Winter Activities 

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In January comes the snow…. and ice and wind… “what’s a gardener to do?” This year I have a library outside my garden that supplies free books to the neighborhood. It is  called a Little Free Library and they are popping up all over the country.  The motto is take a book, read a book and return or donate a book. No library card needed because it’s on the honor system. Well there’s an idea we don’t use often.

“Where do the books come from?” I am frequently asked.”Donations and thrift stores”are my answer. Did you know that once a book leaves a store it devalues just like a car.  That Dr. Seuss book you just got your child is now worth a penny. Don’t believe me then try one of the many apps like Bookscouter that reads the UPC on any book and tells you the buy back value.

So what does a gardener do in the winter?  This year I have become a librarian in a wired kind of way. Cook books, fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and children’s books are stacked in my basement waiting their turn to be placed in a new home. What’s even better is that I get to read some amazing books and share my love of books with others.

So next time you see one of these libraries in your neighborhood stop and  check it out maybe you’ll be presently surprised. Scouts honor.

 

Flowering Trees and Shrubs

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Three Easy Flowering Shrubs

Country kids find unique places to play. Springtime with its warmer weather and green grass were heaven-sent for a little girl  from the Midwest. One of my favorite secret places to play was under the lilac and bridal wreath shrubs. I could hide and play for hours under white clouds of cascading flowers. I dreamed of becoming a bride some day and having lilacs and lily of the valley as my flowers.

Woody plants are long-lived and can provide color, shade and shelter for animals as well as humans. Shrubs need ample space to grow, unlike flowers, shrubs  grow and mature to twice  their size. Shrubs come bare rooted or container grown.  A big no- no is planting a shrub too deep, in fact it is the main cause for plant failure.   The hole should be twice as wide as the plant but not too deep. The line of soil in the container should match the soil around the shrub. Backfill the hole with top soil  and top with mulch.  Don’t forget to water and you will have a beautiful shrub for years to come. Shrubs and trees should be planted in the spring or fall depending on the species or variety. Taking your time and following these steps will insure success! Lilacs, bridal wreath and forsythia top my list of favorite easy to grow shrubs.  You can find them at your local nursery.

Lilacs

 

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Living in Illinois lilacs can be found in many landscape.  They are a late-blooming flower in the north.  Easy to grow and care for they come in shades of purple, pink and white.  French lilacs are my favorite but they only bloom in the  spring.  Newer varieties have longer blooming times. I feel fortunate that lilacs grow in my neck of the woods.  They do well in climates that are warm in the summer and cold in the winter.

Bridal Wreath

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The white blossoms cover the arching branches of this shrub in early summer.  Once common in every back yard I ever played in these plants are harder to find.  The Spirea x vanhouttei needs full sun and not much care.

Forsythia

The first flowering shrubs of the season are these brightly yellow covered shrubs.  Easy to grow  full sun plants  dot the countryside.  They make great hedges and can grow up to five feet in height.

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The Original Victory Garden

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Every November the United States designates a day to recognize the men and women who served our country.  It is called Veteran’s Day.  I was surfing the internet trying to find a good video to post on my site as part off a project when I ran across some interesting information on the original victory gardens during WWI and WWII. Victory gardens were everywhere from Great Britain to the United States.  Slogans such as Our food is for fighting and Dig for Victory appeared in posters worldwide.

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Eleanor Roosevelt used part of the White House lawn to demonstrate to others the importance of helping win the war on food.  Vacant lots, apartment buildings, rooftops, and backyards were used. Nine to ten million tons of food were grown. That’s quite amazing knowing that most of the labor was done by hand. What a way to burn calories.

Browsing through youtube I found an amazing video of the original Victory Garden.Watch the Holder family, Dad, Mother, Dick, and Jane as they show how a victory garden was planted,  Please note the comments that were added by Mr. Weishan are his opinions and not mine.  I do agree on much of what he said but it would have been nice to see the  film unedited.  The original film was produced by the Department of Ag in 1924.

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Pictures were taken from Pinterest.

Starting a new Garden, Organic vs.Chemicals

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My mission in life is to teach people ordinary people how to garden. There is a war among gardeners and food producers on synthetic fertilizers and chemicals versus organic gardening.  I am not going to give you my opinions just facts.  Most people are pretty savvy and can find their way around the internet and there are hundreds of people ready to tell you which side of the fence you should be on.  I am not one of them.  As long as you read the labeling and handle the chemicals the way they were meant to be used and as long as you wear protective clothing including a mask by all means use chemicals responsibly. I only use chemicals as a last resort.  The older and wiser I get I realize proper gardening techniques usually result in healthy plants without the chemicals.  Victory gardeners did not use chemicals they simply weren’t available and they had beautiful bounties of luscious veggies and fruits.

So you want to start a garden in a new spot that has grass or maybe weeds.  There are plenty of sites that will tell you to use herbicides. I can show you an easy way without using chemicals.  So easy you may have seen or heard of this already. Once you find a spot in full sun that is near a water source find an old box break it down so it lays flat.

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Here you see an old staples box.  I want to expand an existing bed to make it larger for next year. Next get leaves, lots and lots spreading them over the cardboard.

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Once the cardboard is completely covered you are almost through.  I will add grass clippings or cornstalks to weigh the cardboard down to prevent it and the leaves from blowing away.  Technically what you have done is limit light exposure.  Light is needed for germination of grass and weeds and without it you will have bare soil.  Have you ever left a Slip and Slide toy out in the sun for a couple od days?  What happens? It kills the grass.  I don’t recommend plastic as it doesn’t decompose like paper. How easy and I bet you are thinking why did I not think of that.

Soil is not Dirt

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Repeat after me “Soil is not dirt”!  Soil is the top few inches of the earth,s surface.  Dirt–is what my car is currently covered in. Soil is divided into 3 basic categories sandy soil, clay, and loam,  I have sandy soil.  It drains quickly and can withstand heavy rains without flooding.  It is wonderful and I thank the God’s on a regular basis.  Clay is brutal. Ever been through Georgia?  The soil becomes a different color almost a shade of rust.  That is clay.  Another clue it holds its’s shape when wet and feels greasy.  Lastly there is loam.  It is what all farmers pray for- rich, black, healthy soil full of nutrients and minerals.  Seldom do we see it anymore as it is being stripped and sold.  You can buy it in bags sometimes labeled as compost.

Why is soil so important?  Once you know what you have you can correct it.  All soil can be improved by adding rich organic materials. Healthy soil = Healthy plants.

Next time you tell your kids to  stay out of the dirt…is it soil?

Location, Location, Location

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Can I start my garden now?  Absolutely! Now is the best time to jump start your garden.  Pick a spot that gets 8 to 10 hours of sunlight a day.   And don’t forget about the water.  Your garden needs water to grow, approximately one to two inches a week and unless you feel the need to drag gallons of water make sure you have a hose that can reach.

Think outside the box.  Notice that my garden is on the outside of the fence. Consider building a raised bed or maybe make vegetables a part of your flower bed.  There are no  rules as long as the spot gets plenty of sunlight and moisture you can be successful. Continue reading