Picture Snob

April 30, 2010

The first seed planting of the year always makes me happy


I got the rototiller started. This spring has been very rainy which is a wonderful thing in California but not good for early planting. The garden is still too wet and there is more rain expected in the next few days, but as I knocked the ground cover down and broke up the soil, I found a couple of spots dry enough to dig up and plant. So I soaked some pea seeds. I want to have peas ready to eat when the grandkids come this summer so I need to get them in. The first time I planted peas some 40 years ago and ate them fresh out of the garden, I couldn't believe what a sweet nutricious snack they were. I never bothered to cook them unless I canned them for winter, but just added them to salads or just ate handfulls in the garden. Now of course they have the super sweet varieties, the Sugar Snap peas.

Soaking the seeds is an iffy prospect because it you soak them and then the weather turns cool and wet, they will sometimes rot. It is also dangerous to plant them when the ground cover has just been tilled under because that encourages rot also. So I'm taking a chance, but it seems worth it to amaze the grandkids.

With peas, beans, onion, and carrots, I plant double rows about four inches apart and work in organic composted chicken manure. This works because the roots systems of these plants don't spread widely. It also easier to weed the two rows at the same time, and I leave enough space between the next rows wide enough to get the tiller through easily. I'm using last year's Territorial Super Sugar Snap Peas. I have about a half a packet left and I"ll innoculate them with Fix-N-Grow Inoculant, also left over from last year. When I soaked the seeds, they plumped right up and look great as you can see from the top photo. Here I have added the inoculant and they're ready to go.

I'm going to try to get the seeds in before the rains starts. I'll let you know if the weather cooperates and the seeds sprout and take off.

At Fix -N- Grow Granular Legume Inoculant - Safe & Natural

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April 29, 2010

Troy-Bilt Tiller is one of the best for the gardener weary of hand digging


If you are ready to buy a tiller, or need a new one, Troy-Bilt is a great buy. I had one of these tillers for twenty years and took it to the shop only once in all that time. And it got really heavy use. I tilled up raw land and where I live that means rocks and hard packed soil. One spring I tille our whole two acre meadow and planted it with seed to use for feed for our cows. It did the job and never complained.

Here are the specs for this machine:

The Pro-Line CRT features a premium Honda engine and counter-rotating design to break up hard-packed soil quickly and easily.
Small enough to fit easily between garden rows and with Just One Hand® operation, the Pro-Line CRT rototiller is also easy to use.

Counter-rotating tines for easy use and greater control

Cast-iron transmission with bronze gear drive

1 forward speed with power reverse

16" tilling width

10" tine diameter

Adjustable tilling depth up to 6"

Factory-installed protective bumper included

13" ag tires for greater maneuverability

2 year limited manufacturer's warranty - refer to online owner's manual for exclusions

Limited lifetime warranty on transmission

160cc Honda GC engine with 2 year manufacturer's warranty

At Troy-Bilt 21A645A766 Pro-Line 160cc Honda Engine Rear Tine Tiller

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April 28, 2010

Thoughts of a Frustrated Gardener on a Cold April Day

It's one of those cold April days with strong winds so that I have a fire going and am staying inside. A day or so ago, I planted the peas and then it rained and now the cold has settled in which doesn't bode well for germination. That is especially true since I soaked the seeds first, thinking they would need the extra moisture and was wrong. It rained. So the seed may very well rot in the cold wet ground. It's happened before and since I going to town tomorrow I'll buy some more seed just in case.

It's always hard when the weather takes a step back into winter. I was all ready to continue the tilling and planting. I like to get the carrots in before it turns too hot. Here in the California mountains, spring often doesn't last long and suddenly it's summer and cool weather vegies won't germinate well and I've planted and replanted carrots. Now I'm sorry I didn't get them in the ground. I noticed some of the strawberry flowers had turned black at the center, a sign that frost had visited them. What to do on a day like this except sit and stare out the window at the windblown rose bush and hope for more sun tomorrow?


