The Great Barrier Relief

My battles with weeds and gophers have prompted multiple solutions, but I’m happy to report that a 2-part solution that has had the most staying power for these problems involves barriers, namely chicken wire and landscape fabric. In September 2013, I wanted to re-start a container garden of English roses (since in-ground roses had been destroyed by gophers over several years). After removing weeds in a narrow rectangular garden space, I covered the area with chicken wire (also known as stucco netting, which is made of the same material but is much cheaper and you get more product) – held in place with garden staples – and on top of that, I laid down landscape fabric, also held in place with garden staples.IMG_3297
Now, 1-1/2 years later, I have received great relief from weeds and gophers using this strategy. With regard to weeds, as shown in the photo, the landscape fabric will not block out 100% of weeds – weeds fight hard to poke through anything. But instead of a carpet of weeds to have to mow and then whack with a string trimmer, all I have to do is pull up a few weeds by hand. The fabric will block out nearly all weeds. The savings in time for garden maintenance is significant.

With regard to gophers, in this very area, as I was pulling the weeds, I felt a few mounds underfoot. Indeed, there were attempts by gophers to break through, but they were unsuccessful. The chicken wire – when held down by garden staples – proved effective in blocking them out.

The cost for materials (landscape fabric, chicken wire, and garden staples) has been modest for this garden space. The project is also straightforward and can be done by one person, as I can attest. I’m always happy to report on things that work well!

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Killing Weeds With Vinegar, Boiling Water, Lopper, and String Trimmer

A good and winning formula, so far, and comparatively friendly to my pocket-book. For years, I had used Roundup and Roundup Super Concentrate to rid my amply sized back yard of weeds. Citing health concerns about the product and also following the budgetary constraints from the Great Recession, I decided to use a different approach to kill and manage weeds. This is an ongoing maintenance task that has, for me, always required multiple strategies.IMG_3239

How To: First, I sprayed or doused the weed vegetation with a weed-killing liquid, followed a few weeks later with a brief run through with a string trimmer, and a lopper to remove anything still attached to the soil after the first two treatments. I’d read that ordinary vinegar (5% acidity) can kill weeds. For my back yard, it required 5 gallons of the stuff. At $2.64 per gallon, it was a reasonable price. Although the yard smelled of vinegar for just a few days, it was worth it since most weeds browned out and died. I am not striving for perfection regarding weed maintenance – only to get it within reasonable control. Check out the results after the results after the vinegar, string trimmer, and lopper.

The lopper – I usually use it to cut thin tree branches but for stubborn weed vegetation that simply will not go away quietly. Simply slide the blades underneath the weed, as close to the base of the weed as possible and cut – as simple as that, the despised plant is gone in one motion.IMG_3240 For spot treatment of small weeds in the cracks in my sidewalk, I just pour boiling water onto them and they’re killed off quickly.

Taken together, for a larger area of back yard affected by weeds, this multi-strategy approach has been useful and cost-effective.

Chicken Wire: A Gardener’s Friend and Gopher’s Foe

For anybody who has had to deal with gophers in their garden, you know the frustration of having to find something, anything that will reduce their damage. In my city, gophers run rampant, so it’s an ongoing problem that requires quite a bit of vigilance to prevent crop damage/loss and garden hazards from holes in the ground and large mounds of soil.

When I put in my raised row garden beds, the first thing I attended to was the issue of gopher management, not my future crops! I’d lost over two dozen rose plants over the years because of gophers (they eIMG_3101at their tender roots) so wanted to make it difficult for them if they decided to trespass onto my new garden beds. I laid chicken wire, securing them with landscaping staples, before covering the garden bed areas with mulch and gardening soil.

Apparently, the chicken wire has made at least one gopher unhappy. It’s interesting to see that the gopher attempted to dig a new hole and had to stop because of my 20-gauge galvanized steel chicken wire. I am so pleased to see that! I inspected this hole a bit further and saw that the wire was intact. Behaviorally, I hope that the gophers that attempt to attack that part of my garden will remember that these areas are un-diggable, and would prompt them to leave my back yard alone. For now, I am happy to see a successful result from having this rather modest-cost solution to my gopher problem. For larger yards and gardens, multiple methods might be deployed, but for most gardeners, chicken wire might be something to consider for specific projects.

