Mulch Vegetable Gardens – Bigger Harvest, Less Weeds, Less Water, Less Disease

Mulching vegetable gardens is one of the best ways to make it better – in so many ways. Mulching is a way to be kind to your plants – and help yourself to make gardening easier throughout the season. This is because, once you mulch, you instantly reduce weeds in your garden (less work), reduce the amount of water needed (less money/resources), and help reduce pests in the garden.

There are basically two types of mulch – inorganic and organic. Inorganic mulch includes newspapers, plastic solar mulch and landscape fabric, While these work, they do not provide all the benefits of organic mulches because they do not enrich the soil. Organic mulches include grass clippings, leaves, straw, pine needles and wood chip mulch. Let’s take a look at some benefits of using organic mulch.

Mulching for Bigger Harvests

If you want a bigger harvest, then mulch vegetable gardens. This may seem rather simplistic – but sometimes the simplest things make the most difference. Mulching accomplishes many things. When you mulch deep – that is, at least six inches, you will ensure that the soil stays at a temperature that is better for the roots to soak up nutrients. That is, in cold weather mulch maintains warmth and in warm weather it maintains cooler temperatures. If you live in the hot south, during the summer, this can make a huge difference in harvests. When you mulch vegetable gardens, it is also beneficial for weed control, disease control, moisture control and pest control.

Mulching to Reduce Weeds

Let’s face it – who wants weeds in their garden? They look ugly – and if you are not careful, the weeds can easily take over the garden wiping out any veggies you have planted. Weeds are bad because they aggressively compete with the same stuff your plants need to grow well: nutrients, water and sunlight. Thus, when they invade and take over your garden, they can suck up everything your plants need to produce an outstanding harvest. While some say that a weed is just a plant that is growing where you don’t want it to grow, the garden is definitely one place you want to eliminate weeds.

Mulch helps prevent weeds in three important ways. First, when you completely cover the soil with mulch, you deprive the weed seeds of the sunlight that they need to germinate So, weeds won’t get a foothold in the garden early on. In addition, bare dirt allows weed seeds to land and then germinate. Covering your bare soil prevents the weeds from coming into contact with the soil to begin with. But, weeds are persistent beasties and some will show up anyway. I have also found that weeds that show up in the mulch are easier to see and much easier to pull out because they don’t have strong roots in the soil but are growing in the loose mulch. Reducing weeds is not the only benefit of mulch – they also

Mulching to Reduce Bad Bugs

Organic mulches are the best repelling bugs. One way they do this is by enriching the soil. As organic mulches break down, the chemistry of the soil is improved and this increases the beneficial bacteria, fungus and insects. Beneficial – or good insects keep out the populations of harmful, plant-destroying, harvest destroying insects.

While some organic mulches attract insects like saw bugs, earwigs or pill bugs, if needed, these can be easily controlled with Neem oil or diatomaceous earth. Another effective and non-pesticide way to get rid of pill bugs is to make a potato trap. To do this,

  1. Cut an old potato in half.
  2. Scoop out a depression in each half.
  3. Place the cut side of the potato into the soil where you have pill bugs.
  4. Wait a few days for the pill bugs to find the potatoes and start eating them
  5. After a few days, carefully lift up your potato – in the morning is the best time to do this. Drop the pill bugs attached to the potato in a bucket and scoop up the dirt around the area to find even more bugs. Feed to chickens (yum) or dispose of away from your garden.

If you are using mulches made from cedar or cypress bark, they are helpful for repelling insects. Cedar and cypress wood both contain natural oils and chemicals that deter bugs. Cedar chips can repel, kill or can inhibit termites, cockroaches, cloth-eating moths, carpet beetles and certain ants, such as odorous and Argentine. The wood bark from these trees is resistant to decay, so it will last longer than other mulches. Cedar mulch is especially good for plants that love acidic soil – such as blueberries.

Mulching to Reduce Watering

For an abundant garden, it is important to maintain a consistent level of moisture in your soil. Plants which have adequate moisture are less likely to be stressed and they will be better able to resist insects and diseases. As mentioned earlier, mulch keeps the soil cooler in the summer so it will extend the time before plants go dormant or bolt. Since some plants bloom best in cooler conditions, mulch helps keep plants blooming longer.

