Friday, March 31, 2006

A Bit about Tomatoes

One of the best parts of looking forward to the upcoming spring and gardening season is pondering what vegetables we will plant and how we will enjoy them after the harvest. Perhaps the easiest plant to grow in a vegetable garden, and also the most hearty and plentiful, is the tomato. Tomato plants are tough and if given only minimal care, they will still produce a good harvest. If tended carefully, gardeners will find themselves with an over-abundance of tomatoes; they will end up with a surplus and will be able to share with all their friends and neighbors, or even open a fruit and vegetable stand to make a bit of profit.

Always begin your tomato plants a good six weeks before the last frost in your area. That way, the plants will have grown tall and strong enough to be re-planted outdoors in your garden. Place the plants approximately two feet apart so that they can have ample room to grow up and out, and so you will still have room to maneuver between them as you care for them all summer.

Tomatoes should be planted in good soil, in full sunshine, and they should receive plenty of water daily. Check your tomato plants every day for signs of aphids or other pests, and use a mixture of soap and water to rid the leaves of the pests. One of the best ways to encourage growth in a tomato plant is to prune it regularly. To prune a tomato plant, simply cut off the branches that are not bearing fruit; even if the branch is lush, full of leaves, and looks very promising, snip it off and encourage only the branches that are bearing the fruit. This way, the fruit that is already growing will have all the nutrients and moisture going only to those branches. The fruit will be larger and more plentiful.

There are many different types of tomatoes. Many people enjoy the smaller variety, such as cherry or grape tomatoes, but many people are stumped when they realize how many varieties there actually are. There are the traditional red tomatoes of the smaller variety, such as red currants, sweat peas, and rosalitas; but there are also yellow tomatoes that can be equally as tasty as the red. These include sugar snacks and yellow currants, to name only two. The smaller tomatoes are good because they usually grow in large clusters of seven, eight, or even more. The harvest comes more quickly than the larger tomatoes, and gardeners usually find that there are always at least a few tomatoes on the vine for consumption every day after the first harvest.

The extra large tomatoes like better boys and beef steaks can grow to be nearly the size of a cantaloupe. While the smaller tomatoes can be eating in one bite or tossed into a salad, the larger tomatoes are useful for slicing up for hamburgers, sandwiches, and salads, or they can be chopped up into small pieces to be used on tacos or other types of entrees. Many people even enjoy the large tomatoes sliced on a plate with a bit of salt and salad dressing.

The medium sized tomatoes offer a large variety as well. Roma tomatoes are some of the sweetest, most flavorful tomatoes on the planet. The medium sized tomatoes are also available in various colors, including the traditional red, bright yellow, pale yellow and deep, cherry red. With such choices, tomatoes can hardly be thought of as simply a red fruit, anymore.

Once the small, six-inch tomato plants have been planted outside in the garden, they will grow quickly with plenty of sunshine and water. Often they will grow several inches each day and sometimes the harvest will begin within a month. Always try to harvest the tomatoes as soon as they are ripe and ready, so they will not fall off the vine and rot.

Whichever you choose to plant, consider planting a bit of variety in your garden this year. Experiment with more than one species of tomato and with more than one size. Even if you can only plant a few tomato plants, have fun and once the harvest comes in, enjoy!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Garden Prepping in New England, Part III

Today was a very productive day. Unbeknownst to me, my dear, beloved husband did not rake and dispose of the autumn leaves last year, when he was sent outside with rakes, leaf blower, and plenty of bags. I found that most of the leaves had been simply blown into the woods on the outskirts of our lawn. This is all fine and good until an energetic wind blows our way, and then the leaves manage to make their way back out of the woods and onto the lawn. This happened all winter, but as the leaves were mixed with snow, I did not really notice. Consequently, the lawn had quite a few leaves, and the surrounding woods have piles of them. That simply will not do. I also discovered today, in my day of discoveries, that my dear beloved husband disposed of our Christmas tree, back in January, in much the same way. I found the tree this morning, hovering on its side behind what was left of our woodpile. It was covered in leaves and first appeared to be yet another large pile of leaves; but when I sunk the rake into it, there was our cute little tree, still with a bit of tinsel clinging to the dried out branches.

After taking all our bags of leaves and debris to the local refuse and recycling center, my daughters and I knew we needed to dispose of the Christmas tree, now that it is nearly April, and we also needed to do something about all the down sticks, twigs and branches that had littered the yard, but were now waiting in neat piles. We do not own a pick-up truck or an open-air trailer, so we made due with what we have. We took the back seat out of our seven-seat minivan and lined the floor with a large, thick tarp. We then put the Christmas tree into the back of the van, on top of the tarp, and proceeded to follow up with all our piles of sticks, twigs and branches. This system worked beautifully, even better than a pick-up truck or an open-air trailer, if you ask me, because nothing blew out. When we arrived back at the refuse and recycling center, we simply opened the back of the van, pulled out the tarp, and shook off all the sticks, including the Christmas tree.

I will stress yet again that we have been having simply superb weather for this time of year in New England. On the way back home from our drop-off, we opened the windows in our van and enjoyed the summer-like breeze and sunshine. The thermometer on our van registered at a balmy 62 degrees and we were all smiles. With a spring in our step to match the season and the weather, we plunged back to work and removed many more sticks and leaves from our terribly neglected side yard. Rather than stopping at the garden this year, as we normally do, I decided to take our clean up all the way into the woods (thanks, again, to my husband) so that we might avoid having the leaves in there decide to pick up and move to a new residence back in our flower garden or lawn. I am sure our next door neighbor, the one with the perfectly sweep, weeded, and edged, pristine lawn and garden, will thank me profusely.

After yet another trip to the refuse and recycling center with yet another load of branches, sticks and twigs on the tarp in the back of our van, we came back home for the last time, bagged up two more large bags of leaves from back in the woods, and made our plan for tomorrow. We are having such success at our clean up this year, not to mention the weather, that we are actually enjoying the process. Normally the planning, planting and harvesting has been the only enjoyable phases of gardening for me, but this year, watching such a transformation in our yard, garden, and surrounding woods, I am thrilling at the process. If only the powers-that-be would give us a few more days of this wonderful weather - before the humidity and the insects arrive on the scene. Perhaps this might turn out to be the year that we manage to get everything done. We shall see.

