Monday, April 7, 2008

Save the Monarchs, Most Royal of Butterflies!

Picture of a Monarch on a Coneflower.

Royal Visitor to the Coneflowers!

I read a very informative article, by a most knowledgeable man, about a species, the habitat of which is endangered in many parts of the world. I never thought about insects becoming threatened with extinction, but losing the incredible Monarch butterfly? Well that got my attention. Everyone loves them, you can't help it, they are so richly colored and their lives are such a miraculous journey. We need to make sure they are preserved and you can help...

Monarch caterpillars require a specific food, milkweed in fact. This is the only plant that Monarchs can successfully lay their eggs and that the caterpillars can feed. Apparently milkweed is becoming a scarce commodity in parts of the world and the existence of the Monarchs is being threatened.

Monarch on a Milkweed Plant

Milkweed, The Monarchs Royal Throne!

I for one find much joy in watching the Monarch butterflies flit happily about my garden, sipping liberally from my coneflowers. My coneflowers will do them no good if they have nowhere to lay their eggs. This spring I mean to do something about it, plant milkweed in my garden, you should too, if you can.

For more information, great photos, and a better rundown of what is happening to the Monarch Butterflies, check out this eye opening article by Bard of Ely. I hope it moves you to find a way to help. Spread the word or plant some milkweed. Heck do both and help these lovely creatures.

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Saturday, April 5, 2008

Buying and Planting Summer Flowering Bulbs

Photo of Ornamental Onion Flower

Ornamental Onion

When we think of flowering bulbs, our thoughts tend to turn to spring. Everyone looks forward to the end of the long cold winter and anticipates the appearance of the early spring flowering bulbs such as crocuses, daffodils and tulips. However, the bulb season doesn't end with spring - with the right plant choices you can enjoy flowering bulbs through the summer months as well. Here is a quick primer on buying, storing and planting summer flowering bulbs.

There are a number of different bulbs you might want to consider for summer bloom in your garden. These include:

  • Ornamental Onions
  • Lilies
  • Gladioli
  • Dahlias

Within each of these plant groups is a wondrous variety of color, size, form and bloom time. An excuse to pour through your garden catalogs!

Photo of pink Gladiola Fowers.

Gladiolus Blooms

Buying,Storing and Planting Summer Flowering Bulbs

In the best of all worlds, summer flowering bulbs appear in the stores in spring, approximately at the time they should be planted. Though in the real world, stores will often begin carrying them several weeks before planting time. You do want to buy them as soon as they hit the stores, even if its not quite time to plant them. If you wait too long they will be picked over, dried out and probably damaged from too much handling. You can also purchase summer flowering bulbs from spring garden catalogs or buy them from online suppliers.

Summer flowering bulbs are usually sold in plastic bags filled with slightly dampened peat moss. This is done to help prevent the bulbs from drying out and to help protect them from damage. Choose bulbs, tubers or corms that are plump and fresh. These should also be free of gouges, bruises and decay. If you cannot plant your bulbs immediately, you can store them in barely damp peatmoss in a cool dark place. Don't store summer flowering bulbs in the refrigerator as it may be too cold for them. Plant as soon as as time and weather permits.

Photo of pink and white oriental lily.

Oriental Lily

If you wish your bulbs to over-winter in the ground, be sure to purchase those bulbs that are recommended for your plant hardiness zone. At the end of the growing season, tender bulbs that are not hardy in your area will need to be lifted, dried and stored in a cool dry place.

How to Plant and Grow Your Bulbs

Your summer flowering bulbs should come with planting instructions, but here are some general planting guidelines. Rich moist soil that drains well, is required for most bulbs. Put a small amount of gravel just and inch or so, in the bottom of the planting hole. This will help to prevent rot in very wet spring conditions. Ammend the soil by adding compost and aged manure, before planting. This will help ensure proper nutrition and improve the soil structure. Planting depths will vary among the different types of bulbs. Generally, tubers are planted at or just below the soil line. True bulbs should be set one to two times as deep as their height. An exception to this are the spider lilies (crinums) which should be planted with the neck of the bulb just above the soil line.

Remove the flower heads after they are finished blooming (dead heading), to encourage more blooms. If you are growing dahlias, be aware that the weight of the large blooms may topple them. Stake the dahlias as they grow to prevent this from happening.

Photo of Pink Dahlias


Enjoy your summer flowering bulbs!

