Archive for Gardening

How to Get Rid of Squash Bugs

I really really really really hate squash bugs! They are the bane of my existence. We scarcely ever even get a single squash from a single plant in our garden. If there was a way to remove those suckers from the face of the earth, I sure would do it. They are disgusting! Boo!

I have heard 100 tales of how to rid my life and garden of those creepy creatures, and I have tried every single one. Rotate crops, intercrop, hand picking, use Seven, even that doesn’t work! I have not tried it but a friend of mine used it when our first year gardening and I handpicked mine and we ended up with the same results, a million more came. It seems like there is nothing, and I mean nothing that will rid my life of squash bugs.

Squash bugs STINK!

Squash is attacked early in the season in Oklahoma by the squash vine borer. These little monsters are a black and red wasp looking bug that lay their eggs in the stems of the squash and when they hatch they eat the stems from the inside, killing the plant all at once within a few days.


Squash bug damage

squash bug

They are stinky little bugs. When I was a kid we always called them stink bugs. They make a yucky smell when you squish them. I have heard hand picking in the best way to decrease the population. Last year after we picked thousands of them, we went out and saw thousands more. Squash bugs are relentless.

Hand pick squash bugs.

The best way to hand pick them is wrap your hands in duct tape with the sticky side out and just press it onto the adults, nymphs or eggs and they stick right to it. You can do it until your tape is full and then make another “sticky glove” and start again.

squash bug eggs

Another method for hand picking is pick and smash, this is a little much for me. You can also hand pick them and throw them in a bucket of soapy water and they will die immediately.

Many people have said if you rotate your crops, they will go away. I rotate every year, but in the case of the squash bug, I really think you would have to rotate to China to outrun the suckers.

Some people have suggested planting a large variety of squash and the squash bugs will eat one kind and leave the others alone. I have planted 10-20 types of squash yearly and they eat it all, they eat summer squashes first, then winter, then onto the cucumbers, then the melons and finally whatever else is left in the garden. Those things are evil.

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Try everything you can think of. 

This year I decided to do an experiment and test the numbers. We planted 15 kinds of squash all over the garden in different places than we planted squash last year. We planted one kind in the three sisters plan, with corn for the trellis, beans for the nitrogen and they climb up the corn, and the squash grows on the ground to shade the roots of the other plants. The other plants are supposed to deter the pests of the squash plants.

I had placed pumpkins all around the perimeter of our fence on the outside last fall after our trunk or treat at church and let those sprout up on their own. I thought maybe the bugs would go there and stay outside of the garden. Sadly, the borers took those out very quickly.

growing squash

 

We also did an old wives tale where you let the seed sprout, then you cut and x in an aluminum pie pan. Then you feed the seedling carefully through the hole in the pan. The pan is supposed to deter the bugs from getting to the plant.

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In addition, We did a method where you inter-plant your squash with white icicle radishes. So we had five different factors to check.

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No squash ever survives.

I will report to you that no squash survived in our garden. The variety did not seem to help as all of the squash is eaten. The pumpkins, of course went first, then next to go was the pie pan method. I don’t know if the pans and the hot sun burned those up or what but inside the garden, they were the first to go.

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Next to die off was the three sisters squash. The corn and beans did great, and the beans are still going strong, but we got no squash from there. Last but not least, the longest lasting squash survivor were the ones that were planted with the white icicle radishes. We planted the radishes all over our garden where there were squash, melons, or cucumbers after that. Not many of them germinated because it’s so blasted hot right now, but I do think it will help deter the little bugers. So far it has anyway. We are just now losing our cucumbers to them and usually we never get to harvest this long.

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Plant a lot of squash.

We planted new squash plants all over the area as well, hoping maybe to get some type of harvest later in the season. In Oklahoma we have a really long growing season, so you never know. It depends on when old man winter decides to show up. Quite frankly, it’s hot and I miss him a lot! Hopefully it was not too hot for the seeds, but we will try to plant again in a few days if we get a cool spell of under 95 degrees. Maybe they will have a chance then.