Garden Prepping in New England, Part II

Well, we spent another day out in the abundant, though surprising, New England sunshine and warmth; a rarity in the last days of March. There was not a cloud in the sky, but in retrospect, we realized we should have started a bit earlier. Early in the morning, there was no wind at all, but by the time we finished our morning errands and indoor chores, we did not make it out into the garden until just after noon. A slight breeze had picked up, and gained a bit of strength throughout the day. It felt nice; it simply made raking and bagging leaves, grass, and debris, a bit more difficult.

Our first task today was to attack the pile of firewood. We had only about 3/4 of a cord of wood left over from the winter. Since April snowstorms are not all that uncommon in New England, we piled half the wood in our basement next to the wood stove, and stored the rest in the garage. Last year a neighbor generously gave us several large, downed tree limbs to chop up and use for firewood. We stacked those neatly on the beams used for the woodpile, after sweeping off the bulk of the dead leaves. With the woodpile taken care of, we could now attack our side yard and garden.

The side yard is only half the size of the front yard, and only has about 10 square yards of grass. The rest is garden area where we have several flowering bushes and a few patches of crocuses, narcissus and daffodils. Or rather, that's where many of them used to be. Two years ago we had the coldest winter our state had seen in over fifty years; but we also had very little snow. Consequently, many, many plants died without the snow as insulation. We lost all our rose bushes, narcissus and daffodils. Miraculously, the hearty little crocuses survived, as did most of the larger bushes and trees, but many were never quite the same after that.

We were hesitant, at best, to plant a whole new slew of rose bushes and daffodils, so for the past couple of years, we have simply made due with what was left: a large forsythia bush up front near the mailbox, a skinny, but healthy aspen tree, and three flowering bushes of unknown origin. Our garden prepping for this day was to clean out from the garden area all the excess dead leaves that were missed last fall, as well as any other debris, including branches, sticks, and scraps of old, dried-out cedar mulch.

It only took us about three hours to clean out and bag the entire space. A friendly neighbor popped over and helped us bag some of it. We had the radio playing our favorite tunes, and the weather could not have been more beautiful. When we finished raking up the excess leaves which had gotten stuck under some of the bushes, we were delighted to find new green shoots of flowers, parts of the bushes, or even weeds. In a still-brown early spring, with little or no evidence of green on the trees or bushes, it was a thrill to find that nature is working behind the scenes. We even found a few tiny periwinkles which had already bloomed.

Now that our side garden in the front has been cleaned, the next step is to plan what we will do with it this year. There are many open spots with all of what was lost in the freeze. We will begin with covering much of it with fresh, new, red cedar mulch. After that, who knows? More daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, and perhaps even a rose bush or two. We can enjoy what we plant this year, as well as look forward to next spring (harsh winter permitting) to see what pops up under the few dead leaves that are left each year. Gardening in New England is a constant cycle. We cannot simply plant, sit back, and watch it all grow like we did in California. It is a way of life here to ride the tide of the seasons. But now, after the cleaning has been done, the planning and planting is the best part!

The Perfect Garden Swing

By Christina VanGinkel

We have had several garden swings through the years. We have enjoyed each one as much as anyone could enjoy a swing. We have sat on them early in the morning enjoying a cup or two of coffee or tea. We have piled pillows on them and snuggled in to read chapter after chapter of the newest best seller. We have watched the birds from their comfortable seating, enjoyed a snack, and even had some very deep conversations and some silly ones too. We have even pulled into the yard to find our son sound asleep on the one that we had up through last year, only to have him come wide awake when we walked into the yard and suddenly exclaim his rabbit was gone. He had been letting the rabbit eat the grass beneath the swing, fallen asleep, and the rabbit had of course wandered off. Several days later, he was back safe and sound, and an important lesson had been learned (you have to stay awake when watching those smaller then yourself!).

Each swing had been chosen with care, but the last swing, a canopied, cushioned affair, was perfect in every sense. It was long enough even for my husband and youngest son, each almost six feet tall, to take a nap on, and the cushion was comfortable enough that even after three years, it was still full. What it was not anymore though, was waterproof. At one time, after a rain, all one had to do was take a cloth and wipe the wet off, as it never seeped into the cushion. The cushion had become so worn towards the end of last year though, it was no longer even remotely waterproof, and after a rain, it would take hours for it to dry. In addition, the canopy had become sop worn, that at the end of last season, when a strong wind came up, it had actually torn right through.

My husband and I had taken the canopy off, and used the swing the remainder of the fall months, but hoped that once spring arrived, we would be able to find a replacement canopy and cushion. So far, we have been as unsuccessful as could be. We have patiently watched each local store put out their stock of garden furniture, patio sets, and swings, and hoped we would be able to find what we were looking for. Not only have we not, we have not even been able to find a complete swing that is even close to the quality of the one that we had for the precious three years. They are either much shorter, or they are designed with a table in the middle of the seat, making it more like two chairs instead of one long settee. Another swing we came across that was long enough, had such a thin cushion on it that it reminded me of the sort of seating you would offer a guest you hoped would not stay long. Give them a seat so uncomfortable, that hopefully they would make their excuses and leave as quickly as they come! Besides the cushion being paper thin, it also did not look waterproof at all and nowhere in the documentation did it say it was treated with any sort of waterproof coating. You might assume that it would be, as it was for outside, but I have learned through the years never to assume anything. To make matters worse, the canopy on it did not adjust. If the sun was at a bad angle, I guess you would have to either abandon sitting on it, or else move the whole swing.

We have still not found a replacement, but have been told by employees at two different stores that they hope to get more swings in soon, that we are not the only ones that have commented on the poor design of what they currently have available. This just goes to show you that we are not the only people who have learned to enjoy a comfortable swing! I have also begun searching the Internet, but have had no luck on that account either. I did find a lovely wooden swing, which would look charming in the back of our garden where we want to place a smaller seating arrangement to sit with our grandson after time spent exploring the garden, so our search has not been completely fruitless.

Getting Kids Revved up for this summer's Garden

By Christina VanGinkel

Getting kids revved up for this coming summer's garden time is easier than ever, if you just go about it in the right way. Ask you kids now if there are any plants that they would like to grow. The answers you will receive to this question might surprise you. This simple question might also be enough to open the doors to their inner gardener more than any other question.

Many kids are willing to put in more time gardening if the results are for plants they want to succeed in helping grow and harvest. Some good suggestions if they really do not know what they want to plant could include watermelon, pumpkins, and giant sunflowers. All three of these plants offer up quite impressive results for the kids. Other common vegetables such as carrots and corn are also favorites. Not so surprisingly, onions and spinach are about as favorite to grow in the garden for kids, as they are for them to have on their dinner plates. It only makes sense that they want to grow something they are willing to eat! If they really have no preference, or do not show any, maybe it is time to dig out an illustrated gardening catalog, and sit down with them. Page through the catalog together, pointing out different plants and vegetables that you think might interest them if they will at least take note of them.

