Garden Treasures

Flowers are beautiful, but unfortunately they aren’t always in bloom. Try putting some cute little knickknacks in your garden for that extra pop of color or fun. I’m always looking at thrift stores and garage sales for that garden treasure that will express my personality in my garden. Below are some images of treasures hidden in our garden and our neighbors’ gardens.

This $10 garage sale find adds great character to the garden, and with a drainage hole added, it is the perfect planter box.

“Betty” drinks from the pond as she rocks in the wind.

This caterpillar is tucked away in the vegetable garden, ready to eat those fresh cucumbers.

Adding a fountain to your garden can make for a very peaceful atmosphere, as the water trickles and the birds sing while bathing.

These frogs are ready to serenade you as you relax under the stars.

A pair of watchful owls.

These birdhouses were mounted on upside down flanged fence posts.

This colorful chicken dances in the wind.

Groupings of large rocks also make for a great accent.

This turtle peaks out from the garden.

What garden treasures do you have? If you don’t already have some, I encourage you to keep your eyes open the next time you go garage sale hunting. You can really express yourself in your garden, so why not take the opportunity to do just that?

The Joy of Gardening

I never understood why people enjoyed gardening until now. My first real gardening experience was at the end of last summer, just after we finished the hardscape for our back yard. We needed plants to finish off the look, but I wasn’t really up to the challenge at the time. We needed something in the ground, so we just pushed through, making it a not so pleasant experience. So you can imagine how excited I was a few weeks ago when I realized many of those plants weren’t coming back. After putting off the planting process, I decided to tackle it over the holiday weekend. After getting into it, I actually began to like it, and here are a few reasons why.

Reason to love gardening #1: Dirt is fun!

I am not against getting dirty, but I usually try to keep messes minimal, and digging in the dirt was not my idea of fun. I started out wearing my gloves, using a shovel, and being very careful not to sit or kneel on the ground. After a while I began to sit in the dirt because it was easier then carrying a little pad around or squatting. I then tossed the shovel after realizing it was easier to dig like a dog with your hands, and at some point, I even lost the gloves and became one with the soil (until I found a worm, then the gloves went back on). Digging in the dirt brings you back to being a kid again when it was ok to get messy.

Reason to love gardening #2: It is calming

I love sitting outside on our patio, but I’m usually watching my daughter play, eating dinner, or talking with the neighbors. Gardening forces you to take a slower pace, relax, and appreciate the outdoors. As I was planting, the birds were singing away, the bees were buzzing in the flowers, and aside from the occasional golfer, it was quiet and peaceful. I am not one to meditate or take a slower pace normally, but after being forced into it with gardening, it was actually quite enjoyable, and I still got something done in the process.

Reason to love gardening #3: Sense of accomplishment

Just like with any other DIY project, when you get through it and look at what you accomplished, it is such a great feeling. Although I still want to add a few annuals for coverage until the perennials fill out a bit, our garden is basically done, and I am so proud of how it ended up. As soon as I get up, the back curtains get opened so I can look out and enjoy my garden all day.

Reason to love gardening #4: Family bonding

As mentioned in Planning for Plants, my mom has been a big help to me on figuring out what to do in our garden. I got to spend a lot of time with her throughout the process, and got to listen to the many years of experience she has with gardening. When my daughter was home from daycare, she also got to help out. We got her some “Dora the Explorer” gardening gloves and a shovel, and “grandma” got her a matching watering can. She had a blast helping me, and we even planted special wildflower seeds just for her.

These are a few of the reasons why I love gardening, but why do you love gardening? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Planning for Plants

When many of our plants died over winter I was frustrated and ready to give up. I don’t have a green thumb and planning out where plants go is just not my thing. So in desperation, I called my mom for a plant intervention. She had some great tips to get me through the plant planning phase, and I will share them below.

