A fun project to do with your children or grandchildren: make a house of sunflowers and morning glories.
Sunflower houses are not an exact science, which is a great part of their charm. All you need are the flower seeds and a patch of open ground that gets plenty of sunshine.
Choose a sunflower that grows tall but also makes some branches, rather than an old-fashioned type that goes straight up and then hangs its heavy head. ‘Giant Sungold’, ‘Soroya,’ and the pale-flowered ‘Moonwalker’ are good choices. Make sure the morning glories are the climbing sort; it’s hard to beat good old ‘Heavenly Blue’ in this situation.
Wearing gloves, use agricultural lime to draw the shape of your house on the grass. (Don’t make it too small. When the plants are full grown, the walls will be about 3 feet thick.) Following the line, remove a foot-wide strip of sod. Enrich the exposed soil with some compost and well-rotted manure.
After all danger of frost is past, plant sunflowers about 3 feet apart, arranging a triangle of seeds at each location and spacing the seeds in the triangle about 2 inches apart. (Don’t forget to leave space for the door!)
When the sunflowers have four leaves, cut off the weaker extras. You should now have single, strong plants, spaced evenly around your perimeter. Wait until they’re 2 feet tall, then plant morning glories every 4 inches or so in the spaces between them. When the vines sprout, use thin twigs to train them toward the sunflowers.
Resist the temptation to fertilize. Sunflowers that grow tall too quickly are prone to falling over; and morning glories that get lots to eat make leaves instead of flowers.
I have to say, worms really rock! Those Red Wigglers are the best at composting and it is so easy and inexpensive to get started. We bought a few black tubs (20”W x 26”L x 6”D at Menards) for about $5. Use your imagination when it comes to giving your worms a home. This is what worked for us – make yours smaller if you prefer. To start off we put a mixture of shredded paper or saw dust with cut up kitchen scraps. Banana peels, melons, carrot peels, apple cores, lettuce – any kind of fruit or vegetable part that we don’t eat. The only items that I don’t put in are onions and egg shells. I read somewhere that worms don’t like onions, whether this is true or not I have always put the onion parts in the outside composter. As far as the egg shells, I’ve read that the worms don’t like to scrape up their bodies on sharp edges so I also just leave these to the outside compost bin as well. Food for the worms is almost the same as saving things for your outside compost bin. At the end of the day I cut up all the fruits and vegetables into small pieces. I take this along with used coffee beans (coffee filter and all); tea bags and toss it into the bucket under the kitchen sink. The bucket has a sealed top so we don’t have to worry about any smell. Once the bucket is full enough I put it in the freezer for about a day. This seems to kill off any attempt of the dreaded fruit flies or bugs that want to have fun in the worm bin. (We’ve been worming for over five years and have not had a problem with bugs). I take the bucket out of the freezer and let it defrost. At this time I mix in shredded paper or saw dust. You don’t want to let the worms dry out nor do you want to drown them so I add an appropriate amount of water and mix everything together. It should feel like a moist sponge. Then I add this to the worm bin. All you have to do next is put the red wigglers in, cover loosely and let the worms make you compost!
We got lucky and had a really awesome friend give us some red wrigglers, however, you can purchase them from various sites online. To cover the worm bin, we cut black plastic bag to size and lay it over the worm bins. This helps keep any light off the worms and helps it stay moist in the bin. We keep our bin in the basement. Harvest time! Fold half of the black plastic over and keep a light shining on the bin. The worms will slowly move down to the darkness. Scrape the top dirt off into a bucket. Leave the worms move down and over to the covered side, then repeat the scraping of the worm poop. Repeat the process until you’ve hit bottom. Put in your mixture of worm food, cover and let the worms do their business. I’ve read about all the worm juices that you’re suppose to get from this. We never really have gotten much of any juice so the newest bins we have don’t have the little holes in the bottom of the worm bins for the juices to drip down for us to collect. We even had installed the little hose spigot but never had to use it.
Maybe we have not perfected worming, but the point is we try and are still getting lots of valuable material that helps our plants. Worms are pretty forgiving too. We have forgotten about them for quite a few months only to see them still surviving (barely). After giving the worms a bunch of food they came right back. I swear by the stuff. Whenever my African Violets are void of flowers, I just add a little worm poop and within a short period they are blooming like crazy again. If you want to add your worm compost to outside flowers and it is still in the middle of winter, no problem! I have kept worm compost in a sealable plastic bin for months and it is still good.
As part of the preparation for the upcoming planting season several Master Gardner volunteers went to some classrooms at the Appleton Bilingual School and presented a seed starting class. These children and their teachers were very interested in the project and took the instructions very seriously. They are documenting their results with words and pictures. They were so excited to see the seeds sprout in the “planters” made from old water bottles.
The bottles are cut in half and the top is inverted into the bottom. A coffee filter is stuffed into the neck of the bottle then the top of the bottle is filled with soil and seeds are planted in it. This coffee filter acts as a “water wick” to transfer water from the bottom of the bottle (reservoir) to the the planting medium. It is inexpensive and effective. It fits on most windowsills and is an ideal mini-planter.
During a garden walk near Elgin, Illinios I saw the lighting feature that was very intriguing. At first it looked like canning jars attached to an old board. In reality the “board” was the tongue from an antique hat wagon. That in itself is a striking feature but each of the jars contain a light bulb. These look like 20 watt candelabra base bulbs. C6 or C9 Christmas lights would work just a well.
Another garden on this walk had an amazing fountain. The clear ball is about 2 feet in diameter. The water cascades down the sides of the ball. The mirror in the background added a lot of depth to the garden. The owner did say that the ball does need to be replaced every 3 years.
If your outdoor living area seems a bit sterile, think about creation of definite areas through the use of living dividers. Tall plants in pots make lovely screens, defining sitting areas, providing privacy, blocking the view of trash cans, etc. And they don’t have to be expensive evergreens like you see in magazines. You can make a very effective “hedge” out of annuals like tithonia, old-fashioned tall cosmos, or cleome, or out of rampant vines such as passionflower, grown on individual trellises.
Since the plants will be tall, bushy, and prone to catch the wind, it is important to provide both root room and anchorage (i.e. large containers with wide bases). Plastic pots are usually ok; the soil should weigh enough to keep them steady, but if the location is very windy, it’s wise to go for the extra heft that terra cotta provides.
Think about using fun containers like these galvanized tubs
Balcony plantings are a special case, since they need to be both lightweight and secure. Use plastic pots, lots of perlite in the soil mix, and if they are in a place where they might fall (or blow) over the edge, bungee cords or other strong ties will make sure they stay in place.
No matter how beautiful the pots are, a tide line of large containers with large plants coming out of their tops will look stiff unless it is broken up a bit. Be sure to include some trailing plants at the pot edges, and place a few smaller pots at the feet of the big ones to add variety (this is a great place to put vacationing houseplants!).