Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Caring for Bonsai

Bonsai trees can be great fun. Bonsai is a Japanese word, which means tray planting. As you know from cultural references, bonsai trees are tiny, but they look just like big trees. They are neat little plants to get if you are looking for something nice and green that will not require a lot of work. Despite popular perceptions, bonsai trees actually do not take much maintenance.

There are a few varieties for you to choose from, and when you are picking a bonsai tree, you should be sure that you are doing so based on the climate zone that the plant prefers. Maple and juniper are among the varieties of temperate-climate bonsai trees. These plants need to be kept outdoors. When it is freezing at night during the winter months, you can bring them in, but otherwise, they should stay outside. As the name suggests, they are best in temperate climates and really do not like really hot weather. They are not good for people who live in very hot areas.

Tropical and subtropical bonsai trees might really work, however. You should try them out if you live in warmer areas. These plants can be kept indoors, but they are better suited as outside plants. You should be sure that you water the plant everyday or every other day. They are very thirsty plants, and they need to have moist soil to do well all the time. You can touch the top of the soil daily (make it part of your gardening routine), or you can get a cute little terra cotta worm or butterfly. These little figures are made of terra cotta, which looks dry and dusty when it is dry but brightly colored when moist. It will soak up the moisture at about the same rate as the soil, so if your butterfly looks dusty, the bonsai needs water.

The watering is the only real daily maintenance required for the bonsai tree. If you find that yours is beginning to die, then you know that it probably is not getting enough water. You should keep it in a pot with holes on the bottom. Then you will be able to water it until the water drains from the bottom so that you know the soil is completely saturated. Do that everyday for a week or so and then begin a regular water maintenance program.

Bonsai trees cannot survive in strong sunlight, but they do need sun. You should put your bonsai tree in a southern-facing location so that it can get several hours of sunlight everyday. If you have to bring in the plant in the winter or if you are determined to keep it indoors, then you need to be sure that you use an artificial grow light so that it will get enough light even inside so that it can continue to grow.

Finally, you will have to prune your bonsai tree. Some people get overzealous with the pruning, and that can cause a problem. You basically need to create a fir tree shape when you first get your bonsai if it is not already in that shape for you. Then you should just get some small pruning clippers and clip the leaves by the stem whenever they begin to grow outside the shape you have set.

You can be as formal or informal as you would like with your bonsai plant. These plants work really well if you want to create a small hedge, such as around a little portion of your flower garden. Because they look like trees but are smaller, you can be very creative in their placement. They can make flowers look like giants, which can create a really neat effect if you are creative in your design patterns.

Working with a bonsai plant just takes a little time and patience. In the overall world of gardening, bonsai trees are pretty easy to care for. They require the basics: sunlight, water, and trimming. You should be able to start growing your bonsai tree even if you do not have much experience with gardening. You can even use it to experiment with your pruning efforts.

Try one out. You will be glad you did.

By Julia Mercer

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Blackberry Plants and Patches

By Christina VanGinkel

When making decisions on what to plant in our garden this year, the subject of planting a patch of blackberries came up for discussion. One of nature's sweetest providers of the all important vitamin C (this was my husband's comment as he was trying tot talk me into planting a patch of these admittedly delicious fruit bearers!) they are also chalk full of other important vitamins and nutrients. The fact that they make delicious jams and pies and that one can literally eat them by the handfuls ripe off the bush, also does not escape me, yet I am being very resistant to the suggestion that we plant a patch of these on our property.

Part of my argument is that we have a wild patch of blackberries on our property already, and other wild patches in the surrounding area on county land that are readily available during season if I feel the need to pick more than what I can right on our own property.

My husband has argued back that having a managed patch would be nice for our children and grandchildren in the future. With the price of fruits sometimes so exorbitant, that one nearly chokes when they see what a small pint of berries cost at the local grocer, it makes sense that planting a patch now is the only smart thing to do. This is where I lose the argument, as I have to agree with him whole-heartedly. Therefore, what is my problem? Black bears of course!

