Portrait Of The Blogger, Accompanied By Bees

As a rule, I avoid having my picture taken.

I am not photogenic.  My eyes are usually closed. I always have a look of impatient suffering on my face.

Plus, I agree with those remote jungle tribes people that a camera steals one’s soul. (In a few years, that will be scientifically proven.)

This past weekend I made an exception to my rule.  I let Loyal Yard Dude Alex take a bunch of pictures of me in my bee suit. Yes, really.

I’m a sight to behold.

No, I'm not really handling Plutonium...

No, I’m not really handling Plutonium…

Is there any garment less flattering than a bee suit? I don’t think so.

I volunteered to be a source for an article about women taking up pursuits outside their comfort zone. Theoretically, that was beekeeping. Truthfully, being photographed made me way more uncomfortable than the 10,000 or so bees I was handling.

And then the Loyal Yard Dude got stung on the forehead by one of the Mean Bees.

Just another Saturday on Columbia Parkway!  🙂

Composting Day!

Loyal Yard Dude Alex shovels compost with the assistance of The Noble Bayard

Loyal Yard Dude Alex shovels compost with the assistance of The Noble Bayard

The heart of every organic English Cottage Garden is compost, and lots of it!  You are looking at three cubic yards of specially blended compost which is equal to 45 bags. It isn’t going to be enough.

I add at least 4 inches of compost to my beds every year.  My gardens would do better if I added twice that much.  Southern Ohio soil is mostly clay, and it needs a lot of work by earthworms and microorganisms to make it friable. The only way to achieve that is to add organic material.

I make my own compost, but it’s not nearly enough to cover my beds. This year I was lucky to find a supplier who will blend compost to my specifications and deliver it for a reasonable fee. I’m using 1/3 aged manure, 1/3 leaf mold and 1/3 mushroom compost.

I’m also lucky to have the assistance of Loyal Yard Dude Alex Lang. For a reasonable fee, he will shovel compost for hours and doesn’t complain except when it comes to composting the border running down my back yard aka Mount Everest. He also doesn’t mind the bees, which is very important!

I help too, and am writing this post during our lunch break.  Time to go shovel some more poop!

Loyal Yard Dude Alex spreading compost over the hosta bed.

Loyal Yard Dude Alex spreading compost over the hosta bed.

The Noble Bayard makes sure the work is up to spec!

The Noble Bayard makes sure the work is up to spec!

Start Planning Your Bee Garden Now

bee cartoon

Now is the time to start planning your bee garden for this spring, summer and fall! Over the next few weeks, I’ll be discussing the bees’ favorite plants and scouring the new garden catalogs for tasty bee treats!

Tune in for more information!!

Amendments To The (Soil) Constitution

Did you know that fall is the most important season of the year for improving your soil?

You should be adding three things:  finished compost, raw organic matter, and organic nutrients.

Whether you are using your own homemade compost, or are purchasing compost in bags or by the truckload, stock up early with as much as you can afford. I use up a couple of yards of compost each fall (besides what I make in my own bins).

As you remove dead organic matter from your garden, apply at least a 3″ to 4″ layer of compost. While soil temperatures are still warm, the nutrients and organic matter in the compost will stimulate microbes and other beneficial organisms. Tired, end-of-season soil will be refreshed and renewed when spring comes around

Planting new shrubs, trees or other landscape plants?  Mix a few shovels of compost with the soil that goes back into the planting hole.

Raw Organic Matter

The soil in your vegetable garden will probably be laying fallow over the winter months (unless you’re lucky enough to garden year-round). To boost the amount of organic matter in your soil— beyond what you can get from finished compost— consider incorporating raw organic matter directly into the soil.

There’s just one thing to keep in mind when you’re adding raw organic matter to your soil. The beneficial soil organisms that will help decompose this material, require nitrogen to do their work. This means that if you don’t add some additional nitrogen along with the organic matter, the microbes will start using up the nitrogen in your soil. To avoid this, you can either add some nitrogen-rich manure along with the raw organic matter, or sprinkle on some granular organic fertilizer.

Shredded leaves are my top choice for raw organic matter. Use a leaf shredder if you have one. If not, just mow over the leaves several times with your lawnmower.

Animal manures (but not from dogs or cats) are great for the soil. You can gather it in buckets, plastic trash bags, feed bags, or in the back of a pickup truck. A good thing about adding animal manures in the fall, is that it doesn’t really matter if the manure is fresh or aged. Over the winter months, the caustic ammonia will dissipate, leaving behind valuable nutrients and organic matter.

