Picture Snob


July 11, 2011

Buckwheat makes a great summer cover crop

Buckwheat is an unusually fast-growing crop with a variety of uses. Most buckwheat is ground into flour and used for a variety of foods, including noodles in Japan and pancakes and breakfast cereals in the U.S. Russians and eastern Europeans make a wide range of foods with buckwheat, most famously, buchwheat groats or kasha.

But for our purposes, buckwheat can be used as a cover crop. It will smother weeds and improve the soil. Buckwheat flowers profusely, making it popular with bee keepers and an attractive crop in the landscape. Its flexibility and wide adaptation led it to be grown on more than a million acres in the U.S. in the late 1800s, even though it is not native to our country. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were two of the first American farmers to grow buckwheat and recognize the benefit to their crop rotations.

You might try it on a bare section of the garden or between the rows.

At Buckwheat Cover Crop

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April 13, 2011

How about a beautiful lawn that is also safe for kids and pets?


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 5, 2011

Coolaroo Triangle Shade Sail provides shade where you need it.

If you have a spot in the garden or on the deck or patio that needs some shade and cooler temperatures, this sun shade will do the job. It comes in both green and sand and has stainless steel hardware fasteners. It has a 10 year warranty against UV degradation. You can create your own uniquely designed outdoor living space using multiple sizes and colors of sail shades.

I have friends who have a south facing house with no trees for shade. They put up about five Coolaroos at different angles and planted hops and grapes in planters. The area looks lovely now and provides shade for the house and a cool place to sit and see the sunset. I'm getting a couple of these to put over my double doors which face west. The sun heats up the house in the afternoon and the Coolaroos will keep that from happening until I can get wisteria or grapes growing over a trellis.

At Coolaroo Triangle Shade Sail 16 Feet 5 Inches with Hardware Kit, Brunswick Green

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March 17, 2011

Phylox plants make great groundcovers and lovely blooms in spring


Around the new house, where topsoil was scraped off and only subsoil with clay and rocky ground are left, I'm going to try landscaping with phylox. In spring, creeping phlox plants produce small flowers in dense clusters. If massed together as a groundcover, creeping phlox plants make a powerful landscaping statement. The colors available are red, white, blue, pink, rose, lavender, purple or variegated. Creeping phlox plants reach 6" in height and spread out 2'. Some of the needle-like foliage remains green throughout the winter.

After the blooming period, prune back the foliage of creeping phlox plants. This "pinching" will encourage foliage to become denser, thereby making your creeping phlox plants a more attractive groundcover for the summer months. If you wish to propagate creeping phlox plants through division, divide them in spring, immediately after blooming.

I already have a cluster I can divide, but I"m going to need a lot more to make the barren ground bloom with color.

At Emerald Blue Phlox Perennial

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December 21, 2010

The tree holes revisited after a week of rains


I had four tree holes dug around the new house and this winter I hope to plant some shade trees. Last month I did a bunch of posts on what some possibilities were. The trees I plant need to be hardy enough to survive in mostly heavy clay soil and few nutrients other than the ones I'm going to supply when I plant. I'll add potting soil, fertilizer, green sand and other amendments, hoping to give the trees a good start.

Now that I"m back at the house and it has rained for several weeks steadily and on and off, I went out to inspect the tree holes. The picture above shows one that is still holding water after three days of dry. The other holes look empty and fine. So the drainage in this hole is going to have to be fixed, if possible. I'm thinking a French drain might work. French drain was not created in France as I had always thought, but by Henry French in Concord, Massachusetts. My idea is simple. I would dig out a small piece of the wall of the hole, down to the bottom. Then insert a small piece of 2 inch pipe, put gravel over the pipe and the bottom of the hole and then pack the dirt back in to fill in the wall again.

I hope this works as the tree hole that is not draining is right at the sunniest corner of the house and I need shade there badly. It would be a real bummer to plant there and have it die in the first rains.

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October 6, 2010

Mole, vole, or pocket gopher?

OK. It's getting serious.

You remember I put out some caster beans as a preventative when I saw the mounds of garden soil slowly creeping further out into the garden. Now the mounds have gone past the carrots and our in the middle of the main garden. And I have to do something about this infestation. But the problem is, what critter is it. Moles, voles, and pocket gophers all live in tunnels.

