for better. Environment Canada admits it’s been an unusual spring in many parts of the country and that the weather patterns aren’t expected to improve very much over the next few months.

Where there’s been drought will remain dry; where it’s been wet, the rain will continue to fall.

In the provinces of Ontario and Quebec where millions of people live, it’s been hard to get a couple of days in a row without rain. Nights have been cold; much colder than many of our vegetable crops can handle.

The Weather Network predicts those two provinces will experience colder than average temperatures throughout most of the summer along with active storm systems.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts the western United States will experience a sweltering, dry summer, while the southern U.S. will have a wet and slightly cooler one. Mixed conditions are in the forecast across much of the Midwest and Northeast. 

Then again, the weather seems to change every ten minutes. They’re probably wrong. 

Soggy peppers But What If They’re Right? 

Our gardens will suffer the consequences. Tomatoes and eggplants, for example, need consistently warm and humid conditions to do well. 

They’re very sensitive to stressors including fluctuating weather patterns and extreme temperatures (above 95°F or below 55°F). Seed germination and development of the plants will likely be delayed. According to Mastering the Art of Vegetable Gardening, by Matt Mattus, the result is almost always a weak fruit set.  

Tomatoes will drop their flowers when it gets too hot or cold, which make the pollen sterile. The same goes for peppers, beans, cucumbers, squash, melons, and so much more. 

Lush, green gardens but still no fruit.

Too much water and cold air can cause crops to develop a condition called oedema in which blisters or bumps form on their leaves and stems. Luckily, plants almost always outgrow the minor damage. However, it’s essential to be on the lookout for more serious fungal diseases after a stormy period.

How To Cope

Not all hope is lost! There are ways avid gardeners can cope with a colder than normal summer and save their crops. 

Michigan State University Extension recommends the following:

  • Make sure heat-loving plants get a minimum of eight hours of sun per day so they can absorb as much warmth as possible. 
  • Cut back on the mulch. Straw and other materials are good for water retention and soil health, but leaving the earth bare and loosening it somewhat allows it to absorb more sunshine. Just be sure to keep watering! 
  • Adding 2-3 inches of compost around the base of your plants will enrich the soil, and its dark color will also attract more heat. 
  • Cover the soil with black or clear plastic to trap the heat inside. Once again, plastic will block rainwater from reaching the plants, so be sure to water by hand often.

For more interesting ways to protect your garden from the cold, including the use of agrotextiles, cold frames, and mini-greenhouses, read this article by Garden Culture Magazine’s Albert Mondor. He gives fantastic advice on extending the growing season in colder climates!  

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As I’m about to write this blog, my last stare of procrastination falls on the perfect smelling flowers of my orange plant, plump and ready to burst open. I wonder what how the honey made from its nectar would taste? Those that grow their produce know that distinctive taste; the taste that brings a smile to your face. Our bees’ honey is unique to me because I only have two jars of it for the season.

Happy Hives

Unlike most beekeeping, which mainly focuses on honey production, natural beekeeping has adopted an approach that focuses on putting the welfare of the bees first. Eight people share our apiary at Redacre Growing Project in Mytholmroyd (Yorkshire).  

Unlike traditional beekeepers, we collect honey mostly in the late spring so that bees have a guaranteed supply of nectar throughout the season and use the summer honey during their winter hibernation. Think about it – would you rather be a bee that has a nutritious food supply of quality honey from organic allotments next door or fed bleached sugar?

We don’t use smokers or any sprays to keep the bees sedated. Instead, we planted some thyme plants close to the hives; when brushed with a hand just before a hive check, their essential oils help calm the bees down. 

Peaceful Observation

We often sit in the apiary and observe the bees from a small distance; you notice their behavior patterns, what pollen they bring and how much of it, and whether there are any dead bees being brought out of the hive. In return, they learn your smell and get used to your presence.

A gentle tone of buzzing chaos surrounds us as we inspect the hive. Inspections are much easier with the type we’re using – a top bar hive. This rectangular structure reminds me of a coffin on long legs, with only a top bar instead of frames. Sometimes, bars have a groove down the middle to guide the bees to where to start the comb. This style mimics their behavior in nature – they can build a natural, droopy comb that looks like a teardrop. 

