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Friday, March 31, 2006

"Opening Day" for the Lawn

Yep, today was the day. I mowed the grass for the first time. That's always a big day in the spring. I had to rush quite a bit at the end because there were storms coming, but I made it! As I mowed I made a mental list of all the garden clean up I still need to do. There is quite a bit to do, but I'll just take it one bed at a time and one plant at a time and soon enough, I'll be done.

If all goes well, tomorrow morning, I'll start back on the Ivy Eradictation project and then move on to other garden clean up.

Mowing tips...

Mow high, it really does make a difference. I usually mow on the next to the highest setting. Then, if the grass gets ahead of me, I can always raise the mower to the highest setting.

Use a mulching mower and leave the grass clippings on the lawn. They do not cause thatch. The dead roots cause thatch.

Alter the direction you mow. This helps prevent ruts and keep things more even overall. Up and down, back and forth, diagonally one way, diagonally the other way, and round and round. Of course, where there are smaller patches of grass, like on the side yards, this may not be possible.

Keep the blade sharp. A dull blade tears off the grass instead of cutting it and you end up with brown tips on the grass and an overall ragged appearance.

Enjoy the exercise. It's nice to get out and get some exercise and fresh air and have an immediate result (nicely mowed lawn) all at the same time. It beats the monotony of a treadmill any day!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

New Link

Click on the new link - My Garden Tools - to see pictures of my hoes. From there, click on - My Garden Blog - to go back to this site. Check back for more pictures later this spring!

From Sherry, a little garden humor

My sister Sherry sent me this a while back. I don't know who the author is!

God: Francis, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there in the USA? What happened to the dandelions, violets, thistles and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect, no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honeybees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now, but all I see are these green rectangles.
St. Francis: It's the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers weeds and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.
God: Grass? But it's so boring. It's not colorful. It doesn't attract butterflies, birds and bees, only grubs and sod worms. It's temperamental with temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?
St. Francis: Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops in the lawn.
God: The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.
St. Francis: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it. Sometimes twice a week.
God: They cut it? Do they bale it like hay?
St. Francis: Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.
God: They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?
St. Francis: No, sir--just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.
God: Now let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?
St. Francis: Yes, sir.
God: These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.
St. Francis: You aren't going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.
God: What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. Plus, as they rot, the leaves form compost to enhance the soil. Its a natural circle of life.
St. Francis: You'd better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.
God: No! What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter and to keep the soil moist and loose?
St. Francis: After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something they call "mulch." They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.
God: And where do they get this mulch?
St. Francis: They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.
God: Enough! I don't want to think about this anymore. Catherine, you're in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?
St. Catherine: "Dumb and Dumber," Lord. It's about...
God: Never mind. I think I just heard the whole story from Francis!

Monday, March 27, 2006

Two trees I'm going to get.

I am planning to get two new trees for my yard this spring. I don't know where I'll get them from or where I will put them once I get them, but I must have them.

One of the trees is a Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia).

The other tree that I want to get is a Carolina silverbell (Halesia carolina).

Do a quick search on the web for these trees and you will see why I must have them

I'm not keen on mail order, so I'll look at local nurseries to see if I can find any good specimens. Should be a fun hunt.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Raised beds or plowed fields

There are a couple of ways to plant a vegetable garden, the two most common being a traditional tilled plot and raised beds. I grew up with a traditional tilled plot of land vegetable garden, but over time converted to raised beds.

Every spring, just as soon as it warmed up enough and the ground was dry enough, Dad would get out the roto-tiller he co-owned with the neighbor and till up the vegetable garden. Then he would use a shovel or hoe to mound up the basic rows where everything would be planted, and then lay old plank boards in the paths where we would walk. Later on, he would cover the planting rows with black plastic, and then cut holes in it to plant tomatoes, peppers etc. This black plastic, along with all the grass clippings from the lawn, helped keep the weeds down.

