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Archives for March 21, 2016

Kevin McCloud to judge Hitchin garden designer’s work at Grand Designs Live Garden Designer of the Year final at …

08:27 21 March 2016

Hitchin garden designer Jenny Huckstep.


A garden designer from Hitchin has been selected as one of the four finalists in her field at Grand Designs Live, and is set to have her work judged by industry experts led by TV design guru Kevin McCloud – and she’s looking for suppliers and contractors to help her put her show garden together next month.

Jenny Huckstep of Cultivate Design and her team will contest the Garden Designer of the Year category in front of the TV cameras at London’s ExCeL from April 30 to May 8, and the winner will be announced at the show.

“I’m still desperately trying to put this project together,” said Jenny.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of companies and contractors, trying to get things together at minimal cost – I’ve got a lot of interest but no agreement yet.

“Having someone local would really help at the planning stage. I’d like to develop relationships with local contractors and suppliers rather than relying on London.”

The 39-year-old was over the moon at having got through to the last four – but after suffering a slight technological blip she thought she might have imagined the whole thing.

“I received an email from the judging panel on Friday, March 4, a few days after entering, and I basically just went into a mild state of shock.

“I called my husband and I went to read the email out to him, but I couldn’t find it – I thought I must have imagined it!

“In fact I’d deleted it by accident, and I did find it later.”

Jenny has designed a small, contemporary courtyard-style garden with a professional couple in mind.

“I looked at it from the point of view of a typical Grand Designs client, a young couple wanting to work from home to create more of a work-life balance.

“There are two areas of the garden, one for work and one for relaxation, and they are separated down the middle by a rill – a shallow water feature.

“One thing I’m hoping is that I’ll be able to use laminated bamboo for the timber – this is a really sustainable resource that grows very quickly. I don’t think there’s enough awareness about it. It’s such a useful product and it’s great for construction.”

If you think you could be part of the team, you can contact Jenny on

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Chickens and Permaculture Garden Design

Jenni Blackmore presents a highly entertaining, personal account of how permaculture can be practiced in adverse conditions, allowing anyone to learn to live more sustainably in a less-than-perfect world.

The perfect antidote to dense, high-level technical manuals, Permaculture for the Rest of Us presents the fundamental principles of this sometimes confusing concept in a humorous, reader-friendly way.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Permaculture for the Rest of Us.

In praise of chickens, I will say this: even on a cold, stormy day (and believe me we do have our share of storms here along the coast) after gearing up and fighting a path out to the animal sheds, there is something innately satisfying about chickens, tucked safely in their straw, bumbling a muted “thank you” for the feed and hopefully providing a few eggs. It’s difficult to explain this logically but I believe that by reaching under a chicken for a warm egg we also reach deeper within ourselves, satisfying a primal need to be more intimately connected with our food, honoring its provenance, rather than simply taking it as something sterile, from a cooler, in an over-lit food mart.

This need for closer connection and deeper understanding goes beyond food and in a way represents the heart of permaculture, as the need to integrate with natural systems rather than to remain distanced from them, as modern society would have us do.

Chickens (and this could be extended to poultry in general) are often used as examples of a perfect closed cycle, from a permaculture point of view. They consume kitchen scraps and garden waste and supply eggs and meat. They provide manure which in turn will be used to create more kitchen scraps and garden waste. The eggs they produce feed us but also create more chickens. There is no waste and the process is cyclical and ongoing.

It’s probably best to first decide what you want from your chickens. Is it eggs, meat or the best of both? This is an area of compromise as there is no perfect bird. We wanted to raise heritage breeds, preferably endangered breeds that were primarily for egg production. We eventually settled on Barred Plymouth Rocks (a dual purpose breed) and Brown Leghorns. If you’re not planning to hatch and raise purebred chicks you could easily try a broader selection, but if you do want to raise your own chicks, a word of warning: it’s very easy to be tempted to raise several different breeds at once. After all, what’s a couple of extra incubators, right? Keep in mind that each breed needs to be isolated for at least three weeks, with their own specific rooster, before hatchlings can be guaranteed pure-bred. This might explain why some chicken houses have the amoeba-like habit of growing additional cells on all sides. Having witnessed some nightmarish situations like this, I’m inclined to side with the less-is-more principle of permaculture on this particular topic. Also, it’s good to remember that all those cute little chicks rapidly grow into teenaged marauders. I’ve had my own nightmare situations relating to a basement full of feathered young’uns, all with an unnatural propensity to escape their carefully constructed nursery pens. Not good! It really is best to start small and move slowly.

