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Renovating a Tired Lawn      September 30, 2002

Fall is the best time of the year to renovate a tired and patchy looking lawn.  The temperatures are cooler and hopefully autumn rains will assist you in keeping the new seed moist.  New grass seedlings will appreciate the cooler weather over the hot summer weather.

First check the situation out and decide what is causing the grass to grow poorly or in some cases not at all.  Is the soil compacted, does the area become waterlogged, have weeds taken over (usually a sign that the soil condition is poor), to mention some possibilities?

Correct the problem before you waste your time and money on new grass seed.  If the soil is compacted loosen it with a hard rake or proper garden tool.  Add some good topsoil or compost to the loosened soil.  Remove stones or other debris.  If the area is too low you will need to re-contour the grade.  If weeds have taken over then you will need to kill them but also remember that weeds will move into an area that has poor soil.  Some soil experts can tell you the condition of your soil just by identifying the weeds present.  One of our preferred methods of killing weeds is flaming.  It is quick and non-toxic.  Just pass over the weeds with a large propane torch (available at some hardware or farm stores), you don't need to burn them completely.  You will see dead weeds the next day.  Since it is non-toxic the soil will be suitable for new seed.  A soil test would be a good investment if you can't figure out the reason you have a poor lawn.

Once the soil has been prepared spread grass seed (pick one that matches the surrounding grass) and cover with straw.  The straw is a very important step that shouldn't be overlooked.  It keeps the soil moist while the seed is germinating.  It will save you time (you won't need to water several times a day) and possibly save you from buying more seed.  Straw will also keep the seed from washing away if you have a heavy rain.  You can also use the lawn patches so common these days in garden centers.  Be sure to water the area with a fine spray, don't flood it or the seed may wash away.

Another method of fixing small patches of dead grass is to 'plug' the spot with sod or grass from another spot.  I like to take clumps of grass that I am weeding out of places they don't belong and put the clumps in bare spots.  Just loosen the soil, dig a hole to the proper depth, plant the 'plug' and water.  Most of the time I never have to do anything more, not even water.  The grass will fill in from all directions and soon no more bare spot and it is free!  John used to laugh at me when he would see me doing this but doesn't anymore because the results are so good.

If your lawn is in fair condition but not as lush as you would like one of the best and easiest corrections would be to add a layer of compost directly on top.  Sift the compost first with a screen so it will pass through a spreader.  Spread the sifted compost over the entire area and water so it settles into the grass.  This will feed the existing grass and improve the condition of the soil.  Sprinkle good quality grass seed over the area to help it fill in quicker.

Mow your new grass once it is at least 3 inches high making sure the blade on the mower is sharp so it won't damage the tender grass.  Keep fallen leaves from collecting and matting on the grass for any length of time; they could easily kill it.

Fall is a perfect time to fertilize your lawn.  Read descriptions on the bags; certain fertilizers are better at preparing your lawn for winter.


Cold Weather on Our Doorsteps   September 23, 2002

Some of us are expecting frosts in the near future, especially our subscribers who live in the north.  It is important to be prepared for the cold weather so when you hear of a frost advisory you won't be scrambling to get plants protected.

Often the first frost is only for two or three nights and then Indian summer visits for two to four weeks.  If you can get your tender plants through that first cold snap you may have the joy of another month of blossoms and possibly some veggies.

Be scouting around for old sheets for the larger plants and pots.  They make excellent covers for those frosty nights.  Garage sales are a good source for old sheets.

If a day seems chilly try to catch an earlier weather report.  It is a real bummer when it is almost bedtime and you find out you need to cover plants.  You can also go to to check a local report for your area whenever it fits your schedule.

Water the pots on your porch, patio and in your garden thoroughly when frosty temps are in the air.  Plants that are watered well will survive a cold night better than thirsty ones.  Cover anything you want saved with sheets, buckets or whatever you can find that fits.  Plastic sheeting doesn't work well but is better than nothing at all.  If you use plastic sheeting try to form a tent over the plant with some kind of frame to keep the plastic from touching the plant. 

Bringing Potted Plants Indoors:

For potted plants you want to bring indoors for the winter you need to prepare them for the move.  Just as they need to acclimate for the move outdoors in the spring they need to acclimate to inside your home where light intensity is less and temperatures can be warmer.  First get them out of the full sun and put them into a low light area.  Leave them there for at least a week.  You could even bring them indoors for several hours a day.  Once inside find a bright sunny window for them if they were accustomed to full sunlight during the summer.  

Check them for pests before they come inside.  If you need to spray with Insecticidal soap first read the label or test a leaf to make a sure the plant will survive it.  Even though Insecticidal Soap is an approved product for organic growers and gentle to most plants not all plants can tolerate it.  It is best to check first.


Snakes, Toads and Frogs, Oh My!  September 16, 2002

I haven't yet met a person who says they don't like hummingbirds or songbirds around their home but I sure know of those who dislike snakes, toads, bats, frogs, spiders and other so called creepy crawlers.  If you find any of these critters hanging around your gardens, count yourself blessed.  If they weren't there you might not be able to grow much; the 'bad' bugs would overrun your plants and either kill them or munch them to the ground.  (Unless you were spraying chemicals regularly but eventually this will backfire.  The 'good' guys would die also but the 'bad' guys will show up again and then there would be no 'good' guys around to eat them.)

Evidence of a Healthy Environment:

If you find an abundance of worms or frogs and toads in your gardens not only are you blessed but also you are doing things right in your yard and garden.  Frogs especially are extremely sensitive to chemicals in the environment; chemicals are easily absorbed into the frogs skin and poison them.  Experts will study a location and determine how healthy it is by the frog population.  Worms are also sensitive in this manner.  When people put Diazinon on their lawns they are signing a death warrant on the worms.

For a quick highlight of what the different 'good' guys do for your yard and gardens go to our [Kid's Garden] page  and look up [Scary Things in the Garden that shouldn't be Scary].  If you have children at home visit the site with them, it will help them understand the delicate balance of the environment and might help them have a greater respect for nature.


Have you heard about Stevia?  It is a plant that is fairly easy to grow and is extremely sweet.  You can cut it all summer long and it just keeps on putting out new growth.  Fresh stevia can be used to brew teas, use it in juicing mixes or make an extract by steeping it in grain alcohol, brandy or scotch; similar to how 'Martha' would make vanilla extract.

Stevia can be purchased in health food stores as a concentrated powder.  It is natural (not a chemical like most sweeteners) and calorie free.  A TINY bit goes a long way!

You can buy stevia seeds to start your own plants under proper lighting (we started stevia last spring for this year's crop) or purchase plants from a nursery.

Freezing Tomatoes, more info:

One of our subscribers wrote back to me this past week about freezing whole tomatoes.  She has been doing it for years with great success.  Here is a portion of what she had to say:

     "I've been freezing whole tomatoes with the skins on for 20 some years now, discovered how easy it was when I had bought a lug of tomatoes, and didn't have time to can them just before I went on vacation.  So in desperation, I just set the whole wooden lug full on a freezer shelf.  When I came back I was thrilled to discover they were OK, and tasted great.

     You may know this, but to remove the skins is easy--just run them under hot water from the tap for a moment, and the skins will slip off similar to if you blanch fresh tomatoes.  If you let the frozen tomatoes sit out on the counter for 5-10 minutes, they'll soften enough to chop with a chef's knife easily.  They should be chopped fairly small (one cm max), or they'll have a fibrous texture in your mouth.  They aren't good in salads, but are excellent added at the last minute to soups/stews/spaghetti sauces, to add a fresh tomato taste.