So, naturally, when I had my first house and it was spring, I proceeded to do the same. I rounded up a roto-tiller, tilled up the ground and planted my garden. I didn't use black plastic to cover the ground, and I didn't bag the grass clippings to put on the garden. So by the end of the season, I had as many weeds as vegetables. (Did I mention I also didn't keep up on weeding?)

I had to find another method that would allow me to stay on top of the weeding and not be reliant on tilling the ground every spring and fall.

That method turned out to be raised beds. Now, I have a vegetable garden the consists of many raised beds. I used 1 x 6 cedar boards to form various sizes of raised beds. I strengthen the corners of the beds by attaching the boards to a 6" high section of 4 x 4 post. The largest bed is 4' x 8', which allows me to comfortably reach across to the middle of it from either side. The beds are arranged in more or less a formal pattern. In the center of the garden is a 4' x 4' bed which contains a dwarf apple tree and a few herbs. On each side are 2 4' x 8' beds. Next to each of those pairs of beds is another pair of 4' x 8' beds running in the opposide direction. Along the 'front' side of the vegetable garden are 3 more beds, a 4' x 6' bed in the center and on each side of it a 4' x4' bed. Then along the back side there are 3 2' x 8' beds.

I placed my first raised beds where I had previously tilled up the ground for the vegetable garden. Once I figured out this method worked better for me than a plowed plot of ground, I re-arranged the raised beds to make my paths wider, and added more raised beds so that the back one-third of the yard is now all raised beds. To keep down the weeds in the paths between the beds, I used landscape fabric covered with "playsoft" mulch which is supposed to be easier to walk on.

Where I had not plowed up the ground, I used Round-up to kill off the grass, then put down a raised bed box, placed several layers of newspaper down, and then added soil and compost on top. I did this in the fall, and by spring, the ground was ready for planting.

My maintenance of these beds involves clearing them off each fall, and topping them off with some compost, if available. Since my compost bins fill up quickly in the fall, I also dig trenches in some of the raised beds, fill the trench with garden refuse, and cover it over.

Now in the spring, all I need to do to get a bed ready to plant is some light howing and raking. I also don't have to wait too long after a rain to be able to work in a bed, because I'm not tilling it up each spring. And it just take a few minutes to weed each bed, so if I have just a few minutes, I can take care of the weeding in a least one bed.

This method works for me, and I recommend it to others who may find it too daunting a task to roto-till up a vegetable garden each spring and keep up with it through out the season.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Overcoming NDD

In my other blog, http://ruthcampbellsmith.blogspot.com/, which is about my grandmother's diaries from 1925 - 1927, Grandma noted that her boys played outside a lot and she could hardly get them inside long enough to eat! Kids today don't go outside nearly as much as even we used to. Someone has even coined the term "nature deficit disorder" to describe a condition in which children lose their connection to the great outdoors. Here are my suggestions to get kids out of the house and into the garden.

1. Scratch up a patch of ground and sow some flower seeds. Easy varieties include the obvious zinnias, marigolds, and sunflowers. Don't try anything exotic, go with tried and true, so the kids have some success. Help the kids water and weed as needed and then enjoy the flowers.

2. Plant some cherry tomatoes, or any tomatoes. Watch them grow and water as need. When the first tomatoes ripen, help the kids pick them, and eat them like an apple while still in the garden. If you see a few tomato horn worms later in the summer, show the kids and have them try to find more. It can be tougher than you think to find these big fat caterpillers, which are the same color as the tomatoe vine. (You will want to pick the horn worms off the plants and squash them!)

3. Plant any vegetables... beans, corn, etc. and show the kids where vegetables come from

4. On a hot summer day, turn on the sprinkler for the kids to run through, barefoot in the grass! You'll be watering the lawn at the same time and it feels less wasteful if the kids are enjoying it, too.

5. Find a big patch of clover, and help the kids find 4 leaf clovers. Make flower chains out of the clover flowers (I know you remember how to do this.)