Organic Soil Amendments

Most organic fertilizers release their nutrients slowly over many months, so applying them in the fall helps ensure they’ll be available to your plants next spring. If you can get your hands on some kelp meal,rock phosphate, or bone meal, do so. Because it’s the end of the season, your local garden center may even have some broken bags they’ll be willing to sell you at a discount. You can mix these organic materials right into your garden (or side dress around plants), along with the shredded leaves, manure and compost. Breaking down organic material requires some nitrogen.

If you suspect that your soil pH may need adjusting, autumn is the time to correct it. It’s best to raise or lower soil pH slowly, over a three- to six-month period. Add lime in the fall to raise the pH level of your soil. Add acidifiers like pine needles, peat moss and elemental sulfur if your soil is too alkaline. Remember that unless you already know that your soil is too acidic or too alkaline, you should always do a soil test to determine the pH level before taking corrective measures.

Better Soil — Better Garden

Improving the soil in your garden makes a huge difference in its ability to retain water, support healthy plant growth, and help your plants fend off diseases, pests and other stresses. Whether you’re new to gardening, or a seasoned pro, building better soil is the single most important thing you can do to improve your gardening success. And fall is the best time to do it!

Things To Do In The Cottage Garden In July

July can be a fun and productive month in the cottage garden.

Not only are your borders burgeoning, but there are ample opportunities to enhance your plantings with seeds and garden center bargains.

First, the not so fun tasks:

If your garden is like mine, everything needs deadheading, particularly the roses, hydrangeas, geraniums, sweet peas and hostas. Regular trimming will keep them looking tidy and will encourage reblooming.

July is the perfect time to compost those trimmings and to use that compost to mulch and feed your borders. Commercial bark mulch leaches nitrogen from your soil.  Using composted organic matter to mulch your plants actually improves the quality of your soil.

If you use layers and layers of bark mulch every year, you will soon be trying to grow your plants in nothing but bark mulch. It doesn’t work. And people often think there’s something wrong with the plants.

If you must use bark mulch, try mixing it with compost, or add the compost first and top with a light layer of bark mulch.

Rainfall in July can be spotty in many areas, while the heat and humidity can soar.  Make sure you keep your garden properly hydrated with periodic long soakings rather than daily sprinkles.

Now the fun part:

Planting seeds every few weeks for quick growing, colorful flowers such as sunflowers and nasturtiums will provide new interest in the garden throughout the rest of the summer.  Also, now is the time to scout garden centers for end of season bargains.

And start planning your fall garden/plantings.  Fall is the best time to plant some of the most popular plants such as peonies and alliums.

And be sure to take some time to slow down and enjoy the results of all your hard work!

What’s Blooming In The Garden On July 3rd

It’s broiling hot, and we have to water almost every day. Thank goodness for flowers that like the heat and humidity! Lots of nectar and pollen for the pollinators…

Daylilly

Monarda With Bumble!

Old Fashioned Hydrangeas

Everlasting Peas

Dahlia

Geranium ‘Rozanne”

Hydrangea ‘Limelight’

The Noble Bayard tried to drink out of the Italian Bees’ birdbath and got roundly spanked!  I will be administering Benadryl with his kibble tonight!!

The Noble Bayard

Things To Do In The Cottage Garden In June

Flaming June

“What is one to say about June, the time of perfect young summer, the fulfillment of the promise of the earlier months, and with as yet no sign to remind one that its fresh young beauty will ever fade.”
–  Gertrude JekyllOn Gardening

June 21 is the longest day of the year, and the extra light and warmth encourages the garden to put on an exuberant burst of growth. But this extra light and warmth also means weeds will sprout up from seemingly nowhere. Keep on top of them by weeding regularly.

Herbaceous borders are reaching their early summer peak and the kitchen garden is becoming productive.

Get those warm season vegetables planted! Young starts of tomatoes, peppers, corn, eggplant, cucumber and squash can be planted now that all danger of frost has passed. This should be done without delay, especially if you live in a region where summer is short.

Keep newly planted trees and shrubs consistently moist. This is especially true as we head into the dry summer months. To make this task easier, use water bags around the trunks.