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Home Owners Learn Tips and Tricks to Home Improvement at the Home Show

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Monday, March 21st, 2016 6:56am

HGTV Star Kate Campbell stops by the Heart FM booth at the Woodstock Home Show for a photo with Cruiser Teresa

Woodstock Home Show featured special celebrity speakers, demonstrations, and some helpful tips from local contractors

WOODSTOCK – The Woodstock Fairgrounds was a happening place this weekend, packed with homeowners seeking inspiration at the Home Show. 

Lots of different vendors were set up to allow people could speak with local contractors, roofers, and landscapers and get new ideas for some home improvements. They also had some celebrity guest speakers as well. Chair Todd Ellerby tells Heart FM about Sunday’s speaker.

“We had Carson Arthur – he’s a landscape expert who does several different landscaping shows on HGTV and he talked about environmental landscaping, that is going to save you on your water bills and so forth.”

According to Ellerby, Arthur was not the only celebrity to take the stage at the show.

“Kate Campbell, who does a whole bunch of shows on HGTV starting out with Mike Holmes show years ago and now she mainly working with Paul LeFrance, she discussed renovations she’s actually doing on her own personal home right now.”

Campbell spoke at the show on Saturday.

Ellerby says the Home Show has been gaining momentum over the past couple of years.

“The Home Show is growing steadily. We had a couple of down years and with a new board of directors we really turned the show around and it’s growing. The vendors really enjoy coming back.”

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St. Thomas suspends Sustainability Committee

St. Thomas' Sustainability Committee was discontinued during the last school year. Chief Financial Officer Mark Vangsgard said the committee has not been disbanded for good and hopes this pause will help to restructure the program. (Marissa Groechel/TommieMedia)

St. Thomas’ Sustainability Committee was discontinued during the last school year. Chief Financial Officer Mark Vangsgard said the committee has not been disbanded for good and hopes this pause will help to restructure the program. (Marissa Groechel/TommieMedia)

The St. Thomas Sustainability Committee, funded with $50,000, was discontinued during the last school year, and the environment surrounding campus is taking the fall, according to environmental Professor Adam Kay.

But Vice President for Business Affairs and Chief Financial Officer Mark Vangsgard said the committee has not been shut down permanently.

“It hasn’t been disbanded per say, but we are taking a pause to re-structure it in a more meaningful way,” Vangsgard said.

Vangsgard hopes to restructure the committee so that diverse voices — including those from student affairs, academics and university relations — contribute to the discussion.

“We will have this kind of Camelot — a round table with people who are representing their function at the table and have responsibilities for sustainability activities in their function,” Vangsgard said.

However, the previous committee already had many influential and diverse voices according to Kay, who was a member of the committee for about a year.

“It was made up of an interdisciplinary group of people with a mix of faculty and staff. People from really diverse entities on campus working together to try to highlight sustainability initiatives,” Kay said.

St. Thomas junior Cari Monroe was one of those voices on the committee. Monroe was responsible for bringing the student perspective on sustainability to the table.

The $50,000 committee fund was designed for student use, but according to Vangsgard later became one to which faculty could apply to get money for individual research projects and activities not funded through their normal budgets.

“(The $50,000) didn’t have the same level of student impact in the last few years that it’s had in the previous years,” said Vangsgard.

Monroe, however, felt that the fund was more focused on the student involvement of sustainability.

“A high priority was given to the applications that students were involved in, and I think that was really cool,” Monroe said. “I helped write a grant for one of my classes to get the solar panels on the roof of the student center.”

Kay was involved in several committee construction projects, such as an upgrade for the stewardship garden.

“The sustainability fund helped us to launch a projected called Growing Science,” Kay said. “Brightside Produce initially started with a grant from the sustainability fund.”

The restructuring of the committee is under way, but Vangsgard said there are many priorities that must also be attended to.

“Is it above or below mission? Is it above or below academic experience? Is it above or below athletics? That always gets to be slippery because I am not sure if we have a priority for any of those,” Vangsgard said. “(Sustainability is) certainly a focus area.”

Kay strongly believes sustainability should be a top priority on campus because it is a critical issue that will continue to be a problem.