6. Go walking in the woods in the spring-time, looking for morel mushrooms. Kids will find a whole lot of other things in the woods including wild flowers. (Don't pick the wild flowers! Leave them be!)

7. In the fall, rake a big pile of leaves and get the kids to play in them.

8. Take the kids to a garden center in the spring and let them help pick out flowers and then plant them. Instant beauty.

9. Start a leaf collection. Help the kids to learn how to identify the trees in your yard and neighborhood.

10. Put the kids in charge of a bird feeder. Help them identify the different birds that visit.

There's my list. Not too fancy, not too time consuming, not too expensive!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Pansies and Violas, Part III

I'm sure everyone is just sick with worry about all those pansies and violas that I planted a few weeks ago. Let me assure all that they came through the snow storm in good shape and are doing well, considering the weather these past few days. Pansies can withstand some pretty cold temperatures.

There are plant breeding programs to produce new varieties of pansies that can withstand cold temperatures. Many of these are sold in the fall with trade names like "Icicle Pansies". They claim that if you plant them in the fall with enough time for them to establish themselves, they will overwinter and bloom again in the spring. I've not really tried them. Why not? Because the fall colors are not what I want in the spring.

For fall, I prefer the dark purples, maroons, golden yellows, and oranges. For spring I want white, light purple, and light yellow.

So to resolve my color conflict, I'll stick with spring pansies!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Weather Records

With all this snow, I got curious about weather records for Indianapolis and found out the following regarding snowfall:

Average Date of First Measurable Snowfall: November 19 - that seems to make sense.

Average Date of Last Measurable Snowfall: March 30 - this is later than I would have thought. I really don't remember too many snowy days in March, at least not for while. I wonder if today set a new record?

Earliest Date of First Measurable Snowfall: October 18, 1989 - I remember this snowfall, it melted quickly and I assume we had some nice days after that before winter set in.

Latest Date of Last Measurable Snowfall: May 8, 1923 - Perish the thought! I start my 'gardening vacation' on May 5th and snow is not in my plans.

Since I'm checking anyway, a few more records of interest:

Average First Freeze Date: October 16 - When it's over, it's over. I don't generally try to cover plants in the fall to protect them from frost/freeze.

Average Last Freeze Date: April 22 - Not be confused with the last frost day, which I generally track to be around May 10th. I usually hold off planting the vegetable garden until after May10th, but even doing that, there was at least one year recently that I remember getting a late frost that killed off all my tomatoes, peppers, etc. and I had to repurchase plants.

Earliest First Freeze Date on Record: September 30, 1899 - Again, when it's over, it's over, but this would be early.

Latest Last Freeze Date on Record: May 27, 1961 - Perish the thought!

Now, I need to decide when I can safely plant the early spring crops - onions, peas, lettuce, spinach, etc. They can withstand some cool nights and light frost, but not snow like we got today.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Spring S-no-w!

Yes, spring snow! And there isn't really anything you can do to protect early spring flowers from it.

Cover them? The snow, if we get as much as predicted, will provide some cover and act as an insulator and provide as much protection as a sheet or blanket. Plus, I think the weight of heavy, wet snow on top of a blanket will crush the poor daffodils and other bulbs that are coming up.

Cut them? If you have early daffodils that are starting to show the bloom color in the bud, you could cut them and put them in a vase inside. They should open up in a day or two.

Leave them alone? That's my advice. I think we'll still have some blooms and trees will leave out and spring will eventually be here for good once the snow melts.

I moved my pots of pansies and violas up by the house, but otherwise I am just going to take my chances and see what happens. We should be back in the 40's within 24 hours to 36 hours from the start of the snowfall, from what I can tell. I'm not even planning to shovel my drive, as it should all melt pretty quickly.

Good luck to all!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Advice and Comments

Some thanks for comments and suggestions I've received...