One of the things I did notice today was that the wildflowers that I planted around the new house had germinated and there were tiny flowers blooming. The Baby Blue eyes were particularly pretty.Nemophila_menziesii1.jpg

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April 27, 2010

Western Garden Book: The gardening bible for those west of the Rockies


This is a new edition of the Western Garden Book, one of the first books I bought when I started gardening forty years ago and I still use it. It is not ideological, promoting neither organic or chemical based gardening. It just has 8000 different plants, 500 of them new to read about and select from. It gives you the information on what plants to grow, how to nurture them, and where they do the very best. There is also updated information on the Western climate zones and thirty Plant Selection Guides, plus a Practical Guide to Gardening with basic advice on plant care and essential gardening techniques.

When I came to this old homestead, I knew nothing about gardening and this book helped me get a grasp on how to proceed. I'm still using it. For the new house I"m building I have about five acres totally leveled and waiting for some landscaping. This book is going to be invaluable to me in planning a landscape surrounding my living area which is beautiful to look at and easy to care for. Wouldn't think of starting without it.

At Western Garden Book: More than 8,000 Plants - The Right Plants for Your Climate - Tips from Western Garden Experts (Sunset Western Garden Book) (Paperback)

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April 22, 2010

Squirrel Wars will help you outsmart backyard pests


As I mentioned in a blog about birdfeeders, there is no way to keep the seed off the ground which attracts the squirrels in backyards and drives homeowners crazy trying to scare the pests away. In the greater Boston area, squirrels are numerous and bold. When we put our birdfeeder up, there they were ready to eat. Since the feeder closes when a squirrel climbed up to the seed container, they soon learned they could just hit the pole and knock seed to the ground where they could easily munch away without strain or effort. It was absolutely maddening.

We went to the local five and dime store trying to find a sling shot as we imagined the satifaction of hitting them with a small stone and the delight in watching them run. To our dismay, we discovered sling shots as well as bb guns were illegal in greater Boston! The romance of the birdfeeder slowly waned as the squirrels were not content to eat bird seed, but began to dig and eat the bulbs we had planted. What to do?

There are a couple of books out that might help with the problem. The most extensive is Squirrel Wars. This book contains remedies for squirrel infestation, and a chapter each on other backyard pests and how to rid yourself of them without firearms. Harrison, the author, is a respected nature writer also known for his public television specials on bird watching. He describes the mammals, birds, and insects considered common backyard pests and entertainingly documents problems homeowners have experienced and offers sound advice to minimize the nuisances. Harrison addresses such topics as raccoons in chimneys, rabbits in the garden, and rats around birdfeeders and what to do about such intrusions into the backyard.

Outwitting Squirrels by Bill Adler, Jr. focuses only on his manic attempt to stop squirrels from eating his birdseed and is amusing as well as claiming 101 ways to stop squirrels. At any rate, it's comforting to know others have been bothered by backyard pests and to be given new hope of ridding yourself of them.

At Squirrel Wars: Backyard Wildlife Battles & How to Win Them

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April 21, 2010

Brome Squirrel Buster Classic has great reviews


Finding a bird feeder that won't attract and feed squirrels is difficult. The bird feeder in my daughter's back yard constantly has squirrels around it and believe me, there are a lot of squirrels in Boston. I'm not bothered by squirrles here in the wilds of Northern California. They don't have an easy life and furthermore, I have a dog and two cats. These pets are well fed and rather lazy, being old, so they are quite content to sit and watch the birds at the bird feeder, which keeps squirrels away, but the birds soon realize they have nothing to fear.

The Squirrel Buster Classic has openings in the wire grid that align with the seed ports and provide birds access to the seed. When a squirrel climbs onto the feeder, its weight automatically forces the grid down, closing access to the seed ports. Squirrels and many large birds are foiled but not harmed in any way. This bird feeder has two downsides. One is that it is a little pricey; the other is that it shuts down not just for squirrels but also for large birds. If you really want a cardinal or larger bird to feed at the feeder, there is another model, the 1024 which has a cardinal perch on it.

The reviews of this feeder are positive. They say it is easy to clean and that the birds love it and that it does shut down, as promised, when a squirrel tries to eat out of it. I don't think there is any bird feeder, no matter how strategically made, that can keep the seed from falling on the ground where the squirrels can get it. Only the cat and dog can keep a squirrel away from such an inviting meal. If you have found such a bird feeder, let us know and we'll rejoice and spread the word!

