More Helpful Tips Page 3
Tip of the Week January 28, 2002
Save those newspapers:
If you haven't been saving your newspapers for mulching your vegetable garden, you should start now. My children thought I was crazy as the bags of papers started pilling up in the basement and were convinced there was no way I would use them all. Surprise!!! We used every last one. As you collect them, remove the glossy and colored papers from the stack. Also, separate the sections so when removing them from the bags they are ready to place down on the soil. This way when you start to use them you won't have to deal with separating them outside; they will be ready to use.
Once you try it, you will love it. I don't have to weed my vegetable gardens when I use newspapers (an occasional weed here or there will pop up, but they are easy to pull as you walk through) and it conserves on watering. I have used just grass clippings and leaves without the papers and can testify the weed control is much more effective with the papers underneath. In addition, if you use leaves directly on top of the soil without the papers, as they decompose there is nitrogen taken away from the plants for the decomposition process.
For our gardening friends who live in warmer zones and will be starting your gardens soon, let me explain now how to use those newspapers. Make sure the garden is moist but not soggy; you will be walking around in it and it isn't good for your soil to walk around on it when it is too wet. Pick a day that is not too windy, take your papers and a garden hose out to the garden. You can either plant your garden first and work around the plants or dig right into the mulch to put in transplants. For seed plantings, wait until the seeds start sprouting and then put down the mulch. Working in small areas, lay down the papers, spray with water to hold in place and then place your leaves, grass clippings, straw or any other organic mulch you have in abundance on top. Use the papers unfolded, don't open them up, it takes too much time. Just lay down sections, at least 8 pages thick. (John and I are debating this right now. He is a perfectionist, who doesn't mind jobs taking FOREVER to do; where I am a 'hurry up and get it done' person. He feels you will have less shifting of the papers; which means you will have less cracks for weeds to pop through if you open them up. The weeds seldom find these cracks though. Do it my way, it works just fine.)
It is helpful if you have two (or more) people working on this job. It is a big job but well worth the hours it takes. If you don't get the newspaper at your house, ask someone who loves your garden produce to save their papers for you.
Unless you have plenty of your own organic mulch you will need to collect leaves from friends or even strangers. Our leaves were tilled into the garden in the fall to add nutrients to the soil, so we always need more come springtime.
Once you try this mulching method you will probably never go back to bare soil; the weed control is well worth it.
Tip of the Week January 21, 2002
We want to say thank-you to all of our subscribers who have ordered the "Growing the Earliest Ripe Tomato Guide" and seeds. There are still seeds and guides available, so if you didn't get yours ordered just let us know by email that you want to order. The cost is only $6.00 plus $2.00 postage and handling. You can get the seeds alone from 'Seed Trust' for $7.95 but you won't get the guide. The guide goes into great detail explaining how to get your tomatoes at least 1 month earlier than you normally do. Check last weeks 'Tip' or 'Diane's Tip of the Week' from last week, for more information.
Months ago I promised that I would tell you early in the year what are some of our favorite vegetables to grow and sell, why and where to find them. Most of our veggies are selected for their special flavor. Every year we try new varieties and but we have old stand-bys that we probably will never stop growing. So here is a list of our favorites. Numbers after description correspond to list of sources at the end of list.
Stupice - an heirloom from Czechoslovakia that ripens in 52 days. Flavor is tastier than other early types we have tried. Produces our first ripe tomatoes. Red fruit. '1 - 2'
Ida Gold- another early heirloom that has orange-golden fruit of superior flavor. Ripens in 59 days. One of the best tasting tomatoes we grow. '1'
Parks Whopper- Large red fruit with that good old-fashion tomato flavor we remember as children. One customer told me that it is the best tomato he has ever tasted. Heavy producer. Plants get very large and need large cage. Resistance- V F N T '3'
Juliet- Grape tomato but in a little larger size than the ones you buy in the store. Looks like a small Roma. Meaty with good flavor. Red and crack resistant. Heavy producer. Perfect for de-hydrating. Plants get very large and need large cage. '3-4-5-6'
Sungold- Cherry tomato in a gold color with a sweet flavor that is unbelievable. I have had two people who don't like tomatoes come back for more. Plants get very large and need large cage. If you like cherry tomatoes you must try this one. '4'
Spanish Meralda- Pole green bean with hearty 'bean' flavor. Heavy yields of large flat pods that keep producing until frost. The only green bean we have grown for years. In addition to growing Meralda this year, we will be trying a new bean that sounds similar to Meralda. It is from 'Jung Seed' and is called 'Helda Romano. '7'
Yellow Summer Squash:
Zephyr- The ONLY yellow summer squash we grow anymore after a taste test we performed along side other yellow summer squashes. It has better flavor and remains firm when cooked. '4'
Costata Romanesco- Italian type with ribs. Doesn't produce as heavily as other zucchinis but the flavor is so much better that you won't mind. Remains firmer than others when cooked. '4'
Sugar buns- Oh MY!! The most dependable sprouting corn we have found with superb flavor. John has told me in the past that corn wasn't worth the effort and space but when he tasted our first 'Sugar Buns' corn he changed his mind. It is an early type coming in at 70 days. Best in latitude 38 degrees and higher. '3-4'
We grow three types of peas; the regular shelling peas, snow peas and snap peas. I haven't really found a favorite; they all seem pretty good. Tips I can give you are to look for 'stringless' in snow and snap descriptions and find types that are resistant to diseases when possible. Check heights; your fencing needs to be high enough. Even when they say a type doesn't need fencing we have found they did. We start ours early in the spring and get a wonderful crop in late spring, early summer. I have never had any success with starting seeds in the summer for fall harvest.
We used onion plants last year for the first time and were totally amazed how much better they produce than sets. The sweetest was 'Walla Walla' along with pretty tasty 'Texas Supersweet' and 'Candy'. 'Walla Wallas' don't keep long but are some of the sweetest onions we have ever tasted with huge bulbs, so they were well worth it. 'Candy' keeps longer, I still have a few in the kitchen right now, but they aren't as sweet as 'Walla Walla'. 'Candy' will sweeten with storage. All produced very large to medium bulbs. Onion Plants aren't cheap but the experience was well worth the extra money. This year we bought seeds to raise our own plants and will be getting them started soon. '3-4-5-6'. All carry 'Walla Walla' with only '5' carrying all three.