To San-Tee for suggesting I also try Crimson Giant radishes... I picked up some seeds at Walmart this morning. They will be a nice complement to Cherry Belle radishes.

To Kathy for telling me how she got rid of her ivy... actually, she didn't get rid of it. The voles (meadow mice) did. They burrowed underground and cut off the roots. The first time I saw a little meadow mice running through a garden bed, I thought "how cute". Just like a little character from a Beatrix Potter story. Little did I know. I'll keep to my own methods.

To Sherry, yes, you can have all the ivy you want. Even though I pulled out a lot yesterday, there is still a lot left. Be ready next Saturday.

To Jill, yes, I should have known the ivy would become a problem. It isn't the first invasive plant I've succumbed to and I'm sure it won't be the last. (Can you say "tansy"?!)

To Everyone, keep (start!) sending me ideas, advice, and suggestions! Click on comments and send away!

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Ivy Eradication, Part II

A few posts ago, I wrote about how I was going to pull out all the English ivy (Hedera helix) in the landscape bed beside the garage. Today, I started working on that. This morning I thought I would "just do it", and have the whole thing finished by mid-afternoon. However, it turns out to be a bigger tangle of ivy than I thought. By lunch time, I knew I had a big job on my hands!

The good news is that I didn't find any snakes or voles or other critters in the ivy. I'm not saying that something might not be living in all that ivy, just that I didn't find anything. I also got to spend about 5 hours outside in the sun and fresh air and get some moderate exercise. Temperatures were in the 30's and 40's, but with the sun, I was quite comfortable and never got cold. And, I did uncover the three deutzia shrubs which I am attempting to "save" from all the ivy.

The bad news is that I am only about half way done, optimistically, and I filled 9 trash bags with ivy. I also think that it will take me a couple of years to really get rid of all the ivy because I am leaving a lot of roots. I'll have to put on hold my plan to replant that area with Vinca minor as a ground cover. Depending on the weather, I will have to finish pulling up all the ivy through the week and wrap up this project next Saturday. Then, I'll mulch the whole bed and proceed to keep watch and pull up ivy starts as they come up.

Some would say I should have known better when I planted the ivy! I knew it would spread. But I told myself it would be just in that one bed, and wouldn't really get out of hand. And it would be so nice hanging over the retaining wall. It did look nice, just like I thought it would! And it never spread beyond that one bed. But it really is quite a thicket now, and it was covering up the deutzias, which have pretty white flowers on them in late spring.

I even looked up on the Internet to see if there is some "magic" way to get rid of the ivy. Weed killers don't work well because the leaves are leathery with a waxy coating, so the chemicals just roll off. (Not that I wanted to use a weed killer in that bed). In my search for a "cure" for the ivy, or more appropriately a 'sure death sentence' for the ivy, I also found out the Hedera helix is listed as a noxious weed in some states (particularly out west), which means in those states, you aren't allowed to grow it and can be fined or arrested for willfully doing so. Indiana doesn't list this as a noxious weed, so I don't have to worry about being arrested for growing it.

And I found out that this ivy is member of the 'ginseng' family, and many people are sensitive to the oils from the plant. I don't think I'm sensitive to the oils, based on not having any problems today. Though when I return to pull out more of the ivy, if it remembers me, I might be in trouble. Hey, that would make a great horror movie!

Seeds Started, Finally

I finally got going and sowed seeds for tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and coleus. I'm trying out a new type of seed starting flat that has a capillary mat to keep the soil more evenly moist. We'll see how it works out.

Last year when I bought seeds in January at Walmart, the cashier said she thought it was too early to start seeds outside. I agreed with her. (It would have been too difficult to really explain it all.) She then asked if they really worked! I guess she didn't garden much.

This year, I bought about half of my seeds at Menards (half-price, Burpee brand) and the rest I ordered from Park Seeds. I think I was at Menards just a day or so after they had put up the display, so I had "first pick", so to speak.