Tip #1: Take pictures

The first thing my mom says is “go take pictures of your yard from different angles and print them out”. I thought the purpose was to take the printed images to the garden center for help, but she had a much better plan in mind. Once the pictures were printed, I was instructed to get a plastic sheet protector and some dry erase markers. Her plan was so simple and brilliant! With the picture placed in the sleeve, she created a white board version of our back yard to plan from! We talked through what was needed in various areas; where we needed evergreens, where we wanted color, and what level of coverage we wanted in various areas. We also noted which areas got full sun, and which got some shade (although our backyard is mostly full sun). The beauty of this process is that it can be easily repeated until you come up with a plan (we are still working to finalize ours).

Take a picture of your garden, place in a sheet protector, then use dry erase markers to plan your plants

Tip #2: Choosing plants

Once you know the basic look you are going for, you must determine what plants will get you there. We live in the high desert, and my mom happened to have a reference book filled with pictures of the plants that do well here (along with all the information you want or need to know about each of them). We were able to flip through the book, look at pictures, and pick out plants matching what we had sketched out. When picking out plants, pay attention to growth rate, estimated size, high/low temperature, and sun exposure guidelines. Last year we picked out some evergreen trees that are projected to get 30’-60’ tall, but they only grow 1”-2” per year, so it will many years before they could pose a potential problem. You also may be restricted by what you can buy at your local nurseries, so come up with some alternatives in case you can’t source your first choice. If you don’t have a guidebook, look online, or let the specialists at the nursery give you some suggestions (don’t forget to take your pictures to the nursery with you).

Tip #3: Placing plants

Once you buy the plants you want, place them in your garden where you think they should go. Move them around until they feel right, and make sure to look at your garden from several angles. Do not leave your plants above ground like this on a hot day because you will dry out the pots and cook the roots. If you are still unsure about placement, try planting your plants in their pots. This gives you a great feel for the final look, and it is still easy to move plants around if you want to change something. This also protects the plants from drying out quickly (just don’t forget to water them), and removes the height difference of the pot when visualizing. Once you end up with a placement you like, simply lift the plant out of the hole, remove the pot and with the hole already there, you are ready to plant.

Tip #4: Extra plants

If you end up with a plant that just doesn’t fit in, most nurseries have generous return policies typically ranging from 50%-100% refunds on returned plants (verify the policy when you purchase your plants). The big name hardware stores offer 100% refunds; however, they cannot sell returned plants because of possible soil contamination, so they get trashed. I did not know this policy the first time I returned plants, so I now try to buy only what I need and I only return plants if they truly don’t have a home in my yard or if they die (see Sometimes Plants Die).

I hope my mom’s advice helps you as much as it helped me! Feel free to leave your comments or questions in the comment section below.

Sometimes Plants Die

Yes, I know this sounds a little morbid, but sometimes plants just don’t survive. We planted about 50 perennials last fall, and after waiting and waiting, we finally accepted the fact that about 10 just weren’t going to come back this year. This can happen for a variety of reasons, but the first year is the hardest for most plants. In this blog I will give you some tips on keeping your plants alive, and what to do when they die.

 

Unfortunately these plants just didn't make it

Read the Plant Tags

Different plants have different needs. Some plants love the sun while others hate it, and some plants need lots of water while others take very little. Your plant tags contain all of this information, and are a great resource for knowing which plants to buy for your area and where to plant them. I suggest keeping your plant tags in a garden journal so you can reference them at any time (see Keeping Notes).

 

Plant tags contain a lot of valuable information

Buy Local

Typically when you buy local, you are buying plants that are already acclimated to your local conditions, or that were possibly grown locally from the start. Even the big name hardware stores typically only sell plants that will survive in normal local conditions.

Talk with the Experts

Gardeners at your local nursery are probably your greatest resource for plant advice. Every situation is different, and your local experts are familiar with possible conditions that can arise in your area. We had a peach tree that was looking pretty sad, and it turns out it had what is known as “peach tree curl”. It was too late to do anything about it last year, but we were told to spray it with a special fungal spray this year before the tree started to bloom. Apparently the disease can be controlled with treatment, and my tree will hopefully produce delicious peaches this year.

Reduce Transplant Shock

There are many theories on how to reduce transplant shock, but most suggest planting with a lot of water and adding vitamins when you plant. We used a root stimulator solution when planting our trees, and they all seemed to take off really well and most importantly are all still alive. Here is a great article from the Gardener’s Journal on preventing transplant shock.

