New seedlings

>> Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Finally felt the time was right to plant some of the seedlings I had started earlier this year. I kept putting it off because of the weird weather patterns that has defined this Spring.

Last night we got frost! I couldn't believe it when when this morning I looked at the recorded 'low temperature' from last night and it read 32F.

I went out to the garden and one of my tomato plants had several 'burnt' leaves. The majority of the plant seemed untouched. Maybe it will survive.

One of my pepper plants is completely shriveled up yet the other five in the same bed are fine.

All of the seedlings I had left on the deck, as I have for the past two weeks, are all fine.

So, I figured that this is the last surprise that Mother Nature will throw our way and it is finally time to set the seedlings into their new homes and let them do what they will. I remain eternally optimistic.

I set out two cherry tomato plants along with a bunch of Marigolds 'Antigua Yellow' around them.

Set out this Astilbe 'Amethyst and

this Hostas 'Piedmont Gold'

and this Hosta 'Golden Tiara'.

I set out 25 sunflower plants along an ugly chain link fence that I hope to cover up, and then planted this Hydrangea 'Parzifal'. It doesn't look like much now but it is supposed to grow to 5' tall and 5' wide with lavender flowers.

I also scattered several packets of alyssum seeds around and then watered everything down.

Daytime temperatures are supposed to get into the 80's over the next week, so I believe we have seen the last frost scare until next Fall.


Vacation, already?

>> Monday, May 21, 2007

I've been sitting inside today waiting for the rain to let up and it doesn't seem like it is going to. I was planning on setting out more tomato plants and my squash.

I've been holding off for several reasons, one being that we are supposed to get some unseasonably cold night time temperatures within the next few nights, it is already down to 52F right now at 8 pm. This Spring sure has been 'up and down' weather-wise.

Another reason is that we are taking off for a week to visit family in California. I'm always a bit ambivalent about leaving the garden in someone else's care when I'm gone. I can usually count on our daughter to take care of it but she and her family are going with us. I have asked one of the neighbors to tend to it and she has agreed, but still... This is the first year I have planted a full bed of perennial flowers and she is barely a rookie herself.

I'm trying to decide how to make it as simple as possible for her to just turn on the sprinklers at certain times and not worry so much about the lawn or weeding. We don't have an irrigation system installed. I made up this portable setup out of pvc pipe and two sprinkler heads that I move around the yard. It's a bit cumbersome but is the least expensive way to go for now. The real problem is that with the weather acting so unpredictably, I don't know if it will be warm enough to have to water twice a day or just once every other day. I would hate to have to call every day to check on things, I do want to enjoy my vacation and not let her think I can't count on her to do it without my nagging.

I have several trays of Marigolds, herbs and sunflowers that need to be planted and I suppose it would be best just have them in the ground before I leave. And then there are the bird feeders. I have five of them I fill up every morning (some people just don't take the time to feed the birds and so I can't really ask her to do it because she is one of those who doesn't feed the birds). I guess the birds will come back when I get back and begin filling their feeders again. The Hummingbirds will be okay because there aren't enough of them to empty the feeders everyday.

I'm going to wear myself out worrying before I get out the front door.

Just take a deep breath, let it out slowly and relax. Nothing will happen that cannot be fixed.


Rose bloomed!

This is pretty exiting because this rose was 'rescued' from a mistake I made awhile back. It is a 'Honey Perfume' Jackson & Perkins 2004 Floribunda of the Year and this is how it looked the first season after I planted it in 2005.

I planted it the same day as I planted the 'Tuscan Sun' Jackson & Perkins 2005 Floribunda of the Year.

They were both planted in a south facing position against two different buildings, in similar soil. I'm not 100% certain why they turned out so differently but the 'Honey Perfume' was not doing as well as the Tuscan Sun. As you can see the bush only put out two roses and it only grew to just under two feet tall. The Tuscan Sun put out many roses and grew to over three feet tall. This is all in the first year. So I decided to move it next to the 'Tuscan Sun' this spring.

Here are pictures of each one as of this month. This is the Tuscan Sun.

This is the Honey Perfume.

The picture quality is not the best, I really need to learn how to use this camera.

But the difference in size can be easily seen. I have fed and cared for them both in the exact same way, it is just difficult to imagine what went wrong with the Honey Perfume. It bloomed in its original location (only two blooms) while the Tuscan Sun had many. It must be something to do with the soil.

I moved into this house four years ago, and therefore I cannot know what was in the soil before I planted these roses. Hopefully, I got it out in time to save it.

