Garden Trellis Arch with Side Raised Beds from Cattle Panels

I have always liked the lush look of a beautiful garden trellis full of cucumbers, squash and beans. Or beautiful flowers. I looked at several ideas on the Web and found one that I liked at Weed ’em & Reap because it combined an arch and raised boxes on the sides. As usual, they provide great directions on how to build one so I convinced my husband that this was something we really needed to add to our garden.

We live in east Texas and it is hot, hot, hot all summer so I wanted something that would be shady to sit under during those hot summer months. We modified the plan for the garden trellis arch provided on Weed ’em & Reap to fit our garden area and our needs. By the end of the summer, we had a beautiful, lush arching trellis that will be useful for many years to come. Yes, there is a trellis under there although the cucumbers (as they usually do) kind of went wild and took over the arch and all the in between space too. At that, they were at least rather contained as they climbed up the trellis.

Longer, Deeper and Wider

Since we are aiming for an edible landscaping look rather than a manicured lawn full of grass, we have plenty of space to put up raised beds. So, we made our beds longer and wider and spread them out further for more space between the edges of the trellis arch than the plan provided at Weed em and Reap.

We used 2x6x12 treated lumber for the length with the boxes inner dimensions at 24″. Each box was stacked two high. The extra width would allow me to add plants on the opposite side of the trellis, hopefully giving me more growing room. The length allowed us to put two 50″ cattle panels up side by side with almost four feet left over at the end to add additional plants that do not require a trellis.

I wasn’t sure if this plan would work to give us additional growing room, but since putting up raised beds is a labor consuming process on our property, I wanted to give us as much additional growing space as possible for the initial labor done. Does that make sense?

Building the Outer Boxes to Contain the Cattle Panels

Our land is NOT level, so building raised bed requires either building up the bed on one side or digging down on one side through hard, hard, hard red clay – with lots of rocks. Did I mention that the clay is hard? So – any project requires us to measure additional cost for materials to build the bed up on one side – and then fill it with soil or additional labor to dig down in the clay on the other side or both. In this case, we opted for a little of both. To level the boxes, we had to dig down on one side and set the box into the dirt. We also had to dig out all the Bermuda grass to clear the area for planting.

Attaching the Cattle Panels

Attaching the cattle panels was an adventure. We opted to use the entire panel so we attached the bottom edge to the bottom of the boxes. Those babies are pretty sturdy, so getting them to flop over was an interesting two-man job. We attached the right side first and then flipped the other end to the inside left and attached it. We set the boxes about three feet apart, but after looking at it for a while, I did a typical female thing and decided the boxes needed to be moved apart more so there would be more room under the arch. OK – I admit, I had this romanticized idea of hiding under the arch on a hot summer day, sipping on sweet tea and reading a book while a cool breeze fluttered through the cucumber leaves – and the distance between the arch was not big enough to do that. While I didn’t give him full disclosure, I did ask my hubbie if he thought moving the arch further apart would be better.

Bless his heart, he agreed to move it apart – did I mention having to dig some more in the hard clay to get the side level and the Bermuda grass up? To be fair – I did offer to help. Anyway, the final distance between one side of the arch and the other ended up being four feet apart.

Filling the Boxes with Soil – and a Mistake

The next step was filling the boxes with the most cost effective growing medium. We ended up going out into our woods and using the composted leaves, pine needles and earthworm munchies from an area we were clearing. Please note: We did not hurt the surrounding trees and spread around where we gathered soil to not disturb the ecosystem in place in the woods.

Our big mistake that we have to rectify this year is putting a layer of hardware cloth on the bottom of the boxes to keep the gophers out. Although Mr. Gopher and family did not find the boxes in the first year, the second year, he discovered the easy to dig soil and wonderful tomato and spinach plants just waiting for him to chow down. So, all the soil needs to be taken out and hardware cloth added to dissuade his access to our garden next year.

Extra Space – Did Wider and Longer Work?

If you remember from the beginning, I decided to make the boxes wider and longer to give us more growing space. Did that work? Well, I did learn some things from the mistakes I made. First, cucumbers and beans are robust and energetic and will spread wherever they can. So, I found that I had to be highly dedicated in training the plants up the trellis so they would not spread out into the extra side growing space and crowd out what I had planted to the outside of the boxes.