In areas which have had drought conditions, mulching is almost necessary to maintain a healthy garden. But, even in areas with plenty of water, mulching helps to retain soil moisture and consistent soil temperatures, thus costing the gardener less money.

Mulching to Enrich Soil for Next Year

The biggest bonus to using organic mulches is that they will decompose and leave behind nutrient rich soil for next year’s garden. As it decomposes, mulch provides nutrients and humus and improves the soil structure, nutrients and moisture holding capacity. The decomposing mulch provides food for earthworms, stimulates microbial activity and helps beneficial soil organisms.

In the area I live, the soil is rich red clay – that is beautiful to look at and the devil to grow in. In most cases, I have resorted to using raised beds. Slowly but surely, though, I have begun uber-mulching large portions of future growing areas with deep wood chip mulch. I have found that not only does it tend to keep the weeds at bay, it is also enriching the soil and improving the composition of the soil each season. I can now dig down about four inches and have rich, dark soil that the earth worms are loving. In a few years, I will be able to move into those growing areas without the use (and expense) of raised beds.

Organic Mulch in Your Garden – Better for your Harvest and the World

As you can probably tell, I am not much for the use of herbicides and pesticides. I think the world is a better place when as few chemicals as possible are used. So, for those who agree, it is critical to find ways to improve your soil and keep pests away as expediently as possible. And for this, I say, mulch your gardens. Gardeners use both organic and inorganic mulches. While I have used both, I have found for my red clay dirt, the inorganic mulch works better because it enriches the soil each season. Whether you select organic or inorganic mulch, once you use it in your garden, you will never go without again.

 

 

 

Best Bee Attracting Plants – How to have a more Productive Garden

Bountiful HarvestLet’s face it. Gardening takes a lot of work. Yes, it has many benefits, including getting to eat fresh, great tasting and very healthy foods. But, with all the hard work and expense it takes, gardeners definitely want to have the biggest harvest possible. Aside from water and fertilizer, two very important ingredients for gardening, plants also need to be fertilized – and the more plants are fertilized, the more produce will be available. So, it is important that the gardener include the best bee attracting plants to their garden plans to ensure a more productive garden.

Bees are an important ingredient in any outdoor garden because they will ensure that as many flowers as possible turn into luscious veggies and fruits. Being aware of some easy to grow and best bee attracting plants is one way to quickly increase your garden yield.

So, why do plants need pollinators and how does a gardener get the pollinators to come to the garden?

Plant pollination

In simple terms, pollinators are animals (and most of us probably think of bees) that move the pollen in a flower from the male structure (anthers) to the female structure (stigma) of the same plant species. This movement of the pollen results in fertilization of the flower’s egg – this fertilized flower then produces seeds and fruit surrounding the seeds. The YouTube video below provides a very simple explanation of pollination.

Why is pollination important?

Bee Pollinating FlowerBottom line: If the flower is not pollinated, the bloom just drops off the plant and dies. There is no fruit produced and no seeds to continue growing plants in the future. Many animals, and many varieties of insects are critical to the pollination process. And, pollinators are critical to our food supply. Numbers vary, but it is estimated that pollinators are necessary for about ¾ of our food (1). While some foods are self-pollinating, for example bananas, it would get kind of boring to have a steady diet of nothing but bananas.

Pollinators are not just necessary for large commercial farms, but they are critical to your home garden. This was brought home to me one spring when we had day after day of rain. The plants were blooming like crazy – the cucumbers and tomatoes loved the rain. But, no fruit was being produced. I kept going to the garden, looking at all the plants and watching as bloom after bloom fell to the ground – and not a single tomato or cucumber was to be found. It dawned on me, after several weeks, that the ongoing rain had stopped the bees from coming out and pollinating the flowers. It took several weeks after the rain stopped to finally see fruit beginning to grow. As you can see, pollinators can be critical to the success of your home garden.

How can you attract more pollinators?

While bees buzzing around can be alarming to some, they are really critical to the production in your garden. So, I recommend, in addition to growing veggies and herbs, plant some flowers in your garden. Not only are they pretty to look at and make your garden even more attractive, they perform a vital function – they attract busy little bees, butterflies and other pollinators to your garden.

