What Does Your Dirt Feel Like?

by Admin 25. July 2012 07:09

Soil? Dirt? Looks like clay to me.By: Eliza Osborn

Even though it’s one of the most important factors of gardening, it’s often overlooked when planning a garden.

Do you have any idea what your soil is like? Good soil is made up of about 50% air and water and the remaining portion is mostly minerals products with a small amount of organic matter.To learn the make up and amount of nutrients in your soil you will need to get a soil analysis done. This can be done at the county extension office for a small fee.

The mineral portion is made up of very large, small and tiny particles. These particles determine the texture of the soil, which determines how often you might have to fertilize and irrigate. Most soils are a combination of these textures. The problem is when there isn’t a good balance and there is too much sand or clay.

The largest particles are sand. Sandy soils drain very quickly and it is then necessary to water and fertilize more frequently.

The small particles are silt and these particles allow medium drainage.

The tiny particles are clay and these particles can hold a lot of water and nutrients. The problem is that the clay can get very compacted and hold the moisture and nutrients so tightly that they can’t be used by the plants.

I’ve gardened in very sandy soil and in very hard clay soil. The sandy soil is very easy because there isn’t much resistance to the shovel, and weeds pull out easily. However, plants need watering and feeding really often because there aren’t many nutrients in the sand and the water just zips right on through. Adding organic matter to the sand will greatly increase it’s texture and nutrient content as well as it’s moisture holding capabilities.

On the other hand, clay soils are a real challenge to garden in. We literally had to use a Maddox and a pick ax to plant fruit trees and shrubs. The soil has to be broken up in quite a large area,  with sand and a lot of organic matter added, to give the roots a chance to grow. You have to be sure not to over water because the water doesn’t drain off and can rot the roots. There are usually a lot of nutrients present though, so you need less fertilizer.

Really good soil is sandy loam, which is a good balance of all of these textures. It’s easy to work with, is fertile and drains well. If you’re blessed with sandy loam in your yard, both your thumbs can be green.

Until you get you soil analysis done, there are couple of quick test you can do to try to find out what your soils texture is. The easiest way is to rub a small amount of moist soil between your finger and thumb. If it’s sandy, you’ll be able to feel the coarseness and if there is a high clay content, it will feel silky, almost slimy.

Another way is to put a small amount of soil, (taken from different spots in your garden area), into a large jar (quart – gallon) and add 5x -10x the water. Shake it up really well and just let it settle. After a few hours you’ll begin to see different levels of sediment appearing. Leave it for a few days, and you’ll be able to get a pretty good idea of the texture of your soil. The large sandy particles will be on the bottom, silt in the middle and the tiny clay particles on top. The proportion of these layers will give you an idea of how to garden in the soil you have.

Of course there is much more to soil than texture, but it’s a step toward understanding how to care for your plants and help them thrive.

So, take off the gloves and feel the dirt.

Thanks and happy planting!

Growing Rosemary

by Admin 13. July 2012 08:13

Potted RosemaryBy Eliza Osborn

Rosemary is one of those wonderful smelling herbs that is also beautiful and so useful in the kitchen when cooking with fresh herbs. Isn’t it great to know that Rosemary is extremely easy to grow? It is an evergreen, perennial plant that needs plenty of sunshine, 6-8 hours a day, well drained soil and don’t let it get cold, as in 35′ or less. That’s why mine is in a pot, because it has to come in for the winter. I prune it back in the autumn, a few weeks before bringing it in, so that  it doesn’t take up so much room in the house. When it does come inside, it needs to have as much light as possible, and don’t over water it. It’s a Mediterranean plant and likes it a little on the dry side.  If, however, you live where you can plant it into the ground (zone 10-11), then it can become a pretty good sized shrub.

It can be pruned but doesn’t need to be. It responds very well to pruning though and can even be used in a topiary. You can prune it just to shape it or to keep it within a certain size and that can be done pretty much any time. The bits that are pruned off can be dried and used for seasoning in cooking. Also, just handling Rosemary makes your hands smell oh, so good.

To use in cooking, either strip the leaves off the woody stem and put into recipes, or put a whole sprig in and remove it later. Rosemary has a strong flavor so it doesn’t take much to use as seasoning. It’s really good used to season olive oil or vinegar. The flavor also works well with other herbs such as , chives, oregano, garlic, parsley, sage and thyme. So experiment with it and see how you like it.

Why don’t you add Rosemary to the list of the herbs you should be growing?

Thanks and happy planting!

Bees Sleep Around, Not Always In The Hive

by Admin 25. June 2012 05:51

Bee Sleeping On Iceberg RoseBy: Eliza Osborn

Last fall I wrote a post about finding so many bumble bees sleeping on my Zinnias in the garden. I would check on them for a few hours, sometimes till 11:00 A.M. before they would wake up and take off.

I only saw bumble bees and only on the Zinnias, not on any of the many other kinds of flowers nearby.

