The Library And Gallery Of Author And Artist Laura Wheeler

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Tossed Salad

All the little bits we didn't know where else to put, or that got left out of a book.

Dirt Reduces Depression

A bacteria commonly found in dirt has been shown to reduce depression, according to an article in Discover Magazine. Mycobacterium vaccae is found in soil, and may be inhaled when you take a walk out of doors, work in the garden, or when children play in the dirt. Scientists have long known that farm kids have fewer allergies and have healthier immune systems than kids raised in more sterile suburban or urban environments. Working in the garden has health benefits beyond the food that it produces.

Hand-Picking Bugs and Grubs

A commonly recommended bug and grub control method is "hand picking". Ok, so that's just gross. I don't want to have to pick up bugs, let alone caterpillars! Too many wiggly legs! Fortunately, small boys (and some small girls) have fewer reservations about such things, and can be hired for a small bounty per bug. Give them a jar to put them in, let them cash in (a penny a bug, or a nickle if inflation has hit that hard). When they are done, let them take them to the ducks or chickens, or to the neighbor's pet iguana.

Slugs and Snails

Slugs and snails are most easily controlled by getting them drunk and drowning them. Beer in pans around the garden really is the most effective method, which is why it has been used for so long.

Companion Planting

Companion planting does help! Marigolds, Nasturtiums, and Mint can be used to deter certain types of bugs. We typically scatter Marigolds and Nasturtiums through our gardens, in between the plants, where they cheerfully bloom among the vegetables. Mint is pretty aggressive, and cannot be interplanted, but you can put pots around the garden. There are other plants that help deter bugs as well.

Using Paper Products in Your Garden

Toilet Paper Tubes, Paper Towel Tubes, Crochet Thread Spools, and other cardboard tubes make good planting pot alternatives. There's nothing new in this idea, avid recyclers have been recommending it for decades. Cut TP tubes in half, cut Paper Towel tubes down to 2-3" lengths, leave Crochet Thread Spools whole (they are best for larger plants like tomatoes). Set them upright in a tray. Fill with potting soil, right up to the top (when you water it, it will sink anyway). They follow the same rules as Peat Pots, though some roots may grow through the cardboard, some may not. If they do not, you can tear off the cardboard before planting - there isn't a real need to do so though, because it will break down and help the soil if you leave it there.


Baskets may also be used for growing plants. Best for cooler dry climates where drying out is less of an issue if used without a liner - they will break down faster without a liner also. Line with plastic if you wish, and poke a few holes in the bottom for drainage. Baskets look awesome, and if you can't get used baskets cheaply, dollar stores often have them.

Floating Row Covers

Floating Row Covers are sometimes suggested as a method of keeping plants bug-free. I can only recommend that as a short term option, they have problems if used for very long for bug control. First, bugs usually appear in the heat, and floating row covers tend to increase the heat quite a bit. Not good in hot climates. Second, they are a pain to work around, because you have to lift them off to get at anything, and re-anchor them (they have to be really anchored well in windy areas) - this makes it impractical to use them for things like cucumbers that you need to check and pick daily. Third, they are supposed to let water through, but they don't do it very well. The row cover tends to get heavy and the water concentrates in hollows to drip through all in one place, or it sheds off the sides. Water can also mash it down on the plants, or weigh it down so that it gets muddy and heavier because of the mud. Fourth, once a few of the bugs get under (and they eventually WILL), the fun is over, and the party inside is ON. They'll have a fine old time in there ravaging your plants.

Using Shade Cloth

Shade Cloth can be used to reduce heat on cool season crops to help them last a bit longer through the hot months. Look in the chapter on Shady Yard Solutions (not in the first release) for a listing of plants that tolerate shade well.

5 Gallon Bucket Planters

A 5 gallon bucket makes a good planter. Just drill holes in the bottom or put rocks in the bottom to ensure drainage. It can be made into a Vertical Planter by cutting three 2" holes 4" from the bottom of the bucket, and then another row 4" above that, offset from the first row - shorter buckets will accommodate 2 rows, taller buckets will accommodate 3 or 4 rows. Fill with potting soil, and plant the top with plants, and transplant individual plants into the holes in the side. Make sure to water thoroughly each time you water.

Using Mulch

Use Mulch on planters in the summer time to reduce temperature in the pots, and to hold moisture into the soil. In warm climates, pots can dry out very fast. Grass clippings (if grass has NOT gone to seed), leaves, bark, straw, and other loose organic material.

Wetting Potting Mix

Wetting Potting Mix. Most potting mixes don’t absorb water very well. The water tends to puddle, sits on top of the mix, or the mix floats on the water, and it stubbornly refuses to absorb into the mix. When we are filling pots, we like to get a 5 gallon bucket, and a large spoon or stick. We dump the potting mix into the bucket, wet it down well enough that it gets clumpy and no dry patches remain. If we get too much water, we can pour it off outside. Once we’ve got a good damp mix, we fill our pots, and sow the seeds. Much easier than trying to fill trays or pots and then try to get the water to absorb.