     I learned from experience that you don't have to put them in bags at all.  The skin is like plastic, keeps out the freezer taste and dehydration just fine.  If the tomato skin is split, it'll get freezer burn just along the split area, the rest will be fine.  It's amazing how good the skin works!  If you're like me and your freezer is full--you can tuck them in individually here and there, whereas a bag takes up more room.  Then it's convenient just to grab one at a time when you need it!

     I felt like I invented this idea myself, although I probably didn't.  At the time (1978) I had been under the impression from everything I read that tomatoes didn't freeze well.

     Actually, tonight I'm getting ready to "put up" tomatoes for my favorite "fresh sauce".  I blanch and skin them, core and dice them (using a mixture of red/yellow/green stripe tomatoes for interesting color), then freeze them in quart ziplock baggies with all the air squeezed out.  To use them, I thaw them awhile in a colander draining over a bowl to catch the juices.  Then I fry minced fresh garlic in olive oil till just turning golden in a large frying pan, and stop the browning by adding all the fresh tomato juice.  Boil full tilt to reduce the juice (when it thickens it'll burn if you're not careful because it's so sweet).  Last, add the chunks of thawed tomatoes, a little salt, and fresh basil or oregano if desired.  Don't cook much after adding the tomatoes, and it's like fresh tomato sauce!"


Tip of the Week  September 9, 2002


Many years ago the only onions I knew you could grow were the types you grow from onion sets.  I didn't mind buying them because our daughters thought they were fun to plant; they are easy, children can't hurt them and they are one of the first things you can put in the ground when spring has sprung and planting is exciting.  After a long winter even planting onion sets can be exciting on a warm spring day.  But after our daughters grew up and left home, planting onion sets so I could harvest similar onions to the ones I can buy in the store didn't seem important to me. 

Two years ago I tried onion plants for the first time and the results were amazing.  (I bought them from a seed catalog.)  We grew HUGE (up to 2 1/2 pounders!) sweet onions.  They were so sweet and good that this year I decided to grow my own plants from seed to cut down on the cost.  Once again the results were amazing, (just ask our CSA members, they love the onions!)  We grow Walla Walla, Red Burgermaster, and Candy.  We started the seeds in February and put the plants in the ground in April. 

I learned a valuable lesson this year and once again you can learn from my mistake and don't have to repeat it.  We had two patches of onions, one that was thoroughly mulched to control weeds and moisture loss and one that wasn't.  The patch that wasn't mulched needed to be weeded many times and it took a toll on the final size of the bulbs.  When onions are knocked over or their tops disturbed it slows down their growth.  The patch that wasn't mulched didn't grow any onions over 3/4 of a pound.  (Not bad for a homegrown onion but not as nice as the mulched onions.)  Never again will I grow onions without mulch, the difference was that pronounced.

Onion Storage:

Read the onion descriptions well.  If growing various types you want to pick an assortment according to storage life.  The sweetest onions don't store well and then there are short and long storage onions.

Onions should be pulled when at least half of the tops are falling over.  Cure in garden if warm sunny weather is forecasted by laying them out to dry or take to a protected area with good air circulation.

Once the soil is dry and papery skins are forming, brush off the soil but don't wash them.  Having on a pair of gloves makes this job nicer.

For the best storing onions pick those with narrow necks and no blemishes or bruises.  (Necks should have been cut to 1 inch above the bulb after the tops start to shrivel up.)  Store in low humidity with good air circulation.  Those onions with some rot starting need to be used first.  If you have too many to use quickly at least remove the papery skin, cut down to fresh clear onion and store in the fridge in a container or zipper bag. 

Nutrient Decline in Fresh Produce:

Food manufacturers don't want you to know this but here is an inside scoop; food nutrition has declined in the last 50 years.  Analyses have shown that fresh fruits and vegetables have had a steady decline in nutrients.  Most organic proponents attribute this to a decline in the fertility of the soil.  It isn't enough to just feed plants chemical fertilizers and expect them to grow the same.  The quality and amount of organic matter in the soil will affect their health and ultimately yours also.  Take broccoli, for example, the biggest loser in the studies; calcium fell by 63% and iron fell 34%.  Non-organic proponents will say that the declines are due to the more accurate sampling we have available today but when comparing industrialized produce to organic produce the organic will win in nutrition.  Maybe it won't look as pretty and perfect but once it is in your mouth what counts?

Freezing Tomatoes the Easiest Way:

I tried something new yesterday and am excited to share it with you.  I froze two whole tomatoes, thawed them, chopped them up and made salsa.  It tasted just like the fresh salsa I usually make.  I don't care for my homemade salsa after it has been processed and canning tomatoes wasn't in the time frame this weekend.  I was doing some research on Ruth Stout and came across a quote from her that this is the way she preserved her tomatoes, skin and all.  Then she would thaw them, chop them up and use them like she would fresh.  (I don't know about throwing them in my fresh salad but salsa sure worked great!)  Damaged tomatoes would still need to be cut up, puréed and canned or frozen in containers but if you have tomatoes that can be used whole try it.  I will be washing mine, popping them into large freezer bags and pulling them out as needed.  Now that is EASY!


End of Summer Harvests    September 2, 2002

Picking Ripe Melons

Growing your own melons is very rewarding.  Melons are much larger than other things we grow for food and to think you grew something so large and delicious is a pretty good feeling.  But picking a ripe melon can be difficult and very disappointing if done too early or too late.  Here are a few tips to help pick melons at the right time.

General rules:

Know the maturity date for the type you are growing by counting how many "days to maturity" from the time growth started.

Look for a dried tendril closest to the melon (if there are tendrils).  This is a little curly short vine that should turn brown when the melon is ripe.


The rind will turn from shiny to dull when ripe.

Look for a yellow spot on the underside of the watermelon.  If it is still creamy (for most types) it still is not ready.  This is not a hard and fast rule.  I had one last year that refused to turn yellow on the underside even though all the other melons did.  I finally picked it and it was ripe.

You can try 'thumping' it to compare it to an unripe melon 'thump sound'.  Beware that many melons have been picked too early using this method.  This is my least used method.


Get down and smell your melon.  It should have a strong musky scent or a ripe melon smell.  If it doesn't smell it isn't ripe.  If you are walking through your garden and smell a ripe melon don't ignore it; there is one (or more) out there ripe.

Compare your melon to the pictures on the seed packet or seed catalog.  Is it a type with a heavy web design?  Has it turned the right color?

The melon should 'give' a little from thumb pressure near the stem.

Rejuvenating Green Beans:

By this time of the year your green beans can look rather ragged with little production.  You can rejuvenate your beans and stimulate a new crop by picking (cutting) off the old brown leaves.  Shock the roots by using a garden fork to disturb them by plunging the fork into the ground and lifting slightly.  Water thoroughly and spray with a foliar spray such as compost tea, kelp or fish emulsion.  You should soon see a flush of new blossoms.  This will only work if you have several more weeks of frost free temps ahead of you.


Amazing Results for our Cucurbits!  August 26,2002

We have been battling cucurbit pests (cucumber beetles and squash bugs) all summer long.  John has been very diligent in keeping their numbers under control but even with all the hours he has spent killing them we still were loosing 4 to 6 plants a week.  Cucumber beetles spread bacterial wilt and the larvae eat plant roots.  Squash bugs suck the juices from the leaves and eventually kill the plant.  Another farmer in the area lost all his squash plants due to the pests.  At the rate we were going we would have been down to a few plants that were planted next to a compost pile; they were extremely healthy and didn't show any signs of wilt, die-off or yellowing.