Second, the dirt that we used from the woods was apparently teaming with nutrients so the plants took off and grew like crazy. I planted okra on one side and it sort of took over – well, it gets big anyway. So, it was really not a good choice for growing on the other side of the cucumber. I would stick to growing plants that stay shorter and don’t spread for the “companion” planting. Something like bush beans or even marigolds would have worked great. But, I would have to count the idea as a success.

Third, the extended ends worked out great for growing extra plants. I had a giant sunflower growing on one end and then planted some Thai Red Roselle plants beside the sunflower. On the other side, I planted yellow squash and let it trail off the end. One plant yielded all the squash we could eat that season. The distance between the boxes allowed both the squash and the Thai Red Roselle plants to spread out nicely so I am glad *we* decided to move them apart.

The idea of sitting under the arch sipping tea and reading a book didn’t quite pan out, but the area underneath was certainly shaded and cool enough to sit under at the warmer part of the day. As an added bonus, the cucumbers hung down between the spaces in the panels and were much easier to find and to pick.

Garden Trellis Arch Project Deemed a Success

I think I would overall consider this project a success that will be used in our garden for years to come. It is solid and, IMHO looks great as a nice garden feature – even when it is bare. If you are looking to expand your growing space vertically, this is a great way to grow cucumbers, melons, squash, beans, pumpkins, etc. As an added benefit, this trellis makes it easy to pick your produce as it is climbing up the trellis and often hangs through it. We will be adding another of these trellises to our garden next year.

If you try this project, let us know how it went.



How to Grow Vegetables from Seed and Save a Ton of Money

Spring and fall are great for going to garden centers. Nothing is more beautiful than seeing row upon row of all those beautiful vegetable plants just waiting for your garden. But let’s face it. They can be quite expensive when you have a medium to large sized garden. The good news is – you can save a lot of money starting your vegetables from seed. It may seem scary to do but learning how to grow vegetables from seed is quite easy.

There are many suggestions about how to get started, but one of the absolute best ways that I have found is to pre-start your seeds in preparation of planting them. To do this, all you need is some paper towels (or some stronger material for using over and over), a shallow container and some seeds. Let’s get started.

Start with a Grid

I have seen many ways to set up your seed pre-starting, But, in my mind, the most efficient and best way to pre-start is to set up a grid with letters and numbers on a sheet of porous material. Draw a grid on material (sponge sheet or paper towel) with a sharpie and label the top row and the first left row. After drawing this one inch grid several times on paper towels, I decided to use something more permanent. I found some sponge sheets I had purchased to wash my car and decided this would be the perfect long-term material to use. I could wash out the sheet with soap and water as needed to clean it and reuse over and over.

I cut the sponge sheet to fit in a baking sheet for a semi-permanent seed pre-starter. See the example below. You can see that I made a little mistake and started the “1” on the leftmost row. Oh well, I just modified the grid to reflect the mistake.

The nice thing about the grid numbered/lettered is that it is easy to pre-start a lot of different seeds at one time and keep track of what is what. Believe me, a lot of seeds can look alike and if you don’t label them, you will lose track of what is what. For seeds that I wanted to plant more of, I could use several blocks and still easily identify what is what.

As you can see, this method of pre-starting works for any type of seed.

Moisten the Grid

Next, moisten the grid – not dripping wet, but very moist. Put the grid in you pan. Place your seeds on the blocks of the grid and identify them on the chart. (I have included a PDF of a chart than you can print and use.) Put the pan some place warm – you don’t have to worry about light. Seeds don’t need light to germinate.

Check Seeds the Next Day

This method is so fast that you won’t believe it. Check back the next day and you will see that some of the seeds have already sprouted. Those that have sprouted are ready to be placed in soil. Now, this may seem silly – but the first time I planted the sprouted seeds, I got mixed up and planted them upside down. The poor little plants had to struggle to turn around and grow up. So some of them did not make it. In a nutshell, the white tip sticking out is the root – plant it down.

