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Lots of Tips!                                                      6/25/01

As I have been working around the house and yard this past week I have made note of several things to talk about for your 'Tips'.  So here we go!

Since this is also a 'Home' information site the first one is about your refrigerator.  I was down on the floor the other day and noticed how BAD it looked under the frig.  I pulled the front grill off and was shocked how much lint and pet hair had collected underneath.  So may I suggest that you also take a look under your frig and vacuum it.  With hot weather here, your frig will run more efficiently with clean coils.

If you are growing melons, start saving cans: like tuna and cat food cans.  As the melons start grow, put each melon on top of an upside down can.  This keeps them off the ground where slugs, wireworms and sow bugs can munch on them.  Even just laying on soggy soil can damage the underside. 

Hopefully you have been pinching your mums back; this helps them become bushy for your fall display of color.  You can find complete instructions about mums on our 'Garden Tips' page, look under 'flower gardens' or click here.  Also, you need to be deadheading your spent flowers for continuous blooms.  If you leave them on the plant, the plant will put its energy into producing seed instead of more flowers. 

If you have trouble finding your garden tools because they are out in the garden and hard to spot try painting the handles with a bright color paint.  Last year I took all my garden tools, laid them on a drop cloth outside and sprayed all the handles red.  This has really helped me to keep track of them.  When you are buying a new tool or nozzle, if the store has a choice between a bright color or not, go for the bright color.  I can't figure out why they think I want a green nozzle for my hose!?  If I lay it down in the grass while changing to the sprinkler and don't remember to pick it up it is very hard to find. 

I had some major weeding to do the other day that made me realize that I treat certain weeding jobs differently.  If you're pulling weeds that will be laid down right there in the garden, knock the soil off the roots; this will keep them from re-rooting.  But if you're collecting them to go in the compost pile, just leave the soil on the roots.  This cuts down on the work and also puts some extra soil in the compost.  It eventually will be returned to the garden in the form of compost.  For further instructions regarding composting go to our 'Garden Tips' page and look under 'Compost' or click here.

I found potato bugs this week.  Have you been checking your potatoes also?  They are easy to smash, both the adults and eggs.  Keep them under control because they multiply quickly. 

This week we had some extremely hard rain.  My large dahlia and Stargazer lily are in full bloom and I was certain if they had to go through that rain they would be goners.  So I took a plastic shopping bag for the dahlia and put it over the wire cage surrounding it.  And for the Stargazer lily I made a tent using the fence that it is standing by and a piece of plastic.  I am happy to report they made it through the many hours of hard rain.  You might want to consider something similar if you have a special flower you want to save from a downpour. 


Early and Late Blight                                                   6/18/01

If you have had soggy weather, like we have had most of the spring, you need to be watching for Early Blight.  Last year here in Michigan most of the gardeners I heard of were loosing their tomatoes to Early Blight.  Tomatoes, potatoes, and celery are susceptible to these blights.

In tomatoes this fungus shows signs of leaves having irregular brown spots. The leaves eventually fall off; the tomatoes start to get sunken dark spots on the skin and cracks on the stem side.  The whole plant dies after awhile.

You can help control this condition by mulching around your plants.  This keeps the soil from splashing onto the plants, which causes the blight to spread.  Early and Late Blight can be easily controlled be using a Copper Spray or Soap-Shield Fungicidal Soap; both are available through Gardens Alive!  I have all ready started spraying Copper Spray on my tomatoes because we have had so much cool rainy weather.

It might seem like I recommended Gardens Alive! frequently and I must admit that I do.  But this is a company I have used for my organic products for many years and I highly recommend them.  I have searched high and low in area stores for organic products to no avail.  I would rather tell you where you can purchase a product that will solve a problem than to find out that my recommendation couldn't be followed because you couldn't find the product.  And since they seem to carry products that will solve most garden problems it would only make sense that I will suggest them often.

Mental Exercises:

Our state of minds are very important when we are having to push ourselves to perform hard work, such as gardening, especially jobs we don't really enjoy.  I have found it helps a lot to remind myself that I'm getting good exercise and helping my body stay healthy.  Next time you are pushing yourself at a hard task remind yourself how you are helping your body; it just might make your job easier to endure.

