Monday, June 30, 2014

Tomato Hornworms

What are Tomato Hornworms?

One day you are looking at healthy tomato plants, the next morning they’ve been disseminated to a mere collection of leafless stems. You search your tomato plant only to find a caterpillar that, if photographed at point-blank range, resembles something from an old Godzilla movie.
You have just been invaded by Tomato Hornworms, a green caterpillar that has a voracious appetite, making short work of your tomatoes (potatoes, peppers, and eggplant), and grows to be five inches long and about as big around as your thumb.

These giant caterpillars are the larvae of hawk or sphinx moths.  Once they get enough to eat, the worms drops to the ground and burrows down a few inches to where the cycle begins again.
The first indication that you’ve been invaded is when the leaves of the plants come up missing, often those located at the tips of the branches.  By following the trail of frass, or caterpillar excrement, you can find them camouflaging themselves along a leaf vein or stem.  The large the hornworm, the more damage it will create on your tomatoes.

How to get rid of Tomato Hornworms
** Tilling – Although there isn’t much to do if you are just now experiencing the infestation, you can contain them for the upcoming years by tilling your soil right after you pull the tomato plants in the fall and again in the spring.  This process has a 90% mortality rate.

** Handpicking – Okay I have to admit, I call my husband in for this one.  Although they will not hurt you the bugs give me the willies.  Still, this tactic is still the best control if you have time and a small garden.  Be methodical in your search, looking at the stems as well as the underside of the leaves.  To kill the offending worms, drop them into soapy water.  To make finding them easier, spray the plants with water will increase the visual contrast.
** Wasps – Wasps feed on the hornworms and are a natural control.  If you find a hornworm with what looks like grains of rice on its back, don’t get rid of those.  That is wasp larvae and it will do more to eliminate your problem than any solution here.

** Bt - You can use a botanical remedy called Bt (Bacillus Thuringiensis), which is a bacterium that acts as a stomach poison to the caterpillar.  It doesn’t hurt the plant or Fido, but it does affect other insects, insects you may want to keep.
** Homemade Insecticides – Try making a brew of 1 cup vegetable oil, 1.5 cups of water, and 2 teaspoons dish soap.  (You can add cayenne pepper or steep in a few chili peppers to add to its potency.)  Spray directly on the leaves and vines of the tomato plant.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Drip Irrigation

        Who says you can’t grow a garden in the desert?  All it takes is good soil and a little water.

         Unlike the rotating sprinklers that water a large portion of your garden at one time, Drip Irrigation systems are strategically placed to water only the roots of the plants you intend to grow.  In this way, water is conserved as is time and money.

               Using a network of tubing (flexible or hard PVC types), soaker hoses, and drippers, each plant will slowly receive water thus reducing the amount of evaporation that occurs with mass-application sprinklers. It also eliminates stress on plants because of variations in the moisture in the soil. 
               I opted for flexible tubing, which I buried around the perimeter of my raised beds.  I used t-shaped fittings on the outside edges of each bed.  This created a way to add a line directly into each bed, plus continue the flow of water to the next one.

               From each t-shaped fitting I added a hose that ran into the bed from which I could insert barbed fittings to which I could attach solid hosing or soaker hoses. At the end of the solid hoses, I used either pressure compensating drip emitters which ran a continuous drip of 1 – 2 gallons per hour to a particular place or a sprayer for under bushes or trees.
               If you are planting rows of vegetables, such as corn, carrots, or peas the alternative is using PVC piping and drilling evenly spaced holes along the length of the pipe.

               Setting up your irrigation system is not rocket science, and you can make it as easy or as complex as you want.  But, I suggest you think through your plan first. Draw it out on a piece of paper before you purchase a thing.  Be prepared to be overwhelmed with the amount of choices at your local hardware store—selections such as hose diameter, sprinkler types, and variations of emitters. It took me studying my layout and what was at the store several times before coming away with the best solution for my garden.
               The other alternative, depending on the size of your garden are the pre-packaged kits that include enough equipment for several beds.  Review the contents carefully to assure they will work into your plan, or you’ll find you’re spending more on top of the cost of the kit.

Your turn:  Have you ever used a drip system?  What did you like about it . . . or not?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Mother Nature ALWAYS has the last word!

Last year I planted a Tea rose and it grew very well with some blooms lasting well into December. But come spring, nothing grew, no leaf buds, literally no sign of life. Up until then, there had been no sign of distress or anything that indicated the plant was dying.

