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Plant a Mint Bowl

On a recent trip to my local nursery I found these unique varieties of mint!  I planted them in a terra cotta bowl and labeled them with copper plant markers, to keep track of the different varieties.  As I was planting and rustling the leaves of the mint, it smelled wonderful in the air and my hands smelled so fresh.

The chocolate mint has a strong sent of mint with just a hint of chocolate and it is delicious sprinkled over some freshly chopped strawberries.  The apple mint is a little more subtle and tastes delicious in a glass of ice water.  Crush a few leaves between your fingers and drop them in the water, then swirl it around a bit.  It makes a great summer afternoon treat.  The sweet mint is wonderful dropped into a glass of strong black sun tea.

I just love the way it looks when different varieties of the same herb or flower are all planted together.  Have you ever done that?  What are your favorite plant mixes?

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Gardening Journal: Killing Weed Seeds and Bugs in Compost

Ideally your compost pile will heat up enough during the decomposition process to kill most of the unwanted bugs and weed seeds that get into it. Sometimes this isn’t the case and you need a little extra help.  You have a couple of options, some are more harsh than others and you want to balance your desire to kill the weed seeds and bad bugs with your desire to maintain the life of the beneficial organisms that are part of your compost.

Prevention
First and foremost of course, is trying to avoid weeds seeds and bugs making it through the decomposition process in the first place. One of the ways that you can ensure weed seeds are killed, is to put them in the hottest part of the compost pile, the center.  If you’ve plucked some weeds from your garden that have gone to seed, make sure you bury them in the center of the pile and not along the outer edges where it doesn’t heat up as much.

Pasteurizing in the Oven or on the Stove
Sometimes weed seeds and bad bugs make it past the decomposition process, that’s when you can turn to pasteurization.  This process is similar to sterilization and solar sanitization, but it is done at a lower temperature.  The idea being that you heat the compost enough to kill the weed seeds and bad bugs, but not so much that you kill the beneficial organisms that you have worked so hard to cultivate. Work in small batches using fully decomposed compost and be forewarned, this process may make your house smell.  Best to do it on a day when you can open the windows and let a breeze in!

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Gardening Journal: How to Sterilize Clay Pots

Materials Needed: bleach, scrub brush, rubber gloves

I have always loved the look of mold and calcium buildup on my terra cotta pots. Unfortunately that wonderful patina can mean unsanitary growing conditions for your potted plants.  Give your plants their best chance for growth by sterilizing your clay and terra cotta pots before you plant.  This easy process will help eliminate the possibility of fungal or bacterial diseases that may develop.

Soak the pot(s) in a  solution of ten parts water to one part bleach.  I like to use my kitchen sink but you can use a plastic bucket or basin.  Allow the pots to soak for a minimum of 3 hours or you can leave them in the solution overnight if you prefer.  After the pots have soaked, put on your rubber gloves and use a stiff bristled scrub brush to thoroughly scour the pot, inside and out.  Rinse the pot and allow it to dry.

Your pots are now ready, and your new plants will have a great growing season!

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Homemade: Fern Terrarium

Terrarium – a partially or wholly enclosed container, usually glass, used for growing and/or displaying plants.

I have always been intrigued by terrariums.  They are a whole tiny world under glass, containing miniature displays, and nooks and crannies of entire eco-systems.  The man credited with discovering terrariums, Nathaniel Ward, accidentally created a terrarium during an experiment and the plants in his terrarium thrived for four years without any additional watering.  So how do these micro-worlds exist without care for so many years?  When a terrarium is initially assembled, the plants are watered and the soil moistened, this provides the initial water source.  Once the terrarium is sealed and placed in sunlight, condensation will form on the walls of the display.  At night, the water drips and slides back down to the soil and waters the plants.  This is, of course, the basic principle and if you’re interested in learning more, you can read Nathaniel Ward’s book on the topic, “On the Growth of Plants in Closely Glazed Cases” for free at Google Books.

This past weekend I stopped into my favorite local plant nursery, Palmer’s Garden and Goods, and I found the best little ferns. They were small and specifically designed for use in a terrarium, and for less than $2 each, I couldn’t pass them up! I bought four different styles, two with delicate leaves, one with broad, glossy, light green leaves and one with variegated green and white pointed leaves.