“Not only is it the right thing to do in terms of community development, but it’s something we need to expose all of our students and the general public to. We could be leaders of this issue but we have to invest in it,” Kay said. “We need to have everyone engaged in this issue because this issue as a global problem is not going away.”

Monroe also thinks sustainability on campus should be one of the top priorities.

“I just think it’s really important, especially with our carbon-neutral goal, that we should really be focusing on it more in order to actually achieve that goal. It’s really cool that it’s in place and I think some of the ideas are there to accomplish it,” Monroe said. “But I think execution-wise we could use a little work.”

Vangsgard noted that St. Thomas does have solar panels on top of the Anderson Student Center and Brady Hall, but that being a city campus it is hard to implement the large sustainability structures that rural campuses have.

“(There) you have this land to do things for sustainability that we just can’t do in a city environment,” Vangsgard said. “It does create a perception for people that city schools are not sustainable because of the lack of those visual things.”

Kay said that there are many opportunities on city campuses to be sustainable.

“There are a lot of options for public transportation, there’s a lot of interest among city members in creating sustainable environments,” Kay said. “The landscaping practices in Minneapolis are changing rapidly toward chemical free approaches. There’s just a lot of enthusiasm for the issue and I think that we could build upon that. It can be done anywhere.”

Monroe thinks communication is a key factor in continuing sustainability at St. Thomas.

“I only know of these things because I am directly involved with them,” Monroe said. “But I know that there are so many people who don’t even know that we have solar panels on our roof now, and … you can’t get pressure from the student body to become more sustainable because they don’t even know what’s going on.”

Marissa Groechel can be reached at

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1 Comment

  1. This is really sad. How can we not think it is important enough to keep it going?

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Outdoor design not just a couple of Adirondack chairs on the patio

INDIANAPOLIS — Make no mistake about it: Outdoor living is trending and bigger than ever.

“Outdoor living is huge,” said Tom Fellegy, a landscape designer with Start to Finish Landscaping in Whitestown. “It’s like bringing the inside outside. I read somewhere recently that people in the Midwest use their outdoor spaces more than anybody. So it really seems like everybody wants to live outside now. Instead of taking a vacation, they want to go outside and have a staycation.”

From functional outdoor kitchens to elaborate backyard theaters and everything in between, the 58th annual Indiana Flower Patio Show has presented the best ideas for your outdoor living space. Today is the show’s final day. It’s open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and features more than 40 exhibitor gardens created by Indiana’s leading landscape designers.

Can’t make it to Indianapolis today? Read on to get a sense of what’s popular in outdoor design.

Outdoor kitchens remain a popular feature, said Matt Sell, a designer with Fiano Landscapes in Greenfield.

“We’re seeing a lot more wood kitchens,” he said, noting the cedar wrapped kitchen in the company’s display. “People are kind of tired of granite countertops so we actually poured a concrete countertop. There’s a special dye you mix in with the countertop mix and then we seal it. It’s completely impenetrable, so it works outdoors. You can spill wine on it, and it just wipes up.”

Kitchens can be as simple or as elaborate as the customer’s budget will allow, said Brian Budde of Budde Landscaping, based on the west side of Indianapolis.

“You can have the basics — a refrigerator and grill. Or some people go all out, even installing lobster steamers,” he said.

Another idea Budde suggested is to “take a shed that you buy wherever, and you can deck it out inside, open up the doors, put a patio on the front of it and now you’ve got an outdoor entertainment area.”

Fire pits are another way to make the outdoors more cozy and appealing.

“We’re seeing lot of fire features. People in Indiana have been slow to catch up with the West Coast — we see a lot of fire pits out there,” Sell said. “But now everyone is migrating outside. Fire pits extend the season — you can be outside in the spring and the fall.”

In addition to fire pits, water features such as rain curtains are appearing more and more in landscape design. Taking their inspiration from nature when “curtains” of rain are seen at a distance during an approaching storm or from wide cascading waterfalls, designers created pumping systems that recycle water and distribute it in a way that mimics nature.

“People love rain curtains. It’s a sound thing,” Sell said. “Implementing sound in a garden — it’s super easy to do.”

Whether outdoor living spaces include elegant or rustic elements, one feature home owners insist upon is low maintenance, Fellegy said.

“Everybody’s working so hard these days. They come home, and they don’t want to have to mess with anything,” he explained. “You’ve got to clean the house and take care of the inside, so the outside should take care of itself.”

