House of Flowers

db0d06842a922723a63238991937df5dA 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.



We’ve Got Worms!

By OCMGA Master Gardener Carey Pederson

red-wigglers-in-compostI 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!

563cdd0ca9309.imageWe 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.

Little Scientists at Work

by OCMGA Master Gardener Shirley Martin

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.

Fun Garden Ideas

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tom Wentzel

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.


Create Separate Living Areas!

Create privacy with a few well-placed plants

Create privacy with a few well-placed plants

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

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!).

Fragrances for Your Home

d82d8b9fa64448903b5327f129211e78Friends are coming over and your house smells like onions or fish. You can pull out the exceptionally expensive candles or scents that are available through any number of stores, or you can quickly create an aromatic environment using natural ingredients.

For a cozy ambience: In a pot full of water, add a quartered orange, cranberries, cloves, and cinnamon sticks. Simmer on low and replace water as needed.

For a classy ambience: To create a fresh, clean scent, let two cups of water come to a boil with a sprig of rosemary, vanilla extract, and the juice from half a lemon. If you toss in the rind, too, it’ll add zest.

Sweet fragrance: Add orange slices, fresh ginger, and a spoonful of almond extract to a pot; cover with water, bring to a boil, and then simmer.

Tropical: Fill a saucepan about halfway with water and add lime, coconut oil, and vanilla. As with the others, simmer on the stove replacing water as needed.

Woodsy environment: A pot of water containing cedar or pine should be brought to a boil. To remove a strong odor, try adding two bunches of bay leaves to the mixture.

Calm: To conjure a soothing scent before bedtime (or anytime), mix dried lavender, anise, nutmeg, whole cloves, and a cinnamon stick with water and let it simmer until the whole house fills with the lovely fragrance.

By planning ahead to gather and save the necessary ingredients from your garden each summer, you’ll be prepared to create the perfect sensory experience in your home.

Light for Indoor Seed Starting

Almost every day a new seed or garden catalog arrives in the mailbox, which allows you to think beyond the snow outside your window. Many of us already have light systems in place to allow early seed starting but, if you’ve been scared away by the cost of the lights you find in catalogs, you may want to consider building your own.

Christy Marsden, Rock County UW-Extension Horticulture Educator, has put together instructions to create your own light system for considerably less cost than what you find in the stores. From the University of Wisconsin Extension’s Master Gardener “Volunteer Vibe”:

Expert’s Tip: Building a Light System for Indoor Seed Starting

Christy Marsden, Rock County UW-Extension Horticulture Educator

Seedlings require 10-14 hours of light per day for optimal growth. Building a simple light system can provide enough light to produce robust, healthy seedlings any time of the year with minimal cost.

A note about bulb choice: Light contains a spectrum of colors. Different light sources produce different spectrums of color, which makes bulb choice important. While plants utilize all colors, blue and red wave lengths are critical for photosynthesis. Fluorescent bulbs provide the best levels of blue and red light for home-owner indoor plant growth. Furthermore, lower heat output means bulbs can be placed closer to the plants without the danger of burning leaves. Cool-white bulbs work better than daylight, warm-white, or white bulbs. Specialized “full-spectrum” tubes for plant growth produce the proper levels of blue and red light, but can be expensive. Using a ratio of 1 specialized to 2 cool-white bulbs works just as well and saves money. Furthermore, fluorescent bulbs are preferred over incandescent bulbs. Incandescent bulbs do not produce enough blue light, are expensive to run, and can produce damaging levels of heat.

Supplies Needed:

  • Shop light fixture for 32-watt T-8 fluorescent bulbs
  • (2) T-8 32-watt fluorescent bulbs, cool-white or cool-white and specialized plant growth
  • 10 feet of 1.5” PVC pipe. Any width above 1.5” will work – just be consistent with joints sizes
  • (2) 1.5” slip tee
  • (2) 1.5” 90˚ elbow
  • (4) 1.5” end cap
  • Extra chain and hooks for shop light

Cut the PVC pipe into the following pieces:

  • (1) 52”
  • (2) 18”
  • (4) 8”

Put the pieces together to create the following structure. With the extra chain, you can place the light within a few inches of the plants canopy and move the light upwards as the plants grow.  

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 img_growing_light_bank PVCcomplete

Note from Vicki:  I have open beams in my basement and was able to hang a light from chains fixed to one of the beams. With a table directly below the light, and chains that are long enough to allow you to move the light up and down, you can accomplish this without the need to build a frame.