Posted by & filed under Composting.

When we first moved to Blakely Island, Heather and I asked each other how do we choose the best composting techniques.  We had so much material line in the woods and in the area where we wanted to grow the garden, we had to choose the best composting technique for quickly cleaning up the fire hazards and producing a healthy organic garden.

How did I choose the best composting techniques for this situation?

We were on a small private island in the middle of the San Juan Islands close to Washington state. There was a huge fire pit, but it was really dry that year and we didn’t want to burn the island down. Maybe ever wondered that how the heck to get rid of all this stuff that could potentially catch on fire and turn it into something that will bring a great benefit. Our solution was to bring in a chipper shredder and shred the plant material, small trees and piles of brush and place it in the large hole originally designed as a burn pit.

How do we choose the best composting techniques?

It worked well, and once the rains had started and it was safe to have a fire pit we were able to increase the speed of decomposition through burning the huge amounts of debris that we had to deal with.


Let’s ask and look at where all the different composting techniques available today. First let’s take a look at what is composting. Composting happens whether you work at it or not. It is the actual decomposition of matter whether plant or animal at the end of the useful life of that matter as we know it.


For organic farming, we’re only interested in the organic matter of plants and some animal byproducts called manure.  Green manure is actually a cover crop, which is grown to kill back into the soil after it is grown to replenish the nutrients in the soil. But we are not going to talk about that today. We’re going to focus on the plant material like leaves, shredded newspaper, old straw, shredded cardboard, as well as horse, cow, alpaca and other animal a newer other animal manures.


So what are the different composting techniques that we can use today? The simplest process of composting just requires making a heap or pile of whatever organic material (food waste, we use, shredded material), keep it wetted down with water which allows bacteria and worms to break down the material and create compost. Depending upon the material being composted, it can take weeks, months or years.
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Modern composting techniques require a multi step closely monitored process.

  • measured amounts of water
  • proper aeration
  • mix in carbon rich material
  • Mix in nitrogen rich material
  • Shred material to speed up decomposition
  • Continue to turn and mix composting material during process
  • Keep the material wet.
  •  Once the composting material gets to a certain point, introduce worms and fungi to break up the material further.
  • Aerobic bacteria continue the chemical process by converting the material into heat, Carbon dioxide and ammonium. As this point bacteria turns the compost into nitrites and nitrates.

There are different mechanical options of composting techniques, they’d in the composting process. There are homemade tumblers, commercially available tumblers, as well as compost bins. Compost bins take more work as material must be moved from one been to the next. There is also composting containers that use gravity to allow the smaller compost pieces to drop to lower and lower levels in the composting process.


Keeping the material wet is one technique that speeds up the process also. Water can be injected via a hose, or nozzles, which can also shred and break down the compost even further. If the material is too wet the worms cannot help in the process at efficiently since they need good bedding to be able to move around and breathe. However the bacteria appreciate the wetter it is the better they can grow and decompose the material. Once the material gets to a nice small size, this is the best time to introduce worms. You want to make sure that the worms have plenty of good bedding for the worms to move around in and eat and breathe.


At this point is a good time to add more bedding shredded newspaper, finely shredded plant material, even shredded paper towels and other paper products. Depending on which composting technique you use shredded material to the size desired. Once the material is well composted, most composting techniques have you carefully move the compost to another area to save the worms and continue the process. You can then place more of the composting material containing worms on top of the new shredded material and let the worms and fungi do their job. You can do an extensive search of the Internet to look up different composting techniques, you will find that this all boils down to the decomposition of material that has been happening since the beginning of the creation of earth.


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Turning your dream into the life of your dreams

Chris downs      —–    the caretaker


Posted by & filed under Plants.

Are you trying to Start Pruning Tomato Plants? My wife learned how to Prune tomato plants from her mother and her father. First time we grew tomato plants on Blakely Island it’d been a while since she had grown tomato plants. She started pruning Tomato Plants, and then it happened. Instead of cutting off the sucker, she cut off the major stem which produces the fruit. She’d always been careful before, it was just one little snip and it was gone.

Have you ever done that, you know how it feels to take your time growing a plant and then all of a sudden one little slip and half of it is gone.

