Category Archives: Gardening

Are You Making the Most of Your Weeds?

I don’t think my garden will ever be that perfect, weed-free space many people picture when they talk about having a vegetable garden. I just don’t care enough about beating back every single weed. Within reason, I like them.

I have some nice zucchini growing, as well as tomatoes, pumpkins, and a few other plants. The heat is driving the basil nuts, as it’s constantly trying to flower out much sooner than I’m ready to let it go. The flowers planted to be flowers look great. And there are weeds everywhere.

I do control a few of them. You have to give the plants you intend to grow some space to do so. I don’t let weeds interfere with that. But beyond that, they don’t bother me.

Weeds are useful, some ways. They’re clearly adapted to the soil and watering conditions. Some of them are rather pretty, if you quit looking at them as pesky weeds. Certain weeds can even improve the soil overall.

I know I’ve said this before, but weeds can also be good for bees. They often have flowers of types that help bees stay healthy. That means more bees for the flowers you want pollinated in your garden.

It may be worth looking into what kinds of weeds you have growing in your yard and garden, as some are edible. If you don’t spray them and don’t remove them, you could have an interesting addition to your kitchen routine.

Yes! My Garden Grows!

So happy to report that my garden is growing well for now. We’re starting to get tomatoes and zucchini. Home grown produce is such a treat.

My one wish is that we could grow more things. It’s the trouble with renting that there are only limited areas we can use as a garden. But at least we have some areas. The landlord never did put much into the perimeter of the back yard, despite the brick border creating a growing space, so we’re taking advantage. The few existing non-weed plants we’ve left alone, but there’s still space for a small garden.

We also have a volunteer sunflower coming up, but that’s still well away from blooming. Loads of pumpkin plants from the pumpkin we allowed to break down in the garden, so those will have to be thinned out. A few family members have expressed interest.

I really hope my zucchini plants produce in line with their reputation. I like giving excess away, especially as I have a few friends who I know are on very, very tight budgets. I also want the cheap excuse to play with the dehydrator I inherited from my grandmother.

We should get a nice excess of tomatoes, although those never seem to end up in excess because the kids snack on them quite a bit, particularly the smaller varieties my husband loves to plant.

I don’t know what it is about us and bell peppers, but those never thrive for us. Our sole surviving pepper is slow to grow, although it does have a few blooms, so we’ll see how things go.

I hope the basil goes well this year. I love making pesto when I have enough basil, and the freezing the excess in cubes, to be used over time. I’d say throughout the year, but that overstates how long my frozen pesto lasts until I use it up.

Just for pretties, we have some nice flowers growing too. It’s fun seeing what comes up, since we mostly bought mixes. Some are even local volunteers that simply appeared last year. We spread seeds from those when they go to seed, so each year we hope to see more local flowers. I’m hoping the bees appreciate the flowers.

It’s not much of a garden, not nearly what I’d like to have, but it’s certainly better than no garden at all. I hope some day we can have our own place with more room for gardening, and especially fruit trees.

How Can You Keep Your Lawn Care More Eco Friendly?

The biggest problem with lawns is that they’re really not all that eco friendly at their best. They take a lot of water and don’t give much back aside from giving the kids a place to play and making the yard look acceptable to neighbors. Some places that’s really important. But in many climates they take too much water, most popular lawn mowers aren’t too good for the environment, and too many toxic chemicals are used on most lawns.

These are some options to make your lawn care a bit more eco friendly. Even though they aren’t ideal environmentally speaking, sometimes a lawn is the choice you’re going to make.

1. Use a push reel mower.

A lot of people don’t like push reel mowers, remembering the hard to push around models from years ago. I have one now, however, and it’s really not that bad. Only slightly more challenging to use than a powered mower.

The advantage to a push reel mower is that you don’t have to plug it in or buy gas for it. It’s all human power.

2. Keep the fertilizer eco friendly.

All those chemical fertilizers people use on lawns add problems even though they green up the lawn nicely. They’re the major cause of lawn thatch. Worse, the runoff from lawns that have been fertilized is very bad for the environment.

Leaving your lawn clippings on your lawn is very good for it. They won’t provide all the nitrogen your lawn needs, but they will provide some. If you don’t want to leave them on the lawn, make sure you at least compost them.

If you can stand it, let clover grow in your lawn. Clover brings in nitrogen too. Its blooms attract bees, which is good for the bees, but may mean that kids may prefer shoes when playing on the lawn to avoid stings. Some places the homeowners’ association will give you trouble over clover, so you may have to be careful. You may also want to watch out if you have burr clover, as those burrs can be very annoying when they get in pets’ fur or into the carpet in your home.

Watch out for how much phosphorus your lawn needs too. Manure fertilizers have more than enough, and you should not add more phosphorus to your lawns if you’ve used manure on it.

3. Sweep after you mow.

Sure, it’s easier to use a leaf blower to clean up the clippings along the sidewalk or driveway after you’ve mowed the lawn, but it’s a huge waste to do so, not to mention hard on your ears. It’s better to sweep up the clippings with a broom and toss them into the compost pile.

If you don’t want to do it and you have kids who are old enough, set them to sweeping up after you mow. It’s a good chore and doesn’t require perfection.

4. Water at the right time of day.

The time of day you water makes a big difference in how much water your lawn needs. You don’t want to water at night, but you should water early enough in the day that the heat doesn’t cause too much of the water to evaporate.

Also avoid watering at times that tend to be windy, as this will blow too much of the water away. You want the air to be calm and cool when you water. Early morning is good in most places, but it’s always good to check with a local garden center for further advice.

