Georgia Garden Girl

Garden Great in Zone 8!

Irrigation Intimidation

Hello all!

I’m sorry it’s been such a long time since my last post.  It’s been quite busy here.  I’ve been harvesting lots of tomatoes and beans and cucumbers.  And my flowers are looking great — zinnias and dahlias and daisies.  Everything even survived my two-week trip to Africa.  Why?  Irrigation on timers!

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If every day were like today — steady light rain — I would not need an irrigation system.  But summer in Georgia can be hot and dry and unforgiving, so it’s a good idea to have an irrigation plan.  Some of my friends water by hand.  But that’s a huge time commitment, and we all know that I’m lazy.   Fortunately, my house came with an installed sprinkler system for the grass, and I’ve got my veggies on a drip irrigation system.

If you have grass, a sprinkler system can be helpful (some day, I will get rid of grass and go to an all drip system, but today is not that day).  You just have to know how much water it emits.  I like to use the pie pan test.  I place pie pans at random places in the yard and see how much water is in them after ten or so minutes of sprinkling.  Then I can calculate how long I need to leave the sprinkler on in each zone.

Sprinkler heads are a lot like smartphones.  They last for a while, and then they just die.  For years, I shelled out money for the sprinkler guy to come out and replace broken sprinkler heads.  But after watching him replace the last one, I realized that it’s not that complicated.  So now I can save the $50 service charge and replace the sprinkler head myself!

Step One: Confirm that the sprinkler head is, indeed, broken.  Sometimes, a sprinkler head just gets stuck and needs a little push to start working again.  But this sprinkler head stopped oscillating and could not be fixed, so it needed to go.

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Step Two: dig up the broken sprinkler head.  Be careful around the pipe!

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Step 3: obtain a new sprinkler head.  Make sure you have the right connector!

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Step 4: Attach the new sprinkler head to the pipe and bury.  Make sure that the top of the sprinkler head is level with the ground.  Then, you’re ready to adjust the sprinkler head so it conforms to the pattern and distance you need.

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I do like the sprinkler system.  But I LOVE my drip irrigation system.  It saves me a ton of time and water.  My raised beds and all of my large pots (including the hanging pots) are on drip irrigation systems.  All you need is: 1) a timer, 2) a backflow preventer (if your timer doesn’t have one), 3) pressure regulator, 4) hose-to-tubing connector,  5) tubing, 6) connectors and emitters and end pieces, and 7) an emitter “punch” tool.  If you’re a beginner, you might try a kit.

Step One: connect your timer, backflow preventer, pressure regulator, and tubing connector to the spigot.  You may need to use plumber’s tape.  Check for leaks and fix before moving to step two.

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Step Two: connect the tubing.  Check for leaks and fix.

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Step Three: use connectors to place the irrigation lines where you need them.

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Step Four: use the emitter punch tool to insert the emitter.

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Step Five: If your main tubing is not close enough to your plant, use 1/4 inch tubing to irrigate your plant.

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Step Six: Check for leaks (if an emitter is not installed correctly, you may have a small geyser).  And then set your timer!  Now you’re ready to sit on the porch and have some lemonade.  Enjoy!

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Glorious Day!

We survived last week’s frost warning and rain and made it to Easter!  Though the day started out chilly and gray, the afternoon could not have been more beautiful.  After I worked the early shift for the mission trip pancake breakfast, attended an excellent Easter service at The Ridge, and took a walk with my trusty Great Dane Clementine, I headed outside to spend a lovely day in the yard.

As I walked around making my mental to-do list, I saw it.  My first peony blossom.  I planted peonies two years ago, but they never bloomed.  I think the cold winter encouraged the blossoms:

My First Peony Blossom

My First Peony Blossom

I also had a surprise amaryllis bloom.  I usually dig up all the amaryllis bulbs in September so I can have them blooming for the holidays (seems like they always bloom right after the holidays), but I missed this one:

Surprise Amaryllis!