I was invited a few years back to pick berries at a patch that a friend of a friend had. It was situated quite close to the house that she lived in with her husband and three young school-aged children. As we started picking, she kindly gave warning that we should be aware at all times, as we walked through the paths of the patch. Black bear were known to frequent the patch throughout picking season, and in her words, would not bother you if you did not bother them. However, that it was still prudent to be alert to our surroundings. As a person who has photographed many a black bear throughout the years, I had to disagree with her. Yes, most black bear are somewhat shy in the wild, but they can also be quite fierce and protective if they are feeding or have their young about, or for no good reason whatsoever. That the idea of black bear visiting her patch never entered my mind until she brought it up, escapes my sensibility, but it never did. One young girl was in a tree stand with her father several years ago, not far from our house, sitting over a bait pile of corn, deer hunting, when a curious black bear decided to crawl the tree to see what, or whom, apparently was in the tree. The young girl ended up suffering a severe bite to her arm, even though she and her father had in no way provoked the bear. I have also come across black bear when picking berries before, yet with that particular patch so close to her house, I can honestly tell you that I never dreamed it would be a problem.

When my husband asked me what the difference was if I picked blackberries from the wild patch already on our land, or from a managed patch, I did have a difference to relate, a huge one. The wild patch was overflowing with plants that were close to the ground, and it was easy to see at a glance what was around. The patch that I had visited was over my head high, thick, and difficult to maneuver in. The idea of meeting a black bear in it was enough to curtail my pleasure that day, and make me not ever want to pick from it again.

My husband has assured me that if we plant a patch, we will be sure to keep it well pruned, it would be much smaller than what the size of that one was, and we would not plant it directly by the house in the first place. A spot out towards the wild patch would probably be much better soil for it anyhow.

I have not totally agreed to the idea yet, but I am giving in. The idea of even more berries to harvest each season is almost too good to be true!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Garden Fountains

By Christina VanGinkel

Adding a fountain to a garden space is definitely worth considering, as it can add tons of charm to the space, and can even be beneficial to the surrounding area and anyone lucky enough to take the time to sit and enjoy it. Though I have always dreamed of having one, I always assumed that other than a most basic fountain, I would never be able to afford one. Then I cam across the inventory of fountains at OutdoorDecor.com, and I realized that a fountain might just be a lot closer to fitting into my budget than I ever imagined!

New Pet Fountain

There are quite a few in the price range of what I assumed fountains might possibly cost, those that run the gamut of close to a thousand to even several thousand dollars. Surprisingly though, I also found a good selection at prices a lot less than I ever imagined. One of the first fountains that caught my attention was actually one of the lesser priced ones. I have always admired a fountain in the image of a child, or children, participating in an activity that you might see in real life, and if the activity is something that would be fitting for a garden or water scene, all the better. So, when I came across a brass fountain with a Verde patina finish, depicting a young boy playfully interacting with a small from on a ponds edge, I was absolutely in love with the piece. In addition, to make it even more appeasing, the price on it was $350.00, substantially less than what I had seen similar fountains for elsewhere. Sized at 14 inches high and 20 inches long, it was not even a particularly small fountain. A good size actually for a small to moderate sized garden space. While I fell in love with this particular fountain, I was so impressed with the price; I decided to see what other fountains they had to offer. I was not disappointed!

Fisherboy Fountain

In the same category, I also came across a 21-inch high fountain, made of brass and done with a verdigris finish. It depicts a young boy with his catch, a fish! The fish is spouting the water, and together it makes the perfect fountain for a pond of any size, whether a small one that you use just to sit by and enjoy the breeze on a hot summer day, or a larger one that you actually fish from. At $490.00, it was a bit higher priced than the New Pet Fountain, but still much less than I had anticipated.

Miniature Fountains

I have also had a fondness for very small fountains, those depicting little critters, and creatures close to their natural size. Even with these though, I have always come across prices that were in the several hundred-dollar price range, but they had several marked much closer to the one and two hundred-dollar range.

Mini Frog Prince Fountain

The Mini Frog Prince Fountain is a charming little frog, complete with crown, brass, with a verdigris finish. At a mere three inches tall, he would be perfect at a pond's edge, awaiting his princess to stop by for a rest and possibly a little kiss. Priced at only $38.00, even a princess in waiting could afford to bring him home to stay awhile!

Thinker Frog Prince Fountain, Impatient Frog Prince Fountain, Anxious Frog Prince Fountain

If the Mini Frog Prince Fountain is not animated enough for you, he comes in three additional poses, the Thinker Frog Prince Fountain, at seven inches high, the Impatient Frog Prince Fountain, at twelve inches high, and the Anxious Frog Prince Fountain, at nine inches high. These are priced more than the Mini Frog Prince Fountain is, but are so full of their own attitude and style, the only downfall may be that you find yourself wanting all four of them! Priced at $78.00, $178.00, and $118.00 respectively, you could have a whole quartet of frog princes for less than five hundred dollars.