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Friday, April 4, 2008

Garden Slugs? Let Them Drink Beer!

I always knew there were slugs in my garden, they did a little damage here and there, but for the most part they left most of my plants alone. They did, that is, until last spring when I got it into my head to plant myself some Chinese Cabbage. Apparently slugs like Chinese Cabbage, very much. Within a few days my beautiful little seedlings were reduced to practically nothing. I was very upset. My cabbage would have been so beautiful!

Image of a mug of beer.

This year will be different! I'm going to invite the slugs over for a beer! Now you think I'm crazy, but beer is one of the many organic slug bait and trap methods I came across while researching ways to control garden slugs. Ah, but wait, I am getting ahead of myself.

What They Are and What They Do

Image of slugs

Before we get too far into it, let me give you a little background. Slugs are mostly nocturnal and prefer moist conditions. They are a type of mollusk and are related to clams and oysters, but land based. Slugs are very much like snails, except they don't have a shell. They feed at night or on rainy days and take shelter during the heat of the day. Thats why you don't see them very often, unless of course you disturb their hiding places. They like to hide in moist, dark, cool places, such as under rocks, boards and piles of decaying organic matter. They are coated in a mucosal slimy substance that helps protect their soft squishy bodies from drying out. Eeeeeeeeooooooh. Yucky .

Do you have garden slugs? If you have plant damage that involves holes that seem to appear in your plant leaves overnight and you find slimy gooey trails of mucous on your plants and on the ground, then you probably have slugs. Snails can also cause similar symptoms and apparently can be controlled in similar ways, so I will just deal with slugs as a general example.

Picture of snail on a leaf.

My research yeilded a number of different methods for dealing with garden slugs. These include some preventive strategies, environment friendly slug bait and slug traps, as well as encouraging natural enemies. So onward...

Prevention & Control

You can't completely prevent slugs, we don't want to wipe them out anyway since they are part of the ecosystem. Therefore our goal is to control the population in order to reduce the damage in our gardens to tolerable levels. So don't go all crusader on me and think you're going to rid the world of the infidel garden slugs. You have to practice a certain amount of tolerance and acceptance in all things - even pest control.

Image of old board laying on the ground.

Remove slug hiding places to reduce the population. Slugs like to hide under rocks, old pieces of wood and bark. Try not to leave any such items lying around in close proximity to your garden plants. Make an effort keep grass and weeds trimmed and rake up the cuttings so they aren't laying around on the ground providing shelter for the slugs. Keep things open and airy, not dark, and damp. Garden planters and pots also provide good hiding places for these pests.

Soil conditioning can play a big role in the number of slugs and other pests that may bother your plants. Soil that is high in organic matter promotes the presence of slugs' natural enemies. These include creatures that are parasitic to the slugs and some that simply like to feed on them such as certain types of beetles. Keeping your soil healthy with regular additions of good quality garden compost will help reduce the numbers of many types of garden pests.

Shallow tilling of the soil around your plants will help keep down weeds and garden pests. Be sure to remove any leaves or mulch from the soil surface, don't give these pesky little guys a place to hide amongst your precious plants.

Picture of toad.

Dont' discourage garden snakes, toads or frogs. They should be welcome in and around your garden, because these creatures eat many times their own weight in harmful pests every year, including garden slugs. Some birds, will also eat them, given the opportunity.

Slugs bodies are very susceptible to sharp rough objects. They avoid them like the plague. One way to discourage and even kill them is to lay strips of metal screen on top of your soil, around your plants and just barely press it into the top of the soil. It will cut and kill them if they crawl over it.

Photo of a pile of sawdust.

Some people get good results by sprinkling dehydrated lime, sawdust or wood ashes around their plants. Crawling through these will dehydrate and kill the slugs. However, go easy, as these substances may change your soil composition in unfavorable ways. Use them sparingly, as a little will go a long way.

You could also use a commercial preparation of Diatomaceous Earth. It is a non-toxic, substance consisting of crushed fossils of freshwater organisms and marine life. Under a microscope the finely crushed powder resembles bits of broken glass. Deadly to any insect and completely harmless to animals, fish, fowl or food. The microscopically sharp edges contact the insect or larvae, and pierce their protective coating, so they soon dehydrate and die. Garden slugs are affected in the same way. This makes Diatomaceous Earth an excellent and totally natural control.