Return your Dead Plants

Although some private nurseries have great policies, you can’t beat the guarantees from the big name hardware stores like Lowe’s. At Lowe’s, if your plants don’t survive, just dig them out (you must include the roots), find your receipt, and simply return them! We took our plants back, and it was like magic; we walked into the store with a bucket full of dead plants, and walked out of the store with a cart full of live ones.

Lowe's offers a 1-year plant guarantee

 

I hope you have better luck with your perennials than I did last year. Feel free to leave a comment if you have additional tips or questions.

Hardening Your Seedlings

Hopefully you got your vegetable seeds started already, although you can still start them if you haven’t done so yet (see my Seed Starting blog for more information). Once your plants have sprouted and are doing well, you will probably need to move some to larger containers, and begin to harden them off. For those of you not familiar with this term you are in luck, because here is a blog that explains what it is and some tips for doing it.

 

sprouting plants

Seedlings about 10 days after planting

What is Hardening off?

Hardening off is just a fancy term for introducing your plants to the elements they will soon be exposed to. As teenage plants, this is their first taste of the real world before they go out and experience it on their own. Hardening off stresses the plants just enough to make them stronger, by slowly exposing them to outdoor conditions.

Transfer Large Plants

Before beginning the hardening process, make sure your plants have sufficient room to grow. Some of the fast growing large plants (pumpkin, melons, corn) have large roots that need more space. In our starter tray, we had corn roots that were growing several inches outside of the starter pods, so we knew our corn babies needed additional space (along with the pumpkins, watermelon, and squash). To transfer the seedlings, fill a small pot with some potting soil, place the plant in the new pot, and fill with additional potting soil to match the top of the pod. Some sources say to leave the roots alone to minimize transplant shock, while other sources mention teasing the roots to get them growing into the new soil. We minimally teased our roots, and so far our plants are doing really well in their new pots. (For a humorous take on this process check out Movin’ On Up by Seed to Salad)

transfer large plants

About 2 weeks after planting our seeds, some of the larger plants needed more space

Hardening Process

There are many variations out there on how to harden your plants, but the bottom line is that you do it slow and watch for signs of too much stress. There is no rush for the process, and the longer you take, the more time your seedlings will have to adjust to the harsh conditions of the outdoors.

Once your seeds have all fully germinated and sprouted, begin by placing your seedlings in a protected shady outdoor area for just an hour or so. Each day, slowly increase the time and gradually transition them to more sun. Since your seedlings are in just a small amount of soil, it is important to watch them closely so they don’t dry out. Also, since up until now your seedlings have been inside and out of direct sunlight, note that too much sun can also burn your plants.

Another thing to be very cautious of is the outside temperature. Make sure you bring your plants inside before the temperatures drop below the plants’ minimum growing temperatures or you will kill them. This is also something you need to keep in mind when planting time comes, if you plant too early and the temperatures drop, there go your plants. Here is a great reference article from the University of Nevada – Reno that goes into the specifics on hardening off seedlings, house plants, and ornamental plants.

 

I hope this helps you in transitioning your teenage plants to the outside world. Please feel fee to share your personal experiences in the comments section below. There are many different takes on this process and I would love to hear what you have to say.

Designing a Chicken Coop

I never thought I would be designing a Chicken Coop, but when my daughter’s daycare decided they were going to get chickens, I couldn’t resist the challenge. Now I don’t know the first thing about chickens, but after some inspiration photos, research, and creative thinking, I came up with a pretty cool design (if I do say so myself). Below is the draft of my design and some things to keep in mind if you plan on housing chickens some day.

 Why have chickens?

Although not allowed in some residential areas, chickens are becoming more and more popular to have, even in city locations. On average, one chicken can produce between 3-7 eggs per week, and they require very little (food, water, and shelter). According to CityGirlFarming.com, chickens also provide a natural fertilizer for your garden and they eat the bugs that tend to eat your garden. Chickens also stay small, have fun personalities, and are typically very gentle, making them the perfect family addition if you have kids. (Check out this article for more reasons to have chickens.)