Shopping Tip: Pre-packaged rolls of chicken wire (about $35 per roll, 36″ x 50″)  were about triple the cost of stucco netting, which is used for houses. The product is the same 20-gauge galvanized steel. The stucco netting also came in a roll three times the size (36″ x 150″ for $46.25), so you get a lot more for the money if you buy stucco netting. I have more than enough extra chicken wire for when I have to do any replacement of the product, which I hope will be many years from now, as well as for other projects.

Olive Fruit Fly and Its Abatement

Gardening requires a bit of vigilance to ensure the health of plants, at all stages of their lives. I’ve had my young olive trees for just a handful of months when I recently discovered brown spots on the four olives growing on one of my olive trees. In my mind, I knew it was insect damage (given my previous experience with my pear/quince trees). Searching online, I found information that confirmed that what I had was the result of egg-laying by olive fruit flies (http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn74112.html).IMG_3089 I will have to remove the fruit from the trees since they’re filled with insect larvae.

I’d searched for ways of killing these flies before they harm my trees become very productive. Most of the techniques involve some type of bait with chemicals, which I did not want.

How To: Further online investigation led me to information that all I need do, as a home gardener with few trees, is to hang containers filled with red wine vinegar (apple cider vinegar is supposed to work also, as would red wine) and a few drops of dish soap, and swirl the concoction around to distribute the soap. The sweet smell of the vinegar is the bait, but the soap prevents the flies from getting out of the liquid, thus drowning them (http://frugalliving.about.com/od/doityourself/qt/Rid_Fruit_Flies.htm).IMG_3090

I made two traps so hopefully this will work. Only one of my trees is fruiting right now but since my backyard neighbor has a mature olive tree opposite my young olive trees, I thought it would be good to protect both of my trees. The ingredients for making these traps are easy to find, inexpensive, and relatively “green.”

The traps are as easy to make as shown in this picture. I used empty plastic food containers and some kitchen twine for this small project. When there are a lot of dead flies and the liquid runs low, it will be time to replenish it. I have a few bottles of red wine that I do not like, so it will be awhile before I need to spend any more money to fight these flies. I will need to maintain these traps for the life of these trees, for pennies per week. That’s a bargain, considering the delicious return on this investment!

Do-It-Yourself: Replacing a Sprinkler Head

I am as pleased as punch right now! One of the black plastic Rain Bird sprinkler heads of my automatic sprinkler system broke off at the level of the lawn and needed replacement. My initial thought was, “Gee, how much will it cost to hire someone to fix this?”

Then I thought, “How much is the part? Maybe I can do this myself.” I went to my neighborhood home improvement store up the street and found that the replacement part, a pop-up spray head, with tax, was $4.51.  But I was not sure of the process of removing the old head and putting in the new one.

Happily,  I found an online video of how to make this repair myself and it is a good one:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IEJDGOtX5co

The young woman who later helped me at the store advised me to turn off the water supply before doing the repair – wise words to avoid an impromptu autumn shower! The tools I used for this project: (1) pointed shovel, (2) gardening hand trowel, (3) flathead screwdriver, and (4) a small plastic container to scoop out collecting water around the sprinkler head.

I had to carefully remove a small section of sod surrounding the sprinkler head first (this removed sod will be put back after the repair). The first photo shows the underside of this small section of sod. I used the shovel to do the removal of the sod. After that was done, I scooped out the soil with the hand trowel. The sprinkler/spray head was then easily unscrewed by hand. I then drove to the store to get the right part.

I briefly turned on the water to flush out debris in the part of the sprinkler head that was still in the ground, in preparation for installation of the new part. I turned off the water again, scooped out the collected water, and screwed in the new part. I turned on the water to see that it sprayed and in the right direction. Once I was satisfied with the result, I put back the soil that I had dug out and tamped down the piece of sod.

Looking at the above video, though, got me thinking, “If you can hull a strawberry, you can certainly dig around a sprinkler head!” It’s a transferable skill.  (FYI, to hull a strawberry: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g7D9vgO4lEc)

This was my first attempt with replacing a sprinkler head by myself and I am pleased with the results. It may take a bit more time to complete this project yourself, but it can be done. Don’t give up!