This week I’ve been finding honey bees (at least that’s what they looked like) sleeping in the roses. Even though the Zinnias aren’t blooming yet, I’ve not seen any bumble bees sleeping in the roses.

In my opinion, honey bees must have the better taste.

Thanks and happy planting!

The Grapes Are Coming

by Admin 20. June 2012 05:20

Grape vines reaching the top of the arborBy: Eliza Osborn

This year we hope that the grape vines will cover the top of the grape arbor so that the arbor area will be shadier and cooler near our garden. Even though the vines made it to the top last year, it will take a lot of leaves to shade our arbor, which is 50′x10′. There are 10 grape vines, one at each post, except for the Kiwi vines at the two post on one end.

Even more than the shade to look forward to though, are the many, many grapes which are growing. We got some last year, but nothing like what's coming this year. All of the grapes are seedless, table grapes, some white and some pink or red.

Besides eating plenty and sharing a lot (we have a large family), we will dry some. They make the best raisins.

Ah, so much to look forward to. I love summer.

Thanks and happy planting!

Many Plants Re-seed And That Can Be A Good Thing

by Admin 14. June 2012 06:13

The Snapdragons in these pots are volunteers from last years plants.By: Eliza Osborn

Since I’d never grown Snapdragons before last summer, I had no idea what a wonderful plant it is. Not only is it pretty, and the kids like to make the dragon’s mouth open, but it re-seeds freely. This year I planted lots and lots and next year I hope to have them filling in everywhere.

I did learn that there are taller varieties that grow to 3′ – 4′, and that would determine where they should go in the garden. I have some of both in my garden.

The other plants that I know re-seed, at least here in zone 6, are Hollyhocks, Cosmos, Bachelor Buttons, and sometimes Zinnias. I’m sure there are others, those are just the ones I know of.

Thanks and happy planting!

No, I Didn’t Build The Peas’ Support Too High

by Admin 7. June 2012 04:42

Sugar Snap Pea Vines Reach 6 ftBy: Eliza Osborn

Last year I thought I’d built an adequate support for the Green Peas and the Sugar Snap Peas in the garden. After all, it was about 4′ high.

I was so wrong. I just put bamboo in the corners of the raised beds and then strung jute for the peas to climb on. The whole thing collapsed from the weight of the vines and peas. I spent all season trying to prop it back up and not very successfully. Picking the peas was made difficult because we had to hold up the heavy vines to get to the pods. I’m sure we missed a lot of peas last year.

This year I decided to get more creative. I built a scaffolding out of the bamboo poles (we have lots of bamboo, bought in bundles at a thrift store) and then strung twine back and forth. I made it about 6′ tall. I got a lot of comments about how tall it was and was convinced that I had gone overboard a little.

Not so. This week the vines reached the top rung, at least the Sugar Snap Peas have and the English Peas aren’t far behind. I am so glad now that I made it so tall. The vines are loaded with pods already and lots of blooms still coming. Looks like a good year for peas.

Thanks and happy planting!

Getting Rid Of Aphids On Roses

by Admin 31. May 2012 05:29

Hundreds of buds on the Queen Elizabeth rose bushesBy: Eliza Osborn

I've done things this past 2 weeks that I never, ever, thought I'd do. Actually it had never even occurred to me to do before.

Since we’ve been having such a beautiful, warm (sort of) and dry spring, I thought that we would escape the plague of the aphids that we suffered through last spring. Not so. Well, they aren’t nearly as bad as they were last year, but they are bad enough, and besides, I have a lot more roses to worry about this year.

My usual tried and true method for combating aphids is to spray them with a mixture of Ivory liquid in water, wait 10-15 minutes and hose them off really well to wash away the soap and the dead aphids.

This year the roses are maturing and setting hundreds of buds. As I worked in the garden I began to notice that some of the buds looked like they were wrapped in brown velvet. Since I was very busy and didn’t really have time to stop and mix my aphid-killer potion, then wait to rinse them off, and I didn’t want the little buggers sucking juice from the rose buds for another day or so, I just reached up (with gloves on) and started squishing the aphids. That was gross and I couldn’t believe I was doing it, but, hey, it really worked…except that the leather gloves I was wearing made it hard to do and I wound up actually pulling off some of the buds.

So, the next step was (you guessed it) to remove the gloves. I did hesitate, for about 3 seconds, and then I reasoned that I could go and scrub my hands and the aphids would be gone in a fraction of the time it would take to do the civilized method.

After doing this a few times, I realized that some were falling off (only to crawl back up later) and I needed to catch them some way. So, since the aphids were always concentrated on the bud and about an inch down the stem, I found that I could grasp lower on the stem with my left hand, keeping the bud over my palm and use my right hand to smash the aphids.  I was surprised to find how many dropped off as soon as I took the stem in my left hand. It must be an instinct for their survival, which explains why there are a bazzillion of them.

Now, not only do I have to kill the ones on the bud and stem but also the ones that drop into my palm.

I know that it’s Yucky! I know that it’s Disgusting! But it works. I go on patrol each day to see if any new colonies have been established. I’ve pretty much obliterated them at this point.

