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Gardening Tips & Tricks #1

Let’s face it: no matter how much you love to be in the garden, there are still chores that make you frown. Isn’t it awesome when you find shortcuts to make gardening more fun?

Here are some garden hacks that you may want to implement:

  • Do your potted plants suffer from slowly disappearing soil? If so, save old fiberglass window screens to cut into squares and place over the drainage holes in your pots. The soil will stay in place, and your patio will stay clean.
  • A pizza cutter makes a nifty root slicer when you’re transplanting seedlings from a flat, where their delicate roots all tangle together. Use the pizza cutter to section the young plants into small cubes of soil and roots for easier transplanting. The cutter’s rotary wheel makes it easy to cut long strips lengthwise and widthwise and thus form chubby planting cubes.
  • Save egg cartons for overwintering small to medium-size bulbs of nonhardy summer-blooming plants. After digging up and cleaning the bulbs in late fall, place one bulb in each egg carton cell. Write the name of each bulb on the carton. Stack and store the cartons in a cool, dry place, such as a basement or insulated garage. Don’t let them freeze. A temperature of 40º to 50º is ideal.
  • An old funnel, either plastic or metal, makes a super string dispenser. Hang it from a cup hook on the wall or just nail it in place. Set the ball of string in the funnel, and thread the string through the opening.
  • If you have an old window box that has rotted out on the bottom, set it in the vegetable garden and plant heat lovers such as peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants in the box. The sides form an instant raised bed that warms up quickly in the spring. If you have lots of window boxes, line them up to make a creative and highly functional garden border.
  • When you sweep the kitchen floor, dump the sand and dirt you gather onto the ground around your bird feeder, especially in the winter. Birds need grit to digest their food, and it may be hard for them to pick up sand and gritty soil when it is frozen.
  • Keep an eye out for old microwave or television carts on wheels left out for the garbage collector. Just about any small rolling carts, especially those with open shelves, are great places to store gloves, trowels, small fertilizer containers, spray bottles, labels, plant ties, clogs, and other items that you use throughout the garden. If you feel that the cart looks too out of place in the garden, give it a coat of deep green paint to make it seem more at home.
  • Use an old children’t wagon, wheelbarrow, or cart of any size to hold or move plants, indoors or out. For a wagon too decrepit to move, pain the outside a bright color to match your garden decor and plant directly in the garden to create a focal point. Use a very light potting mix, and this wagon planter will last for several seasons.
  • Instead of pulling out tiny seedlings to thin them, trim them out instead, so you don’t accidentally disrupt the seedlings you want to keep. Most scissors are too big and bulky for the job, but a pair of manicure scissors, complete with a curved blade to get into tight spots, is just the ticket.
  • Next time you’re making raised beds or have a hole in the landscape that needs to be filled, search your home for biodegradable materials to fill the raised beds’ bottoms. Good candidates include newspapers, cardboard, flattened cardboard boxes, phone books, and trashed paperbacks.
  • Get crazy at your next tea party in the garden. Toss used loose tea or tea bags into the compost pile or even around shrubs and perennials. The tea will decompose on the spot, releasing much-appreciated nitrogen in the process.

 

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A wise investment — use a rain barrel!

EarthMinded-Rain-BarrelEvery gardener shares one overwhelming desire each season:  please send rain! There’s nothing to compare to a thorough soaking from a spring shower during those hot summer months when every drop counts! That’s what makes a rain barrel so valuable.

Positioned beneath a downspout, a rain barrel collects the runoff from your roof during rainfall. Free of the chemicals added to city water, rainwater is beneficial for your lawn, flower beds, borders, vegetable gardens, and containers. You can use this supply to supplement your water needs, cutting down on your utility bill.

Rain barrels come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but 55 gallons is a common size for the average homeowner. You can make your own (using plans that are found online), or you’ll be able to find one at practically any garden center or garden supply company. If you live in a cold winter area with freezing temps, just drain your barrel in fall before storing it upside down in a garage or shed. And once a year, clean out its interior with a non-toxic solution, such as vinegar.

There are equations to calculate a precise amount of water that you can expect to collect based on your area’s annual rainfall and the size of your roof. But just 1/4 inch of rainfall onto a roof that’s 1200 square feet would more than fill two barrels.

Tips for getting the best out of your rain barrel:

  1. Cover an open top with a screened lid to keep the water clean. Covering the barrel prevents debris from falling in and protects your water supply from mosquito larvae. Note: if you can’t screen the top of your barrel, you can still discourage the growth of mosquitoes by using bacterial products designed to kill mosquito larva.
  2. If your barrel has a closed lid, you’ll need a downspout diverter which diverts rainwater into the barrel until it’s full. After that, it allows excess water to drain safely away from the foundation of your home.
  3. Elevating your rain barrel makes for a stronger water flow from it’s spigot. Plus, it puts the barrel at a more convenient height to fill watering cans and buckets, or to attach a hose.

Comment by Tom Wentzel, OCMGA chair of The Learning Garden:  “There are soaker hose systems that can be connected to rain barrels. Typical soaker hoses require about 20 PSI to function. These systems claim to function under no pressure. A system like this will be installed in The Learning Garden on the Outagamie County Agricultural Extension grounds when weather permits. Last year this system worked quite well.”