About the SFMGA

Monday, June 01, 2009

Gray Watering – & – Make Your Own Rain Barrel

By Melanie Deason, Master Gardener

Water your trees with collected water (especially those fruit trees that need extra water in warmer weather to help produce a nice crop of fruit). Move the garden hose around to a new tree every time you have bath water, and you'll save lots on your water bill.

Bathtub Water

Some folks save bathtub water (use biodegradable soaps shampoos and pump it out a window, using a little electric fountain pump attached to a smaller hose/brass adapter) that fits a regular garden hose.

  • Whether you are upstairs or on the ground floor, that little pump can move the water out of the tub and to the ground – into an old trash can with water spigot at the bottom, or straight to the tree.
  • Just stay nearby and listen to the pump because as the water lowers to the last inch, the pump will start to "slurp."
  • Turn off the pump by pulling the plug from the GFCI wall receptacle, WITH DRY HANDS, PLEASE, and not the pump cord, so as not to risk shock.
  • Also be sure the pump cord is NOT anyplace wet – like sitting on the wet bath towel.
  • By following these guidelines, you'll likely save lots of water on your water bill, and your trees will appreciate it.

Barrels for Water Catchment, with Spigot and Garden Hose Attached

You can buy one ready made for $80, or you can adapt an inexpensive plastic trash barrel with another $10 in parts.

  • Buy: ONE brass water faucet spigot (male with threads) that is straight and not curved down, and ONE short piece (3-4 inches) of white PVC (female/outside) that the spigot will screw into. Add TWO rubber washers (round, not garden hose flat) that fit snugly around the threads of the spigot.
  • Use a wood bit (has a center point plus two cutting side points) that is the exact diameter/size of the threaded part of the spigot to drill the hole. This type of bit will easily drill through the plastic barrel – on the SIDE of the barrel, about three inches from the bottom, but NOT TOO LOW, or you won't be able to hook the garden hose up to the faucet. (Of course, DO NOT DRILL THE BARREL BOTTOM.)
  • Each washer will be the 'bread' that sandwiches into EITHER SIDE of the barrel. To assemble, place one washer onto the spigot. Insert spigot into opening from outside the barrel. Attach second washer onto spigot inside the barrel. Attach PVC section. Tighten by hand and wrench lightly so to not stress the plastic barrel. Compression flattens the two washers and ensures the barrel does not leak.
  • Be sure the angle of the faucet is slightly horizontal, not pointing downward so the hose can be hooked up. (Test this hose hookup BEFORE filling the barrel with water.)
  • It's a little time consuming to convert trash barrels to water barrels, but if you're doing a few for catching water at your roof canales (or down spouts from the roof), then it's worth the effort.
  • Caution about Birds and Pets: Save the lid from these barrels and invert them; the curved part is down. Drill 3-4 holes around the side of the lid and 3-4 more on the top edge of the barrel. Fasten lid to barrel with wire. This way the lid is securely attached to the barrel and no wildlife or pets fall in to drown. ALSO, drill a half dozen or more large holes in the lid, so that water falling as rain or canale runoff can easily drain into the barrel.
  • At the end of the warm season, unhook the garden hoses and open the spigot, so any water trapped inside can drain out. If it catches canale runoff and freezes later, the barrel usually handles the stress.

Water-wise Water Features

By Paul A. Zeir

Combine beauty and conservation. Build your pond as part of your property's water collection and irrigation system. Roof run-off and landscape run-off can be collected in an ornamental pond, filtered for fish and plants and distributed to landscape and shrubs. Shading the pond itself with trees and aquatic plants cuts down on evaporation. Water attracts water!

Paul A. Zeir—REFLECTIONS Ponds & Fountains, www.reflectionsponds.com

Keeping the Critters at Bay!

By Joy Mandelbaum, Master Gardener

Already tried EVERYTHING to keep the rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks from gnawing on your plants and digging holes in your garden??

I have tried with success a product called Bobbex R animal repellant concentrate (32 fl oz. That makes 256 fl. oz.). It is non-burning and has no harmful residue. It can be used on fruits and vegetables, but not edible leaves, herbs or rough-skinned berries. Active ingredients include putrescent whole egg solids, castor oil, cloves and garlic oil.