Last week I wrote about our visit from Jeff Ball and his excitement over Bio-Activated Compost Tea, (BACT).  We purchased the brand SoilSoup to make our own 'BACT'.  John started spraying SoilSoup on the plants this past week and we are all ready seeing results.  It takes 24 hours to brew a new batch of SoilSoup and he sprayed it full strength everyday.  Not only have the plants stopped dying but we had a Magda squash plant that was showing signs of trouble and now it is looking much better.  I am convinced our squash, cucumbers and melons will keep producing until the cold weather kills them instead of pests killing them.

So there is 'Our Story' on SoilSoup!  I am sure we will have more to tell as we use it the remainder of the growing season and next year.  BACT has been used successfully on flower and vegetable gardens and also to improve lawns

The following information is from SoilSoup's Web site for more information:


SoilSoup will out perform chemical fertilizer. Increasing both plant size and yield. This is due to interaction of SoilSoup microbes with the soil microbes and protozoa, soil particles and the roots of the plant itself. 


SoilSoup used as an inoculant for potting soil will suppress airborne pathogenic fungi that can readily infect sterile potting medium. The organisms in SoilSoup also produce hormones, vitamins, nutrients, enzymes, amino acids and minerals needed by seedling cuttings and young plants. Inoculation should be done two weeks prior to planting. 


Plants grown in soil treated with SoilSoup are healthier due to the symbiotic relationship between the plant and the microbes in the root zone. Plants feed the microbes and the microbes produce or make available all of the food and medicine the plant needs to thrive.


Plants grown in soil treated with SoilSoup are more nutritious than plants grown in soil treated with chemical fertilizer. The food value of these plants is increased due to the availability of minerals, vitamins, enzymes and amino acids. 


SoilSoup can remediate soil that has been damaged by agricultural chemicals. With repeated application the microbes will adapt to the soil, convert and metabolize organic and inorganic chemicals. They will also sequester heavy metals not required by plants. 


SoilSoup can treat lawns affected with thatch, which is a condition caused by sterility in the underlying soil. Chemicals usually cause sterility. SoilSoup will repopulate the soil with microbes, enrich the roots and break down the thatch turning it into food for the grass. 


SoilSoup applied to the soil improves water retention. Many of the microbes manufacture protective mucus that acts as glue to agglomerate soil particles. Microbial colonies also make a bio-slime that is mostly water and is retained to protect the colony. The water retentive property of healthy soil can be 3-4 times greater than unhealthy soil. 


SoilSoup applied along with insoluble granulated or powdered minerals such as: granite, limestone and rock phosphate will supply 95% of everything the soil needs. The other 5% is organic material applied as mulch or litter on the surface of the soil or as dead root material under the soil surface. 


The microbes in SoilSoup turn organic matter into humus, storing energy for later use. This is the basic unit of soil fertility. 


The microbes in SoilSoup feed other organisms in the soil food chain. Protozoa and nematodes feed on bacteria and fungi directly while worms ingest bacteria laden soil particles. All life in the soil depends on microbes, directly or indirectly. 


SoilSoup applied, as a foliar spray will act as a fertilizer. Plants will produce more foliage and larger stems. This is a good treatment for plants that are stressed or lacking enough sun. 


SoilSoup applied to a compost pile will accelerate the breakdown of plant material reducing the amount of time to make compost. It can also be used to re-inoculate the pile after it has gone through its hot phase, which inactivates or kills many of the beneficial microbes. Re-inoculation increases the population of beneficial microbes, which continue to breakdown organic matter and form humus.


Tip of the Week   August 19, 2002

Visit from Jeff Ball

Nationally known author and gardening expert, Jeff Ball, visited Rocky Gardens to teach Master Gardeners the newest concepts in gardening this past week.  I have used two of Jeff's books for years, 'Garden Problem Solver' and 'Landscape Problem Solver' and have found them indispensable.

Jeff stressed three points to promote healthy plants:

  1. Mulching gardens with organic matter to improve soil fertility.

  2. Encouraging a predator system of ground beetles, spiders, ants and wasps to control garden pests.

  3. Welcoming songbirds to your yard with water, food and shelter as another predator source.

Jeff's approach to successful gardening all starts with healthy soil.  Healthy soil promotes healthy happy plants, which in turn creates an environment where the plants can fight off pests and disease.  He recommends organic gardening practices.

Mulching was the first recommendation he focused on to improve soil fertility, retain moisture, control weeds, provide a habitat for predators and to regulate soil temperatures.  He feels the home gardener should mulch with 2 to 3 inches of straw, hay or chopped leaves.  Jeff also doesn't till his gardens any longer and just leaves the mulch in place and keeps building upon the same areas year after year.  The late Ruth Stout espoused and successfully used this method for many years.  This goes against the long standing advice of fall clean-up but Jeff feels that the beneficial insects and spiders found in the mulch will eat most pests that over winter in the mulch.  Earthworms will "pull down" the organic matter deep into the soil so that the organic matter will be incorporated into the soil and not just lay on top.

Jeff is particularly impressed with a new concept of Bio-Activated Compost Tea.  The system he demonstrated is called 'Soil Soup'.  Bio-Activated Compost Tea is designed to enrich and fortify soil, increasing a plant's resistance to disease while promoting growth.  It is an excellent alternative to chemicals and fungicides.  Here at Rocky Gardens we have just started using 'Soil Soup'.  Our research has convinced us that we can improve our yields, fight off pests and diseases and improve soil fertility with the help of 'Soil Soup'.  If you would like more information on SoilSoup do a search on the Internet for " Soil Soup" or "Bio-Activated Compost Tea".

Two new products Jeff is testing are called 'Mycorrhizae' and 'Plant Grow Activator'.  Plant roots have beneficial fungi attached to them and the mycorrhizae stimulates the growth of more fungi to the benefit of the plant.  Mycorrhizae stimulates faster growth with earlier harvests, promotes healthier soil and higher rates of transplant survival.  Plant Growth Activator (PGA) converts soil elements so the plants can use them easily, stimulates plant and root growth, improves soil tilth and moisture retention.  They both sound similar to each other in what they do but they are different products.  If you would like to read more about them visit Gardens Alive!  and search their site for 'Root Boost' and 'BioBoost'; Gardens Alive!  brand names or search the Internet for other producers.

A point Jeff discussed, and we have seen ourselves in our gardens, is that insects are drawn to weakened plants.  As John goes out to fight the cucumber beetles and squash bugs he has found that the greatest concentration of insects are on the plants that look sickly.  Sick plants have higher sugar content and there are gases that the plants give off that attract the insects.

There is much to learn about new gardening methods and products.  But the most important thing to do for your soil is to feed it with organic matter or compost


Tip of the Week  August 12, 2002

Some flowers are beginning to look a bit ragged by this time of the year but it isn't time yet to give up on having beautiful colors surrounding your home.  Sometimes the most vivid flowerbeds are seen in September but many flowers won't have good blooms unless you give them some help.  Take geraniums for example, they can tolerate the chilly fall night temperatures but if you don't deadhead them and feed them well now your blooms won't be as colorful or full.  Many flowers will stop producing blooms once they have seed heads (dead flower blooms) because they have fulfilled their purpose in life, which is produce seeds for a new generation.

Not all flowers need deadheading but if you have plants that aren't producing the blooms they should be they might be the type that need it.  After deadheading or even shearing back the plant fertilize it.  Don't worry about cutting the plant back, you don't have anything to loose if you aren't getting blooms.  You need a water-soluble fertilizer by this time of the year; compost will take too long to make a change in the plant.  DON'T fertilize shrubs, roses, trees or woody perennials this time of the year.  That will stimulate the plant to produce new growth and there isn't enough time left for the new growth to harden before freezing temperatures arrive.  Only fertilize annuals this time of year.

