Wednesday, January 30, 2013

British Invasion

We've had a wood split rail fence for years along two sides of our property.  It doesn't do much good for keeping anything in or out, and only serves to mark property boundaries in a pretty ordinary way.  But something is happening on that fence that's anything but ordinary.

Lichens grow on the top side of several of the rails and they've been there for years.  They always make me smile, just like the times I find a tiny red spider mite in the soil as I work in the garden. Just like when I know there are citronella ants in the soil before I actually see them because I can smell their lemony goodness.

I never took the time to look the lichens up to see exactly what they were until last year, when I discovered that they were Cladonia cristatella, commonly known as British Soldiers, so named for their red "coats."

Lichens consist of a fungus and an algae living together, in a symbiotic relationship. Each could survive without the other, but together they're better. The fungus provides a house for the algae and the algae produces food for the fungus.

In the case of British Soldiers, the red part of the fungus makes spores, which are dispersed by the wind. These spores can form a new fungus, but it won't become another British Soldier until it is joined by the algae.  It also won't be red without the algae. 

 British Soldiers are a frutose lichen, which is an upright form of lichens that also tend to have bright colors. They grow on decaying wood, mossy logs, stumps, tree bases, and soil.  They help break down old wood, as well as taking nitrogen from the air, and in these ways enrich the soil. Lichens don't do well in polluted areas, so lichens can be an indicator of good air quality.

Lichens grow very slowly and British Soldiers only grow one to two millimeters a year.  The tallest part of these on our fence are about 10 millimeters tall. They won't make spores until they're about four years old.

Information gathered from

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Staghorn Fern String Planter - DIY

String gardens are popping up all over Pinterest these days. The concept is pretty simple, really.  It's a hanging container with plants in it!  But what sets a string garden apart is that the container used for planting isn't an ordinary container and they're usually hung in groups.

Most of the string gardens I've seen are made with Kokedama (moss balls) or grapevine spheres. All sorts of plants are planted in them, even small trees. Trees look especially stunning because they're usually hung low and appear to be suspended in mid-air if the "string" used is nylon fishing line. They can be a bit tricky though, because they're top-heavy, so proper balance and support is important.

I've wanted to make a string planter of my own, and I had a number of grapevine spheres that I've used as decorator items in my home for years. So I took one of those and in less than 30 minutes, I planted it up and hung it.  Though mine isn't made using kokedama, the effect is pretty much the same and it really couldn't be easier.

DIY String Planter


  • hollow grapevine sphere
  • sheet moss
  • potting soil
  • scissors
  • 25-lb. strength nylon fishing line
  • plant of your choice

First, cut an opening in the grapevine sphere, large enough that you can fit the root ball of the plant inside it.

Next, line the inside with sheet moss, keeping the greener side facing the outside of the sphere, because it will show through a little bit when you're finished.

Put a small amount of potting soil inside the sphere unless your root ball takes up the entire volume of the sphere.  You should have some space to be filled around the root ball to allow for a bit of growth.

I used a clump of staghorn ferns (Platycerium sp.) that needed to be repotted because they were outgrowing their plastic nursery pot and they fit nicely inside the grapevine sphere.  Once I had the plant potted up, I took lengths of the nylon fishing line and tied them around the top edge of the sphere, making sure they were secure enough to hold the weight of it when suspended.

After soaking the ball and letting it drain, I gathered the "strings" of fishing line at the top and tied a knot at the length I preferred for the sphere to hang from the ceiling - about 30 inches.

After hanging the sphere, I tucked in some sheet moss around the top edges to give it a more finished look.

This staghorn fern has been living in our bathroom for the last three months and it loves the more humid environment there.  I put it in the shower periodically and wet it down, and I'll still be able to do the same thing with this container. I'll have to monitor it more closely since it will dry out more quickly in the grapevine sphere than it did in the plastic pot.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Weekend Wisdom Debut

I've wanted to start doing this for some time now, and in light of my coming across several interesting tidbits of information lately and it being winter and all, when I'll do just about anything to liven things up around me (including seeing just how long I can go on with a sentence before taking a breath and having it still make sense), I figured now was as good a time as any to start my "Weekend Wisdom" feature.

Sydney J. Harris
As a young(er) girl, I can remember reading syndicated newspaper columnist Sydney J. Harris' column, "Strictly Personal."  About once a week or so, he had a feature called, "Things I Learned While Looking Up Other Things."  I LOVED THAT.

With the internet giving us so much information at our fingertips and the ever-present temptation of going off on tangents (How did I end up here and what was it I was looking for again?), I'm always coming across interesting things that I either didn't know before or have long forgotten.  Being a lover of trivia, I know exactly why Mr. Harris felt compelled to share those things he encountered.