Ace- I first found out about 'Ace' through Organic Gardening Magazine in a sweet pepper article and we are very happy to know about it. It is a large pepper that ripens to red earlier than most. Heavy producer. '4-6'
1. Seeds Trust High Altitude Gardens www.seedsave.org
2. Seed Savers 319-382-5990 www.seedsavers.org
3. Park Seed 800-845-3369 www.parkseed.com
4. Johnny's 207-437-4301 www.johnnyseeds.com
5. Jung Quality Seeds 800-247-5864 www.jungseed.com
6. Harris Seed 800-514-4441 www.harrisseeds.com
7. Shepherd's 860-482-3638 www.shepherdseeds.com
Tip of the Week January 14, 2002
Get the first ripe tomatoes in your neighborhood:
If you want to grow the first ripe tomato in your neighborhood (or even a bigger area, like a state or province), you have found the place to help you. John and I are the un-official winners for the 'First Ripe Tomato Contest' in Michigan, for 2001. (That is un-official because we didn't know about the race until the winner was announced, but we beat him by 21 days!) We live in zone 5 and picked our first ripe tomato on May 30th!!! No kidding. We have a newspaper article to prove it! Our second ripe tomato came 2 days later. We didn't buy any tomatoes after that point because we had enough for the two of us. By the first of July we had enough to start selling them to customers. Here in Michigan that is truly amazing, it isn't unusual to hear of people waiting until August to get ripe tomatoes.
We have been working on growing early tomatoes for at least 10 years. Every year we are able to get the date of our first picking earlier and earlier. Last year, May 30th, was our record. We keep notes and change our procedures; now we feel we have it perfected. We have learned how to avoid 'damping off' (a fatal disease of seedlings), what kind of tomatoes to grow, when to start them, when to move them up into larger pots and the best way to do it, what kind of light to use, watering, fertilizing, how to harden them off, etc. When our plants go outside they are strong and beautiful and ready to produce.
All of that to say, we finally have something to sell!! Our subscribers have asked us if we sell anything and now we can say, "yes!" We have put hundreds of dollars into this web site and continue to spend money on it every month. It means a lot to us to have something to sell that is valuable, priced reasonable and unique. If you are interested in having early ripe tomatoes, (or even just want to learn how to grow your own healthy plants), and buy our new "Growing the Earliest Ripe Tomatoes Guide" along with two 'early tomato seed packets', we would greatly appreciate your business and all proceeds will go to the support of this web site. Along with the information you will receive two types of early heirloom tomato seed packets: seed packets contain 25 seeds each, a total of 50 seeds.
One of the tomatoes in an heirloom from Czechoslovakia called Stupice. It is a red tomato with superior flavor. The other type is called Ida Gold; it is a beautiful golden tomato with flavor that is superb. If you have ever grown early tomatoes before and found their flavor lacking you will be pleasantly surprised to finally find early tomatoes worth the effort to grow. The Ida Gold can reach 2oz. and the Stupice will be about 3oz to 4oz. in size. Both are determinate type tomatoes.
We are selling the "Growing the Earliest Ripe Tomato Guide" and two seed packets for $6.00 plus $2.00 (U.S. funds) for postage and handling. You could search the Internet and find the seeds for $7.85 but not get the guide; so you can see that for $8.00 you are getting a great deal. To buy the guide and seeds send a check or money order made payable to 'Diane Franklin' to:
Home and Garden Site
9635 Ryella Lane
Davisburg, Mi. 48350
If you are purchasing the guide and seeds I would appreciate it if you would just send me a note to let me know. I will get the package ready to send to you as soon as I receive your money. Thank-you in advance, any money we bring in will go to the support of this web site. [Click here to send me a note]
Tip of the Week January 7, 2001
Our local newspaper featured an article sometime ago, written by one of their staff personnel, who tested one of the new micro-fiber cloths. She wrote a glowing report how terrific this thing was for windows and mirrors. Actually you can use the cloth for all kinds of cleaning but windows are often the biggest irritation in house cleaning. I finally broke down and spent the extra bucks to get one and am happy to report micro-fiber cloths are everything they claim to be. In fact, they are simply wonderful! They have tiny "micro-hooks" that capture the dirt and leave things sparkling.
Window cleaning is so simple, you only need to dampen the cloth with clean water and start cleaning. No window cleaners are needed. I even cleaned the screens easily with the cloth; I just wiped them from the outside (because that is usually the dirtiest side) and had just as good a job as when I would vacuum them, and it was a lot easier than vacuuming. When the cloth is dirty you just launder it and it is ready for more work.
You can find these super cloths in hardware stores, linen stores and I even saw a multi- pack at Home Depot in the auto section. Trust me on this suggestion; I am sure you will be pleased once you get one.
My first cloth was called "Mystic Maid" and I liked it so much that when I saw a multi-pack of a different brand, at the linen store, I bought some more. I do like "Mystic Maid" the best for window cleaning; it has a smoother surface, but I have used the coarser ones with good results also. I have only found "Mystic Maid" at a hardware called "Damman". "Mystic Maid" has a toll free # so you can call and find out where they can be found in your area: 877-468-0888. Otherwise look for other "Micro-Fiber" cloths at stores in your area. They aren't cheap but you should save money on paper towels in the long run, so I feel they are a good deal.
Latecomer seed catalog:
Last week I listed seed catalogs and I just received a new one that I felt I should tell you about because they are offering a "Free Garden" with every $15.00 order placed by March 15th, 2002. This "Free Garden" is comprised of seeds for beans, tomatoes, peas, cucumbers and corn: their name is "R. H. Shumway's", phone 803-663-9771, www.rhshumway.com. Awhile back ago I mentioned that I made applesauce with the most amazing food strainer that separated the peel, core and seeds and all I had to do was crank it. R. H. Shumway sells it from their catalog for $53.95, in case you have looked for one and can't find it, item #54145. I lent mine to some friends and they have since told me that they will be buying one for themselves, they were so impressed with it.