Final day today

What: The 58th Annual Indiana Flower Patio Show

Where: Indiana State Fairgrounds Expo Hall and West Pavilion, Indianapolis

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today

Tickets: General admission, $14 at the door; printable coupons for $3 off are available at Tickets may also be purchased online.

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Building a garden from scratch is scary

Among the scariest jobs for a home gardener is to design and create a landscape around a new house.

Some people are never going to do it. They will live in previously occupied homes or, if they buy a newly built house, the building contractor will arrange to have some plants installed around the house. In those cases, the home gardener can make adjustments but is working with something that is already there.


But when you buy the land yourself and hire a contractor to build a house for you or the housing contractor has not done any landscaping, it is all up to you.

“The hardest landscape to design is a big, open space around a new house,” Lois Berg Stack, ornamental horticulture specialist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, told students in the landscape-design school I attended last fall.

Part of what makes it so hard is that you will only do it once. Yes, you can rip things out and start over, but most people don’t. You want to get it right the first time.

Also, there is a lot to consider. All homeowners – whether they admit it or not – want to impress the neighbors, so your landscape should look good for people driving by. But it is your house. You want it to look good from inside the house when you are looking out.

The first thing you should do is analyze the site, including slopes, so you know which way the water will flow; wind direction, so you can create places for comfortable sitting outside; where the sun shines and from what direction; and views of areas off your property that you don’t (or do) want to block.

Create a base map, including information from the site analysis, but also designate areas where the view is most important, which entrance you want visitors to use, where the dryer vent and water spigots are. You may want to have additional outside faucets installed or you might need hundreds of yards of hose to reach from the faucet to your gardens.

Next, decide how you are going to use the property. Do you want a vegetable garden? A place for children to play? Do you plan to entertain outside? Will you be cooking and eating outside regularly, or simply sitting and reading there?

Once you figure out what how you will use your yard, place those areas. The vegetable garden needs full sun. The play area should be visible from the kitchen window so you can see if the kids are beating each other up while you are chopping cabbage.

Separate – either visually or with a physical barrier – the different areas of your yard. You should create pathways – whether paved or just lawn bordered by plants – to get from one area to another.

Place your hardscape – items that aren’t plants – first. If you are plan to put in walls, walkways, a patio, built-in stone benches, a gazebo or a garden shed, you want to know where they will be before you start choosing the plants. Plan this all now, but you don’t need to install it now. Planning means you won’t have to move trees or patios in the future.

“Good landscapes are functional. They solve problems,” Stack said in the course. “They are sustainable, ecology-based without compromising any future owner from getting the full benefits of the land.”

You want something to separate the play area from gardens that have sensitive ornamental plants, because you don’t want the soccer ball breaking off the brittle tree peony you have been nurturing for a decade. A screen of tough but attractive evergreens could protect the delicate ornamentals. Or you could make the children play in the backyard and put the tree peony by the front door.

You also want to have obvious paths. Set up a clear walkway to the entrance you want visitors and the UPS delivery driver to use, but also a path from the play area to the place where the adults dine, drink and read.

You will want daffodils and other showy plants visible from the kitchen and living/family rooms so you can enjoy them no matter what the weather.

You also have to consider the owner. Few homeowners want to spend the amount of time my wife, Nancy, and I – as well as Lois Stack – spend in our gardens. So for most homes, the garden should be low-maintenance.

Stack believes – and although I hadn’t thought of it before, it makes sense – you should use plants that thrive in the type of soil you have on the site. You will have to get a soil test, which I’ve written about before (Aug. 9, 2015), and check your local garden center for the right plants for that soil.

“Try not to amend the soil,” Stack said. “If the plants don’t go for the site (without fertilizer and added compost), you’re going be on that treadmill” of building up the soil forever.

Rather than continually tilling compost into our gardens, I’d rather spend my time cutting flowers to brighten up the inside of the house, picking vegetables to improve our diet or sitting on the patio reading.

Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at [email protected].





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Elkhart’s marketing initiative, SoMa, ready to expand to city neighborhoods

ELKHART — A marketing effort that has been used to improve downtown Elkhart is now focusing on other ways to enhance the city. 

The Gateway Mile welcomes thousands of visitors to downtown Elkhart every day, including many who stop to shop. As part of the Supporting Our Main Assets (SoMa) initiative, the mile, which extends from the National New York Central Railroad Museum on the south end to Wellfield Botanic Gardens on the north end, has revitalized downtown through aggressive marketing tactics.