When I was in Little Rock, Arkansas, last May, I had a conversation with the charming Genevieve Schmidt of North Coast Gardening about doing this.  She thought it was a great idea and urged me to "Do it!!"  Your voice has been nagging me at the back of my brain all these months, so here you go, Gen - the first "Weekend Wisdom" post is in your honor.

You may read something you already knew.  You may read something that I already knew too, but found interesting enough to share.  It won't always be about gardening either and that's okay, because we gardeners are the sum of our parts and those parts don't always have dirt under their nails. My intent is to make Weekend Wisdom a weekly feature, appearing on either Saturday or Sunday, by definition. I hope you enjoy it.


Every Garden(er) Needs a Cat - and Here's Why

As if you needed yet another reason to love cats other than they're sweet and loveable, yet fiercely independent (or want you to think so), it seems that their purr is precisely the frequency to aid in the healing of bone injury and increase bone density.  It may even be a means for them to speed up their own healing when they've been injured.

You know we have several cats here, right?  My DEXA Scan shows that I have very good bone density for a 55-year-old woman.  Thanks, Baby.

Read more.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

What Are Those Brown Sugar Blobs on My Shrubs?

When you live in the frozen tundra that Ohio sometimes becomes and you feel as though winter will never end, you find things to do to help it pass more quickly. I like to go walkabout through the garden and around the property to see what there is to see at a time when most people would prefer to stay warm inside.

A yearly winter activity for me is to go around observing and counting the praying mantis egg cases. Seen in abundance in our gardens throughout summer, praying mantises are more than welcome here.

I've seen them in all sizes, from teeny weeny baby ones just emerging from an egg case...

May 26, 2007 a little bit larger, wandering about or lying in wait for prey...

...and even larger, when they get too big for their skin...

A praying mantis will molt six to ten times throughout its life. full-sized, when they just love to stare me down.

I found 19 vital egg cases today, every one of them on the hedge of Van Houtte spiraea (Spiraea x vanhouttei), clearly their preferred location, where several blackened cases still remain from previous years. The current year's egg cases remind me of spun brown sugar, even glistening in the sun as if that's just what they were made of.

The tan cases are about the size of a walnut.

In late summer, when the female mantis has mated, she finds a branch well above the ground, where she releases a whipped cream-like foam from the ovipositor at the end of her abdomen.  Before it hardens, she deposits anywhere from 50 to 300 eggs in the foam.  After it hardens, the egg case (called an ootheca) will protect the eggs and developing mantids from predators like ants and spiders, as well as snow and wind. In late spring, when it warms sufficiently, all the mantids will emerge from the egg case at once.

Have you been able to find any egg cases on branches in your yard?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Backyard Parables: A Book Review and Giveaway

I felt it a great honor to be asked to join the blog tour for Margaret Roach's latest book, which was just released a week ago, and nothing pleases me more than to highly recommend it to my readers.

When we last left Margaret Roach in her memoir, And I Shall Have Some Peace There, published a little less than a year before her current issue, she was fresh out of New York City and had walked away from a job working at Martha Stewart Omnimedia to further pursue her writing and live full-time in her weekend home north of the city. It was a gutsy move, and she was trying to make the best of it; I saw it in the way she wrote as much as in what she wrote about. I’ll be honest – I wasn’t quite sure she was going to completely make the transition.

But these lifestyle changes take time and what a difference a year makes. In The Backyard Parables, I get the feeling that Margaret is comfortable in her skin and with her life. As a lifelong resident of rural Northwest Ohio who lives in a community that seems to be very similar to the upstate New York locale where Margaret shares a home with cat Jack, her words ring as true with me as any I’ve ever read about this thing we share called gardening.

So many books I read about gardening these days, whether they be memoirs or how-tos or about design or even homesteading, are directed at the urban gardener. That’s okay too, because there’s more than enough information to go around that’s appropriate for the benefit of all types of gardeners. But I really felt Margaret in this book – felt her on a more personal level as a comrade between the rows:

Never stop wanting more plants... That ethos of insatiability I was taught to garden by is not about greed, but rather speaks up in favor of maintaining perpetual curiosity. But in this strain of lust, I have slowed considerably, my wants grown far more measured and selective. In the first days I was insatiable, hungry for everything, and grew so many plants, all of them new faces then to me, seeking not just something to look out at or proclaim about with the busting pride of a kid whose training wheels just came off, but also wanting knowledge. Each plant teaches some lesson or other; besides just filling its hole in the landscape, it starts to make the pieces of the wider puzzle fit. 