Attracting Honeybees to your Garden

Honeybees are a very attractive and desired pollinator because they are so efficient at pollinating. Their specialized hairs trap pollen when the bee brushes against the stamen and spreads that pollen as it moves from flower to flower.

These bees prefer purple, blue and yellow flowers – so flowers in these bright colors will attract honeybees to your garden. Also consider planting vetch, alfalfa, clover in your yard to attract honeybees. These have the added benefit of being good crops for green manure and will not only attract honeybees, but will improve your soil.

Marigolds
Long used as a companion plant, the marigold is a great addition to your garden for attracting honeybees. While some conventional garden wisdom says Yellow Marigoldthat marigolds serve as a bee detractor – they definitely attract the honeybee. They can be beneficial by not only attracting the honeybee, but also discouraging other garden pests. Some gardeners swear that their strong odor seems to ward off other pests such as rabbits and could discourage wasps and other “bad” insects from attacking you and/or your plants.

The marigold blooms all season if you regularly deadhead them. They are also are very long-lasting as cut flowers. Although some find the odor to be too strong, I love having a vase of marigolds on the kitchen counter because I like their fresh smell.  I guess beauty, in this case, is in the nose of the beholder.  Easy to grow, heat resistant, and sun loving, marigolds have long been a favorite companion flower in vegetable gardens. You can read more at Gardening Know How: Do Marigolds Repel Bees: Learn About Marigolds And Honeybees.

Cosmos
Cosmos is another prolific and attractive flower for the gardener as well as one of the best bee attracting plants. They come in a wide array of colors. One of my favorites is the Bright Lights cosmos. This one comes from Mexico – so it can stand high heat and drought conditions and perform all summer long. This variety blooms in bright golds, yellows and oranges, lasting all summer if you regularly deadhead and comes back from seed year after year. In areas with a long growing season, they will bloom into the fall as well.

Sunflowers
Sunflowers in their bright yellow colors are great attractors for honeybees. There are single bloom varieties that grow on a tall stem and multiple bloom varieties that are smaller and certainly attractive and colorful bee attractants. For an inexpensive and lush sunflower garden, just sprinkle black oil sunflower seeds in the yard before a rain and watch as a multitude of sunflowers grow.  They will bring many a happy bee to your garden.

Bee Balm
Bee balm (monarda) is another great plant for attracting honeybees. Because it is rich in nectar, gardeners will see not only honeybees, but also Bee Balm - Purplebutterflies and hummingbirds buzzing around the bee balm bloom. Once established, bee balm will come back year after year.

Bee balm is a great addition to the garden for you as well as the bees. The flowers look attractive and make a beautiful edible garnish in summer salads. Bee Balm is considered an herb that is noted for its fragrance, and is also the source of oil of thyme. The leaves of the plant, either dried or fresh can be brewed into a  a refreshing aromatic and medicinal tea.

Medicinally bee balm can be used as a diaphoretic, diuretic, stimulant, carminative, and antiseptic. For more information about its medicinal properties,  take a look at Alternative Nature Online Herbal. Best yet, bee balm is a perennial that will come back to your garden year after year.

Clearly, bee balm is one of the best bee attracting plants – good for your garden and good for you.

Basil
Tibetan BasilBasil is another great addition for your garden to attract honeybees. Basil is available in many varieties and is a prolific grower that will have the honeybees all abuzz. Let some branches bloom to attract the bee to your garden, then harvest the rest of the plant for cooking.

While the above are not the only honeybee attractors you can grow in your garden, the above are easy to grow plants that will provide visual enjoyment, smell great, and bring many honeybees to your garden to pollinate all your veggies and flowers. Not only will your garden benefit from the addition by producing more veggies, but the honeybee population and the environment will benefit as well.

Other tips for attracting honeybees to your garden

Avoid Pesticides
This may seem obvious, but if you are trying to attract bees to your garden, avoid using pesticides because they will kill not only the pests you don’t want, but the bees as well. Use natural pesticides such as ladybugs or sage burning. If you must use pesticides, according to the Xerces Society, some that are considered non-toxic to bees are:

  • Bacillus thuringiensis
  • Garlic
  • Kaolin clay
  • Corn gluten
  • Gibberellic acid

Give them something to sip on throughout the day
Have shallow dishes of water in your yard and around your flowers for the bees to hydrate. If you have a deep fountain, be sure to place pebbles in it so the bee can sit on it to drink water as needed. When you first place water in your garden for bees, it is a good idea to “flavor” it to attract the bees. You can spike it with a tiny bit of chlorine bleach, ground up oyster shells in a shallow pan or a weak sugar solution. The smell in the water alerts the bee that you have provided something for them to drink. After they have found the source, the gardener can just put plain water in the container.

