"And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress and keep it". Genesis 2:15

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Our New "No Tilling, No Digging" Herb Garden

When winter was cold and dreary I bought a pack of seeds to make an Herbal Tea garden. When the time for planting said seeds was here, the seeds were back ordered and they did not arrive until I was out of town for a whole week at Presbytery, so this whole project got off to a very late start. If you plant stuff after May here it has a very hard time with the heat, but perhaps the seeds will have a better time of it than full grown plants would.

I had originally planned to just stuff the plants into existing beds, but after looking it over and seeing that there really was no room, and after hearing Garry complaining about how much lawn we had to mow, I decided to make a whole new bed right out in the lawn on the East side of our house. This is in keeping with the urban homesteading idea of growing more useful plants and less lawn.

Our Lawn is Bermuda grass. This is the hardest grass to kill in existence, I think. When we put in our garden beds we have to till or dig down at lest 8 inches to get to the Bermuda roots, and pull it all out. Then you have to very carefully sift every grass stem out of the dirt or the smallest piece will sprout! We had just gone through this whole procedure this spring when we expanded our vegetable garden, and we were not ready for this again. So we tried something we had read about in the past.

The Bermuda grass problem is taken care of by laying cardboard or paper out directly on the lawn, wetting it down, and piling lawn clippings and leaves, whatever can be composted on top. Pile this on a couple of feet thick. Ideally you do this in the Fall and plant in the Spring, but since I wanted to use this right away we added a step and moved  a pile of dirt we had handy from digging out a walk way, on top of the leaves. This dirt was from the area we excavated to put in a pathway last year, and had spent the year under a pile of compost. It was pretty good dirt and we needed its spot to plant something else in. Finally remember all those woods chips from our defunct tree? This was spread on top for mulch, to keep down weeds while I get the herbs ready to plant and to keep the bed moist.

Every cardboard box we could spare from the attic was opened up and laid down.

An entire compost pile is being moved on top.

Garry did use the little tiller to make a ditch for the edging. A smart person would have done this first! My bad planning!

Edging installed and walkways established, we piled on the dirt.

Wood chips are on and the bed is finished.

The entire project was pretty fun and the whole family worked on it together. (We discovered having more than one wheel-barrow would have been helpful!) It probably was just as much work time-wise as doing it the other way since I added two steps (dirt and wood chips), but it was less back breaking and tedious than the tilling, pulling and sifting would have been. Now that the bed is done I will never have to till it or mess with it again. 

The No Till philosophy is to improve soil by doing it the way nature does by adding amendments to the top of the soil and using copious mulch. This accomplishes several things. No tilling means the soil's structure is not destroyed. Tilling actually adds too much oxygen to the soil and makes the organic matter break down too fast. Mulching prevents weeds, regulates soil temperature,  prevents erosion, attracts earthworms,  and becomes an amendment in itself. You can further protect your soil structure from another problem, compaction, by setting up established pathways, only walking in those areas and never stepping in you planting beds.

Most people will apply these principles to their flower gardens, but what about your vegetable garden? Yep our vegetable garden is going to be no till from now on! Our next area of expansion has little Bermuda grass and is already covered in a deep layer of wood chips. When we are ready to plant this area it should be weed and grass free.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Fresh Bread in Five Minutes a Day

I recently found a wonderful bread recipe on-line that is super economical, easy, no knead and is really supper fast. It tastes like expensive artisan bread, and my family loves it. Of course I cant eat it because I am gluten free right now. 

Rather than duplicate all the instructions I will give an overview and you can go to the web site for the recipe. There are only four ingredients, water, yeast, flour, and salt. This makes it economical (no expensive honey, no oil, no eggs, no milk) and fast to mix up. You mix a batch of this soft, wet dough in a large bowl with a spoon (no kneading), let rise for two hours, put on a lid, and store the dough in the fridge for up to two weeks. As it ages it takes on a sour dough taste.

