Archive for the ‘Landscape care’ Category

Nancy’s Tomato Chronicles -Week 16 of 2010

The number of tomatoes produced on a single tomato plant in a season is tough to predict. The numbers vary according variety and good or bad weather can have a big impact. Indeterminate plants continue producing tomatoes throughout the season while determinates set their fruit within a few weeks and which  ripens within about a 4 to 5 week period. Therefore indeterminate plants tend to produce more tomatoes than determinites.

You get a variation as a function of which variety you have planted and you get all kinds of changes as a function of the weather. At the same time we can make a general guess so we can reasonably plan on how many plants we want to go into our garden this year.

A determinate tomato, you remember, is the one that grows to only three or 4 feet tall and it produces its entire crop over a period of four or five weeks. You can estimate that you’re going to get something between 20 and 40 tomatoes over the season from one of these plants.

A on the other hand the indeterminate tomatoes are the ones that can grow up to seven or 8 feet tall and will produce continually from mid July to the first frost. These plants, if everything goes well, can produce 80 to 100 fruits during the season; that’s a lot of tomato salads.

So while it is imprecise to estimate exact numbers, if you plan two or three plants per adult and one plant for each child you will likely have sufficient fresh tomatoes for the entire season. That number goes off the wall if you intend to process canned tomatoes or make tomato sauce that is also put up.

So far I have been talking about people who would be considered to be fairly sane. There are among us however, including myself, tomato gardeners who have no control whatsoever. There are only two of us in this household and last year we had more than 20 tomato plants; some would think that is a little crazy and it probably is.

Here is my rationale. I know that there are certain varieties of tomato that are going to grow extremely well in my area. And on the other hand there are varieties which do very well on the East Coast or on the West Coast but not so well here in the Midwest. So I figure the only way to discover those best varieties is to plant each year 5 to 10 varieties that I have never grown before.

Obviously we have lots of tomatoes to share with friends and neighbors and the food kitchens. You will have to figure out for yourself whether you want to be sane or crazy.


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Tool Of The Week – Week 16

We love this hand tool!!! The Radius Weeder features a patented specially curved ergonomic grip that provides more leverage with less wrist stress.
When held properly the wrist is in what’s called a “wrist neutral position”, unlike the wrist position on a straight handled tool. After testing it in our miserable clay soil, we’ve both concluded that this is a unique tool that really means business.

The aluminum blade has a sharp tip and serrated edges for easy weeding and is surprisingly light yet remarkably strong!
Great for popping out deeply-rooted weeds like Canadian thistle. We do not sell tools; just review them.  For a retailer near you go to www.radiusgarden.com.

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Jeff’s Perfect Lawn Care Secrets- Week 16 of 2010

We yardeners have some planning to do for the coming lawn care season.  We need to evaluate our lawn to determine whether we might need to add some grass seed sometime in late May.

Few mature lawns in the this country have turf that is as dense as brand new sod, but that should be the goal.  Dense means when you spread the grass blades apart with your hands, you cannot see the soil.  There are at least three reasons to take steps to make your turf as dense as it can be.

Thick turf mowed tall (over 2 inches) seldom has any weeds including crabgrass.  Every square foot of lawn will have anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 weed seeds in the top two inches of soil and all they need to germinate is light. When the grass is thin and mowed short, the most common situation in American lawns, weed seeds will germinate in large numbers, especially crabgrass.  Thick dense turf grass has few weeds.

Turf that is dense and mowed tall will become habitat for the three most important groups of beneficial insects in the home landscape – ants, spiders, and ground beetles.  If the grass is thin and cut short, there are few good guys in residence because they are vulnerable to their own predators.  If the good guys are in camp, because they are protected by thick grass, they will consume 80% of all the eggs laid each year by the three most common insect pests in the lawn – Japanese beetles, chinch bugs, and billbugs.  Thick dense turf grass has few pest insects.

Finally, a lawn with dense turf will always look better than a lawn that is thin, especially right after it has been mowed.  Thick dense turf grass has lots of admirers.

The only way to make a lawn as dense as sod, is to plant more grass seed.  That process is called “overseeding” and should be a routine every four or five years.  However, overseeding is hardly ever performed on home lawns.  That is strange because golf course managers and athletic field managers will overseed every year to keep their turf dense.  For some reason, the importance of that technique never filtered down to us yardeners.

Overseeding can be done in the spring, around Memorial Day, or in the fall, around Labor Day.  While I’ll discuss overseeding in more detail in a few weeks, the basic steps are to mow the grass as low as your mower will go.  Then rake up all the debris.  Next spread grass seed and then water it twice a day for two weeks.  The lawn can be mowed when the grass reaches three inches in height. Now mow tall.

If you have two acres of lawn, you are not likely going to be overseeding that entire area all at once.  I suggest folks with large lawns spread the task over a few years.  In the spring overseed the front of the house.  In the fall overseed one side and next spring overseed the other side.  When you get time you can then deal with the back yard.  It may seem like a lot of work, but the benefits are worth the effort.  Once a lawn has become dense, the overseeding job four years from now is much easier.