Continue to Check Daily and Plant Seeds that Have Sprouted

Seeds will sprout amazingly fast – so continue to check them daily. Everything in the cabbage family sprouts fast, often within twenty-four hours. That includes broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, etc. Herbs – especially the basils are very fast to germinate as well. Pepper, eggplant, fennel and celery take longer, sometimes five days or longer. Other veggies such as tomatoes, squash and beets take about three days.

The beauty of this method of germinating is that you know ahead of time which seeds are viable. If the seeds are fresh and viable, they will sprout. If they do not sprout, then you have not wasted time planting a seed that will not sprout.

Once they have sprouted, plant them in moistened potting soil. I generally plant several in a three-inch pot as they begin to grow. Since seedling are so fragile, I like to water them from the bottom as they grow. No matter how carefully you water from the top, the tiny seedlings will topple over if watered from the top.

The easiest way to do this is plant all your sprouts and seedlings in 3-inch pots and place them in one of those trays from the garden centers. Then, place that tray down in another tray that does not have any drainage holes. Pour water into the bottom tray and let the 3-inch pots soak up the water for about an hour. When the 3-inch pots are wet, take the tray out of the water and let the pots drain. You can even add fertilizer to the water as the seedlings grow.

Benefits of Pre-Sprouting Your Seeds

There are some great benefits to starting your vegetable seeds this way. Once you try it, I doubt you will want to go back to any other method of germinating.

  1. You will have a great success rate. Starting the “old-fashioned” way can lead to a lower rate of germination. This is because it is easy for the soil to dry out and stop the germination process. You will find that with healthy seeds, you will have virtually 100% success with your seeds. And you will know they have germinated when you plant them in the soil.
  2. You can test seeds to see if they are viable. Ever have an old seed packet and wonder if they will germinate. Within a very few days, you will know whether the seeds are going to grow. It is a good way to test your own seeds that you have collected as well. Nothing feels better than watching your gathered seeds as they begin to sprout.
  3. Germination is much faster so you can start your garden faster. What usually takes days and days to germinate, can be ready to plant in just a few days. You will be amazed once you try this method of germinating.

Ananda at A Piece of the Rainbow was a great inspiration to me as I began germinating seeds this way. She provides great information on this method of germinating. Without a doubt, when you grow vegetables from seed, you will find that you save a ton of money and get great joy from doing it “from scratch.” Let me hear about your successes!



DIY Cold Frames Gardening – How to Have Fresh Produce Almost Year Round

One thing that challenges most gardeners is what to do in cold weather to either start seeds or protect seedlings and plants from freezing. Rather than shut down in the winter months, building an inexpensive cold frame could be a solution. Cold frames gardening will extend your growing season – and who doesn’t want fresh produce on their table in dreary cold weather?

Cold frames are typically unheated. They use solar energy stored within the structure and in the soil during the day to maintain warmer temperatures at night. Generally cold frames have a light-permeable cover like glass, Plexiglas, or greenhouse plastic for the top. The sides can be made of any material that is strong enough to support the cover. Generally cold frames do not have a bottom because they use the soil to maintain heat. If a bottom is built on the cold frame, it is important to have drainage holes in them so that water does not stand.

You may think building a cold frame would be too expensive, but they can be built on the cheap from recycled, reused materials – my favorite way to build. Starting from scratch, cold frames can be constructed using PVC pipes and plastic for an inexpensive cold frame. For larger cold frames, the cost can be a bit higher, but still a good alternative for those who want to start their gardens early or who want to have fresh veggies year round. Take a look at some of the ideas and go get creative this winter and begin exciting cold frames gardening in your back yard. .

A Free and Fast Cold Frame Idea

Kevin Lee Jacobs has been using water bottles as mini-greenhouses and cold frames for almost a decade. To start seeds, these cold frames are almost effortless because you pretty much plant the seeds and forget them. They work great in the coldest climates – even covered in snow, they retain enough heat to protect the seedlings. In warmer climates, such as we have in east Texas, the greenhouses are easy to open up on those days when it suddenly turns 80.

In addition to water jugs, you can use milk jugs or soda bottles. Jacobs provides extensive directions for how to build and use your new cold frame, both indoors and out, with numerous examples of how successful using these mini greenhouses has been.

In addition to having a great way to start seeds early and to protect seedlings from cold extremes, by using your empty water jugs, you are being friendly to the environment.