Available from Bobbex, Inc., 52 Hattertown Road, in Newtown, CT 06470. Call them at 1.800.792.4449 or check their website at www.bobbex.com

Jade Plant Care

By Christina Gale, Master Gardener

The jade plant (Crassula) is a common, slow-growing succulent grown as a houseplant. It likes bright indirect light and will grow in partial shade. Water is stored in the leaves, stem and roots. The plant prefers dry soil, so let it dry out before watering again. Avoid getting water on the leaves because it acts as a magnifying glass and causes burns on the leaves if you put them in the sun. When pruning, use a sharp pair of scissors, make clean cuts so it will heal quicker. For large plants, you will want to prune to redistribute the weight so they don't get top heavy or lopsided. Make the cuts close to the branch so you won't leave unsightly stumps. If you like, prune them like you would a fruit tree and shape the plant you want it to look.

If you want to propagate plants from the cuttings, you can look for red-dish brown root hairs poking out of the branches. With root hairs your cuttings are good to plant directly into a new pot, much easier than from the leaves.

Pot-grown Tomatoes Give Higher Yields

By David Van Winkle, Master Gardener

Growing tomatoes in a pot can be more successful than in the ground. Last year, I grew a cherry tomato bush in a pot and it produced 670 tomatoes. My neighbor grew tomatoes in the ground, and his started flowering and blooming weeks after my potted plants. Tomato soil needs to reach 55 degrees to start this process, and potted soil warms faster than in-ground plants.

Gardening with Rocks

By Cathy Morlock, Master Gardener

You can't grow a rock, but the combination of a beautiful rock and living plants can make your garden a special place. Rock comes in all sorts of shapes, sizes and forms from small landscape gravel to river stones and large stone pavers. Its uses in the garden are nearly endless. Gravel can be used for pathways and for mulch. Medium and larger stones can be used for edging or planters. Benches, fire pits, patios, and raised beds can all be made from stone of various sizes. Big rocks can be used as features and focal points: a boulder can be partially buried to add mass, height, and a feeling of stability to the garden. Small, smooth stones can be used at the bottom of water features. In a Japanese garden, rocks and boulders represent islands, mountains, and holy places. Your rocks can represent whatever you like.

If you are a rock hound AND a gardener, what a lucky combination. Pick up specimens on your walks and hikes and introduce them to your garden in creative ways. The stone that is native to your area may look best because that is its natural habitat, but don't be limited – use what pleases you. Look for rocks and stones in different shapes and sizes. Use a combination of shiny, matte, and pitted surfaces, similar to the way you select plants with different heights and textures.

Observe how rocks and plants interact in the wild. See how a group of rocks looks together, partially embedded in the ground, revealing only some of their beauty, how the plants get started and then thrive among the rocks in a micro-climate using the rocks as shade or as water collectors and as temperature regulators (rocks heat up during the day and give off heat at night). Notice that you can create the same kind of scenes in your garden. This gives your garden the look of the surrounding landscape and the rook looks as though it belongs there, not as if you decided to drop a pile of rocks into the garden.

Above all, have fun with landscaping and rocks!

Design the Best Birdbath

Say "birdbath" and most people will think of a concrete basin on a pedestal, the kind often sold in lawn and garden shops. Though these baths make nice lawn ornaments, they aren't the best setup for most birds. For one thing, they're often too deep. A good birdbath mimics shallow puddles, which are nature's birdbaths.

Find a Better Birdbath

When you're choosing a birdbath, look for one with a basin you can clean easily. It should also have a gentle slope to allow birds to wade into the water. You can make your own bath out of a garbage can lid, a saucer-type snow sled, or even an old frying pan. But if you'd rather buy one, look for a birdbath made of tough plastic that won't break if the water freezes or if your dog knocks it over.

Setting Up a Birdbath

Try to imitate a natural puddle when you're installing your birdbath. Birds seem to prefer baths that are at ground level, but if you are concerned about cats, raise the bath two or three feet off the ground. And put it where you'll have a good view of the birds. It's a good idea to put some sand in the bottom of the bath, to give the birds sure footing. If the path is on the ground, arrange a few branches or stones so birds can stand on them and drink without getting wet (this is especially important in the winter). Place your birdbath in the shade, near trees or shrubs if possible. A shady location slows evaporation and keeps the water fresh longer. Birds can't fly well when they're wet, so they're vulnerable to predators when they're bathing. With cover nearby, they can escape quickly if interrupted by a cat or a hawk—and they'll be more likely to venture into the water.

One of the best ways to make your birdbath more attractive is to provide some motion on the water's surface. Water dripping from an irrigation emitter or old bucket with a hole in the bottom catches the attention of birds.

Keep the Birdbath from Freezing

Put a light bulb in a flowerpot and set the water basin on top. The heat from the bulb will provide more than enough heat to keep the water from freezing.

Keep the Birdbath Full and Clean Always

These two practices will make your birdbath attractive to large numbers of birds.

