Container Garden #004: Topsy Turvy Container Idea

clayplanter5 225x300 Container Garden #004: Topsy Turvy Container IdeaKudos to the Gardens and Crafts website for their creative container idea the “Tipsy Pots“!  Always looking for new inspiration in container gardening, this charming planter idea is one I will have to try for myself this fall!  Perfect for displaying fall annuals, or keeping herbs up and out of the way of animals, this cute display is sure to charm your neighbors, and create a whimsical focal point in whatever section of the garden you choose to put it in.

Head over to gardensandcrafts.com to see step by step instructions on how to create this pot for yourself.  I’ll be putting photos up this fall to show my own variation of this planter design.

Special thanks to Ethan over at One Project Closer for sending me this link and giving me this great idea! I’ll post some pictures and a review of it when I do get around to playing with it!

Your Thoughts: Have you tried experimenting with container structures to enhance your garden, or do you prefer the clean lines of traditional container uses? Would you try the “tipsy pot” design?

Recycling Idea: Use Freshwater Aquarium Tank Water as Fertilizer

fishtank 225x300 Recycling Idea: Use Freshwater Aquarium Tank Water as FertilizerSometimes when we become used to a chore, we stop thinking about what exactly we are doing, and just focus on getting through with it.  I was doing this a few years ago with my large office fish tank, when I was mid chore, dumping gallons of slimy fish water over a sidewalk, and suddenly wondered “what in the world am I doing?”

I keep a very large goldfish tank in my office at work, somewhere in the ballpark of 70-80 gallons.  Once upon a time, the tank was the overwintering and emergency tank for the pond goldfish on my corporate property. It’s been a resort, and temporary home for Comet goldfish for years, used when the fishes ponds were either drained, or undergoing repairs. Being a practical sort of person, in recent years, I’ve been keeping a few fish in there year round as my living screen saver, to keep the tank ready at all times for any Biblical-scale water feature disasters. While I have devised clever ways to cheat the system, and prolong the time between tank cleanings, I inevitably spend an hour twice a month sucking filthy brown water into a tall office trashcan for dumping out on the lawn, or down a drain.

A few years ago I was going through my bi-monthly fish tank cleaning process, wheeling the waste-water trashcan out to the exterior door, when I really looked into the filthy water, and realized that what I was staring at was free liquid fertilizer – and a fertilizer I was about to dump indiscriminately on the nearest patch of land near the door! Feeling like a total bonehead for never having thought about the uses for this “grey water” source before, I began that day using fish water as both a water source, and a fertilizer for my office plants, and exterior potted plants.  A fish’s excrement, and the general waste that they sluff off, are excellent fertilizers for plant life, because they contain so many undigested and beneficial nutrients.

Whether you use a gravel vacuum Recycling Idea: Use Freshwater Aquarium Tank Water as Fertilizer and a bucket, or a long extension vacuum, to transfer recyclable water directly to plants, recycling “gray water,” is a great way to cut down on your total water consumption, using water that has been lightly used for one purpose again for a second purpose before disposal.  Fish water, while unsafe to recycle for any human benefit, will greatly assist your yard, or office plants, feeding and watering them at the same time, and reducing your need for more commercial forms of plant food.  If you own a freshwater aquarium in either your home, or your office, try saving the water you drain from your tank for your own plants, as a way to “go green” this month! Plus as an added bonus, vacuuming your freshwater fish tank in one area and using the exact same water for your plants is a more efficient way of conquering two chores at once!

TIP: For small tabletop fish tanks in the home or office, keep a large watering can available, and drain aquarium water directly into the can for easy dispensing in your flower pots and garden beds!

Using Barley Bales to Get Rid of Algae in Your Pond or Water Garden

ground hog trap barley balls fish water ponds 010 225x300 Using Barley Bales to Get Rid of Algae in Your Pond or Water Garden

Going “green” with your backyard pond this year can mean a cleaner conscience, and a cleaner pond!  Of course, no one likes a green pond, when the “green” we are talking about is string algae, and pond scum!  Aside from taking away from the aesthetics of your tranquil oasis, dealing with algae means constant additions of safe chemicals that won’t harm your pond plants and fish, and cleaning both filters and rocks on a regular basis.