Some people suggest using Diatomaceous Earth to cut down the population. It’s a great natural product and does help with the nymphs but not adult squash bugs. Also, it can harm pollinators, so you have to be careful not to get it in the flowers. Another draw back of DE is that you have to reapply when any moisture gets on it. Here, it’s so humid, that means everyday. Click here to see more about DE. 

I won’t lie and say any of these methods are sure fire or give you hope you can totally get rid of them. I’m being honest, some methods help and some don’t. I know that being vigilant and removing as many as you can is your best hope. Also, at the end of the season, clean up your garden well so they won’t have places to hide and winter over.

The best advice is to do these things early and often to have the best season possible. Be vigilant, and don’t give up because gardening is fun and you get to have veggies. 

If you have a great idea of how to get rid of these awful creatures or at least slow them down a bit, I would love to hear it! 

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How to Get Rid of Squash Bugs

 

9 Benefits of Companion Planting

Companion planting is the practice of planting certain things together that help each other.

companion vegetable planting, three sisters.

For instance, you can plant basil with tomatoes and it makes the tomatoes taste amazing. Basil repels some pests that like tomatoes. In addition, basil tastes great in tomato recipes, so it’s easy to harvest them when they are next to each other. This is companion planting.

  1. Companion planting helps control pests.
Companion planting is a legendary art.

It takes planning, but it will help you obtain a wonderful harvest. We have been growing the three sisters method for years. It’s an ancient Cherokee Indian practice. It involves planting corn for trellises and once the corn is a few inches high, you add squash and beans. The beans feed nitrogen to the corn, the squash keeps weeds out and shades the roots and the corn gives them both something to climb on. They repel each other’s pests and encourage growth in each other.


companion planting, three sisters method

It’s a great system. I recommend growing winter squashes and drying beans so you can pull all of your crops at once after the corn is done producing because it gets pretty crowded in the bed and that way you don’t have to worry about digging around in there and knocking over your corn.

2. Companion planting helps support the needs of the plants.

3. Companion planting supports plant diversity, which is beneficial to the gardener, the soil and our eco system. Plant diversity gives us insect diversity and that decreases the overall number of parasites while it increases the number of beneficials.

There are so many different combinations of plants that can be grown together and there are tons of benefits.

Years ago, there was a book written called “Carrots Love Tomatoes”. The book went into detail about all of the plants that made good companions and all of those that didn’t like growing next to each other. It is still the best resource for this. Click on the picture below if you’d like to get a copy. I couldn’t live without mine.

 Companion planting helps with pollination.

  1. Companion planting saves space.
  2. Companion planting increases productivity.

Companion planting can help with pest control, pollination, making the best use of your space, increasing crop productivity, and providing habitats for beneficials. Typically, these days, most products are grown in a mono crop fashion, meaning there are giant fields of one single type of plant.

Obviously, this makes it easy to water, care for and harvest the crops. The down side is that mono cropping causes farmers/growers to have to use a lot of chemicals to control pests. For instance, if the crop is tomatoes, every tomato hornworm in the tri state area is going to be attracted to that field. If you mix tomatoes with lettuce, for instance, the tomatoes provide shade for the lettuce and the lettuce repels some tomato pests. 

 

Companion planting is God’s natural way.

Think about how things grow in nature, they are mixed and hodge podge. Nature knows best.

  1. Companion planting supports nature’s natural cycles, plans and behaviors.
  2. Companion planting reduces improves flavors.
  3. Companion planting allows you to grow more variety.

Basil is good for most garden crops. It improves the flavor of lettuce and tomatoes and it repels mosquitos. Speaking of repelling mosquitoes, who doesn’t want that?

Beans should not be grown near onions, but should be planted with marigolds or potatoes, both of which repel the Mexican bean beetle.

Tomatoes make a great partner with carrots and onions. They provide shade to keep them from getting too hot.

Radishes are great companions to cucumbers, lettuce, melons and peas and they deter the cucumber beetle. I have also heard white icicle radishes deter squash beetles. We are working on a science experiment about that now.

Onions deter many pests, but shouldn’t be grown near beans or peas. They do great with Cole crops, carrots, and lettuce.

companion planting, onions and peas

Intermixing herbs in all of your crops is always a great idea.