Pruning Tomato Plants

So I am going to share with you how to start pruning tomato plants properly. The main reason to prune your tomato plants is to help your plant direct energy towards producing more fruit rather than just more leaves. All those extra leaves will just grow more branches and not allow as much fruit to grow. You want to prune the plant earlier in the season, which will help the airflow through the plant and help prevent pest and disease problems. when you prune the tomato plant properly all the leaves foliage will get adequate sunlight and the plan is able to photosynthesize (and, as a result, growing produce more fruit) more efficiently.

You don’t need to prune all types of tomatoes, if you are growing determinate tomatoes,(varieties of tomatoes, also called “bush” tomatoes, that are bred to grow to a compact height (approx. 4 feet). They stop growing when fruit sets on the top bud. The tomatoes ripen most all their crop at or near the same time. Then they die.)

Indeterminate tomatoes produce fruit or tomatoes regularly over the course of the season so pruning tomato plants is going to be very important. This will help you control the large vines, but the energy of the plant will go to producing nicer sized tomatoes instead of a bunch of small tomatoes. However if you choose not to prove that’s all right because no matter what type of tomato your growing if you’re not concerned about the size of your tomatoes or trying to keep the plants under control they will still grow and produce fruit.
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The Art of Pruning Tomato Plants:
• Look at your plant and see how the sun hits the leaves.
• Verify how the branches of the plant keep the air from moving through it
• Prune any stems that are less than 8 to 20 inches from the ground.
• Remove stems that will not produce fruit early to keep growth focused on tomato growth
• Compost healthy matter taken from plants
So if you decide to prune your tomato plants, it’s really a pretty easy process. Again I cut off the suckers, which grow in the be space between the main stem and branches on your tomato plant. Look at the picture below this paragraph, and you can see which you be looking for. If left to grow this would eventually going to full-size branch, adding lots of foliage or leaves and other small branches, and a few fruits. Would also result in the tomato plant that’s can you get larger than the space it’s supposed to occupy in the garden.

So you simply remove the suckers which can be done when they are smaller than 2 inches tall by simply pinching them off with your fingers. Enter larger than 2 inches, be sure to use a pair of clean pruners that you disinfect as you move from plant to plant to protect against brain diseases. They should be pruned out when they are small to avoid stressing the plants I removing large amounts of suckers at once.

It is really as simple as that it’s a chore that can be done by watering your weeding and will also result in healthier plants, pruning tomato plants results in bigger tomatoes and a lot less effort. So if you’re ready to prune tomato plants, follow these directions ask questions and take pictures and share them with everybody else.

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Turning your Dreams into the Life of Your Dreams
Chris Downs The Caretaker

Posted by & filed under Plants.

When I was going to start my new adventure with Growing Tomato Plants my sister exclaimed with passion “You can’t even grow weeds!”  Since the main jobs that I had done to this point had nothing to do with growing plants,I was known to have an acid thumb.  Nothing I had planted before had grown.

What did I expect? I was always whining about how quickly everything grew. Of course, I was only 8 years old. My sister was old. She was 14, and seemed to know everything except how to cut the grass or do the “Important” chores like taking out the garbage, raking the leaves and jumping in the piles so I could do it all over again.

Growing Tomato Plants: look how juicy they are!!

So the reason I decided to start growing tomato plants, is that I see them everywhere I go. Heck, I can take the tomato seed out of the tomatoes that we get at the store and just plant the seeds from inside of it right? I saved up two entire tomatoes seeds and placed them in the back yard by the garage. I planted the tomato seeds as deep as my finger would go and dropped them in the hole. I covered up the tomato seeds, put some water on top of the dirt and went on my way.

I would go back to the area where I planted them, about every two days. Then one day I went back there, something was popping up out of the ground! I was going to show my sister that I can grow Tomatoes! Two more days, and the plant was up about 3 inches. ( it is really a dandelion that came up instead of a tomato).  (See picture below of the dandelions that came up)

Me Growing Tomato Plants

However, the 3 inches of growth looked nothing like I had expected, it was a dandelion growing where I had planted all of those tomato seeds.  I was wondering what the heck happened. I thought I did everything right, but there it was, another dandelion.

How was I going to grow anything, maybe my sister was right. I am just glad that I did not tell her what I was going to do. That would have been brutal teasing!

