From May 2010

Going Green With Native Aquatic Plants

Aquatic Plants Added to Backyard Pond
Aquatic Plants Added to Backyard Pond

The backyard pond had a large amount of algae early in the season this year. Two weeks ago the neighbor’s lawn on the backside of the pond was sprayed for dandelions and within days the majority of the fish were floating on the surface of the water. It’s likely that the combination of weed killer and lawn fertilizer seeped into the pond during the recent rainfall. If you’re thinking about adding a water feature to your yard, you will want to take into consideration whether the location may be exposed to chemicals from neighboring yards, as fish are very sensitive to common lawn chemicals.

A trip to Osceola, WI took us by the native plant store Prairie Restorations, Inc – Two Oaks in Scandia, MN so we stopped in to see what they had to offer in the way of plants. To my delight, I discovered that they carry a wide variety of aquatic plants which would fit nicely along the edge of the backyard pond. A bonus would be the filtering of the water, which will aid in keeping the water clear throughout the hot summer months, and provide more cover for the goldfish.

Native Aquatic Plants
Native Aquatic Plants

We selected Compass Plant, Bottlebrush Sedge, Marsh Marigold, Water Plantain, Prairie Phlox, Blue Flag Iris, and Tussock Sedge to place at the edges of the pond (note that the Compass Plant and Prairie Phlox are not aquatic plants).

First the pond needed to be modified to create a bog area since the existing sides were too steep and rocky to properly house the aquatic plants.

Edges of pond were steep and rocky.
Edges of pond were steep and rocky.

I started by removing the rocks at the front edge of the pond. Then lifted the heavy rubber liner and dug out the dirt beneath it. I removed enough dirt to lower the edge of the pond about 4 inches, then replaced the rubber and flattened it out. I added the rocks back around the edge of the liner, then pumped out the water using the solar pond pump. During the process, I discovered that there were still a couple of fish that had survived the lawn chemical runoff and they had doubled in size in the past month.

Refilling the pond, after pumping out the tainted water.
Refilling the pond, after pumping out the tainted water.

After the water being pumped out began to run clear, clean water was added back into the newly designed water garden. River rock and pond pea rock was added to the front ledge of the pond to create a bog-like area for the aquatic plants. A trip to a local Bachman’s resulted in the purchase of barley straw, water hyacinth, and water lettuce (they have a nice variety of water plants).

A bag of barley straw was added to the newly cleaned pond as an organic method of reducing algae build-up. I also added the water lettuce and water hyacinth which both float on the surface of the water and will aid in filtering, as well as provide cover for the fish. There’s also a water lily and miniature cattails in pots submerged in the water.

Barley Straw
Barley Straw
Water Hyacinth
Water Hyacinth
Water Lettuce
Water Lettuce

The end result is a more natural looking pond. The aquatic plants will be potted in larger pots as they grow and can be divided and placed along the sides of the pond as they mature.

Aquatic plants will be repotted and arranged as they mature.
Aquatic plants will be repotted and arranged as they mature.

More Blooming Irises & Peonies

It is shaping up to be a beautiful Memorial Day weekend here in Minnesota. Temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees and sunshine makes for perfect gardening weather.  Four more of my reblooming iris are in full color.  Mariposa Skies, Tiger Honey, Orange Harvest and Mother Earth are the latest to show their colors.  One of the Marisposa Skies has three gigantic blooms and is so top heavy that I’m going to have to stake it up.

Steve and I made a trip to the local Home Depot last night and picked up the supplies for another raised bed garden, so I’ll be assembling and planting that this weekend.  Can’t wait to get started. The new raised bed will be planted with more tomatoes, peppers and Swiss chard.

Peony transplanted from farm in Wisconsin
Peony transplanted from farm in Wisconsin

One of the peonies is in full bloom also.  I’m not sure what the name of this one is, but it was transplanted from the farm where Steve grew up so it’s been blooming for many years.

Growing Tomatoes Upside Down – What’s All The Fuss About?

Growing tomatoes the traditional way has never been a problem for me. I usually end up with many more than I know what to do with and am happy when the harvest season is over with. The first year I was married I planted something like 30 tomato plants of all types including heirloom. I was literally giving away 5-gallon pails full to the local private school and that was after I had canned 100 quarts for my fruit cellar - only to find out that my (now ex-) husband didn't like tomatoes. He ended up giving quarts away to his buddies which they mixed in with their beer. Needless to say, I greatly reduced my planting the following year.