They deter many pests and don’t have plants that don’t like them. Oregano, parsley, thyme, sage (not with cucumbers), rosemary and dill (not with carrots) are all great deterrents for a number of pests. Parsley is especially good for corn, roses and tomatoes. Rosemary is good for beans, cabbage, and carrots. Sage helps cabbage, carrots and especially tomatoes. Tomatoes grow better with sage nearby. Dill is a great flavor enhancer for cabbage type plants, as well as cucumbers, lettuce and onions.

Many flowers improve growth of plants, especially nasturtiums and marigolds. They are good around all plants and deter a host of pests. Sunflowers make a great trellis for cucumbers, but they do inhibit the growth of a lot of plants, so other than that, plant them off to themselves. They still make a great addition to the garden.

Corn is a good companion for beans, cucumbers, potatoes, melons, pumpkins, squash and peas.

Cucumbers should not be grown near potatoes, but are great with beans, cabbage, corn and radishes.

Garlic should not be grown near peas or beans, but is great with cabbages, tomatoes, and fruit trees.

Peppers are great with carrots, onions, parsley, tomatoes, and basil, but don’t love cabbages or fennel.

Knowing what works well together is a great way to improve your productivity in the garden. It just takes a little research and some careful planning to rock your garden to the max.

For more information on what grows well together, check out this article from Mother Earth News

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9 Benefits of Companion Planting

Green Beans, Using and Storing Garden Produce

Right now green beans are in full production at Little Sprouts.

I used to hate green beans, in fact I did most of my life, I remember hating them as a young child. About 4 years ago, when my gardening career was just budding, I asked one of my daycare families if they wanted me to water their garden while they were out of town for a week and it was 100 degrees every day. They said sure, and said I could pick whatever was ripe from it. I jumped on that, but when I got over there, I saw they had a ton of green beans ready to pick.

Green bean production, growing, using, and storing

I thought to myself, ew, but I knew I should not let them go to waste on the vines. I picked a sack full and brought them home thinking I could feed them to the kids. I cooked them up and to my surprise, I ABSOLUTELY LOVED them! They were amazing. I have been helping the kids plant green beans and enjoying eating them with them ever since.

I LOVE green beans! Yum yum!


This year we planted a variety of green beans including a purple variety we got in our seeds of the month membership. We just picked our first batch of purple ones today and they look so beautiful! I can’t wait to try them. At Little Sprouts we plant most things in succession. That way we have a longer season of harvest as well as less glut all at once of one thing. Every two weeks we put in another row of green beans. As the plants get tired and worn out, the new ones are ready.

Growing green beans is fun.

The vines and bushes are really pretty and the little beans are so cute as they come on. I LOVE growing them. When we get enough to save, it’s super exciting to think about eating them in winter too. We are not allowed to serve home canned foods in daycare, so our green bean storage choices are dehydrating or freezing.

green bean cooking, world famous green beans

If you dehydrate your green beans, cut them into one inch pieces before you start. Dehydrate them until they are totally dried. You can use them in soups and stews. They retain their flavor and most of their nutrients. Another way you can use dehydrated green beans is to put them in the blender dry and make them into powder. Then add them to dishes for extra nutrients. No one will ever know. Trust me, it works great!

We freeze our extra green beans.

To freeze your green beans you wash and snap them into one inch pieces. Then blanch them. Bring a big stock pot of water to a boil. Add a teaspoon or so of salt. Toss in a few handfuls of green beans, and let them cook for 3-4 minutes or until bright green. Take them out of the water and shock them in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain them and bag them up. Remove as much air as possible from the bag and get it to the freezer as quickly as possible.

Many people say they don’t like frozen green beans, but I find if you cook them right (long enough), they taste amazing and have a wonderful texture. Believe me, texture is a big ole deal to me.

There are so many ways to use your fresh or stored green beans. You can make a side dish with them. There are many green bean casserole recipes or you can just serve them plain with some salt, pepper and butter. My last post was my world famous green bean recipe. It’s so good, kids are talking about it all over the place. Click here to check it out.

world famous green bean recipe cooking

Green beans are great added to soups and stews.