Don’t kill or swat at them
Just let the bees go about their business in the garden and they will leave you alone. Don’t swat at them or otherwise try to aggravate them. If you are allergic to bees, you would want to step away when they are around. But, I have found, I can garden around them all day and they will be busy working and not bother me or sting me. They are a great contributor to the garden, so appreciate them as they work hard to ensure your success as a gardener.

Bees in your garden make a happy garden

Yes, gardening is indeed hard work. But, keep in mind, if you select and plant the best plants to attract bees in the garden, you are not the one doing all the work. When you are inside taking a break, bees are working all day long pollinating everything in your garden. You will have more produce than you know what to do with and the bees will be well-fed and busy making honey. Attracting bees to your garden is good for you, good for the bees and good for the environment.

 

 

 

 

7 Best Garden Hand Tools – Top Tools For Beginner Gardeners

 

Pruner and seeds

As with any hobby, gardening requires a few tools to get started and be successful. Luckily, the tools needed to get started with gardening are relatively inexpensive. With a little careful shopping, the seven best garden hand tools can all be purchased for small change. Having said that, if you are going to purchase hand tools, you may want to save up to get the best ones you can afford.

While tools can be found cheaply, the wear and tear of gardening will cause less expensive tools to break quickly – ending up in frustration and – well – wasted money. On the other hand, purchasing better quality tools from the beginning can ensure you are well-equipped for many years and gardens to come.

Below I will discuss the top tools that I recommend for beginning gardeners.

Gloves

Admittedly, gloves may not generally be considered a tool. However, gardening can be hard work and is hard on the hands – the skin, the muscles and the nerves. Not only will gloves keep your hands (and nails) cleaner, they will also protect your hands from cuts, bruises, scrapes and thorns. Not much is worse than grabbing a vine or branch only to find sharp thorns gleefully poking through your skin. Wild blackberry thorns are some of the worst!!!

For those who are not sure of the creepy crawlies you may encounter, gloves also protect you when you run into a rogue spider or reach for an earth worm only to find it is a snake. While running into wildlife is part of gardening – and in gardening we like to see worms and bugs inhabiting the soil – you may not always want to pick them up with your bare hands.

With many women suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome and other hand ailments, like a sprained thenar eminence muscle, gloves provide a measure of protection from injury and when injured. So, put a good pair of gardening gloves at the top of the list of products to buy. If you want more information on gloves, check out the post on gloves for gifts.

Pruners

While pruners are typically separated into three types: bypass, anvil and ratchet, by far, the most popular one is the bypass pruner. Bypass pruners make a nice clean cut much like scissors do – except they are much stronger and can cut through branches and stems. In the bypass pruner, a sharpened blade sweeps past the lower jaw which avoids crushing the stem.

Anvil pruners work similar to the principal of a knife on a cutting board. The top blade pushes through the plant onto the anvil to cut. If not sharpened regularly, the anvil pruners can mash the stems and sometimes will not cut all the way through leaving you to wiggle, twist and turn to get through the stems.

Ratchet pruners have a ratchet built in that makes cutting tough or thick stems easier. While this is a handy pruner to have in your toolkit, a beginning gardener would probably want to have at least a bypass pruner on hand before branching off to get a ratchet pruner (no pun intended).

Pruners come in all sizes from very tiny ones to loppers – large pruners used for bigger branches. Start off with a medium-sized pruner and when you find the need for closer work or are cutting large branches or trees, you can move into a palm sized pruner or a lopper.

Hori Hori Knives

Hori-horiI debated whether to add trowel to this list of tools and decided since it is basically for the beginning gardener, I would instead recommend a hori hori because it does the work of a trowel and so much more. This tool basically does it all from weeding to planting, digging, cutting, sawing, scooping, separating, splitting and anything else you can think of. The hori hori is smooth on one edge and serrated on the other – so it will saw through tough stems and roots easily. The hori hori also comes with depth markings on the blade so you can easily tell how deep you are planting.