After years of balancing the chemical ratios in several of the ponds that I oversee professionally, and struggling to keep algae under control in a few ponds that were constructed poorly, I finally made the switch to Barley Bales  Using Barley Bales to Get Rid of Algae in Your Pond or Water Gardenthis past summer, and I’m never looking back.  While I am always looking for cleaner and greener products, I confess, most often I’m just looking for a product that makes life easier!  Barley Bales are a long lasting, fish and plant safe, chemical alternative, for keeping algae out of your pond or water-garden.

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Suggestions For A 4-H Rabbit Garden

img 0302 225x300 Suggestions For A 4 H Rabbit GardenOne of my favorite things about August is the county fair!  There is nothing I like better than strolling around a local fairground on an August evening with an ice-cream cone, and my family and friends, watching the kids get excited about the pig races, and petting the farm animals.  The one barn at the fair in which I notice the most “can I take one home?” action with kids in general, is always the Rabbit Barn. Perhaps this syndrome is only due to the slightly more portable nature of the beasts, when compared to the true life size of Holstein cows, I’m not sure. But what child can resist all that fuzzy goodness?

If you have ever fallen prey to the twinkling of a bunnies eye (or your children have talked you into buying or adopting one), I want to provide you with my list of Green Bunny Picks, for the best fruits and veggies for your family pet, many of which you can grow in your yard to supplement it’s diet.

Unfortunately, the family bunny knows nothing of winter hibernation, and sends you out all year-round to buy food and supplies at the local pet supply store. While winter can be a tough month to feed your pet natural foods, spring, summer and fall, you can grow the healthy food your pet needs and craves.  For the avid gardener, a true vegetable garden will provide most of the food your rabbit needs in season, for children, or those looking only to supplement a pet’s diet, raised container gardens will grow fruits and veggies up and out of the way of the  local wildlife, who may overly appreciate your crop.  Very often, the more packed a pot or garden space is with veggies, the healthier the plants themselves are. For the apartment dwelling rabbit owners, you too can grow herbs and veggies!  I suggest trying windowsill pots, or an herb gardening system, as a way to provide fresh produce for your pet, and as a joint project to teach kids about growing and raising plants.

Below are two lists of raw fruits and veggies that the average gardener can easily grow, with minimal space requirements.moz screenshot Suggestions For A 4 H Rabbit Garden

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Rhododendron Ponticum, And Scottish Eco-Tourism

img 6981 300x225 Rhododendron Ponticum, And Scottish Eco TourismLiving in an area that sees plenty of sun, and hot dry summer weather, Rhododendrons are the last plant I would expect to see running amok through my neighborhood, but this popular garden plant is doing just that through the British Isles.

My sister and her husband recently traveled to Scotland to stay with friends, and catch up on some our family history, in the Scottish Highlands.  While they were there, they  discovered that the number one targeted invasive species “across the pond” was the popular garden plant the Rhododendron.  While the plant is innocuous throughout most of the United States, keeping to itself, and minding it’s manners, in the cool moist climate of Scotland, it has been changing the face of the Scottish Highlands, and spreading at an alarming rate.  Like most invasive species, the Rhododendron ponticum has several trademarks that make it both a nuisance, and an ecological threat, including rapid reproduction, soil altering qualities, and inedible and poisonous foliage and flowers for wildlife.  This beautifully blooming plant has rapidly taken over entire under-stories of the forest from the Lowlands of Scotland to the Highlands, where unfortunately, after centuries of forced human relocation, cattle outnumber the people, and habitat managers are hard to come by.