The information I found is that moles leave round mounds connected by tunnels and they eat mainly worms. Voles or meadow mice ofter move into the tunnels and eat plants, often damaging bulbs or trees. Pocket gophers leave a C shaped mound with a round plug in the middle. So given that information, my problem is a mole, probably one or two and they have found the soil and earthwoms I have tried so hard to nurture.

Here is the tunnel.


Now what to do? Since all I have at hand is the castor bean I"m going to pour a bunch into the hole and the mounds I just dug out and cover them back up while I study the myriad mole traps that are advertised on the web or try to find someone who can help me find the anti mole solution. I also think starting the tiller and going over the area of mole activity might be a deterrent. It's worth a try. Anybody out there have a sure fire cure?

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October 4, 2010

A bird feeder with all the features it needs


This bird feeder is a little pricey, but also looks to have all the features that correct what is wrong with so many feeders. It has two trays, a small perching one for the little birds and a larger tray underneath that bigger birds can stand on and peck away. The design is clever in that the large tray catches the seeds that the small birds scatter. That keeps the seed off the ground and away from the squirrels and other pests.

The feeder also has a squirrel guard so the squirrels can't climb on the feeder pole to get at the seed. The feeder we have in Boston, has a squirrel proof door on the feeder that closes when a large mammal or bird lands on it, but seed still falls to the ground and the squirrels seem quite content with knocking against the pole, scattering seed and getting their food that way. The larger underneath tray should eliminate that problem.

The base if free standing and the whole unit weighs 11 pounds. The tube feeder itself slides down the pole for easy cleaning. You can rinse the tube out with a hose and slide it back up and be done. Very slick design.

At Effortless Birdfeeder

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September 22, 2010

The cover crop goes in as the first rain approaches


I started spreading the cover crop today. A fall mix from Territorial seed. It looked good enough to cook and eat. I couldn't find my broadcast spreader, so I just spread it by hand as the winds picked up and clouds move in from the Northwest. It's such a good feeling to have the first rains coming. It marks the beginning of change of the season.

There are two falls in here in California. A dry fall and a wet one. The dry fall is parched and the crunch of dry leaves and rattle of seed pods, the wind through dusty leaves is a reminder to keep up the constant effort to bring water to the yard and garden. Once the rains come, everything changes. You can turn the sprinklers and the drippers off and just sit back and relax. The fire season is over and it's cooler and time to get some wood in.

I was going to till in the cover crop as it does attract birds, but decided instead to rake and shovel a little dirt over the seeds and see if that does the job. There were a few bare spaces and the corn and tomato rows which will need more and I assured myself I would pick up some more ground cover from the local nursery.

Now! Let it rain!!!!

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September 7, 2010

The corn earwoms attack!!!!


This isn't the first time I've had these pests, but this is the first time they have actually gotten down into the ears of corn and eaten their way through the ear, effectively ruining it for me, who has been so loving corn on the cob fresh from the garden. So, what to do? Apparently the moth lays her eggs on the leaves early in the years, but later on, like now, leaves her eggs on the silks and so eggs become larvae who then start their munching.

The worm is about 1 or 2 inches long and greenish in color, although they can be brown. I wonder if the blue jays and crows who occassionally started eating corn at the tip of the silk was after these worms? But this year, the birds are not bothering the corn . Some research tells me to put mineral oil on the silk after it is dry. I don't have any in the house, so will have to wait until I go to town next week. Pesticides don't do any good anyway, once the lavae has hatched and entered the ear and of course would be very hurtful to honey bees who are all over my tassles of corn. The parasitic wasp, Trichogamma, layes it's eggs in the eggs of the earworm moth and thus is effective in stopping the infestation. So that's a possibility also.

At Vi-Jon Inc. S0883 Mineral Oil

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September 3, 2010

The Havahart Trap scores again!


I'm really sorry I didn't think to take a picture to show you. Finally caught the little bugger. i loaded the trap first with cheese and taped it to the trap trigger. Twice the cheese disappeared and the trap didn't spring. It's a big trap and I worried that a squirrel was too light in weight for this trap to work.