Grocery Bag Cloches

Plastic Grocery Bags can be used in the garden. Tie over plants in the spring or fall to protect from frost. Cut in wide strips to use for ties to stake tomatoes or squash.

Peat and Cow Pots

Peat Pots, or Cow Pots either one are easy to transplant because the entire pot plants right into the soil. They do have a few issues though. They are prone to drying out, especially if you have a lot of pot above the level of the soil - so fill the pots up to the top when you fill them with soil. Set them in a tray, and make sure that the pot gets wet every time you water them - this is how you know you have watered them enough. If you push them close together (so they are touching enough to square off the sides), they'll retain moisture better - but they'll also have issues with roots growing from one pot into another if you do this. I usually do it that way anyway, and spread them out more if it looks like roots are coming through, because we have lived mostly in dry areas where problems with the pots drying out were significant. When you plant them, make sure the entire pot is buried below the surface of the soil also, or the pot sticking above the soil will tend to wick out the moisture from around the plant, and cause problems with drying out the plant during the sensitive transplant adjustment period. If you have too much pot above the surface of the soil, tear it off and throw it in the bottom of the hole before you plant - it will break down and add to the soil.

Bargain Plants

Bargain plants. Many stores clear out plants that are not doing well, and will mark them down to half price, sometimes less. Look to see if the plant is basically still there - a reasonable amount of leaves that are still green. Generally all that has happened is that the plant has outlived the pot’s resources. If it is a potted plant, meant to stay in the pot, just fertilize it a little to revive it. If it is a garden plant, putting it into garden soil should do the trick, though it will likely drop blossoms or any fruit that is on it when you  transplant. Be patient, it will most likely come back.

Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous Earth is a fine powdery substance that is made up of the crushed bodies of a single celled sea creature. It is one of the better natural choices for controlling certain kinds of bugs in the garden - soft bodied bugs, specifically. It will reduce the number of cabbage loopers, and is effective on many other kinds of insects as well. It looks and feels like talc, and is available in several forms. Look for the type intended for animal use, and then you can use it in the garden, and around pets to control worms (sprinkle it on food, and around where they leave their droppings). We used a duster to apply it in the garden, but you can use a large zip bag with a tiny bit cut off the corner. Get the bag full of air, pinch the hole in the corner loosely, and squeeze the bag toward the plant. With a bit of practice you'll be able to use this method as well as a duster.

Deer Fencing

A solid fence that cannot be seen through is the best barrier for deer. They won't jump through what they cannot see through, because they can't see if it is safe on the other side. 6 ft tall is generally sufficient for deer anywhere in the country. Other fences are less effective, they can jump over fences up to 12 ft high.

Small Buckets

We found 1 gallon plastic buckets, the same style as 5 gallon buckets, at the dollar store. They make good planters with holes drilled in the bottom. The ones we found were black, so they'll hold heat, and perhaps not be the best for some items in a hot climate. If you get creative about planting containers, the dollar store has all sorts of options.

Potting Soil

Potting mix really isn't the best medium for plant growing! Somehow, we've bought into the myth that a formula mixed up in a factory, using all sorts of things that plants don't normally grow in, is superior to backyard soil. People are even encouraged to use it to fill raised beds when they have poor garden soil! Consider... potting mix has no dirt! While it has no weeds, which is a minor advantage, it is sterile! Sterility may reduce disease short term, but actually makes it worse long term. Potting soil is more likely to have problems with mold, because there are no natural bacteria to inhibit mold growth. The soil is also missing the healthy probiotics which encourage plant health. It typically holds water poorly. The ingredients are often anything BUT natural, and nature simply does not formulate petroleum products as a growing medium. A mixture of dirt and compost is the best medium we have ever found for growing plants in pots, or raised beds. Compost balances out poor soil, so mixing it about half and half with poor soils will balance out most growing problems, and is more suitable for raised beds. We reluctantly use potting soil when we have no access to dirt and compost, but it really isn't a good option for keeping plants healthy and happy.

Reducing Bug Damage to Seedlings

Bugs can completely mow down a small plant literally overnight. One way to reduce bug damage is to start seedlings indoors, and set them out when they are larger. This works with greens, and many other plants that can be completely gobbled when they are small, but which have greater capacity to withstand insect damage when they are larger. Wait until plants are several inches tall before moving them outside. This won't help with things like bunnies gobbling your greens, because they are big enough to chomp out a dozen plants in a single sitting. But it will slow down the grasshoppers and other munchers.

Cold Climate Gardening

A combination of windbreaks, and wood chip mulch on your garden can help to raise the temperatures as much as a full climate zone. Wood chip mulch should be applied each spring - about an inch. Compost or Manure may be added on top of the mulch. Windbreaks may include buildings, trees, or snow fence type barriers. If you live in an area with much drifting snow, a windbreak will create a great drift on the leeward side of the break, which may be as much as 4-6 times wider than the height of the windbreak. This may be an important source of moisture, but it also REDUCES soil temperatures and delays the spring thaw in that area. There is a ribbon of sheltered ground between the windbreak and the drift, and more sheltered area beyond the drift. Planting in naturally sheltered hollows also provides a windbreak.

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