Chris Wimmer of Captain Hydroponics recently dropped me an email to say hi. Having recently visited the Biospheric Foundation in Salford and seen their experimental urban aquaponics setup, I was interested and asked him a little more about hydroponics.

Chris says:
“Hydroponics is the practice of gardening without soil. This method allows you to grow your plants with less water and fertilizer than traditional gardening. You can even get creative by reusing existing household items in your hydroponic systems.”

His site explains it all in more detail. I quite like the look of this simple DIY system. I already have an airstone (bought for making compost tea) and I’m sure we have a plastic box kicking around somewhere. The 2-litre plastic bottle idea doesn’t even need an airstone, and this hydroponic microgreens setup is even easier. (Chris tells me that you can use non-peat alternatives to peat moss.) I shall see if I can give one of them a go this season — or if anyone reading does, please report back.

In case you’re wondering: the difference between aquaponics and hydroponics is that aquaponics also involve fish, with the idea being that the fish waste products act as fertiliser for the plants, with the plants therefore keeping the water clean. The Biospheric Foundation setup also involves compost, which in its turn produces worms to feed the fish. Graham Burnett at Spiralseed wrote up the LAND trip to Manchester that I was on which included that visit.

Recycling! Rubbish into toys

Natural Parents Network: Recycling Rubbish Into Toys for a ToddlerI wrote a post over at Natural Parents Network about recycling ‘rubbish’ into toddler toys.

However much we try to reduce the amount of packaging that comes into your house and waste that goes out of it, it seems that we are still constantly throwing things out. Meanwhile, the baby wants something to play with… In true permaculture style, I can solve two problems at once by diverting some of the ‘rubbish’ from the recycling bin to the toy box. Read on over at NPN for a few suggestions that have gone down well with Leon.

Guest Post: Natural methods for keeping cats out of your garden

This post was written by Rachel Thomas from www.babysitting.net. Next door’s new kitten has just started using the containers in my porch as a toilet, so I will be trying some of the more permaculture-friendly options! We certainly have a lot of coffee grounds here, so that one is well worth a go.

Those of you who have cats understand the pain of keeping our furry friends out of the planters and gardens. Those of you that don’t, understand this pain as well. Natural repellents can save the day by protecting your flowers and vegetables from being trampled or eaten. Not only are these non-toxic methods to protect your plants and the animal, most of them are inexpensive and easy to try.

1. Citrus Fruits – The peels from citrus fruits can be pungent to the point of repelling a feline from an area. These fruits consist of oranges, lemons, grapefruits and many others. Placing these peels on or around your garden can shield the plants from the kitties and deter future visits. Once you’ve noticed the feline traffic disappear, simply remove the peels. While not all cats have been repelled by this method, there has been a great deal of success among people.

2. Used Coffee Grounds – Many people have had a degree of success using used coffee grounds. Whether they are sprinkled in or around the pot, these grounds produce a smell that is unattractive to many cats. They will avoid the area if possible and find a more appealing location for their purpose. 

3. Rough Stones – Placing porous and rough stones in your garden can create a very uncomfortable location for a cat. Depending on the style of garden you have, a layer of stones on top of the soil could help reduce the amount of water that is evaporated from sunlight as well as protect against the pitter-patter of feline feet. Many gardens look beautiful as they support a white quartz background to a series of blooming plants.

4. Black Pepper – Many people have had success repelling cats by using black pepper on and around the garden area. It’s a non-toxic method of creating a terrible smell that the little creatures are discouraged by. However, you do not want to use salt in your garden. It will kill the plants and make the soil useless for future growth.

5. Mothballs – Some people don’t like the idea of using mothballs for they contain naphthalene, which is deadly to life. However, you can greatly reduce the harmful effects if you load them up in a mason jar or even a pop bottle. Once you poke large enough holes in the containers to allow the smell to permeate the garden, cats will avoid the area.

6. Motion Sensing Sprinklers – If you have an elaborate garden, you can attach a motion sensing switch to activate your garden’s sprinkler system any time an animal gets too close. Although this can be a bit more costly than the above alternatives, it is a near fool proof method to deter cats from the area. The sound of the sprinklers themselves is enough to drive fear into most felines.

When protecting virtually any area from unwanted animal activity, it’s all about decreasing the comfort level. In addition to these methods, there are sprays and other materials you can pick up at any pet shop that can help discourage cats from entering your garden. Nearly all of these are non-toxic repellents and many of them are organic. Regardless of the size of your garden, there are ways to keep it safe from becoming a restroom or a bed for your own or your neighbor’s cat.

Author Bio:

Rachel is an ex-babysitting pro as well as a professional writer and blogger. She is a graduate from Iowa State University and currently writes for www.babysitting.net. She welcomes questions/comments which can be sent to rachelthomas.author@gmail.com.

Article in Juno

In non-garden-related news, I have an article on equal parenting in the current issue of natural parenting/family magazine JUNO. Which is a good read all round (the magazine, not specifically my article, though I am very pleased with that too). Available from their online shop, in some newsagents, and as a digital edition from Exact Editions.

Juno cover issue 33

EC and permaculture guest posts

I wrote about Elimination Communication, peeing on the floor, and the advantages of not going nappy-free, over at Natural Parents Network last week, in The Nappy-Free Potty Pause.

Then, at The Green Phone Booth, I wrote about tips for food gardening with a toddler. (Leon is now properly a toddler — he really got the hang of independent walking at Glastonbury last weekend. Having just made my plans for summer planting, I’m now reminded that I should keep a section of the NW bed specially for him. Perhaps marked out in some way in a likely-vain attempt to keep him away from the rest of it?)

Anti-snail defences

My grape vine has been getting munched up by (I assume) the snails; and one of my (still tiny) courgette plants is looking at risk too. After perusing the Organic Gardening Catalogue, I have acquired a set of little spiky fences to go around the grape vine, and some copper tape around the courgette. I will report back.

I’ve also got ants farming aphids on the apple tree. Apparently, a ring of gaffer tape, sticky side out, around the tree will solve this problem. Again: defences are in place, and I will report back.

And here’s a blog post elsewhere on permaculture and container gardening.

A final note: half of my broad beans appear to have grown without any actual beans in the pods (well: the beans are there, but they didn’t fill out). My assumption is that this is to do with the crappy weather, but I am nevertheless sad. Maybe the green beans will do better? If the sun ever comes out for any reasonable time…

Baby tipi, and another guest post

I really wanted to put a willow den in our back garden for Leon to play in.

Bamboo canes pushed into a grassy lawn and tied into a small tipi, with a sheet clipped over them, in foreground; in front of that the top of a blueberry bush, a rosemary bush to left of shot, apple tree behind, blue sky
Baby tipi between the blueberry bush and the rosemary

Unfortunately, that was scuppered by the realisation that there’s a sewage pipe running underground through the middle of the garden. You’re not supposed to plant willow within 3m of any pipes (it seeks water, and can sneak into the pipe through any cracks), and the apple tree prevented me planting further down the garden than that.

Instead, it occurred to me this week that after building the bean wigwam recently, I had lots of bamboo cane left over; and a couple of old sheets in the bottom of the airing cupboard. So now we have a baby play tipi.

Unfortunately the baby was unconvinced, because it has grass on its floor, and he is somewhat mistrustful of grass on bare feet. Hopefully as he gets steadier on his feet he may be more enthusiastic; in the meantime I might put a blanket down in there tomorrow.

Baby focussed on playing with a box of rice
Those moments of total absorption are a lesson in mindfulness.

In other news, this week I wrote about the competing pulls of parenting over at the Natural Parents Network: The Two Minds of Parenting.