One extra tip, (I'm sorry I can't help myself); when I made all that applesauce I had too much for John and I to eat before it spoiled. I experimented with freezing some, thawed it and then compared it with the fresh. We couldn't tell the difference, which thrilled me because freezing is easier than canning. I also had the same results with my tomatillo salsa; not the tomato salsa though, it gets watery. Too bad tomatoes don't come out of the freezer like that, bummer!
Tip of the Week December 31, 2001
Seed catalogs have been arriving and after the New Year I start the long search for seeds and plants that we will grow in 2002 here at Rocky Gardens. Sitting around on a cold winter's night with seed catalogs is a pleasurable experience. The browsing, reading, marking, and dreaming of summer gardens will take me a few weeks before I make final decisions. We have favorites that are old standbys while also trying out new plants and veggies almost every year. I'll be sharing with you soon what are our favorite plants and veggies, why they are favorites and where to find them.
To help you in your selections keep highlighters, paper to keep notes and paper tabs for marking pages. I particularly like those little pop up colored tabs that you can mark pages with. We use them all the time; if you haven't used them before, get some. I'm sure you will find them useful. Before you are all done deciding what to order you will probably change your mind a few times. Just remember that all those little seed packets take time and space to plant. Don't get carried away, huh! That is soooo hard for me!
If you don't have seed catalogs mailed to you here is your chance. Listed below are the names, phone #'s and web addresses of many seed catalogs. Either call or write to them to send you their catalog. We highly recommend that you try some of the varieties that you can only get through seed catalogs. The selection is superior to available plants and seeds you can purchase in nearby stores. For example, we wouldn't consider growing any tomatoes from the plant stands nearby; the fruit just isn't as tasty as our favorite varieties. Our customers claim our tomatoes are the "best" they have ever had! For some strange reason the local nurseries don't grow tomato plants that have that good old fashion strong tomato flavor.
The first group are comprised of companies we have used and can tell you that their service is good. The second group is comprised of seed and plant catalogs that come to us but we haven't used them, only because there are so many and we can't use them all. It is no reflection on them; they are probably good companies. The garden suppliers are companies we have used with satisfaction.
Several months ago many seed and plant companies that were all inter-related (Foster & Gallagher as the parent company) filled for bankruptcy. I haven't listed any companies affected by this bankruptcy; their names are numerous. When I hear of people complaining about their seed and plant orders it is usually because one of these bankrupt companies was used. I have not had problems with my orders.
Listed in no particular order, they were collected and stacked on my desk in this order.
Shepherd's 860-482-3638 www.shepherdseeds.com
Select Seeds 860-684-9310 www.selectseeds.com
Park Seed 800-845-3369 www.parkseed.com
Johnny's 207-437-4301 www.johnnyseeds.com
Seed Savers 319-382-5990 www.seedsavers.org
Territorial 541-942-9547 www.territorialseed.com
Harris Seed 800-514-4441 www.harrisseeds.com
Jung Quality Seeds 800-247-5864 www.jungseed.com
Thompson & Morgan 800-274-7333 www.thompsonmorgan.com
Miller Nurseries (trees & fruit) 800-836-9630 www.millernurseries.com
Seymours' Select Seeds 888-739-6687 www.seymourseedusa.com
Cooks Garden 800-457-9703 www.cooksgarden.com
Seeds of Change 888-762-7333 www.seedsofchange.com
Dutch Gardens 800-818-3861 www.dutchgardens.com
Mellinger's 800-321-7444 www.mellingers.com
Totally Tomatoes 803-663-0016 www.totallytomato.com
Pintree Garden Seeds 888-527-3337 www.superseeds.com
Vermont Bean Seed Co. 888-500-7333 www.vermontbean.com
McClure & Zimmerman 800-883-6998 www.mzbulb.com
Jackson & Perkins Roses 800-292-4769 www.jacksonandperkins.com
White Flower Farm 800-503-9624 www.whiteflowerfarm.com
Garden Supply Companies: (first two are organic suppliers)
Gardens Alive! 812-537-8650 www.gardensalive.com
Peaceful Valley Farm Supply 888-784-1722 www.groworganic.com
Gardeners Supply Co. 800-427-3363 www.gardeners.com
If you come across any phone #'s or web addresses that don't work please let us know.
Tip of the Week December 24, 2001
Save money on pet treats:
I discovered a money saver that just might work for you if you have pets. Both my dog and cat like treats. In the past I would buy those expensive (for the amount you get) little bags of treats that come in the foil zip lock bags or the ones in the little canisters. The treats for my cat would always dry out a little before he finished the container and then he wouldn't eat anymore. It was getting very frustrating that all he wanted was half of an expensive container of treats.
By accident I discovered that all my cat requires to be happy for a treat is a different kind of dry food than what is in his automatic feeder. So now I keep his little treat bag filled with a different dry food and he is content. In fact he begs for his 'treats'!
My dog, Alex, thinks 'Kibbles n' Bits' are the greatest but he doesn't get "Kibbles", as we call them, for his regular food. So I put some in a small zip lock bag and keep the large bag closed so they remain soft. His regular food is a hard dry food so he just loves these soft 'treats.' Alex is a very good dog but sometimes when he smells something enticing outside it can be difficult to get him to obey. We have been able to train him to come inside, even when the 'smells' outside are 'calling' him, using these treats; he likes them so much. If your dog eats Kibbles n' Bits for regular food this won't work but maybe there is another soft dry food that will.
If you have a pet that gets 'treats' try this and let us know if your pet is as easy to please. Silly animals!!