I was recently reading how weeding is good for our mental well-being and it reminded me how when my husband John is stressed over something, he will often find some weeding to do.  (Lucky me!!)  Imagine that; even weeding is good for us!


Cutting Your Flowers                                                   6/11/01

Bringing your flowers indoors is one of the rewards of having a flower garden.  But if you are like me, sometimes it can be a struggle to cut the flowers or leave them in the garden.  If you grow enough for both your garden and indoors, you can have the joy of having them in both places.  If it is hard for you to cut your flowers for indoors ask yourself this; "Will I see them more in the house or outside?"  Chances are "in the house" will be your answer. 

Now that you have decided to cut your flowers, there are some things you can do to help them last longer.

Cut them in the morning if possible.  They have been cool all night and should be full of moisture.

Cut blossoms that are just about to open or freshly opened.

Take a bucket of water out with you along with a pair of sharp scissors or pruning shears.  Put them in water immediately after cutting.

Try to pick those blossoms that are towards the back or those that won't be missed as much.

Remove leaves from the stems that will sit in water.  They will rot and turn the water bad.  It is important that the water be fresh.  If you have water that is smelly and darkening you need to replace it.  Clean the stems off and recut them before returning them to clean water.  Bacteria and algae in your water will shorten the life of your flowers.

Some flowers such as poppies, tulips, hollyhocks, zinnias, sunflowers and cosmos need to have their ends seared to help them last longer.  Do this with a match or lighter; or dip the end into boiling water for 20 seconds.

Use a clean vase or container; remember; bacteria will shorten the life of your blossoms.  A diluted solution of bleach should kill any bacteria.

A drop of bleach in the water will prevent the bacteria from growing.

If you have commercial preservative add it to warm water.  If not, then make your own with some sugar along with an aspirin.  Another choice would be 2 tablespoons of white vinegar along with 3 teaspoons of sugar.  The sugar provides food and the vinegar or aspirin are acidic, which helps prevent bacteria from growing.

You can also grow flowers that will dry easily; now is the time to get them in the ground.  I read an article about a woman who dried almost any kind of flower in sand and they looked amazing.  But you can grow certain types of flowers that dry well with just a little help from you; this is right up my alley.  I'll leave all that other work for someone else.  All that needs to be done for these flowers is cut the stems, gather several together with a small rubber band and hang them upside down until they are dry.  A paper clip opened up with one end hooked into the rubber band helps to hang them easily.  Keep them upside down until completely dry, stems included.  If you try to turn them right side up before they are completely dry the flower heads will droop. 

A list of flowers that dry easily would be: Statice, Gomphrena, Babies Breath, Bells of Ireland, Money Plant, Eucalyptus, Globe Thistle, Strawflower, Everlasting, Sweet Annie and Blackberry Lily for the pods.  If you would like dried flowers without much work these flowers are the ones to grow.

Cattails can make a nice addition to dried flower arrangements and now is the time to start looking for them.  They should be picked while they are young and firm.  Spray them with cheap hair spray or, if colored cattails are desired, with spray paint


Broccoli and BT                                                                        6/4/01

Depending on the zone you live in you may be picking broccoli by now or will be soon.  When you cut your first head of broccoli, cut the stem nice and long.  By cutting it long, you encourage the side shoots to grow into good size flowerets.  The flowerets won't be as large as the first head but they will taste just as good.  Since you cut a broccoli head into smaller pieces anyways, it really doesn't matter if your successive cuttings are flowerets.  Each time you cut your broccoli, cut the stem with a few sets of leaves on the stem.  If all you cut are the tops, after awhile you will have tiny little side shoots.

You should be able to harvest your broccoli right up until a hard freeze in the fall; frosts won't hurt your broccoli.  Consider putting in several more plants; staggering the age of your broccoli gives you another chance to pick those nice large heads.

Cabbage loopers are one of broccoli's worst pests; but it is easy to control them.  Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) is an organic control for these little green worms.  A little yellow or white moth lays eggs on broccoli plants, which turn into green cabbage loopers.  Bt causes the worms to stop eating and die.  It is not harmful to humans; in fact you can use this product right up to the day of harvest and not worry that you will be serving something toxic for dinner that night.  Since you harvest broccoli all summer long, you could possibly have broccoli to pick daily or every other day.  If you had to wait until a few days after spraying something toxic, you would have some shoots start to flower.  With Bt you can eat the broccoli that day.