Fortunately for the Scottish people, their clan system has been a boon when it comes to organizing new initiatives for the country, and The Highland Council, Scottish Natural Heritage, Highland and Islands Enterprise, and others groups have worked together closely with the local people to educate, and encourage large scale action toward a detailed Highland Biodiversity Plan.  Sharing a few similarities with other habitat initiatives that I participate in, this Highland program seeks to protect the areas that have been compromised by years of neglect, and uncontrollable invasive growth, to rebuild the diverse habitats that make Scotland unique.  There is an urgency here though, to save the plant and animal life that occurs only on this small pocket of the planet, before it is completely overcome by the invasive competition, such as the Rododendron ponticum.  The “UK Biodiversity Action Plan” reported on 238 priority species, and 42 priority habitats in need of help in Scotland alone, with 192 of the species, and 40 of the 42 habitats falling within the boundaries of the Scottish Highlands.

Obviously there will be huge obstacles standing in the way of such a monumental habitat restoration project, so I began doing a little research into the local projects run with such brilliance by the Scottish people, and discovered a new wave of eco-tourism that targets the Scottish Highlands themselves, bringing in extra hands to help.  According to BBC’s Gardeners World, a group calling themselves the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, has devised a wonderful scheme to attract eco-conscious people to volunteer their “holiday,” to environmental projects across Scotland and England.  They are known as BTCV Conservation Holidays, and specialize in “Eco-tourism”, providing volunteers with food, shelter, plumbing, and a service project with local people, in an exotic location, most often located near historical or tourist locations. The “Ardross Castle project” specifically targets the Highland Rhododendron, and has been making great strides in controlling the plant, in areas that would have be overcome without large scale management.

The BTCV company began only a few years ago as 40 volunteers, but their eco-tourism packages have hit such a chord with volunteers, that there are now projects available in Europe, Africa, Asia, and America, working on biodiversity, and sustainable living. Their package deals allow potential volunteers to choose a type of work that most suits them as well, with skills ranging from dry stonewalling, coastal clean-up, and woodland management, to name a few. The group can also help tourist volunteers target the local attractions after their projects are done, to make a vacation more complete.

Eco-tourism is a brilliant idea in my book, because it helps channel an individual’s efforts in a way that not only makes a difference on an environmental issue, but it invests each volunteer in the specific area that they are working with on at a deeply personal level – which I think will make more of a difference in the long-term future.  I think BTCV is also tapping into a quirky human trait as well, that makes it easier for many of us to provide menial labor, and charity in a beautiful location, before we feel comfortable doing it at “home.”  I think it’s commendable that companies like this assist local people, like those working in the Scottish Highlands, to create regular influxes of volunteers into areas that ordinarily wouldn’t receive much help or word of mouth recognition.

My thoughts: I’m not sure if I would ever participate in eco-tourism.  I’d like to think that I will commit to environmental causes closer to home, for my own volunteerism, but the idea of traveling to another country to learn about the people and the place is intriguing.  If I was to volunteer with a company like BTCV, I’m sure that it would be in an area that I felt ancestrally tied to, as a way of learning some of my own cultural history, and spending some time absorbing the customs and rhythm of the place and people.

What do you think:  Would you ever participate in a form of eco-tourism?  Would it make a difference if you felt a personal, or historic tie to the location? Do you think that eco-tourism is here to stay, or is it another fad riding on the heels of our global warming fears?

How To: Protect Fruits And Vegetables From Birds Using Netting

img 0045 225x300 How To: Protect Fruits And Vegetables From Birds Using NettingDepending on what you grow, four-legged wildlife may not be your only problem. If you find birds to be ruining a fruit or vegetable crop, I highly recommend using a polypropylene netting as the first line of defense against birds. Netting is a great flexible, and lightweight way to keep your crop plants out of the reach of would-be invaders, providing a “green” barrier that’s easy to maintain and use. I use netting where necessary to protect my Strawberries, in a way that doesn’t involve adding sprays and powders to them that will effect the harvest, or need to be scrubbed off.