They can be added to casseroles. Green beans can be used in stir fry. You can marinate them in a fresh salad, they can be pickled, they can go in pasta salad or pasta dishes. They can be used fresh or blanched in salads. You can roast them in green bean bundles. There are unlimited ways they can be served for something new and exciting.

Don’t shy away from the humble and familiar green bean. All it needs is some new perspective. What’s your favorite way to eat them?

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Green Beans, Using and Storing Garden Produce

How to Grow Cabbage

I super love cabbage, it’s so delicious.

Growing up I only had it boiled and it was fairly off putting in flavor and texture. As an adult I learned to cook it in a way that I just LOVE. The recipe is coming next week, so stay tuned. My kids tear this cabbage up! It’s so funny to imagine what you think kids will like, but if you have a good attitude about it, they will surprise you. Click here to see how I get my kids to eat healthy food.

Growing and using cabbages

Cabbage is a cool season crop that can be grown in fall or spring.

It’s about time to be starting your plants indoors for this fall’s season in most places. So I want to talk about how to grow it. Cabbage is a Cole crop or cruciferous vegetable. It’s in the same family as broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, kohlrabi and kale. The procedure for growing all of these plants is very similar so use these instructions for all of them.


Cole crops can be grown from seed or started indoors and planted as a seedling, but the times seeds need to be germinated can be tricky where I live.

Seeds should be started around February or August for the corresponding seasons but in February, it’s too cold for seeds to germinate here and in August it’s way too hot. Because of this, it’s best to start your seeds indoors if your climate is like mine. Cole crop seeds like soil temperatures around 80 degrees.

Cole crop seeds take 3-10 days to germinate and 4-6 weeks to grow into a healthy seedling. If you don’t have a greenhouse, you will need supplemental lighting for your cabbage seedlings such as a grow light. Once the seedlings are ready, plant your cabbage plants in the evening so they will have a chance to settle in before the harsh sun shines on them. Make sure to water them well to close up any air pockets that might be around the soil.

Cabbage, growing and using

Cabbage plants will form a big flower like leaf pattern and in the center, a head will begin to form. As the head gets bigger it will get fuller and firmer until it’s ready to eat. You can choose whenever you’d like to harvest the head, but the longer you leave it, the more cabbage you will get.

Cut the head out of the center of the flower shaped structure and leave the plant.

Many times you will get multiple smaller heads of cabbage on the second round of cabbage growth. It’s so fun to make your season last longer and get more from your harvest.

It takes several months for the plant to produce a head of cabbage. It’s one of the most beautiful plants in the garden to me. I look at the plants like big gorgeous flowers, meant to delight me. THEY really do!

harvesting cabbage with kids

Watch my next post for my Heavenly Cabbage recipe.

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How to Grow Cabbage

10 Key Benefits of Gardening in Raised Beds

10 Key Benefits of Gardening in Raised Beds

Raised beds are fairly popular among gardeners these days. What’s all the hype? Why do you need them? There is nothing wrong with gardening right in the ground, but raised beds offer some different options to gardeners as growing spaces. Building raised beds can be expensive and it does take time to build them and fill them. They can also fix a whole host of gardening problems and for us at Little Sprouts, they work.

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Gardening with Kids

Gardening with kids is one of the most amazing and rewarding things I’ve ever done in my life. I have been a family childcare provider for 21 years and over the course of that time, I have tried and tried to grow things with my kids. I come from a long line of farmers and have always been interested in growing food, but I just had no instincts.

Gardening has a million benefits. There is nothing better to teach your kids. 

 

Five years ago, I was invited to a class to teach childcare providers to garden with their kids. I was so excited and immediately fell in love with everything about it. I set the goal to teach as many kids as possible to grow food, to teach as many people as possible to teach this to kids, and to grow as much of my kid’s food as possible here at our house.


I failed so many times over the years because I didn’t know the basics of how to garden, and Doug, the gardening teacher in the class, changed all that for me with the information he shared with us. 

kids harvesting kohlrabi

How we got started

First, I got help from a daycare parent to build some simple beds and mix dirt, then we got our free bed from the garden class, then we built more beds, and then we asked the neighbor for some land and built and expansion. 