So I tried again, this time hanging the cheese in the back of the cage and setting the trigger to the edge so that the slightest pressure would spring the door shut. And bingo, the next day, there he or she was so I took him/her for a ride about five miles away and let it go! It's so satisfying to get rid of a garden pest safely and without harm. The squirrel can live it's life out somewhere else, and my garden won't be bothered by disappearing vegetables and plants.


At Havahart 1085 32-by-10-by-12-Inch Easy Set/Release One-Door Cage Trap for Raccoons, Stray Cats and Woodchucks

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September 2, 2010

How to save your seed and keep it safe How about a spice rack?


If you're growing heirloom vegetables and want to save the seed, this article from the University of Illinois is a great help. Not all seed should be saved and doing it properly insures next year's seeds viability. So it pays to do it right.

"Not every plant's seeds are worth keeping. Hybrid plants are developed by crossing specific parent plants. Hybrids are wonderful plants but the seed is often sterile or does not reproduce true to the parent plant. Therefore, never save the seed from hybrids. Another major problem is some plants' flowers are open pollinated by insects, wind or people. These plants include squash, cucumbers, melon, parsley, cabbage, chard, broccoli, mustard greens, celery, spinach, cauliflower, kale, radish, beets, onion, and basil. These plants cross with others within their family. The only way to maintain the original variety is to isolate by large distances. Isolation is often impossible or impractical in a home garden.

Some seeds may transmit certain diseases. A disease that infected a crop at the end of the growing season may do little damage to that crop. However, if the seed is saved and planted the following year, the disease may severely injure or even kill the young plants.

What can you save? Standard or heirloom varieties that are not cross-pollinated by nearby plants are good candidates. Many gardeners successfully keep beans, tomatoes, lettuce, and peppers. Plants you know are heirloom varieties are easy to save. Ask the person or organization you obtained the seed from how they did it. Some people like to experiment, but make sure you don't bet the whole garden on saved seed.

When saving seed, always harvest from the best. Choose disease-free plants with qualities you desire. Look for the most flavorful vegetables or beautiful flowers. Consider size, harvest time and other characteristics.

Always harvest mature seed. For example, cucumber seeds at the eating stage are not ripe and will not germinate if saved. You must allow the fruit and seed to fully mature. Because seed set reduces the vigor of the plant and discourages further fruit production, wait until near the end of the season to save fruit for seed.

Seeds are mature or ripe when flowers are faded and dry or have puffy tops. Plants with pods, like beans, are ready when the pods are brown and dry. When seeds are ripe they usually turn from white to cream colored or light brown to dark brown. Collect the seed or fruits when most of the seed is ripe. Do not wait for everything to mature because you may lose most of the seed to birds or animals.

Beans, peas, onions, carrots, corn, most flowers and herb seeds are prepared by a dry method. Allow the seed to mature and dry as long as possible on the plant. Complete the drying process by spreading on a screen in a single layer in a well-ventilated dry location. As the seed dries the chaff or pods can be removed or blown gently away. An alternative method for extremely small or lightweight seed is putting the dry seed heads into paper bags that will catch the seed as it falls out.

Seed contained in fleshy fruits should be cleaned using the wet method. Tomatoes, melons, squash, cucumber and roses are prepared this way. Scoop the seed masses out of the fruit or lightly crush fruits. Put the seed mass and a small amount of warm water in a bucket or jar. Let the mix ferment for two to four days. Stir daily. The fermentation process kills viruses and separates the good seed from the bad seed and fruit pulp. After two to four days, the good viable seeds will sink to the bottom of the container while the pulp and bad seed float. Pour off the pulp, water, bad seed and mold. Spread the good seed on a screen or paper towel to dry.

Seeds must be stored dry. Place in glass jar or envelopes. Make sure you label all the containers or packages with the seed type or variety, and date. Put in the freezer for two days to kill pests. Then store in a cool dry location like a refrigerator. Seed that molds was not sufficiently dry before storage.

Seed viability decreases over time. Parsley, onion, and sweet corn must be used the next year. Most seed should be used within three years.