If the child you want to get involved gardening is very young, it might not be so much the plants, as it the tools with which they get to garden. I recently did a review of The Backyard Bunch Tools for beginning gardeners, and they are a perfect example of how tools can be fun for kids to use. Any small sized tools, in bright colors, and with easy to grasp handles will be a draw for young children though, such as a small watering can that is easy for them to carry and use, and small cultivators that they can make use of to loosen up the topsoil. Small shovels to help you dig a hole for putting in new plants, and other kid friendly and kid sized tools will also have a great advantage over any similar tool in an adult size that they try to use.

Next, be sure to provide these same young garden enthusiasts with their very own plot of land to 'garden' in. If they are extremely little, their gardening time might consist of digging holes and making mud hills, but if the plot of land you provide them with, is close enough to your garden, you can see them and supervise them while you actually get in some quality gardening time. The side benefit of this is that they will be picking up more knowledge than you might imagine. It will also keep them from digging up anything important, which might make you intolerant of them being in the garden in the first place. The spot does not have to be huge, just cordon off a small area, maybe make a sign for the area proclaiming it theirs, and provide them with everything they require to garden. Before you know it, they will be gardening for real.

Be sure that kids have a spot to store any tools you provide them with too. The fastest way to get a child to lose interest in gardening is when they are reprimanded for not putting away any tools they used. If they do not have a clear idea of where to store the items in the first place though, this can be a problem. My husband's father made a small unit that looked just like a garden shed, but is about one foot wide by three feet high, and it sits right in our rock garden. We keep our grandson's small hand tools right in it, so they are always handy when he stops by, and he can already get them and put them away by his self, and he is not even there years old yet.

For older kids, give them a stack of your gardening catalogs. Show them how to find out what zone your home is in, and how to differentiate which plants might be a suitable choice for your yard and or garden. Tell them that you would like them to plan a section of the garden with the plants they would like to try growing. By allowing them, some real say in what is being planted, such as where it is being planted, and total control over how it will be cared for, they will get a front row seat of what it is like to grow and tend a garden. (Do not try to take over this section, leave it to them, whether it is a success or a failure. They will learn more about gardening from this than you could ever imagine.)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Our Neighbor - The Gardening Guru

When we first moved to New England from Southern California, we were shocked at the amount of work necessary for gardening, not to mention the much shorter season. In Southern Cal, we could plant impatiens in our back garden, and if we simply kept them pruned, they stayed there forever, constantly blooming, even in the middle of winter. New England soon taught us that nothing stays the same and annuals must truly be planted again and again, year after year. We also learned that the leaves will fall. We knew this would happen, but in California, it was a non-issue. Sure, some of the leaves fell off some of the trees, but it was more like brushing a dog and having it lose a bit of hair. Shedding: that's what the trees in Southern California did. The trees in New England dump every single leaf and they are miraculously attracted to any smooth, grassy lawn. They cannot be ignored nor can they be left alone, or they will rot, and that's a whole 'nuther story.

Being a busy family, we did the best we could do when we got here. We chased after the leaves, watched as the snowfall covered up many of them until spring, and then we chased them some more. We planted our garden a bit early, it turns out, but we were fortunate it wasn't affected by frost. But nothing we did compared to that of our next door neighbor. Our neighbor, Keith (not his real name), is in his mid-30s and lives alone, or sometimes with a girl friend. He is an extremely hard worker with a type A personality. He works 40+ hours per week at a local retail store, and the rest of the time, weather permitting, he works outdoors on his garden, his lawn, and even the woods surrounding his property. Keith loves to garden. His front lawn is the envy of all the neighborhood. Granted, he pays for a professional crew to come in once each month during the summer to treat the lawn for pests, parasites, and weeds, but he also waters it lovingly every day, which, in New England, is not really necessary, and he mows it every five days, like clockwork. We have actually seen Keith mowing his lawn at 10:00 at night, when it is completely dark and dangerous, if you ask me. But he is rabid about staying on schedule; and it shows. The lawn is pristine.

Keith is also very proud of his gardening abilities. He grows a few vegetables: tomatoes, cucumbers, and a couple of corn stalks; but most of Keith's gardens are full of flowers that look like they stepped right out of a nursery that day. Or as my children would say, they all look fake. Keith's gardens are weeded, fed, pruned and tended each and every day. He loves his flowers and it shows. We even see Keith weekly raking and sweeping (yes, sweeping) the woods around his property every couple of weeks. The forest floor is smooth and looks like a well-kept picnic area.

In contrast, our lawn is half-green at best. We water it only if we have more than a week without any precipitation, and we mow it when it gets tall and scraggly looking. The only flowers we have managed to grow successfully are impatiens or geraniums in our window boxes, and a few rose bushes scattered around the yard. Our vegetable garden is our only real success, as it gives us plentiful tomatoes each year; but only tomatoes. Nothing else will grow successfully. Our hydrangeas, rhododendrons, and even lilacs have ceased to bloom. The only pleasure is our faithful forsythia bush out front.

One day I made the mistake of talking to Keith about his lawn. Keith loves to talk about his gardens, his veggies, his flowers, and especially his lawn. I made a passing joke about our lawn compared to his; about how our lawn was not too terrible, but next to his, it looked like dirt. Keith immediately ran home and was back in a flash with a huge stack of hardback gardening books. There was one for beautiful laws, one for vegetables, one for annuals, one for perennials, and one all about pests and parasites. What Keith did not understand is that our family's take on gardening is pretty much riding the tide; winging it. Yes, we have learned the ebb and flow of New England's seasons, and how a certain amount of work is required during each season, whether it be planning, planting, tending, harvesting, or cleaning; but we were not looking for a showcase garden, I had merely complimented Keith's success.

