Sunday, April 30, 2006

Gardening Fun

Mother Nature is not cooperating in my desire to have a garden. No, no, no. Instead she is sending cold fronts our way left and right, and it is getting a little frustrating. Since I am such a novice to gardening, I am not sure what I am supposed to do. The past week has been beautiful, and the weather has been warm. It has been in the 70s most days, so I thought the cold had passed.

We have our gardening gear ready. We decided on several crops for our first year of gardening: tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, catnip, green beans, and basil. We have the seeds. I also have containers for several of the crops since we do not have much land for a garden plot this year. I also went out and bought all of the goodies that go along with gardening. I have gloves, a shovel, a trowel, and a couple of cute garden ornaments.

I am ready, but the land is not.

I was going to plant last weekend, but I got a nasty virus. I ended up inside sick all weekend, so planting the garden was out of the question. My wonderful husband went ahead and worked in the garden plot. He weeded everything and tilled the land. We thought that as soon as I felt better, we would be able to plant everything and get moving. Alas, it is not turning out to be that way.

Instead I am waiting inside with all of my garden stuff out. Everything is sitting in my office, taunting me, and the cold weather is back. When I went out this morning, I was pretty chilly. My guess is that it is around 40 degrees. It is not too cold to plant, but the danger of a frost tonight or the next is still here. I do not want to have my hard work go to waste because of the weather, so I will have to wait and see.

I know that farmers are more experienced at this process than I am, but you really do not think much about how much guesswork goes into planting. It is funny because I grew up with a 5-acre garden plot. We had corn, sugar cane, peanuts, potatoes, and other crops. We raised them for our very large extended family to eat, and we sold some to neighbors. We gave others to people who were less fortunate than us. As my grandparents both grew up in poverty, they believed that we had an obligation to give our excess food to families that needed it to survive.

As a child, I helped with those efforts, but I did not have anything to do with the planning. I was involved primarily in the harvesting, unless you count the many evenings I tagged along after my grandfather while he was watering the crops or the mornings when I would help my grandmother pick out veggies for later meals in the still-damp early morning hours.

Even with all of those memories as a child and those experiences with the garden, I did not pick up on much about the actual process of planning the garden. I know how to shell beans, shuck corn, and dig potatoes, but I have no clue when the seeds should go into the ground.

Now I find that I am curious about how farmers know. I am sure much of their knowledge comes from years of experiences and a closer relationship with nature than I, who have become an urban dweller in my adulthood, have.

I will wait, however, so that I am planting my garden at the right time. I will make sure that I am planting my garden at the right time so that I can help provide for my family this summer. While I do not imagine that my garden will provide much sustenance for my family this year, I do hope that it will provide enough to have a few meals picked from the ground behind our home.

Gardening is such a spiritual experience, and it is something that I want my children to experience during their childhood years. I want them to know about the glory and wonder of providing for themselves.

By Julia Mercer

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Garden Lighting

By Christina VanGinkel

I received a flyer in the mail from a home and garden store that is located in our community. It was filled with sale items of course, and a teaser for using their credit card with no payment and no interest for twelve months. I have used that deal before myself, and if you can pay for the items you buy within the twelve months, it is a good deal, but be wary if you cannot, because all of the interest is tacked on if you owe even a dollar at the end of the twelve-month timeframe. I flipped through the tips and recommendations part of the flyer with some interest, but not really expecting to read anything that was of great interest, as it was all basic information. I did read with interest one section that had ten projects with some tips and information on how to carry them out, most of them to help upgrade and beautify the outside of one's home.

Two of the ten projects were related more to the interior of a home, than the exterior, with one all about flooring, and one on creating a sunroom. Several were common sense ones, such as choosing an entry door with security and durability in mind. One project caught my attention though, that some might think common sense, but that I can honestly say I never really gave much thought to before reading about it in the booklet, and that was adding lighting to a garden for viewing at night. I nearly missed it though, as it was just a tiny paragraph beneath a picture at the bottom of a page. I looked in the flyer for some further information or insight on the subject but other than the notation under the snapshot, I found nothing else. That was ok though, because it was quite self-explanatory, and it contained all the information I needed to give the idea thought about how it might work in my own gardens.