Biodegradable Cold Frame

Grow Journey offers a unique biodegradable cold frame made out of straw that is actually used for three different purposes throughout the year. They use straw as the sides of the cold frame and then cover the inside with recycled windows.

Grow Journey details how they use the straw as mulch for their blackberries, then feed for their chickens once they no longer need the cold frame. Although they do not recommend this cold frame for below USDA Zone 6, it is a good idea for those who have a plentiful supply of straw and are above Zone 6.

Easy to Build PVC Cold Frame

For beginners or those who do not have tools for woodworking, a small PVC cold frame can be built cheaply. This one has a hinged lid that can be opened in warmer weather as needed.

Complete plans are available for building this little cold frame.

Inexpensive Cold Frame for a Square Foot Garden

This inexpensive cold frame was built to fit over a square toot garden. Hinges on one end allow the gardener to raise the top when it gets warm.

While the blogger does not give detailed instructions on this cold frame, it would be easy to build and he provides enough direction that you would be able to easily replicate this cold frame. With this cold frame over your raised beds, you will be able to extend the growing season in the fall and start your garden early in the spring. More fresh veggies for longer is a good thing.

Empty Water Bottle Cold Frame

Looking for something to do with your empty water bottles? This simple cold frame will keep water bottles out of the landfill and provide a great service to you in extending your gardening season. Washington State University Recycler Composters of Lewis County provide detailed directions for building this cold frame from empty water bottles.

You can adjust the size to fit your needs. In fact, you could even build a whole greenhouse out of empty water bottles. All it takes is initiative, imagination and a lot of empty water bottles.

Simple to Build Plywood Cold Frame

This simple to build cold frame costs a bit more than the previous ones but will last for many years. You might have to replace the plastic on the top, but that will be simple to do.

BHG offers detailed plans for this cold frame that extend your growing season for many years.

Your Imagination is Your Only Limitation

As you can tell from these examples, building a cold frame can be accomplished in a weekend or two at the most. The concept is basically simple – a box with a plastic lid that will hold in warmth and moisture. The ideas and plans listed above should give you a great start on building your own cold frame. You will find that having that cold frames gardening will extend your growing season – in some areas to year round gardening – will be a welcome addition to your table. If you build a cold frame using one of these plans or come up with an idea of your own, then please share your design.

How to No Dig Garden – Esther Deans’ “Easy” Way to Garden

Gardening provides many health benefits – beyond just eating good, healthy food. However, gardening can be difficult for the elderly and those who have health issues. Learning how to no dig garden can make gardening a real possibility for anyone – regardless of age or health. In addition, home gardeners can benefit the environment – more specifically build the topsoil that is being rapidly depleted by current agricultural practices. David Montgomery, a geologist at the University of Washington and author of Dirt, “Estimates that we are now losing about 1 percent of our topsoil every year to erosion, most of this caused by agriculture.” Recent research has determined that the topsoil in the United States used for crops is being eroded at least 10 times faster than the time it takes for lost soil to be replaced.

Soil isn’t just dirt – it is actually an outer protective layer over the bedrock of the planet that is teeming with life: living organisms, nutrients, and minerals. The busy environment in soil provides a habitat for plants and animals as well as helping to regulate water flow and temperature. According to Ecology Action, current farming practices reportedly destroy about six pounds of soil for each pound of food produced. Indeed, worldwide only about 33 to 49 years of farmable soil remains.

Alarming? Yes. But as the home gardener, you can indeed implement practices that will help replenish Earth’s topsoil. One way to do this is through Biointensive Gardening. In another post, I will review this type of gardening. However, it is not easy – in fact, to get started, you will find Biointensive gardening to be – well, intense. However, in 1977, Harper and Row published their first book in Australia, a little gardening book called No-Dig Gardening & Leaves of Life by Esther Deans, which offers a way to grow an abundant garden, build topsoil and never have to dig in the dirt. Often called lasagna gardening in the U. S. her easy way to garden will get you started in one season. You will be amazed at the ease with which you will learn how to no dig garden.