I kept Keith's books for a time and honestly looked at them once or twice, knowing he would ask me about them. Finally, one day a few weeks later, I had my son run them over to him while he was mowing his lawn. I knew he would not break his stride and the books would not have to be discussed. I was right. The next time I ran into Keith, he casually asked me how I liked the books. I thanked him, told him they were wonderful, and then changed the subject. Now that spring is here, I look forward to taking care of our lawn and gardens this year. I already have everything planned. It will not look anything like Keith's masterpiece, but I really don't care. It will be homey and pretty and enjoyable, and that's what really matters, right?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Garden Prepping in New England, Part I

One of the things we have learned living in New England is that we have to take advantage of the sunshine when we can. Spring can be a dreary, rainy time, which is depressing coming right out of a snowy, cold winter; but on those sporadic sunshiny days, we have to get out there and do what we can. This week, though it is not yet April, a time when we could still experience a heavy, spring snowstorm, we are being blessed with temperatures in the mid 50s and clear, blue skies. Although the nights are still far too chilly for planting anything outdoors (and will be for at least another two months), we are using this time to clean up the yard, the garden, and the surrounding area, in preparation for the coming gardening season. Here is a list of what we accomplished today.

This morning at eleven a.m., my daughters and I headed out into the front yard to clean up the first of the debris from winter. We homeschool, and have decided to take this week off school, since the weather is so favorable for garden-prepping. The winter was not nearly as cold as many years, but we had a lot of wind. With several oak trees dotting our front yard, as well as woods surrounding the entire property, we had our share of leaves, sticks, branches, and other debris that simply needed to go. We began raking the lawn from the street up toward the house, thatching the grass as we went, scooping up acorns, gathering sticks and limbs, and putting all the debris into plastic bags. The sun was high in the sky and there was only a slight breeze. Soon, we took off our fleece sweaters and worked in jeans and t-shirts. It was hard work. After a wet winter with little outdoor activity, we were out of shape, but sorely in need of fresh air.

After about an hour and a half, we took a break and sat on our sunny front steps enjoying soda and popcorn. At that point, my daughter brought out her CD player and we enjoyed getting back to work to the tunes of Kenny Chesney and Kelly Clarkson. We raked, scooped, bagged, and actually finished cleaning and clearing the entire main section of our front yard. As we worked, we talked. We talked about which bushes need to go - the ones that are not as seemly as they ought to be (or once were) and we talked about where we would put our flowers once the weather allowed. We planned the window boxes and imagined where we might like to plant a few lilac bushes. One of my daughters even suggested we plant an apple tree. It was a brainstorming session and all ideas were great ones. The yard clean up was therapeutic to us all; fresh air, sunshine, good company, planning, and of course, the satisfaction of looking out at the clean yard, just waiting for spring to arrive.

After we finished for the day, my daughters talked me into setting up our trampoline, a bit earlier than we normally do. After all their hard work, I agreed, and now they are out there jumping to their hearts content, which they will probably do until it gets dark. This will help them to sleep well, so we can get back to work again in the morning.

It is currently the end of March, and in New England, we cannot be assured of frost free nights until the end of May. Yet, in a few weeks, we will plant our seedlings indoors and let them flourish in our sunny living room. We will continue to prepare the rest of the yard all this week, as we take advantage of these unusually warm, dry, sunny days of early spring. If we continue to be blessed with this wonderful weather, our gardening will be well underway when the season finally arrives.

Until then, we will plod on and make use of any sunny days that are sent our way. As New Englanders, we understand the need to make hay while the sun shines. Stay tuned and we will continue to share our adventures in gardening. Today we have finished for the day, but tomorrow, more sunshine is in the forecast, with even warmer temperatures. See you then!

Walkways, Spring, and Mud!

By Christina VanGinkel

Spring is synonymous with cleaning, and with all the dirt and mud around my house, I am starting to feel as if I will never catch up. Ever since we installed our wood laminate flooring, I have been aware of just how much dirt was actually being tracked into the house when we had carpeting, but I have never been quite as aware of it as I have the last few days. Then, yesterday I ran out of my Swiffer mop refills, and there was no way the floor in the entry and down the hall could wait until I got to the store to pick up a package of them. I went ahead and swept as I normally do before using the Swiffer mop, but then I filled a bucket with hot water and tossed in a few rags and got down on my hands and knees and cleaned the area the old-fashioned way. 'Oh my' was about all I said the whole time I was scrubbing the floor. Even after sweeping, I still ended up with a bucket of mud instead of water with a bit of dirt in it!

This whole episode has me rethinking the walkway leading from the fence where we park our vehicles, up to the porch and our entry door. Just this last fall, I tore up much of the walkway, removing the sides that I had so patiently installed myself just a few years before. They looked nice, but when I realized what a hazard they were to my young grandson, we decided to go ahead and remove them and worry about what exactly we would do with the walkway come spring until later. Later has arrived, and while it will still be a few weeks before we can actually do anything with the stepping stones, the time has come to make some decisions.

The stepping stones leading from the fence to the porch are still there, but when we removed the edging, mud from the yard just pored into the spaces between the stepping stones, covering in some spots, and eroding away in other, the pea gravel that was between the stepping stones. I had originally thought that we should move the walkway itself over about five feet, so that anyone entering the yard from the fence entered on the end of the current fence, and not from the middle the way we do now. This would involve changing the design of the fence itself, but in reality, that would not be that difficult. The fence is a simple structure, and replacing it would not be difficult at all. The problem would arise in the winter months, when this new walkway would wind its way to the porch on the side that we always seem to have a lot of ice build-up on the ground, even when we are diligent about salting the area and keeping it clean. We can go to bed in the evening with the ground clear and wake up in the morning, even when there has been no precipitation overnight, and we will still miraculously have ice on the steps of the porch facing the way the walkway would come in from, were we to change it. For this reason alone, we had decided that we would leave the walkway where it was, just change how it was set up.

Our immediate problem is the mud washing across the stones from where we had flowerbeds built up along the edging we removed. As soon as the frost is completely gone from the ground, my husband has said that we have our work cut out for us, but that he plans to haul in stone to build up a more natural border along the length of the stepping stones, one that a small child cannot trip over, and then refill the pea gravel between the stones. It sounds simple actually, and I like this idea more than anything I have conjured up.

My lesson learned in all of this, which I realized while down on my knees scrubbing was that with any project, thinking the consequences through can be the most important step you take. If I would have thought what would happen once I removed the edging, I might still have done it, but I would have replaced it with something else right away, saving myself from this struggle with the never-ending supply of mud!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Keeping a Gardening Journal

By Christina VanGinkel

Have you ever noticed how one idea leads to another? I had to come up with an idea to do with a group of kids this summer recently, (you can read about it over at, and I ended up deciding to have them make a journal. I would take photographs of local flora and fauna with my digital camera, and the kids would use the pictures as models to sketch from. The more I put the idea together, the more I liked it. I also thought that it would be great to make a journal of my own, not of the local habitat, but of my own backyard and garden habitat.