Seed saving is essential for maintaining unusual or heritage vegetables and flowers. It is a great way to propagate many native plants too. There are numerous seed saver exchanges, clubs, and listings in magazines like Organic Gardening. Although you shouldn't base your entire garden on saved seed you may want to give seed saving a try."

Small zip lock bags are good seed storers, but this spice rack looks like it would work just as well and be more managable.
At Prodyne A-845 Acrylic 20 Bottle Spice Rack

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September 1, 2010

Gopher and mole problems in the garden

For the first time there are mounds of dirt inside the garden fence indicating the presence of moles or gophers. I've put the have a heart trap with a piece of cheese to try to catch the little pest, but both times I"ve set the trap, the cheese has disappeared and the trap empty. I think whoever it is maybe too small and light to trigger the door.
So in desparation, I have bought MoleMax which is supposed to repel gophers, moles, armadillos, skunks, rabbits, and ground squirrels. Now I'm really not worried about armadillos and have never envisioned them as garden pests, but I"m hoping this stuff works. You can get sonic battery operated noise or vibration makers and actual traps that snap and kill the invader as well as poison.

I"m going to try the least deadly remedy first. This is made from castor beans and is supposedly safe to use around pets and children. We'll see.


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August 27, 2010

Wild Blackberries are the best and worst of companions


Ever since a fire swept through the forest land around my place, wild blackberries have taken hold in the wet places. There is, like most incidents, an up side and a down side. The up side is, of course, that I can pick a gallon in an hour right near my house. They are one of the most delicious fruits when they are fully ripe so that they fall off into your hand. The taste of one of these sun drenched, warm, and flavorful berries is truely heavenly and would make anyone wish for more. They are much more flavorful than the thornless berries you buy for your garden borders or fence rows and are much beloved by quail, bear, and deer.

Then of course there is the down side. In the right conditions they are invasive and really really hard to control. It doesn't take much to get them started. A small vine noticed one fall became a six foot tall by six foot wide bush with long canes spreading out in every direction ready to make more of itself over winter when the rains start. This particular vine is making berries already and I am enjoying them in the morning with cereal. However, it must go! It is too close to the garden and in an area where I had planned to have a small bench near the artisan well to sit and watch birds and small animals and just to contemplate the loveliness of nature.

Here is my plan of destruction without the use of herbicide. I will pick all the ripe berries and then cut the canes back with a weedeater or pruners. After the debris has been raked up and thrown in the compost or into a place where it will not begin to spread, I take a shovel and dig down into the root area to take the plants beneath the soil. Then I intend to put an old piece of tin roofing over the root area to keep light out and to keep the canes from breaking through to daylight. The area will have to be watched for canes attempting to grow out from underneath the tin and clipped off. A seasonal cycle should do it and then I can plant some grass and wildflowers to attrack birds and butterflys.

If you prefer your blackberries to be thornless, the Black Satin Berries are hardy and prolific bearers.

At Black Satin Blackberry One Gallon Triple Staked

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August 17, 2010

Straw mulch solves a lot of August gardening problems


If you happen to be tired of pulling weeds and it's really hot to be out in the garden, then straw mulch is a good solution. You can buy it in bales from the feed store and put it around plants in the cool of the evening. It breaks off in thick 3" to 5" pieces and can be used that thick which should garuantee no weeds popping up underneath it. Or if you are budget conscious, then you can go to your local store, ask for cardboard boxes and bring them home to break open and lay down between plants to begin with. The cardboard will break down over winter as will the straw that you lay on top of it and provide organic material to compost right in the garden. Putting the straw on top of the mulch makes the rows look much neater also, although cardboard alone would do the job of keeping sun from providing warmth and food for growing weeds.

The other advantage this method has for the August garden is that it reduces the need for water. I always try to soak the garden well before putting down the cardboard and straw mulch. Then light soakings directly on the plants keep them going with much less water. Soaker hose along the row works well now, or drippers to keep the plants moist is good. A light spraying in the evenings directly on the leaves keeps the plants free of dust and provides some nutrients from the water.

In case there's no cardboard boxes available, here's some biodegradable paper to use.

At Easy Gardener 702 WeedBlock Biodegradable Paper Mulch - 3-Foot x 50-Foot

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