The hori hori design comes from Japan.  Hori means dig and hori hori is an onomatopoeia of the sound of digging. The shape of the sharpened blade allowed foragers to harvest by digging deep and slicing through plant roots and tough vegetation. It comes in equally handy for the modern gardener.

Most hori hori knives are solid with blades made of stainless steel that will last for years. Once you use this handy tool, you will never be without it. One caution, the serrated blade is sharp, so handle with care.

Rakes

I probably don’t need to explain what a rake is – and if you have a yard, you probably have one (or more) lying around. There are various kinds of garden rakes, and after gardening for while, you will probably find that you need more than one kind. While the leaf rakes are great for fall leaves, for gardening you will probably need one with shorter, stiffer tines to help you level dirt or break up clumps of dirt when preparing soil. Also, when raking up those pesky weed piles that you will have, a rake with stiffer tines will be ideal.

While you can probably find a garden rake for around $10.00, try to spend as much on getting a good one as you can. Also, when selecting a rake, consider the weight of the rake. If you are a smaller person or you have physical limitations, carefully consider how heavy the rake is. If the handle is made of wood, it will generally be heavier and may be tiring to use for an extended period of time.

Shovels

There are so many types of shovels that you can be overwhelmed when trying to decide which shovel to choose. So, for a beginner, I Shovel and rakerecommend the digging shovel as one of the best hand garden tools. The digging shovel is just that – a shovel to dig. They have a curved scoop for holding materials and edges that slant up. Choose one with a point – shovels with flat tips are pretty useless for most gardening – unless you have the perfect soil. Again, while you can get an inexpensive shovel, look for ones that are steel and sturdy. Wood is the best material for a handle, although you have to keep it out of the weather. Plastic will break easily and metal is durable, but heavier. Unlike a rake, you won’t be using the shovel for extended periods of time, so you don’t have to be as concerned about the weight. In fact, a nice heavy shovel can be your friend in clay or other heavy soils.

Tool Belt or Apron

As you are working in your garden, using all your tools, you will find that you want some way to keep them handy and accessible to you. The best way to keep them handy to use and safe from being lost in the dirt, left alone to rust, is to have an apron or a tool belt that will hold all your tools.

There are probably as many choices for tool holders as you can imagine and some are even made to fit over a 5-gallon bucket. Depending on your size and how many tools you use regularly, you will have to explore the many options available. One of the best things you can do to save money in the future is to get into the habit early on of keeping all your tools in the belt and put them back in when you are finished using them. It is incredible how easy it is to lose a tool in all the gardening materials you are working with.

Work Made Easier with the Best Garden Hand Tools

Gardening is a healthy activity and a fun form of exercise for those who do not like to go to the gym and lift weights. But, don’t kid yourself – gardening can be hard work. While rewarding, and definitely worth the effort, having the right tools can make your work a lot more enjoyable and help you stick with it when times get rough.

 

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Gardening Gifts for Women – Great Glove Ideas for Digging in the Dirt

Gift basketEveryone loves to receive presents, and women who love to garden are no different. Sometimes, giving a gift can be a stressful experience for the giver. As you are trying to find the perfect gift, you may wonder, “Will she like it, will she use it, will she hate it, will she just throw it away or tuck it in the closet?” Let’s face it, we all want our gifts to be appreciated and loved – yes and used.

Luckily, gloves are a great gift idea for any gardener. You will find that it can be very easy to find one or more pairs of gloves your lady will love to receive and will use over and over. Kind of like shoes, a gardener can never have enough gloves. Even when a gardener has a favorite pair, a gift of several different types of gloves would be appreciated as well. Many styles and types of gloves can be found in all price ranges. And if you want to add a more personal touch, you can include gloves with an assortment of other items in a wondering gardening gift basket. Let’s take a look at some gift glove ideas.

Gardening Gifts for Digging in the Dirt

Gloves are an obvious choice for gift-giving. While women usually don’t wear gloves socially anymore, they certainly are needed in the garden. Dare I say again, a gardener can never have too many gloves. There are many ways to look at purchasing gloves. Your gardener may have a favorite pair of gloves and in that case, you can simply find out what it is and buy her an extra pair.