If you are in need of a bit of extra charm, or just always wanted a fountain to place out in your garden, be sure to check out OutdoorDecor.com's selection, as you will be sure to find a fountain perfect for your garden, and your pocketbook!

Garden Arbor

By Christina VanGinkel

Adding an arbor to your yard or garden can be a great way to add seating in a shaded area, provide climbing plants with a spot to do their favorite thing, climb, and is just a great way to add style to the space or create a transition from one area to another. We have been tossing around the idea of getting one for our garden this spring, to place at the end of a pathway that we intend to build with our young grandson in mind. So, with this in mind, I thought some research was needed.

First, do not assume that your yard or garden is not large enough for an arbor, especially one with added seating, as even the smallest of yards can be improved with the addition of the correct arbor. Large spaces can also be transformed in a positive manner with the addition of a carefully chosen arbor. Depending on how your garden is laid out, how big the space is, how many areas you have, and what other decorative elements and plants are already in residence, will all play a part in choosing the perfect arbor for you space. Our garden and yard is small, yet an arbor with seating seems to be exactly what we need.

Arbors can be a great way to create an entry point into a garden, with some people even assuming that it is the only place to situate one, but that is far from true. An arbor with a gate, or not, can be the perfect, decorative, welcoming spot to provide access to your garden. By providing a focal point from which a visitor can identify the start of a path, along with providing the physical attribute one might need in which to place a gate, it is easy to see why some might assume that is all they are good for. However, thanks to innovative designers, arbors have come along further in their designs than just for being used as entryways. We are not looking for one to place at the entrance to the garden, but actually at the back of it.

Consider any out of the way spot that would make an ideal place to situate a bench for reading, or even having a quiet cup of tea. Maybe the spot is not conducive to situating a large gazebo in, or the idea of a smaller arbor with attached seating, or enough open space for a bench, is just more to your liking. In addition, best yet, if you have climbing plants in the area, the arbor can still do its duty by providing a convenient spot for them to do their crawling on.

Arbors can be purchased complete, by kit, or built from scratch. The issue I would personally have with the first is that I would most likely not find a suitable arbor to fit my needs locally, and I am sure that would be about the only way to have one delivered completed. A kit on the other hand would provide me with lots of choices, and would most likely arrive by truck ready to be assembled with just a few basic tools. Shipping could be an issue, but shopping carefully, and with the added cost of any carrier charges in mind, I was sure I could find something to my liking and in our budget. The last option of building it from scratch could also be improved on by ordering blueprints and building it on my own, with the help of my husband or even a contractor. This would save me on shipping charges, but I would still need to go out and buy and make ready all of the parts and supplies.

So, with all of these decisions in mind, I decided to shop online for ready to assemble kits, and I have found several arbors that seem to be exactly what I want, all online at OutdoorDecor.com. One, six feet wide, comes with a choice of a bench seat or full seat, and is made of durable cedar, which can be left to weather naturally, painted, or stained. It has a peaked roof, with nicely spaced out side rails perfect for my favorite climbing roses. It is also available in a smaller four foot width, but for the spot I would use it in, the six foot width would be a better fit. Priced at $799.00 it is a bit more than I wanted to spend, but it is still a definite contender.

If an arbor is in your future, be sure to take all of these options into consideration, and you will be sure to find the perfect arbor for your needs.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Start On Your Garden Today

Now is the time to begin preparing for the garden you want to have this summer. In most climates, you are in the midst of winter, and you may be wondering how it will ever get warm enough for the soil to nourish a garden! Rest assured that it will! You will be able to get out with your garden in no time.

Now, you may find yourself wondering what, exactly, you should be doing at this stage in the game. I am here to let you in on a few of the gardening planning efforts you can be making right now.

The first step is research, research, research. You should work on getting everything together. If you had a garden last year, ask yourself what you liked about it. What did you not like? What would you like to change? Decide if you will be expanding the garden, keeping it the same, or possibly even decreasing the size and scope of your garden. If you have never had a garden before, now is the time to begin looking for ways to make your garden a place where you can enjoy yourself and enjoy your time with nature. Spend some time at the library. Find out the basic information, such as what climate zone you live in, and begin to look at the various options you have. You will need to decide between flower, vegetable, herb, or perhaps a combination. Also keep your budget in mind. You can start a very small garden for $10, or you can have a large one for more.