I began looking at the raised bed I’d planted it in and realized the dirt I put into each of my bed had packed down, thus exposing the crown of the rose.  I has witnessed the dirt settling in other beds, but didn’t consider the problem it would cause with my roses.  As a result, I added soil and amendments into each bed, then laid a layer of mulch.
I did not, however, dig up the rose bush.  I tried to wiggle the base of the plant so when it didn’t move, which meant the roots were still solid. But still nothing happened.
As I always do, I made a note of it in my garden journal and ignored the plan while trying to complete my other gardening projects. Then I went out this past weekend, thinking it was time to rid my garden of the unsightly stump and look what I found.  A branch sprouting from the center of the crown! (Yep, the one in the picture.)
Needless to say, I was overjoyed at the sight of it…an emotion only an avid gardener would experience!  And, yes, if you were nearby, you probably saw me do my own little happy dance.  J
But, I walked away with several lessons that I learned from it.  Which I will make note of in my gardening journal:
**Don’t assume a perennial has died, give it time to rejuvenate.  It may just surprise you.
**Watch out for shrinking soil levels with new raised beds.  Time and the elements will make the dirt settle.
**Mulch roses in the fall.  If I had looked at them then, I may not have had this problem.
Your turn:  Have you ever had a plant resurrect itself?

Friday, June 20, 2014

People in Walmart Photos

In my day job, I work in “cube land”.  This means low walls where nothing you say is private. Your voice, especially if it’s like mine (loud), carries over the top of these flimsy walls with little effort.

One woman I worked with would send an email with the link to a new batch of The People of Walmart photos she found on the internet. You’d hear a titter her, a chuckle there drifting over the temporary walls, they’d multiply, be added to by the occasional snort or snicker. Soon someone would laugh outright. Then someone would wander over wondering what a person was laughing at, only to join in the cacophony of hilarity.

If you’ve never seen the infamous People of Walmart photos, be thankful. Which is the very reason I'm not going to include one here.  Although they can provoke an adult to hysterical fits of laughter, sometimes the images are unforgettable.

In the worst kind of way.

If you have seen them, my question to you would be . . . what in the world were they thinking?!?!?!  I want to say right here, I don’t expect people to go to the store like June Cleaver did—dress, white gloves, pearls—you’ve got the image.  But really, can’t they cover their bodies in something that fits?!  I really hope they don’t think they look good.

If you haven’t seen what I’m talking about, do a search on the internet . . . and be prepared to be dumbfounded.

Your Turn:  Have you ever seen the infamous Walmart Photos?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Types of Irrigation

There are several ways to water a garden besides dragging the garden hose from one end of your yard to the other. The biggest designator is your climate and water conservation needs. In my Ohio gardens, a hose of a sprinkler that spurted water into the air was a good choice, but in Nevada, I need to assure every drop of water gets to where it is needed.

Drip Irrigation – A drip irrigation system, although good for all climates, is best suited for an arid climate.  It delivers small amounts of water where it is needed most.  At the plants roots.  By sending a steady trickle of water at the base of plants, it doesn’t evaporate as quickly and drives the roots of the plant deeper into the soil bed. These are best used in flower beds and vegetable gardens.

Sprinkler Systems – By broadcasting droplets of water into the air, the plants receive a shower of rain-like water.  However, in dry climates much water is lost through evaporation.  Systems such as these should be run in the early morning hours, avoiding the heat of the day.  These are more suited for lawns.

Soaker Hoses - Soaker hoses (shown above) are a form of drip irrigation.  Hoses populated with tiny holes that weep water into the surrounding area can be laid on the ground or buried under a layer of mulch. I placed them along a line of vegetables or around a bush.  The uses of these hoses are endless.

You always have the choice of catching rain water in cisterns fed by the gutters on your home.  That is if you get enough rain to fill them.

Your turn:  What method of irrigation do you use?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Deer-proofing your Garden

When I’d talk about my prolific gardens in Ohio, often the first question would be, “What did you do to keep the deer out?” Actually, I rarely had problems with deer.  Rabbits, chipmunks, and ground squirrels were a different story, not to be addressed here.
With deer being crowded out of their natural habitat, they WILL forage food from your garden.  In a small town not five miles from where I live now, it is not unusual to see herds of deer wandering through town dining on the residents rose bush or Hosta plants.
Yes, Bambi is cute, but when you start losing plants to the hungry masses, it’s time to do something.
Here are a few recommendations:
  1)  Buy “deer-proof” plants.  Do your research before you purchase your plants, bushes, and trees.  Nurseries can even provide you this information if it is not on the plant label.  I’m not saying the deer won’t eat deer-proof plants if they’re hungry enough, but, like humans, they have their favorite foods. This does, however, limit the number of plants you can buy.
  2)  There are sprays you can purchase at your local gardening center that help deter the hungry animals.  Some are natural rather than chemical, but read the label
  3)  You can hang shiny objects that move with the wind (aluminum pie plates for example). It may startle them, but once the deer realize it isn’t going to hurt them, they’ll ignore them 
In the end, if you’re determined to have a garden and you live in an area that is part of the deer’s natural stomping ground, there isn’t a whole lot to do except fencing. In the long run, depending on how much traffic you get from the hungry animals, you might save more by fencing than replanting after every meal.
Keep in mind, a strong-minded deer can scale a four-foot fence with ease.  Depending on your local deer population you could consider tall fencing (6’ high or greater), solid wood fencing (to block their view of your garden), electrified fencing (via electricity or solar), or double fencing (two 4′ tall fences spaced 5′ apart).
Your turn:  Does Bambi visit your back yard?