I encourage readers to view the repair video – it’s easy to follow – and the strawberry video, too, because it’s not all about work!

TIP:  From my experience, the removable cap and filter underneath can be reused for another sprinkler head. I found that out today.

One of my other sprinkler heads was not spraying water at all. I used the flathead screwdriver to manually raise up the pop-up spray head.

I removed the cap and filter (white removable piece under the black cap) of this sprinkler head and replaced them with the removable cap and filter of the broken one that I replaced today, since those parts looked to be in good condition – problem solved through the use of existing resources.

At the home improvement store, I saw that a kit with just the cap and filter cost about $2.

Miniature Greenhouse to Start My Fruits and Vegetables

Years ago, I tried starting my fruit and vegetable garden using a plastic miniature greenhouse, without success (failure of seeds to germinate). Thereafter, I planted my seeds directly into the soil outdoors, with variable success. These days, I am more mindful of not wasting resources (including seeds) and thought that the greenhouse idea might be worth revisiting.

Last month, I purchased a miniature greenhouse and I am happy to report that there has been some success in that seedlings have emerged! The only ones that have not yet shown seedlings are the lettuces, but I am hopeful.

I planted my seeds in columns (12). From left to right, here are the plants in my greenhouse: (1) yellow squash, (2) green squash, (3) golden wax beans, (4) tender green beans, (5) Black Krim tomatoes, (6 + 7) Green Zebra tomatoes, (8) long purple eggplant, (9) Black Beauty eggplant, (10) Bibb buttercrunch lettuce, (11) ruby lettuce, and (1) crimson sweet watermelon.

The golden wax beans are growing quite rapidly and actually lifting up the dome. To allow the seedlings that are developing more slowly a chance to benefit from the warmth of the greenhouse, I decided to transplant the golden wax bean seedlings directly into the soil outside.

I am very excited about the possibility of having a nice bounty of delicious homegrown produce this year!

HOW TO: I purchased a Jiffy greenhouse that came with 72 peat pellets. (about $7 – Jiffy also makes smaller greenhouses). The dried peat pellets (disks) that are activated (expanded and softened) with warm water. I drained off excess water.  After several minutes, I loosened up the soil in each planted 2-3 seeds per pellet. It took a little bit of time, but simple to do.

After I finished planting the seeds in each peat pellet, I covered the pellet tray with a dome (included in the kit). I placed the greenhouse in my living room, behind the glass of the patio door, to allow for indirect sunlight.

Seedlings started to emerge after 1 week, but many more at the end of the second week. The ones that are developing the fastest, the golden wax beans, were transplanted outdoors today, directly into the soil.

When the other seedlings are more mature, I will transplant them directly into the soil outside as well (after thinning out the seedlings that appear weak by pulling them out of the peat pellet).

CONSUMER ALERT UPDATE: The non-fruit parts of tomato plants are poisonous if ingested.  More information on toxic plants can be found here:

http://www.calpoison.org/hcp/KNOW%20YOUR%20PLANTS-plant%20list%20for%20CPCS%2009B.pdf

Sweet Alyssum is Truly Sweet!

Started from seed planted only one time, years ago, sweet alyssum has taken my backyard by storm! Also known as Lobularia maritima, these wildflowers are understated beauties that self-seed vigorously, so new plants come back year after year with no further effort on my part. Talk about return on investment! 

I purchased a one-pound plastic container of wildflower seeds (which contains just 27% wildflower seeds and 73% inert matter, in my case) and sprinkled handfuls of seeds over soil I only slightly loosened up with a rake; I then watered and voila, here we are! This is just one of the many wildflower types that now call my garden home. I still have about a quarter of a bucket left.

I have found this to be an inexpensive  and low-effort way to fill in the bare areas of my garden (which can become bare for any of a number of reasons). The results can be quite lovely!

CONSUMER ALERT UPDATE:  I recently cleared my garden of sweet alyssum and found that the leaves and flowers of sweet alyssum caused me to develop a rash. This information is not found on my usual toxic plants site, but on this other one:  http://www.stanford.edu/group/EVgarden/PLants%20you%20want%20to%20know.htm

Planting Cauliflower and Eggplant Seeds Today!

I have the day off today, a perfect opportunity to get a handle on my autumn-winter vegetable garden!  I already have my cauliflower seeds at home – Snowball X.