There are two issues to deal with before the overseeding process.  If your lawn has more than 20% weeds, you will need to take care of them first; about two weeks before the overseeding job.  If your lawn is uneven with bumps and dips, you can even things up by filling in the low spots with top soil.

The solution to a bumpy lawn is not to roll it with a lawn roller.  Lawn rollers do more damage to the structure of the soil under a lawn than any other tool I know.  Yet, every spring I see gardeners and yardeners alike out there rolling out their lawns before the soil dries out thinking they are doing a good thing.  In fact, rolling a lawn when the soil is wet causes such serious compaction that even aerating cannot fix.  Get rid of your lawn roller.

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This was a great winter for bird watching. The snow cover brought the birds out in droves and the white curtain made them stand out for easy viewing.

The more I watched the birds over the winter the more I wondered what they do when they weren’t eating at our feeders.


I want to encourage birds into my garden because they are not only pretty to look at and delightful to listen to, they eat lots of bad bugs. Even the seedeaters collect bugs in spring to feed to their young.  So having them around can put a serious dent in the pest population.

If you’ve ever listened to a bird singing atop a tree and wondered what he or she was chirping about The Singing Life of Birds (Houghton, Mifflin $28.00) is the book for you.

For centuries man has questioned why birds sing and what they are saying and in this book, author, scientist and renowned ornithologist Donald Crossman takes his readers on a listening adventure to help us understand the living dramas going on in our backyards. He puts his reader inside the mind of singing birds, exploring not only how and why they sing, but also how we can better understand them through their songs.


Some birds sing in dialects while other have a single song. Some sing during the day, but others chirp only at night. And, why is birdsong sung mostly by the males of the specie?

Kroodsma, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts shares the answers to these and other burning questions from information garnered over more than three decades of recording and analyzing the songs of bird in this intriguing instructional book.

Included is a high quality CD featuring birdsongs taped at both normal speeds and slowed to 1/2 and 1/4 speeds allowing listeners to pick up discreet sounds that help with interpretation.

House Wren

Are you a baffled bird watcher, always struggling to put names to the feathered friends that inhabit the neighborhood and hang out at the cottage? Having trouble telling the difference between a purple finch and a house finch or a wren from a sparrow?   Not to worry. Identify Yourself: The 50 Most Common Bird Identification Challenges  (Houghton Mifflin $19.95) by Bill Thomas III and the editors of Bird Watchers Digest (800) 879-2473, www.birdwatchersdigest.com, may just change your life and turn you into a bird watching whiz.

Offering tips, techniques and tricks that make bird identification both easy and fun, this informative book chronicles the subtle differences one must look for when looking at a hard to distinguish bird. Its garnered rave reviews from professionals and hobbyists alike.

The Best Gift for Gardening Moms

Mother’s Day is coming soon but if the special lady on your gift list is a gardener, there’s no need to panic. Gardeners are a snap to shop for especially at this time of year. Gift certificates may be considered impersonal for some but to a gardener, a pre-paid shopping spree at a garden center at planting time is “the best.”

If mom is an avid plant collector or loves to shop for yard art and pottery, consider a chauffeured mystery trip to some top-notch garden centers Mom has never shopped.

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Nancy’s Tomato Chronicles – Week 15 of 2010

Planting time is the perfect opportunity to improve the soil in your garden. I dig in heavy clay soil that left to its own devices becomes compacted making root penetration difficult.  So, whenever I dig I amend and loosen it by dumping the removed soil into a container or on a tarp and mix in some goodies, before refilling the hole.

My basic recipe is a shovel full of garden soil to a hand full of compost and a scoop of Espoma’s Soil Perfector. Because my soil has a high pH, I also toss in a handful of Canadian Sphagnum peat moss.

What is Soil Perfector?

One application of Espoma Soil Perfector permanently improves the structure of any soil. Soil Perfector is made from a naturally derived, ceramic mineral that is kiln-fired at temperatures in excess of 2000o F. This process creates a durable, lightweight granule containing thousands of tiny storage spaces that hold the perfect balance of water, air and nutrients for an improved soil structure. Soil Perfector will not break down or degrade so you do not need to re-apply it year after year.

What About Compost?

Good quality compost adds humic acid and enzymes that break down minerals, also referred to as micronutrients, into a liquid form that plants can use. The humic acid in compost helps produce a gelatinous substance that binds minerals and organic material together turning chunky soil into that gorgeous soft crumbly stuff that can bring can a gardener like me to tears.

It’s also home to many beneficial organisms that become part of the soil food web, the underground community that returns Natures detritus to the soil. Without this incredible underground food chain man would have been buried in his own trash eons ago.

New Compost Has It All

Working with all these products can be a hassle for gardeners who don’t have time to batch mix from scratch.  This season I’m taking the easy route and substituting the new high quality compost mix, Organimax, which also contains additional soil microbes, Mychorriza, kelp and host of other goodies that I hope will make my garden rock. Priced at $14.98 for a 3 cubic foot bag, Organimax is currently available at English Gardens, Romence Gardens, Wojo’s, Allemons, Souliers, Ray Wiegands and Van Attas.