Once you have the research down, you need to start planning. Get a list together of the seeds you want and what you need for each type of plant. Think about the watering requirements as well as the size of the plant and its root system when you begin thinking about the size of the containers you will need. You also should plan to go ahead and get the basic gardening supplies. For example, you will need a trowel (which looks like a small pitch-fork), and spade (small shovel), and a good pair of gloves. Those pieces are the minimum of the equipment you should get for your garden. Make a list and go shopping. Take your time and ask questions.

If you do not have a compost heap started, you are running behind! Never fear! You can purchase compost for this year and go ahead and start your own small compost pile. The easiest way to start a compost pile if you will have a very small garden is to use an old coffee tin or similar metal container. You can put anything organic, such as eggshells and cuttings from vegetables and fruits, into the tin. It will create its own heat and turn into compost. You will need at least six months to get good compost. If you want something larger, then you can search around online. There are a number of options available for you to build your own compost pile, but they all work on the same basic principle.

Finally, you should begin to work in your garden! If you can, try to begin tilling the land. Be sure that it is prepared for the upcoming gardening season. Check the Ph level and take care of anything that you need to do to get your soil prepared. Also drag out all of your equipment. Make sure that everything works and that you have everything you need. Many seeds prefer to germinate inside for up to 60 days, so if you live in a climate that will be warming up soon, you can definitely consider getting these seeds started now. Just find a dry place to put them and be sure that you water them regularly. Be aware that you will need to be careful when you transplant them to their permanent home.

You also can begin to put together some garden ornaments if you would like. You can add a little spice to your garden by getting inexpensive ornaments or wind chimes to add to your garden this year. Check out dollar stores or discount stores as they often have these items for very little money. Your garden can be more elegant this year if you begin planning now.

By Julia Mercer

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Choosing a Greenhouse or Cold Frame

By Christina VanGinkel

No matter where you live, a greenhouse or cold frame can extend your growing season. Whether you are a large-scale grower of plants that you sell for profit, or an individual who just wants to extend the length of time you can spend gardening each year, there is a greenhouse available for your needs. I am going to focus on the small types of greenhouses and cold frames that are available, for the private individual (not a business) for those times that you want to provide a very early start to young plants and essentially toughen them up. They can be made, or purchased. Purchased ones are popular because they usually come with all the materials, including any panel material, venting options, and framework all set to assemble. Many of them are also sized to fit accessories such as soil warming cables or heat mats. If you have a good set of plans, or the area you are going to place it in is an awkward layout or size, building it from scratch may be a better choice, but keep in mind that supplies for erecting it properly may still not be much less than if you just bought a kit to begin with. Compare prices, keeping in mind the finished product at all times. Even among kits, two exact sizes can have quite a few differences in quality of materials, type of coverings, venting, warranty, and more.

One drawback to purchasing or building a greenhouse or a cold frame is of course the price, as we were just discussing. Even a relatively small greenhouse can be pricey, so identifying what your needs are before you buy can help alleviate any over spending. Consider what types of plants you plan to use the greenhouse or cold frame for. Also, consider if you are going to use it strictly for your own needs, or if you plan to share your seedlings and young plants with others. This alone can have a huge impact on the size of the greenhouse or cold frame you will need.

Consider where it will be situated. You may have been dreaming about an elite styled greenhouse, complete with Dutch doors, and decorative elements across the top, making it as much a decorative addition to your yard as a useful one, but any space you have to relegate to its construction may be more closely matched to a shelf unit on a cart. Be realistic when choosing the perfect greenhouse or cold frame for your yard, lest you get all the building materials or the kit set out, only to realize that there is no possible way it is going to fit where you intended to place it.

Depending on your yard's layout, and where you have your garden, you will also want consider things such as easy access for hauling things like potting soil, and access to electrical outlets if you plant to use warming mats, fans, or other items such as heaters that will require electricity.

Once you have a clear plan in mind, it will be time to shop. If you are not a good comparison shopper, now is the time to sharpen those skills. Coverings of greenhouses and cold frames are manufactured of a wide variety of materials and thicknesses. Know what you are buying. Just because a design is shown with an access door, does not necessarily mean one is included, and so be sure to find this out. Solar systems are another option on some greenhouses, so do consider this option if your greenhouse will need to be located away from main buildings and convenient power supplies, but at the same time, make sure you understand what is included, and what is not. A solar system can add substantially to the total price of a unit, but it can also save you on operating costs. Frame material is also made of a variety of materials, from cedar to aluminum, and may or may not include items such as gutters and end caps, so again, be aware of what is included in the price being quoted to you.