Overall, we have over 50 raised beds, some are as small as one foot by two feet and some are as large as 3 feet by 10 feet. It’s a hodge podge. We built many from discarded materials, got a small grant, collected money from local businesses, daycare parents, and family members, and put a ton of money into it ourselves, but we built a paradise to teach kids. Click here for more details about how we did it. 

You certainly don’t have to go this big, kids can learn a ton in a couple of five gallon buckets full of dirt. You can plant a lot in a 3 by 3 foot bed and so much learning can happen with that. You can have one tomato plant and find dozens of learning opportunities with just that. Please don’t feel overwhelmed by the volume we’ve chosen here. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. It can just be something!

healthy living-gardening with kids

The garden has ups and downs

There are so many things you can learn in the garden and if you don’t know how to garden yourself, you can do like we did and learn while you teach your kids. We are by no means experts, but we have a lot of fun figuring it out. My husband is a big help and I certainly could not do it without him. 

 

How to Grow your Own Wheat

You wouldn’t believe what wheat means to me. I can’t tell you the memories I have of planting it, harvesting, taking it to the elevator for sale, and any number of other things. One of my fondest childhood memories is of sitting in the back of the wheat truck when the combine would come up beside it and dump wheat all over us and bury us. That’s good stuff!

We would chew the wheat for “gum” while we worked hard in the fields at my grandparent’s house during harvest time. After all the wheat was cut, we would go back and cut straw from the stems that were left in the ground. Farming wheat is in my blood. These fun memories were at my grandparent’s house and they were some of the best times of my life.

My grandparents, great grandparents, and great-great grandparents were wheat farmer’s by trade and my uncle and cousin still farm wheat today. It’s an important part of my history. My Mom’s Grandfather ran in the Oklahoma Land Run with his parents to get their family land.  


I was raised in the city, but the memories of what went on at the farm always cried out to me in the back of my mind. The cows, horses, sheep, goats, chickens, grandma’s big ole garden, and the wheat and alfalfa grandpa grew are part of my upbringing and are part of who I am today.

Kids should know where their food comes from.

Click here to see how you can teach them that.

My mom is a smart woman and has so many skills from her time growing up on that farm, it’s amazing. She has talents and abilities as do her brothers and sisters that would amaze you.

I make all the bread I feed my kids from scratch and I make it from freshly ground flour. I use local, top quality wheat berries to make my flour so my kids get the very best I can give them Click here to see why I don’t feed them store bought bread and click here for my everyday bread recipes if you want to make your own.

whole wheat bread maker bread

Many people talk about gluten intolerance and grain free food, especially gluten free, but I really feel that what makes a lot of people sick and tired is not the gluten or the wheat itself, but the massive amounts of chemicals in the bread products that wheat is made into and you have a recipe for some pretty serious diseases and illnesses. I’m not sure it’s the gluten for all people, although I KNOW it is for some. I think much of it is the process we’ve done to the wheat.

I wanted to show my kids where those wheat berries come from. Although I don’t plan to grow all of our wheat as cleaning it is quite a chore that we don’t have the equipment for, I wanted to grow some wheat to show them the source of those beautiful golden nuggets of flavor.

Any post on this blog may contain affiliate links which pay me a very small commission for items you purchase using the links but costs you nothing extra. I can help defray a small percentage of the cost of producing the blog to share information with you.

wheat growing

We took some of our wheat berries we grind for flour and planted them back in November. Previously, I tried to grow wheat with the kids, but I didn’t remember that you grow it throughout the winter here in Oklahoma (no natural instincts for growing), so I talked to my cousin Joe about what could have gone wrong. He said to have your wheat in the ground by November 30th. This is called winter wheat and it’s the only wheat you can grow in Oklahoma. It’s too hot here for anything else.

Winter wheat or hard wheat is good for making bread or other products that are made with yeast, spring wheat or soft wheat is good for pancakes, muffins, and things that don’t contain yeast.