At Brome 1015 Squirrel Buster Classic

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April 20, 2010

Cawtaba Corn Seeds are carefully planted to preserve an old variety

I was given some seeds by a friend several years ago which had been last harvested in 1979. The story told me was that they were Cawtaba Indian Corn which had been grown separately in the gardens of a homesteading family since the late 1800's. I gave them to the expert gardener here in town hoping the seeds were still viable and that this was an hierloom variety which could be saved. They are dark blue with chauky white to pale yellow markings.IMG_1311.JPG

The first thing was to soak the seed overnight so that the seed swells. Then it's easy to disgard the seeds that are not viable.


Once the seeds have been sorted through, we took them to the greenhouse for planting. She bought a good quality potting soil for them.


She planted the seeds by two different methods. In one flat she poked a hole in the soil with a stick and dropped a seed in each hole.


The other method was to scatter the seeds on top of the soil and then cover them with more planting soil.


This flat was left in the greenhouse while the first flat was taken to the house and put on a heating mat in a sunny window.


So I'm keeping my fingers crossed that these 40 year old seeds will sprout and bear more seeds so that a potential heirloom variety can be saved. At least we have given them the best possible chance.

At Hydrofarm Seedling Heat Mat

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April 19, 2010

Wildflower Seeds to make color for that bare spot in the yard or garden


EdenBrothers' has a great selection of wildflower seeds and you can take you pick of full sun or partial shade, perennial or annual, and also choose the proper region for best results. They also have mixes selected for color so there are mixes of red, blue, pink, and lavendar and they guarantee that their seed has no filler, is all completely wildflower seeds. There are low grow and tall flower selections and deer resistant, and dry tolerant varieties.

For example, the Pacific Northwest package which I would be interested in costs $24.99 for a pound which would cover 2000 sq ft. They list every seed included and say whether it is an annual or perennial. I'm still working on the bare places around new construction and I think this is at least a partial answer for me. Eden Brothers also has a complete line of bulbs to choose from.

At Eden Brothers

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April 13, 2010

Grafting the Pearmaine apple

I have an old homestead and one of the rules for homesteading was to plant five apple trees. These trees still survive over 100 years later! One tree on my place is especially worth saving. It ripens in late October and November and keeps really well and although it looks like a golden delicious, it is much sweeter, crisper and more flavorful. The best guess among those who have the tree still living is that it is a White Winter Pearmaine.


This is a description from 1881:

"Basin uneven. Skin pale yellow, with slight blush or warm cheek, thickly sprinkled with minute brown dots. Flesh yellowish, tender, crisp, juice very pleasant subacid. Very good."

My poor tree has fallen over and started to grow up from a lying down position. You have to be impressed with the will to live. Since I want to save the variety and I asked a local expert gardener to help me by grafting the pearmaine on to other root stock. I don't trust myself with grafting. He came on a wet rainy day so I stood with an umbrella while he did the work. Everyone has their own way of grafting that works for them. He cut several finger size year old growth from the pearmaine. Instead of using the notch method, he just cut a slanted pruning type cut.


Then he cut the graft so that the slant and the cambian layers matched and wrapped it in red electrical tape.


To finish, he tied a rubber band around the graft to hold it steady.

Then he trimmed any sprouts from lower on the rootstock. This is certainly not the handbook traditional method of grafting, but experienced gardeners do what they have had success with. We tried it on two different root stocks. He says his method has worked 3/4 of the time and so I"m hopeful that I will get another tree of this White Winter Pearmaine, my favorite apple.

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April 12, 2010

Landmann Fireplace saved the Easter Party


The party I have on Easter was threatened by a big late storm. We put up a tarp over the deck and brought out the Landmann fireplace and started fire. This plan worked beautifully. The fire was roaring and people loved standing around talking, drinking, and watching the snow come down, safely dry and warm. In fact, although the cabin was toasty warm everybody stayed outside to enjoy the novelty of snow fall on daffodils and tulips and a brilliant green lawn.

The nice thing about this Landmann Fireplace is that is was high enough off the ground that it didn't kill the lawn underneath it although a fire really blazed in it all day. It also can be moved on it's wheels while burning. We left the top off most of the day and piled the logs on. When everyone left, we put the top on, and let it burn itself out. This fireplace was a real party saver.