Photo of broken glass.

Whatever you may hear, don't use salt in your garden. Yes it will dehydrate the slugs, but it will also poison your soil and damage your plants. Salt is too harsh to use.

Bait & Trap

First of all, let me state for the record, I do not endorse the use of toxic chemicals. I am, heart and soul an organic gardener. I will never recommend anything harsh or poisonous, only organic gardening methods. That said on to the many great ideas for organic bait and slug traps.

Photo of cornmeal jar trap.

Cornmeal. Cornmeal? Yes that was my reaction too. But apparently it is a very attractive slug bait. The method involves using a wide-mouthed jar, laid on its side with a little cornmeal in it as a slug trap. You need to make a shallow indentation in the soil and place jar so the mouth is level with the ground, so the slugs have easy access. Apparently they love cornmeal, but it kills them. I have to try this.

Picture of a beer bottle.

On to beer, one of my personal favorites. A shallow bowl, saucer or pie tin, even a small cup was suggested in one variation on this slug trap. The container has to be set into the soil so its top edge is at ground level, to make it easy for the booze hound slugs to crawl in and drown their sorrows. At least that is what is suppose to happen. It has also been suggested that yeast dissolved in water is another good slug bait and will work just as well.

It occurred to me that the beer-based slug trap would also work well with a wide mouthed jar, like the cornmeal trap. Instead of cornmeal, use beer or yeasty water as the slug bait.

Picture of banana wearing shoe laces.

How about banana peels? No really - lay them in the garden in the evening, with the inside down and come morning check underneath and remove any of the little garden bandits that you find there. When you hand remove slugs, just drop them into a jar of soapy water to kill them. Other things that make good slug bait include using a half grapefruit, orange, even potato slices, cut side down. Or how about a small pile of cabbage leaves? For even simpler slug traps, place wooden boards or flat rocks, near affected plants. Then in the morning turn them over and hand pick as mentioned above.

A friend of mine told me that one very wet spring, after a mild winter, the gardens in her neighborhood were decimated by slugs. The residents got together and put out a bounty on the slugs. They gave the neighborhood children plastic containers, some general instructions on where to find the slugs and turned them loose. The bounty was 25 cents for every 10 slugs brought in. From what she tells me it was quite effective, not to mention a great time for the kids!


So there you have it, organic gardening at its best. A host of environmentally friendly ways to reduce and control slug damage in your garden. I fully intend to try a number of these methods in my own garden this spring and will record their effectiveness. So stay tuned for a follow up article with my test results.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Quick Start Your Garden - Presoak Your Seeds!

Photo of a sunflower seedling.

Gardeners are full of patience. Well, usually we are, but seed starting can really be a trial. We can go nuts waiting for our newly planted seeds to germinate and sprout. We all do it, we plant our seeds in the garden or pots and spend the next week checking to see if there are any signs of life. Well you can make your seeds sprout more quickly and give your garden plants a healthy head-start. How? Simple, presoak your seeds. Let me show you how...

Its very simple to presoak larger seeds. Take any seeds that are large enough to handle easily and place the number needed for your growing project in a small clean container. A little bowl, a plastic container - its up to you. Cover the seeds with lukewarm water and place them in a warm spot, on top of the refrigerator or water heater, some warm place in your home. Not hot, just warm and draft free. Now leave the seeds there to soak overnight. That's all there is to it. Drain the water off, a wire mesh strainer works well and then you are ready to plant your seeds. However, do not let the seeds dry out, you must plant them as soon as you take them out of the water.

Presoaked seeds will usually sprout several days earlier than seeds that were planted directly in the garden. Why? Simple, the first step in the seed sprouting process is the absorption of moisture. Nothing happens until the seed is sufficiently water logged. The seed starting process happens more rapidly in a container of lukewarm water than in the cooler soil outside, where this first step in seed germination can take several days.

What about smaller seeds, can they be presoaked?

Yes, its a little more complicated, but not much. Small seed can be difficult to handle at the best of times, but this technique compensates for their small size and actually makes it easier to plant them in the garden than trying to sow them by hand or right out of the seed packet.

You won't need a container for this method. Instead, you will need coffee filters (basket style works best for me) small zip-lock style bags and a spray bottle or mister. If at all possible buy the coffee filters that say they are environmentally friendly. First wet the filter with lukewarm water. You can rinse it under the tap or use your spray bottle. Now lay the wet filter out on a flat clean surface and sprinkle some of the seeds on one half. Next, fold the filter in half over the seeds:

Photo of seeds sprinkled on coffee filter folded in half.