Friday, June 13, 2014

Flag Day and Little Known Facts about Betsy Ross

I never did well in history, but I enjoy looking back and learning tidbits of information about people who shaped our country’s history.  Today, in honor of Flag Day tomorrow, I’m looking at Elizabeth (Betsy) Ross.
Although it is up for debate, the story is that a few members of Congress (George Washington, Robert Morris and George Ross) were chosen to be on a secret committee to create a flag for the United States.  They approached Betsy in her upholstery shop in Philadelphia to see if she could help them.  It came about that the original design they were requesting had six-pointed stars.  Betsy suggested five because they were easier to cut.  They liked her idea and later the flag she created was approved by Congress.

Did you know:

**  Betsy was the 8th out of 17 children.

** She was extremely patriotic and the British soldiers who occupied her house in the winter of 1777-78 dubbed her “The Little Rebel” because of it.

** She lost two husbands in the Revolutionary War. 

** She was George Washington’s tailor having done work on the ruffles on his shirts and on the cuffs of his sleeves.

** Betsy’s first husband John had two uncles who signed the Declaration of Independence.

** Congress ordered all the flags Betsy could make, a job she continued for the next 50 years.

** Along with flags, Betsy also made gunpowder bags, tents and blankets for the Continental Army

If you’re interested in how a five-pointed star can be made with one cut, check out the instructions for the Betsy Ross Star here.

Your turn:  What part of history do you like to learn about?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Gardens, vacations, and irrigation

              Have you ever gone on vacation and wondered what your garden would look like upon your return?  Did you believe you’d find nothing but weeds? Or find limp, possibly dying plants lying on the ground? Or learn that your best laid plans to inform the rodent population that your garden was not the neighborhoods version of New York’s famous Le Bernardin restaurant?

               In my recent emergency trip to Anchorage, Alaska, the last thing I thought of upon hopping on a plane was my garden. Thankfully, I have a wonderful neighbor who loves gardening as much as I do.  He came over daily and watered my plants. As a result, I came home to a lush garden.  My roses, that I had planted as bare roots only a little over a week prior to our hasty exit, were now putting out leaves and branches.  Primrose and Lilies were in bloom, and my peas had grown over a foot in length.

               The secret was the irrigation system I’d spent the spring installing in each of my raised beds. A mixture of drippers and soaker hoses, which with one turn of a knob, can water my whole garden in thirty minutes with little to no water waste.

               When I lived in Ohio, it was rare to have to water my garden other than in the heat of summer.  Even then, it rained frequently enough that additional watering was rarely necessary.  However, in the desert climate of Nevada where the daytime temperatures are already hovering above the 90 degree mark, my gardens need watering at least once a day—and sometimes twice.

                 The cost of the equipment needed to install the automatic irrigation system as already paid for itself.  It’s so easy, even my husband—the man who refuses to have the moniker of gardener associated with his name—can do it. Also by using a drip system, it cuts down on the weeding, because I’m watering each plant individually, rather than the larger area.

               For the next few Thursdays, I’ll be talking more about irrigation.  But in the meantime:  What is your largest gardening disaster when on vacation?

Monday, June 9, 2014

Beth Vogt's Somebody Like You

Can a young widow find love again with her husband’s reflection?Haley’s three-year marriage to Sam, an army medic, ends tragically when he’s killed in Afghanistan. Her attempts to create a new life for herself are ambushed when she arrives home one evening—and finds her husband waiting for her. Did the military make an unimaginable mistake when they told her Sam was killed?

Too late to make things right with his estranged twin brother, Stephen discovers Sam never told Haley about him. As Haley and Stephen navigate their fragile relation­ship, they are inexorably drawn to each other. How can they honor the memory of a man whose death brought them together—and whose ghost could drive them apart?

Somebody Like You is a beautifully rendered, affecting novel, reminding us that while we can’t change the past, we have the choice to change the future and start anew.

My review of Somebody Like You

This is Beth's latest and best so far!

Having been blessed with identical twin sons, I saw firsthand the special relationship they shared.  This included the similarities in their personalities as well as the differences.  For two children who looked so much alike, they often acted so uniquely different.