YES. Who of us who has been bitten by the gardening bug doesn't understand this? I was the same, accepting any and all castaways and bargain table plants that came my way, and in retrospect, know full well the education I received that could not have been gotten any other way. But as I enter my ninth year of being a "real gardener," I’ve adjusted my desires a bit, too.

Had I read this passage any earlier in my own horticultural journey, I might not have understood how anyone could ever limit themselves this way. And yet, in fits of fickleness, she goes on to admit that she is still at times blind-sided by that weakness most of us have when we hear the siren call of a plant we don’t need for all the tea in China, but will find a way to justify carrying it home, only to have to figure out where the heck we’re going to put it. I know Margaret (and many of you) will completely understand what I mean when I say, “There’s always room for Jell-O.”

And though this is gardening (and life) seen through the eyes of experience, novice gardeners will learn important basics in lengthy sidebars dealing with subjects such as buying seeds, doing battle with deer, succession sowing, pruning, mulch, and even how to ripen immature tomatoes.  She includes a couple of recipes too. I think my favorite sidebar was on how to overwinter tender plants. Though I've been doing this for as long as I've been gardening, I learned a thing or two.

This is not a book to be rushed through, although I wanted to finish it quickly so I could share my enthusiasm for it. Rarely do I read a book a second time, but I may do just that with The Backyard Parables. It now ranks at the top of my list of all-time favorite gardening books. I won’t deliver this piece of news to the author who wrote what is now second, but that’s not a particularly bad place to be either, since I’ll always read anything she writes, too.

Now I’m left wondering what Margaret Roach’s next project will be. If she can give us more of this, she’ll always have room in the budget for more plants, if not room in her garden.

About the author

Margaret Roach has been an editor at the New York Times, fashion editor and garden editor at Newsday, the first garden editor for Martha Stewart Living magazine, and the editorial director of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. She is now a consultant and avid gardener, keeping fans up to date on her website A Way to Garden, which Anne Raver of the New York Times called "the best garden blog" she'd seen. Margaret is also the author of A Way to Garden, named Best Garden Book of the Year by the Garden Writers' Association of America.


Want to win a copy?

Grand Central Publishing has graciously provided a copy of The Backyard Parables for one of my readers. If you'd like to win it, simply leave a comment to this blog post, sharing the name of your favorite book - gardening or otherwise. I find it incredibly interesting to see what people like to read.

I'll pick a winner randomly via from all comments left by midnight Sunday, January 27, 2013.  Be sure to leave a way for me to contact you in your comment, should you be the chosen winner.


Elaine of

Elaine, your comment was chosen from the 84 eligible comments (two were duplicate entries and not counted in the total) by  Please e-mail me at ourlittleacre at gmail dot com with a mailing address for the book.  Enjoy!

Grand Central Publishing provided me with a free copy of The Backyard Parables for review. All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Daikon Radishes as a Cover Crop

You know those instances when you've never heard of something until you read about it, and then it enters your life through another venue a short time later? Sometimes it will even show up with regularity after that and you wonder how in the world you've gotten to be 55 years old before hearing about it for the first time.

There's probably a name for this, and it's not ignorance either. Life's experiences come to us at different times and I'm always grateful for new ones. If we all knew everything about everything, life would be very boring indeed.

I'd heard of Daikon radishes briefly in recent years, but they didn't spark enough interest for me to investigate just what they were exactly. Then I saw an article online last fall about using them as a cover crop.

Not two weeks after I read that article, Daikon radishes would appear before my eyes, right across the road from my house.

October 8, 2012

I had noticed something had been planted in the field this past fall, after the wheat was long gone, but I really never gave it another thought. A casual conversation with my next-door neighbor, who works for a seed company, informed me that the green growth was Daikon radishes.

Neighbor Witt decided to give them a try - dirt and all.  :-)

Daikon radishes (Raphanus sativus var. longipinnatus) are growing in popularity in agriculture and in the home garden. Yes, they're certainly edible, but these radishes aren't being grown for eating.

As a cover crop, they have many advantages:

Neighbor Nyle shows a young Daikon in
October.  They get a LOT larger.
  • They grow deep roots and that helps with soil compaction.

  • They're allelopathic, which means they give off a biochemical (glycosinolate  compounds) that inhibits weed growth.

  • The top growth helps reduce soil erosion.

  • They naturally take up nitrogen and after dying during the winter, they release it back into the soil for use by the subsequent crop.

I can see that the radishes are already dying and decomposing. By spring, I would imagine the field will be a big mass of radish mush, just as planned.