Stains on carpeting December 17, 2001
After we got a new puppy we ended up with some yellow spots on the living room carpeting that never seemed to go away, no matter how well I cleaned them. The spots would look like they were gone until they dried. Once they dried they were back. After many attempts I mentioned this problem to my father who had spent most of his years running a Carpet Cleaning and Repair Company. He started cleaning carpets before many of us were born.
He explained to me that I was cleaning the top of the carpeting but as the carpet dried it would 'wick' the stain back up into the top of the carpet from down below. I needed to draw any remaining stain out of the carpet backing and lower fibers.
To do this was a simple trick that hasn't failed me since, Cornstarch! Not baking soda but cornstarch. This is how it is done:
Clean the area with a mild soapy solution, don't use too much soap. Liquid dish soap diluted in plenty of water works if you don't have a favorite carpet cleaner. You need the area to be clean and moist. After you have cleaned the spot, sprinkle cornstarch onto the wet area. Cover completely with cornstarch. Allow this to dry totally; it will take a day or two. You will actually see the 'stain' wick up into the cornstarch.
Vacuum with a hose end attachment until all the cornstarch is gone. It is amazing how well this works. I always make sure there is cornstarch in the house now that I know how special it is.
For more information about cleaning stains on carpeting go to the Home Question and Discussion page and then click 'contents' and check out the question, 'Powdered eye shadow... on carpeting'.
Save your receipts December 10, 2001
Most stores require receipts for any gift returns or you will be stuck with a store credit at the lowest sale price. Many stores now ask if you want a gift receipt for a purchase, which is a good idea to get. Find a nice good size envelope and write on the outside 'Christmas receipts' or 'gift receipts'. Keep any receipts for gifts in this envelope and when you need to find one it will be easy to locate. I have a red envelope that came from a Christmas card that is easy to keep track off.
Buy an accordion folder for your other purchases. The size of a large business envelope is a good size for receipts. Label the sections with different type purchases such as: grocery, clothing, auto, hardware, etc. We have a couple stores that we shop at frequently so they get their own sections. When we need to return an item the receipts are easy to locate. We (you and me) all make purchases that we find out later we can't use or don't want. You can help keep your budget in control when you return these items. Don't just keep items you aren't going to use, it would surprise you how much money you can get back over a year by returning things you aren't going to use.
When our girls were teenagers we had to set a rule that tags couldn't be removed from clothing until the day they were going to wear it for the first time. I can't tell you how many times we returned clothing that they liked in the store but changed their minds about once they were home. When I explained to them that to keep clothing they weren't going to wear was just like taking money, throwing in on the ground and walking away from it I started to see cooperation on this new "rule".
Tip of the Week December 3, 2001
Amaryllis bulbs need to have a rest during the winter months. Hopefully your bulb has had plenty of sunshine, water and fertilizer during the spring and summer. If it has stored enough energy reserves, it will reward you with a beautiful show in the spring. It is very nice to have an Amaryllis blooming in the spring or even late winter but when you have brought the bulb through the past year(s) it is all the more special to experience. Maybe you have all ready put the potted bulb to sleep but if you haven't yet, do so now. Stop watering and put into a cool dark place. The leaves need to die back and the bulb needs to go dormant. They need to remain dormant for a period of 3 to 4 months before you water them and bring them back into a sunny place.
For more information to help you take care of an Amaryllis check out the tip dated 3/19/01 on the More Helpful Tips page. (this page takes longer to load because there is a lot of information on it)
If you are decorating with a fresh Christmas tree this Holiday Season, be sure to make a fresh cut (take about 1" off) on the tree trunk right before you put it into the tree stand. The sap forms a seal that will keep the trunk from taking up water. Using warm water (especially in the beginning) will help the tree absorb the water faster. Never allow the tree to go without water. It will need to be checked daily, sometimes twice a day for the first week. Keep your tree away from any sources of heat; registers, fireplaces, etc. Unplug tree lights when you are sleeping or away from home.
Some people like to try to bring a live evergreen into the house to decorate it for Christmas. If you would like to try this please put a question on the 'Garden Question and Discussion' page and I will tell you how to do this. The directions are longer than I want to publish here if no one is interested, so just let me know.
Holly bushes can suffer from cold winter winds. In the spring a damaged bush will have brown leaves and dead branches and will need severe pruning. To minimize this problem spray them with an anti-transpirant (like Wilt Pruf) when temperatures are at least 40 degrees or higher. Many of our subscribers will be experiencing temps high enough to perform this job if done soon, very soon, like THIS WEEK for some of you! Most garden centers sell this product. It is well worth the cost. You can even spray a Christmas tree or greens with it to prevent them from drying out too early. Don't use on cedars, junipers, cypress or arborvitae; they usually survive winters just fine, it isn't good for them, and it would be a waste of time and money. But your Holly bush will reward you with lush growth come spring if you spray them.
The bottle of anti-transpirant has a list of other bushes (rhododendron, azalea, laurel, boxwood) that may need this treatment. If you have a bush that doesn't fair well during the winter but it is properly matched with your zone you should give an anti-transpirant a try. Boxwoods perform just fine in our zone 5, I'm not sure if they need an anti-transpirant further north. If you live in a zone less than 5 and grow any of these bushes write to us and let us know how they perform for you.
Feeding Wild Birds November 26, 2001
Attracting and feeding wild birds is an entertaining hobby, which is growing by leaps and bounds here in North America. We started with one feeder many years ago and now have several types for different situations and birds. Last year I joined Project Feeder Watch (sponsored by Cornell) and not only did I learn more about birds but found it fun during the cold winter days to participate. If you want more information about Project Feeder Watch go to the October 1, 2001 Tip of the Week.
Black oil sunflower seed is the most universal seed you can purchase for feeding wild birds. It is higher in fat content than other sunflower seeds and easy for the birds to crack. In the winter birds need extra fat and a food source that supplies them with more energy. 'Black Oilers', as they are sometimes referred to, is an excellent pick for most of your birds.
Small songbirds enjoy Niger (thistle) seed and a good choice to offer them. This seed is so small that you need a special feeder for it.
Cardinals really like Safflower seed and an added plus is that squirrels don't.