Having your own greenhouse or cold frame can be a great way to make your time spent with your favorite pastime, as long lasting throughout the year as possible. Choose a greenhouse or cold frame with care and it will last you for many seasons to come.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Pharm Solutions for your Organic Gardening Needs

By Christina VanGinkel

Keeping pests and bothers, of all varieties, out of our garden has been an ongoing chore for my husband and me the last few years. Deer are especially resourceful when it comes to sneaking into the garden, and with a young grandson now a common visitor to the garden, we have been avoiding adding anything that might be harmful to him were he to come into contact with it. This has also precluded us from using some ordinary herbicides that we had occasionally made use of in year's past for the smaller variety pests such as mildew and fungus spores.

With a lot of work, and some seemingly strange tactics (stringing plastic milk jugs around seedlings to scare deer away), we have been able to keep most of the larger unwanted visitors away. However, we have been increasingly concerned about the molds that seem to arrive each spring, around many of our plants, even those that in the years before, we never really noticed such a problem. I personally worry that the molds themselves might be just as damaging to our young grandson as some of the chemicals that we would normally spray around the plants in years past. Therefore, with this in mind, I have been searching for a solution, or a group of solutions, to solve these several seemingly different, but overlapping problems. I finally found a line of products that seem like they might be just what we need.

Pharm Solutions Inc. makes what they themselves refer to as 'the next generation of pesticides' for gardening. Their products are manufactured for use in homes (some of their products do state that they are not intended for use inside of the home, so be sure to read each label, though I believe this has more to do with a smell issue, than anything harmful!), small and large gardens, even for large-scale commercial use. Their products are made with organic ingredients, and most importantly, our families and the environment in the forefront of their minds. All of their products use no alcohol, and no anti-microbials.

Some of their products, such as their Garlic Pharm, intended for outdoor use on edible plants and herbs up until harvest, and some ornamentals, are free of potassium salts and fatty acids. It will repel everything from aphids, thrips, white flies, cucumber beetles, spider mites, and help control problems such as rust, mildew, and fungi. Garlic Pharm will also repel small critters with it garlic aroma, even after it has dissipated past the point where humans can smell the odor.

Pharm Solution products in addition to the Garlic Pharm mentioned above include:

Deer Pharm, used as a deterrent to treat flowers, shrubs, fruits, and berries from the damaging effects of deer grazing on them.

Fungus Pharm, can be used on both plants and trees, to treat powdery mildew, horticultural fungus, garden pests, black spot, and rust.

Oil Pharm can be used on fruit trees, nut trees, berries, and woody ornamentals.

Rose Pharm successfully treats black spot, powdery mildew, and rust and rose pests of assorted types. It is the advertised as being the first insecticide of its kind, made from certified organic soap, certified organic peppermint oil, and certified organic soybean oil.

Veggie Pharm treats powdery mildew, horticultural fungus, and garden pests. It is also the first concentrate of its kind to be made from certified organic soap, organic peppermint oil, & organic soybean oil.

Indoor Pharm is a glycerin-based soap used to treat and prevent scale, mildew, fungus, and indoor pests. It can prevent fungal spores from turning into a mature disease, and when used as directed, it will prevent powdery mildew. It is an organic choice as an insecticide, miticide, and a fungicide. Like several of the other Pharm Solution products, it is the first in its class, being the first insecticide made from certified organic soap, organic almond oil, and organic soybean oil.

Flower Pharm, made of certified organic soap, pure cinnamon oil, and organic soybean oil, is a glycerin-based soap used to control insects. It also will aid in the prevention of fungal spores maturing to a full-blown disease when used properly. It will also prevent powdery mildew from forming.

Fish Pharm will feed vegetables, flowers, roses, and treat garden fungus.

Friday, February 10, 2006

How a Gardener Deals with Spring Fever

By Christina VanGinkel

The weeks of winter here in the Midwest have been, so far, quite mild. They are finally calling for some colder weather and we did receive several inches of new snow over the last few weeks. Maybe due to the long stretch of mild weather we had, or maybe because winter finally seems to have arrived, or most likely a combination of these I am suddenly quite restless, and more than ready for spring to arrive. Oh, heck with spring, I would love it be summer.