What Are Mychorriza?

Because I want to get the most out of my garden I also add a dusting of Mychorriza, a beneficial fungi that attaches itself to the roots of a plant and helps it get moisture and nutrients from the soil. Mycorrhizal fungi have occurred naturally in the soil for 400 million years. They form a close symbiotic relationship with plant roots. They are called mycorrhizae (from the Greek “mukés”, meaning fungus, and “rhiza,” meaning roots).

However, in most soils that have been disturbed by residential construction, or intensive cropping practices with applications of fertilizers containing pesticides and other chemical products, the mycorrhizae content has considerably diminished, and has become insufficient to significantly enhance plant growth.

When mycorrhizal fungi colonize the plant’s root system, they create a network that increases the plant’s capacity to absorb more water and nutrients such as phosphorus, copper and zinc. This process in turn enhances growth and favors rapid development of roots and plants.  Look for the product “Myke” in garden centers. http://www.premiertech.com/myke/mycorise/index.htm

Beneficial Microbes?

To increase the beneficial microbe count I also mix in a teaspoon of microbial material in the form of Plant Growth Activator from Organica (www.organica.com.) Organica Plant Growth Activator is specifically formulated to promote the establishment and enhance the viability of annuals, bulbs, perennials and turf. This unique natural product contain beneficial soil microorganisms and natural plant extracts that function synergistically to improve soil biology and promote healthy plant growth. Promoting and maintaining healthy soil biology is the key to successful gardening at any level.

There are lots of products on the market today that contain these beneficial organisms, so we need to spend some time in our local garden centers checking out what’s new.

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Tip – If you own a red oak or a white oak tree, and it needs any pruning make sure the work is done no later than the first of April.  Pruning oak trees when they are no longer dormant invites the lethal disease called “oak wilt”.

Real spring may still be weeks away, but the garden centers and home centers are already stocking their shelves with tools and products for the yard warriors I call yardeners .  We will soon have to face that long shelf with twenty different boxes of grass seed, with no clues about how to make the right choice. Even more confusing are those stacks of bags with fertilizer, insecticide, herbicide, or fertilizer combined with insecticide.  What should be fertilized in the spring?  How do I know whether I have grubs? Yard care can be a confusing challenge.

Spring may bring the tulips, daffodils, and robins, but it also is a time figure out what we need to do out there in our yard and then when to do it.  Yardeners need information just as gardeners do, but gardeners have more resources to help them.  Gardening books abound for gardeners but don’t really work very well for us yardeners.  Those books tend to give us more information than we feel we need.

I’ve spent some serious hours surfing the Internet looking for information for yardeners dealing with lawn care and yard care.  There are forums or discussion groups for gardeners, but I could find none for yardeners.  I’ve looked at over 80 gardening related blogs and they are all for serious gardeners.  Google of course is the source of most information on the Internet, but when I ask about controlling grubs I get 200,000 files.  Even sorting through the first ten files in Google is confusing to many of us.  Often there is conflicting information from one source to another.

In the end, and research confirms this, we yardeners get most of our yard care information from staff at the garden center or from friends and neighbors.  These sources can sometimes be unreliable and seldom complete, but that’s where most of us go when we have a question.

In all modesty  the best source of information is my very own website www.yardener.com.  Check it out.

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This has really been a long winter for me.

Last October my garden helper Joyce Bonesteel and I spent hours cleaning up the raised beds in my vegetable garden, known as a potager. We carefully removed all the spent vegetation, especially the bits and pieces of rotted tomatoes that had fallen from the vines, so there was no plant material left for late blight spores to take refuge in. The dreaded late blight overwinters in tomato and potato plants and fruit, not in the soil. Though they can’t survive freezing temperatures, I am not about to take a chance.

Next I covered the surface of the soil with a mix of shredded leaves heavily laced with worm castings. I left a 6-inch layer of shredded leaves on the ground over the summer, and I swear earthworms came from miles around to feast. The mix was incredible and you can’t buy that stuff even if you wanted to.

Over the summer, our resident mole moved into my potager to partake of the earthworms and did his part in the pathways grinding up and mixing the hardpan clay with the layer of dark black humus under the bark chips. The fresh bark chips spread on the paths four years ago have slowly composted over time, leaving behind a layer of black gold. For hours I sat in that garden scooping that soil mix from the paths, sifting it through a riddle into the raised beds and returning the leftover chunks of wood chips to the walkways, while dreaming about the mother lode of tomatoes and other veggies this garden would produce next summer.

A riddle is the gardener’s rendition of a flour sifter used to remove chunky stuff from soil. My late husband and gardening pal, Hank, made mine by stapling metal hardware cloth on to a wooden frame made of 1-by-1s.

I’m a dirt fanatic who inherited 20 acres of hardpan clay and the soil in those raised beds almost brings me to tears. I loved just looking at it. And then it snowed — and snowed and snowed some more. It’s been a long winter.

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