Better than Mulch!

Why apply new mulch every year to fight weeds when you can plant something like the lovely Chocolate Bugle Weed (Ajuga reptans) in your beds which looks like mulch from a short distance, and like an adorable little plant close up? There are so many ground covers which prevent weeds better than mulch.  Bugle Weed,  of which there are many varieties to choose from, stays green (or bronze) year around, and puts up short sprays of purple flowers in late spring. It allows perennials to emerge, and yet suppresses weeds. What could be better? If you worry that the soil will lack enrichment without a new layer of mulch every year, sprinkle some compost and shake it down through the leaves.

Food Garden Journal Coming Soon

I’m working on the cover now and the inside pages are ready to be compiled.

I hope that when you see the finished book, you’ll think that the box label pictured here should be stamped on the box that arrives at your front door!

7 Reasons to Start Your Garden in January

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It may seem like a very long time before you’ll see green again, but that doesn’t mean you have to give in to the mid-winter blues. Mid-winter is actually the best time to do many garden-related activities. Here are just 7 reasons to get a jump start on the 2016 garden season now, rather than waiting for the first signs of spring:
  1. Insects are hibernating
    • No bees, no bites, no annoying nuisances to deal with. Now is the time to wander your property, look for and remedy situations that promote unwanted insect habitats. Certainly not all unwanted insects can be mitigated during winter, but some can. Many insects survive through the winter under the cover of fallen leaves, or in the first inch or so of soil under groundcovers. Keeping the ground clear of the warm blanket of leaves can kill off hundreds of earwigs and other insects that do damage all year long.
  2. Plants are dead or dormant
    • Now is the time for your mid-winter clean up. Most of the leaves have fallen, even though we all know that a few continue to fall throughout the winter. With the majority gone, it becomes easy to see what remains of anything still green. Any sneaky little trees or shrubs trying to grow up in the borders? It’s much easier to dig them out root and all now than in the spring when they’ve grown over winter.
  3. Hardscaping lines are clear
    • Looking at your landscaping while the plants are dormant gives a whole new perspective. What you see in the dead of winter are the bare bones, the skeleton, of your property’s landscaping. Hardscaping refers to the man-made elements of a landscape. In the Monet exuberance of summer, the plants are the thing, stealing the show. In the winter, all that is left are the evergreens, bare deciduous trees, shrubs and a few brown remains of perennials. Now is the time to view the lines of sight from different perspectives in the yard and from the house. Now it’s easy to examine the condition and appeal of the walls, sidewalks, patios, edging and seating options.
  4. Animal tracks are easy to track in the snow
    • Another excuse to get outside! There is nothing more beautiful than the tracks of birds and animals in pristine snow. A fresh snowfall is a good time to find breaks in deer fencing and holes where destructive animals might be burrowing; a way to be proactive with repairs before the planting season begins.
  5. Seed catalogs and hot beverages require an easy chair
    • Every gardener knows the guilty pleasure of browsing seed catalogs, whether online of off, while snuggling with a blankie and a hot beverage in the dead of winter while the winds howl outside. The feeling of laziness pays off in the long run with proper planning for the coming season. There is time to logically think through purchases so that your budget isn’t stretched past its limits. (Who hasn’t succumbed to temptation at the garden center with purchases that had no connection with the original reason for the trip?)
  6. It’s not too late to protect plants from heavy snows
    • Most heavy snows come later in the winter, so if you haven’t protected those tender plants, it’s hopefully not too late. Mulching, wrapping with burlap and staking with twine all are easier without fighting the foliage of summer or fall. If the temperatures are near freezing, be gentle to avoid breaking branches.
  7. Planning requires planning
    • It’s one thing to make a list; it’s another to make a list based on an overall plan with goals and objectives. Most gardeners start as I did, with a shopping list of much-loved plants, only vaguely aware of the needs of the plants, or the suitability of the plants to the site.
    • After years of failures, it became apparent that education and tracking were in order. What began as a homemade logbook to record my warranteed purchases and bedding placement of plants soon became a very fat expandable file folder stuffed with plant tags, seed packets, and flower bed folders with garden plots drawn out on graph paper.
    • Over the years my record-keeping evolved into finely tuned logs that kept me on track. Below is information from those logs and records, and these were included when I turned all these logs, lists, and folders into a journal that any gardener can use:
      • List of suppliers
      • List of purchases
      • Weather log
      • Information for each individual plant
      • Logs to track every aspect of each kind of plant from starting seeds to harvest
      • Plans for pruning for all the various plants
      • Seasonal and yearly plans
      • Log for soil amendments
      • Pest and disease treatment log
      • Formulas and recipes for treatments
      • Cultivation and propagation log
      • Log of bloom and harvest times to plan sequence of bloom time for flower beds, and to plan harvest workload
    • The book, The Garden Journal, Planner & Log Book, also includes handy guidelines for many of the logs, a zone map, and conversion charts and tables specific to gardening.
Even in this day of online information and apps, a paper journal and log sheets are a must. I can look up a plant on my phone while standing in the garden to see why it’s looking so poorly, or find an insect to determine if it’s a good bug or a bad bug. I’ve played around with designing garden plots on various apps and online (most are for veggies.)
But nothing replaces a written record that encompasses all the variables of my garden. Bloom times and harvest times are different not just for different planting zones, but within a half mile. What works for my neighbor doesn’t work for me. Soil ratios can change within feet. The same flower could be planted in twelve locations in one yard and perform differently in each location. No app can handle that level of information, and no technology is long-lasting. Think of how many phones and computers you’ve been through already, and you know that you need something more permanent to track your garden.
That’s why when I designed The Garden Journal, Planner & Log Book, I also planned the cover and the artwork on the logs themselves to be a delight to the eye as well as practical. A good garden journal needs to be able to go from coffee table to garden and back, because you never know when you might want to thaw out with that warm beverage by the fire, dreaming of summer to come.

Chicken Tunnels

Unpaid Migrant workers, or the best weeders money can buy?
For the cost of the wire and a little wood to make the tunnels, you can afford to sit back in the shade with a glass of tea and watch your garden being weeded and tilled. How much more fun would that be than sweating in the hot sun? Seriously. Watch the video in this clip, and decide for yourself.
Keep in mind, though, that this works beside the plants. Those chickens will kill every insect, worm and green thing within their reach, all while providing fresh manure. Notice that the end result is bare, tilled earth. Not sure how many earthworms survive? Is there a study on that?
To see the article and video, click on Chicken Tunnels