If your weeds have taken over don't give up.  Now is a great time to get them pulled before they drop any more seeds into your beds.  Remember the saying, "One years seeds is worth 7 years weeds."  An added plus is when fall comes and your flowers are beautiful your beds will look fantastic.

Give your memory a boost:

Now is a great time to take your garden journal outside and walk around your yard to take notes on the things you liked, didn't like, things to change or do the same, etc.  Collect seeds of certain plants; dry them well before you put them in containers that can breathe.  For more detailed information about saving seeds go to page 3 of Tip of the Week archives and scroll down to October 1, 2001, Collecting Seeds.


Sometimes melons (especially muskmelons) are attacked by wireworms, slugs and other creepy things while sitting on moist soil.  To prevent this from happening place melons on top of small cans, such a tuna or cat food cans.  They stay dry and clean and no more critters eating into the rind.

Zucchini Cookies:

If you grew zucchini you are probably searching for new ideas of what to do with the extras.  A friend gave me this recipe last week; I made the cookies last night and pronounce them, "Great!" Go to our "Harvest Site" page and click on "Recipes"  Or Click Here.  The cookie recipe is at the bottom of the page.

Starting Rosemary Seeds:

Someone emailed me directions for starting rosemary seeds.  I must have said something somewhere about how hard they are to start.  In fact I haven't successfully started any even with 3 attempts.  I asked permission to post his directions for Rosemary seeds and he said it was fine.  You might want to print the directions up for other 'hard to start seeds."  The directions might help for other seeds also.

Here are Neil's directions along with a Web site and email address at the end.

My name is Neil and I am the Owner/Grower of Creative Earth Herb & Perennial Farm LLC located in Southeastern, Idaho. Currently we grow about 135 different herbs including several types of Rosemary. First, Rosemary can be a problem depending on the type that you are growing and the quality of seed that you are using.  I recommend Rosemary officinalis 'Arp' this will survive outdoors in Zone 6 without winter protection and to Zone 4 with protection. It is a fast upright growing strain. Seeds can be costly, so look around before buying. Once you have your seeds, use a standard 1020 flat or a box about 10 x 20 inches. Fill half of the box or flat with vermiculite; do not use potting soil or perlite. Vermiculite comes in three grades, Course, Medium, Fine. We use Medium, Fine, if we can find it. Sprinkle your seeds on top of the vermiculite and mist the seeds until the seeds and vermiculite are soaked. Now cover the seeds with about 1/8 to 1/4-inch of dry vermiculite. Do not mist again, the moisture from the bottom-wet vermiculite will be pulled to the top by the dry vermiculite. Now cover your flat of box with 1 mil plastic. You can buy 1 mil plastic at any hardware or paint store. Painters use it to cover the floors and furniture. It comes in a 8 x 12-foot piece and costs lest than $2.00. Or you can use plastic wrap like you use for covering leftovers. Both work great, but the 1-mil holds together better and is easier to work with. When the flat or box is covered put it in an area where it will remain about 75-degrees 24-hours a day. If you don't have a germination room put it on top of your fridge. A fridge top will maintain a constant 72-76 degrees. Do not uncover the flat or box for at least three days and keep an eye out for germination. After three days pick up the box or flat and check the weight of the vermiculite. If the flat or box is light, take off the plastic; place the flat or box on a large cook sheet and water from the bottom. Just pour the water on the cookie sheet and the Vermiculite will suck up the water it needs; usually about ten minutes and recover. If the flat or box is still heavy do not uncover or water. When you start to get sprouts, uncover and place in shaded-warm area. Each night, recover the flat or box with plastic and put it back up on top of the fridge. Do this daily until all plants are up about an inch tall. Plants are now ready for transplanting. One of the biggest tricks with Rosemary is watering. Do not over water Rosemary, keep it dry. Also, water from the bottom and let the water be sucked up, do not mist or overhead water. That's the fastest way to kill Rosemary starts. We start about 1500 plants every year with this method and it seems to work pretty good. Should you have any problems or it I can be of help to you, just give a yell. You can E. mail me at Happy planting, Neil


Berries     August 5, 2002

June Bearing Strawberries

Sooner or later the old adage of "better late than never" is going to pop into the 'Tip of the Week'.  If you haven't all ready renovated your June bearing strawberries now is the time to hop to it.  (I must confess that this past week I finally got around to cutting down my June bearers, the everbearing don't get this treatment.)  July is the more appropriate time for renovating strawberries but maybe your summer jobs have gotten away from you also, like they have around here.

Mow down your plants leaving 1 inch of stem above the crowns or cut them down by hand.  Set your mower so the blade won't scalp the crowns but close enough to leave short stems.  Till between rows, weed the beds and thin the plants to approximately 3 to 4 inches apart leaving the most vigorous crowns.

Fertilizing is important at this time to get your plants healthy and strong for next year's crop.  I prefer to add good compost to the beds because not only is it good for the plants and improves the soil but compost has disease fighting properties that are important to crops.  I sure don't want to spray chemicals next year on my berries to get rid of a disease so preventative medicine (compost) is recommended. 

Everbearing strawberries don't need renovation but weeding and fertilizing are important.  Thinning is performed on them in the fall after harvest or early spring before they begin to grow.


Prune back the canes that produced berries this summer; they are easy to identify, they will have yellowing leaves, the canes will be turning brown and look unhealthy.  Canes that will produce the late summer/fall crop will be dark green in color and healthy looking with berries starting to form.  These directions are for raspberries that produce two crops of berries; a summer crop and again in the late summer/fall.  Raspberries need approximately 1 inch of water a week so if rainfall has been lacking be sure to supplement with watering


These large berries are now ripening so be sure to check them and keep them picked.  They also need 1 inch of water a week. 

Mulberry Trees (a helpful way to deter bird damage)

I'm looking forward to making a multi fruit jam as soon as I get enough blackberries to add to the raspberries, blueberries and rhubarb I have frozen.  The birds were hard on our blueberries this year so I bought extra for jam.  Next year I will get nets around the blueberries BEFORE the birds get them.  We didn't have any mulberries this year (a late frost killed them) so the birds were very hard on our different berries.  Mulberry trees help cut back on bird damage to berry crops, but before you plant one in your yard be warned they are messy so locate them away from walks or driveways.


Bug Wars and other Veggie Adventures     July 29, 2002

If one could only grow veggies without pests what a glorious day that would be!!!  But reality is that pests come with the territory and since we use organic means of control it isn't always easy to battle them.

Colorado Potato Beetle:

Last year we saw many Colorado potato beetles on our potato plants but this year not a one on the potatoes.  I have found three on a tomato plant.  We used straw around the potato plants as mulch (we had heard they don't like the straw and find other plants to bother) and it seems to have worked.  Keep the straw piled up around the plants; this also helps with not having to keep pulling soil up around the plants to keep the potatoes covered.

Cucurbit Pests:

Our big problems are squash bugs and cucumber beetles.  Thankfully John has taken on the squash bugs and cucumber beetles as his own personal war.  If it weren't for him out there regularly fighting these pests our plants would be overrun with them.  We have over 150 cucurbits growing for our CSA and I have my hands full with all the other veggies we grow (over 35 types) so John's assistance is a blessing.

John has been experimenting with several forms of control to the point of actually raising squash bug eggs in different containers!  He found that if he 'paints' canola oil and dish liquid on the eggs that they won't hatch.

