Folding Step Stool Helps in the Garden

As much as I honestly love doing deep squats (and I do), it becomes less fun when I have to hold that position beyond 5 minutes at a time. Even if you’re in peak physical health, this sustained deep squatting position can inflict tremendous stress on your knees and lower back (from experience). Today, I’ve thrown off the yoke of squat-stress in the garden by buying and immediately using a plastic folding step stool. It’s 9 inches high, 13-1/2 inches length, and 8-1/2 inches width. These were the perfect dimensions for me as a short person (5’3″).

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Recent rainy weeks have left behind a jungle of weeds in my back yard that need removing. This will be a chore that will require several weekends, but already I’ve felt the difference sitting on it for a few hours – such physical comfort (!) at the endimg_1680 of  removing weeds for 3 hours, by hand. This has been such a great tool; I regret not buying one sooner.

After my work was done for the day, I rinsed it off with water, dried with a towel, and folded it up – very light weight and compact. I bought it at a discount store for approximately $9, but it’s totally worth it to spare myself an achy couple of days afterwards. Such a powerful tool that promotes and supports good health – my folding step stool is already proving to be a great friend in the garden!

Garden Wand Sprayer

After years of using a traditional garden nozzle sprayer, I replaced it yesterday with a garden wand sprayer. Although helpful to reach places that are  up high and/or far, I was primarily motivated to get a sprayer that would be gentler on my injured wrist and shoulder (in recovery). It provides more power with less effort. I like that the water sprays out with only a light squeeze of the trigger, that I can adjust the amount of water that comes out, the multiple spraying options, and the rotatable sprayer head. Gone (hopIMG_3368efully) are my days of garden sprayer calisthenics! One of the benefits of replacing older equipment (the nozzle I was using was leaking)  is seeing the improved features of better-designed tools. Gardening can be demanding on its own; might as well use better tools (when possible) to lighten the load!

Dragon Tree: Branches Cut

Prompted by my recent visit from a termite inspector, I successfully cut a few small branches from my dragon trees. I took 3 branches from the larger tree and 1 branch from the smaller tree. These branches were growing towards my roof. This project was a preventive measure against a costly roof repair. I returned minutes ago from my home improvement store with an electric chain saw that I rented from them (Makita, 16 inch). The person at the store was very kind and gave me brief instructions and I was on my way. The time I spent actually cutting the branches was probably around 5 minutes. The overall integrity and structure of both trees have been preserved. The photos also show before and after the cuts.

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TIP: In the past, I would have called my tree guy to take care of something like this, but thinking about it, I wondered if I could just take care of it myself. Had I gone with the tree guy, it would have cost around $200-$250. With my first-ever effort with a chain saw, it cost the princely sum of $36.89.

It started to rain a bit by the clean-up, so I got a bit dirty and wet, which made it really fun. I’m wearing goggles and a pink hoodie and splattered with ground-up bits of tree branch. Now that’s a fantastic experience! Some folks shy away from the manual labor, but I love it. I came away from this experience with a new skill, which makes it very satisfying. It’s always great to pick up a useful and practical skill!

The branch cuttings: from previous experience, they can lay flat like that for several months and then planted into containers and root successfully. I will do that in the next weekend or even later. Dragon trees (and their cuttings) are quite resilient and strong, inspiring and always beautiful!

Autumn Clean-Up of Raised Row Bed Garden

I always feel a great sense of accomplishment and anticipation after doing my seasonal gardening clean-up chores. I had already finished my regular front yard work earlier in the afternoon and had finished off with a clean-up of the raised row bed garden. I was very happy to have enjoyed tomatoes and beans this past summer and now have to prepare my garden for cold-weather crops.IMG_3268

I had to gently pull out most of my expired or expiring plants. For my one large tomato plant, it required pruning shears to get at removing all of the roots. After a vigorous and productive few hours of front and backyard work, I was quite pleased to see the “spoils” of my efforts. The green waste bin was filled to the rim! Wow!

With my raised rows now mostly clear – a few lettuces that did not germinate in spring to early summer are now growing – I have the delightful decision on how many plants to start indoors in the coming weekend and how many plants to directly go into the soil. I will have to replenish the garden soil in some of the rows before doing any planting. I love loading up my mighty sedan with bags of the stuff! I am eager to have my autumn garden come alive!

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.

Raised Row Bed Garden

I finished a major backyard garden project within the past hour. I have put in a raised row bed garden. Inspired by a great website on how to do it (http://oldworldgardenfarms.com/2012/11/20/growing-simple-the-raised-row-garden-way/), I adapted their plan to the resources available to me and the conditions of my garden. That site provides an excellent, detailed description of how to do this.

First, I had made the commitment/decision last month to devote most of my back yard to being a food garden. My desire for fresh food over the years and my motivation towards sustained good health also pushed me in this direction. Second, I had to take into account the realities of my back yard (gophers). Third, I really did not want to till my soil. This meant, of course, that I had to make several trips to the home improvement store to get supplies.