I know some of you are thinking 'get a soil test' and I know I should. I did a home test with one of those home kits and the pH is nearly identical, as far as I can tell. I guess I should talk myself into just getting a real test done.


Sounds of Summer

>> Saturday, May 19, 2007

Taking a break from gardening, I am sitting on the back deck on this beautiful 82 degree May day appreciating nature’s glory. The almost plaintive cry of the Mourning Doves as they fly overhead heading for their feeding ground in the backyard, Finches spreading the latest gossip with their incessant lyrical chirping, Hummingbirds ceaselessly chasing each other, cows bellowing, chickens clucking, dogs barking, bees buzzing past my ear on their way to the next flower’s offering of pollen, lawn mowers in the distance... Wait! Lawn mowers? Well, not every sound is as relaxing as I would like it. But we do live in a semi-urban area.

I do feel blessed that we, as urban dwellers, have the ability to keep nature’s creatures around us and we currently live in an area still zoned for farm animals. It’s a constant reminder of the what our ancestors must have felt when they took a break from their busy chores. I’m certain their lives were not as hectic as ours but we don’t have to depend on the land for our survival like they did.

Being able to provide for wildlife and to see them return day after day is very satisfying on a level that few other endeavors in life can match. And then to hear their songs, chatter and sometimes their complaints is just, well, ‘icing on the cake’.

After being forced to live in apartments for years, through financial necessity, I could never take this gift of nature for granted. Doing my best to be a good steward of the land, of the plants and animals that have become so dependent on mankind for their survival is a deeply felt responsibility that I will hold dearly the rest of my life.

I try to pass this on to my grandchildren but they have far too many other temptations that are far more exiting than anything as mundane as tending to plants and animals. It’s sad really. I still have hope that the day will come when one of them shows an interest in carrying on what countless generations before us have discovered in taking care of the land.

But for now, the sounds of lawn mowers and the occasional traffic passing by, be it cars, trucks, or overly loud motorcycles on the road out in front of the house or airplanes overhead, is a small price to pay for our little piece of heaven.

I don’t think we could be any happier if we were living out in the middle of nowhere minus all of these minor nuisances.


IPM publications available

>> Sunday, May 6, 2007

• “Canada Sprayer Guide” ( includes material on sprayer technology, application techniques, and related research.
• The online book on “Building Soils for Better Crops”, by SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) can be found at:
• An educational DVD, “Growing your Business the Natural Way” is available for lawn-care professionals for $5 from The Grassroots Healthy Lawn Program, at 516-883-0887, or They also offer DVDs for homeowners and school districts.
• Cornell has recently published two spiral-bound IPM sources: “Guide for Integrated Field Crop Management”, and “Integrated Crop and Pest Management Guidelines for Vegetables.”
Contact Cornell at 607-255-2080.


Living Mulches-Another IPM Strategy

A newly reported study* confirms the long-suspected hypothesis that living mulch increases populations of predatory insects (beneficial insects) by improving habitat. The researchers found that the predatory insects in the legume mulch trial killed over 50% more of the European corn borer pupae as compared to the non-mulched plots. Other research has shown that living mulches can reduce the need for fertilizer, suppress weeds, and limit erosion.
*J.R. Prasifka, et al “Effects of Living Mulches on Predator Abundance and Sentinel Prey in a Corn-Soybean-Forage Rotation,”, Environmental Entomology. 35:5.


New EPA program

EPA’s “Greenscapes” is a new program designed to promote healthy landscapes through water conservation, pesticide reduction, recycling, and “green landscaping.”


Pesticide update

EPA continues the phase-out of harmful pesticides. Lindane, “recognized internationally as one of the most toxic, persistent, bio-accumulative pesticides ever registered,” according to Jim Gulliford, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances, has finally been banned after over 10 years of review. It is still approved, however, by the FDA as a medicinal treatment for lice and scabies. EPA is also phasing out the carbamate, carbofuran, over a 4-year period.


Water quality tests

Water quality was measured by USGS in streams across the country and results showed that over 90% of streams and about 50% of shallow wells near agricultural and urban areas contained pesticide residue. Lovely! From Gilliom, et. al. 2006, “The quality of our nation’s streams and ground water”, 1992-2001.