Ground feeding birds such as the lovely Morning Dove, Juncos and others will appreciate cracked corn. They also tend to clean up the mixed seed that other birds throw to the ground.
If you don't like the mess that cracked seed hulls leave behind then use sunflower meat pieces or chips. You won't have a messy porch or deck to clean up; the birds will do all the work.
If you have a particular bird you want feed and want to know what it likes to eat put a question on our 'Question and Discussion' page and I will tell you.
Suet is another source of fat for the birds in the winter that shouldn't be overlooked. We have a hardware store in the area called ACO that sells suet cakes very cheaply; maybe you can find a source like this near you. Many different birds eat suet with woodpeckers being one of my favorites. We have had 5 different woodpeckers come to our suet cakes.
Make sure you clean your feeders periodically with a solution of bleach and water; dry thoroughly before refilling with seed.
Place feeders near some bushes or trees so the birds can hide when predators come. We placed our discarded Christmas tree near the feeders last year and the birds loved it. When a hawk came flying by, ZOOM!!! They all flew into the tree; it was amazing to watch. If you weren't watching just at the right time you would miss it, it happened so fast. They seemed to like it best if the tree was laying on it's side and they could fly into it from the bottom side, although it was nicer looking for us when it was upright and looked like a planted tree.
If you have problems with squirrels there are so many types of feeders to keep them from eating the seed that I couldn't begin to describe them all. We were having problems with the bigger more aggressive birds taking all the food and set up a platform feeder with a cage over the top that allows only smaller birds to enter. Using this feeder also solved the problem with the squirrels. (I was going to say, "Killed two birds with one stone," but decided this wasn't a good topic to say that in.) My dad wasn't able to get small birds to come to his feeder because of the larger aggressive birds so we got him one of these types of feeders for Christmas last year and now he has chickadees, cardinals, gold finches and nuthatches, to mention a few.
Water is important to supply the birds with and will increase the bird activity. If you live where water freezes then a water heater, electric birdbath, etc. will solve this problem. The most inexpensive way I found last year was to get an electric birdbath de-icer, run an outdoor extension cord along the ground and put the de-icer in a large plastic saucer for plant pots. Birds don't want water too deep so something like a dishpan won't work. I put large size rocks around it for looks. Actually I set it up where our well top comes out of the ground with an old pitcher pump on top, rocks around it and the birdbath on the ground. It looks nice. I considered adding some perennials but finally decided I didn't need somewhere else to maintain, but maybe the perennial idea would work for you.
If you have snowstorm don't forget that the birds are looking for food in the morning. They have gone through a hard cold night and need food as soon as possible. I will clear off the feeders before I even make coffee the morning after a snowstorm.
If you have someone asking you what you want for Christmas and don't know what to tell them, consider something for feeding wild birds. Or perhaps you can't think of what to buy for someone who has everything. Bird feeding and watching is a favorite pastime for thousands of people.
I have purchased many supplies for birds from Audubon Workshop and can highly recommend them to you. You can find their web site by going to our 'Home' page and clicking on 'Market Place.' The orders come quickly and I have never had a problem with them. I got my and my Dad's platform feeders and top cage from them. John added a flange to the bottom and mounted it to a pole, which made it possible to put it right in front of a window. The pole is available from them also but we could get the pipe and floor flange from the hardware store for less money. They will even cut it the length you need. Don't forget to get extra length for the portion that goes into the ground.
Forcing Bulbs November 19, 2001
You can force most spring blooming bulbs. You will need a container with drainage holes and that is at least as twice as deep as the bulbs.
Place some broken clay shards, stones or an old piece of screen in the bottom of the pot to keep the soil from washing out when watered. Fill the pot half way up with good potting soil. Don't use soil from your garden; garden soil tends to get compacted in pots.
Place bulbs on top of soil as close together as possible. Fill the remainder of the pot with soil leaving the tips of the bulbs exposed and enough room for watering.
Mark pot with type of bulbs and date planted; place in a paper or plastic bag with holes for ventilation. Paper bag is best because the pot needs to be in the dark but plastic is o.k. Place in a refrigerator, root cellar or another cool place where it doesn't freeze. Temperature should be approximately 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit for 12 weeks.
You shouldn't store fruit with the pots of bulbs. Some fruit gives off ethylene gas which could damage the bulbs.
After 12 weeks check for root growth. You may see roots growing out of the bottom or find resistance when gently pulled.
Bring out into a dim cool room for 4 to 7 days. Move to a sunny but still cool location. Once the blooms start you can move to any location unless they start to get leggy. Bright sunlight will help them if leggy. Cool temps will lengthen the life of the blooms, move to cool temps at night.
Some people throw away forced bulbs but I prefer to plant them outdoors. I don't like to waste things especially beautiful flowers. To successfully move them outdoors cut off the stem once the petals die. If you leave the seedpod energy will be diverted to the formation of seeds instead of energy to the bulb. Keep watering and fertilizing the green leaves. Once the ground has thawed you can plant them in good soil outdoors. They will need to be planted deeper than they were in the pot so keep the directions that came with the bulbs for outdoor planting. Different types of bulbs are planted at different depths. Keep them growing as long as possible to feed the bulbs for next spring's flowers.
Paperwhites are the easiest of any bulbs to force. They are so easy that it can be a fun family project. They grow very quickly so children don't have to wait 3 months to see growth. Directions for forcing paperwhites are on the 'Kid's Site'. To find the 'Kid's Site' go our 'Home' page. Once you get to the 'Kid's Site' click on 'More Projects' and then click on 'Flower Surprise in Rocks'.
Tip of the Week November 12, 2001
Garden tools are an investment that should be taken care of properly. Clean all metal tools of dirt and any sticky substances. Stickiness can be removed with oil or products like WD-40. After cleaning wipe metal, parts such as shovel heads, with oil. This will prevent rust. Any oil will do. Oil any moving parts such as pruners or loopers. Use boiled linseed oil on wood handles. This will help keep the wood from cracking and splintering. Any rags used for this should be air-dried and disposed of. Don't store them in closed containers or leave in a heap. They can ignite from spontaneous combustion. Many people have lost their homes from spontaneous combustion.