At Landmann Heatwave 28-Inch Outdoor Fireplace

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April 9, 2010

Dawn Redwood is an ancient deciduous conifer and has a fascinating history


Metasequoia (Dawn Redwood) is a fast-growing, deciduous tree. For years it was thought to be extinct although at one time it grew all over the Northern Hemisphere. It is native to the Sichuan region of China. Dawn Redwood was first described as a fossil from the Mesozoic Era in China in 1941, but in 1944 a small stand of these trees was discovered still living. They were not studied until after World War II. In 1948 the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University sent an expedition to collect seeds and, soon after, seedling trees were distributed to various universities and arboreta worldwide for growth trials. Local villagers referred to the original tree from which most others derive as Shui-sa, or "water fir," which is part of a local shrine. Since that tree's rediscovery, the Dawn Redwood has become a popular ornamental.

While the bark and foliage are similar to another closely related redwoods it differs from the California redwood in that it is deciduous. In the fall it's leaves turn red brown and then fall, leaving a decorative silhoutte for the winter. One of the reasons it has become so popular as an ornamental is that it is a fast-growing tree to as high as 200 ft. tall and four feet trunk diameter in cultivation. It likes moist well drained soil and obviously it needs a lot of room to grow. It does not like alkaline soils.

I'm going to order one of the Dawn Redwoods. I missed a sale on them at Home Depot. I have too often bought a plant on impulse and brought it home to then desparately create a place to plant it. I didn't want to do that to this tree. I'm going to make a nice big hole and fill it with some compost and have the drippers ready to go. I like the idea of having something growing that was alive and flourishing when the dinasaurs were roaming the land. And I want it to thrive!

At Dawn redwood

If you don't have room for a 200 ft tree, you can always get a bonsai.

At Bonsai Tree

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April 8, 2010

Spring Hill Nursery has unique plants and gives a lifetime guarantee

SpringHill Nursery was founded in 1849 in a small Ohio town. In the 1930's they started becoming a mail order business. I like their unique selection of plants which are useful for the homeowner with a lawn and garden to cultivate. For example, their ground covers include many flowering plants like phlox and thyme as well as Snow on the Mountain which hides problem areas quickly.

They have a eclectic selection of trees, carrying the Dawn Redwood and Gingo. There are several Japanese Tree peonies including this lovely Shimi-Nishiki.

"It is imported directly from Japan by Spring Hill! Shima-Nishiki is Japanese for 'fire flame'. And this uniquely colored tree peony certainly lives up to its name. Large, semi-double white blooms with fiery red streaks measure 7-9" across! Very longlived, it will bloom for a lifetime! Flowers arrive in April to May. Mature tree grows 48-60" tall with a 3' spread."

I particularly like their Pre-planned garden offerings. You can select for many different areas and blooming seasons. If you need some color in a shady spot or you'd really want a lovely three-season garden, they have a design for each . If you want flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds to your property, or a perennial garden, they have each. They include easy-to-follow instructions and diagrams make to help make your planting a success.

And there is a No Risk Guarantee. They say all of their plants will be true to name and to reach you in perfect and healthy condition."If, for any reason, you aren't pleased with any plant upon receipt, after planting or once it grows, just contact Spring Hill anytime--no time limit--for as long as you garden. No need to return any plant. We will refund every cent you paid for that plant or send a replacement without charge--whichever you prefer."

Sounds like a deal to me. And the selection is unique and well planned for variety and the home owner who wants to make their yard and flower garden lovely.

At Spring Hill Nursery

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April 7, 2010

SF Mayor discovers the difficulty of trying to be green


Donning hazmat suits and carrying compost, activists with the Organic Consumers Association paid a visit to Mayor Gavin Newsom at San Francisco's City Hall yesterday. Their grievance? Since 2007 the city has been giving away bags of "organic biosolids compost" to residents to use in their backyard, community and school gardens. But it turns out that the compost is anything but "organic" if you go by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's definition of the word. The compost actually contains sewage sludge.