By creating a journal of this year's going ons around the place, I would not only be making a log, something I have done before, but an actual pictorial journal to look back on both in future years for comparisons, but also to be used during the next winter to better help me plan the following year's garden. We are planning to add features over the next couple of years that will appeal to our grandson, but also keep his wandering little feet out of the main areas, and by keeping a journal of this, I think it will also grow into a wonderful remembrance for him to look back on when he is much older.

Instead of making a journal as I plan to do with the kids, I intended to invest in a journal, actually several of them at once, so over the next few years, I could make one each year, and they would all match. The only problem with that, was when I tried to find a blank journal, but one with a cover theme that would be fitting a garden theme, I kept coming up with journals that were already filled. I actually found a couple that looked intriguing to the point that I ordered two of them to read, but quiet, as I am not suppose to be buying any more new books this month, already having spent my allotted budget, but I figure it is more of a research thing than actually just buying more books! The two I ordered were The Gardener's Five Year Journal by John Ashton, which does include space to keep your own notes, but is also filled with notes and information from John Ashton on how to improve your gardening skills, more of a workbook than a journal. The second book, In My Garden: A Journal for Gardeners, does have room for notes, but is filled with photographs that the author herself snapped. I want to use my own.

I did find one journal that would have been ideal, though in my opinion it was a bit small, at only six inches by eight inches overall. A Fiorentina Renaissance Garden Journal, it was hand crafted with a leather cover, and a lovely flower border. There were a few notes in the beginning of the book, but otherwise it was a simple journal just waiting to be filled with the sort of information, pictures, and sketches, which I hope to fill my journals with. At a suggested price of just over one hundred dollars though, I think it was a bit out of my price range. For someone looking to give an exquisite gift to a gardening friend or loved one, this would be an ideal gift!

When I was about to give up and just use a couple of nice notebooks, I came across the spiral bound Tracy Porter garden Journal. I like the lined pages, but it was also on the slight end size wise, at only 7.5 x 6.2 x 1.2 inches. This prompted me to keep looking though, as I figured that if they made blank journals for gardening such as this one, there had to be more around, I just had to find them. So as I write this, my search continues. If anyone knows of a good-sized journal that would be ideal for the sort of project I am interested in doing, be sure to leave me a comment! In the meanwhile, I will also keep searching and if I find something suitable, I will do the same.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Spring has Sprung!

By Christina VanGinkel

Spring arrived yesterday in the Midwest with snow flurries, but a promise of warmer weather to come. Walking around my yard, the ground was soft in many spots, with the snow melting faster than it was settling to the ground. My driveway is gravel and through the years, the gravel has worn away, leaving spots in need of repair. These areas were mud yesterday. Walking along what was our walkway last year, before we tore it up and moved it over, I saw the green of several plants trying to push through the ground, bulbs that we missed when we also moved the rows of them at the same time we tore up the walkway. All of this pointing to repairs that I should make a list of so that as soon as it is a bit warmer, we can get out and fix. Gravel will need to be ordered, as our driveway cannot handle another year of just raking over these bare areas, they are really in need of some fill. The walkway survivors will need to be dig up, and I will have to give my husband some chiding on how he missed them, as he swears he knows where every plant and bulb is!

My young grandson was visiting, and he wanted to help me fill all of the birdfeeders while we were outside. By the time we were done, I realized just how much the ground was warming up, as where there was at least a foot of snow just a few days ago, there is now a field of old seed that will need to be raked up. After our ordeal this winter with the spread of a disease that killed many of our small songbirds, we have been keeping up a vigilant spree of cleaning in and around the feeders. Seeing all the debris now that the snow has melted only reminds me just how much more vigilant we will need to be now that the temperatures are warming again, as it was the extended warm weather this past fall that kicked in the issue in the first place. We are still battling wild turkeys too, and their markings are all over the yard. They are not a clean bird, and we are going to have to kick up our attention on how to deter them from our yard. They have been knocking over feeders and chasing squirrels for weeks now, and while I do not recall thinking them cute for a second, if they were ever welcome, they have long wore it out! We have noticed that they have taken to roosting just outside of the yard, and have lost any fear that they might have held from the barking of our dogs.

Today is supposed to be warmer, with the temperature reaching just above the freezing point, and this Saturday the temperature is expected to reach forty. For many of you who live in the southern part of the country, this might seem cold, but in my neck of the woods, this means snowmelt, and road limits. Actually, road limits have been on the road we live on for a couple of days, but if the weather continue a steady warming, as it looks it will, then these will hopefully be off as fast as they arrived.

Spring is a great time of year, but it is also, what I believe to be the most drastic time of year. Summer will just seemingly arrive one day, when someone realizes that hey, it is warm enough to swim, and fall likes to sneak in, with the leaves changing color over several weeks, and then falling to the ground to be raked into big piles to be jumped in and maybe a few for compost. Winter is just as slow to come, with snow flurries here and there, and cold nights and moderate days. Spring might take just as long as all of the other transitions, but with snow one day, and thunder showers the next, followed by lightning storms, and mud, it at the least seems like it is a much quicker transition.

If you have been waiting for spring's arrival to get out and work in your garden, chances are if it has not come to your neighborhood yet, it is almost there, so dig out your rakes and cultivators, make your shopping list of plants to add, as she is about to sweep across neighborhoods coast to coast!

Friday, March 17, 2006

The Backyard Bunch Tools for Budding Gardeners

By Christina VanGinkel

Getting kids involved in gardening and the chores that go along with it, can be a step towards a life long love of this very beneficial hobby. One way to accomplish this, is to make the act of doing the garden chores as fun as can be. When I came across the Insect Lore site through the Google link here at, I was absolutely in love with The Backyard Bunch Tools for Budding Gardeners!
With hand cultivators, and hand shovels, along with garden hoes and garden shovels, all done up in bright colors and designs, I knew that any young child who was fortunate enough to be provided with a set of these, would be begging for time spent out in the garden.

All of the individual pieces, the cultivator, hand shovel, larger shovel, and the hoe, are each available in one of five fun designs:

Manny Mantis
Webster Spider
Flutter Butterfly
Buzzby Bee
Dot Ladybug

Manny Mantis is available in green, with each individual piece sporting his image a fun to own item. The shovel even seems to have a big smile on it, seemingly happy to be helping in the garden.

Webster Spider is black and red, and of the five designs, I would say his image is not quite as fun loving as the others are, and maybe because of the shape of his eyes, a little bit on the scary side even. An older child or one that loves spiders would find the images of Webster Spider pretty cool though and my two-year-old grandson told me he was not scary, just hard working!