Beth's story accurately explores the issues behind this God-made relationship and what complications a girl like Haley would have when she loses one only to find the other.

Somebody Like You is a refreshing non-stop tale of relationships and how a widow, torn apart by the death of her spouse, would question her reasons for loving his mirror image. And how the remaining twin would struggle with his own feelings, afraid the woman he loved didn’t love him for himself, but for the memory of his dead brother.

Beth has a way of lifting the characters and their struggles right off the page and implanting them in your heart. This, her third novel, is no different.  This, is a must read.

You can find it on

Friday, June 6, 2014

National Gardening Exercise Day

Most of us struggle to get in the exercise we need, or our exercise routines become mundane.  Here is an alternative!
Today, June 6th, is National Gardening Exercise Day.  Did you even know the day existed?  Well it does.
Gardeners everywhere recognize the benefit of raking, weeding, and tending their vegetables. It’s therapeutic and benefits the mind, body, and soul. However, it is not without injury. Football players don’t have a market on pulled muscles and sore joints
There are a few key things you ought to consider prior to going out for a little yard exercise.
** If you’ve been a couch potato all winter, take it slow.  Work in spurts, rather than doing a single marathon session.
** Stretch first.  You are going to be using muscles that have lain dormant for months.  By stretching you will avoid injury.
** Diversify your chores.  Don’t spend the whole day down on your knees.  Pick up the rake or shovel in between times of weeding. Alternate your chores to avoid overstrain of a single muscle group.
** Avoid bending your back when you weed or hoe, bend at the knees.
** Then cool down.  Just like a runner takes time to let his muscles cool down, so should you.  Stretch again then take a long slow walk to relax and pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Mistakes New Gardeners Make

Gardening is fun. Its exercise.  It’s rewarding. It gets you out into the fresh air. It puts food on your plate.  I could go on and on.  But sometimes a garden can get out of hand, especially for beginners.  Then their viewpoint of having a garden will look a lot different from mine. 
So if you’re a beginner, read through some of the most common mistakes novice gardeners make and see if you’re trending towards “I’ll never plant a garden again . . . ever!”

** Don’t start out too big.  Boy is it tempting to want to plant everything you see, especially if this is your first year.  Think small.  Pick your favorite vegetables (or flowers) and choose the ones that are easiest to grow. (See my recent blog Easy to Grow Vegetables)  You’ll find it will give you the same sense of accomplishment all while increasing your gardening skills. 

** Lack of soil preparation.  Take the time to get your soil ready. (See my recent post Getting the Scoop on Dirt) Start working it as early in the spring as possible.  Of course, that depends on your local weather—you don’t want to be slopping around in the mud. Then let the soil rest until you’re ready to plant later in the spring.

** Follow planting instructions.  When the seeds say cover with one inch of soil, they mean it.  If you plant seeds too deep, they may never germinate.  Too shallow and they may dry out prematurely. Some seeds like laying on top the soil or with only a sprinkling of dirt to keep them from blowing away.  That’s because they need sunlight to start their germination process. 

** Plants need space.  Again, follow the instructions on the seed packets.  If your seedlings are too close together, they’ll struggle to get needed nutrients, sun, and water.  Although there are reasons to plant plants closer than specified—it is better to follow the instructions.  Especially if this is your first garden.

** Plants need sunshine.  Make sure your garden is in an area that gets enough sunlight.  Check the recommendation on the back of your seed packets.  Vegetables need sun all day long. Flowers have varying needs. 

** Plants need water. If you don’t give plants enough water, they tend to wilt.  Although a plant can endure a minor drought, if you wait too long, it could ultimately kill the plant.  The opposite is—don’t drown the plants in your garden.  Depending on your location, every other day or two is sufficient. A good watering will dampen the soil all the way to the plants roots and provide the moisture they need. 

** Planting at the incorrect time. Many crops have an ideal planting time. When the seed packet says to plant outside in warm soil, it’s because if planted too early the plant will suffer if it gets cold. Cold weather crops, like Broccoli and Peas will bolt when it gets hot. Follow the instructions on the back of the seed packet for best results.

Your turn:  What mistake have you made when gardening?

Monday, June 2, 2014

Plant of the Month - Coleus

Coleus is one of my favorite annual plants.  It isn’t grown for the flower it produces, but for its colorful leaves. It can be grown in the garden as a border plant, but I love it for a “fill in” plant in a pot.  Its variegated coloring adds so much color and brilliance to pots that it makes for a stunning arrangement either by itself or with other plants.  It can grow in the full sun or partial shade which makes it an even more versatile plant.  Just pinch it back when it gets too leggy.  Coleus will never disappoint!
Uses: Borders, Container 
Sun: Full Shade, Part Sun 
Height: 15-20  inches
Spread: 10-14  inches