Local garden stores will generally stock a black polypropylene netting material through several season of the year, that are specifically designed to keep birds off your fruit.  I recommend a netting  openings under 1 inch to keep out even the smallest birds.  Recommended netting sizes come in 1/2 inch square, 5/8 inch square, and 3/4 inches square, but a general rule of thumb is that the smaller the netting opening, the better the protection is.  My favorite sizes are the 5/8ths inch sizes and the 1/2 inch size. The benefit of black polypropylene mesh is that it is UV protected, and will not deteriorate out under the sun, or varying temperatures. This type of netting can be brought back out for several years as needed, while taking up less storage space than chicken wire, or other metal products.  And, since it is flexible, it is easy to re-purpose for other garden duties, such as covering compost bins to keep rodents out, and protecting ponds from fall leaves.

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Mailbox Gardening: Zinnia Beds For Scorching Summer Color

img 0284 225x300 Mailbox Gardening: Zinnia Beds For Scorching Summer ColorFor some reason mailboxes are the last frontier in gardening.  Untouched and forlorn, most mailboxes sit naked on the curbside until a work-weary homeowner starts watching too much HGTV to unwind, or discovers a need to spruce up the curb appeal of their house to entice homebuyers.  Where have all the mailbox gardeners gone? I’d like to see more of what I call “Memorable Mailboxes,” so I’m going to begin my crusade for universal curb appeal with a recurring segment on mailbox gardening.  I want you to have a mailbox that boldly declares “Leave my Mortgage Statements here!”

Full Sun Stunner:  Zinnias Raise The Bar On Non-Stop Summer Blooms

Zinnias are amazing summer plants!  Requiring only a simple flower bed, a little water, full sun, and room to bloom, these summer flowers will last from late spring to the frost with “dead-heading.”  To plant a Zinnia mailbox bed, I recommend creating an edged, and slightly raised bed with topsoil mixed with leaf compost, or homemade compost, and optional fertilizer (either commercial grade granular formula, or a time-release capsul like Osmocote Mailbox Gardening: Zinnia Beds For Scorching Summer Color).  I plant groups of Zinnias about 3 inches apart to create a little fullness to a bed design before the plants really begin to root and take off growing.  Plant your Zinnias below the dirt line just lightly covered by a half inch of soil, and a lite dusting of mulch.  For hot weather plantings, give your Zinnias a head start by planting them, and watering them immediately before mulching, and watering again after mulching, to lock in moisture around the new root system.  Zinnias need only one or two weekly waterings, dependent on temperature, and rainfall, and prefer well drained soil.  Generally mulch will assist the plant in maintaining the minimal moisture Zinnias need for optimal health.  If your Zinnias begin to wilt, up the number of weekly waterings to compensate for dry weather.

Summer care: To keep your Zinnias cheerfully in bloom, deadhead with scissors blooms that begin to turn black on the petal tips, or fade.  These “spent” blooms have done their work, and trimming the blooms one or two leaves down from the flower will encourage constant growth, and flowering over the summer months.  Flower heads can be either discarded in the flowerbed for self-seeding, or dried in paper bags to catch seeds to be preserved for the following year.

Tips: Pruning doesn’t have to be a chore, you can keep a small pair of children’s scissors, or bypass pruners in the back of the mailbox, as a rainproof solution for quick “dead-heading!”  Then, whenever you check your mail, the tools you need to upkeep your garden are already at hand, and your postal worker will still have ample room inside the average mailbox to place mail, and small packages.

Your thoughts: Have you decorated your mailbox?  Have a picture?  I’d love to see it!  You can send it to my gmail account, greengardenista, I would love to post it here for the world to see!  Or, if you have a flickr photostream, include that link in a comment so the world can see it there!  icon smile Mailbox Gardening: Zinnia Beds For Scorching Summer Color

(Beautiful link picture by Sean Dreilinger)

10 Different Uses For Rosemary

rosemary flower 300x199 10 Different Uses For RosemaryMost of the garden plants we use today owe their popularity in the past to their centuries-old usefulness in the home, and in the medicine chest.  While I won’t try and pass myself off as an herbalist, I have found some great, and creative uses for Rosemary that you might want to know about, to rejuvenate your outlook on this common garden plant!  Here are my top 10 ideas that anyone could try!

