I help gardeners grow
& beginners blossom.

No seed left behind,
no soil unturned.

Together we can have lots of fun growing
great gardens using simple practical tips.

- Featured in -

Start saving & storing your garden seeds for a more more sustainable future
SIGN UP to get the FREE Seed packet PDF


Lets Get Innovative This Year

by | Jan 8, 2019 | Gadgets, GARDENING, Soil | 3 comments

Les Get Innovative This Year

Right. So it’s probably true that there is nothing new in Agriculture. And yet I continue to order books both new and old, online and through book stores.

The use of minerals by plants is well documented in books like The Intelligent Gardener by Steven Solomon and  in Gary Zimmer’s Advancing Biological Agriculture.   With hundreds of books launched hourly and all the old ones waiting to be read there is always something to be learned about gardening. It is the deep dive of learning less common in today’s twiterverse or caption-driven instagram society.

Some tidbit of wisdom or some unknown factoid waits to be discovered in every new and old book I order. Or maybe it is only new to me because, as mentioned, there really is nothing new to everyone anymore. Or at least I thought that until I got the call.

My neighbor just dropped off three straw bales. Not because he is a farmer with more straw than he knows what to do with. It’s just the opposite. Phil buys three bales every Christmas for a Nativity Scene he installs on his front lawn. To make it realistic he tears one bale apart so Jesus has a nice place to rest and he uses the extra two bales as decor for the stable scene. Come January he is looking for a way to get rid of this straw so he drops it off at my place and I put it to use. In my garden.

Straw dropped off yesterday by a neighbor has many uses in my garden. As soil for plants, as a topping for potatoes and as an additive to compost.

Do you want to get innovative in your garden and try something so new, so different, that it blows away the neighbors? Maybe you are thinking of using straw bales, like me,  as a substitute for soil in the garden or greenhouse? A. J. Macself described this use of straw on page 275 of his 1930 book  The Amateur’s Greenhouse. And more recently Joel Karsten rediscovered straw and spoke about it in his 2017 TED talk. Okay point taken. There is nothing new about using straw in the garden.

So maybe instead of straw you are thinking of using biochar in your garden to boost your food output and save the environment? Amazon residents (in Brazil, not online) already did this over 5,000 years ago (check out the BBC documentary about the Amazon farming practises but fast forward to about 39 minutes if you want the specifics of Biochar.) 

Right. So it’s is probably true that there is nothing new in Agriculture. Or at least I thought that until I got the call.

Here is a photo of a salad I made for dinner last night from produce picked in my greenhouse yesterday. The beets are so pretty when they are spiralized!

When Eric called I learned about the updated world of Biochar. Yes it is still available to purchase, on my site but if you want to make your own without polluting the planet, creating a mess or wasting raw materials, you will soon be able to  set up a small-scale system at home, in your town or at your business to make use of the branches and twigs removed daily by forestry or garden crews and arborists in forests and cities everywhere. During my chat with Eric, an ex-forester, I learned that there is a lot of wood left behind during conventional timber operations on our virgin and replanted forests. To avoid the waste of wood, both in cities and in forests, Eric wonders if it might be a higher purpose to start making  biochar using the latest technology from Finland but because  making biochar can be polluting if it is not done carefully.

He also reminded me there is a need  to eliminate oxygen at the right stage of making biochar and also important  to clean the pores of the biochar once it is made. “Clean” biochar is ready to accept and hold minerals so if it is made right it is a valued soil amendment used in both gardening and in hydroponic operations. Eric likes the new Finish system and is looking for a way to promote numerous small-scale production centres for biochar using this system. Take a peak at the newest small scale system for making biochar  here. 

Now i realize more than one author claims to have “invented” using straw bales in place of soil in the garden (Joel Karsten for one) and there is nothing new about the age-old practise of making biochar. But what about reducing the use of plastics in both our home gardens and in big commercial greenhouse operations?  Speaking with a representative from A.M.A. Horticulture I learned about Ellepots and got very excited about the option to leave plastics behind and grow all my own plants in these innovative paper pots.

Instead of buying and using plastics which eventually break down and need to be trashed, I could simply use this new paper pot system to grow my seedlings and in the end I will also save time because there will be no more trips to the store to buy pots, no need to clean plastics and all the plants I grow will simply send roots through the paper liners so nothing needs to be thrown away or recycled.

But sadly I am ahead of myself. Ellepots are still only available to commercial  growers where huge quantities of vegetables or flower transplants are produced. And I couldn’t even get a free sample to try in my home greenhouse. 

But I am not giving up. If I’ve discovered anything in this life-long career of gardening and horticulture it is that nothing is really new (even ellepots are similar to the old paper pots made from newspaper.) So in the beginning of every year it is useful to look around you and see what is possible and what is practical and then jump in. Gardening has it’s own schedule so from ordering seed to starting plants both outside and in your greenhouse there is a rhythm and a rhyme. Use biochar, grow in straw bales or make your own paper pots this year. So what are you waiting for?  Just get started gardening now even if you are not the showiest flower on the block or the sweetest carrot because there might be a solution for that soon too. PS I am told their is a sweetness carrot so I am looking for that now,

Using your time this month to test the germination of seeds will help you grow when the season is right. Here you can see sesame seeds growing on a piece of paper towel. By placing 10 seeds on a moist towel I can see how many germinate and then I will know how many to plant later this spring.In four days 9 out of the ten seeds sprouted and this tells me I have a 90% germination rate.








PS Do you have questions about Gardening? Join in the conversation on my facebook live event every Monday by clicking right HERE.


 Donna Balzer is the Brand Ambassador for BCGreenhouse Builders and she has two greenhouses in her big backyard.

Blog Categories
Donna Balzer Blog Categories
follow me
No Guff Gardening Book

What Would Donna Do?

Get my growing and gardening tips and pointers throughout the season.


  1. Hi Lynn, Hi Donna – Lynn it looks like you had subscribed to the list in January of last year and sadly our Mailing list doesn’t let the same email subscribe twice – this is to prevent multiple emails being sent to the same person… If Donna hasn’t sent you the tips directly – reply here and we will send you a link…

    Our apologies!

    – The DB support Team

  2. I am not sure why Lynn but let me check with my computer expert. Maybe it has been disabled somehow. Meanwhile I will look for it on my (messy) desktop and send it directly.

  3. Hi Donna,
    Many times I have tried to download your tips on Organic Gardening (which is why you have many entries of my name and email address). What do I need to do? Thank you!

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

What Would Donna Do?

Get my growing and gardening tips and pointers throughout the season.

Blog | Speaking | Meet Donna | Appearances | Shop | Services | Contact | Privacy Policy | Media Kit

Branding + Web Design  & Development: Swag Design Factory | Illustrations Mariko Patterson | © Donna Balzer