Flutter Butterfly is done up in orange, and to me was the friendliest of the bunch. Maybe it was just the orange color, but the image of Flutter is fun, fun, fun!

The group is rounded out with Buzzby Bee in bright yellow and Dot Ladybug in pink. Both are fun designs, and Dot done up in pink, would surely delight any young girl who wants to take up gardening.

Not only are these all fun for your little ones to use out in the garden, they are all fully functional. The hoes and larger shovels are wood and metal construction with easy to grip rubberine handles. The hand cultivators and smaller hand sized shovels are made with easy to grip handles too, but have plastic ends for safety with even the youngest bunch.

If your kids really enjoy The Backyard Bunch gardening tools, you can also purchase the same fun to love characters on kneeling pads (great for keeping the knees of their pants clean), and gardening aprons that they can wear when they help cook up the bounty harvested from the garden they helped plant and care for. They also offer sun visors, which are perfect for keeping your little one's eyes protected from the harsh glare of the summer sun, and gloves that they will want to wear everywhere, not just in the garden. There is also a nozzle for attaching to the end of your garden's hose, available in each design for making watering a tad more fun. For those who like to water the old-fashioned way and for those hard to reach plants that the hose just cannot get at, there are watering cans made of galvanized metal so they are not only adorable in their own way, they are also made to last. The watering cans are sized at 5" x 5" x 7", so they will still be manageable for a young child to carry and use when filled with water. Each of the five characters is also available in a set that consists of the kneeling pad, a pair of gloves, hand shovel, and a hand cultivator. Each set is made up of one individual character, no mixing, and matching. If you have a child, who would rather mix it up amongst the five, then mix and match on your own to make up a set any child would love to own.

If you have been searching for a way to encourage your children to discover the fun side of gardening, The Backyard Bunch Tools for Budding Gardeners might be just the set you have been in search of.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Choosing Plants and Trees for Shade

By Christina VanGinkel

If your house is hot in the summer, thinking ahead to what plants you place in and around your porch and yard, and what type and where you plant future trees, can have a significant affect on the indoor temperature of your home come the hottest parts of the day.

If you have a porch that is facing the south, consider planting climbing vines that will help block the sunlight and insulate against the hottest rays of the day. Plants and vines should be planted and maintained to both the south and both to the west and slightly east for maximum results. It may take some time to train your vines to climb and grow right specifically where you want them, but the results will be well worth the effort. If you always use an assortment of potted and hanging plants, think ahead to what type and where you place them. Big, bushy hanging plants that are hung to help black sunlight from reaching the interior part of your house can also help. The same goes for potted trees and large plants. They will all help to bring a degree of shade to your indoor space, keeping the sunlight out, and thus reducing the inside temperature.

Always keep the end goal in mind when choosing plants and trees, and that is the cooler you keep your interior to begin with, the less your cooling costs will be if you use secondary means, such as air-conditioning. If you do not have a porch, consider placing plant hangars in a way that when you use them, the sunlight will be blocked.

Before planting any tree, you should consider the size of it when it is both growing and when fully grown, how full a leaf structure it will have, keeping in mind that the bigger and fuller the leaves, the more natural shade it will provide. Planting a very young tree is better than planting none at all, but if you look for those that are already several years old, you will be reaping the benefits of their cooling much sooner. Also, a tree that is four or five years old will already have an established root structure, so transplanting it will provide you with a much better chance of it living, than if you were planting a much younger tree. Some trees grow much faster than others do too, and if your goal is creating shade, you should definitely consider the fast growers over those more slow growing types. The main difference between the two though is lifespan. The quicker a tree grows, the shorter the overall lifespan. The slower a tree grows, the longer a lifespan. Planting a variety of trees in a well-mapped design will help you keep both sets of goals, immediate shade, and future shade, in mind. Be sure to consider how the trees look together too. Different trees will have very different appearances, and this does need to be a consideration.

With this in mind, you also need to consider that if you plant trees that meet the requirements of your shade needs, but you dislike the appearance of them, you are also defeating your purpose, as you will most likely grow tired of them and end up replacing them before they grow overly large. For this reason, be sure you consider how the tree evolves throughout an average year, including the colors of the leaves, if it flowers, and if it produces any type of berry. For instance, if you choose a tree that flowers, and you find yourself sniffling, sneezing, and just plain miserable, or the tree you choose produces berries that you must rake up each year, lest they take root and cause more maintenance problems, it might end up that you are wanting to rip that tree out of the ground and start all over. All before you ever get to experience a single benefit from the shade aspect, the original reason you planted the tree in the first place. Some people will of course enjoy a tree as it flowers, but be sure you keep the maintenance aspect of it in mind when choosing one because you like the appearance. The flowers will fall off, and they will need to be cleaned up.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Spring has not yet Sprung

By Christina VanGinkel

Whenever the outdoor garden displays go up at our local shopping centers, one knows that spring has officially arrived. Long before then though, the garden and outdoor centers inside of the stores are stocked with all the newly arriving stock. This morning I had to run to town for some forgotten printer paper that my youngest son needed in order to finish his homework this afternoon. While I was there, I decided to take a walk to the back of the store where the garden center is usually located, to see if they had begun stocking the shelves and display areas. I was not disappointed.

Before I even reached the back of the store, I came across a huge display that they were just setting up of dedicated to yard and garden furniture. They were busily setting up everything from chaise lounges and swings, to patio sets and hammocks. Mixed amongst all of these pieces were self standing umbrellas, mosquito candles, and barbeque grills of various types, including gas and charcoal, and even a couple that looked more like a complete kitchen center than something you might find in a backyard.

From there, I continued towards the back of the store and was not disappointed back there either. They had a fully stocked area filled with everything from yard decorations (bears seem to be big again this year, which I just happen to love!), including wind chimes, glass viewing balls, walkway lights, and birdhouses, to edging that looked like picket fencing, stepping stones, and even a giant display of new and old styles of garden hoses.

In the summer months, this back area opens to the outside where they have several greenhouses filled with seedlings, and full sized plants. Between the two areas is a somewhat enclosed area that is filled with the overflow of plants from outside and those that might need more specialized attention in our area where even late into summer we have very cold mornings and evenings. This space was already filled with plants, and more yard decorations such as birdbaths. There was also a section geared for outdoor fun for the little ones with an assortment of swimming pools, swing sets, and play sets from Little Tikes and a few other names I did not recognize. On the opposite end of the space, was a display of outdoor heaters and fireplaces, and some unique lighting options for those of us who would like to use our outdoor spaces as long into an evening as is possibly feasible.

