Succulent Heart Trio

Heart made out of thousands of succulents at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show, 2015
Having a bunch of succulents on hand from various projects, I wanted to create something special for Valentine’s Day. Rooting succulents is easy and I wanted to make the rooting process attractive as well as productive.
Succulent cutting
Succulent cutting

Succulent cuttings simply involves cutting a 3″ terminal branch and removing the lower leaves. Leave them out for a few days to form a ‘callus’, a hard, dry, crust at the stem cut.  This will prevent the cuttings from rotting which can easily happen with succulents.

All these rooted cuttings will be made part of my spring containers.
Succulent container
Succulent container
A trio of succulent hearts
A trio of succulent hearts

I thought I would use hypertufa which is a lightweight stone-like material made from Portland cement, peat moss, and perlite. Read my post on a Hypertufa Party. But in the middle of winter, I didn’t want to get into a messy outdoor project so turned instead to Shapecrete. An easy to use clay-like material that you mix with water, I picked  up a tub at Home Depot. Simply mix with water, and shape into your preferred shape, and it hardens like concrete. Watch this video on how to use it. Another product that I use for lots of craft projects is Wonderflex, a plastic-like composite material used in theater, puppetry, and costume making. Easy to cut and shape, I use it for lots of things.

Shapecrete from Home Depot
Shapecrete from Home Depot
Variety of cuttings from my succulent plants
Variety of cuttings from my succulent plants

DIY Succulent Hearts

Step 1

Shape strips of plastic called Wonderflex (available on-line)into a heart shape and fasten with a clip on a cardboard covered table. Attach the Wonderflex to the cardboard with duct tape all around the inside of the heart.Shape strips of plastic into a heart shape

Duct tape attaches the heart to the cardboard
Duct tape attached the heart to the cardboard keeping the shapecrete from bleeding out

Step 2 

Mix up your shapecrete according to the directions on the tub and smear into the heart forming a lip around the perimeter about 1/2 inch high. Poke some drainage holes with a dowel in the bottom.

I mixed the shapecrete in a disposal container with a paint stirrer
I mixed the shapecrete in a disposable container with a paint stirrer
Smooth out the shapecrete and poke two drainage holes in the bottom
Smooth out the shapecrete and poke two drainage holes in the bottom

Step 3

Let dry for at least 48 hours and peel off the plastic
Let dry for at least 48 hours and peel off the plastic and duct tape

Step 4

Moisten some sphagnum moss and place in the bottom, inserting the succulent cuttings. Keep the cuttings moist, misting them every day and they will root in a couple of months.

Moist moss in the bottom
Moist moss in the bottom
Succulent heart finished
Finished Succulent heart

Step 5

I made three different sizes of hearts, ranging from 5″ wide up to 10″ wide. for a trio of hearts. Any shape will work though…..

Heart trio
Heart trio

For more projects with succulents, go to Deck the Halls-A Succulent Christmas and Pumpkin Treats-Decorating With Succulents.

 

A few of my cuttings I used in a succulent necklace
A few of my cuttings I used in a succulent necklace

Coffee Ground Science for Plants

If you start the day with a steaming hot cup of java, you’re not alone. Americans drink 700 million cups of coffee per day, and we create tons of coffee grounds in the process. Instead of throwing coffee grounds in the trash, why not put them to use in the garden? While there are plenty of uses for coffee grounds, they’re a secret weapon to help grow a beautiful garden. However, some of the advice you’ve read about using them may be wrong. Let’s dive into the research about the best (and worst) way to use coffee grounds to help plants grow.

I save all my coffee grounds
I save all my coffee grounds

Are coffee grounds good for plants?
Coffee grounds provide phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and copper to growing plants. Moreover, as grounds biodegrade they release nitrogen, a vital element essential for plant growth. (A cubic yard of coffee grounds contains 10.31 pounds of nitrogen, according to an analysis done by Sunset Magazine.)

However, many people misunderstand how to recycle coffee grounds in the garden. Some blogs and articles advise gardeners to work coffee grounds into garden soil to feed plants, but research suggests this practice may inhibit the growth of many plants.

In one study, coffee grounds were mixed with urban agricultural soil in different concentrations. Every concentration level decreased the growth of five plants: broccoli, leek, radish, viola, and sunflower. Coffee grounds have also inhibited the growth of Chinese mustard, geranium, and other plants.

London botanist James Wong conducted his own experiment by planting two identical gardens of tomatoes, lettuce, herbs, and flowers. He used coffee as fertilizer in one bed and the results were disastrous. “The crop yield and growth of pretty much everything in the coffee bed became noticeably worse within about two weeks of application,” he writes. “Plant growth slowed, some developed leaf yellowing, others defoliated and died.” It may be the caffeine or phytotoxins in coffee grounds that stunt plant growth.

Hydrangeas benefit from coffee grounds
Hydrangeas benefit from coffee grounds

But to confuse the matter, a few plants may get a boost from coffee grounds. Coffee grounds may aid the germination of sugar beet seeds and the growth of soybeans and cabbage, according to Linda Chalker-Scott, a certified Master Gardener and professor at Washington State University.

What’s a gardener to do with this conflicting information? Many horticulture experts advise against working coffee grounds directly into garden soil. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t use them. There are two effective ways to use spent coffee grounds to grow beautiful plants.