Biosolids is really just a clever way of saying crap, and the water that went down with it -- it is the byproduct of the water treatment process. And the compost that was given to San Franciscans came from nine counties, which are home to oil refineries, metal container manufacturers, foundries and electronics manufacturers, Jill Richardson writes. Which means there's the potential for the compost to be a noxious soup of chemicals, metals, pharmaceuticals, bacteria, parasites and more.

Definitely not the kind of thing you'd want to be planting your food in. Although using sewage sludge on farmland is not a new or uncommon practice. Richardson writes that in 1992 the Environmental Protection Agency reclassified sludge -- it went from being a hazardous waste to a fertilizer. Which conveniently helps out treatment facilities that are left trying to find ways to dispose of a whole lot of sludge after wastewater is treated. Currently about half of all sludge is applied to farm fields.

And while there are documented cases of animals dying and people being made ill from that very practice, it is still fine by federal and state laws. But it doesn't fly by with the USDA's organic standards. San Francisco's choice to label the compost "organic" has really got residents steamed. Richardson writes that the city claims they meant "organic" not to connote the USDA's program but that it instead "referred to the scientific definition of organic matter as in containing significant amounts of organic carbon." Hm, I'm guessing that might not have been immediately apparent to all the gardeners who hauled away sludge-laden compost. And in a city full of greens, the city almost certainly knew better.

Organic Consumers Association is calling on Newsom, who ironically was named the country's greenest mayor by Organic Style, to stop the "toxic sewage sludge giveaways."

At SF Mayor Green

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April 6, 2010

Lawn Care tips from Cornell University, a good gardening resource


I've mowed my lawn twice already and fed the brown places. Here is some good advice from Cornell University. The link at the bottom of the article will take you to more links where you can get answers to specific problems.

Mow high. The shorter you mow your lawn, the more work you will need to do to keep it looking good. Never cut more than a third of the plant when you mow. If you want to keep your lawn mowed to just 1 inch, that means mowing when it reaches 1.5 inches, or every 2 to 5 days. That's a lot of work. Mowing that close can weaken root systems (making the grass more prone to drought), and makes it easier for weeds to outcompete grass. Mowing your lawn to a 3-inch height helps grass compete with weeds. It means mowing when the grass reaches 4.5 inches, or every 5 to 15 days, depending on growth rates. More on mowing.

Keep your mower sharp. Dull blades tear grass instead of cutting it. Lawns mowed with dull blades use 30 percent more water. Plus the wounds created by dull blades allow disease pathogens to enter grass plants. File your blade regularly, and replace damaged blades.

Leave the clippings. Clippings do not create thatch, contrary to popular belief. If you cut only a third of the plant at each mowing, the clippings won't smother the grass either. Mulching mowers work best to chop up clippings so they can settle down through the grass and onto the soil surface. There, earthworms incorporate clippings into the soil, improving both its drainage after storms and ability to hold water during drought. Do not disperse clippings onto pavement or into gutters. They are high in phosphorus and can cause pollution when washed into storm sewers and reach streams and lakes.

Don't fertilize early. Fertilizing in early spring only stresses grass plants over the long term by encouraging excessive top growth at the expense of roots. (Do not apply fertilizer to frozen or saturated soil, or on top of snow. It's a waste of fertilizer and sure way to have it wash into streams and lakes.) A better strategy is to fertilize in fall, from about August 15 until about 2 weeks after last mowing. Plants will use this fertilizer to develop root reserves to help them survive through winter and get off to a healthy start next spring.

Watch your water. It's easy to do more harm than good. Never water at night. Wet grass invites diseases. Water between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m. when the leaves will dry quickly in the morning sun. During extended drought, stop watering and allow grass to go dormant.

Special care in shade. Grass needs a minimum of 4 hours of direct sun -- 6 hours if it gets much foot traffic. Anything less than this, you should consider other ground covers. In shady spots, plant fine fescues that are adapted to lower light, mow high and reduce fertilizer.

Spray sparingly. Never use lawn insecticides without scouting to see if the problem justifies treatment. 75 percent of lawn insecticide applications in New York are unnecessary or ineffective. Manage grass for healthy root systems, which can tolerate some insect damage and remain aesthetically pleasing.

Fill in weak spots. Use a rake to work up and improve the soil where weeds flourish or the ground is bare. Then reseed with grass varieties best-suited to the site. If, after a season of mowing high and leaving the clippings (taller grass will help shade out weeds), your lawn is still more than half perennial weeds and bare spots, consider a complete renovation.