Surprise Amaryllis!

After I admired the flowers, I had to get to work.  There was a lot to do!  I spent most of yesterday afternoon pulling up pansies (and weeds) to make way for summer annuals.  Today, I finally trimmed back the tea olive (I hated to cut them while they were blooming, so I just now got around to this task).  Then I planted some zucchini and basil.  Right. In. The. Front. Yard.  Yes, people, I am a rebel.  I figured 1) I’ve already got the tomato teepee, so I’m not destroying any fancy aesthetic by adding more veggies;  2) zucchini and basil are pretty; 3) there aren’t any draconian anti-vegetable restrictive covenants in my neighborhood (as far as I know); and 4) I was out of room in the raised beds.

I planted my dahlias right behind the zucchini and basil.  I had dug up the dahlia tubers last fall and then started them in pots in March. I planted all of the ones that had shoots (only one didn’t—oh, well).  I’m trying a new approach to weed maintenance: newspaper and pinestraw.  That’s right.  My Ledger-Enquirers will serve an important second purpose: weed barrier.  I have tested this approach in several areas in the past, and it really does work for about a season.  So I’ve decided to expand.

Why newspaper when the stores sell fancy weed barrier fabric?  Friends, I’ve tried the fabric, and I’m here to tell you: don’t waste your money.  Weeds are going to grow on top of the fabric after a year or two anyway.  It’s a pain in the neck to cut holes when you want to plant something in the fabric covered area.  And it’s expensive.  Newspaper just lasts a season, but it’s easy to cut, and it’s free.  If I want something a tad more durable–like for paths between my raised beds–I use cardboard or old towels and sheets that are too grungy for Goodwill.

A couple of pointers.  The Ledger-Enquirer is so thin that I just lay out a whole section at a time.  I find that it’s helpful to have a hose handy, particularly on a windy day.  After I lay a few sections of newspaper, I wet them so they don’t blow away.  Also, after experimenting with several different methods, I’ve determined that the best method is to cover the bed in newspaper and pinestraw, THEN plant the plants.  Here is the finished product:

Zucchini, Basil, Dahlias, Knock-Outs, and Tomatoes

Zucchini, Basil, Dahlias, Knock-Outs, and Tomatoes

After I got the zucchini/basil/dahlia bed done, I used a similar approach with my strawberries and onions.  I hope it works!  I’ll keep you posted.  Happy gardening.

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Support the Cukes!

It was a glorious Palm Sunday in middle Georgia.  The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and the temperature was just about perfect.  After an excellent church service at The Ridge, I spent most of the day in the yard.

Today, I focused on finishing my vegetable supports.  Most of the vegetables we love will sprawl all over the place if we do not provide them with some support.  And the best time to install the supports is before your sweet precious vegetables are in the ground.  I’ve admitted this before: I decapitated a tomato plant when I tried to build a support structure around it.  So now, I make sure my plants stay out of the construction zone.  Supports go in first, then the plants.

First, let’s talk tomatoes.  Most folks know that they need support.  The stores sell contraptions called “tomato cages.”  I should just buy a few of those for my tomatoes, right?  Um, NO.  Friends, those cages are great for many things, but if you’re growing anything other than a dwarf tomato, you’ll need something a whole lot taller than a three or four foot cage.  Indeterminate tomato plants get to be seven or eight feet tall (or taller).

So what should you do?  Well, you could use a simple old stake.  A long piece of bamboo or a long wooden stake ought to do it.  Just take some jute twine and tie the tomato plant to the stake as it grows.  I used the stake system (just like my Daddy did) for several years, and it worked just fine.