My greatest desire this morning, is to walk out into my garden and dig in the dirt. To plant some seedlings. To pull the weeds. To feel the heat of the hot sun beat down. To be drenched in a shower of rain. I am suddenly very tired of winter and want the seasons of working in the yard and my garden here right now, today.

I have often heard others complain of having cabin or spring fever, an almost driving need to get outside and feel the grass, smell the flowers, and feel the sunshine warm on their face. They have had enough of cold and damp, of snow, and days that seem to end before they even get a good start. I never knew what they meant, not really, until this year. I have no patience left for the snow and cold. I want it gone, and I want it gone yesterday. As irrational as that may sound, that is how I felt as I awoke this morning. The feelings are not new, not really, they have actually been gradual in their coming, almost since the first leaves fell from the trees last fall. With each day that grew shorter and shorter, the feelings have subtly intensified, until this morning when they feel as if they have erupted like a volcano, but without the heat. Actually, more like a slow moving avalanche that has finally made it all the way from the summit of the mountain to the foothills below. Everything at the base of the mountain is now buried deep in the cold white stuff, and it needs the heat of summer to melt it all away.

Instead of spending the day, mired down in depressing thoughts, I remind myself that above all, I am a gardener deep in my heart, and gardeners are highly aware that with enough care, life goes on. I plan to take some action, to bring some of the very things I am so wanting into reality. While I cannot melt the snow and make the mercury outside rise, I can head to the greenhouse and pick up some starter materials for a few plants. I can bring them home, and with my young grandson to help, we can dig in the dirt, and plant some seeds. Scrubbing off the dirt he is sure to get all over will have to suffice as a replacement for pulling weeds!

If you are also experiencing cabin fever, whether it be a mild case or a full-blown malady such as I am experiencing, find a creative outlet to put at least a few of those feelings to rest. Look through the papers and see if there is a garden show in your area anytime soon, and go. Every year a local radio station in our area puts together a home and garden show, with retailers, and small gardeners alike, attending with their wares for the upcoming season. Crafters are abundant too, with tables filled with wind chimes, bird feeders, even fancy scarecrows to set out amongst the first flowers to pop through the dirt.

I think I will also buy a big bunch of flowers while I am at the greenhouse. Nothing too extravagant, just some carnations, and greens to bring a bit of the colors so lacking this winter into my home, actually, I will buy two big bunches. One I will set in our entryway, so everyone not only sees them, but also is greeted by their heavenly aroma. The second bunch will go right here on my desk, as I am in need of an instant shot of spring to chase away the blues, to bring the dreams of my impending garden just a bit closer to reality. In a few days, I will replace them, and will continue to do this until I can see my own flowers breaking through the ground, as I know they will, when their own bout of cabin fever has abated and they feel strong enough to greet spring in all their simple wonder.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Preparing To Grow Cucumbers

In my quest to start my garden, I picked crop number two. The tomatoes are going to come along nicely, I am sure. Over the weekend, I noticed that several stores we visited had their gardening supplies prominently displayed, so I took that as a sign that everyone is beginning to get their gardening gear ready for the upcoming spring. Although it does not feel like spring here with snow on the ground, I suppose that I should get ready for my first summer as a gardener.

Cucumbers are the next pick for a crop. My first stop, as it should be for all would-be gardeners, was to do a little research. I was a bit surprised at what I discovered. Apparently cucumber plants need a bit more in terms of room for their root systems that I had anticipated. I have some tins that I thought I would be able to use to grow them, but I realized in my research that it will be impossible. The should be kept about 2 feet apart if you are planting along the ground, so I know that I will need larger containers.

One tip I read was that you should give them plenty of growing room or build a trellis for them. I have decided that a trellis will be the way to go for our upcoming cucumber crop. I am going to get some big pots and put them at the bottom of a four-foot concrete wall we have out back. Then I am going to get that wicker-type crisscross fencing that you use to make little privacy fences out of. I have seen it in small strips, so I will get a few to put along the concrete wall for the cucumber plants.

The I will take a string and tie it at the base of each plant (when I get them) and at the top of the trellis wall. I read that doing so will help the cucumbers to stay the course. I will begin to intertwine the string and the cucumber vine so that it will learn to grow in the proper place. From my research, I have discovered that controlling the growth of the vine is the most important chore for cucumber farmers.