Last year, we met that goal and watched our tiny wheat grass grow throughout the winter a tiny bit at a time. Once the days started getting longer, our wheat took off and now it’s making seed heads. Our rows aren’t straight like on the farm, but we are farming this wheat nonetheless. We have a 3 x 10 bed of it growing and will harvest it when it turns golden and the seeds will shake out of it. I’ll come back and update the blog when that happens.

planting wheat with kids

Steps to growing wheat:

  1. Find your wheat berry seeds. Research what type of wheat will grow in your area and when it needs to be planted. If you are in or around Oklahoma, do what we did, and get winter wheat in the ground by the end of November.
  2. Prepare your soil and make a trench about 2- 2 ½ inches deep. If you have a huge area to cover, you can broadcast your wheat seeds and then till them into the ground to about 2 inches. If you are planting spring wheat, you will need to plant it around 1 inch deep instead. Cover the seeds with dirt and pat down the earth gently to remove any air pockets.
  3. Water weekly until grain stalks and heads begin to turn golden and heads droop toward the ground.
  4. Check your mature grain weekly. Shake a few seeds out of the head and taste them. If they are doughy, they are not ready, but if they are firm and you can chew them for a while without them disintegrating, they are ready. Remember the “wheat gum”?
  5. Store them for a few weeks in a dry place until they are ready to clean. They will be dry and won’t dent with your fingernail when ready.
  6. Beat the heads on the inside of a trash can until all of the seeds fall out of the heads. Then winnow the seeds by pouring them from one container to another in the breeze or in front of a fan until all the chaff blows out of the seeds. Get them as clean as possible before use.
  7. Store them in an airtight container so moisture or bugs won’t be able to reach them.

growing wheat with kids

wheat, growing your own

I can’t wait to see how excited the kids are and how much they learn when we harvest our little wheat patch and grind it up into flour to make bread. What a wonderful learning experience for them that will stimulate all of their senses. Sensory experiences are the best way for kids birth to three to learn, and can you think of anything else that smells as good as homemade bread coming out of the oven? It can carry you away.

 

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How to Grow your Own Wheat

What is Permaculture?

Have you ever wondered what permaculture means? I have wanted to learn about permaculture for so long. I have learned bits and pieces of it, but nothing to really tell me how to do it.

permaculture gardening

I had the opportunity to review the book “Permaculture for the Rest of Us, Abundant Living on Less than an Acre”, by Jenni Blackmore and I jumped on it. Send me the book! I was so excited to learn more about this interesting method of planting.


abundant living on less than an acre, gardening, permaculture

The main premise of permaculture is that plants, animals, and insects can all live in symbiotic relationships together in harmony and support and build each other up, like how nature does it on its own. Land can actually heal itself if left alone.

Imagine a big tree in the woods, lightning strikes it or, more likely, someone comes and chops it down. The tree falls. The tree lays there lifeless. Over time, it begins to deteriorate. Bacteria, bugs, and animals all help break it down. It finally decomposes, and becomes fertilizer for the earth to have more fertility and the place it was can no longer be seen. The place it once was is unmarred by its presence again. Nature heals itself.

So, if this can happen in nature, how much more can it happen when we work with nature than against it? How can we do this? Permaculture teaches us how.

permaculture for the rest of us

So back to the book. Author, Jenni Blackmore tells about her disgust for slugs which started her on her journey towards permaculture and I loved hearing about her journey and how she got to where she is today. In the book, she teaches about building soil and how to work it. She also tells about important things you need for success, what animals have to do with it, and where to begin.

My favorite chapter was the one that talks about the permaculture principles. I have always wanted to learn them and she presented them in such a way that I could understand them clearly. I can’t wait to learn even more about them with some further study. I love how the author, Jenni Blackmore presents her information in a laid back way that is not intimidating even to beginners like me. She presents and anyone can do it attitude and that’s just what I need to learn.

permaculture design

I learned from the permaculture principles that I have a lot of natural instinct on how to plant to balance nature. I have no natural growing instincts, so it was so cool to see that some of the things I feel drawn to do are helping nature help me. At least I’m not slow at every part of growing.

I hope you will order the book for yourself right away so you can learn how you can practice permaculture even if you are living on a city lot like me. Click the picture below to check it out.

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What is Permaculture

 

 

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