Here is what you can learn from my experience in growing tomato plants:

  • Start with Good Plants
  • Good thrifty plants that are about 6 weeks old are best for transplanting.
  • Setting the Plants set plants 1 to 2 inches deeper than they grew in the plant bed. They should be watered in, using a good fertilizer tea solution.
  • Weed Control – Pull them out is the fastest for small gardens or containers
  • Mulch Keeps the weeds downs
  • Pest Control Pick them off or make sure you have good spiders and other bugs that eat them.

To go over it again, follow the steps below, and ask a lot more people than I did in the beginning.

1. Use disease-resistant, adapted varieties from a known disease-free source.

2. Do not plant tomatoes too frequently in the same field. There should be an interval of two years between successive tomato crops, or where tomatoes follow potatoes.

3. Isolate the tomato planting from plants which generally carry diseases injurious to tomatoes, such as potatoes, cucumbers, dahlias, eggplant, and weeds (ground-cherry, pokeweed, jimsonweed, and nightshade).

4. Do not smoke or handle tobacco in any form when working with tomatoes. This is especially true of tomato plants in the first 12 weeks of their growth.

5. Follow the soil preparation, fertilization, and transplanting recommendations faithfully.


Recommendations are constantly changing. For the latest recommendations, ask your local Cooperative Extension Office.

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Turning Dreams into the Life of Your Dreams

Chris Downs The Caretaker

Posted by & filed under Plants.

Should I be starting tomato plants at home? I was told that starting tomato plants can be difficult and I want to make a good choice for everything that I will need.

Should I be starting tomato plants at home?

What are the steps to ensure success?

First and foremost you should purchase quality tomato seeds from a business that has a good reputation and guarantees their sprouting percentage. If a tomato seed was not prepared and stored properly, the older the seed the less success. If you have excess seeds, you want to store them properly in a cool dry area of your home, garage or garden shed.

When starting tomato plants at home at home you want a good starting soil mix.

  • You can purchase a good commercial seed starting soil at your local nursery or big box home improvement store.
  • Ask, Ask, Ask questions from the people who are helping you. Make sure what you are purchasing will promote growth, and not burn your plants with too much nitrogen in the mix. I usually make my own, so I cannot recommend any commercial brands at this time. That is why I say ASK!

You want to prepare your starting soil overnight, with a good amount of GOOD quality water to the point that it is damp, not soaked. My business partner David Jeters, got a new plant, but the water at his house has a very high chlorine level in it. Chlorine is a disinfectant, it will dissipate in an open container, but for new plants, it will adversely affect growth, and maybe even kill younger plants depending upon the concentration. The water at his house, out of the tap would pass the pool chlorine level test. No wonder his baby plant was not thriving.

• Choose the right Start Date for your region.

  • Many novices fail at starting tomatoes simply because they start too early.
  • Given the proper care, full-sized tomato transplants can be grown in 6 to 8 weeks.
  • Before planting seeds, you must determine when your plants can be safely placed into the garden.
  • Planting outdoors is best done about 1 or 2 weeks after the average last frost date for your area.
  • Ask friends or use web resources to find your average last frost date, then do the math to calculate your seed starting date.

Plant Your Seeds

  • Plant your seeds in the soil mix that you either made or purchased.
  • Place them about 1/8 of an inch deep, place another ¼ inch on top and
  • lightly pat it down then water well.
    • Not sopping wet, more like a sponge that you squeezed out.
    •  You can cover your container with a clear covering it you do not think that you will be away from them for a while.
    • Do not let the soil dry out.
  • Do not make it airtight, you want to allow some airflow, but again, keeping the soil moist.
  •  Place the container inside, but out of the sun until the seeds have germinated.
    • About one week. Do not let the temperature get cold, but a good temperature would be in a warm spot in your house, but not too hot.
  • Move the container to direct sunlight as soon as you see them pop up out of the soil.
  • We place out starts under a grow light in the bathroom.
    • They need a good strong light so that they do not grow into leggy starts.
    • Leggy or spindly starts usual indicates being either too hot, or not enough light.

Continue to Nurture and Maintain the Growth.
Keep the plants watered, but do not drown them. As soon as they grow real leaves, transplant them into bigger individual containers. Feed them also, but do not burn them with too much compost or fertilizer, Organic only of course.