Sharpen edges of shovels, hoes, and any tools that perform better with a sharp edge. If you don't know how to sharpen pruners or loopers get out the yellow pages and find someone who does. If you use them dull they will cause tearing or crushing and be hard to use which is bad for you and the tree or bush.
Wash your patio furniture before storing. Not only will it keep the stains from becoming embedded but they will also be ready for use in the spring. Springtime is an incredibly busy time for outdoor projects so anything you can do to cut down on them now will benefit you greatly.
To prevent an air conditioner from accidentally being turned on in the winter turn off any power to it. Look for a switch in the vicinity of the unit to do this. If an air conditioner is turned on in the winter it can damage the compressor, which is big money to repair.
We received a tip from a reader named Holly that was absolutely amazing. You can go to www.translate.google.com and get words, short phrases or whole web sites translated into another language for free. It translates your request while you are sitting there; it is so neat! I tried homeandgardensite from English to Dutch and it worked! (This is in response to the person who emailed us to say they really liked the web site and it should be translated into Dutch.)
Some of you might have great ideas also like this or tips for helping making our lives easier. Please send them in to the 'Question and Discussion' pages. We enjoy your ideas.
Next week we will discuss forcing bulbs for indoor enjoyment during the bleak late winter or early spring. So if you have ever wanted to try this, purchase some bulbs while they are still available and watch for next week's 'Tip'.
Fall Tips November 5, 2001
Last week we discussed how to put your vegetable garden to bed for the winter. There are still some things that need to be done before winter sets in so don't relax just yet.
Drain and coil your hoses. This will help them last longer and good hoses aren't cheap. John mounted two hose holders on the inside wall of the garage last year and it was one of the best ways we have found to store hoses. This gets them up out of the way and they aren't hanging on one small point putting stress on that spot. Unless you have freeze free spigots turn off the outside water lines and drain them. Completely dry out any sprinklers, hose adapters (extenders, Y connectors, etc) and similar items if you live in a zone that has freezing weather; or bring them indoors. Any moisture left in items such as these will freeze, expand and could cause damage.
Bring in any terra cotta pots or porous garden art before a hard freeze. Due to the nature of porous material, moisture can remain in the item, freeze, expand and break it. Plastic (resin) items aren't sensitive to this kind of damage but plastic does become brittle when temperatures drop so do remember to be gentle with them in freezing weather. I have a little girl statue that I accidentally hit with a broom while brushing snow away and she ended up missing the top of her head. (My sister gave me a hat for her so I could cover up the poor thing's head!)
Gutters need to be clean for winter or you could increase the possibility of ice damming in the worst case scenario or your gutters won't perform well in the lest. Ice damming is very destructive to your house and one cause can be gutters that don't flow properly. Ice damming can also occur from inadequate insulation or improper roof ventilation. Leaves and pine needles wreak havoc on gutters so get up there and clean them out.
If you haven't had your fireplace chimney cleaned yet for the coming heating season make plans to get it done. Ask any fireman about dirty chimneys and you will get an ear full about how dangerous they can be. I talked to a woman just today that lost her whole house due to a chimney fire.
Make sure pines, shrubs and trees have had enough water before the ground freezes. They need to be storing adequate moisture before freezing weather.
Either run gas powered lawn tools out of gas or put a fuel stabilizer such as 'Sta-Bil' in the remaining gas using directions on the bottle. Clean them before you put them away and sharpen any blades. Air intakes need to be checked and cleaned thoroughly. We lost a leaf blower once because the cooling fins were clogged. You will be so pleased come springtime when your lawn tools are ready for use.
We are almost ready for winter, maybe just one more week of chores to mention to be prepared for it; although I'm not promising anything.
Putting your vegetable garden to bed. October 29, 2001
It is important that your garden be prepared for the winter and more importantly for next year. What chores you tend to now will pay off big time next spring. In the spring there are so many things to do outside; if you prepare now it will cut down on the work in the spring and will also improve your soil for next year's crops.
In the beginning of our vegetable gardening years we didn't really understand how useful all organic matter was for replenishing the soil so we would burn (in the garden) dead vegetable vines and plants. The ashes did help some but now that we have more knowledge we understand how important all the dead matter is for improving the soil. There is the problem of how to incorporate dead plant material into the soil. Vines tend to get wound up around the rototiller's blades and stalks and stems don't decompose very fast. So now we take the mower (with the blade set high) out to the garden and chop everything up. We have found the mower works quicker and easier than the shredder for this job. Don't use any plants that had diseases, either burn them or send them off to the dump. After everything is chopped up the garden is tilled. I love my vegetable garden full of green healthy plants but I must admit a freshly tilled garden is nice looking also. I love to see the dark loamy soil all smoothed out.
Even the newspapers we used for mulching, with organic material on top, get tilled into the soil. They will be almost all decomposed by next spring and they help improve the soil also; they were also plant material at one time. If you have leaves they can be turned in also, shredded is best but not critical if you don't have a shredder.
At this point you can seed a cover crop if you have enough growing season left. Cover crops will add more organic matter for next year improving the soil further. They also prevent soil erosion. Common cover crops are clovers, legumes, vetches (not crown vetch*), grains and many more. If you want more information about types of cover crops you can go to www.groworganic.com (Peaceful Valley Farm Supply) or call for a catalog at 888-784-1722. The varieties they offer are too numerous to list. There are different types for different zones with even some for colder zones that have hard winters.
You don't have to use cover crops; since we keep picking our broccoli as long as we can we never seem to have any growing season left after tilling to get a cover crop growing. Broccoli doesn't mind cold weather and it is nice to not have to spray Bt for cabbage loppers. We have used warm weather cover crops but not the cool weather cover crops used over the wintertime. I have done a lot of reading about cover crops and the reports about cool weather types rate them highly for improving soils.