How to 'Paint' Squash Bug Eggs:

Make a solution of 3 parts canola oil- to 1 part dish liquid; make a small amount, a little goes a long way.  Using a small brush 'paint' this solution on the eggs while they are still attached to the leaves.  The eggs can be found attached to the cucurbit leaves.  Look closely to the undersides of the leaves, which is their favorite place to lay them.  This solution does a small amount of damage to the leaves but he was damaging more with other methods, such as cutting the piece of leaf out with the eggs attached or smashing the eggs on the leaves.  The eggs are round and metallic in appearance with a coppery color.  The adult squash bugs are brown with a 'shield' shape back and nymphs are whitish gray with black legs.  Keeping the eggs from hatching has paid off in a BIG way; the squash bug numbers are much lower this year as opposed to other years.

Cucumber beetles are yellow with black stripes or spots and they also multiply rapidly.  They lay eggs in the soil and the larvae eat the roots of plants and the adults carry diseases that can kill cucurbits rapidly along with eating different parts of the plants.  This week we lost 5 cucurbit plants that were growing well one day and the next day were wilted and died.  When I pulled the plants out there weren't many roots so I assume the larvae were doing their dirty work.

Our Newest Weapon:

Our handheld vacuum (ours is a DustBuster) has become the newest weapon in the warfare on the cucumber beetles.  When we go out to the gardens in the morning the cucurbit blossoms are full of cucumber beetles that are sitting ducks.  But we can't spray them with Insecticidal Soap to kill them because the bees are also out in full force.  So John tried our DustBuster with a small attachment that came with it and viola!!  It works like a charm.  We estimate he got over 1,000 beetles in two days.  At this rate we will finally start putting a dent in their population.

Bees sometimes get sucked up in the vacuum along with the beetles so he empties the DustBuster on cement and stomps on the beetles as fast as he can.  The bees fly away when he opens the vacuum up.  You could also try emptying the vacuum into a bucket of soapy water; hopefully the bees will fly away before they end up in the bucket.

Bad News for our Tomatoes:

I had to take out 14 tomato plants, one pepper and one tomatillo this week and severely cut back 20 more tomatoes.  We aren't sure what was spreading through the garden but here is a description: stunted yellowish and curling top leaves, leaves feel leathery.  We thought it was a condition called Curly Top but there are a few things about Curly Top that don't match our situation such as death of the plant (Curly Top causes the plant to die which ours did not) and purple coloring on the leaves (ours weren't) so we are confused.  I took some samples into the County Extension Office and they had never seen this condition before but also thought it was Curly Top.  When I found a pepper and tomatillo plant infected I knew I had to take the drastic measure of removal.  It was a sad day for me.  If any of you have had similar conditions on your plants, please write to us and tell us about it.

Homemade Teas:

I have been making great tea from Chocolate Mint or Lemon Balm along with the herb Stevia.  Stevia is sweet like sugar but reported to be 300 times sweeter than sugar.  It is easy to grow.  I either take individual leaves off or pinch off a few inches of the tops.  I got my Stevia seeds from Park Seeds, (Tip of the Week January 21, 2002).  I have heard reports of it being hard to start from seed; I had about a 50% germination rate.  If you don't have means to start seeds (for next growing season) and give them proper lighting, look for Stevia plants in a nursery.  Check out the recipe to brew your mints into tea on our [Harvest Site], click on the 'recipes' button towards the top of the page.  It is the last thing to load so be patient.


Insect Bites and Rough Garden Hands    July 22, 2002

Insect Bites:

The summertime is great and most gardeners love to be outdoors but along with spending time outdoors comes some not so pleasant aftereffects; insect bites and rough hands.  For insect bites I have three recommendations: ammonia, bite pens and Preparation H.

Ammonia is the main ingredient in many of the commercial bite pens.  The bite pens (found in drug stores) are more expensive than a bottle of ammonia for the quantity but are handier to use.  Lugging a quart bottle of ammonia around because you have an itchy bite could become a nuisance.  Either way, just dab it on and you soon have relief.

My sister has tried all three remedies and claims Preparation H to be superior for bites.  I have only used the other two but only because she recently told me about the Preparation H and I have not needed to purchase any.  No matter which one you use I can say they help more than Calamine, Caladryl or the similar products.

Rough Hands:

Even though I wear garden gloves most of the time while working outdoors my hands become a rough mess.  I have tried to moisturize them with good hand lotions but I was disappointed with the results.  Since my hands get wet often I tried to find something I remember years ago that went on like a lotion but was waterproof, it was specially made for people who work in water all day.

I didn't find the product I was looking for but found something else that has greatly improved my hands.  It is called Zim's Crack Crème.  I found it in the first-aid section and it comes in a liquid or crème formula.  I highly recommend it.  My hands are feeling normal again.  For more information or to locate a store near you that sells Zim's Crack Crème call 800-319-2225

For the brown green stains that remain on your fingers even after scrubbing try full strength lemon juice, (Tip of the Week June 3, 2002).  Just dip your fingers into some juice and the stains are gone, even those hard to clean fingernail stains.  I leave a small margarine tub with a cover on my counter with lemon juice in it because I need to dip my fingers in it several times a day.  The only thing that comes close to removing the stains as well in chlorine and that is just too harsh.

Gardening with an open wound:

Sometimes it can be difficult gardening when you have an open wound on your hand.  Bandages get wet and dirty quickly and that is no environment for an open wound.  I am recovering from a third degree burn on my hand and was having a hard time keeping it clean and dry.  I purchased 'New-Skin' (also found in the first-aid section) and was able to keeping working.  It stings when applied but I discovered if you do it in front of a fan the stinging is minimal.  I had to reapply it frequently because my hands are constantly getting wet from watering the gardens but it sure helped get me through the first week when the wound was raw.


Seeds, Seeds, Everywhere!!!   July 15, 2002

As the summer wears on seeds start to mature and drop to the ground.  This can be good or bad depending on the plant and your conditions.  For example I have an area that I have allowed several types of poppies to reproduce to their heart's content.  I also have some flowerbeds that I don't want populated with certain plants so I put the brakes on the seed production.  Some plants that come to mind are Lady's Mantle, Pink Mallow, Perennial Geranium and Balsam.  (There are many more but you will know the ones in your own beds that are troublemakers.)

Cut back the mature flower heads on prolific plants before they overtake your beds.  The idea is to get to the seeds before they drop to the ground.  You can cut each flower head individually or just take a hand full of stems and give them a rough 'hair cut'.

I also have some favorite plants that I never cut back their maturing seed heads because they reproduce sporadically and any babies I find in the spring are more than welcome and often favorites to give away.  Palace Purple, Bleeding Heart, and Pulmonaria are some examples.

You can collect mature seeds for new beds or for giving away.  Make sure they have fully matured on the plant before collection and dry completely before storage.  I like to save envelopes for this purpose.  Keeping seeds in a paper envelope is better than plastic.  Seeds need to dry thoroughly and plastic prevents this.  Store seeds in a cool dry place.  Also write on your envelope information about the seeds inside, don't count on your memory.

Certain plants might have a specific color that you want to keep separate.  If this is the case, label the plant while you still know which one is which.  The easiest way to do this is to use a permanent marker on a plastic tab (like a bread bag closure tab) to write the information you need.  Just slip the tab over a stem and wait for the seeds to mature.  You can also use this method for labeling something you want to move in the fall while it is fresh in your mind.

Some hybrid plants will not produce seed true to the parent but you can be adventurous and see what you can get.  You can read more information about saving seeds by going back in our archives (More helpful Tips page 3) and scrolling down to October 1st, 2001 and look for Collecting Seeds

Garden Journal:

Speaking of "fresh in your mind"... there is a saying, "A short pencil is better than a long memory."  Are you keeping your garden journal current?  It will help you so much come next year to make changes or try new ideas.  List plants that performed well, those not to repeat, combinations to grow again or to try, changes to make, names of plants you saw this year you liked, etc.  As you read gardening articles in magazines or books make notes of things in your journal.  Every year we discover something to fix, change or make sure to repeat and every year I forget something.  Every once in a while take your journal outside and walk around your yard to spark ideas of what needs to be written down.


