• 27Jun

    I have two large (huge) piles of great mulch from a beautiful maple tree that had to come down. It was a beauty, but too close to the house. I’m planning on trying some of that Bark Brite (safe) spray dye for mulch. I like bright red and I may try black, too, to give my neighbor something new to gossip about. I aim to please.

    I have two containers that can be used to haul mulch to various parts of the landscape: one is a yard cart, sort of a plastic wheelbarrow. The other is my Total Trolley (that thing is one of the best “As Seen on TV” doodads I’ve bought). I put a city recycling bin (LOL, they’re good bins) on the trolley with bungee cords and then it’s kind of a modified wagon.

    But there’s gotta be a better way to load the bins than pitching a shovel. I looked at the piles of mulch with love in my eyes; turns out it’s a LOT of backbreaking work, and the city tells me I can’t have my piles too much longer or they’ll give me a ticket. I’ve got to get on this job asap.

  • 16Jun

    I kept seeing pillbugs (roly poly) that were a very pretty purple color. I finally googled it and the poor things are infected with a virus called iridovirus. It’s fatal.

    I don’t mind pillbugs; they work hard in my compost pile and I appreciate their service. So while these purple guys are lovely, I’m kind of sad for them. I know that’s strange…I cannot explain my affection for the bugs these days.

    I can’t seem to get a good picture of the purple bugs. By the time I run in for my camera, they’ve disappeared, probably off to die. But here’s a good pic:


  • 14Jun

    Geez, it seems the entire book is online. I thought those Google books just had previews like Amazon does. This can’t be good for the authors.

    But it’s good for a person who doesn’t want to spend twenty bucks. It was published in 1996, so some of the newer techniques and organic products won’t be in there, but there’s a huge section that lists pests and diseases. Good reference to bookmark.

    The organic gardener’s handbook of natural insect and disease control

  • 14Jun

    I make compost tea throughout the gardening season and I use my own finished compost. The first year, I tried making the aerobic kind, using a cheap aquarium pump I bought at Pet Smart.

    There’s a difference of opinion in the organic community regarding aerobic versus anaerobic teas. I’ve done a lot of reading about it, and it seems that the old aerobic tea (without the aeration) has been used successfully for centuries in Europe.

    I found the pump to be a real pain, and one of the cats was positively obsessed with the bubbles. I don’t like the idea of any electrical devices outside through the night, and putting it in the basement made me nervous as well. But this cat was not going to stop trying to catch bubbles, so the entire thing was a big bust.

    Since then, I’ve just prepared tea by adding compost to a bucket of water and stirring with a bamboo stick (I have a large supply of those thanks to my groves) now and then. I tried making tea bags from old socks and pantyhose, but that’s just hard. Now I just dump it all in together and stir.

    There *is* scientific research out there that indicates compost tea (both kinds) really does help with disease suppression, thanks to the zillions of microbes in the tea. I just think my plants like it a lot, and I get my kicks in odd ways. Compost tea is one of those ways.

    Here’s a recipe I came across, for another kind of compost tea: (I’ll be trying this the next time the lawn is mowed)

    Fill a five-gallon bucket half full with 50/50 mixture of green and brown materials.

    Green: anything that is high nitrogen: grass clippings, fresh leaves, weeds (full of nutrients….dandelions are fantastic!), rabbit food, fresh manure….and yes, my favorite green: human urine. (As long as you’re healthy.)

    Brown: dry grass/weeds, hay/straw, composted manure, dried leaves

    Mash all of that down and keep adding until half full.

    Add water to the top. (Or if you’re like me and prefer rain water, try and time it when a big rain is coming…set outside to catch the water. One of these days I’m going to buy one of those rain water things.)

    Let it sit in the sun for 10 to 14 days, stirring once a day. It will stink.

    Stretch a pair of old pantyhose (or cheesecloth or cotton tshirt, or whatever is in the junk box) over the top of a second bucket and secure with clothespins. Pour the mixture into the bucket, remove the pantyhose, and you’ve got your tea.