I have tried the salt-water method until one night at the dinner table my daughter yelled out, "Oh yuk! Look at my plate!  I'm not eating anymore!"  Upon careful inspection of the remaining broccoli we discovered that all of us had probably eaten our share of worms that night.

I haven't been able to find Bt in my area stores.  In fact the way I was introduced to Gardens Alive! was because I needed something to control those creepy little green worms.  If you are going to buy Bt through Gardens Alive! may I make a suggestion?  They carry regular Bt that needs to be applied weekly or after a rain or watering.  I found this to be a pain and would often forget.  Then I would remember when I had the critters back again; YUK!  There is a new Bt (MVPII) that lasts much longer and is well worth the extra money.  MVPII lasts a long time because you don't have to apply it as often.  It even holds up to watering and rain.  It can be used on all kinds of worms, and you won't need to replace it anytime soon.  I still have a bottle that is several years old.  I feel it is a cheaper way to go in the long run.


Fighting Squash Bugs, Asparagus Beetles and other pests: 5/28/01

What are your worst garden pests?  I have three that come to mind immediately.  (Give me more time and I will come up with a few more!)  Squash Bugs, Asparagus Beetles and Colorado Potato Beetles are my top three.  I want to use only organic means of control in my gardens so sometimes my battles can become difficult.  Since organic vegetables are important to me combined with the fact that killing everything (insects, worms, etc) will only make matters worse, I am willing to fight the good fight. 

I have three lines of defense against these top three pests.

·        Hand picking  (I really hate this but it does work)

·        Companion planting

·        Pyola  (I just started using this last year)

I spent considerable time this past winter studying which plants will deter squash bugs.  This year I will be growing borage, nasturtiums and tansy around the squash plants.  I will also cut mint and sprinkle this around and on top of the plants.  I have read reports of growing peppermint and chocolate mint with the squash and having good success.  Since plants from the mint family are very invasive I will not be growing it in the garden but will sprinkle it after I cut it from where it grows in another place in my yard. 

I also had success with Pyola last year.  As with most organic controls, you need to reapply it after a rain and be diligent with using it.

This is the first spring I used Pyola on asparagus beetles.  I am very pleased with the results.  In past years, after a couple of weeks of picking, the beetles would ruin my asparagus.  But I'm still picking asparagus after several weeks.  The shoots aren't deformed and there are no signs of the nasty black larva they deposit on the stems.  I also used hand picking along with the Pyola.

Pyola helps control Colorado Potato Beetles also.  The list of target insects is really quite long, check it out, you might be amazed.   Pyola is a Gardens Alive! product.  I have trouble finding organic products in our area nurseries but can always find what I need at Gardens Alive! 


Spring jobs:                                                                             5/21/01

By now most daffodils have lost their blooms and soon tulips will also.  You need to cut the seed head off but leave the green leaves.  The seed head needs to come off because if left on, the plant will put energy into producing and maturing seeds.  Instead you want the bulb to gain strength for next year's bloom; it will do this by you leaving the leaves until they naturally dry up.  Those green leaves are feeding the bulb for next year.  If you don't like the looks of the leaves drying up, plant something around them.  A good choice is a perennial that doesn't start to get large until late spring.  This gives the daffodil or tulip time to produce its beautiful show and then when it is done the perennial starts to fill in the space.  You can feed your bulbs by fertilizing around the plant while the leaves are still alive.

If you have grown your own seedlings and are still waiting for your last frost-free date you need to be hardening them off.  We have complete directions for this on the pages for "Seed Starting."

Your perennial beds need a good weeding and clean-up.  Possibly you have all ready done this but if you have been too busy then you really should start now.  The weeds are still small and easy to pull.  Choose a time after a rain or watering and the job will be easier.  Trying to weed when the ground is dry is not fun; usually the roots won't come all the way out unless you really work hard at it.