When you want to make a loaf you just oil your hands, pull off a hunk of dough, shape it a bit, and throw it in an oiled loaf pan, or shape a round boule and plop it on a cookie sheet - no kneading! Let it rest 20 minutes and bake. Ignore the directions to use corn meal and a special pizza peel to put the dough in the oven - its not necessary. Instead I would oil the loaf well and it will brown nicely.

The small batch recipe is:
Three cups warm water
1 1/2 Tbls dry yeast
1 1/2 Tbls salt (I just used 1)
6 1/2 cups white flour (less for whole wheat )
Makes 4 1 lb loaves

The large batch recipe is:
Six cups warm water
3 Tbls dry yeast
3 Tbls (or less) salt
13 cups white flour (less for whole wheat )
Makes 8 1 lb loaves


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

From The Lark Ascending by George Meredith

…… And ever winging up and up,

 Our valley is his golden cup,

 And he the wine which overflows

 To lift us with him as he goes:

 The woods and brooks, the sheep and kine,

 He is, the hills, the human line,

 The meadows green, the fallows brown,

 The dreams of labour in the town;

 He sings the sap, the quickened veins;

 The wedding song of sun and rains

 He is, the dance of children, thanks

 Of sowers, shout of primrose-banks,

 And eye of violets while they breathe;

 All these the circling song will wreathe,

 And you shall hear the herb and tree,

 The better heart of men shall see,

 Shall feel celestially, as long

 As you crave nothing save the song.  ……..


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Homemade Rose Spray for Black Spot

Arrrrr Cap'n! Tis the dreaded Black Spot! Ready to destroy you........ err ....... your roses!

If your rose leaves turn yellow, have black sooty spots on them, die and fall off, then they have black spot, which is a fungal disease. Prevention of this is to buy resistant roses, which I did, and try not to get your roses wet while watering. Also don't use foliar sprays (spray on fertilizer) on roses that are susceptible to black spot.

We have had some very wet and cool weather for this part of the country lately and I foolishly sprayed my roses with foliar spray in the midst of all this. One set of roses looks great and very healthy, the other set have lost most of their leaves. Maybe it wasn't my fault, because my sister's roses are also afflicted, poor dears.

This is the spray I am using on them to kill it. I'll let you know how it goes : )

To rid roses of black spot, mix:

1 gallon of water
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon dish detergent

Spray once a week.

I doubt I will spray once a week all summer, knowing me, but at least for a while until they recover.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Adventures with Kaolin Clay (Surround), Ants Again!

Peach Tree Sprayed with Surround

Clay Tree Band-aid!

I am trying an organic fruit tree spray this year. It is called surround and it is basically Kaolin Clay. It is supposed to keep bugs from biting and tunneling into your fruit. You just mix with water and spray it on the fruit, and the trunk if you want because it will protect from sunburn too. You can just wipe it off when you harvest your fruit. I called around the local feed-stores until I found one that had it, and would sell me only two pounds (instead of thirty) and I think this cost me less than $5.

I applied it to our peach tree before we went to Tennessee, but we had so much rain that I needed to reapply. I went out to the tree, after I had already mixed up half a gallon of spray, and I found that there were only 20 peaches left on the tree! What happened while we were gone? Did the hail damage some peaches and they fell off after we left? Well that was discouraging, but I went ahead and sprayed the nice looking 20 peaches that were left. I thought, "Well at least they will be 20 big peaches."

I had a lot of spray left, so I wondered if it might help me with another ant problem I was having. Ants were attacking a young red bud tree next to the house. It had started when I accidentally injured the tree while trying to tied it up straight. At first the ants were attracted to the spot that was oozing sap, then they started biting holes in the bark at all the branch junctions and eating the sap. They were swarming all over the tree. I tried blasting them off with the water hose, but they just came right back. So I sprayed the spots they were attacking with the kaolin clay spray, but it was too thin and did not seam to be working.

I was getting frustrated at this point and afraid they would damage my tree, so I mixed a thick solution of clay and water in a small cup, and used a paint brush to paint it on in gobs right over the ants where they were attacking the Red Bud. It worked! The ants left the tree and the clay dried into a tree band-aid!