Now fold the filter in half twice more:

Photo of seeds on coffee filter, folded in fourths.
Photo of seeds on coffee filter, folded in eighths.

You are now ready to place the folded filter and seeds into a small zip-lock bag, spray with a little more lukewarm water, gently squeeze out as much air as you can and seal the bag. Place the bag in a warm draft free place overnight to allow the seeds to soak.

Photo of fully folded coffee filter with seeds in the bag.

To plant these seeds, carefully remove the folded filter from the bag, gently unfold the filter twice - the seeds will be between the layers of the half folded filter. Now cut small pieces of the folded filter, with small amounts of the seeds in between and plant them as usual, filter and all.

Photo of seeds in coffee filter cut into small peices.

This method gives you much greater control over how many seeds get planted and where they are positioned. Trying to sprinkle small seed from a packet or between your fingers is very frustrating and not very precise. The coffee filter will not stop the seedlings in their mission to grow and will breakdown harmlessly in the soil. Especially if you buy the environmentally friendly kind.

Some people use paper towels instead of coffee filters, but I find the coffee filters easier to handle and cut. Its all a matter of personal preference.

So there you have it - a way to get your seeds to sprout in record time. Seed starting made fast and easy! The more quickly a seed sprouts, the greater are its chances of surviving. That means more healthy successful plants for our gardens and less wasted seed.

Download a PDF copy of this tutorial. Opens in a new window.

Happy gardening from Meanderfly!

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Parsley - More Than Just A Garnish!

Photo of a salad with parsley garnish.

Parsley gets a bum rap. At worst, people see it as a pretty garnish on the side of their plates. At best, they may use it here and there, from time-to-time, as a seasoning. This is so unfair, both to us and the parsley, because this modest unassuming herb is actually a superhero of the of the food world.

No really I kid you not. Parsley is on the World's Healthiest Foods list. You don't get on this list unless you are one of those miraculous foods that can have a real impact on health. Parsley fits that description perfectly! It is a real nutritional power house. Just one 2 tablespoon serving is considered an excellent source of vitamins K, C and A; and a good source of folate and iron.

Photo of fresh tomatoes with parsley.

Even more health boosting benefits of this herb:

  1. It is a rich source of anti-oxident nutrients, most noteabley vitamin C & vitamin A. Antioxidants render harmless otherwise dangerous free radicals in the water-soluble areas of the body.
  2. Vitamin C may also be helpful in reducing the severity of asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
  3. Vitamin A further adds support to our immune system, strengthening our ability to fight disease and infection.
  4. Parsley is also high in folic acid, which promotes good cardiovscular health.
  5. In addition folic acid aids in proper cell division, a strong factor in cancer prevention.

It is obviously time to stop treating parsley as a garnish and make it a food choice for good nutrition. In other words, we need to start using this herb in our everyday meals for more than just a little flavor or its good looks. It is not as difficult as you might think, remember just 2 tablespoons equals a serving.

Photo of parsley growing in the garden.

First we need to talk about the two basic types of parsley out there. First there is the curly variety, the one prized as plate garnish. Then there is the flat leaf variety better known as a seasoning. Flat leaf parsley is also known as Italian parsley, it is a more fragrant and less bitter herb than the curly variety. Italian parsley is the one best suited to your culinary needs, where flavor really counts.

Getting those 2 tablespoons is easy. Simply, sprinkle fresh chopped parsley leaves on buttered noodles, rice, potatoes, cooked vegetables and salads. You can also add it to soups and stews. Wait until just before serving to add it, this will help preserve the nutrients that cooking can remove.

Photo of tomato salad with chopped fresh parsley.

So there you have it, this humble herb is really a anti-oxident, nutrient rich powerhouse, an unsung hero of the food world. There is so much more I could tell you about parsley - like how easy it is to grow, both in the garden and indoors. Not to mention the recipes I have for it... well stay tuned and I will do just that in articles to come.

Photo of tomato salad with chopped fresh parsley.

If you want to know more about the nutritional value of parsley and other healthy foods, check out the World's Healthiest Foods website.

Happy gardening from Jungle Joella!

Download a PDF copy of this tutorial. Opens in a new window.

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