Chickens have Needs

Each chicken needs 3-4 sq ft of living space inside the coop and 3-4 sq ft outside the coop. Inside the coop, chickens need individual private areas to nest and a raised place to roost. The chicken run is important because it allows the chickens to get fresh air and daylight, which both help with egg production. In the chicken run it is also important to provide a shaded area so the chickens can escape the sun on a warm day. Chickens also have lots of natural predators that would love to have a free meal (many of which can dig), so make sure your coop has a solid floor or a deep foundation to prevent digging under.

Humans also have Needs

Beyond the chickens’ needs, you have to think of your own needs as well. In caring for chickens, you need a chicken coop that is easy to clean and easy to collect eggs from. Depending on where your coop is located, you probably don’t want your coop to be an eyesore, so take some time to pick out a style that you won’t mind looking at. Lastly, money doesn’t come free for us humans, so make sure to keep a realistic budget.

My Design

The coop I am designing is intended to house up to 4 chickens, although it will only house 3 chickens for now (Mary, Nate, Ed …….get it?). Since the coop is being designed for a daycare, I wanted to make it fun and safe for the children. The coop should cost less than $200 to build (mostly wood and chicken wire), and most of the materials will hopefully come through donations from other parents. The coop itself will have a 4’x4′ footprint, and the chicken run will be 4’x8′ for a total footprint of 12’x4′. The run will have a gate at the end, and the coop will have double doors on the backside for easy cleaning and feeding. To make the coop fun, steps and a window will be built on one side of the coop so the children can step up and take a look inside. Four nests will reside directly under the large step, and the top of the step will lift up for easy egg collection. To keep the coop dry inside (from ground moisture), it will be lifted off the ground a few inches and placed on some floating 2x4s.

Chicken Coop (outside view)

Chicken Coop (Inside View)

Construction should be underway soon, so make sure you check back later to see the final result!

Follow up: The chicken coop is done! Check out Building a Chicken Coop to see the finished product.

Seed Starter Kit

We built a 16’x2′ vegetable garden at the end of summer last year, but it was unfortunately too late in the season to plant any veggies. I am determined to have lots of fruits and veggies growing in my yard this year, and to save some money I am trying to start most of them from seed. I am not known to have a green thumb, but hopefully with the help of my husband we can start and keep our plants alive. I found a great starter kit, and we planted our first set of seeds today. The process couldn’t have been easier, and we now have 72 plants seeded and hopefully ready to grow. I can’t say how my plants are going to turn out yet, but below is the process I used to get everything started.

Seed Starter Kit

Step 1: Purchase your seeds and kit

The kit I bought comes in different sizes, ranging from $2-$7 each. Most seeds sold for $1.25 each, but others were slightly more depending on quantity and type. We bought about 23 seed packs and the starter kit for roughly $35. Assuming my 72 plants survive (even just some of them), that is a pretty good deal for a yard filled with 23 varieties of fruits and vegetables. Also, don’t forget to start a giant pumpkin if you have kids; it will get them involved in the gardening process and give them something to look forward to in Fall.

Step 2: Setup your kit

Per directions, add the appropriate amount of warm water to expand the soil.

Before Water is added

After water is added

Determine how many of each plant you want, and make a chart so you know what you are planting where (also make sure you label the “top” of your tray according to the chart). Since we are new to everything, we chose to plant 3 of most plants (we had a ton of extra seeds).

Seed Layout Chart

Label "Top" of your tray

Step 3: Plant your seeds

Spread each pod apart, place 2-3 seeds in each, then cover with soil.

Spread the pod open

Add 2-3 Seed per pod

Once all seeds have been planted, place the plastic dome over your tray and move it to a warm inside location with indirect sunlight. You can also buy special heating mats to help your seeds germinate better. If you do not have an appropriate inside location, you may want to set up a grow light in the garage or use an outdoor greenhouse (just watch the outdoor temperatures before setting anything up outside). Once your first seedling sprouts, prop the plastic dome open to ensure proper ventilation.

I hope this helps you to get your seeds started. We will all be learning together with this one, but here’s to a season full of fresh fruits and veggies! Please feel free to leave your thoughts on starting seeds.