At Lawn care

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April 5, 2010

A Low-Maintenance System for a Beautiful, Safe Lawn


This is a book for those of us who are tired of seeing the little yellow flag on lawns advising people to stay off because of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. What is the point of a lawn, anyway? As a kid I loved to run barefoot, playing with the dog or my friends. It felt of freedom from school, from shoes and the restrictions of rules. It saddens me to think that with weed and feed chemicals, the lawn is not safe for kids or pets. It's something to look at but not to touch.

If you are of the same mind but still want a lawn that's lovely too look at as well as play and sit in, or godforbid, lie on your back in and look at the clouds on a warm spring day, then this book may have the way to acheive that. The Organic Lawn Care Manuel was written by a guy who used the weed and feed method until the chemicals he used started affecting his health. Then he began going organic. He has instructions on starting a lawn from scratch and on how to improve soil structure. He discusses grass varieties and how to choose a drought and disease resistant grass. There is also a section on what to do about moles, voles and other burrowing creatures. And best of all, he doesn't forget what a lawn is really for--fun games for the family! Croquet, anyone?

The book comes with a good glossary, a list of ground covers, and lots of photographs for illustrating various problems. He has chapters on making the transition from chemical to organic lawn care without loosing what you already have worked for.

At The Organic Lawn Care Manual: A Natural, Low-Maintenance System for a Beautiful, Safe Lawn (Paperback)

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April 2, 2010

A typical spring day before Easter produces the usual anxiety

I have a big party on Easter afternoon after the church events and Easter egg hunts, everyone heads my way to celebrate the spring. But the weather never fails to cause me anxiety since I live in a small cabin and there's not really room for 20 or 30 people and yet they come. So if it's not warm enough outside for us to sit out in the yard, I put up a tarp on the deck and set up tables for food out there, and we all crowd into the house or shiver under the tarp. The charcoal bbq grill provides some heat for people to stand around.

This year the new house was supposed to be ready, but of course it isn't. These things always take longer than planned.

Today it snowed hard for a while and now the sun is out. It rained all day and night yesterday and is supposed to rain on and off the rest of the week and through the weekend. I bought some really pretty Ranunculus(the ones I planted aren't up yet), Shasta Daisies, and Primroses and it's been too wet to plant them. So they sit on the deck and soak in the rain. They're beginning to look a little the worse for wear so I may have to get out in the rain and snow and plant them anyway because it's now raining again.


So although March is supposed to go out like a lamb, in the mountains both March and April fluctuate between spring and winter, one minute making you think spring is finally here, and next taking you two steps back into soggy snowy winter. There's nothing smooth about seasonal change here. It's either too hot too soon, or too cold too late. So it helps to have a day just to sit and stare out the window and wonder how many times the weather can change its mind in one day.

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Spring Lawns Alive - All-Natural Fertilizer gets your lawn off to a good start


Ah, it was a lovely spring day today. Temperature was 64 and the sun was bright and warm. The garden was still too mucky to work in, so I decided to mow down some of the lawn that has grown high in the last few days. As I've mentioned before, my lawn is not monoculture but is a hodgepodge of whatever will grow, lots of dandelions, plantain and other weeds as well as clover. I like it that way. I fertilize it in the spring and am getting ready to work on the dry dead part of the lawn.

I know some people like to use ammonium sulphate. It's quick; it's easy; it's effective, at least in the short run. But if you have young children or pets who play in the grass, I think it's better to use organic fertilizer. Organics will also help build up soil microorganisms which make for healthy soil. This Garden's Alive product can be broadcast spread.

  • produces rich green color.

  • improves soil structure.

  • increases resistance to disease and insect pests.

  • makes more vital nutrients available to grass.

A 20 lb. bag is $27.95 and covers 1000 to 2000 square feet.

At Spring Lawns Alive

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April 1, 2010

March 2010 Monthly Round up for Garden Snob




Container Gardens & Window Boxes

Decorations for Garden and Patio

Garden Books

Garden Stuff

Garden Thoughts

Garden Tools

Monthly Roundup



Worms, Bugs & Gross Things

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