1. Adiantum raddianum ‘Pacific Maid’, Delta Maidenhair Fern  2. Asplenium goudeyi, Miniature Bird’s Nest Fern  3. Adiantum raddianum ‘Gracillimum’, Delta Maidenhair Fern  4. Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’, Japanese Painted Fern

Materials you’ll need for assembly:

1. damp soil  2. orchid bark  3. clay saucer and paper ring*  4. decorative moss of your choice and small sticks  5. glass cloche or any decorative, clear cover

*The paper ring is used to hold the base materials, in this case orchid bark and soil, during assembly.  You will remove the ring prior to covering your terrarium, with the cloche.  To make the paper ring, fold two sheets of paper to a height of 2.5″ each.  The final size of the ring should be the size of the inside of your cloche.  To measure it, put the two sheets of folded paper inside the cloche and adjust until they form a ring, then tape the ends to secure.  Remove the ring from the cloche and cover it with plastic wrap, so it doesn’t absorb water from the damp soil you’ll be using.

I’ve always had a “cabinet of curiosities” style decor in my home, so the fact that I have a cloche on-hand wasn’t too surprising.  For most people you may want to purchase one and there are a lot of great terrarium covers available online.  If you’re feeling creative or want to repurpose something you already have, try using an old 2-liter soda bottle, an emptied incandescent lightbulb, a clear cake plate cover, an old spaghetti sauce jar or one of my favorites, a mason jar.

Assembly Instructions:

Today, I’ll be showing you how to make a basic terrarium, which will need to be watered about once a month.

1. Fill the paper ring with orchid bark and top with moistened soil.  Once you remove the paper ring, you’ll be able to see the two layers you’ve created through the clear terrarium cover.

2. Arrange your plants, mounding the soil to create different heights.  I left my plants in the containers they came in, this will make it easier if I want to swap out one of the plants later.  It also keeps them from growing to vigorously and outgrowing the terrarium.

3. Cover the pots with the remaining soil and top with decorative moss.

4. Place bits of pretty orchid bark, sticks and small stones around for added interest.

5. Remove the paper ring carefully.  The moistened soil should hold its shape long enough for you to gingerly set the terrarium cover in place.

Care:

Your terrarium is complete!  Set it in an area where it will get indirect sun and almost immediately, you’ll notice a fine condensation start to form on the inside of the glass.  After a few minutes this will form droplets and the glass will clear a little more, so you can see the wonderful world you just created.  This terrarium will need very little care, aside from a watering about every 4-5 weeks.

Have a good time making your own terrarium, and as always, leave your questions in the comments section and I’ll get back to you!

katie: normal girl

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Organic Pest and Fungus Control: Neem Oil

Organic Pesticide Profile: Neem Oil
(click here to download this profile from my personal Gardening Guide)

This is one of my favorite organic pest controls.  I learned about it several years ago and I’ve used it ever since, with great successes. I hope you find it useful too!

Neem oil is extracted from the seeds of the Neem Tree (Azadirachta indica).  For thousands of years it has been used in India’s Ayurvedic medicine tradition for everything from toothpaste to a contraceptive.  It is also used as a flea and tick repellent for dogs and other animals, and in the 1980′s Neem oil was registered with the US EPA as a pesticide.  It’s very effective as both a pest control treatment and preventative, and when applied correctly, it will not harm beneficial insects. Keep in mind, that like many natural substances, Neem oil can be toxic so you’ll want to understand proper use of the product before applying it on your plants.

How it Works

Neem oil is a contact and systemic, all-natural pesticide, found to be useful in treating over 200 species of pests (especially their eggs) and some common fungal diseases. It is especially good for treating and repelling, leaf-eating insects.  When applied as a preventative, it is drawn up by the plant’s roots and deposited throughout the plant’s tissue.  The smell alone can prevent many insects from snacking on the plant. When sprayed on the foliage, it forms a film on the plant’s leaves, essentially suffocating pests and their larvae, which are then prevented from transitioning to the pupal stage and they die soon afterwards.

Once dry, insects are safe to land on the neem oil sprayed foliage; however, once they begin to feed on the leaves and ingest the Neem oil, a neurological change will occur and the insect will “forget” to eat and reproduce, and will die within a few days.  Keep in mind that Neem oil will not kill entire colonies on contact, it will take a few days to stop the life cycle of the pest.

Many beneficial insects are not leaf-eating, so Neem oil is safe for many beneficial insects like butterflies, honeybees and ladybird beetles (also known as ladybugs), once it is dry.

How to Use Continue Reading →

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