Oh, by the way, when I checked the peach tree next day, two more peaches had fallen off! : (

Another by the way, I dont hate bugs! They are a fascinating part of God's world and I tolerate the "bad" ones as much as possible.

Homemade Ant Killer, aphids

Here is a yellow bowl with water and a few drops of dish soap. The little specks are aphids! It's catching a lot of other stuff too.

We are continuing to have a lot of trouble with ants. We have two columns of ants climbing the outside walls and going into the attic, and we have ants eating up the lima bean plants. This morning I researched homemade ant killers/repellants and here is what I found from various how-to web sites. 

2 cups of sugar

1 cup of water

2 tablespoons of Borax Laundry Detergent

Place all ingredients into a saucepan and bring to the boil (while stirring), Boil for 3 minutes. Using the plastic lids from milk containers, Place it in the effected room or outside where the ants are. They will find the sticky liquid no matter where it is placed. The ants eat this and then take it back to their nest. Before long there will be no more ants as this mixture will kill them.

* http://www.recipegoldmine.com/house/hous...


1/2 cup molasses

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 envelope dry yeast

Mix all ingredients together. Place a few drops on pieces of cardboard, then place wherever ants are coming in.

* http://www.recipegoldmine.com/house/hous...


1 or 2 cups of grits

Take (1 or 2 Cups) of GRITS, and sprinkle them around the ants mound in the yard. When an ant eats these grits, his body gets all the water soaked up out of his little body and dies.

Ant Killer #3

Mix a half teaspoon each of honey, borox, and aspartame (Equal, Nutrasweet, etc.), in small bottles. Place bottles on their sides, with lids off, in areas of most ant activity. Ants will carry the bait back to their colonies. Important: use indoors only; must be kept away from pets and children. 


Mix the following ingredients in a spray bottle:

10 1/2 ounces of water

3 ounces of hot sauce (Tabasco works very well)

2 1/2 ounces liquid peppermint soap (available at health-food stores). Just spritz on where ants enter your home. Dont spray this on plants! The soap and peppermint oil is too concentrated for them.

I tried out number 3 this morning using honey, borax and splenda. I mixed it up in a little pill bottle and set it out next to the lima beans. The ants are going into it and I hope it works! Garry has run out of some commercial ant killer that we have been using to try and kill the ants going into our attic so I will try some of this other stuff in those spots too.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Parrot Sighting, Swarming Ants, Aphids and Termites

Everyday as I work in my garden I have been hearing a parrot squawking in nearby trees, but I could never see more than a gray blur as it flew by. Today I got up early to weed before it got hot and I took my binoculars with me. I finally got to see it well enough to get a description and look it up on the net, and I found out it is a Quaker Parrot! They come from South America and are wild now in several states. I am sure it is a Quaker because we know where it is making its huge nest of very large twigs about half a block from here on top of a telephone pole.

We went out to take a picture of the nest and the bird showed up. It was quite friendly and let us get close while it bobbed its head and squawked quietly. This makes me think it might be an escaped pet. The sad thing is that they are communal birds who live in large shared nests containing up to 40 birds, and the poor thing is making a nest all by itself. Im also thinking this might be a bad thing since in addition to eating seeds, they also eat fruits and vegetables. It is fascinating though, they are very friendly and will share their nests with other birds and even squirrels!

While I was weeding I saw that my tomatoes needed some tying up and pruning, so I got to work on that, only to be stopped by a swarm of ants that erupted out of the soil as I touched the last tomato in the row. Possibly they were fire ants but I didn't get close enough to find out. Most of them had wings and were climbing up and launching themselves from the top of the tomato. Some of them were falling back down on top of me, so I retreated to the garage to find something organic to kill them with. I couldn't find anything and by the time I got back most of the winged ones had gone. The others were still all stirred up so I had to wait awhile before I could get back to that tomato - carefully!

