Wednesday, July 12, 2017

When You Need To Do Some Megaweeding

In a normal year, we would be running the sprinklers on the garden about now, because it would be so hot and dry, with no promise of rain. But this is not a normal year. I'm not sure what that even is anymore. We've just come out of one of the wettest Junes on record and July is off to a soggy start.

Last night, we had over four inches of rain and we really didn't need any. There was water laying in the field across the road and our next-door neighbor had lakefront property right out his front door. We've got two sump pumps in our basement and both of them running together could barely keep up with the water coming in. Fortunately, we weren't one of several residents in the area that lost that battle.

All this rain means the gardens are looking fantastic. The hostas appear to be on steroids. The double daylilies are blooming 100% double, for once. And the weeds are growing so fast and so big that I don't recognize them.

About those weeds... The gardens proper are doing fine in that department, thanks to either full plantings or mulch that's doing its job. But two areas are in desperate need of help. The Berry Barn, which I had completely weeded four weeks ago - it looked fantastic, I promise - now looks as if I haven't set foot in it all year.

And the grape arbor, well, let's talk about the grape arbor. We first planted grapes in 2008 - Mars, Reliance, and Himrod. We enjoyed these seedless table varieties for many years, until the last couple, when they just didn't do well.

This spring, ironically, none of the Reliance vines made it through the winter. One Himrod bit the dust and the other one isn't looking that good either. Both of the Mars vines made it, but they aren't producing a single grape. This has caused us to reevaluate this grape thing.

Romie wanted to just tear out the arbor and be done with it, but I wouldn't have any of that. I love that arbor, grapes or no grapes. So we I decided we'd let the grapes that remain do their thing and plant various clematis vines in place of the grapes that died.

"What if the clematis starts climbing all over the grapes?" he said. "Then they'll look pretty," I said. And that was that. But this post is about weeding, and the base of the grape arbor was absolutely solid weeds.

See the weeds at the rear of the grape arbor base? The whole thing
looked like that when I started weeding.

Dandelions, various grasses, a couple of types of clover (and they'd produced seed pods by now), poison ivy, plantain, baptisia seedlings, white mulberry, thistles, Washington hawthorn seedlings, creeping euphorbia, and various other weeds had made themselves right at home while we mulled over what to do.

Since the arbor was staying and we were growing desirable things on it, these weeds had to go, but oh my gosh, where to start? Images of a bulldozer came to mind, but we didn't have one. I love my family of Cobrahead weeders, but this was no match even for those.

But sometimes, ever so rarely, I have moments of brilliance. They're so few and far between that I'm prouder of them than I have a right to be, mainly because I know that every other person on the planet already knew about this long before I did. But dang, if I wasn't excited about the idea that popped into my head one day when I was doing absolutely nothing and having a good time of it.

What if... just what if I took my grandpa's manure fork (it looks like a pitchfork) and skimmed across the top of the weed-infested soil, about 2-3 inches deep, loosening the soil so that I could sift out the weeds? This would be better than hoeing because if you cut some of those weeds, that just means if you don't remove all the pieces, you're screwed. Some weeds are like earthworms - cut them up and they make new ones from the pieces.

I tried my method on a defunct strawberry bed first. It was a small area and I wanted to use the plot for something else. Oh. My. Goodness. Why I had not thought of this earlier, I don't know, but I now don't look at the weediest of beds with disdain anymore. It's actually kind of fun, because it's a much quicker and easier way of removing large quantities of weeds.

What about the dandelions though? No fork is going to remove those that easily. No, I still had to pull those out individually (unless they were small), but by loosening the soil around them, it made it that much easier to pull them out and get all the roots, especially with soggy soil.

Until the rains came last night, I made quick work of the grape arbor area. I'll finish up when we dry up a little bit. It won't take me long to finish the grape arbor and then I'll move to the other side of the yard and take care of the mess in the Berry Barn.

Hallelujah! Who knew weeding could be so easy? (You don't really believe me, do you? Try it!)

Monday, June 19, 2017

In a Vase on Monday: A Milkweed Bouquet

I didn't intend to put together a bouquet today, although there are plenty of flowers in bloom out in the garden. All I was doing was feeding my monarchs.

Monarch egg on swamp milkweed.