Daikon radishes - January 13, 2013

 I may try growing Daikons next year as a cover crop in my own vegetable garden.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Scoop It! - A DeWit Garden Tool Review & Giveaway

My friend Shawna Coronado recently had the opportunity to attend Floriade in The Netherlands, where she was a speaker. (I'm jealous, as Floriade is an international floral exposition and only occurs once every ten years.) While she was there, she visited DeWit Garden Tools, where she collaborated with them to create a new garden tool. (Now I'm really jealous! What gardener wouldn't be?)

Photo courtesy of Shawna Coronado

DeWit Garden Tools has been making hand-forged tools since 1898 and if you've ever used one of their tools, you know what fine quality they are. Up until about a month or so ago, I only owned one DeWit tool - the 3-Tine Cultivator with a longer handle.  Cultivators like this are my favorite kind of tool to use to work up the soil during the season, between rows and between plants. I also use this one to harvest onions.

I received one of the new tools that Shawna helped design, affectionately known as "Shawna's Scoop," so that I could test it in my own garden. It came late in the year, after I was all done with most of my gardening, but yesterday we had an unusually warm January day and I put it to the test.

The potting scoop is actually designed with the container gardener in mind.  It has higher sides to help hold more potting soil in the scoop, and it's got a handy little notch on one side for slitting open the plastic bags of potting soil.  Brilliant, eh?

The overall length of the scoop is approximately 14 inches, with the scoop taking up 6 inches. There's a sharpened edge at the bottom of it, so you can slice through root balls if you need to. All this is attached to an ash hardwood handle.

I still needed to get some allium bulbs in the ground, so I decided to use the potting scoop directly in the garden. Normally, I would use a more pointy trowel to dig my holes, but with the sharpened edge on this scoop, it worked just fine, even in my too-much-clay soil. And though I wasn't using potting soil, I had to try out the bag cutter.  Like I said - brilliant.

If you've ever worked with forged tools, you know they're tough. The handles aren't going to bend when you put pressure on them.  I've got other tools that I like, but I prefer tools with wooden handles.  Wood is just so organic, holds up over time, and just plain looks good.

A giveaway!

Would you like to try one too?  DeWit sent two of them to me, so I'm going to give one away to one of my readers.  You can enter by leaving a comment to this blog post, telling me the garden tool you can't live without and why. Be sure to also let me know how I can notify you if you're chosen as the winner. 

The giveaway will end at midnight EST on Friday, January 18, 2013. At that time, I'll use to randomly choose a winner. The scoop sells for $39.90 and comes with a lifetime guarantee.

I was provided with a DeWit Potting Scoop free of charge for the purposes of testing and reviewing it on this blog. All opinions are my own. DeWit also provided one free Potting Scoop for me to give away.  The tool will be shipped to the winner at my expense.


Seth Baker

The generator picked your comment from the 30 entries (Shawna's comment was removed, since she's kind of the star of the show and was the co-inventor of the tool!).  Seth, please contact me at ourlittleacre at gmail dot com!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

There's More to Come

It was never my intent to let a month go by without a single post on this blog. But December and early January were jam-packed with busyness, mainly trying to finish up the book that Jenny Peterson and I are writing - Indoor Plant Decor. It's amazing the amount of time it takes to write, collect and assemble photos, and try to put it all together to somehow make some semblance of sense!

Add in Christmas (with Hannah!) and a few trips and time just zooms right by.  It's all good though, and there's a week or so until we start in with edits on the book, when our editor says she will be "camping out" in our living rooms. She likes what she sees and I'm actually looking forward to this editing process!

The book is scheduled to be released on April 1st, but it's available for pre-order on Amazon right now at a very good price of $10.29. (List price is $16.95 for the 160-page hardcover book.)

If you want to follow a little more of the day-to-day goings on at Our Little Acre, you can "Like" the Our Little Acre Facebook page at

I'll be getting caught up with blogging and sharing some of the fun I've been up to in the last few months, including attending the annual Garden Writers symposium in Tucson, Arizona, where I experienced a gardening style very unlike mine here in Ohio.

My co-writer Jenny came to Ohio at the beginning of November and I made another trip back to Austin at the end of that month to work on the book with her.  We visited the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory in Ft. Wayne (IN) while she was here, so there will be luscious greenness to share from that.  A recent trip to St. Louis for the National Green Centre trade show afforded me the opportunity to visit the Missouri Botanical Gardens and I want to return there during the summer season to see it in all its glory.

I've got some new products to tell you about and there will be a chance to win one of them, too.  In fact, that's up next. Thank you for staying with me!

blogger templates | Make Money Online