If you have access to manure this is a good time to apply it and work into the garden also.
If you don't have a rototiller you can get good results with using a good old fashion shovel and your strong back and arms. Raised beds will benefit from this type of turning the soil. Unless you have one of those little tillers you aren't going to want to use a large tiller in a raised bed.
Now that you have turned all that organic matter into the soil chances are you got some garden soil onto the grass surrounding your vegetable garden. Rake it back into the garden where it belongs so you don't smother the grass. Stand back and admire all your hard work. Don't get too comfortable though, next week we will talk some more about getting ready for winter, the work isn't over just yet, soon, very soon.
*Crown Vetch: While crown vetch is beautiful when in bloom and does a great job of covering a hillside it should NEVER be invited into a garden area or near other desirable plants. It is very invasive and needs LOTS of room to roam.
Tips of the Week October 22, 2001
Pick up fallen fruit and debris under your fruit trees to help keep pests under control next year. The worms and insects that burrow into the fruit during the spring and summer are living in fallen fruit and debris. When you discard the spoiled fruit, (which is good for your compost pile as long as it isn't close to your fruit tree), you cut down on the pests for next year.
Consider using a new organic spray for next year made out of clay (kaolin) on your fruit trees. Take the next few months to check this new product out and locate where you will buy it. Sprays for fruit trees need to be used before fruit starts to develop. So you need to be prepared. We have had apple trees (from a previous orchard) around our house but were not willing to go through the spraying program of several poisons throughout the season. I tested the new clay product this past summer for Garden's Alive and was pleased with the results; it helps control many pests on trees and vegetables also. The Gardens Alive product is called 'Surround' and you can read about it by going to their web site at Gardens Alive.
More Fall Clean-up
It is important to clean up your asparagus and iris beds. Pests also hibernate in the debris around these plants and can cause you plenty of grief next year. Iris borers are known to cause a lot of problems and clean up is essential to keep them under control.
If you want winter interest in your perennial beds you can leave many dead plants standing. The dead foliage will often collect snow and help insulate the crown of perennials. Birds love the seed from coneflowers. Coneflowers can look very pretty in the winter with snow on their large seed heads. I wanted to clean up the dead cosmos (an annual) the other day but noticed little birds eating the seeds and insects from them. I didn't have the heart to take away a food source from them, so they are still in my garden looking ratty.
If you don't like the look of all that dead foliage you can cut perennials back and add the trimmings to your compost pile. Many hardy perennials will do just fine but some of the tender perennials will need to be mulched with something like shredded leaves (whole ones tend to mat down too much and smother things), straw, pine needles or pine boughs. I personally like pine boughs and since I have been using them on the hardy mums I haven't lost any from winter kill. They are easy to apply (just lay them over top) and easy to clean up in the spring. We got all we needed from a Christmas tree lot in their discard pile from tree trimming. Don't mulch until the ground is frozen.
Tips of the Week October 15, 2001
Geraniums are beautiful garden plants and worth the effort to bring them through the winter if space is available to do so. There are several methods to do this and I will share them with you so next spring you can save some money.
All the methods need to be done before frost kills your geraniums:
Winter Squash needs to be picked before a frost kills the vines. Wash perfect undamaged squash in a solution of water with some bleach, allow to dry thoroughly, in the sunshine is best. Store in a cool location. Use any damaged squash as soon as possible.
There are more produce storage tips on the Harvest Site page.
If you are fortunate enough to have a hydrangea bush or tree keep a watch on them for the best time to cut off the blooms for dried flowers. The blooms should be full and just starting to turn brownish with some pink and green still evident. You will often see hydrangea blooms in decorating magazines because they make beautiful arrangements. If you don't have a Pee Gee Hydrangea and a loved one asks what to get you for a gift, keep this in mind. They make wonderful trees and bushes and you will have a fresh supply of blooms for indoors every year. Just cut the stems with pruners and dry either upside down or in a dry vase right side up. You can find directions for making a beautiful hydrangea wreath on the Garden Crafts page. It is very inexpensive, easy and lasts a long time.
If Lady Bugs are invading your house try this: Take your vacuum hose and put a nylon on the end with it hanging inside, (a knee-high works great for this.) Use a vacuum attachment to hold in place, we used a brush attachment so the ladybugs wouldn't get hurt. Suck up the ladybugs with the vacuum; the nylon will 'catch' them. Turn off the vacuum, remove the nylon and empty outside. This method gets the ladybugs outside where I'm sure you would prefer them to be and you also won't need to spray a poison in your house.
Spring Blooming Bulbs - October 8, 2001
Fall is the time of the year to plant spring flowering bulbs. It is still not too late to get them in the ground if you live in the northern part of the USA; just don't put it off too much longer. The roots of bulbs need time to grow some before the ground freezes. If you live in zones 6 and higher you have extra time to get in them in the ground. For our subscribers in other countries (we have quite a variance) you will need to check local instructions on planting times.
Full sun is usually preferred for most spring blooming bulbs. But if you have a shady landscape keep in mind that the leaves on deciduous trees don't leaf out until later in the spring, so you might be able to grow bulbs in the desired area.
If you have nice loam you have very easy planting ahead of you. Just dig each individual hole as needed with a bulb planter or a hand trowel.
If you have heavy clay soil you have two choices. Either dig out a large area of soil and replace it good loamy soil or mix the clay soil with lots of organic material: compost, peat moss, shredded leaves etc. Adding some sand to the mix will also help. Bulbs don't like to grow in heavy wet soil; it can be lethal to them. Dig your hole at least 2 inches deeper than the depth needed for the bulbs. Place the good soil in the bottom of the hole, sprinkle with bulb fertilizer, mix it in, place your bulbs with the pointed end up, and fill in with the good soil. Water well. Plantings of groups of bulbs will give you a more pleasing look. Dig the hole as large as needed to space the bulbs properly. The bulb package will give you details about planting depth and spacing. Don't plant any shallower than the directions call for or you will possibly lose the bulbs.