  1. Cooking, and Garnishes.  Rosemary can be grown in the kitchen window, or in the yard, and is a common herb used in thousands of recipes. The plant can be grown outside year-round in areas where the winter time temperature averages above 20 degrees.
  2. Repelling Mosquito’s from yard. This is a great plant to grow in gardens or planters especially around areas you use to entertain guests!  The oils in the leaves of the plant repel Mosquito’s, and that is never a bad thing!
  3. Hair Rinse, and Tonic. Rosemary boiled in a few cups of water can be used for a moisturizing hair rinse that has been linked to hair re-growth, and dandruff elimination. Use Half a cup of Rosemary boiled in 2 1/2 cups of water.
  4. Tropical Christmas Tree. Hearty bushes can be pruned into Christmas trees in warmer areas, where pine trees are on Short order.  The plant originally came from the Mediterranean, so it thrives in warmer climates, and does well when pruned regularly, seasonally, or into a particular shape.
  5. Flavorful Skewers, or Grilling Pins. Woody stem trimmings can be turned into scented kabob skewers, for meat or veggies. Leaves can be pulled off the stems for use in other recipes, or frozen for later use.  The stems also double well as ‘grilling pins,” with recipes featuring meat stuffed with cheeses, veggies, or grilling sauces.  Substitute one or two firm rosemary twigs in place of toothpicks, to hold added ingredients inside the meat while cooking on the grill.
  6. Cat Repellent. Most cats detest the smells, and the oils associated with Rosemary plants, especially when it gets on their fur.  Clumps of this plant in your yard can repel feral cats from leaving their business in your garden, and freshly trimmed branches left on furniture, or carpet areas that you would like house cats to keep them away from, will work in redirecting your cat to better locations in the house. This herb has worked like a charm with my own cat!
  7. Memory Assistance.  The ancient belief that Rosemary assisted memory, has been proven by modern science!  Whether eaten with food, used in oil form on pulse points and temples, or simply smelled, Rosemary has been linked in several studies to increased cognitive performance, it is currently being examined as a possible pharmaceutical ingredient in future drugs that will battle Alzheimer’s  and Lou Gehrig’s disease.
  8. Gift Accent. Spring and summer weekends inevitably fill up with weddings, graduation parties, and baby showers, so why not make your gift stand out with a ribbon tied bundle of Rosemary attached to the top of your gift with your card.  Not only have Rosemary bundles been given with wedding gifts for thousands of years, but the bundles can go in water afterward, to scent the house for days to come.
  9. Aromatherapy, and Romantic Fire Bundles. Rosemary oil, used lightly in baths, and oil burners can stimulate the senses, and relax the body.  Dried Rosemary can be bundled up with twine, or ribbon, and kept with your indoor firewood, and hearth tool set, to be added with wood as a fire-starter, and as a romantic mood setter.
  10. Steam Treatment. Inhaling boiling water with rosemary in it can assist in treating bronchitis, and the congestion associated with colds, and flu’s.  The oils in the plants gently soothe sore throats and lungs, and open up air way temporarily, providing natural relief of common symptoms.  Herbalists also recommend using the oils of the plant in chest rubs for nighttime relief.  Consult an herbalist for details.

For a great entertaining idea using Rosemary, check out this great recipe for Rosemary Herb Butter!

Your Thoughts: What uses have you found for Rosemary?

(Photo credit: Charlie & Clint)

Green News: MIT Researchers Make ‘Major Discovery’ That Could Lead to Practical Solar Energy Alternatives

solar panels on roof 300x213 Green News: MIT Researchers Make ‘Major Discovery’ That Could Lead to Practical Solar Energy AlternativesMIT Researchers have announced a major discovery that could make solar energy a practical and cost-effective alternative in the near future. The discovery overcomes one of the major hurdles in the quest for practical solar energy alternatives: storing and using energy when the sun is not shining!