I also discovered that my lima beans have been almost devoured by a combination of ants and aphids while I was gone. All the other plants are fine. I know a good method for getting rid of aphids listed below in another post, but the problem is that I don't have any yellow margarine tubs since we never eat the stuff! I'll have to figure out something to use. Yellow really works best.

The termites come in to play in that they have been eating the supporting wood structure of the rotating composter my Dad made to the point where it has fallen apart. (I didn't realize this of course until it would no longer work.) I needed to move it anyway to make room for expanding the garden, so, since it is very heavy Anna had to help me move it. While doing this we found two large leopard geckos, a termite tube, and a gigantic grub at least 4 inches long and as wide as a thumb, that escaped down a hole. I dont know what the grub was, but it was ugly! Now I have a new project for Garry, which is to make a new and better (termite proof) support for the composter. Next I need to learn how to make compost!

Well that was my morning! By 11:00 it was too hot, so I quit the outdoors for indoor pursuits.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Presbytery 2009 Trip to Tennessee

We just got back from Tennessee last night and I am taking a break from Laundry and unpacking to say that we had a great time! We got to know so many wonderful people, had a great time hanging out at the camp, attended a fun barn dance, ate great food, and got to worship and fellowship together.

Tennessee was very beautiful, but it is also nice to be home in "Big Sky" country. I was a little worried about my garden, but when we got home we found that there had been 3 inches of rain while we were gone! The garden does need to be weeded though. My daylilies are all starting to bloom and look lovely. Everything has noticeably grown in one week!

Has this ever happened to you? You get home after being away for a while and the first thing you notice when you walk in your home is how cluttered everything looks? Yikes! I have work to do!

I didn't take very many pictures because I was so busy having fun! but here are a few.

These are the girls Claire hung out with. Can someone identify them? She never asks anyone their names.

The younger group hung out in the lobby of the Fellowship hall.

The older group hung out in the gym.

Heritage Church members - Our wonderful hosts.

Anna and Amy P. What a sweet girl!

Claire on the Lawn in front of the Fellowship Hall at Camp Meribah with new good friend.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Pill Bugs - Gone! Hail Update

Pill bug Cemetery

I checked the garden for pill bugs this morning when I went out to get some spinach for my smoothie. The pill bugs that had been huddling under the lettuce and the spinach are gone. I looked under the soaker hose and those were gone too. What I did is an old organic trick that I have used many times before. Take a small plastic drink glass, or any small container, sink it into the ground with the rim level with the soil, and fill it with water. Pill bugs, snails, slugs, and cutworms are attracted to the water, fall in, and drown! I have had cups literally fill up with dead pill bugs in the past. What I used this time was a few empty cat food tins. Hey, recycling!

I first set these out a few days ago, but the garden was so wet from all the rain we were having that it did little good in attracting the bugs. Friday however was a very hot day, I think it got to 90, and that was all that was needed to attract these bugs to the water. This also works well to drown gnats and aphids. If you have a bad aphid problem set out yellow plastic tubs, like butter tubs, filled with water. Aphids are attracted to the color yellow. This will get the flying form and for those stuck on your plant your best bet for organic control is to just squash them with your fingers. Wear garden gloves if you are squeamish like me ; )

The one draw back to the bug drowning thing is that it can smell really bad after a while, so just empty the cups frequently. One thing that works well is to use a double cup (one cup inside the other) so that you dont disturb the soil each time you have to empty the top cup.

As far as the hail update goes, the garden seems to be completely recovered. The spinach and lettuce may be a little tattered looking, but I usually harvest the leaves from the outside of each plant, and new leaves are still emerging in the centers that look great, so soon all evidence of the hail damage will be gone.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Tree Seedlings and Wood Chips

Today I tackled a long put off chore - digging up tree seedlings. Should have pulled them when they were little, of course, but it's not too bad if you use a sharp spade right at the base of the seedling. A sharp kick cuts them off below the soil line. All our trees are prolific seeders - pecans, oaks, hackberries and chinese pistachios. Hackberries are the worst about sprouting everywhere, but the birds like them so I do too. Come to think of it, that's why they sprout everywhere!