If you have a special occasion coming up in several weeks and you would like to save your peonies for it, here are directions to preserve those blossoms.

When the buds are just starting to show color and they are soft you need to cut them.
Take the bottom half of the leaves off.  Wrap the whole branch including buds in plastic bags, sealing them with rubber bands or tape.  Lay them flat in your refrigerator.
The day before you want them to bloom, remove them from the plastic, re-cut the stems and place in a vase of tepid water.
This method should work for four weeks, possibly longer.


Attracting Birds:                                                               5/14/01

As you are planning your gardens and adding new things to your yard this year, it is worth your efforts as an organic gardener to plant trees, shrubs and plants that attract birds.  Birds will help fight many of the insects you want to rid your garden of by eating them.  You can turn your yard into an area that "puts out the welcome mat" for birds by providing a wide variety food sources and water.

Trees: Dogwood, Crab Apple, Serviceberry, Red Cedar, Spruce, Rocky Mountain Cedar, Cherry, Chokecherry, Hackberry, American Holly, Mountain Ash, Mulberry, Hawthorn.

Shrubs: Northern Bayberry, Staghorn Sumac, Viburnums, Wild Grape, Virginia Creeper

Plants: Aster, compass plant, goldenrod, sunflowers, tickseed, wild geranium, partridgeberry, purple coneflower, rudbeckia, spikenard

A good source for all your birding needs is Audubon Workshop.  We have used them for several years; their products are high quality and with their guidance we have attracted far more birds than before.  We even have a pair of bluebirds and their 5 babies nesting in our yard this year!   

Extra Tips at NO COST!!!

As you get ready for summer there are a couple things that if haven't been done yet, now is the time to do them.  Put out your hummingbird feeder (directions for nectar found under "Garden Tips") and "harden off" your seedlings.  Directions for both of these jobs can be found on the web site using the "Search" found on the "Home" page.


Spring Pruning of Raspberries, Blackberries and Roses:        5/7/01

These plants need pruning in the spring to remove dead wood.  The easiest way to remove only the dead wood is to wait until you see green growth starting.  These little leaves give you the easiest clues as to where to prune.  Pick a place on the cane or stem located towards the end of the green growth.  Find a node or leaves growing in the direction you desire the next branch to go; this new growth should point towards the outside of the plant.  Cut just above these nodes or leaves on a slant.  The slant is to help the wood shed water and not rot.  Prune out dead and old canes and stems, those that cross over another and also any that are unruly or in places not desired.

Roses that bloom only once a year typically bloom only on branches produced the previous year.  Pruning branches on a rose bush of this type should be delayed until right after they have bloomed.  Those that bloom throughout the season should be pruned as soon as new growth starts to appear.

Don't leave these pruned branches lying around.  If someone were to step on them with bare feet they could cause a nasty injury.

Now is a good time to weed around these plants, as they put on more growth the thorns can make them hard to work around.  After a thorough weeding, add a layer of compost (for feeding) and mulch well.  You should be able to make it through the remainder of the season without weeding them again.


Grass Clippings                                                                      4/30/01

The grass-mowing season is back again, part of me says YEA! (This means it is getting warmer) and part says YUCK! (Mowing grass isn't the most thrilling thing to do with my life.)  But no matter what I feel about mowing, there are many reasons to be thankful for those clippings!

Clippings are great for your vegetable garden; they make great mulch.  They retain moisture, keep down weeds and feed the garden nitrogen.
Clippings added to your compost pile will heat things up and add nitrogen to your compost.

Just leaving the clippings on the grass will feed your lawn; they are built in fertilizer, once again adding nitrogen. 

At our house there are never enough grass clippings.  Don't bag them and throw them away.  If you still don't want them send them to my house!


Rabbit Fence and Pea Fences                                                            4/23/01

If you are having problems with rabbits or deer consider putting up "rabbit fence" to make a four sided enclosure.  Leave a doorway to get in and out, with some kind of "door" make out of the rabbit fence.  We have used a couple of our circular cages made out of the fence for this purpose, they are easy to move aside and replace.  Use metal stakes for supports.  I realize that a rabbit fence won't keep out a very hungry deer but most of the time they don't even try to get in.  We have had them "top" off the taller peas but even this was minimal.