So, like I said, I've never had any trouble growing tomatoes in the garden. But last year after seeing all the hype about the Topsy Turvy tomato growing hanger (and since I'm now using the raised garden beds and have limited space) I purchased a cheap knockoff at the local hardware store. I struggled to get the tomato plant inserted into the hole because the plastic star-shaped opening was made out of such a stiff plastic, that by the time I got the root ball through the opening, the plant was pretty beat up. The plant never really survived the stress and within a few weeks died off. The cheap knockoff tomato growing hanger went out in the next garage sale.

So this year when the local Walgreen's offered the Topsy Turvey bag for $9.99 I bit. So with Steve's help, I just planted a fairly large tomato plant upside down in the hanger. I have to say that it went much smoother than last year's process. There's a white foam circular disk that is secured around the stem of the plant to keep the plant inside the bag. It's a much more gentle way to secure it. I did have to discard some of the excess dirt from the pot in order to get the root ball through the bottom opening but the plant was still intact when we were done.

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Reblooming Iris – Immortality and Sugar Blues in Bloom

Reblooming Iris - Immortality
Reblooming Iris Immortality

After the warm spring rain yesterday, two more of my reblooming irises bloomed overnight.  That makes three varieties that have bloomed this week.  Harvest of Memories has been in bloom since Monday, and Sugar Blues and Immortality this morning.  Just love the color and can’t wait for the other 15 varieties to show their colors.

Reblooming Iris - Sugar Blues
Reblooming Iris - Sugar Blues - in full bloom

Proposal by the Pond

Ducks occasionally stop in for a dip in the pond.
Ducks occasionally stop in for a dip in the pond.

Two summers ago on the 4th of July my boyfriend and I installed a backyard pond in the corner of his property.  The area where the pond is now located was a corner that had a steep grade and was very difficult to grow much of anything on.  The hot afternoon sun baked down on it and made it almost impossible for grass to grow.

We decided that we would use the slope to our advantage and build a waterfall into the side of the hill to add a relaxing babbling brook sound to the pond.

Creating the Pond
This is the process that we went through to turn the difficult corner into a pond.

It wasn’t until this year, that we finished the waterfall using a solar pump to circulate the water, since there is no electricity in that corner of the lot.

Here’s the finished pond:

And it was just a little over a week ago (May 6 to be exact) that my boyfriend became by fiance’ – in front of the pond.  He proposed – and of course  – I said Yes!

I suppose it’s possible that the hen and drake mallards are engaged now too!

At any rate – the backyard pond will hold a special memory in our hearts for years to come.

Growing Organic Tomatoes

Organic Roma Tomatoes
These tomatoes were grown organically in a raised garden bed.

Tomatoes can be started from seed (be sure to choose an organic or heirloom variety) or plants can be purchased from local nurseries that specialize in organic gardening.

In order to produce an abundant crop, tomato plants should be planted in soil that consists of a rich organic mix of composted material and is well drained.  Tomato plants require plenty of sun (at least 5 hours per day).  Plants should be watered well at the base of plant to keep moisture off of the leaves which can contribute to late blight.

Plants should be set out well after the danger of frost and when soil temperatures are above 50 degrees F.  Plant the roots deep, firmly packing soil up to the bottom of the first leaf of the plant.  You may want to protect the plants by placing empty gallon size milk jugs with the bottom removed over the plant until it is well established.

As plants mature, they require support to keep the tomatoes off the ground.  Tomato cages or stakes can be used for this purpose.

There are some common pests and problems that can harm tomato plants.  Here are some tips on how to treat this problems organically:

Tomato Hornworms and Other Insects

Plant Borage as a companion plant near tomatoes to prevent pests from eating leaves and harming or infecting other vegetables such as eggplant, peppers, and potatoes.  Worms and eggs can be removed by hand from the leaves and stems of the plants. Insecticidal soaps can be applied and are an effective method to rid plants of aphids and other harmful insects.  Many gardeners release lady bugs in their garden, which are a predator to aphids.

Blossom End Rot and Other Diseases

Soil may be lacking calcium. Spray with seaweed extract and keep moisture content of the soil even by covering with a layer of mulch. Row covers can be used to protect plants from cool weather temps.  Keeping the soil built up with compost, dried blood, or fish emulsion will prevent diseases that are due to lack of nitrogen or phosphorus.

Sparse Crop

If plants have grown tall and spindly and are producing very little fruit, pinch off the suckers (growth between the stems).  If they have plenty of blossoms, but are not producing, they have not have been pollinated. Use a Q-tip to brush pollen from one blossom onto the others.