I wondered how it was that something so simple, like rimming a gardens edge with ground lights to show off the colors of the garden in the evening, had not been something that I had thought of myself. I am a fan of walkway lighting, so that one can stroll through a garden or down a path in the evening, yet had never once given any thought to lighting the flowerbeds or landscaping itself.

Not only would it be nice to have the garden viewable in the evening, especially during the height of summer when everything is in full bloom, as seeing everything in its different form as the buds are closed for the night, would be exhilarating all on its own, but the safety of the lighting would also be a secondary convenience.

I cannot tell you how many times I have walked down a path and thought I caught a whiff of a skunk, or heard a rustle of some other night creature, only to step a little quicker on my way back down a path. If I had had, lighting scattered throughout the garden beds, this would not show up everything, but it would some, and it might even be a bit of a deterrent to some of the native nightlife around the house and gardens. I know that if I had lighting such as this several years ago, when my daughter was surprised by a black bear as it rested beneath a tree just off the trail leading to our front door, she would have been thrilled!

Sometimes, tips or suggestions on how to fix this, or change that, are discovered in some very unusual places, not that a flyer about home and garden products is unusual, but that it was a sale flyer, I nearly just tossed it and never even gave it a glance. Reading books, websites, sale flyers even, can all reward you with ideas on how to change, arrange, and spruce up your home and garden. Being open to these ideas is as important as discovering them. I for one cannot imagine I never thought about putting lighting in the flowerbeds themselves, yet when I think about it, I know I have seen lighting on a grand scale in many public gardens. I just never gave it the time of day to think that it would work in my own smaller gardens.

Education from others and being open and receptive to suggestions is a wonderful way to learn many things. The next time you find yourself flipping though a flyer, article, or even a book or magazine, take the time to read some of the more obscure information. You might just discover a gem in much the same way as I did.

Raised Bed Gardening

By Christina VanGinkel

I have been having problems bending over, and in mentioning this to a good friend, as we were talking about gardening in general, she commented that it might be a good time to plan some more raised beds for vegetables and flowers alike. She did not mean for me to move all of my garden beds to a raised height, but any new beds that I might have in the planning stages, thus not adding to any time that I might have to spend bent over planting and weeding. We already have several raised bed garden areas in our yard, so the idea is not new to me; it is just not something I always think of. It is true that I can work for longer periods on my raised beds than I do those gardens at ground level, as can my husband. I am just aging, and he was injured three years ago when a large Ironwood tree uprooted after a tornado and fell on him. The tree landed on his head (he was wearing a hard hat) and plowed so much force through his body that by the time it reached his legs, one shattered and the joints were literally blew off each side of his one ankle. He loves to spend time gardening, so anything that is going to make it easier for him to continue to do so is worth serious contemplation.

Raised bed gardening is exactly what it sounds like. In essence, though, it can refer to various degrees of height, which may or may not help someone who is having health issues is regards to bending over. Those that are at a height that one could kneel and not bend are perfect for maintaining a healthy back though. You make of it what you will, as with many things in both gardening and life. Keep in mind when deciding to create a raised bed garden that it does have other advantages too. By creating a raised bed, you are controlling the soil in the space, along with getting the garden up off the ground, which will help decrease weeds. They are good alternatives to a typical garden space in small areas, or areas that may not otherwise be a good spot to plant a garden. Drainage problems are usually alleviated with a raised bed garden, and as a direct result of this, root growth is improved which in turn means your garden will most likely produce more providing you with a higher yield of produce. Factors such as these are hard to overlook when considering using a raised bed design.

In small areas, a raised bed can be designed and built in layers, thus taking a very small space and creating more square footage overall. Imagine a small back yard with one area against a fence open to placing a garden. Instead of just using a spot in front of the fence, building up a raised bed will allow you to multiply that same square footage several times over. Even if you use a raised bed that is typically a container that is wider on top, than it is at the bottom, you have added footage to your gardening space.

Other advantages of raised bed gardening can vary depending on the individual garden, but some are:

Raised bed gardens often mean an extended growing season, because the soil is warmer right from the start. This can be a huge advantage is climates that have naturally short growing seasons.