They tend to build the cells larger than those on a pre-shaped foundation, which they fill with brood and honey side by side, as there is no queen excluder. This helps them to grow the colony, rather than fill with honey for human use. The further away from the entrance, the less brood and more honey appear. This allows us to judge if we can harvest the extra supplies.

Harvest and Care 

As we gently crack the propolis bars and lift to check the comb, it seems that the buzz goes up a semitone with each bar closer to the entrance. The behavior of the bees changes, their noise is louder, and the guard bees are bumping against our hood nets. They’re informing us that we’re too close to the brood and the queen. If there are no other warning signs, we often leave the last few bars untouched; we trust them to be a responsible superorganism.

In terms of varroa control, in our apiary, we have never had an infestation significant enough to warrant chemical treatment. We’re monitoring the numbers on varroa boards, and should we have any abnormalities, we’d use icing sugar duster to cover the bees in the first instance. 

This will make them groom themselves, knocking the varroa down through the mesh bottom of the hive, straight on the board for us to count. Failing that, we’d try eco-floors with leaf mold, which mimics forest floor. This allows for the varroa predators (Stratiolaelaps) to establish and protect the hive. Natural beekeeping does not exclude chemical remedy if the infestation is severe, but it’s rarely needed.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Maybe traditional beekeeping seems a little odd to me since I have learned the natural way from the very beginning. There doesn’t seem to be the need for endless treatments and interference in the hive. As much as I don’t love to describe natural beekeeping as “a holistic approach” (yes, it’s a bit hippy dippy), it certainly is a mindful observation of something that existed for thousands of years without our interference. I believe that with respect for nature and its creatures, we may have the opportunity to restore what we’ve broken.

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There is something to be said for exchanging four walls and a smartboard for the outdoors. Nature, after all, is one of the world’s greatest classrooms.

I recently attended the inauguration ceremony for an outdoor classroom built at my kids’ elementary school. They named it the “Nature and Curiosity Wild Space“.

The timber frame structure is open air concept while also being completely covered; students can sit and learn no matter what the weather and overlook a beautiful, natural backdrop that includes a stream home to many ducks and frogs.

Several feet away, large boulder rocks have been set up in a circle where a class can discuss an assignment or project while enjoying the fresh air.

Dozens of trees have been planted, and students of all ages at the school have grown wildflowers, fruits, vegetables, and even released monarch butterflies they raised into the environment.  

The Canadian Wildlife Federation has officially recognized the school (Morin Heights Elementary, north of Montreal, Canada) as a Wildlife-Friendly Habitat.

I am thrilled my kids have the opportunity to spend their formative years learning in this environment. It is so vital to their health!

Get Outside!

According to the David Suzuki Federation, the average North American child spends less than 30 minutes outside each day and several hours in front of a screen.

We also hear a lot about kids in school with low attention spans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claims that 11% of American children between the ages of 4 and 17 have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

But research shows that if you get them outdoors, they’ll be healthier, happier, and smarter.

Green Power

Science has proven that greenery holds a very special power, helping students with their academics and mental health.

A review of hundreds of different studies found kids who spend time in nature every day have improved attention spans, better self-discipline and physical fitness, as well as less stress.

Children with ADHD who take a 20-minute walk in a park can improve symptoms just as effectively as a dose of medication can.

And a social prescribing movement has many doctors prescribing time in the garden over medication to patients suffering from conditions such as anxiety and depression.

Natural   

A CBC News report says there are two theories as to why nature is an excellent remedy, the first being the Stress Reduction Theory. A natural environment has surrounded humans since the beginning of time, and so it feels very comfortable and familiar to us.

The Attention Restoration Theory suggests that nature is more relaxing than crowds and cities, and improves our focus and concentration abilities.

Whatever theory you believe, there’s no doubt that nature does the mind and body good.

Go play outside!

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This article originally appeared in Garden Culture Magazine US26 & UK28.