Spring is not yet here, but spring fever has defiantly started to settle in with many of us who love the awakening of spring. Of being able to get outside and dig in the dirt, to plant our flowers and vegetables, and to not only relish in the enjoyment of everything as it grows and prospers, but to also take pride in it all s it grows with the aid given by our own two hands. While I could not think of one single item as I browsed the different departments that I absolutely needed for this spring, other than maybe a new pair of gloves, I nonetheless enjoyed browsing all the different displays. For one thing, they essentially told me that I am not the only one more than ready for spring to get her, and for summer to be quickly on its heels.

With the arrival of spring according to my calendar only a bit over a week away, I know that in my neck of the woods, it will realistically still be several more weeks before we get to see the first signs of spring beyond that black numbered date on a wall calendar. Until then, I and everybody else that lives where snow is still the main thing on our weather person's mind, will have to make do with a few visits to stores such as this to remind us that spring is coming, if we can just hang on for a bit longer. We can smell the flowers and remind ourselves that it is coming, and before we know it, we will be needing those mosquito candles and wondering if we should pick up just one more flat of moss roses, as there is a bit of a bare spot way in back by the pansies.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The First Day Gardening

The very first step for creating a garden paradise in your home is to determine where you would like that garden to be. Walk around your yard. What areas do you enjoy? Where could you imagine spending more time? That is where you want to put your garden.

Once you have an area, you should rope it off. You can do that with string or rope. Be sure that you tie it to stakes so that you can keep the area free of other people making plans for it. Then get out your tape measure and measure the garden. You will need to know how big the area is before you can start buying plants.

Your next step will be research. Look at other gardens in your area and in gardening books. See what is out there and what you like. Once you have found some plants that you like, you can get ready to start planting. You will need to check the soil first before you buy plants so that you can see that the soil will be good for those plants to grow.

You should check the soil with a basic Ph kit that you can get at gardening or home supply stores. If you have a neutral soil or close to it, then you are ready to go. If not, then you need to look at the various ways to treat your soil and get the soil to a neutral state.

Your next steps will be to buy the plants. Remember that nurseries tend to have workers who are knowledgeable about gardening because of the specialty nature of the store. That means that you should be able to ask questions and get good responses from the people who work there. Ask all of the questions you need. In particular, you need to find out how long each of the plants you have selected will take to germinate to make sure that you are buying them at the right time. You also need to know how much room they need to grow so that you can make sure you get the right number and size for your garden.

If this is your first year gardening, then you will not have a compost heap ready. Instead you will have to work from potting soil for this year. Get the right kind and amount for your size and type of garden.

While you are at the store, pick up the basic supplies you will need. Gloves are a must. In fact, you probably need a light pair for basic weeding and a heavier pair for all of the other work you will do. Be sure that the heavy pair has protection for your hands. Also pick up a watering can, a bucket or two, a shovel, and a trowel. A trowel looks similar to a pitchfork but is only a few inches long. You use it to till up land that may be hardened.

Now that you have the supplies, you are ready to begin your gardening adventure. You will begin by going home and thinking about where you will plant everything. If you have seeds, then you need to walk off the rows to make sure that you are putting the plants the right distance apart. If you bought plants, then you can set the pots at the places where you want them to go so that you may see more clearly the layout of the garden.

Spend your first afternoon in your new garden getting to know the soil. You should spend time on each plant. Be sure that you are following the planting directions that came with it and work on getting the plant or seed into the ground the correct way.

After you have finished your first day of work in your garden, you should sit back and enjoy. Grab a glass of lemonade and a lawn chair and admire your handiwork. Pretty soon you will need to begin the maintenance for your garden, but for today, you can just sit back and enjoy the view.

Gardening is a gift, and people who have it love the adventure and experience of each day gardening. You could be one of them!

By Julia Mercer

Hosting A Plant Exchange

Organizing a plant trade can be a great way to get to meet gardeners in your area. A plant trade is a basic get-together where everyone brings a plant or two and gives them away. In exchange, they take home a plant or two. Planning one of these exchanges will take a little work, but they are well worth the effort for the fun you will have.

You will need to find a group of gardeners when you start planning. You may want to begin with that neighbor who is always out pruning his roses or try contacting the local garden club. Once you have found 10 or so gardeners, you are ready to set a date. Look at the calendars and your own garden to help you with the date. You want to pick a time when plants will have germinated but can still be transplanted. That means you should go with something right on the cusp of spring.

These events tend to run a good long time because gardeners love talking about their plants, so you should aim for a Saturday afternoon event. You can plan to have light refreshments or ask others to bring something for everyone to enjoy.

You will need to set up a large enough table for everyone to put her or his flowers and plants. You should ask the people who will attend to bring the plant in a container that someone can take home. Everyone also should bring a card telling the name of the plant, the basic level of care needed, and whether it works best indoors or outdoors. Remember that while everyone in attendance will be a gardener, everyone will not have the same level of expertise about plants. You basically want to give them an idea of plants that are easy, medium, and difficult care so that someone does not take home a plant for which he or she cannot care.

You should allow everyone to set up the plants and wonder around while the exchange is beginning. Then you will want to ask people to have refreshments. Once people have eaten, then you should explain any rules you have set up for the exchange. It is best to go with few rules, other than only to take as many plants as you brought. Otherwise you could end up with people there without any plants.

Some people may want to take stems cut from plants, so you should have paper towels and perhaps even small pots and a little potting soil for these people. You may want to consider getting out some gardening books because there may be some questions about the plants you see.

At the end of the day, everyone should leave happy and with a few plants to take home. You will find that people will be very excited about the flowers and plants that they have, and they will want to do the exchange again. For you, the exchange is a benefit because you will get to experiment with other plants for only the cost of the ones you cut from your own garden. Perhaps you have had your eye on a certain type of plant and you see one at the exchange. You will be able to pick it up and know that you are getting a sturdy plant.

Before the event, you should specify the types of plants. You may want to allow only herbs, vegetables, or flowers, or you may open the exchange to any type of plant. Just be sure that the people involved know what is expected of them.

After the first exchange you put together, you will not have much trouble putting together future ones. People will remember your exchange, and if you do it successfully, they will be more than happy to return. Expect a good event to grow as people tell their friends who also are gardeners.

These events are great fun and bring together people of all ages. It does not matter your age, race, or gender if you love gardening, then you have something in common. And if there is one common thread among gardeners, it is that they love reveling in the beauty and elegance of plant life.