If built in a stable container, the edge of the container could essentially double as a seating area. This is especially nice if you plant flowers in the garden.

If flowers are planted on some areas of a raised garden, they can bring color to areas that would normally not even exist.

A raised bed garden can be an ideal way to bring beauty to your garden in a way traditional gardens just cannot accomplish. If you are interested in expanding the area you garden in, dealing with fewer weeds, lengthening the growing season you are in, or just making your time spent gardening more productive and enjoyable at the same time, raised bed gardening may be just what you have been searching for.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Gardening on a Budget

By Christina VanGinkel

Gardening as a hobby or as a part of your daily life does not have to be a bind on your budget. Gardening cost can add up, what with buying flats of plants, additives for the soil, specialized tools, and features for the garden such as pond pumps and bricks and stones for walkways. At the same time, gardening can be accomplished by creating a garden with nothing more than what you have or can obtain from friends and family, or a visit or two to a secondhand store such as Goodwill or St. Vincent DePaul. Both of these stores, along with dollar stores, are ideal spots to find good buys on small hand tools, planters, knee savers, and even garden ornaments.

While my husband and I have purchased plants through the years, a good many of our favorite plants have come from either two of my dear friends or my mother in law. We have also shared plants from our garden with them in return. Our Bleeding Hearts have been split so many times, it is amazing each spring when they spring back to life and are always one of the first plants to flower in our garden. When I think of how many plants are out there from our two original, it is miraculous.

As for tools, we have had the same two handheld garden trowels for as long as I can remember, with our only real splurge in the tool department a set of mini tools that we bought for our grandson from the Backyard Bunch. Tools that are put away when not in use, and generally taken care of, will last for many years.

Growing plants from seeds is always cheaper than buying plants that someone else started. If you have the room indoors (or a greenhouse!), go this route whenever it is feasible.

Another good place to get plants inexpensively or free besides family and friends is from a farmer's market, or through a plant exchange set up by various organizations. Churches, garden clubs, even members of a book club might occasionally host such an event. They are usually straightforward affairs, where you bring in plants that you have an overabundance of, as do others, and you trade amongst each other to build up a variety in each other's gardens without having to spend money. If you have an abundance of plants, you could even set up a stand at a local farmer's market to sell your extras, and with the money made, purchase whatever your garden needs. A garden is truly a self-sufficient endeavor if given a chance. Besides thee exchange or sale of plants at these events, extra seeds are just as popular. They can be ones that you harvested yourself, or if you bought a pack and only need half, better that someone else gets to use them than letting them go to waste.

If you have a true green thumb, and do not mind, even enjoy, bringing plants that appear to be ready for the trash back to life, ask at the nursery you shop if they would give you any deep discounts on plants (perennials especially) that have seen better days. They might even offer you them for free and that is as good a budget saver as you will ever find!

Another way to stay within a budget when gardening is to know what is worth spending money on. If a plant is doomed from the beginning, not fit for the zone you live in for example, then no matter how beautiful it looks at the garden center or nursery, it will most likely not thrive in your yard.

Every gardener has their favorites, and that often includes annuals. However, if you plan to be in the same place for a long time, other than a few annuals for spots of color on occasion, you will obviously get a better value from perennials.

Gardening for little or no money can happen. It usually takes some planning, along with the opportunity for some good old-fashioned swapping or buying and selling at a farmer's market or similar place. If a garden is in your dreams, do not let a tight budget squash those dreams, just be sure you check out all the opportunities that are available to you.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Free Wildflowers

By Christina VanGinkel

My husband, son, and I visited a home and garden show over the weekend. It was held in a large arena and had displays from various businesses around the area, both traditional and home based. My husband was not at the show for five minutes when he found the table he went there specifically to see, a display of chain saws from a dealer that up until recently had not been selling in our area. I can only listen to so much chain saw talk, so after a few minutes I told my husband I would find him in a bit and I took a walk around some of the nearby displays.