Loyalty cards, signage, improved communication and development of a retail business alliance have allowed SoMa to attract visitors to the downtown area. The Elkhart Jazz Festival, organized by SoMa, attracted 20,000 to 25,000 to downtown Elkhart in 2015, and ticket revenue increased 7 percent.

That same energy and focus that has had a positive impact on downtown is now being applied to the most important asset Elkhart has: its neighborhoods.

“Now that we have a mechanism in place that is working for downtown, we wanted to give birth to SoMa in other areas as well,” said David Smith, Lerner Theater general manager, whose role in the downtown has expanded with the establishment of SoMa. “I feel this is a tool that can be used by community members to effect the spaces they live in.”

The idea is to brand neighborhoods within TIF Districts as great areas to be invested in — much like downtown was branded The Gateway Mile. 

“We want to have a conversation with the investors, the people who live there, the people who care about that particular neighborhood, and to help them develop a plan about who they are, who they want to be,” explained Diana Lawson, the SoMa committee chair and ‎executive Director at Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “What do these neighborhoods want to be known as? Do they want to have a name for their neighborhood? It seems as though once a place, or a person, or an idea has a name it has more value to the people who are invested in it and the people who refer to it.

“So the idea is really to come up with a branding process for each of these neighborhoods and then be able to create a communications strategy, so that as things happen in the neighborhood they are informed,” she added. “Whether that be an email or some other type of printed form like a newsletter. Something so that these people are able to contribute and be communicated to.”

Smith says they are not ready to reveal any specific details about the neighborhood plan for SoMa, but that information will be released shortly. Eventually, neighborhoods will hold meetings to generate opinions about how their area will be portrayed in marketing campaigns. 

The city’s Redevelopment Commission has committed $260,000 to SoMa in 2016, $50,000 of that will be used to help market the neighborhoods

“We want to increase awareness that each of these districts is worth investing in,” said Lawson. 

With Vibrant Communities initiative currently engaging the community, Lawson sees SoMa as a tool to build off of those conversations. 

“I think they will work together well,” she said. “Vibrant Communities is really focused on individuals and neighborhoods, as well as activities. We are hoping with the Vibrant Communities going back home now, after their conversations, that they settle in and become sort of a grassroots operation in their neighborhoods.”

SoMa has been considered a success since its implementation in 2013. Lyndsee Alvarado, Lerner Theater project and administrative assistant, said that it is pretty apparent the marketing tool has done good things downtown.

“People can see the new landscaping, the new businesses, and the downtown area is looking to do more,” she said.

In 2015, the initiative saw 2,150 visitors take part in the loyalty card program, which provides discounts and email updates on activities in the downtown. The addition of new signage, a website redesign and a fully developed mobile app also increased visitor awareness of things to do in the downtown area. 

“The things that SoMa is doing for Elkhart are very tangible,” said Elkhart Mayor Tim Neese

Realizing the impact the marketing tool has had in downtown, leaders say it is time to reevaluate and look to the future. 

“We are taking a look back at the 2013 plan and seeing what we accomplished and what we need to do in the future,” said Alvarado. “We have inspired a lot of things.” 

Moving forward, SoMa will focus on what has made it a success in the past, continued conversations with the people who have a stake in how Elkhart moves forward. 

“We hoped this would take off when we started this whole process,” said Lawson. “We felt right away that this was something people seemed to latch to pretty easily. I think the timing was right, SoMa was really the first intro to having community conversations, and allowing people to be a part of planning the community that they want to be a part of.”










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A Nearly Extinct Butterfly Makes a Comeback in South Florida

An Atala butterfly (Eumaeus atala). Photo by Scott Zona [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

By Richard Levine

An article published in the journal Florida Entomologist tells the story of a butterfly that was nearly gone, but is now recovering. In fact, it’s doing so well that some people consider it to be a pest.

Richard Levine

Back in 1888, the Atala butterfly was so numerous that it was called “the most conspicuous insect” in South Florida, but half a century later, in the 1950s, it was thought to be “probably extinct.” Fortunately, the butterfly was actually hiding deep in the remaining pine rocklands and tropical hammocks of coastal southeastern Florida, where its host plant still remained.

The Atala butterfly (Eumaeus atala) relies on a plant called coontie (Zamia integrifolia) in the same way that monarch butterflies rely on milkweed species. Atala females lay their eggs on coontie, the only native cycad in North America — and only on coontie (or on other cycads brought to South Florida as ornamental plants) — and after the eggs hatch, the caterpillars munch on the coontie leaves.