When you make an enclosure such as this, you now have what you need for growing peas.  There are so many types of peas that filling the four sides with different types of peas will be easy.  There are the regular shelling peas, snap peas and snow peas; and they come in various maturity lengths.  If you aren't growing peas, you are really missing out on a wonderful addition to your garden.  They also "come in" earlier than a lot of the other vegetables so they are a real treat!

Inside this area grow items that rabbits and deer eat; peas, lettuce, broccoli, greens, other brassicas, carrots, etc.


Cleaning Silk Flowers and Decorations                                            4/16/01

Have you ever spent too much time cleaning your silk flowers and decorations only to have them look better but not new again?

There is a product to help you clean your silk flowers and decorations.  It is a spray you can purchase at craft and flower stores.  All you do is spray it on and after it dries your silks look like new again!

Give it a try this spring to help with your spring-cleaning.


Vacations & Plants                                                                    4/9/01

Houseplants are beautiful in a home but just like all living things they need care.  Here are some tips to help them get through your time away.

Gather them all together into your bathtub or shower.  Water them well.  Fashion a plastic "tent" over them to conserve the moisture.  Close the drain and put some water in the tub.  The water should be only high enough to provide more moisture, don't have the soil in the pots soaking it up.  You can purchase a plastic drop cloth for your "tent".  To secure it on the wall use masking tape, it won't stick to the wall like other tapes would.  (This only is the case for a short amount of time, keeping it on for months would be another story.)  If you can avoid tape all the better.

To keep individual plants watered take a plastic bottle, punch tiny holes in the bottom.  Experiment before hand as to how many you need.  Set the bottle on the soil in the pot.  You can use this method in the garden using gallon milk jugs or 2-3 liter soda bottles.

You can fashion a sort of "wick" using a section of panty hose to go from a container of water to the plant's soil also.

It would be a good idea to try the last two methods a week ahead of time so you can experiment with how long the water remains.

Now go have a great time!


Broccoli                                                                                                    4/2/01

Broccoli is a hardy vegetable that can tolerate cool temperatures.  Plant broccoli plants 4 to 6 weeks before last frost date.  Since the seeds need warm soil to germinate, start seeds indoors or buy started plants with no more than 5 true leaves.

They can tolerate frost without harm.  If the weather takes a serious dive in temperatures or the plants are snowed on, it could cause the heads to be small.  You could try protecting them with buckets turned upside down if it is going to get very cold.


Peas                                                                                                        3/26/01

Springtime is the best time to plant peas for zones just coming out of cold winters.  Warm climates need to plant peas in January or February.

There are three types of peas for the home gardener to enjoy; regular shelling peas, snow peas and snap peas.  Snow and snap peas are great for stir-fries.

Although they will not have the fresh snap they did when they were fresh you can come close by blanching them before freezing.

Heat a baking sheet in the oven at 500 degrees F.  Quickly spread peas in a single layer on sheet, return to top rack of oven.  Cook snap peas for 2 minutes and snow peas for 1 minute.  Have a tray ready that is cold to transfer the peas unto in a single layer.  Put in freezer for 1 hour.

Transfer peas to freezer bags and put back into freezer.

Do not thaw before using for a stir-fry and only put into the stir-fry right at end of cooking.  Allow enough time to heat through, no more than 2 minutes.


Amaryllis                                                                                                3/19/01

When your amaryllis is done blooming cut off the stalk but leave the strap like leaves.  Continue watering the bulb.

When temperatures outside warm up you can put it outside in a partially sunny spot.  Some people plant theirs in the garden; I like to leave mine in the pot on my porch.

Water and fertilize through the summer.  The bulb will be storing energy for next year's blooms.  In the fall, bring the amaryllis inside.  Put in a dark place and stop watering.  The bulb needs a rest period of 3 to 4 months. The leaves will die back.

Bring out into bright light late winter or early spring.  Scrap off the top inch or two of soil and replace with new.  Amaryllis do best when roots are undisturbed.  Water and feed the bulb, you will soon see new growth.

If it was feed well enough during the summer, it will bloom again.  It is a real joy to bring an amaryllis back into bloom.


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