A good time for projects

>> Saturday, May 5, 2007

Haven’t done much in the garden itself the last couple of days because it is raining and cold. The rain is always welcome, the cold, not so much. I have taken this opportunity to work on some projects I have been trying to find time for. Such as reshaping chunks and strips of lumber into masterpieces I will call a tower trellis, a planter ladder, a mirror for the shed, water tower, and planter platforms. The 'masterpiece' claim might be pushing it a little but I am determined to turn it all into something useful.
This particular tower trellis is an idea I saw in Birds and Bloom magazine a few years ago. It looks simple enough, I found a note to myself telling me that I could do it so I must have had confidence in me at one point. I’m no master carpenter so I suspect the ‘short-cuts’ I will undoubtedly be forced to take to match my skill level will give the finished product some ‘character of uniqueness’ that I doubt will be found anywhere else. So, I am looking forward to seeing how the finished product will look. It will stand seven foot tall, according to the plans, and I think this should be tall enough for even the most aggressive cherry tomato vine. I’m growing ‘Super Sweet 100 hybrid’ again. Last year I grew it in one of those wire cage contraptions that you just push into the ground. It was no match for that vine. The cage repeatedly fell over and I would have to bend its legs into some indescribable geometric shape in hopes it would stand up strong enough to last to the end of the season. It didn’t really. I had to trim some of the top few feet of the vine off dooming countless future fruit to their deaths on the compost pile. But this year I’m banking on my great foresight and planning ability to get every last one of those deliciously sweet little tomatoes to either my table, the neighbors tables or my grandkids hungry mouths before they can get to the kitchen.

The planter ladder idea is one that I have seen in many places. I will use my five foot metal ladder as a template for the angles and make some legs for it, paint it and set it up on the back deck in full sun.

I will be able to use up some lumber than has been laying around in the wood shed and then I can paint it some bright color and set some of the containers I want to try growing this year.

I will need to make it a little wide than this standard sized ladder because the planters are 12"-14" long and maybe not quite so tall. It should look nice up on the deck in front the blank wall.

Mirror for the shed, an idea that has also offered itself from many different places. It just looks too easy to make to pay retail prices for it. I recently saw a blog from Melissa at Empress of Dirt use several mirrors throughout her garden, looks very nice, Melissa! I want to create a "window" on the side of one of my sheds complete with shutters that will have four panes of 12”x12” mirror squares that can be found at any home improvement center and a few strips of wood. The shutters will actually be the most time consuming part of building the thing. What could go wrong? I sound pretty confident, don’t I? Seriously, it’s got to be easier to make than that tower trellis. I can't seem to find a photo of one online but I saw it in Backyard Living magazine, Mar/Apr 2007 issue. The article covers a backyard makeover that took place in Seattle, Washington.

The water tower is just three tree branches tied together to form a teepee structure with a pvc pipe sticking up through the middle and a garden hose attached at the bottom and a sprinkler head attached at the top. Piece of cake, right?<\p>

The planter platforms will be made of 1”x1” strips of wood glued together in such a way as to form a ‘grid’ of four or five strips laid across two smaller pieces that will be the feet.

I’m feeling more and more confident all the time.
Maybe I should make the simple items first, sort of like confidence builders.


Watering in the rain

It has been raining the last few days, which is really great, but today I realized the rain has been coming from the North and while this in itself is no big deal the foundation beds on the South side of the house are bone dry! I assumed everything was getting a good soaking and I could relax with the watering duties.
I had put a few new shrubs in this area last week just before it rained and had watered them a couple of days but stopped when the rains came. I can only hope the roots have not dried up while getting acclimated to their new locations.

So, just to make sure they get their fair share of water, I stood out in the rain with the hose trained on this dry area. I'll bet I'll get some ribbing from the neighbors for this one.
But, a gardener has got to do what a gardeners has got to do!


Satisfaction (from both sides)

>> Tuesday, May 1, 2007

After a long hard day working in the garden, I stand there and survey how everything is coming along so nicely, and I marvel once again at how nature provides such beauty in the simple act of a blooming flower.

I smile as the warmth of satisfaction and accomplishment washes over me. I close my eyes and take a deep breath to catch the faint perfume of this garden well tended. I want to linger in this heady fragrance but alas another reality draws me away and slowly brings me back to face the fact that I must leave the garden behind me for the day.

As I turn to head for the gate that leads to that other world, I catch the faint movement of a collective salute from all of my plants. Perhaps they thank me for taking such good care of them that they may survive yet another day.

Perhaps it is really only my imagination but when I stop to look one final time, I see that they are each standing a little taller than they did yesterday.


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