When I started growing more than a few tomato plants, I decided that I should look into other options.  Coincidentally, Southern Living ran an article on building your own tomato ladder (I have no clue when the article actually ran—I am usually a few years behind on my reading—but miraculously, I picked up an issue of Southern Living, and there it was).  According to Southern Living, you just get a few two-by-twos, have the nice man at Home Depot cut them to the proper size, tie them together, and stick them in the ground.  You’ll be done in half an hour.  Pretty accurate except the half an hour part.  Perhaps I’m just slow with knots.  I did LOVE the result, though.  The tomatoes grew right up the ladder (and, in the case of the Juliets and Black Plums, over the ladder and down the other side).  Maintenance and harvest were easy.  I used pressure treated wood, so I just left the structures in the ground.  Mama said the hot pink mason line I used to tie the two-by-twos together was tacky; fortunately, it has faded a bit.

Tomato Ladders

Tomato Ladders

This year, I decided to build another ladder for tomatoes and possibly pumpkins.  And I thought I’d take advantage of the southern side of my house, which gets good light.  I was greatly inspired by the book Vertical Gardening by Derek Fell.  It is an excellent book with many ideas (I’m still a little overwhelmed by all the options).  The single most important piece of advice Mr. Fell gave: use bamboo to save money!  Mr. Fell, you changed my life.  Thank you.  I do not have any bamboo on my tiny lot, so I asked my friends if they had any.  Turns out a lot of folks have bamboo, and they’ll be happy to let you come cut it.  My sweet friends Brooke and Brandon told me, “our bamboo is your bamboo,” so I’ve been up to their lovely bamboo forest twice, and I think I’m set for now.  Note: harvesting bamboo is a pretty good workout.  Make sure your loppers are sharpened before you attempt it!

I built three bamboo structures to go next to the house.  Two of them will support tomatoes, and the third will support butternut squash and spaghetti squash.  I also built one large bamboo ladder/tent structure.  The tent was originally ten feet tall, and my next door neighbors asked if I was planning to have a tribal meeting sometime soon, so I did cut it down a little.  Now, I’ll actually be able to reach the tomatoes at the top without a ladder.  My tennis coach gave me an old tennis net that otherwise would have gone into the trash (thanks, Mark!).  I put that on one side of the ladder, and that is where my pumpkins will climb.  The net-free side of the ladder is more tomatoes.

 

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New “Tent” Ladder for Pumpkins and Tomatoes

Now that you know about some great ways to support your tomatoes, you may be wondering what you can do with those tomato cages.  I use a three sided, four foot tall tomato cage for my cucumbers.  It works great!  And I use those round tomato cages for sweet peppers and eggplants.  They’re also great for monarda (bee balm).

Good Use for "Tomato" Cages: Peppers and Eggplants

Good Use for “Tomato” Cages: Peppers and Eggplants

The only other special support I use in the garden is the support Daddy and I built for my pole beans (it also comes in handy for snow peas).  The support is basically a frame of one-by-twos with kennel wire stapled to it.  It would be cheaper to use netting instead of kennel wire, but I had the kennel wire left over from another project, so I went ahead and used it.  The two bean supports I have were built four or so years ago, and they are still in good shape.

After I worked on the support structures, I finished planting my vegetables.  Then I spent some time weeding (surprise!).  While I weeded and planted, I came across some Japanese beetle grubs.

Japanese Beetle Grub

Japanese Beetle Grub

They are not “good bugs,” so I killed them.

I’m pretty wiped out from today’s work, so I’ll sign off.  Hope you had a marvelous weekend.  Happy gardening!

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Fun with Hypertufa!

Last Saturday, I attended an exciting workshop on hypertufa at the Columbus Botanical Garden.  Toni Fogle, a lawyer-turned-hypertufa enthusiast, taught a gaggle of ladies and one gentleman how to craft our own (relatively) lightweight stone-like containers.  We had a super time getting dirty and sculpting our vessels.

Ms. Fogle learned how to make hypertufa from her mother, who makes hypertufa containers for the Cox Arboretum in Dayton, Ohio.  Ms. Fogle now lives in Columbus, is a member of the Azalea Garden Club, and hosts hypertufa workshops at her home.  She repeatedly emphasized that she is not an expert, but she sure seemed like an expert to me.  She had an answer for every question, and she really knew her stuff!