There were many for home improvements, such as window and siding displays, decking, and outdoor furnaces. There were also several displays for outdoor fun including campers and four-wheel vehicles. Several businesses that did not fit any one category, but that must have felt the exposure at such a show would be good for business, such as one woman that was selling handcrafted candles and soaps were also present. Alongside of many were a scattering of realtors and displays from the National Guard and the Army.

As I wandered amongst the tables, I picked up a bag that one of the realty tables was offering for people to carry around the many freebies that were being offered at various tables, including pencils and pens with business names on them, free sunglasses for the kids, a pizza cutter, and from another realtor, a pack of wildflower seeds!

After I wandered around for a while, I headed back to the chainsaw display where my husband was winding up his examination of a new saw and had ordered several bars and chains for one of the two that he currently used at work. We then the three of us, my husband, son and I, walked around the show together, past many of the same display I had already checked out, plus stopping at two businesses that sold NASCAR collectibles. We managed to get another pack of wildflower seeds from another realtor, so ended up with two mini sized Ziploc bags of wildflower seeds.

When we arrived home, my husband and I decided we should scatter them right away, before they were tossed into the junk drawer, or ended up in the trash in one of my speed cleans of the kitchen counter. We had just cleared an area next to shed on the outside area of our yard and garden. We had planted a few pine trees there a few years before, and while a few of them were living and thriving, several others had been mowed off. We had just decided that we should not mow the area this year. It was far enough out that it could be left in its natural state, giving the remaining pine trees a chance to continue to grow, and not meet the demise of the ones before them that were inadvertently mowed off. We raked up the ground around the trees, pulled some patches of longer weeds that had sprung up from who knows where, and added a bit of fertilized topsoil to the mix of sparse ground that was between a few of the trees. We then scattered the wildflowers all around the area and watered it lightly. If they take and grow I have not a clue, but I will let you know. I have had some luck in years past with scattering wildflowers in similar areas. They never grow up tick, but enough that they create a pleasant looking diversion to an otherwise barren area.

If you have an awkward little piece of land that is out of the way and you are not sure what to do with it, pick up a pack or two of wildflowers, the sort that is meant to be scattered, and this summer you might be enjoying a little spot of beauty instead of bemoaning the fact that the area is devoid of color or usefulness. Until we decide what to do with the area, and the trees grow a bit bigger, this is as good a solution as some of the others we had thought of, such as fencing it off and just letting it grow wild. At least this wild will have a bit of color!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Waterfalls and Ponds

By Christina VanGinkel

If you have strived to make your garden, a peaceful, serene spot to sit and wile away the stress, but something is missing and you just cannot put your finger on it, maybe it is a water feature such as a pond or waterfall. Both of these can be excellent additions to a garden space that does double duty as a natural stress reliever.


If you happen to live in town or near a busy street, a fountain not only provides a natural spot of beauty, it can also camouflage the noise surrounding your garden. A bubbly sounding waterfall or even a rhythmic flowing one can mask the noise of cars and neighborhood kids. If you have a large yard and garden area, it may be necessary to put in more than one, especially if you have several seating areas in the space. Be sure to take the size and the layout of the space into consideration, along with the normal level of noise when deciding on a waterfall(s). Garden centers often have a good selection of outdoor waterfalls, as do home supply centers such as a Home Depot or a Lowes Home Improvement Centers. Besides camouflaging the noise around a space, a fountain is a good way to add visual effect to a garden. I have seen ones made specifically for a garden space that were made of copper that would age to a beautiful patina over time, stainless steel for a utilitarian feel, and one made of stone that very much resembled the rounded rocks one would find in a stream. I have also seen ones made of slate, glass, sandstone, ceramic, and even ones made to resemble a natural stream, so wide ranging of styles, that no matter your personal preference, chances are you will be able to find a waterfall that fits both your needs and your style.


Depending on the size of your garden, a pond could be a small, artificial one made of resin, or of plastic liners in a hand-dug hole. However, it could also be a manmade pond dug with heavy equipment of a size that you could potentially plant fish in that you could fish for if you so desired, or large enough that migratory ducks, geese, and other animal life take up residence on a part to full time basis. Ponds come in just about any size or shape you could imagine, and while a large one may need a source of natural water, if you have the space, you can put one in just about anyplace you desire.