Planting a variety of organic tomato plants will produce an abundance of tomatoes throughout the growing season.  Following these tips will allow for a harvest of healthy, wonderfully delicious tomatoes that the whole family can enjoy in salsas, sauces, or fresh from the vine.  Seeds from this year’s crop can be saved to plant next season for another year of plump juicy tomatoes.

To get started growing organic tomatoes, check out these books by organic gardening experts:

Endless Summer Hydrangea – Twist and Shout Growing Tips

Twist and Shout Endless Summer Hydrangea
Twist and Shout Endless Summer Hydrangea

Twist and Shout Hydrangea is a very popular member of the Endless Summer Hydrangea family, and for good reason.  This newest member of the family was introduced in North America in 2009, and was developed at the University of Georgia, combining the best traits of Penny Mac and Lady in Red.

The blossoms vary in color depending on the acidity of the soil.  The bountiful blooms are unique with centers of lacy pink caps, surrounded by petals of varying shades of pink and periwinkle blue.

The Endless Summer family of Hydrangeas are easy to care for and are winter hardy in zones 4-9.   They bloom on both old and new wood, providing gorgeous large blossoms of color throughout the summer.

Twist and Shout Hydrangea Endless Summer do well in partial shade (morning sun and afternoon shade seem to work best) and soil that is kept moist, but not wet.  The stems of the shrubs turn red, and the foliage burgundy-red in the fall.

Shrubs grow to 3′-5′ in height and width and work well as a focal point in a garden, or as a backdrop for other perennials and annuals.
To plant your Twist and Shout Hydrangea:
1) Locate an area that receives approximately 1/2 day of morning sun where the shrub will have room to grow to its full size of 3′-5′ in diameter and height.
2) Dig a hole that is 1 1/2 times the size of the pot that the plant is in.
3) Tipping the plant upside down, remove it from the pot and loosen the root ball.
4) Center the root ball in the middle of the hole and add enough soil back in so that the top of the root ball is even with the top of the hole.
5) Fill the hole with water until it is 1/2 full.
6) Fill in the remaining hole with dirt and pack down securely.
7) Water around the base of the plant, then cover with mulch.
8) Keep the soil moist, but well drained.
9) Fertilizer can be added in the spring, but should not be applied after August.
10) Foliage can be trimmed back in the fall after a killing frost, but may also be left for winter accent in the garden.

Twist and Shout Hydrangea is a wonderful addition to a landscape, providing four-season beauty in the garden, with very little maintenance.

Fast Suggestions To Beat The Warm

Come summers and it’s time to bask in the daylight. While summers give you the chance to enjoy the bright and warm sunshine, it could also take a stress on your health. The burning heat could cause dehydration and even harm your skin. You need to do something so as to make sure that you enjoy the high season without letting it affect your health. Here are a couple of tips that can help you with the same.

When it is about fighting the heat, water naturally has a special importance. Drinking a lot of water is the best way to deal with the scorching sun. Keep yourself hydrated by drinking at least 8 to ten tumblers of water everyday. If you do not essentially appreciate the taste of water, you can consider adding lemon to it for taste.

Summer is also the perfect time to luxuriate in every type of fruits. Your body needs nutriments round the year, but never more than in this particular season. The heat not only drains away all the water in your body but also plenty of the vital nutrients as well. Thus, in a bid to replenish the loss of nutrients, it is generally endorsed that you consume at least 2 portions of fruit every day. What’s more, fruits can also help maintain the water content of your body.

There are some foods that needs to be on your platter to cope with the accelerating heat of summers. However, there are certain other food items which are a total no-no during the high season. Some of such food items are the deep fried and heavy foods items. These food items must be dodged in the summertime season as they can just make you feel very heavy and nauseatic. It is a clever decision to go in for the lighter food items like the sprouts, salads and many more. Also try to maintain safe distance from the caffeine and the alcohol in this time. These food items are reasonably celebrated for causing dehydration which can in turn prove harmful for your overall health.

Exposure to damaging sun rays can end up in numerous skin disorders and even skin cancer. Using a suntan lotion in the high season can help decrease the risk noticeably. Many people believe that sunscreens do not offer any sun protection and thus avoid them. This isn’t true. A top quality sunscreen with a SPF of 15 or higher can help protect you from the sun. It is suggested that you apply the sunscreen at least fifteen to 20 minutes before going out in the sun.

Wash your face frequently. This will help you maintain ideal body temperature. You need not use a facial cleaner everytime you wash your face. Splashing your face with cold water alone should be adequate. If you have the time, stand in a shower for few mins. Let the cold water fall directly on your head and bring your body temperature down.

Thus, if you would like to enjoy the summer season without worrying about your wellbeing, simply follow these steps and you can go bask in the sun without any worries.

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