Harden your plants to the outdoors.
Take about two weeks to accomplish this. Start with taking them outside for about 15 minutes and then bring them back in. No direct light the first couple of times then after a couple more days, place them in light for a short period then move them to the shade.

If really cold weather is forecast, it is best to bring the plants back inside. Freezing temperatures will destroy your plants (and it happens fast). Once they are used to being outside and are “hardened” you can transplant them to their final growing place.

Now that your plants are thriving outside, keep them healthy and happy. You have successfully mastered starting tomatoes plants at home!

We would love to hear your comments and your successes on starting tomato plants at home, as well as answer any questions that you may have. I would love to see your pictures of your plants!

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Turning Dreams into the life of Your Dreams
Chris Downs— The Caretaker

Posted by & filed under Plants.

Ghost Pepper, ghost pepper from where did you come?  This may sound like a child’s rhyme or taunt, but there is reason to verify where and how the “New Hottest Pepper in the World” came into existence.

Remember, We are speaking of Organic, non-GMO plants for our gardens.  Hybrids that are grown by cross breeding is generally acceptable, but done in a lab?

Ghost Pepper Plants

This pepper has been around since 2007, according to the Guiness book of world records and now you are most likely wondering how was it created.

To explain that we first we need to start with some definitions:


Plant breeders cross breed compatible types of plants in an effort to create a plant with the best features of both parents. These are called hybrids, and many of our modern plants are the results of these crosses.

While plants can cross-pollinate in nature and hybrids repeatedly selected and grown may eventually stabilize, many hybrid seeds are relatively new crosses and seed from these hybrids will not produce plants with identical qualities. After a number of years, and stability of time and proven performance, they may eventually be called heirloom.

GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms)

Any plant, animal or microorganism, which have been genetically altered using molecular genetics techniques such as gene cloning and protein engineering. Plants like corn that has the pesticide Bt engineered into its genetic makeup to make it resistant to certain pests are GMO crops. Bt is a natural pesticide, but it would never naturally find its way into corn seed.
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The Bhut Jolokia chili pepper as it is commonly known—also known variously by other names (see etymology section below) in its native region, sometimes Naga Jolokia—is a chili pepper previously recognized by Guinness World Records as the hottest pepper in the world. The pepper is typically called the ghost chili by U.S. media.

The Bhut Jolokia is an interspecific hybrid cultivated in the Assam region of northeastern India and parts of neighboring Bangladesh. It grows in the Indian states of Assam, Nagaland and Manipur. It can also be found in rural Sri Lanka where it is known as Nai Mirris (cobra chili). DNA tests showed it to be an interspecies hybrid

In 2007, Guinness World Records certified the Bhut Jolokia as the world’s hottest chili pepper, 401.5 times hotter than Tabasco sauce.

Ghost Pepper information provided by Wikipedia ili_pepper


So what does the Ghost Pepper look like?

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Plant height

45–120 cm

Stem color


Leaf color


Leaf length

10.65–14.25 cm

Leaf width

5.4–7.5 cm

Pedicels per axil


Corolla color

Yellow green

Anther color

Pale blue

Annular constriction

Present below calyx

Fruit color at maturity

Red is the most common, with orange, yellow and chocolate as rarer varieties

Fruit shape

Sub-conical to conical

Fruit length

5.95–8.54 cm

Fruit width at shoulder

2.5–2.95 cm

Fruit weight

6.95–8.97 g

Fruit surface

Rough, uneven or smooth

Seed color

Light tan

1000 seed weight

4.1–5.2 g

Seeds per fruit


Hypocotyl color


Cotyledonous leaf shape


Bhut Jolokia (Ghost Pepper) is used as a food and a spice as well as a remedy to summer heat, presumably by inducing perspiration in the consumer.  In northeastern India, the peppers are smeared on fences or incorporated in smoke bombs as a safety precaution to keep wild elephants at a distance.

Ghost Pepper information provided by Wikipedia ili_pepper

Is The Ghost Pepper Hot Enough To Be A Weapon?
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In 2009, scientists at India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation announced plans to use the peppers in hand grenades, as a non lethalway to flush out terrorists from their hideouts and to control rioters.