The seeds will take about 60 days, or two months, to germinate. I am going to start them indoors in small containers, moving them to a small storage shed outside when they begin to sprout. (I do not want to tempt my cats too much.) Then once they seem fairly hardy, I will take them and transplant them into larger pots outside. The plants will grow as large as their space allows, and it will be necessary throughout the summer to cut back the side growth on the plant. These growths result from the main vine trying to spread outward, which is okay if you have a free-growing garden. Otherwise, it will be necessary, as I will do, to cut back the stems fairly often.

The cucumber plant will be in harvesting season for a few weeks. It should yield about one pound of cucumbers for every foot of vine I have growing. Since I am thinking now that I will only have two plants, since they seem to be a bit of work for a very novice gardener, I should have about eight pounds of fresh cucumbers this summer. Although eight pounds is not much, I am hoping to be able to expand some over the next couple of summers.

It will be necessary to harvest the cucumbers fairly often, about every two days, during the course of their fruit production time. That means that I need to pay careful attention to them throughout the summer. Instead of just ignoring them (which has been my tactic with houseplants), the cucumbers will have to become part of my daily routine. Allowing extra fruit to hang around on the vine causes the plant to cut back on its production, so I will be sure to gather the fruit as soon as possible.

After doing my research, I have more respect for farmers who grow cucumbers as I am learning that there is more work involved with them than some other crops. Still, I am excited for my tiny cucumber farm!

By Julia Mercer

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Tools and Toys for the Outdoor Gardener Limited on Space

By Christina VanGinkel

A bulb auger is simply an attachment that you use with your pre existing drill, usually 1/4" or larger. It is ideal to use in very dense soil where planting your bulbs may be difficult to do. It quickly and efficiently loosens the soil. Usually between eighteen and twenty-four inches long, it works for a variety of jobs besides planting bulbs, such as planting seedlings, perennial starts, making watering holes, and readying the plot for fertilizer. These are especially nice to have for small areas, where larger tools just will not fit.

Those who garden in small areas are often just as limited in the storage of their tools as they are actual space to garden, with even small essential tools not having a home to call their own. At the Yardiac store online, I discovered the perfect solution, a Master Gardener Tool Set, which includes a garden trowel, a stainless steel cultivator, and a transplant tool, all housed in their very own sleek, aluminum carrying case with brushed hardwood handles. Perfect for tucking beneath a kitchen sink, or in a hall closet, even on a shelf in the garage. It not only keeps the essentials all together, it keeps them out of the hands of small children or those who might otherwise want to use for them for non garden related chores.

Hose guides, decorative topped stakes that you push into the ground around the exterior of your planted space to keep the garden hose off the actual garden area actually work well for both small and large gardens, but in small gardens, they work especially well. Often times with small gardens, the hose may be brought out for other things besides watering, such as washing the car, watering the lawn, or attaching to a sprinkler for the children and whomever happens to be using it may not be paying attention to the garden. The hose guides will help keep that hose off the plants even when you are not there to protect it. They come in a variety of decorative tops, and work double duty as decorative touches when not being used to guide the hose away from all of your hard work.

A small trellis, one that is capable of doing double duty, such as one that is the back of a bench for example, is ideal for small gardens. They provide extra space to work with those types of plants that want a place to grow vertically. They add visually to the space, and are just plain fun to have. Small trellises are available in wood versions, plastic, coated metal, copper, and more. One in particular that I found to be ideal for very small spaces is a small metal rose trellis that goes right into a potted plant. Perfect for climbing rose species or any small climbing plant that you intend to keep potted. If you are limited to a small spot on the back patio for your garden for example, with no plants planted other than in pots, these are a great way to add to that space without doing anything to the patio itself.

If you always dreamed of having your own greenhouse, but you barely have room for your garden, do not despair, as they do make very useful, but small framed greenhouses that might be just what you are looking for. My sister-in-law wanted one, and only has a small space outside of her back door to commit to bother her garden itself and anything that goes along with this, her favorite hobby. She saw several small ones, but they were all made of fabric that she felt would not hold up long term. Then she found a mini leant to greenhouse. With a seven-year warranty, it was made of an easy to snap together UV resistant plastic frame covered with a twin wall polycarbonate glazing panels that retain heat well. It measured over six feet high, but was only two feet deep by four feet wide, perfect sized for placing right on her patio itself, right next to the small plot she uses for her garden.

If you are limited on the space you can commit to your garden, these are just a few example of the tools and toys that consider your limitations.