So what is hypertufa?  It is a popular medium for making garden pots, troughs, and ornaments.  It has a stone-like appearance but is much lighter.  Hypertufa is made of Portland cement and peat, plus either perlite or vermiculite (and maybe sand, depending on the recipe).  And when you’re molding it, it’s like Play-Doh for grown ups, y’all.

At our workshop, we used a formulation comprised of 2 parts Portland cement, 3 parts peat, and 3 parts perlite, plus a handful of fiber mesh.  A couple notes on the ingredients.

  • First, I’ve mentioned before that some gardeners are concerned that peat is becoming an unsustainable resource, so I wondered whether a peat substitute could be used.  Short answer: yes, though the quality of the finished product may be different than a container made with peat.  If you’re concerned about peat, you can use coir or a fine grade composted bark.
  • Second, I wasn’t sure where to get fiber mesh, which is a reinforcing fiber used in concrete.  Turns out you can buy it at amazon.com.  Or if you know someone who works in construction, they can probably sell you a bit—it only takes a pinch to make a hypertufa container.
  • Third, if you want to buy perlite and vermiculite, the big box stores will charge you an arm and a leg for a tiny bag.  If you want to pay an arm and a leg, I suppose that’s your journey.  But if you want to be thrifty, go to your local feed and seed store.  Columbus folks can just go across the Chattahoochee to B.W. Capps in Phenix City—you can get a 4 cubic foot bag of perlite for $17.50 and a 4 cubic foot bag of vermiculite for $17.99.

In addition to the ingredients, you’ll need safety equipment, mixing container, a sturdy table, a plastic tablecloth, a form, some plastic bags grocery store bags with handles, and a large plastic trash bag for each form.

  • Safety equipment.  Hypertufa involves concrete, and you don’t want to breathe in concrete dust or get it in your eyes or your jewelry/watch.  So when you are mixing the hypertufa ingredients, leave your jewelry and watch inside and wear safety glasses, a dust mask, and gloves.  You can ditch the glasses and mask while you’re molding the hypertufa, but keep on your rubber gloves.
  • Mixing container.  You need a place to mix the ingredients.  A wheelbarrow or a large plastic container will work.
  • Sturdy table.  It is important to have a sturdy work surface so that your hypertufa doesn’t jiggle a lot while you’re making it.  Jiggling leads to cracks.
  • Plastic tablecloth.  Ms. Fogle recommends plastic tablecloths from the dollar store, although heavy duty plastic drop cloths will also work (but they’re more expensive).  The tablecloth has two purposes.  First, it covers your workspace so your table doesn’t get messy.  Second, when you are finished molding your hypertufa, you will use the plastic tablecloth to cover it.
  • Form (or not).  You can do free form hypertufa, but the workshop did not cover that. We learned how to make hypertufa using a form.  I used a small plastic bowl that was fairly rigid.  You could also use a plastic flower pot, a sturdy plastic bag (like a cat litter bag), or even a cardboard box.  If you are using an “outside in” approach (molding the hypertufa on the outside of your form), make sure your form doesn’t have a lip.  If you are using an “inside out” approach (molding the hypertufa on the inside of your form), make sure your form isn’t too rigid.
  • Plastic grocery store bags.  You need a plastic grocery store bag or two to cover or line your form.  The handles will make it easier to pull out your form when your hypertufa is dry.  If your bag seems flimsy, use two.
  • Large plastic trash bag.  You will use the bag to wrap your hypertufa for drying and seasoning.

Once you have your gear, you’re ready to start!  Before you mix the ingredients, have your form prepared—it should be covered in plastic grocery bags and sitting in your large plastic trash bag.

My Form: a Small, Plastic Bowl

My Form: a Small, Plastic Bowl

My Form: Wrapped and Ready to Go

My Form: Wrapped and Ready to Go

Mix your ingredients and slowly add water until your mixture is the consistency of cottage cheese.