If designed and placed well, both large and small ponds can be ideal places to expand your plantings to include water based ones. Small ponds can also become home to species such as Koi fish.

One of my favorite gardens that I have ever been in was not overly large, and actually combined a small, hand-dug pond that the owner lined her self with a plastic lining made for pond linings, along with a waterfall that she places in the center of the pond. She stocks the small pond each spring with her koi, and bought every book she could find on plants suitable for thriving along the shore of a pond. Her house and garden are smack dab in the middle of a busy residential area, with a somewhat busy street on the one side. Yet, when you walk through her garden gate and approach the pond and waterfall, it is such a serene spot that you can literally forget where you are at! The sound of the waterfall masks the surrounding noises, and the peacefulness of the plants and pond combined is enough to make you forget that you are in the middle of a busy neighborhood.

If your garden or yard is lacking that something special, that one thing that makes you able to enjoy your space to its fullest potential, it might just be missing a water feature such as a pond or waterfall. Be sure to consider the options of one or the other, or tackle it head on, as my friend did and employ both for your own little piece of paradise in your very own garden hideaway.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Gardener's Soap

By Christina VanGinkel

Working in the garden accomplishes many things besides affording the gardener with a wonderful view and edibles. It provides the opportunity to bask in the sunshine and fresh air, it offers a chance to get some exercise the old-fashioned way, no machines required, and it provides a great reason to purchase all sorts of soaps and such to clean up after a morning digging and planting!

Sometimes though, when a gardener heads to the store in search of a soap that will clean and is looking to avoid harsh chemicals and cleaners, their choices they find are often quite limited. If that happens, they can search out a source of handcrafted soaps made of all natural materials that have the cleaning power they need and want, or they could make their own.

Some good places to find handcrafted soaps to purchase include craft shows, smaller gift shops that accept consignments from local crafters, and even small to mid sized garden shops that try to cater to their customers in every potential way possible.

If these outlets are not an option for you, or they do not offer any suitable soap to choose from, then it might be time to make your own. Before beginning, keep a few tips that I have discovered along the way in mind. Melt and pour glycerin soap is easy to make and requires very few materials, so if your goal is to make a soap with as little fuss and mess as possible, in the mixes that you desire, melt and pour is the way to go. It is non-toxic, it lathers up well, and it can be made in small or large batches, depending on your individual needs and wants. However, the major advantage of making a melt and pour soap for your gardening needs is that you can choose which ingredients to add. Cornmeal and or oatmeal are ideal for their scrubbing factors. I like to add a bit of orange peel for the same reason, not to mention that it smells delicious. Hot or cold processed soap is another option, but it requires much more work, and involves the mixing of lye, with other ingredients. To keep your focus on the simple side of soap making, I definitely recommend the melt and pour process over the processed kind.

Another added bonus for gardeners is that many of the herbs and plants that they grow can be dried and used in their very own soaps. If you grow a certain herb for its medicinal factors, consider how well it dries, and if it has a pleasant scent. If so, create a small batch of melt and pour and add it to it. By being able to make a single bar or two at a time, melt and pour is also ideal for experimentation in this way.

Other good ingredients to add, that will work well to scrub away the dirt of gardening include ground up walnut shells, stone ground cornmeal, pumice powder, and poppy seeds. To keep the same hands that these ingredients are scrubbing the dirt off of as soft as possible, add in a bit of natural honey, dried goats milk, almond oil, aloe vera, lanolin, or vitamin E.

The next time someone asks you what advantages you gain by growing your own garden instead of just buying the vegetables, spices, or flowers you use, tell them that the benefits far exceed the pleasure from just picking your own vegetables and flowers. Explain to them that there are all sorts of pluses, such as using soaps that are as natural as the produce itself, not to mention the exercise and fresh air that every gardener reaps in benefits each time they garden. Also, if you are at a loss as to what to give a fellow gardener for a gift, fill a basket with some of the soaps you made both from the inspiration from gardening itself, and possibly from some of the dried plants from the very same garden. Gardeners know that the benefits they receive from their garden are multifold. They will be thrilled with the gift, but be prepared to share the recipe with them, because as a gardener yourself, you know that they will be wanting to make their own as soon as they use up the gift you gave them.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Wood Ticks are a Concern for Anyone who enjoys the Outdoors, Even Gardeners

By Christina VanGinkel

If I had any nagging doubts that spring had yet to arrive here in the Midwest, even though the calendar clearly stated it had, and the mercury surely wanted us to think so, my doubts have all but disappeared. The answer is both simple and the one thing I dislike about spring here in our part of the country more than any other fact of spending time outdoors. The wood ticks have emerged!