    Dilute this at a ratio of four water to one tea. Spray on your  plants and use as a root drench. You can add orange oil, molasses and/or seaweed juice for extra oomph. I use the Maxicrop seaweed juice throughout the season. If I could only have one product, it would be Maxicrop.

    I’m going to start a batch of this as soon as the kid mows our yard. If you use a lot of chemicals on your lawn, I think I’d find something else. I use nothing but myself on the lawn, though I keep intending to use corn gluten meal.

    Bucket tip: if you know anyone with cats, ask if they ever buy cat litter in those buckets. I don’t, because I only use World’s Best cat litter and it comes in a bag. (It’s the world’s best cat litter, and I sometimes compost the urine clumps because it’s 100 percent corn, no additives, and the cats seem to use one box for urine and one box for poo.)

    I have a lot of those cat litter buckets, courtesy of a relative who DOES use the Tidy Cat in the buckets. (They have five cats.) They were gathering in their garage, intended for the recycling bin, and I said I NEED THOSE!

    These are the best buckets ever, and they’re free.

  • 05Jun

    Yes, my neighbors with the large (beautiful) privacy fence got a little yappy dog. Most neighbors would complain about yappy dogs, but I think he’s chased the squirrels away. I see them in other yards, but for a few weeks, I haven’t been bonked in the head with sticks from the squirrels. (It’s their tree, not mine, and they let me know.)

    The true test will be when my tomatoes get ripe. Yappy dogs rule.

  • 05Jun

    This is a reminder to myself that hummingbird vine (Ipomoea quamoclit) is a late arrival. Every year, I start looking for sprouts (so easy to identify and even easier to move around the garden) and wondering, where is it?

    But this year, I was certain something happened. Either the birds ate the seeds, perhaps there was a disease, or my nosy neighbor thought she was being helpful and cleared last year’s dead vines off my lattice. (She recently did that to some that had wrapped itself – per my guidance – around some bamboo stalks, thinking she was being helpful. I gently explained that I leave the tiny, dried vines there so the plants will reseed.)

    Two days ago, I even said to my mother – who invented the vine – that I supposed I had no vines this year, and what a disappointment that was. She didn’t really invent the vine, but was the originator of it in the family. She got some seeds from a friend and now several of us grow it because it’s just great stuff.

    She said, “Just when you think it’s gone, it will surprise you. You’ll look down at the ground and there it is.”

    The very next day, after I’d give up all hope, there they were…little sproutlets. I immediately ran into the house, called my mom and said “Once again, you know everything.” She liked that.

    So here it is June 5, and yesterday I saw the first hummingbird vine sprout. I need to make a record of progress, but usually by early to mid July, it’s grown up the lattice (and anywhere else I transplant it) into a messy mix of tangles, full of bright red blooms. The flowers are tiny trumpets, and of course adored by hummingbirds. Each flower has a seed, and I just let it all dry out at the end of season and it reseeds on its own.

    The foliage is as beautiful as the tiny flowers; very airy, almost like asparagus fern. But don’t let its delicate look fool you. It’s a tough guy, and once you can identify the seedlings, you can carefully pull them out of the ground and stick them somewhere else. Carefully, only because you need the tiny root.

    I was so sure this wasn’t returning that I bought a similar plant at the nursery, Ipomoea x multifida, also called Cardinal Climber. It’s pretty, too, although I don’t think it’s as prolific and it doesn’t have the airy foliage that I love.

    Maybe my vine sprouts this late every year and I’ve just forgotten. But now I have a record for next year, that it didn’t start to show up until June 4. Welcome to my favorite friend!

    Here’s a good article on hummingbird vine (with a great picture of a sprout), and this person says it doesn’t emerge until at least late May – zone 7. I’m in zone 6. Next year, I will be more patient.