I can already taste that first tomato!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Pansies and Violas, Part II

The pansies and violas were on sale, half price, so I got two more flats for a total of four flats (two of violas, two of pansies). I planted up a big pot of pansies and two smaller pots of violas to put on the front porch, and filled the window box with a combo of both. I also "bedded out" some here and there in the front for spots of color and planted up a few smaller pots to see how long they would last inside. I guess they are as cheap as cut flowers, and once the initial bloom is done, I can set them outside to get more sun. I also trimmed and tidied up the plants in the front and put out a couple of garden ornaments. It is nice to have some color by the front door for a change.

All in all, a good start, but I still have a lot of clean up to do. I did notice walking around that the ground is absolutely saturated, squishy wet, and more rain to come! I also could not believe the temperature. I wore just a t-shirt, and was actually a bit warm. And, yes, I wore sunscreen. Even in the spring, you can get a sun-burn.

Now it is time to turn my attention inside. With just 8 weeks until the frost free date (May 10th or so), it is time time plant tomato and pepper seeds. No time for rest, let the gardening begin!

Pansies and Violas!

I spotted pansies and violas for sale yesterday. I hurried out this morning and bought a flat of pansies and a flat of violas at Meijers. The primary difference between violas and pansies is that the violas are smaller flowers, more like violets. Both can survive cold and light frost.

I will plant some in my front window box, and the rest in pots to put on the front porch. While I am at it, I'll clean up of a some perennials in front that need to be trimmed back to the ground (as long as the weather holds today and we don't get more rain).

We've had a mild winter, so I am hoping for an equally mild spring, and I'm not afraid to plant pansies and violas now. I can always move the pots into the garage if it is going to get really cold!

I can't wait to get my hands into the dirt!

Friday, March 10, 2006

Lost in a garden

You really can lose yourself in a garden. And sometimes it is good to get lost in a garden because what you find, if you are looking to find something, is probably better because of the time spent in the garden.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Annual planting of perennials

Someone asked me when they should annually plant their perennials. Ha ha. She swears that she has to replant (or have someone replant for her) "all" of her perennials each year, especially columbine. I can't imagine that she gets anything to bloom. I would also guess that she doesn't really have that many flowers in her yard.

Perennials generally take about three years to really take hold, especially when planting from 1st year seedlings vs. divides from mature plants. Remember "sleep, creep, leap". The 1st year, the perennials don't seem to be doing too much, and may not even bloom (sleeping). If you need for an area of the garden to be colorful, while you are waiting for the perennials to establish themselves, you can plant some annual flowers amongst them, just don't crowd them out.

The 2nd year, perennials start to show a little more spunk and increase in size (start creeping). Most likely they will bloom if they didn't bloom the 1st year. The 3rd year, they take off, so to speak (leap) and may even need to be dug and divided in the fall.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

2006 Seed List

Here is my seed list for 2006:

Salvia artemis
Sweet Pea - Royal Family
Sweet Pea - Sweet Dreams Mix
Coleus - Wizard Mix Hybrid
Viola - Princess Mix
Zinnia- Purple Prince
Zinnia - Envy
Zinnia - Candy Cane Red on White
Zinnia - Candy Cane Mix
Sunflower - Autumn Beauty
Marigold - Disco Mix
Basil - Italian
Basil - Magical Michael
Tomato - Super Beefsteak
Tomato - Big Boy
Tomato - Early Girl
Tomato - Glory
Tomato - Sugary
Peppers - Anaheim
Peppers - Sweet Banana
Peppers - Valencia Hybrid
Peppers - Golden Summer Hybrid
Peppers - California Wonder
Peppers - Jalapeno M
Eggplant - Burpee Hybrind
Spinach - Baby's Leaf Hybrid
Radish - Cherry Belle
Pea - Mr. Big
Pea - Super Sugar Snap
Lettuce - Burpee Bibb
Lettuce - Mesclun Salad Mix
Lettuce - Green Ice
Squash - Burpee's Golden Zucchini
Squash - Burpee's Hybrid Zucchini
Cucumber - Bush Champion
Cucumber - Picklebush
Corn - Mirai
Beans - Tenderpick Bush Snap
Beans - Contender
Beans - Kentucky Wonder Pole Bean