Wood ticks carry diseases, and while for many decades the ticks here in the Midwest were considered a nuisance but hardly a serious one, that changed with the spread of Lyme Disease. It was also once believed that in order to have ticks be a problem, you had to get out in the woods. I do not know if that was ever true, but it surely is not now. I have walked no further from my porch steps to my first bed of flowers about two feet away, and realized that I had a tick or two on my self. Our dogs are prone to finding ticks no matter whether they have spent the morning romping in the woods or lazing serenely in their coops. Ticks are everywhere, in the woods, and in our gardens and yards.

Our dogs are treated each year with a vaccine that helps in the prevention of Lyme's Disease, but so far, we humans have no concrete vaccine to depend on. One was available for some time during the late 1990's and early in 2000-2001 I believe, (I could be a bit off on the period), but it was subsequently removed from the market, while the vaccine for the dogs and other animals was left available. In the end, there is yet to be a suitable vaccine to replace it.

Ticks are everything from a nuisance to a serious health threat, yet unless we hide indoors at the first sign of spring, there is no way to be completely safe from them, so being diligent about finding them and removing them properly from ourselves and the young children in our lives is a daily task that we must never be lax about. If you ask your local physician for a tick identification chart, you will at least be aware of both the ticks appearance and size. For all the years that I lived and played in the outdoors, and all of the ticks that I removed from both myself and my kids, I was not prepared the first time I saw a true to scale picture of the tick that carries the Lyme Disease. It was no bigger than a speck of sand, and I wondered just how in the world I would ever be able to find one. Not long after, I did, and it scared the heck out of me. It was embedded in the side of my own leg. It was so tiny, that without having known what it was I was looking for, I would never have discovered it.

When outdoors in tick infested areas, there are steps you can do to keep yourself alert to, and safe from, the tick population:

Use a safe bug repellant. While most will not repel all of the ticks, most do seem to cut back on the numbers. If using one with DEET, be sure to wash it off when coming in from the outdoors, and avoid its use at all on your children.

Wear light colored clothing, so seeing a tick if it lands on you is as easy as possible.

Wear tight cuffs when possible to keep the ticks from getting up under your clothing. Tucking in pant legs into your boots is another viable option.

Avoid tall grasses when possible, but know that they can be in any outdoor area, even mown grass.

Always be vigilant about checking yourself, children, and pets for ticks each time you have been outdoors. We are outside so often, and with woods and fields surrounding us, we at least try to check for ticks each time we have been outside for any length of time, and are sure to check carefully before retiring for the night.

For the safest method to remove a tick if one does become embedded beneath the skin, check with your physician before the need arises. I have heard many different scenarios, but we usually just pull them off with a tweezers or by hand, and then treat the area with an alcohol swab. To dispose of any tick we find we burn it in an ashtray with a match, while I know some people will drown them in a container of rubbing alcohol they keep for such a purpose.

Protecting your Back while Gardening

Gardening is a fun, relaxing past time with long lasting benefits. People of any age, from toddlers on up, can enjoy the benefits of gardening. Tiny children can be taught to plant a small seed in a cut of potting soil, and they will marvel as they watch the new sprout burst through the soil and grow in the sunshine. In fact, even those of us who have seen those sprouts a thousand times, still often marvel at the miracle of new growth. Not only is gardening a satisfying past time that gives us plenty of fresh air and sunshine, it also keeps us moving and active, it gets us in touch with our earth, and best of all, if successful, our garden can feed us well into and through the winter.