Why buy an extra pair when she already has a favorite? While some gloves may last a long time, they will all eventually wear out when usedOld gloves over and over. They deteriorate from exposure to the sun, from friction as the fingertips are being rubbed against the ground and weeds, and from exposure to water or punctures. If you have a Labrador puppy like the one dropped off at our gate, they also can be ruined by enthusiastic chewing. So, if your gardener really likes a certain brand of gloves, they will always be happy to have one waiting for them when the old and tattered glove no longer protects their hands.

Gloves for Gardening with Friends and Family

Many women like to garden with their children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and even friends visiting. Yes, gardening is indeed a great form of bonding, communication and fun. It is always nice to have extra pairs of gloves set aside for visitors – so a selection of gloves in various sizes and styles is always nice to have around.

For the extra personal touch, you can even try out a pair of the gloves by offering to help dig in the gardener with her when you give her the present. Not only will she have a wonderful gift that enables her to share gardening with others, she will have a wonderful day full of memories with you sharing work in her garden. This would truly be a gift that would be remembered.

Some different types of gloves are discussed below.

Nitrile Gloves for Gifting

Lavendar nitrile glovesDifferent types of gardening require different types of gloves. Even with a favorite pair of gloves, gardeners have varying needs when digging in the dirt. Nitrile gloves have become very popular lately for gardening. These gloves are generally made of a thin fabric-like material on top that is coated with a flexible coating of nitrile on the palms and bottom of the fingers. This nitrile coating gives the gloves extra grip that is very handy for pulling up weeds. They are lightweight but can be pretty tough in preventing punctures and even some small thorns.

Plus, these nitrile gloves come in a wide array of bright, happy colors and designs for gardeners – often with flowers and butterflies worked into the design. (How do they do that?) Even better, nitrile gloves can be thrown in the washer to clean them after use. These gloves are relatively inexpensive and having several extras on hand would make any gardener smile. They would be a good choice if getting an assortment of gloves for visitors to use.

Gift Gloves that Protect

Practical gardening gifts for women include gloves that go above and beyond in protection. While nitrile gloves can resist some punctures and thorns, they are not hardy enough for working with roses and other thorny plants. Plus, when working with thorny plants, the gardener often gets scratches and punctures on the arms as well as the hands and fingers. Some gauntlet or long-armed gloves will be the best gift you can get any gardener because they not only do a super job of preventing punctures, they also provide that protection up to the elbow. No more tears as your gardener is reaching through the rose bush to prune it, or in my case, grabbing the evil, thorny Greenbrier vines to pull them out of trees.

In addition to gauntlet gloves, you can also purchase Kevlar arm protection sleeves to wear under any gloves. These arm protection sleeves are generally about 18 inches long and have a thumb slot to hold them in place. These sleeves will provide an extra layer of protection most of the way up the arm.

Gloves with extra padding can also be a welcome gift to any gardener. I found this out when I injured my thenar eminence muscles in my hand. That is a big name but they are group of muscles on the palm of the human hand at the base of the thumb. In essence, it hurts when you use your thumb and in gardening – you would be surprised how much you actually need to use your thumb. High performance gardening gloves are now made with extra foam padding in the palm and knuckles to alleviate some pain caused from using the thumb repetitively.

Unique Gardening Gift – Clawed Gloves

Another unique gardening gift for women would be the glove with built-in or removable claws on the finger tips. OK, a great idea for Halloween costumes – I can just see the Evil Gardener costume being a real hit this year. But, these gloves are very handy for digging in the dirt to pull out weeds and leaves without having to switch over and use a hand tool. They have a breathable design that protects the hands without becoming hot and uncomfortable. This just might be a small gift for the gardener who has everything.

Gardening Gifts for Women – A Bushel of Gloves

Who would have thought that you could find a treasure-trove of gifts for women simply by looking for gloves? But, while seemingly a practical idea, glove-giving can also be whimsical and thoughtful. And very much appreciated by the gardener. To jazz it up a bit, you can give the gloves in a gift basket you create along with special essential oil soap for gardeners, a soothing hand lotion, a loofah and a nail scrubber.

These thoughtful and useful gifts will be treasured, used and remembered by your special gardener for years.