  • 05Jun

    It’s June already and I haven’t posted once since gardening season started. It’s the usual story: busy. This has been a busy year, in good and bad ways. Deaths in the family, illnesses (all bad), and moving a close relative to a house nearby (very good, but SO much work!), plus the assorted odds and ends.

    But I was able to squeeze in plantings here and there and get my garden out. I’ve got my perpetual to-do list going, but learning to prioritize tasks has helped.

    Another thing that helped: my new straw bale garden. That was surprisingly easy to set up, and so far, it’s thriving beyond my expectations. I’ll give it a separate post, because it’s worth your consideration. Straw bale gardening isn’t for everyone, and it’s this year’s big experiment.

    But it’s interesting, the plants like it, and I’m always happy to provide gossip for the neighborhood.

  • 07Sep

    I can’t rave enough about hairy vetch. I need to get going ASAP and order seeds to plant for fall!

    It’s a legume (adds nitrogen to the soil) and a good cover crop. In spring, you can do a variety of things with it: til it into the soil for a green manure, mow it and use as a good mulch, or do what I do: leave it.

    It brings the ladybugs in like crazy (plus bees and other good creatures), it’s pretty as all get out, and it really keeps the weeds down. I’m going to plant it in every bare spot this fall, including on top of lasagna starts, and I expect to have few weeds in spring. In every spot I planted, hardly a weed at all.

    Then I simply plant “into” the vetch, making a little spot for plants (and making sure they have enough room and sun), and that’s it. In mid summer, it dies back into a good mulch and continues the weed suppression.

    You can get hairy vetch seeds at some seed stores, but Johnny’s has it, and they have it in small quantities. I think I’ll probably just get a pound. The seed store kind of laughed when I bought one pound, but I don’t farm hundreds of acres. I must be the only one buying it, because they haven’t had it in stock the last year or so.

    Johnny’s also has the inoculant, which I’ve never used. I’m thinking I’ll try that this year. You’re supposed to use it to get the nitrogen going. So I think I’ll add some nitrogen back into the soil.

    My other rave is kaolin clay, marketed for the home gardener as Surround WP. I bought five pounds last year (I think from Gardens Alive?) and only used it mid season this year. Next year, I’ll be using it from day one. It’s fun to spray, kind of cool looking when it dries, and it really stopped the flea beetles immediately.

    But everything I’ve read about it seems to suggest using it early in the season to confuse and repel bad guys. My problem bugs are cucumber beetles, leafhoppers and squash vine borers. So that’s going to be my main bug warrior (besides my beneficials) for next year.

    I have lots of big changes planned for 2009, including new, raised beds. I’ll be obsessing about it all winter long and spending too much time on the seed company websites.

  • 07Sep

    If these eggs aren’t the coolest thing ever, I don’t know. These are green lacewing eggs, and they hang on the little threads to keep them from eating one another when they hatch.

    Lacewing larvae look like funny little alligators, then turn into pretty green lacewings. The larvae are also called aphid lions, because they devour aphids. I am still amazed that one day, my butterfly weed was just covered in oleander aphids, the next day…gone. The lacewings and ladybugs had an end-of-summer feast.

    Here’s a creepy grasshopper that wouldn’t stop looking at me while I photographed the eggs. I probably should have killed him, but I didn’t have the heart for it.

    Am I the only person in the world who now LIKES the aphids? Instead of pests, I’ve begun to view these guys as food for my friends.

    These red aphids moved in as I was taking pictures, and then a few ladybug larvae marched on in and ate them.

  • 07Sep

    This is a long, photo-heavy post of what’s been going on in my gardens. I’ll put the photos behind the cut.

    It’s been feeling like fall is in the air. I’m not ready yet, but I feel this way every year. I always see so many fruits that just aren’t going to make it by the time first frost arrives. It’s not over yet of course. Our first frost average is mid to late October, and this year, I have row covers that I plan to use to try and extend my season.

    BTW, you can buy row cover material by the foot at Pinetree Seeds. I bought four dollars worth so I could try it out. If I like it, I’ll buy more next year. Read the rest of this entry »