Powdery Mildew   July 8, 2002

Powdery Mildew is a fungal disease that causes leaves, stems, and blossoms to be covered with a grayish white mold that can affect all kinds of plants from ornamentals to vegetables.  It can cause moderate to severe damage if left unchecked.  Fruit and blossoms can become so damaged that the quality is affected and sometimes inedible.

Last year I read about using milk to control powdery mildew.  I forgot all about it until I came across another article about it again this year.  You use a milk spray to control the powdery mildew; can't get much more 'non-toxic' than that!  One study on powdery mildew reported that milk offered better control than even some of the high priced fungicides.

The following is an article written by Arzeena Hamir, an agronomist and writer for Organic Living Newsletter.

Got Mildew? Get Milk!
by Arzeena Hamir

Less than 3 years ago, researchers in South America discovered
a new alternative to controlling powdery mildew. Wagner Bettiol,
a scientist from Brazil, found that weekly sprays of milk
controlled powdery mildew in zucchini just as effectively as
synthetic fungicides such as fenarimol or benomyl. Not only was
milk found to be effective at controlling the disease, it also
acted as a foliar fertilizer, boosting the plant's immune system.

Powdery mildew in the cucurbit family is caused by the organism
Sphaerotheca fuliginea. It is a serious disease that occurs
worldwide. For decades, organic gardeners had to rely on making
a spray from baking soda to control the disease. Now, instead
of measuring out the baking soda and combining it with a surfactant
(a "sticking" substance) of either oil or soap, gardeners need
only head for their refrigerators.

In his experiments with zucchini plants, Bettiol found that a
weekly spray of milk at a concentration of at least 10% (1 part
milk to 9 parts water) significantly reduced the severity of
powdery mildew infection on the plants by 90%. While some
gardeners may be tempted to increase the concentration of milk
for more control, Bettiol found that once concentrations rose
above 30%, an innocuous fungus began to grow on the plants.

How does milk control powdery mildew?

Scientist aren't 100% sure how milk works to control this
disease. It seems that milk is a natural germicide. In addition,
it contains several naturally occurring salts and amino acids
that are taken up by the plant. From previous experiments using
sodium bicarbonate, potassium phosphate, and other salts,
researchers have found that the disease is sensitive to these
salts. It is possible then, that milk boosts the plant's immune
system to prevent the disease.

The benefits of using milk to control powdery mildew haven't
been isolated to Brazil. Melon growers in New Zealand are saving
thousands of dollars every year by spraying their crops with milk
instead of synthetic fungicides. The melon growers in New Zealand
have been so successful that the wine industry is taking notice
and beginning experiments using milk to control powdery mildew
in grapes.

What kind of milk should be used?

In Bettiol's original experiment, fresh milk was used, straight
from the cow. However, this is obviously not feasible to most
home gardeners. The research work in New Zealand actually found
that using skim milk was just as effective. Not only was it
cheaper, but the fact that the milk had no fat content meant
that there was less chance of any odours.

Wagner Bettiol's original article was published in the journal
Crop Protection  (Vol. 18, 1999, pp. 489-92).

Care of Roses    July 1, 2002

Roses are some of the world's most loved flowers.  Here are some SIMPLE guidelines for the care of roses.  (You can get much more involved with rose care than these guidelines but like I said here are the simple ones.)

Light requirements:  They need at least 6 hours of sunlight a day.  If you don't have that amount if sunshine the plant may live but the blooms will be disappointing and the blooms are what you will be growing roses for.  I have tried to grow roses at our former home that had only 4 hours of sunlight and can tell you that it wasn't worth the effort.  I moved the roses that I tried so hard to grow back at the old house to our new one and the difference is nothing short of amazing.  The roses have become the beautiful bushes that were advertised in the catalog.  Without full sun they were barely alive.  So if you can't give them the sunlight they need don't waste your time or money. 

Planting:  Roses like deep loose soil.  The planting hole should be 18 inches wide and as deep. Fill with rich organic soil.  Build a 'cone' at the bottom of the hole for setting the root ball on with the roots spread out down the sides of the cone.  The graft (a bump in the stem) should be planted at or near soil level.  The old recommendation used to be to plant deeply in cold zones and above ground level in warm zones.  Research has since shown that planting too deeply causes many roses to die.  Fill hole half way with good soil, water and fill the remainder of the hole with soil.  Water again.

Mulch:  Mulching will moderate the soil temperatures and preserve moisture.  Keep the mulch from touching the stem.

Maintenance:  Keep fallen leaves and petals picked up to help avoid diseases.

Watering:  Watering with drip irrigation is preferred to keep the foliage dry.  Mildew, fungus, disease, and rust can spread from splashes coming up from the ground.

Feeding:  I once saw an interview of someone who grew hundreds of roses and she said she watered her roses once a month with 1 to 2 tablespoons of white vinegar diluted in 1 gallon of water.  I also read of someone else who said their roses improved from mixing alfalfa meal into the soil around the roots.  There is also commercial rose food available; directions will be on the container.


Propagating Roses    June 24, 2002

Roses are one of the most popular plants to grow in gardens.  Perhaps you have a friend who has a rose you have admired or getting a rose for free fits your budget.  You can try your hand at starting a new rose from another rosebush.  Before you decide this is too hard for you to try take a look at the directions and see how easy it can be.

Start with clean pots with drainage holes.  Plastic pots are preferred because they don't dry out like clay pots.  You will need plastic bags that the pots will fit into. 

Potting mix:  Half & half mix of peat moss and perlite or potting mix and perlite.  You can also try just perlite or vermiculite alone.  Moisten your rooting medium, not soggy but damp.

Fill your pot(s) with rooting medium.

Cuttings:  Take a cutting from a stem that is flowering or those that are green and flexible.  Avoid too thin or too thick stems.  A stem with three sets of leaves is good.  When possible take your cutting in the morning hours.  If you need to transport your cutting wrap in a damp towel and place in a plastic bag.  Don't leave in a hot car.  The more cuttings you try to root the greater your chances for success so try several cuttings.

When you are ready to put the stem in the pot remove the lower side branches.  Remove any flowers or buds but leave the thorns and top leaves.  The roots will form from the nodes on the stem.  Make a cut 1/16th of an inch below the side branches you removed.

Rooting Hormone:  Not all growers use it but if you have some dip the end of the cutting into the hormone.  Tap excess off.  Don't place your cutting into the jar of rooting hormone, this could contaminate it; take a small amount out first.  Rooting hormone is one of those things that more is NOT better, go easy on the amount applied to the stem.

Make a hole in the rooting medium with a pencil or similar object.  Insert your cutting into the hole and gently firm soil around stem.  Water thoroughly.

Place plastic bag over stem with little stakes or hoops in the pot to support the bag off the stem.  You can use bent coat hangers for this purpose.  Close bag.

Set closed up pot in a shady warm spot.  Keep moist.  Ventilate daily to prevent rotting.

After five to eight weeks you can check for root growth by gently lifting on the stem.  If resistance is felt, it has rooted.  The cutting needs to be acclimated to the environment gradually so make some holes in the bag and start to leave it open longer.

Plant in your garden when it is growing well in the pot out in the sunshine and the root system is strong enough to make it without pampering. -

Veggie Garden Tips

Most birds are welcome in our gardens because they eat insects but some pesky ones, probably crows or black birds of some sort, have visited our corn.  They pull up the young corn plant to get the kernel still attached to the root.  I hung computer CDs around the garden to discourage any more thefts of corn or maybe I should say killing of corn!  The shiny moving CDs bother them and they stay away.  I haven't seen any more problems since I hung them.  Since I have more than enough CDs I take two tied together with the shiny surface facing out on both.  That way when they move around in the wind they reflect light from both sides.