There are few dangers to gardening. The old slapstick vaudeville joke about the man stepping on the rake and having the long handle slap him in the face is funny and familiar to us all; and it might have even happened to one or two of us. But gardening is a relatively safe hobby. Perhaps the biggest concern with gardening other than mosquito bites and sunburn, is back pain. Many of us, after spending a long winter indoors, are itching to get out into the spring sunshine. We enthusiastically rake the debris left over from the winter, we till the soil, and we sit crouched, picking through the garden from last year, making sure the soil is right, there are no left-over weeds, and adding lime and other necessary additives. Yet, if we are not careful, the flurry of new activity will put us right to bed. Following are a few suggestions about how to avoid back pain when gardening.

First and foremost, try to do some sort of aerobic exercise several times each week. This will keep your body in tip-top shape and you will feel better. Just as important, always stretch after exercising. This will keep your back muscles strong and pliable, and they will be less likely to tighten or become injured while you are gardening. Likewise, always stretch after you have spent time in the garden. Never stretch before you begin or when you are cold. Always make sure your muscles are warm before you stretch. If you spend more than an hour in the garden, it is good to stop and stretch often.

Second, in the same vein, take breaks often. Similar to sitting at a computer all day, sitting crouched over in the garden, pulling weeds or planting seeds, can take its toll. If you are going to be crouched in one position for more than fifteen minutes, stand up and stretch your back, arms, and neck every fifteen minutes. You need not spend a lot of time doing this, just a minute or two will keep you limber.

Third, be careful when standing or lifting. After sitting crouched or squatting for a time, stand up slowly. If you pop right up, your back muscles may not keep up and you could strain something. More importantly, always be careful about how you lift heavy items. Never lean over to pick up a bag of potting soil or a potted plant. Always been your knees and let your legs take the burden of the lift. If you have to carry something heavy for some distance, consider using a wheel barrow or wagon.

Fourth, use all your muscles. When raking or tilling, many of us use only one hand, meaning, we will rake primarily with our right hand. Later that night, when only our right side hurts, it is because we haven't spread out the work load. Even if it feels uncomfortable, switch hands often and let both sides of your body do the tough gardening work.

In the end, be wise. If you have spent several hours in the garden and your back feels stiff or sore, stop for the day or take an extended break. Even if rain is in the forecast for tomorrow, you don't want to over do it. If you push yourself to hard and suffer an injury, you won't be out in the garden the next time the sun shines, and that would be a tragedy!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Birdfeeders and Solar Lighting for your Garden

By Christina VanGinkel

Solar lighting for your yard and garden are not only all the rage this season, they are just what our yards and gardens have been in need of all this time, and we just never even knew it. Walking through Home Depot with my husband yesterday, we headed to the garden and outdoor departments to see what new items were hitting the shelves. With spring in full gear, and summer just around the corner, the garden center and outdoor departments are in their prime. We stopped to check out several racks of bird feeders, because by habit, we are always looking for new feeders to add to our yard. Feeding the birds is one of our favorite hobbies. What we discovered was both intriguing and enlightening, pun intended!

The Solar Birdfeeder with Stand, advertised as a birdfeeder by day, and a lantern by night, resembles a lantern from some long ago time, possibly one that would grace an elegant carriage made to convey royalty. Made of brass, powder-coated aluminum, and glass panes, with a lovely pewter finish, this lantern turned feeder, turned lantern is one thing and another all combined into one very ingenious design. It has built-in solar panels, which power six amber LEDs. If you have wanted to add some soft lighting to your garden at night, these would be an ideal way to achieve this, especially if you already have a need or desire for new feeders, and do not want to add more pieces of equipment to the space than is necessary. The feeder holds two and a half pounds of seed, the stand is sixty-three inches high, and the feeder with stand is weighted for stability.

I had heard about these feeders / lanterns before, but had never seen one before this. I was pleasantly surprised that they were as elegant looking as I had heard. When talking about these and other feeders and lighting choices with a few fellow gardening friends just a few days before, one person made an offhand comment about birds not feeding at night. No, they do not, but the prospect of providing illumination without electrical cords, and without having extra equipment, i.e., lights, scattered about the garden during the day, was what I considered a perfect combination. That they looked as good during the day as they would at night, and provide double duty as a feeder for the birds was a major plus to the overall fact of them being lanterns.