The things we will do for our roses.

I was surprised that when I revealed my revolting aphid-control method to other gardeners, I found that they’d been doing it for years.

Who knew?

Thanks and happy planting!

Gardening on a Shoestring

by Admin 22. May 2012 03:39

Echinacea grown from seedBy: Eliza Osborn

Gardening is a hobby that is time consuming and can get expensive. But it doesn’t have to cost a lot. There are many ways to have a beautiful garden without spending much money. Shoestring gardening can be done easily, following these simple tips and gardening how-to’s.

Most of my garden was created by shoestring gardening. I grew some perennials and biennials from seeds. All of our Purple Cone Flowers (Echinacea) were grown from one packet of seed, which took a little longer but I sure got a lot of plants for $1.89. The Foxglove (Digitalis) growing all through our garden came from one seed packet. Both of these plants reseed themselves, as do many other beautiful flowers.

Some of the other flowers I’ve grown from seeds are Delphiniums, Zinnias, Cosmos and Hollyhocks.

This is just one way to have plenty of flowers without spending a lot of money.

Growing fresh vegetables from seed is super easy and cheap, cheap, cheap. Check out more ways to garden on a shoestring and have a beautiful, productive garden.


Thank you and happy planting!

Cheap Gardening – Beautiful Flowers Don’t Have To Cost A Fortune

by Admin 3. May 2012 03:49

Cosmos grown from seed.By: Eliza Osborn

When we bought our house 2 years ago, we removed almost all of the lawn, leaving only the parking strip in the front and a small patch of lawn on each side of the front walkway. That left a lot of empty space to fill. Even allowing for the future deck, grape arbor, raised vegetable beds, fruit trees and garden paths, there were still a lot of empty flower beds.

Since plants cost so much, especially perennials and shrubs, we had to figure out the least expensive ways to get the plants we wanted.

We planted some of our perennials from seeds, like Purple Cone Flower (Echinacea), Foxglove (Digitalis), Canterbury Bells (Campanula) and Delphiniums. It takes longer to get mature plants and blooms, but you sure get a lot of plants for your money. All of these did really well and come back each year.

Most of our flower beds are filled with roses and perennials, the majority of which were bought this time of year (Sep. & Oct.) when they had been marked down 50-75% because it’s near the end of the growing season and merchants want to get rid of them.

Some of the ones we bought looked pretty sad after a long, hot summer in a pot, but because they were perennials, it didn’t matter. I knew that if we got them in the ground and took good care of them that next Spring they would come back out and be beautiful.

So check out the garden centers and nurseries, don’t forget to check grocery stores that carry plants. Online nurseries also have some great deals because they are also trying to get rid of their stock before winter. It doesn’t matter if the plant is a little ratty looking, as long as it’s alive. This only applies to perennials, not annuals, which will die at the end of the season anyway.

A good source of free plants is from friends who have mature plants that need dividing. This is such a good source of plants because if a plant needs to be divided then you know that it grows well in your area.

Taking cuttings from plants and rooting, then potting them, is another good source of free plants.

Have an idea of the size of the space you’re trying to fill and read the plant labels to see if it’s a good fit. Perennials look good in groups of 3, 5 or 7 plants.

Use markers with the plants’ names and stick them in the ground where you plant them, because when they die down in the winter it might be hard to remember what you planted and where.

Not doing that is why I have some mystery plants in my garden that I hope to learn the name of one day.

Until your shrubs and perennials mature and reach their full size you’ll have room to plant annual seeds such as Zinnias, Cosmos, Bachelor Buttons and Marigolds. I’ve used these to fill in the spaces and they make great cutting flowers. Save the seeds from these and you’ll never have to buy seeds again.

You can have such a wonderful yard and not spend much money, just track down those bargains, don’t be afraid to plant seeds and make some good gardening friends who like to share.

Thank you and happy planting!

Where to start? – How To Plan a Garden, How To Plant a Garden – How To Be a Gardener

by Admin 11. April 2012 05:01

Back yard in 2009, before garden planted, arbor and deck builtBy: Eliza Osborn

I’m trying to decide whether to begin at the end or the beginning of our garden. Maybe I’ll just jump back and forth.

In 2009 we’d bought a very old home in the Rocky Mountains (zone 5b-6a) and had taken up most of our lawn. I didn’t mention that we also took down four huge trees and many large, old shrubs. You can imagine what a mess our yard looked. But…we had a plan.

Here is a picture of our yard when we began laying it out. The big crater is where a large stump was ground out and where the Queen Elizabeth roses now stand beside the deck. You can see 2 of the 5 little peach trees planted early that spring. The small one on the end is stunted because deer ate the top out of it when it first put on leaves.

I think the neighbors were a little worried about the nut jobs that had moved in next door. It did look pretty bad but we did put up a privacy fence to protect their eyes. Of course the picket fence in the front yard didn’t hide very much and the front yard looked this bad too.

Thank you and happy planting!