The idea the MIT researchers came up with is “inspired by the photosynthesis performed by plants” – using the sun’s energy during the day to split water into hydrogen and oxygen molecules that can be used later by a fuel cell to create carbon-free electricity for a house.

Here’s a quote from the MIT website (or click this link to go to article):

Until now, solar power has been a daytime-only energy source, because storing extra solar energy for later use is prohibitively expensive and grossly inefficient. With today’s announcement, MIT researchers have hit upon a simple, inexpensive, highly efficient process for storing solar energy.

Requiring nothing but abundant, non-toxic natural materials, this discovery could unlock the most potent, carbon-free energy source of all: the sun. “This is the nirvana of what we’ve been talking about for years,” said MIT’s Daniel Nocera, the Henry Dreyfus Professor of Energy at MIT and senior author of a paper describing the work in the July 31 issue of Science. “Solar power has always been a limited, far-off solution. Now we can seriously think about solar power as unlimited and soon.”

Inspired by the photosynthesis performed by plants, Nocera and Matthew Kanan, a postdoctoral fellow in Nocera’s lab, have developed an unprecedented process that will allow the sun’s energy to be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases. Later, the oxygen and hydrogen may be recombined inside a fuel cell, creating carbon-free electricity to power your house or your electric car, day or night.

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This sounds very promising – though still way too early to make any formal predictions.  There seems to be alot to consider, not the least of which is the cost to implement and maintain.  I’m sure the energy companies are not thrilled about the prospect of each household having their own “mini power-plants”!

I’m curious what everyone thinks about this, so please drop a comment my way letting me know what you think!

How To: Diagnose and Heal Sun Damaged Home Or Office Plants

chinese evergreen 001 225x300 How To: Diagnose and Heal Sun Damaged Home Or Office PlantsCan plants get sunburn? The answer is yes! Most plants are not susceptible to sun damage, but many common home and office plants can suffer from sunburn because they are specifically suited to shadier locations – a leading reason they have earned a place in artificially lit environments.

Pictured here are a few leaves on a Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema modestum) plant, that was accidentally left outdoors on a sunny ledge during an office cleaning spree. The plant was brought back indoors two days after it was set outside, and was already showing signs of burn damage.

How can you tell if leaf damage is sun related?

  1. The most immediate symptom displayed by a sun damaged plant is muted leaf color, and an overall greyish tone to the previously green plant.
  2. There will be an obvious difference in color between the leaves exposed to more light on the top of the plant, and the leaves deeper into the interior of the plant, which have been kept shaded. Yellowing will occur in the leaves that follows straight lines, such as above, denoting the areas of the plant that have been shaded by overlapping leaves. Unlike fertilizer burn, and plants suffering from a lack of water, which display irregular yellowing patterns (developing at the tips of the leaves), this yellowing does not turn into brown leaves that curl, or dry up.
  3. Burned leaves remain on the plant looking off color, or yellowed slightly, without falling off. Often the color of the burned area will soften to a transparent hue, where you will be able to see through the leaf, or the leaf will develop irregular bumps on the yellowing area that will look much like a reaction to sun-poisoning in people.

What to do with sun-damaged plants:

  1. Place the plant in an area away from direct sunlight, drafts, and excessive heat.
  2. Water the plant to keep the soil moist, but not wet.
  3. Monitor the amount of leaves damaged by the sun, and remove burned leaves by pruning back.  I generally prune off the leaves in groups over a gradual period of time (several days to weeks), to give a plant that may have a serious case of sunburn a chance to send out new leaves to take over the photosynthesizing, since a badly damaged plant may need most of it’s leaves eventually trimmed off. Trimming all the damaged leaves at once could place the plant into additional shock.

Remember, any shade loving plant can suffer from sunburn, it’s what you do with the plant afterward that will assure the plant’s full recovery.  Err on the side of caution with office plants, when exposing them to direct sunlight, and you may be able to prevent problems like this from ever occurring with your green office companions.

Your thoughts: Have you had plants with sun damage? What tips and tricks have you tried to bring them back to health? Please share any ideas you have with everyone!