5. Don’t use poisons to control weeds.

Weeds are an annoyance in a lawn, at least if you perceive them that way. You can see them as a benefit, such as the nitrogen clover adds to a lawn, or the biodiversity added by having weeds in your lawn, or they can be seen as a nuisance, especially if you are dealing with a homeowners’ association that tends to be difficult about such things. Weeds can also be a nuisance if they make your lawn less pleasant to play on.

The key to weed control is getting them while they’re small, especially before they’ve gone to seed. The most eco friendly way to get rid of them is probably to do it by hand. It’s tedious, but you can really get in there and get a lot of the roots, so it probably won’t grow back.

Corn gluten can work as a preemergent weed killer. It also gives a little nitrogen, so it will benefit your lawn in other ways.

You can also use boiling water to kill weeds. The great part is that it kills them pretty quickly – within a day or so of pouring the water the weeds will be quite brown, but it’s safe within minutes for children or pets to play in the area. It also won’t kill any seeds you spread there once the water cools.

You may have to repeat a boiling water treatment a few times to fully kill a weed if its roots are deep enough. Each time the weed will be weaker, and eventually it will stop coming back, so long as you are persistent.

I will warn you that killing weeds with boiling water is quite tedious if you have a number of them to do. It’s very effective, however, and can be worth the effort.

6. Let your grass grow at least 3-4 inches tall.

Tall grass is healthier grass. It’s better at keeping the weeds away and it needs less water. Don’t trim it as short as possible – trim it to no less than 3-4 inches tall if at all possible. Your lawnmower will probably have a setting that allows you to leave your grass about this tall.

7. Rethink how much lawn you really need.

There are reasons you need a lawn, such as having an easy place for the kids to play or because the homeowners’ association says you must have one, but do you have more lawn than you need? You may be able to turn part of your lawn area into something more eco friendly, such as a vegetable garden in the back yard, or a larger flower bed or more trees in the front.

8. Accept the brown.

It’s perfectly normal for your lawn to be less green in the summer. That’s its natural cycle. You don’t really have to water it so much that it keeps that perfect green all year round unless you’re required to do so. The weather is hot, and it’s much harder for your lawn to stay green.

Bee Swarm!

I seem to be having interesting weekends right now. Last weekend we had snow, this weekend temperatures into the 90s F, plus we had a swarm of bees hanging out on a tree branch.

I kept a close eye on the situation because welcome though they are, I didn’t want the bees thinking the eaves of my house are an appropriate place to build their hive, as happened last week to one of my neighbors. The bees made it from there inside the main part of the house and obviously that’s not where you want bees.

swarm of beesI was going to call Vector Control this morning to see if they’d come move the bees, and if that didn’t work, start seeking out local beekeepers. I’d far rather they be moved alive into a suitable home, as bees have enough trouble with Colony Collapse Disorder; they don’t need pest control killing them. But, as is common for honeybee swarms, they moved on about 24 hours after they arrived.

The kids were fascinated, and I gave various of our neighbors permission to come over and show their kids the swarm. Swarming bees are supposed to be relatively gentle after all, with no hive to protect. It’s a good lesson for the kids to be able to get so close and to see such interesting behavior from the bees.

The hardest part was keeping the kids out of the backyard the rest of the time. The bees arrived sometime on Saturday, so pretty much all weekend the backyard was off limits to play. I didn’t want them to accidentally agitate the bees, after all. My youngest took that pretty hard, as she always wants to go out and play.

It’s a bit difficult for the bees to find a good place for a hive that isn’t someone’s home around here. The neighborhood is too young for there to be many large trees, and it being southern California there aren’t many that just grow on their own either. I’m really hoping they found a good place.

My one wish is that I had gotten to see them leave, as it would have been nice to know the direction, in case a neighbor ends up with them. Be nice to warn them before the bees get comfortable and make sure they know there are better options than calling pest control. We think we missed the departure by minutes, as we kept checking on them all yesterday afternoon, and saw a few stragglers still on the branch, and a few more headed over the fence.

My son took a picture of the swarm at rest to school today for show and tell. Great adventure for a kindergartner, after all. Bees tend to inspire such fear and awe in young children.

Remember the Wildflowers for Your Garden

I always love planting a good vegetable garden. There’s just something about that fresh produce that can’t be touched by any other source. But my gardens are never just about the vegetables. I include flowers as well. Are you making sure to include wildflowers in your garden?

Wildflowers, especially of native varieties, are wonderful for your garden. They grow better than other plants as they’re adapted to the climate. Many attract bees and other pollinators, and can be beneficial to native wildlife.

Select the right varieties, and they’re also beautiful. That’s true even here in southern California, where most people don’t think of the native plants as beautiful. There are some great ones for gardens. The California poppy is perhaps the best known. There’s a quite lovely larkspur that is native to the part I live in right now that produces stunning, deep purple blooms. I learned about that one when it volunteered itself in the backyard last year.

Wildflowers may not be beautiful year round, which is why not all gardeners like them. If you want them to keep growing year after year, you have to let at least some of the flowers go to seed, which may not be the most attractive time for the plant either. But if you do this, you won’t have to keep planting them year after year. Some of the seeds should come up on their own. Do clear out the dry plants after they’ve gone to seed and add them to your compost pile.

Letting the seeds go on their own does mean a more random, natural look to your garden. That’s one of the things I love about it, but that is difficult for others to appreciate. If you want your flower garden to look a bit more organized, you may need to harvest the seeds yourself and plant them where you’d prefer that they grow.

Wildflower seeds shouldn’t be too hard to find. Look at local garden centers and find out which wildflowers are native to your area. You may also have to check with your Homeowner’s Association if you’re planting them where others can see, as some associations are really picky about what you can grow.

Choose well, plant them in the right kind of soil, and you should have some lovely native flowers to enjoy from your garden in the months to come. A good mix of species will add wonderful colors to your garden.