If you have a garden that you would like to enjoy even into the evening hours, lining a path through that garden with these would be an ideal way to do just that. They could even provide enough light for an evening stroll, but one that is more of a soft glow than a bright glare, a light that would still allow a bit of stargazing. With some lights, the brightness is overpowering, and it makes it difficult to enjoy the night sky. These are a soft enough light that you will not have to deal with that issue, yet it is bright enough to make it easy to see where to walk. Take note: I would not consider these as a source of light bright enough to provide safety, only as an enjoyable way to softly light a path or area.

There were actually two different sizes of feeders available with the built in lantern. The one that held the two and a half pounds of seed retailed for just under eighty dollars, with the smaller one roughly half of that. I found the larger one online though for just over sixty, so there are bargains to be found.

There are other solar powered garden accessories available, including products such as solar powered gnomes, solar enhanced globes in various colors and designs, solar footlights in assorted colors, and ornaments filled with what is referred to as phosphorescent fairy dust, which soaks up the rays of the sun all day, then glow long into the night. Uses for these was far ranging and included tasks such as stringing from trees for a lovely effect to even floating in a pond. Big pond or small, I think these would look fabulous. If you are looking for a way to bring some light to your garden, check out the many new solar powered options available.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

My Garden

By Christina VanGinkel

Whenever I think of my garden, I think of what defines the house I live in as home. The garden is in every sense, an extension of the house. Even in the winter, when the plants are covered under layers of snow, there are the bird feeders and squirrel feeders to remind me of where the rest of the garden is sleeping. Once spring arrives and the snows begin to melt away, the green quickly begins anew. Whether winter or summer, I watch and walk through, and live in the space just as much as I do inside the walls of the house. Together, they form our home, a place that I love to be in, to walk, and work, and spend time with my husband, my grandson, and everyone else whom I call family.

Walking outside just this afternoon, I noticed bulbs already long at work renewing themselves, pushing not just up through the dirt, as they did that days ago, but reaching already for the summer sun that is still weeks away. Moss roses, a plant that is technically an annual, yet one that if given the chance to reseed undisturbed, will grow at such a pace that an inexperienced gardener would just assume that the plant must be a perennial. Our tiered garden is already showing signs of the moss roses showing their independence from other annuals by doing just that.

Also in the tiered garden is what looks to be a pine tree. Mind you, the tiered garden in question is not a fit home for a tree. I was about to pull it, considering it a weed, more or less, when my husband stopped me. Leave it, he said. It was there last year. He went on to tell me that he will transplant it when it grows a bit bigger, but that in the meanwhile it is not hurting a thing, and seems to be flourishing under the protection of the flowers that will grow along side of it again this summer as they did all last year. This reminds me how our home manages to always find room for strays, be they the human kind, animal kind, and now even of the plant variety!

It is also then that I notice that in my hurry to put things away last fall, I missed putting away a ceramic rabbit planter, the very planter that I have had since I was a teenager, which I made in ceramics class taught by a neighbor. It has been a resident of every garden I have planted for the last twenty-five years. Tucked up under the remains of a small bush, I cannot believe that I missed it before the snow fell this past winter. Now, it is broke into two big pieces, and several much smaller pieces that might be from sitting under the weight of the snow all winter long. I imagine it must have filled with water and then froze and broke. It has been hiding under the snow until just this week when the snow finally melted completely away. Being white, even when there was just a small amount of snow, it would have been camouflaged well enough that I did not notice it.

Still, I feel somewhat bereft, I cannot believe that after having it as a staple in my garden all of these years that I was careless enough to forget it last fall, and allow it to be left out over the winter months to become damaged beyond repair. I picked up the pieces, big and small, and tossed them into the garbage bin before I could dwell on the fact of my carelessness any longer. As soon as I tossed it in, my young grandson asked me why I did not glue the rabbit back together as I did his dinosaur, I never even thought of it was my simple reply. I quickly promised him that we would go shopping next week to the local garden center, and he could pick out a new bunny to live in our garden. He liked that idea, and asked if one of his dinosaurs could live in it too, and I thought that was as grand an idea as I could have thought up!