Check your roses for pests and diseases. Blackspot, powdery mildew and aphids usually start appearing in June. As soon as a problem is detected, treat it with an earth friendly spray such as Garden Safe’s Fungicide 3-in-1, which tackles disease, mites and insects. It may be necessary to maintain a regular spraying schedule over the course of the summer.

If your spring blooming perennials are starting to look a little worse for wear, cut them back to encourage new healthy growth. It’s safe to do this until mid-July.

Vining plants often put on lots of new growth in short periods of time. One way to tame the tangle is to use dental floss to tie vines to their supports. The floss is easy to carry around by just sticking it in your pocket, needs no scissors to cut it, and if you use the green, mint-flavored type, it almost disappears next to the vine’s stem.

Sow seeds for biennials such as hollyhock, sweet william, campanula and foxglove for blooms next year.

Cut lavender blooms in early morning before the sun burns off the aromatic oils. After the flowering stops you can lightly prune the plant to keep it in shape.

Plant dahlia tubers, asters and other plants for late summer blooms.

Fill in empty spaces in the herbaceous border with annual bedding plants. Begonias, geraniums and heliotrope are good, bee-friendly choices.

Apply compost to feed your plants!

Helping Your Hydrangeas Bloom

Hydrangeas not blooming? You may be able to help them out by doing the following:

Make Sure They Have Enough Sun

While hydrangeas don’t need full sun, they do need some sunlight. Are your non-bloomers in heavy shade?  That may be the problem.

Stop Pruning

Most hydrangeas don’t like to be cut back severely. They set their buds in the fall, so if you are cutting old wood, you’re cutting away flower buds too.

Lavish Them With Compost

Poor nutrition can cause a lack of blooms.  For the best results, add compost in the fall and again in the spring to encourage maximum summer blooming.

Things To Do In The Cottage Garden In May

Chores and Maintenance:

  • Finish preparation of planting beds
  • Continue to cultivate planting beds and carefully remove young weeds
  • Dig and divide early-blooming perennials after flowering
  • Lift, divide and replant late summer and fall-blooming perennials
  • Set supports for floppy plants, vines and vegetables
  • Mow lawns regularly to keep grass at 2½ inch height
  • Begin watering program as necessary
  • Continue weeding
  • Aerate and moisten compost pile to speed decomposition
  • Mulch azaleas, rhododendrons, and other ericaceous ornamentals with acid mulch
  • Mulch planting beds
  • Deadhead bulbs but allow foliage to remain until yellow to nourish bulbs for next year’s display
  • As night temperatures moderate into the 60’s, move houseplants outdoors (avoid full sun and windy locations)
  • Look for pests and other problems; spotting early can mean fewer chemical controls. Note: slugs and caterpillars can be removed manually
  • Begin application of deer repellents

Planting:

  • Move self-sown annuals and perennials to desired locations
  • Sow seeds of corn, cucumber and melon directly in the garden
  • Harden off tomato, eggplant and pepper transplants before planting out at end of month
  • Complete planting deciduous trees and shrubs, weather and soil conditions permitting
  • Continue to plant and transplant perennials
  • Plant summer annuals after last frost date
  • Plant summer-flowering bulbs such as gladiolas and dahlias after last frost date
  • Plant caladium and tuberous begonias in shady spots
  • Complete reseeding bare lawn areas

Pruning/Composting:

  • Pinch back late summer and fall-blooming perennials
  • Continue to prune all plant material to remove any diseased, dead, weak or crossing branches
  • Prune early spring-flowering shrubs after blooming
  • Wait to prune evergreens, hedges and other shrubs until late spring into early summer
  • Begin deadheading roses
  • Add compost/organic fertilizer to roses
  • Fertilize needle evergreens with  organic acid type fertilizer
  • Compost/fertilize bulbs as they finish blooming
  • Compost/fertilize annuals and container plants

The Worm Factory

My new Worm Factory arrived yesterday, along with my order of red wiggler worms  (Eisenia foetida).  One thousand of them!

I used to use a plastic bin with holes drilled in the bottom for my vermicomposting. It was a bit hard to manage and I couldn’t keep it inside because of the leakage.

The worst part was harvesting the compost. I like worms and all, but I don’t want to spend a whole afternoon on my deck trying to separate them from their poop!

The Worm Factory has changed my vermicomposting life!  Not only is it easy to manage, but it does the separating for me.  The picture and videos below explain how.


Whatever method you choose, I heartily recommend that all you gardeners out there give vermicomposting a try.  It is the best fertilizer ever!