Perhaps you don’t know its name, but you certainly remember its sting. Even the slightest interaction with this tall weed can cause sharp pains and a burning tingle.

Why people hate it

Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) has an impressive defense system. The stems, leaves, and flowers are covered with tiny hairs called spicules. These spicules, made from minuscule silica needles, are similar to sharp glass; they puncture the skin and cause painful irritation. Like a weapon used in chemical warfare, they inject tiny amounts of a cocktail made of acetylcholine, histamine, and 5-hydroxytryptamine, the same components that cause allergic reactions. Within seconds, the skin turns red, begins to burn, and little white bumps appear, making us feel miserable. Even if the rash isn’t dangerous and doesn’t last very long, it’s enough to make any gardener turn their back on a truly marvelous plant.

Appearances can be deceiving

Once we overcome the fear of being stung, stinging nettle is a fantastic weed. This common plant has been a close friend to humans, used in many different ways for centuries. From the roots, leaves, and stalks, to the flowers and seeds, every single part of the plant has a purpose. 

Durable and resistant, the fibers of the mature plant stalks are used for textiles, ropes, and fishing nets. They can also be turned into paper or used to produce natural dyes in tones of yellow, green, or dark grey-green. Stinging nettle is also no stranger to the world of cosmetics. Urtica dioica extracts are commonly found in soaps, skin lotions, and shampoos that provide strengthening and nourishing properties. 

Good for the body

Stinging nettle’s health benefits are plentiful, and this prickly weed can practically cure all that ills! The vibrant, dark emerald green hue of the nettle plant signals that it is rich in chlorophyll, and therefore, the plant is excellent for the body’s integumentary system (skin, nails, and hair), as well as the cardiovascular, urinary, lymph, and respiratory systems. It supports and rejuvenates our bodies from head to toe. 

It is important to note that while nettle is generally considered a safe herb to use, for a few people, it can trigger some side effects or interfere with other herbs, supplements, or medications being used. Always consult a health care provider before including it in your daily herb regiment. 

A Nourishing Medicine

Armed with long sleeves, pants, and a pair of work gloves, gather the top eight to ten inches of the nettle plant in the early spring when it is still young and has not yet gone into flower. Once the leaves are cooked, dried, or blanched, they lose their stinging capabilities, and the plant is ready to spread its wealth! 

Nettle is an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and E, as well as B1, B2, B3, B5, and K. It is also rich in protein, calcium, and converts into iron, folate, potassium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, selenium, and zinc. Gentle and nourishing, stinging nettle is excellent to take as a daily infusion, as it contains many nutrients missing in modern day food crops. 

How to use it

An infusion is a strong tea that steeps for a long time — anywhere between four to eight hours. The dark green brew will have an intense, earthy taste and smell, and it won’t be long before your body ends up craving it. To make it, just put 1 oz. of dried nettle leaves in one liter (1 quart) Mason jar. Add hot water all the way to the top. Refrain from using boiling water, as it will kill some of the plant’s beneficial properties. Close the cap tight and let it steep for four to eight hours, or even overnight. After straining and discarding the plant matter, enjoy one or two cups during the day. Store any leftovers in the fridge, but be sure to throw it out after 36 hours.

Follow these directives every day for six to eight weeks, and the entire body can benefit from this dark green concoction. It is an all natural tool to help recover strength, either following a long-term illness or from pure exhaustion. Its high iron content can help people struggling with anemia, and the various rich and concentrated minerals help fortify bones and replenish mineral reserves.

Nettle is also a gentle diuretic and helps cleanse the body of toxins. It has been proven to effectively treat gout, as it removes and evacuates uric acid deposits, and can treat urinary tract infections and prevent painful kidney stones.

It is instinctive for many gardeners to label weeds as undesirable, but having an open mind unlocks enormous potential and many benefits. If you can look past its barbed exterior, stinging nettle is not an intruder, but rather, a weed we are lucky to have amongst us. The same is true for many so-called weeds which are, in reality, precious gems that have so much to share. 

Garden Culture Magazine

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