If your soil is very sandy you can add compost, loam or peat moss to help amend the soil. Very sandy soil will dry out too quickly and might not have enough nutrients.
If you have an area that tends to warm up too soon in the spring (example: near the foundation of your house facing south or facing the sun) you can plant a couple inches deeper than package directions. This keeps your bulbs from coming up too soon and having a late freeze zap them. Mulching over top of the planting area will also help them to remain dormant until warmer weather officially arrives. While shoveling snow I have even piled it in an area that I knew thawed too soon to keep things dormant longer.
Bulbs bloom at various times: early, mid and late spring. When picking out your bulbs get a variety to extend the blooming period. Think out your color scheme so you will have a look you are pleased with. When ordering from a catalog keep this in mind. Sometimes something looks so pretty in a catalog but when you try to combine it with other bulbs & plants you have it might not look so great. Also remember that all the bulbs you order have to be planted. One year at a new house I got carried away with a catalog order and didn't realize that I had ordered a couple hundred bulbs. (John had talked me into ordering something like the package of crocus with 150 bulbs; it was a good price.) But when the bulbs arrived, John was working on a big project and guess who had to plant them all?
Be careful of bargain bulbs, they aren't really a bargain if they don't bloom. You need to buy the biggest healthiest bulbs you can. There is a mail order company (I would love to tell you the name but am afraid I will get in some kind of legal trouble) that always has unbelievable prices but when you get the bulbs they are little bulbs and some of them don't bloom for years, if at all. It just isn't worth it.
If you want to pot up some bulbs for forcing indoors, don't forget to buy those bulbs now. If you need directions on how to do this just post a question on the 'Garden Questions and Discussion' page. I'll be happy to tell you how so you can enjoy some pretty flowers indoors next spring.
Next week I will tell you how to save geraniums for next year's garden. So if a frost is coming to your house, don't let your geraniums die. Either cover them with a sheet or bring your potted geraniums inside.
Tips of the Week October 1, 2001
Project Feeder Watch
First up is information about how to join Project FeederWatch. Cornell Lab of Ornithology conducts this project. It is interesting and fun to keep track of the birds that come to your feeders during the winter months. I found participating helped me learn more about the birds we feed, I even started to identify the different types of sparrows.
The information collected helps the experts track the movement and changes in bird patterns. Sometimes knowing about changes helps identify problems in the environment. But the entertainment that it brings to your home is reason enough to join.
There is a participant fee of $15.00. You will receive all the materials needed for Project FeederWatch (even a color poster of birds most likely to visit your feeder). I found an additional bird book helpful; I all ready had the National Audubon guide. I really like this one because it has photos instead of drawings.
If you have children it is a great way to introduce them to a new hobby and teach them record keeping. Counts can be either submitted snail-mail at the end of the season or (my favorite) submitted online through your computer.
OH NO!!! Frost!
We got frosted last night! Even though we diligently watch the weather reports (for anyone who wants to extend their harvest season this is a must) and are ready with covers (sheets) for the veggies still producing we had a surprise in the morning. The forecast was for a low of 45 degrees (a long way from frost temps) but since we live approx. 40 miles north of the local news stations there is room for error. Usually our temps aren't that different from the 'city' temps but they sure were last night!
If you want to collect seeds for next year's crops or gardens you need to start now, (if you haven't all ready started). I like to save some sunflower seeds for next year before the birds get them all. Take a bucket and pruners or scissors and look for heads that the birds have started to eat. Picking these heads assures that the seed is mature enough. All kinds of flower seeds can be collected.
With vegetables you need to determine if the vegetable is open-pollinated or a hybrid. I don't care too much if my flowers cross-pollinate but do care about the vegetables. Hybrids will not produce vegetables true to the parent plant and are often inferior. We let some volunteer hybrid tomatoes grow once and the results were not very tasty, in fact they weren't worth picking. If vegetables aren't superior in flavor, I don't see the sense in growing them, it is too much work. Heirlooms are open-pollinated and seed can be saved from them.
For any seeds you want to save let the vegetable come to full ripeness or maturity. For beans or peas allow the pod to grow until they are dry and seeds inside full. Remove seed from the pod and allow to air dry.
Tomatoes need to have the gel like substance removed from the seed. To do this put the seeds and gel in a jar of water. Allow to sit for approximately 3 days. You will see bubbles and mold on top of the water start to form and it might even smell; this process is breaking down the gel around the seeds. Stir once or twice. Rinse in a sieve until water runs clear. Place in jar of water; viable (good) seed will sink, throw away any that float. Dry on paper towel.
I don't save any seeds from the cucurbit family (cucumbers, melons, squash, pumpkins) because they cross-pollinate readily. Once again, we allowed a volunteer squash to grow many years ago and the results were a cross between a spaghetti squash and zucchini, very weird! I made zucchini bread from them but they weren't useable for anything else. You can save seed from this family if there isn't another type in the area.
Seeds should be stored (once they are fully dry) in containers that won't hold moisture. I like to save envelopes for this purpose; any envelopes that come with mailings that I don't need get saved in the back of my bill rack. Envelopes are handy for other things too.
I often hear the question, "When do I take down my hummingbird feeder? Won't leaving it up until the hummingbirds are all gone for the winter encourage them to stay too long?" Leave your feeder up until at least 3 weeks after you have seen the last hummingbird. The instinct to migrate is very strong, stronger than the desire to stay at your house just because there is still food. By leaving the feeder up you could be helping out hummingbirds migrating through your area from further north of you. They need food along the way of their extremely tiring journey. Wouldn't it be nice if you helped a little bird out on it's way south?
If time has slipped away from you and you haven't been keeping notes in your garden journal, now is the time to take some notes, (a spiral notebook works great.) Examples of notes I wrote down recently, "Move hardy mum in front of house. Too close to the other mum." "Move aster to another location, doesn't perform well." "Start four-o-clocks indoors for earlier blooms next spring." "Grow parsley and dill next year for butterfly larvae." Take your journal and pen outside and walk around your garden(s), this will help spark your memory of things you want to change
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