Unfortunately for the butterfly, people also like coontie. Native Americans and European settlers harvested the roots as a source of starch that was capable of withstanding the high humidity and temperatures of Florida. Although the coontie plant contains numerous neurotoxins, they are water-soluble and the plant was heavily utilized as a mold-proof harvest. It was exploited to the extent that it was simultaneously sold during the Indian-American Wars to both the Indians and the U.S. Army, and it was also sold to European markets as gourmet flour.

Previously, so much coontie grew along the New River in Fort Lauderdale that the Indians called it the “Coontie Hatchee,” meaning the “the Coontie River.” But by the 1920s, all of the coontie plants within a reasonable distance had been harvested.

The butterfly, of course, went down with the plant.

Luckily, the University of Florida’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiveristy received donated preserved specimens of Atala butterflies, which offered clues about them. The specimens had been collected in pine rockland habitat in southeast Florida (now part of the Everglades National Park), so scientists knew for sure that they once lived there. They also knew that some coontie plants were still growing there.

In 1979, a local naturalist “discovered” an Atala butterfly colony on one of the barrier islands along the coast of Miami, and that’s when the recovery began.

“As far as we know, every extant colony in South Florida originated from that colony,” said Sandy Koi, one of the co-authors. “It is only because of the dedication of scientists and local citizens that the butterfly has recovered to the point that it may be considered a pest in botanical gardens and developments that use the also-recovering coontie plants as ornamental landscaping.”

That’s right. The Atala butterfly was incredibly abundant, then nearly extinct, and now its numbers are high enough to annoy people as the larvae eat their expensive plants to the ground. On the other hand, many individuals and botanical gardens seek out this rare and beautiful butterfly for their gardens, so they plant and grow coontie as Atala food.

“I have been using this fact in order to implement an integrated pest management method,” Sandy said. “Along with dedicated volunteers, we remove the unwanted colonies of both plants and butterfly immature life stages, and install the removed pupae or larvae into the gardens that want to host them.”

In recent years, there’s been a big push in South Florida to plant native ornamentals back into landscapes and gardens. As a result, there are coontie plants all over the southern counties. Now that the host is back in the landscape, the butterfly is back too.

“I have this butterfly in my garden since I grow the host plant,” said Thomas Chouvenc, a researcher at the University of Florida, based in Fort Lauderdale. “It’s a delight to see them fly around. The plants get munched, but they always come back”.

The article, published in Florida Entomologist, also revealed new insights on the unique biology of the Atala butterfly.

Read more at:

New and Revised Life History of the Florida Hairstreak Eumaeus atala (Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae) with Notes on its Current Conservation Status

Featured Creatures: The Atala Butterfly

Richard Levine is Communications Program Manager at the Entomological Society of America and editor of the Entomology Today Blog.

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5 Indoor gardening tips you can try out for the winter

Winters are here and there’ll be no real way to get outside into the garden to grow fresh greens. If you’re seeking an alternative, consider growing greens (plants and vegetables) indoors. In the winters, plants will not just clean the air inside the house, but will also provide you and your family some healthy, organic foods grown yourself.

Indoor gardening can also be useful for city dwellers who do not have enough gardening space, or in many cases, don’t even have balconies. For growing indoors and reaping benefits out of it, you don’t necessarily have to be a farmer; indoor gardening does not require additional skills and takes up as much space (at home) as you’re willing to give it. Here a five quick ways to go about gardening indoors.

Using recycled wine bottles vertically

Using recycled wine bottles vertically

Empty wine bottles don’t find a lot of reuse purpose at home. But products likeBioCity’s indoor vertical veggie garden can help. Developed by designers at BioCity, Montreal, the beautiful installation uses reclaimed wine bottles which can be filled with soil to grow anything from cherry tomatoes to strawberries. Ideal for growing all types of veggies indoors, the contraptions is even more exciting since it’s cost effective and does not require a lot of space.

Pod garden system

Pod garden system

Designed by a group of students, who call themselves Greenfingers, the Pod garden system is a compact gardening system for the indoors. The system developed at the University of Auckland uses Fogponics for growing greens indoors. Fogponics is a subset of hydroponics, which employs nutrition rich solution to transfer nutrition to suspended plant roots through vaporization. Interestingly, one can join a couple of pod’s together (depending on the space available) to grow additional plants.