Cucumber beetles are out in force and I have been after them with Pyola.  It takes care of them for a while but like other organic products is must be used often.  It is worth the extra effort to keep those nasty chemicals off our food.  Gardens Alive sells Pyola and you can find a link to their website by clicking on 'Market Place' at the top of this page.


Pinching Back Hardy Mums   June 17, 2002

Years ago before I knew anything about growing perennials I moved to a house where the former owner had planted a hardy mum.  I didn't know that I should pinch back the foliage for the best flower display in the fall.  When it started flowering that mum was all over the place.  It looked like a wild thing and not at all like the nice round mounds you see.  I never thought much of that mum; in fact I think I pulled it out.  Poor thing, I didn't know any better and blamed the plant for my failure.

One of the nice things about having a garden website is I can share with you not only successes but also past mistakes and you can learn from them and not repeat them yourself.

If you haven't pinched back your hardy fall blooming mums it isn't too late.  Optimum pinching would have started all ready but better now than not at all. 

Pinch back every three weeks until mid summer.   Here in zone 5 that amounts to 3 times by the fourth of July.  Stop pinching back after July 4th so you will have sufficient buds and flowers by fall time.  You can take off up to one third of the growth with each pinching.

If you have a slow growing mum (some just aren't as robust as others) don't take off the full 1/3 but do still pinch the tips off.  This will cause the plant to grow more stems for a fuller look.

Here is a 'Tip' for bringing your mum through the winter.  Ever since I have laid pine boughs on my mums after the ground has frozen I haven't lost them during the winter.  Prior to mulching them with pine boughs I would loose many of my mums.  I will try to remind you of this when winter is here but in case I forget write this idea on your calendar for the month of December.  I go to a Christmas tree lot and ask for the branches they are going to throw away and I get them for free.


Tip of the Week  June 10, 2002

Suckers on Trees:

Some trees, if allowed to grow without your assistance, can become misshapen and almost bush like in appearance.  It is well worth your time and energy to take care of small situations now before they become large branches.

Little shoots on the trunks and at their bases are referred to as "suckers".  They need to be removed before they get any larger.  If you catch them small enough the best way to remove them is tearing them off.  Just grab it with your fingers and tear downwards.  By tearing instead of cutting there is less chance of regrowth. You can only tear off little suckers, if the sucker is allowed to grow too large for tearing you will need to prune it off.  But with pruning you run the risk of new growth coming back.

Some ornamental trees are grafted onto rootstock from another tree.  Any growth below the graft is unwelcome and must be dealt with.  A graft union will look like a bulge or maybe an area where the trunk has a slight bend at, near or below soil level.  Any sucker growth below the graft will be inferior and not look like or perform like the top of the tree.  If you have growth coming out of the ground around the base of the tree you will need to dig around the trunk to uncover the area where the growth is attached to the tree.  Growth small enough can be torn off the same as above.  But if the growth is too large you will need to prune it off.  Replace the soil around the trunk when done.

Weed Seeds:

Even though the growing season is only beginning, weeds and unwelcome grasses are setting their first seeds.  (Some of you warmer climate friends are further into the 'weed season'.)  It is important not to let them drop seed in your gardens.  Remember the old saying, "One year's seed is worth 7 years weeds."  Actually it might even be longer that they remain viable.  I have read of reports of weed seed remaining viable longer than our average human life span!  So get those weeds pulled before they reproduce into greater difficulties.

I pulled a dandelion days ago and just let in lay in the garden.  It didn't look mature to me so I didn't worry about it.  Today I noticed that it had gone to seed and the fuzzy head was ready to pay me back a thousand fold!  Life is tough on a gardener!


Garden Tips for June 3, 2002

Epsom Salt in your gardens:

I have been reading and hearing about the wonders Epsom Salt works on peppers.  Last Friday I planted 90 pepper plants (various types).  I had some old Epsom Salt here but it was only enough to water about half of the peppers with.  The next morning when I went out to the garden I was totally amazed at the difference between the transplants that received Epsom Salt water and those that only had water.  The ones that received the Epsom Salt water were perky while the other plants were droopy.  Now for this to be totally accurate I would need more trials of transplanted peppers.  I can only give you the results from my observations and also tell you that many other gardeners recommend using Epsom Salt for peppers.

We bought another bag after we saw such dramatic results and much to my surprise the back of the bag recommends Epsom Salt for many garden uses.  Epsom Salt contains sulfur (which peppers like) and magnesium which plants need.  Listed plant uses were: lawns, garden plants, shrubbery, tomatoes, peppers, roses, evergreens, azaleas, rhododendrons, trees, garden soil, and houseplants.  Each listing had different directions, look on the container to find specific directions. 

Peppers reportedly produce greater yields and larger peppers when Epsom Salt is used during the growing season a few times.  Dilution for peppers is 1 tablespoon per gallon of water.  Water each plant with some of this solution.

Just remember there is no replacement for good fertile soil.  So keep making that compost and adding organic matter into your gardens.  Epsom Salt might be good stuff but will not replace healthy soil.

Dirty Garden Fingernails:

I only like to garden, I don't like my hands to announce to the whole world that I play in the dirt!  Even though I usually where gloves when gardening my fingernails get that ugly green or brown cast on the underside that refuses to come off even when using a brush.  I tried several methods to remove the stains including smelly chlorine.  But nothing I tried works like lemon juice.  Just dip your fingers into full strength lemon juice and you should see an improvement right away.  It even gets off those green stains on your fingers from picking vegetables that refuse to come out of the crevices and creases.  I now keep a small covered bowl (like a margarine container) on my counter for dipping my fingers into.  You can reuse the juice until it starts to look funny.  I am so grateful I discovered lemon juice takes care of 'Garden Hands'!  My hands used to look awful during the summer.  An added plus with lemon juice is that it is natural and not a harsh chemical, such as chlorine. 


Care of Spring Bulbs  May 27, 2002

Here in the northern States it was a good spring for tulips and daffodils; they lasted longer than usual.  At least something good came out of the fact that this is the coldest May I can remember.  I have seen years that May is so warm that the tulips are gone in a wink of the eye.

Many spring blooming bulbs have lost their petals and you may be tempted to cut back the foliage so you can spruce up your flower bed but don't if you want nice big blooms next year.  The foliage needs to feed the bulb for next year's bloom by taking in nutrients and sunshine.  Cut the stem that the seedpod is on or just pop the seedpod off.  If you leave the seedpod on the bulb will put energy into producing seeds, which you don't want.  Don't bother saving seed from your bulbs unless this is a hobby and you are willing to wait a LONG time to see the results.  Most of us don't have the time or energy for such pursuits.

Feed the foliage with a fertilizer designed for bulbs and wait until you see the foliage start to turn yellow before you remove the leaves.  To make it easy buy "Bulb fertilizer", if you want to specialize your fertilizer here are some suggestions: Tulips will like a fertilizer with analysis numbers such as 9-9-6 and daffodils will prefer something with numbers such as 5-10-20. 

You may be wondering what to do with the sometimes-unsightly old leaves once the bloom is finished.  You can plant annuals or perennials around them to help camouflage the leaves until they can be removed.  I like to plant perennials that are slow to come up in the spring but full by late spring around my tulips and daffodils.  I can still see the old leaves but it helps.  You can plant annuals around your finished bulbs also.  Choose a planting that will fill in the area quickly if the look of dying leaves bothers you.  If you planted something like geraniums that are large and robust you might be able to cover them satisfactorily. 