By Julia Mercer

Gardening Fun for Children

On a recent trip to my family's favorite retail chain discount store, my 5 year old daughter spotted some adorable gardening tools based on the popular animated children's series, Miss Spider's Sunny Patch Friends. After picking out a bumble bee shaped watering pail, a firefly trowel, and a ladybug shovel, we headed over to the seed packets where my daughter picked out some flower seeds to plant.

I want to encourage my daughter's budding interest in gardening, so I thought this was a fun way to start out, by letting her pick out her very own gardening tools. For now we will just store them in a canvas bag, although the Miss Spider line also had a lady bug shaped carrying case (they even had gardening clogs, which I may go back and buy for my little girl as a surprise).

Because gardening is more of my husband's forte than mine, I thought that I could use a little help in figuring out just how to get started, so I decided to check out the book store for some helpful, kid-friendly gardening books. Here are a few great gardening books that I found for little gardeners:

The Gardening Book by Jane Bull. This is a great beginners gardening book that is chock full of color photos. It contains simple instructions for over 50 really cool gardening projects.

Berry Best Gardening Book: Strawberry Shortcake by Megan Bryant. Little girls seem to love the character Strawberry Shortcake, the sweet-faced girl with the big pink hat (at least my daughter does). My daughter was thrilled when we found this book that could not only teach her about gardening, but also tell her a story about one of her favorite characters.

Wee Enchanted Gardening Kit (Creativity for Kids). We bought this for a gift for my 8 year old niece and it was a big hit. It contains everything you need to create a beautiful little planter, including pots that you paint, seeds and accessories to decorate a little enchanted "fairy" garden.

Roots Shoots Buckets and Boots: Gardening Together with Children by Sharon Lovejoy. This is a lovely book that features "theme" garden ideas like a moon garden and a pizza garden. Although my daughter is a little young to fully understand all of the concepts in this book, older kids will love and appreciate the themes. I do plan to do the fairy garden with my daughter when she gets a little bit older.

If you're looking for gardening tools for your child, check out home improvement stores like Lowes and Home Depot. Besides having everything the adult gardener needs to get started, these stores stock kid-friendly gardening items as well. I remember seeing kid-themed Dora the Explorer and Bob the Builder gardening tool sets last year and my daughter begged me for them then (I didn't give in until this year, though).

After researching the whole gardening thing a little further, I found that it is good to introduce children to the concept of planting plants rather than just seeds. Why? Because young children may grow weary of waiting for the seedlings to sprout-- in fact, they may even become frustrated. And plans that are already established have a much better chance of thriving then, say, the inexpensive seed packets you pick up at the dollar store. That said, I have decided to let my daughter grow some windowsill flower plants for fun, but to concentrate more fully on carving out a small area in our back yard for her to grow useful plants, like a vegetable garden.

Of course this may prove to be a tad more difficult than it seems, as my yard backs to a wooded area that is heavily populated with deer. Last summer my neighbors decided to grow a pumpkin patch, envisioning a Halloween pumpkin carving fiesta by late fall. They actually had a few big pumpkins until the deer got wind of their patch. Aside from the deer problem, though, I think it would be really fun to have my daughter participate in growing tomatoes, green peppers and cucumbers.

So this year we're going to give it a try. Who knows, my daughter and I may both find that we have a love for gardening. In any event, we just can't let those adorable Miss Spider gardening tools go to waste!

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Wheelbarrows and Garden Carts

By Christina VanGinkel

Working in the garden can be fun, but having tools that make the job more easy is always a benefit. One 'tool' that I have had issues with through the years is the wheelbarrows that have come and gone during the days I have spent working the garden and surrounding yard. Call me wheelbarrow phobic if you will, but I can never seem to push one without tipping it over, spilling the contents, running it into objects, and any other hazard you could imagine. When I popped the tire on ours last fall, right before the first snow fell; I just nonchalantly parked it behind the shed in hopes that the whole contraption would just disappear.

Needless to say, it did not, and my husband just asked me the other day if I ever got around to ordering a new tire for it. I lied and told him I tried but that I could not find a tire to fit. Knowing he did not believe me at all, he nonetheless took pity on me and told me I should look at some of the new garden carts they now have available. Especially as seeing as we would most likely have to buy a new wheelbarrow anyways, if we could not just find a replacement for the popped tire on the one we currently had.

Garden carts, like wheelbarrows, are for hauling and carting around everything from new seedlings to dirt, to leaves that have been raked up and need to be moved, and grass, with the main difference with most of them being that they have two wheels on the front of them instead of the single tire common on the wheelbarrow. This makes both steering and all around maneuvering of them much easier, at least in my opinion. The Easy Roller Jr. Rolling Cart is a perfect example of what I am referring to. It has two wheels on an extra wide wheelbase, and has a recessed tool tray. On the sides of the cart are clips for your tools to hang conveniently from while you are working. With its all poly construction, and a solid steel axle, it is built to get the job done, no matter whether it is big or small, and it is built to last for more than just a season or two. You can easily maneuver this cart right to the spot you need it at, conveniently in reach while you are doing whatever that job is, and then once it is full, it can just as conveniently be moved to the next location you want it to go, whether to another spot to work, or to the dump pile. With a capacity to hold up to two hundred pounds easily, there really are not a lot of yard jobs that a cart such as this cannot handle.

I did consider a few other carts, but they were the sort that needs to be attached to a lawn tractor or even a four-wheeler. Some of them have a dump box feature, and others are much like a flat bed trailer. While these do look like they could get a lot of work done, and haul a lot more than what a cart such as the Easy Roller Jr. Rolling Cart could, they nonetheless need to be attached to the lawnmower or four-wheeler. I am not at all comfortable hauling out our lawnmower every time I would want to use a cart, especially for some of the smaller tasks, such as weeding the flowerbeds.

I did come across one cart last year, at our local Home Depot store, which was a dump box, had a handle that converted to be pulled by hand, or to attach to a hitch to be pulled by your garden tractor. The price was comparable to the other garden carts I had looked at, but so far this year, I have not been able to find them. I have come across a few that resemble a child's wagon, with four wheels, high sides, and are easy to maneuver, and if I cannot find the cart that I saw last year, or come across a similarly styled one, I might end up purchasing one of those. Either way, I am not regretting giving up on the wheelbarrow. If you can find something that works better than the original, such as these carts when compared tot eh awkward wheelbarrows of old, there is no reason not to appreciate the improvements in design and let the old relics rest in peace.