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Gardeners Connect

I always find when I meet someone who also gardens that there is an instant connection and it is easy to carry on a conversation. Generally it goes like this:

Them: Are you a master gardener?
Me: You could say that.
3rd person: She has a degree in horticulture!
Me: But I did attend the master gardener classes with a couple of people who thought it would help if I went along as an interpreter.
Them: What kind of gardening do you do?
Me: (thinking... there are kinds of gardening? I have to pick? But I don't limit myself!) Oh, I do vegetables, flowers, you name it.
3rd person: She also has a lot of tools, ask her about her truck.
Them: What about your truck?
Me: I have a truck so I can haul stuff I need for gardening, like mulch, without trashing up my car.
Them: Where do you get your mulch?
Me: Generally, I go to Indiana Mulch. It is about 12 minutes from my house.
Me: What kind of gardening do you do?
Them: Mostly flowers (or mostly vegetables or whatever)

And so it goes, an instant rapport.

Today at work, two people asked me about lilacs and what type to get. Another co-worker said they needed to find someone to spray their apple trees. I advised him not to spray if he just wants a few apples and isn't planning to set up a road side stand in the fall, at least for this 1st year that he owns the house that came with apple trees. Next year, if he is just not happy with the apples, he can spray. He then said he needed someone to top his soft maples. I told him to find someone who would trim them instead. I just hate to see trees that have been toppped. Some else ask me about planting pear trees. I told them to get a named variety like "Cleveland". Someone else asked about red maples, and so it went.

'Tis spring, so I expect to get a lot more questions at work about gardening. I don't mind, I can talk about gardening anytime. And, if I don't know an answer, I am more than happy to do some research, and learn a little more or remember soemthing I've forgotten!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Horticultural Inquisitiveness

I don't like to not know something "horticultural" once it crosses my path. Take capers, for example. I had some capers on a pasta dish I ordered at lunch today, and my mom asked me what capers were. I didn't really know. I knew you could buy them at the store, and they are little and green and look sort of like tiny olives.

So, I did what anyone would do! I looked it up on the Internet. I found out that capers are the immature flower buds from a small shrub that grows in the Mediterranean region. Capparis spinosa. They pick the buds in the early morning and then pack them in either a salt brine or vinegar. Chefs use them to add a little bit of punch or sour-ness to a variety of pasta and meat and fish dishes.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Ivy Eradication

It's gotten cold again, just in time for "spring". Yesterday the weather man said that winter was basically over, and now it is spring. Not officially spring by the vernal equinox, but spring in that it isn't February any more. So, why is it as cold as it has been all winter. Granted, we did have an unusually warm winter, but does that mean we should have an unusually cool spring?

I need at least one Saturday or Sunday soon when temperatures get to about 50 degrees so I can get outside and comfortably inspect the yard and gardens and start an early spring task list. I know one item on the list is to dig out as much ivy as I can in a bed that wraps around the front and side of the garage. I spent exactly $1 on four small ivy plants at Walmart when I first started my landscape in 1997 and now I've got a mess of ivy that is choking out some good shrubs, including 3 Deutzias that have pretty little white blooms in late spring. I barely notice them because of all the ivy growing up and around and through them. I hope they will recover once I remove the ivy.

I'm not sure of my method for removing the ivy. I guess I will cut as much as I can, and try to pull out as many roots as I can. I don't want to disturb the shrubs too much. I'm not sure yet if I will let the ivy grow back or try to get rid of it completely. It does look nice draping over the edge of the bed, which is raised up to keep it level, and bordered with a small retaining wall.

I guess I will decide what to do once I start working on that bed!