Its very humid, 80 degrees and not a breath of a breeze today! Everyone has to move two wheelbarrow loads of woodchips today. So far I am the only one to have done it. The woodchips are a blessing, but it's a lot of work moving them by hand out of the alley. I wish we had a front end loader, but that would be a funny thing to have parked in the driveway the rest of the year!

The garden seems OK after the hail storm. Even the lettuce isn't completely ruined. The pill bugs are still prolific, but they have not devoured the lettuce like I thought they would. My usual method to deal with pill bugs is to sink small plastic drinking cups down in the soil with the tops just at soil level. I fill them with water and the bugs fall in and drown. This usually works really well, but it is so wet and humid out side right now that the bugs are ignoring the water. It will work better as it gets dryer.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Sunday Hat - Crocheted

I tried out this crocheted hat pattern for a Sunday hat last night and liked it. It was super easy and only took a couple of hours while I was watching "The Old Curiosity Shop" on PBS. I am going to get some brown tweed colored yarn and make it again. The girls and I are all excited about having our hats and "trimming" them with ribbons just like the Bennett girls did in Pride and Prejudice. I tired to make a clickable picture on my Recycled Clothing blog to get to the pattern which I found online, but it wouldn't work for some reason. The error message said it needed to be a link to a blog post. Since I want to give proper credit I will say instead, go to www.geocities.com/Wellesley/7934/flpyhat.html for the pattern from Beverly Casey.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


Saturday afternoon we had the worst hail storm I  have ever been in. It was as if someone was dumping buckets of quarter sized hail down on top of our house mixed with pouring rain. All that white you see floating on the water is hail. I told the girls to stay away from the windows, but I stood at the back door and took these pictures. The noise and fury was deafening, and I wish I had gotten some video. 

The water is several inches thick swirling past the back step and full of hail. We got over 2 inches of rain in a few minutes. The rain gauge filled up at that point and I have no idea how much rain we got that day, as it rained two more times pouring down - probably 4 inches of rain in one day.

This is how thick the hail was in the yard. Its about quarter sized and full of shredded leaves.

Shredded pomegranate flowers and leaves.

More shredded leaves.

The garden was flooded, and the spinach and lettuce plants were completely smashed. I think the spinach might recover, maybe I should just cut what's left and freeze it even though it is completely full of grass and dirt and will be hard to clean, but the lettuce is already full of handfuls of pill bugs ( I hate pill bugs! Uggg, can you picture handfuls and handfuls of them huddling under the smashed lettuce? I swear they are giant!) The carrots look OK. The onions have a lot of torn leaves, but will probably recover. Ditto for the broccoli. The tomatoes have torn off leaves, and the few fruits that have already set have holes smashed in them, but the plants I think will be OK. All my beans, squash, and cucumbers had sprouted just the day before, but so far they look OK! A few baby peaches were knocked off the peach tree - well I have to thin them eventually! The tree bark looks a little worse for wear, so I hope the tree will be OK.

I am thankful that it wasn't any worse and that things will recover. Fully opened Irises were shredded, but new ones have already bloomed today from unhurt buds!

Hey, the rain-barrels are full!    ; )

Friday, May 1, 2009

Things I want to do and Questions

Get some chickens (for the eggs.) How do I do that when I have two cats who like to catch birds? Will they bother the chickens? As long as I don’t have a rooster can I get away with it in the city? Do I want a chicken tractor, or a deep bedding system? Will the chickens stay in my yard?

Learn to make compost. My dad made great compost. I am terrible at it. I pile up big piles that don’t seem to decompose. I am determined to learn how to do this, and I also hope my husband will help me  ; )

Get a vacuum sealer (because I don’t like canning and I have a freezer.)

Get a steam canner. I may can anyway and this would be easier than a water bath canner.

The last two things would have to be justified, because Garry already thinks gardening is expensive.

More rain barrels.

Figure out how to use my front yard for vegetables and stuff without offending the neighborhood. One way may be to garden the way my grandmother did where flowers and vegetables were mixed together.