It will also be developed into pepper spray as a self defense product. R. B. Srivastava, the director of the Life Sciences Department at the New Delhi headquarters of India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (who also led a defense research laboratory in Assam), said trials are also on to produce bhut jolokia-based aerosol sprays to be used by potential victims against attackers and for the police to control and disperse mobs.

Ghost Pepper information provided by Wikipedia ili_pepper


David Jeters, my partner in his, received a ghost pepper(its the one on the right in the first picture) as a present for Easter.  Now its time to learn about a new plant, previously unheard of in my circle of friends and farmers and gardeners. This is a new challenge and I get to learn of that world record holding hybrid.

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Also share your thoughts, photos and even your experiences with the Ghost Pepper!

Turning Your Dreams into the Life of Your Dreams

Chris Downs, the Caretaker

Founder and Ambassador of Natural News and Sustainable Living on How to Live on

Posted by & filed under Permaculture.

Here are some of the things that a good Permaculture course will address in their course:

How to Choos a Permaculture Course

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• Building design, as well as integration between buildings and environment
• Agroforestry, how to maintain the forest and the ecosystem
• Site analysis, design and protection of the assests on the site.
• Drylands gardening principles
• Ecosystem restoration
• Philosophy and ethics of Permaculture and how to implement a plans and systems
• Regeneration of the local community economics
• Protection and growing of soils and erosion control
• How to implement water harvesting in arid regions
• How and why to create invisible structures

As consumers and providers of services and products realize that we need to keep our environment healthy for us to become healthy again also. This basically means that consumer expectations, government regulations and economic realities will eventually make sustainable business operations all but mandatory.
There are many areas of a good permaculture course that are not covered here. Look at your dreams and visions, see how they affect the entire ecosystem, including people, places, animals, water, and everything else around you. Does it may a positive impact? Does it heal or destroy that which flourishes in your environment?

I first started studying permaculture while I was still in the navy. I was on submarines, since the environment was autonomous to itself while underway, we maintained our environment 100 percent of the time.

If too much broccoli was consumed in the beginning of the patrol, the CO2 scrubbers had to work overtime. If we worked a lot harder during the course of our job, the oxygen consumption increased for each person on board. Thus we had to create more oxygen using the O2 generators.

Everything that came into the boat or left it was our responsibility. We were the controls for all of the proper operation and maintenance of the internal organs which allowed that entity, to not only survive, but to also allow us to return and see the Sunshine and Fresh air after we came back from a patrol.

Submarine qualification is itself a long practical study of permaculture in action. A long black body of steel muscle, fueled by Sweat, muscle, systems and abilities to know and keep it functioning to fulfill its purpose. Each person on board work together to ensure the completion of the mission and to come home safely with everything working as it should.

The reason I tell you this is for you to understand that we as a caretakers of this planet have the same responsibility. To be the Caretakers of our environment. To look at our lives and to help one another to improve the environments that we are in, as well as heal the environments that we inherit when we are given responsibility for them.

I would like to share a poem that I wrote 25 years ago:
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The Garden by Chris Downs, the Caretaker

A Garden is not just a piece of ground, it is all we see, all around. The air we breath, the soil we till, the beginning and end of where ever we go. What do we leave for the next ones who come? A mess or an Eden it is our choice everyone. We can move mountains with our faith and our thoughts, we speak to each other but do we think before so or not? The most powerful weapon and soothing device, is the tongue in our heads, is it a blessing or vice?
Choose wisely the steps that you take, for it is the Permaculture Course of life that we take.

I thank you for letting me share why I am so passionate about permaculture. The best permaculture course that you can take in my opinion, is a daily decision and a life of learning, seeking, loving and sharing with all of your surroundings.
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Sign up for our newsletter. Share your stories and your hopes and dreams.
PS, Together, we can make a difference as Chief Robert TallTree and Terrie TallTree remind me daily. Permaculture is about balance, Robert and Terrie TallTree have a course that I recommend to help you learn and focus on balance as you embark on your permaculture course.

Their teaching is called Three Arrows of Power, The Four Brothers. I have taken it, and it helps me to stay focused on balance in my personal training, I highly recommend it.

Turning Dreams into the Life of Your Dreams

Chris Downs —– The Caretaker