Right now, I've got a dozen monarchs that I'm raising in the house. I found 11 eggs on various types of milkweed in my garden, and one teeny tiny caterpillar that had just hatched out that day. I don't usually raise them this early in the season, but when I saw the eggs and thought about all that could go wrong if I didn't, I just couldn't leave them out there.

Newly hatched!

We're well past that infant stage now, in fact, two of them are now chrysalides, as of Sunday afternoon. That means that the ten remaining caterpillars are eating voraciously and I'd better keep up with supplying milkweed, or else.

So that's what I was doing, going through my garden and cutting milkweed to bring in for them to eat. I decided I would cut four different kinds: common, swamp, butterfly weed, and whorled. The eggs were found on common, swamp and yet another kind I'm growing - poke milkweed. But hey, they'll eat any of it.

When I put the milkweed in water, in a little vase, and was ready to put it in the terrarium I use for raising them, I thought, "Wow, that's kind of a cool little arrangement." That's why you're looking at a photo of my monarchs' breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

The wispy one is whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata), the yellow-flowering one is butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa 'Hello Yellow'), and the other narrow-leaved one is swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata).  In this photo, it's difficult to tell the difference between the foliage of the latter two, but in real life, butterfly weed has rather hairy or fuzzy leaves, whereas swamp milkweed's leaves are smooth.

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) has been named Perennial Plant of the Year
for 2017 by the Perennial Plant Association. It's usually seen with orange blooms.
This one is 'Hello Yellow'.

All three milkweeds are native to Ohio and many other parts of the country. It's highly recommended that you grow what's native to your area and I give you all the information you need to make those good choices in my book, THE MONARCH: Saving Our Most-Loved Butterfly.

It's appropriate that my bouquet is made of milkweed this week especially, since it's National Pollinator Week. And tomorrow, Tuesday, June 20th, I'll be a guest on Twitter's #plantchat, talking about monarchs and my new book. It starts at 2:00 Eastern, so be sure to join in!


* "In a Vase on Monday " is a blogging meme hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Book Review

If you follow me on Facebook, you know that I'm sort of a bug nerd. I wear that moniker proudly, because insects are some of the most fascinating things ever to roam the earth. Once you start looking at them - really looking at them - you'll see what I mean.

They're bizarre, some of them. Endearing, others. They all have a reason for being here, and it's not to annoy you either. In fact, most of them are doing good things for us and you'd do well to give them the respect they deserve.
Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden won an
American Horticulture Society Award in 2015.

A good place to start to learn more about them and the role they play in our world, and specifically our gardens, is with Jessica Walliser's book, Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control. I know Jessica personally, a result of being a fellow garden writer and being with her at various gardening events. This girl knows her stuff.

I'm the sort of person who likes knowing all about something, right down to the obscure. Jessica's book satisfies that curiosity in me.

One of my favorite photos in the book is this one, of a lacewing egg.

So you think it's strange to want to attract bugs to your garden? While nature has some gruesome aspects to it, for the most part, it's a wonderful plan and Jessica shows us how we can help make it all work together for good.

Integrated pest management involves organic methods of controlling the insect population in our gardens by encouraging beneficial insects to take up residence there and keep the less desirable ones under control. Will it give you perfect plants with no insect damage? No, but there are ways to put nature to work for you.

Jessica gives us 19 beneficial insect profiles, 39 plant profiles for attracting them, and insectary garden plans to help get you started. She provides a couple of citizen science opportunities for you to participate in as well.

If you've been gardening for any length of time, you realize what a futile effort it is to try to keep them away, so why not try and attract the ones that will work for you? If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. It's really the best way.

Jessica Walliser co-hosts The Organic Gardeners on KDKA radio in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and has written four other gardening books, including her newest, which will be released later this year. Learn more about Jessica and her work at


Container Gardening Complete: Creative Projects for Growing Vegetables and Flowers in Small Spaces(October 1, 2017)

Good Bug, Bad Bug: Who's Who, What They Do, and How to Manage Them Organically

A Gardener's Notebook: Life With My Garden
(co-authored with Doug Oster)

Grow Organic: Over 250 Tips and Ideas for Growing Flowers, Veggies,  Lawns and More
(co-authored with Doug Oster)

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