Did you fail to have the blooms this year like you have had previous years?  First of all make sure they are getting sufficient nutrients by following the above recommendations.  Second problem to consider is perhaps your bulbs were once planted in a sunny spot but the trees and shrubs have now grown large and it is now too shady.  If this is the case you will need to move them to a sunnier location.  Mark the area where the bulbs are and relocate them when they become dormant.  Make sure you dig in a large area around them; they are easy to injure with your garden fork or shovel.  If you must move them now remember to keep the new planting watered for a few weeks and fertilize in the fall.


Planting by the Full Moon   May 20, 2002

For many years my sister and bother-in-law have planted by the full moon.  I never understood the reason other that they learned this a long time ago and believe in it.  Many people feel that if you want the best results you must plant by the full moon.

I don't ever seem to have the luxury of planting by any specific moon, when I have the available time and the weather is decent, I plant.  You will often hear directions that you should plant on a cloudy day; it is easier on the plants, which is true.  But once again, if the time permits and all I have is sunshine then I plant.  Keep in mind that our plants are ALWAYS 'hardened off' sufficiently.  I'm not suggesting you follow my example, I just don't want to heap guilt on you if can't plant 'at the correct time'.

But let's get back to this 'planting by the moon' topic.  There is a scientific reason behind this.  I only recently read of the explanation and thought since 'planting by the moon' has been around for eons that we should cover it.

The earth is greatly affected by the moon; no one can dispute this fact.  The moon has a 28-day-plus cycle.  First there are approximately 2-weeks when the moon is waxing (first and second quarters) and it appears to be getting larger.  At the end of this period we have a 'full moon'. 

After the moon is full, it starts to wane for another 2-week phase, (third and fourth quarters).  During this phase the moon appears to become smaller.

Technically the air is coolest and the soil warmest during the waxing stage.  The air holds more minerals during this time because cooler air is denser.  During a full moon the soil has fewer minerals in it and tends to be lighter.  This creates a lighter soil, which allows tiny little roots more air space to get established.  That is why a light potting mix, such as 'Seed-starter Mix', is recommended for seedlings when you are starting seeds indoors.  Heavy tight soils mean death to many seedlings.

During the waning phase of the moon the soil becomes heavy and dense; plus there is less moisture available to plants.

In the book I read about this subject was something the author had encountered and you might find it helpful if you want to put in fence posts in the future.  The first posts they put in never became solid and firm in their holes.  The holes were dug and posts set during the waxing phase.  Later during the waning phase the holes for the gate area were dug and posts set.  These posts were solid with a tight fit.  If you were using cement in the holes you might not notice much of a difference.

I hope you found this interesting, I did.  I have always wondered why I should 'plant by the full moon'.

Hummingbird Feeders:

Last year a friend gave me one of those little 'Ant Stopper' things (sorry I don't know the name) and I just love it.  I have tried petroleum jelly and Ben-Gay without much success; they seemed like they might work and was easy.  But even a little effort is wasted if you don't succeed, unless you count the knowledge gained.  This 'Ant Stopper' hangs between the hanger and the feeder.  Not one single ant has ever crossed the barrier.  If you have problems with ants on your feeder, get one.  You will like it!  When you count the sugar water you have to throw out because the ants fouled it, it will pay for itself after awhile. 


Supporting Your Plants  May 13, 2002

Not all plants stand up all through the growing season and look their best without some help from us.  Some plants need support or they fall all over the place and become unruly, have pest problems (like slugs eating tomatoes), and not look as pretty.  There are various ways to support your plants that can be used for many years to help cut down on the expense.

If you have a perennial such as Achillea (Yarrow) or Tradescantia (spiderwort) that needs supporting you can buy support rings of various sizes to accomplish this or make some out of chicken wire.  (Chicken wire fencing is the stuff with little octagon shapes.)  Cut the wire to the size needed, trim or bend sharp edges and place over the plant as it is growing.  Let the plant grow up inside all those little openings and pull the wire up, as the plant gets taller, keeping the wire support 1/2 to 3/4 of the way up the plant.  The wire will keep all those stems together and from falling over the place.

I used a special chain of black plastic last year for holding up my hollyhocks and cosmos.  It is so easy to use but you can tie them to a fence with just string also.  When you have something like hollyhocks or special lilies that you know are going to grow tall and possibly fall over, plant them near a fence or trellis.  They will be much easier to tend to.  I found the plastic 'chain' at a garden center and just love it.

You can use those wimpy three ring tomato supports for plants like dahlias.  Put them in the ground at the same time you plant the dahlia.

We don't use the three ring supports much for tomatoes (except our early determinate types that don't grow big) but for the large indeterminate tomatoes you need something much more substantial.  Years ago we bought a roll of concrete reinforcing wire (available at hardware or home improvement stores) and made cages from it.  They are now over 12 years old and still have many more years of use ahead of them.  They are all rusty but that doesn't matter.  Sometimes a strong storm might make one fall over but we just set them back up with a stake for support.  Most of the time when this happens it is because the plant grew so big and heavy the wind caught it and took it over.  Most cages never need anything more to stand up straight than the little 'legs' at the bottom you will get from taking the last horizontal wire off at the bottom.


If you haven't gotten your hummingbird feeder out yet you need to do it now.  They start to show up when ajuga starts to bloom.  Hummingbird nectar:  1-cup water boiled with 1/4-cup sugar.  Don't use food coloring (I don't even appreciate using red food coloring for myself let alone a tiny little bird) and don't use honey.  I prefer to keep a bottle of extra nectar in the frig (label it) so as soon as I see the feeder is ready I can clean and fill it.  Sometimes those little cuties are buzzing around just waiting for a refill.  Only put in enough nectar to last a few days to a week, depending on the temperatures.   During hot weather you will need to freshen the nectar more often or it will spoil.  Disinfect the feeder periodically with a weak solution of hot water and bleach.  An old toothbrush will help with the cleaning.


Hardy Mums   May 6, 2002

As I looked over my garden notebook reading entries from last year I came across some notes and diagrams of Hardy Mums that need attention this spring.  My notes said to divide or move certain mums that were too large for their area last fall.  Mums also need to be split and new plantings made every few years.   How often depends on the mother plant, soil and site conditions.

Eventually the your original plant will decline but will have new growth surrounding it.  In the spring dig up the mother plant and the new growth, cut or break off nice size clumps of new growth and replant.  Throw away the old middle section if it has become sparse.  This is important to the health of your mum and also a great way to increase your mums for terrific fall color.

If you don't have Hardy Mums for fall color this is a great time to buy small starter plants at cheap prices, plant them and by the time fall rolls around you will have a nice size plant at a fraction of the cost you would pay in the fall for a full size plant. 

Another plant that you can buy at a fraction of the cost for fall color is Flowering Kale.  If you buy them now in small cell packs, plant and grow them through the summer you will have just the right size for fall.  To buy Flowering Kale in a large size in the fall will cost considerably more.

Lets get back to the "gardening notebook."  If you haven't kept notes in the past now is a great time to start a new habit.  Your gardening notebook doesn't have to be fancy or expensive, a spiral notebook works just fine.  Write notes to yourself of plants you liked or didn't like, grouping that worked or not, changes to make for next year, dates you planted certain things, etc.  Entries should designate the year and sometimes even the full date.  If I wouldn't have made notes last fall about which mums to split and which ones needed to be moved I wouldn't have gotten it done this spring.  No matter how much a certain mum bothered me last fall there is no way I would remember this spring.

Also in my notes were directions to move two Asters that for two years have been unhappy with where they are planted.   The asters are now moved and hopefully will be happier with their new location.


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