Mason jar garden

Mason jar garden

Developed by Summer Rayne Oakes, the creative DIY gardening project is a wonderful herb garden that can be placed anywhere in the house. The amazingly nifty creation has areclaimed wood strips mounted onto the wall. The strips have inexpensive plumbing parts attached to it, which can be used to fasten jars used for gardening. The indoor vertical garden is completely eco-friendly and easy to make, in case you want to try your hands at building one.

Vertical Fogponic garden

Vertical Fogponic garden

Growing food indoor is generally dependent on the kind of space you have available. When space is a crunch, a vertical gardening system indoor can be a viable alternative. Similar to the Pod garden system, this vertical garden (Fogponic Unit) also uses Fogponics for growing veggies and plants indoors. The vertical planting system allows nutrition to reach the suspending plant roots through vapors. All kinds of veggies and plants can be grown in this Fogponic Unit.

Creative folding window gardening system

Creative folding window gardening system

Living in an apartment without a garden or balcony can have their own advantage, but they leave you with no place to grow plants and vegetables in case you’re interested. If you too live in a small apartment deprived of an outdoor space, try this DIY project to grow a garden indoors.

The folding window garden is brainchild of French designers BarreauCharbonnet. The pivoting window garden dubbed VoletVégétal lets you maximize the space available. It allows you to place your garden on the window, which can either be laid out flat in open view or kept upright in closed position. In case you’re interested, you can create your own pivoting window frame which can hold planters.

There are endless ways you can transform everyday household items into clever gardening systems for indoor gardening. It’s only about willingness to have a garden that you can use to grow your own organic veggies or beautiful flowers.

Live Life Community

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Garden Tips: You get what you pay for in a potting mix – Tri

When talking about growing plants in containers, I usually emphasize how important it is to use a quality potting mix. Admittedly, this is vague and does not help when trying to decide what potting mix to buy.

In the 1950s, the selection of bagged potting mixes was not difficult, because there were none. Most gardeners planted annual flowers in flower beds, or regular garden soil was used for planting in pots. However, the problem with using soil from the garden was that it typically did not provide adequate drainage and aeration.

In the 1960s, universities like Cornell University researched what materials worked better for growing plants in pots other than plain soil. Their research was prompted by a nursery industry that was finding it difficult to find good topsoil for growing potted plants. They needed a readily available substrate that would enable growth in quality plants, one that was disease and weed seed free, was relatively lightweight, provided good drainage and adequate nutrients, and did not contain residual herbicides.

Cornell’s solution to the problem was a soil-less potting mix called the Cornell Peat-lite Mix. Their basic mix was 50 percent by volume, sphagnum peat moss and 50 percent horticultural-grade vermiculite. Their B Mix was a 50:50 mix of peat moss and horticultural perlite. Fertilizers were added to the mixes to provide nutrients for growth. Around the same time, the University of California developed a basic UC Mix that contained sand and peat moss in equal proportions.

Potting mixes have changed since the ’60s. One reason is the expense of obtaining sphagnum peat moss and environmental concerns over the destruction of peat bogs in Canada and elsewhere. Compost, softwood conifer bark, composted manure and coconut coir (made from coconut husks) have been used to replace some or all of the peat moss in soil-less mixes. Horticultural vermiculite has also fallen out of favor because it will compact if not handled gently, losing its ability to provide aeration and drainage. There also have been concerns about using vermiculite because its ore naturally contains 2 percent to 3 percent asbestos fibers.

My preference in potting mixes is one as close to Cornell’s B Mix as possible, but this is difficult to find. As already noted, many companies substitute other materials for the peat moss component. This substitution works well if the substituted material is fairly stable. Coconut coir and composted pine and fir bark all decompose slowly and serve as adequate peat moss substitutes.

Potting mixes that get a thumbs down from me are those that are predominantly plant-based compost or contain inferior components. These mixes are usually the lower-priced potting mixes. While they may be dark and crumbly, they often do not drain well or provide adequate aeration. Stay away from mixes that contain sedge peat, soil, stones and discernable pieces of sticks and twigs, and ones lacking perlite or vermiculite for drainage. Do not use products labeled “garden soil.” These are not intended for use in containers.

Finally, remember the adage of, “You get what you pay for.” Look for the recommended ingredients on the bags of potting mix and potting soils, and invest in “a good quality potting mix” for your container gardens.

Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.

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