The basic design is to alternate rows of soil (that sits atop the mulch) with walking paths that contain just the mulch.IMG_3081

How To: After taking some measurements, it looked like the best thing for me was to create three separate spaces: two 10 feet by 10 feet squares and one 8 feet by 4 feet rectangle. In all, I needed: (a) wood bark mulch (120 cubic feet), (b) organic gardening soil (30 cubic feet), (c) chicken wire – 2 rolls measuring 36 inches by 50 inches, (d) two boxes of garden staples or landscaping fabric pins, and (e) various vegetable and fruit seeds.

I put down the chicken wire first, cutting them at 10-foot lengths (and 8-foot length for the rectangular space) and keeping them in place with garden staples. I did this for each of my three raised-row spaces. You may skip this step if you don’t have a problem with burrowing animals. A nice benefit of this step is that it provides a good outline for pouring your mulch.

Each of the 10 feet by 10 feet squares required 55 cubic feet of wood bark mulch. This will not only ensure a comfortable step but will, importantly, reduce the chance for weeds. I just poured bags of mulch (each bag contains 2 cubic feet of hardwood mulch) over the chicken wire and used a bow rake (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rake_%28tool%29) to help distribute the mulch evenly. I split 27 cubic feet of garden soil between these two square spaces, creating 4 raised rows for each of these spaces.

The 8 feet by 4 feet rectangle required 10 cubic feet of wood bark mulch and 3 cubic feet of garden soil, which formed 1 raised row.

I then planted seeds into each row and watered the rows using the “mist” setting. I’m hoping that things will start growing in the coming weeks! I will thin the seedlings as needed at that time.

This project is doable for one person – as I did – but it takes some time. I purchased the supplies over two weekends, and installed the garden over two additional weekends. I took several resting periods every hour and drank plenty of water throughout, to make sure that I was in comfortable condition, and worked on the project during late afternoons, when it was cooler. This is a very labor-intensive project so any extra hands will certainly reduce the time it takes to enjoy your new (and hopefully prolific) garden!

Mexican Orange Hedge Gets a Haircut

My neighbor has a lovely Mexican orange hedge that has overgrown a bit into my yard, requiring that I give it a haircut. Also known as Choisya ternata, this native of Mexico is a very robust shrub that needs periodic trims to keep it neat. The overgrowth into my yard made mowing the lawn area next to it difficult.IMG_2966

Using a lopper, I trimmed quite a bit of the overgrowth. Although skeletal in appearance, not to worry. This shrub will fill in with leaves over the next few months. But I think that the display of the “bones” of this plant is strangely lovely. Here is a close up of its healthy leaves.IMG_2967

Often, gardeners are reluctant to trim, prune, or cut off portions of overgrown plants and trees because they feel that such actions might hurt or even kill the plants or trees. These routine gardening activities, however, promote the growth of new vegetation.

Although the leaves were many, the number of branches supporting these leaves was much smaller in number, making this gardening project rather simple, done in under an hour. Once the new leaves come in, I will keep my eye on their growth and make only light trims with garden shears.

Using Pruning Tools in the Garden

I prune my bushes every two weeks or so during the autumn (every week during the warm seasons), and late yesterday afternoon was just one such occasion.  I have used an electrical hedge trimmer, but often find it unwieldy. Nowadays, I tend to use garden shears. It takes longer, it’s true, but I enjoy the results.

A healthy shrub easily withstands shearing. If a shrub grows too tall, you can simply cut it down to the desired height. Initially, you may be concerned (as I was when I first started years ago) that once you cut down a tall shrub to a shorter height, that the cut top will forever be bare branches. Not so.  Given time, the branches will fill up with new leaf growth and, before you know it, the top will be just a leafy as other parts of the shrub.

Check out the view of the backside of one of the shrubs I pruned yesterday. New leaves are growing in – the other bare branches will fill in with leaves eventually, too.

I have enjoyed the upside trapezoidal shape of this particular shrub, but it would be easy to shear off the left and right sides of the shrub and make it more cube-like in shape.

From my experience, when shearing a shrub of this size, I’ve mostly relied upon garden shears (with the longer blades – think Edward Scissorhands) or hedge trimmer, and occasionally a lopper to remove thicker branches.

Depending on the result that you wish to achieve with your shrubs, you may also need hand pruners (short blades) or pruning saws. This is a very good website on the tools needed for pruning trees and shrubs, including photos of the tools: http://gardening.about.com/od/toolschool/ig/Pruning-Tools/

Keep in mind that if you prune back the leaves very hard and achieve a tightly clipped shrub, you will be spending more time maintaining that tightly clipped look and on constant watch for new leaf growth. It will look elegant, of course, but time considerations also factor in. More time (and tools) will be needed also if you want to add topiary into the garden.

Trimming Bushes with Garden Shears or Hedge Trimmer?

I have garden shears and an electric hedge trimmer. I have relied mostly on the hedge trimmer to keep the bushes neat. But, on this hot autumn afternoon, I thought it was too much to unwind the long extension cord, so I opted to use garden shears.

The front yard has just a few bushes, most of which grow somewhat slowly. But I have one that grows like crazy and needs more care to be manageable. As it turns out, I liked the result of using the garden shears! I have seen the result after using the hedge trimmer and I must say that there is little difference to my eye. I saved on electricity and  also received a very good workout!

On occasions where I only need to trim one of the bushes and time permits, I will probably use garden shears. With multiple bushes and less time, I will opt for the hedge trimmer.

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.

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