I went to the local nursery today to pick up a few packets of eggplant seeds, in two varieties: Black Beauty (the one I currently have, VERY prolific) and Long Purple.

I very much enjoyed steamed cauliflower. And don’t get me started on the Black Beauty eggplants! My one 5-gallon container currently has one plant and there are at least 12 eggplants in various stages of maturity. They’re very delicious.

Because of the rather mild winters here, I will be planting the cauliflower and eggplant seeds directly into 5-gallon (or larger) containers. The potting soil is ready to go.

I went to Whole Foods right after my visit to the nursery. Awhile ago, I remembered that they sold vegetable seeds. Apparently, at least in this one store, they now only carry a very restricted selection of seeds, such as wheat grass, I think. The kind clerk who assisted me and I shared a laugh at the limited selection and he said, “Yeah, I know, you’re looking for real food!” Indeed!

I absolutely love homegrown vegetables, not only because of the cost-effectiveness, but because I know that I do not add any pesticides. Only water, sunshine, and lots of tender loving care.

TIP: Be careful when you remove an eggplant – for sure, the Black Beauty variety has very sharp THORNS on the stem and calyx – based on personal experience!

Cordless String Trimmer

I purchased a new cordless string trimmer today (Ryobi 12″, 18 volt lithium battery, P2002). I’d owned corded trimmers in the past but was never really happy with having to drag out a long extension cord, which had to be plugged into an outlet and then threaded through a door or window screen left ajar while using the trimmer.

I must say I am impressed thus far. With one charge, I’ve managed to clear out nearly all of the affected areas – I’m now taking a break, but still have battery life still.

 I’ve been working on my weed removal project the past several weeks. The task has taken some additional time because of the area involved (2000+ square feet) and the amount of weed vegetation that blanketed the area.

With a lopper, I cut off the above ground vegetation at the base of each weed, one by one (!). That was the first step. The second step was to spray weed killer (Roundup Super Concentrate, purple cap) all over the areas where the weed vegetation appeared, with the help of a hose end sprayer. It took a few weeks for the weed killer to take effect, but once it did take effect, the results were very clearly dead weeds, a small field of golden brown.

This afternoon was the final step, removal of the dead vegetation. The cordless string trimmer has made very quick work of the dead weed removal and I’m actually looking forward to going back outside within the hour to finish it.

I found that the operation of the trimmer to be easy, it’s not too heavy, and a single charge lasts a good amount of time to clear a very large area.

SHOPPING TIP: The trimmer company also sells pre-strung spools of trimmer string (aka trimmer line), sold in 3-packs of spools. From my past experience with corded trimmers, the spools that hold the string really don’t wear out that quickly, so I opted instead to purchase a generic packet of just the trimmer string only.

I purchased the required size of monofilament string for this specific trimmer (string measures .065 inches in diameter – see the above photo) and will thread it myself when the existing spool runs out of string. Note that a generic package of string only costs less than half the price of the 3-pack of pre-strung spools. From my past experience, stringing a spool is very straightforward so is  a good economical choice.

UPDATE: Here are detailed manufacturer’s instructions on how to use this product: http://www.scotts.com/smg/catalog/productTemplate.jsp?proId=prod70348&itemId=cat50096&tabs=usage

UPDATE #2: I’ve owned this string trimmer for less than three years and something in the wiring makes it short out and not work. This happened today, 3/15/2014, the second such incident. I only use it once a month, so I doubt it is from overuse. Sadly, I will hold off on bringing it back to the repair shop since I suspect the problem will return and I am not sure what causes it to short out. It is also a bit tiresome to have to the battery run out in under 30 minutes and then you have to wait to recharge it to continue on with your work. (Hands thrown up in the air). Disappointed with Ryobi. If manufacturers want more people to “go green,” they have to make the products last as long (if not longer) and perform as well as non-green products. I will be shopping for a gas-powered string trimmer soon.

Waltham Butternut Squash Seeds

SHOPPING TIP: Oh, my gosh, earlier today, I scored one packet (1.0 gram) of Waltham butternut squash seeds at the 99 Cents Only Store for the princely sum of 11 cents! I will be planting them within the hour in three separate containers. Yay!

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