Adapted from www.birds.cornell.edu

Do it with Worms

By Sam McCarthy

Backyard composting? Too hard? Too smelly? Too dry in New Mexico? If one or more of these characterizes your experience with home composting, yet you understand the tremendous benefits to our environment that this simple activity can have, behold the amazing redworm. Compared with other methods, composting with redworms requires the least labor, the least water, and in most cases, the least time to complete. The best part (so good it should be illegal) is that worm compost—castings—is simply the most fabulous compost in the known universe.

To compost outdoors with redworms, you will need the following:

  1. A bin with insulated walls, and little or no air vents. Straw bales arranged in a rectangle or square are ideal.
  2. Wet bedding filling the bin for the worms to inhabit. Examples include: loose straw, leaves, and shredded paper.
  3. Food waste from your kitchen or your friends' kitchens.

How to set up your worm bin:

  1. Arrange the bales into a rectangle. Five or six bales are about minimum for one average household.A block or stucco wall or fence can serve as one of the walls. Wet the bedding thoroughly and fill the bin at least 12 inches.
  2. After two to three days, introduce the worms. One quarter or up to one pound is adequate to begin.
  3. Begin feeding the worms kitchen waste, slowly at first. Start with one day's waste per week for the first month, then move to two days' per week for second month, and so on until the worm population has increased sufficiently to accept all the waste you produce.
  4. All food wastes must be covered by bedding, either existing bedding or new bedding applied to the surface. When bedding is no longer distinguishable from compost, more must be added to the surface. There is no such thing as too much bedding, only too little.
  5. Maintain moisture at a high level by light, periodic applications and checking corners, edges, and depth frequently. Water heavily from the top when needed.
  6. Do not turn the pile. Turning compost will invigorate bacteria to the degree that the pile may become hot enough to kill the worms.

Other materials to add:

  • Light layer of soil periodically
  • Manure in thin layers – 2 to 3 inches
  • Yard debris
  • Shredded junk mail, paper, and cardboard

A pile can be fed indefinitely, either until you wish to harvest the compost or the begins to overfill. A second layer of bales can be added. At this time a new bin must be constructed and the process started again. If roots from surrounding bushes or trees can invade the pile, a layer of plastic beneath the pile may help. Remember, bedding is both a home and a part of the worm diet. Bedding must be added to the pile in quantities approximately twice that of the food wastes.

Redworms are for sale at the SF Farmers Market on Saturdays, or call the author at 310-3971.

Attract Bees to Your Garden

The Blue Orchard Mason Bee is a native species found throughout the U.S. This mighty pollinator, doing the work of 120 European honey bees, is not affected by many of the maladies harming honey bees. To attract and build a population of these industrious native bees in your garden, you need two basic elements: flowers to pollinate and nests to dwell in.

Blue orchard bees are most likely already buzzing around your neighborhood if you have fruit or flowering trees and the right spring blooming perennials and annuals.

Install Nest Tubes to Attract Bees

To attract bees to your garden and help them begin to build their population, you should provide Blue Orchard Mason Bee nest tubes in which they can raise their young.

These nesting tubes are put out in March and April when the recently mated female bees are looking for sheltered spots to lay their eggs. The female mason bees lay their eggs in the nest tubes. Here they hatch into larvae which the mother bee feeds with pollen from surrounding flowers. By mid-summer, the larvae turn into cocoons where they rest in their protective tube until they hatch as new adult bees the following spring.

Mount these nesting tubes in full sun on an east or south facing fence or wall. Here the mason bees will find them and move in.

If you find there are no cocoons in your nesting tubes by late summer (mid-August/September), you should order mason bee cocoons which will be sent to you the following January through March.

Plants to Attract Blue Orchard Mason Bees

To attract these industrious pollinators to your neighborhood, plant a wide range of flowering plants. Fruit trees (like apricots, almonds, plums, cherries, apples and others), flowering trees (like crabapples, ornamental pears, plums, cherries and others), flowering and fruiting shrubs like Ribes 'Crandall' (Current), Prunus besseyi 'Select Spreader' and 'Pawnee Buttes' (Sand Cherry), Philadelphus 'June bride' or 'Cheyenne' (Mock Orange) and Rhus 'Autumn Amber' (Three Leaf Sumac) and others.

Perennial flowers like Salvia juriscii 'Blue' (Cutleaf Sage), Erigeron 'Basin Fleabane' (Fleabane), Amsonia 'Jones’ Bluestar' (Bluestar), Rosmarinus 'Irene' (Rosemary), Nepeta (Catmint) and Lavandula angustifolia (English Lavender) are also excellent pollen providers.

Copyright © 1998-2009 Santa Fe Greenhouses, Inc DBA High Country Gardens, ® Reprinted with permission.