Mixing the Hypertufa

Mixing the Hypertufa

Then, when you start, you must keep going until you’re finished.  Build from the bottom of your form, keeping a depth of at least 1.5 inches, especially at the corners.  You will be tempted to press the mixture with your fingers, but Ms. Fogle recommends focusing on using your thumb to tamp down the mixture while using your fingers simply to hold it in place.  If you get puddles of water, you’re squeezing too hard!  And when you get to the bottom of your vessel, make sure it is flat.  You can use your finger (or a dowel) to check the depth and make a drainage hole.

Getting Started

Getting Started

Finished!

Finished!

More Hypertufa Artisans

More Hypertufa Artisans

After you finish molding your hypertufa, the waiting begins.  Carefully fold the garbage bag over your hypertufa and then fold the plastic tablecloth on top of the garbage bag.

Wrapped and Waiting

Wrapped and Waiting

Ms. Fogle emphasized that you should not tinker with your hypertufa for at least three days.  After three days, you may remove the form (go slowly; note: after a tugging gently, mine popped right out).

Ready to Remove the Form

Ready to Remove the Form

 

My Hypertufa!

My Hypertufa!

You can use a steel brush to smooth the surface (Ms. Fogle says that she usually doesn’t bother with this step: “I’m not fancy, I’m lazy”).  And then, after that, you need to let the hypertufa season.  In other words, let it sit for a month or 45 days covered in plastic (you may want to spritz it with water occasionally during the curing process).  Then you can burn off any fiber mesh “whiskers” (Ms. Fogle uses a grill lighter; if you have a blowtorch, go for it).  Finally, allow the container to weather outdoors for several weeks.  This is not a quick process, but I’m sure it will be worth the wait!

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Hypertufa Workshop This Weekend!

This Saturday, March 29, 2014, the good folks at Columbus Botanical Garden will show us how to make custom hypertufa containers.  For only $35 ($40 for non-members), you will learn how to make your very own piece of outdoor art!  The workshop is 10:00 am to 1:00 pm.  Bring rubber gloves, a large garbage bag, and a form (e.g., a plastic Rubbermaid container—make sure it’s smaller than one cubic foot).  Sign up online: http://columbusbotanicalgarden.com/event/hypertufa-workshop-2/ or call the Columbus Botanical Garden for more information – 706-327-8400.  Hope to see you there!

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Photo courtesy of Columbus Botanical Garden.

If you can’t make it to the workshop but are interested in learning more about hypertufa, check out:
http://www.marthastewart.com/268091/pots-with-a-personal-touch-hypertufa:
http://www.lowes.com/creative-ideas/woodworking-and-crafts/make-hypertufa-pots/project

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Look Sharp!

Gardeners get more done in less time with clean, sharp gardening tools.  January is a great time to sharpen your tools.  January is also a good time to drain and replace the oil in your lawnmower and have the blade sharpened or replaced.

If you live in the Columbus area, there is a hands-on workshop this weekend that you may want to attend.  Master gardener Bill Kes will show you how to sharpen your pruning tools.  In just an hour or so, you can learn from Bill and get your hand pruners or lopping shears sharpened!

When: Saturday, January 12, 2013
Morning Session: 10:00, Afternoon Session: 2:00
Where: Columbus Botanical Garden, 3603 Weems Road
Cost: $15 for members, $20 for non-members
Space is limited, so register now.
Visit http://columbusbotanicalgarden.com/event/tool-time-sharpening-pruning-tools-morning/ to register and to get more information.

Later this month, on January 26, Bill will be back at the Columbus Botanical Garden to conduct a workshop on sharpening digging tools, such as shovels, hoes, and hand spades.  For more information, visit http://columbusbotanicalgarden.com/event/tool-time-sharpening-digging-tools-morning-session/.

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