High Yield from a No Dig Garden

Esther Deans had health issues and could not grow a garden the traditional way. But, she didn’t know how effective this method of gardening would be – no research was out there since really no one had tried it before. Her first try was a 6 X 8 foot garden using her no dig method – and from just the first planting, her yield was 49.5 pounds of potatoes. A visitor to her garden became very excited about the prospect of growing this way and during her first season of the no dig garden, she produced 200 pounds of zucchini and button squash – enough to feed her family and sell to others. Clearly, you can expect high yields from this type of garden.

How to No Dig Garden – A Garden of Paper, Straw and Hay

No dig gardens are maintained using organic principles without toil and sweat. It is easy for a child or old person to build and if built up on a raised bed, can be built and maintained by someone in a wheelchair. The idea is to build a garden on top of the existing ground – even if that means building it on top of concrete – or as in my case, on top of hard, packed red clay. The garden comprises rectangular beds raised above the ground, surrounded with hardwood, small bricks or concrete blocks, or anything that can hold the rich organic moisture in place. The no dig garden can be built in two environments – one that will go on lawn or an existing garden, the other one that will go on top of hard, rocky ground or concrete.

To build on top of a lawn or existing garden, select a sunny area. Surround the area with a wall, then spread a layer of newspapers at least a quarter inch deep. Overlap the pages of the newspaper to keep the lawn from growing through. Do not use the colored paper from the newspaper or cardboard for this step. Cover the newspaper with pads of alfalfa hay. Then sprinkle a light dusting of organic fertilizer or dry chicken manure over the hay. Cover with eight inches of loose straw and sprinkle with more fertilizer. Finally, top with a patch of good compost three to four inches deep and about 18 inches across where you will plant the seeds. According to Deans, two bales of alfalfa hay and one bale of straw will make a good-sized garden.

To build on top of hard, rocky ground or concrete, first put down a layer of old leaves, small sticks and pieces of seaweed three to four inches deep. On top of this, build the garden as described above.

Follow the steps below to build your first no-dig garden – seemingly instantly.

  1. Make a frame of any materials you have available – old timber, pallet boards that have been heat treated, bricks or concrete blocks. The purpose is to contain the garden – around the area you have selected for your garden.
  2. Cover the area with a layer of newspaper at least 1/4 inch thick, overlapping the layers four to six inches to keep weeds and grass from growing through. Thoroughly soak the newspaper before laying it down or water it once on the ground. Remember: do not use glossy colored paper as it bleeds ink that can be toxic.
  3. Cover the newspaper with pads of alfalfa hay as they come off the bale, about four inches deep. Water the hay lightly. NOTE: You can use other types of carbon containing materials such as pea straw, straw, sugar cane mulch, etc. but alfalfa has a much higher nitrogen content making it preferable for no-dig gardening.
  4. Sprinkle the hay with blood and bone fertilizer or chicken manure and lightly water it in.
  5. Cover this area with about eight inches of loose straw and lightly water in.
  6. Again sprinkle the straw with blood and bone fertilizer or chicken manure and lightly water.
  7. Top in a circle of compost about four inches deep and 17-18 inches across. If you have enough compost, you can cover the whole area.

Planting in the No Dig Garden

This is quite simple: Plant your seedlings in the compost. Water gently.

Maintaining the No Dig Garden

To maintain any type of no-dig garden, remember one simple rule – don’t dig it!!!! If you dig the garden, you will ruin all the work the earthworms and other aspects of nature are doing for you. Earthworms continue to cultivate the soil and they don’t like to be disturbed.

After harvesting and the end of growing season, the layers will have rotted down into the soil, enriching it and improving the structure. At that time, you can replenish the no-dig layers and will replenish them again at the end of each major growing season.

How to replenish the layers of the no-dig garden:

  1. Add a layer of manure. As an option, you can also add compost.
  2. Next, cover the manure layer with a layer of straw
  3. Water the straw and compost it in and you are ready for the next growing season.

No-dig Gardening is the Way to Go

Learning how to no dig garden is definitely a great way to enrich your soil, improve the environment and make your job as a gardener easier. For those who have disabilities or who are elderly, this could be a way to be able to garden again or for the first time. This is definitely a way to make your life and gardening more sustainable. If you would like more information about how to no dig garden, I found these sites to be helpful:

Deep Green Permaculture – No Dig Gardening

Charles Dowding’s No dig gardening on No Dig Gardening

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.

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 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 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.

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.