Click to Enlarge Image

Infographic

Perk Up a Compost Pile
Coffee grounds add nutrients to a compost pile. Moreover, they help a compost pile sustain the high temperatures needed to kill weed seeds and pathogens. Informal research conducted by the Oregon State University Extension Service suggests coffee grounds can keep compost temperatures between 135°F and 155°F for two weeks. That’s long enough to kill significant amounts of weed seeds and pathogens. Moreover, coffee grounds compost sustained more heat than animal manure in the trials.

Ready to transform coffee grounds into a nutritious soil amendment? It’s easy! (If you’ve never composted, choose a compost bin, and get started.) The basic concept of composting is to layer nitrogen-rich materials—including coffee grounds, grass clippings, and fruit and veggie scraps—with carbon-rich materials, such as dry leaves, straw, twigs, and sawdust.

Compost bins come in all sizes and shapes
Compost bins come in all sizes and shapes

Here’s how to:

Start a pile by laying a generous layer of carbon-rich materials on the bottom.
Add a thin layer of cooled coffee grounds on top. If desired, mix coffee grounds with other nitrogen-rich materials, such as fruit and veggie scraps or grass clippings.
Cover the nitrogen-rich layer with a generous layer of carbon-rich materials.
Repeat the process, aiming for a ratio of one part nitrogen-rich materials to three parts carbon-rich materials.
Repeat the process, aiming for a ratio of one part nitrogen-rich materials to three parts carbon-rich materials.
Coffee grounds should make up between 10 and 25 percent of the total volume of compost. Composting usually takes a few months, but it may take longer depending on the mix of materials, moisture content, and other factors. You’ll know it’s done when it’s dark brown and smells like earth. Work the finished compost into the top three to four inches of garden soil to add organic matter and nutrients, and improve the soil structure.

Benefits of composting
Benefits of composting

Mulch Acid-Loving Plants
Perhaps you’ve heard coffee grounds acidify soil for plants that prefer a low pH. It’s true; coffee grounds can be acidic, and many plants prefer acidic soil. Those include:

Azaleas
Blackberries
Blueberries
Camellias
Hydrangeas
Rhododendrons
Roses
Strawberries
Zinnias

Blueberries benefit from acid soil
Blueberries benefit from acid soil

There’s one problem though: It’s hard to know the pH of coffee grounds without testing them because acidity leeches out of coffee beans during the brewing process. In experiments, some spent coffee grounds are highly acidic, some are neutral, and some are even alkaline. Thus, coffee grounds may help acidify soil, but they won’t predictably do so.

Coffee grounds may offer other benefits though. As mentioned, they supply nitrogen and other nutrients to soil. Moreover, they may deter the growth of weeds. In one study, a mulch made of coffee grounds completely controlled weed growth around blueberry plants when used in combination with a weed mat (a barrier material that blocks weeds).

Bottom line? Experience is the best teacher in the garden. It won’t hurt to try using coffee grounds as a mulch around acid-loving plants, and it may benefit the plants. Follow these steps:

Apply mulch in the spring after the soil warms up, and then again in the fall.
Sprinkle a half inch or less of coffee grounds onto the top of the soil around the plants, keeping grounds away from the roots.
Cover the coffee grounds with a generous layer of dry leaves or bark mulch.
Drink Up!
The waste from your favorite morning beverage can help grow healthy plants in the garden. Be cautious about working coffee grounds directly into garden soil as a fertilizer. Instead, add them to a compost pile or use them as a mulch around acid-loving plants.

Shoveling out my rich compost and adding it to the garden
Shoveling out my rich compost and adding it to the garden

Floral Ice Bucket

Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate love, and what better way to do this than by having an intimate Valentine’s dinner at home. Create a space that smells delicious by grabbing some veggies from the garden and putting together your significant other’s favorite meal. Make your table look equally as beautiful with an elegant floral ice bucket made from fresh flower clippings from your yard.

Floral Ice Bucket

Floral ice buckets are the perfect statement piece that also doubles as a way to keep your favorite celebratory wine or champagne chilled. To help you create your own, here is a YouTube tutorial on how to make a floral/fruit ice bucket or you can follow directions below for a romantic one with red roses, from FTD. Follow simple steps and you’ll have a DIY centerpiece in no time!

Floral Ice Bucket
Floral Ice Bucket

DIY

Materials

  • Large plastic container
  • Smaller plastic container (that fits a champagne bottle)
  • Floral tape
  • Rocks
  • Flowers and greens (eucalyptus)
  • Filtered water(for clear ice)

Set out a large container with a container that will fit inside, leaving an inch or two around the perimeter. Gather roses and greens, or other flowers such as hydrangeas and carnations.

 

Fill the large container with two inches of filtered water. If you don’t have filtered water, boil it twice and use it when it is cool. This will clear out any impurities and it will be clear instead of cloudy. Put in freezer to freeze completely, about 24 hours.

 

Place smaller container in large container in the center and fill with rocks to weigh it down.

Create circular garlands of flowers to fit around the outside of the smaller container, holding them together with floral tape or wire. This keeps the florals from floating to the top.

Place the floral chains around the smaller container and fill the rest of the large container with filtered water. Situate the flower as you’d like them to freeze. If the flowers float up and you want them to be completely covered, push them down every few hours as the water freezes. I like some flowers sticking up around the rim for texture. Let it freeze for 24 hours.

Once the water is completely frozen, remove from the containers by running hot water over them. Keep the ice bucket in the freezer until you’re ready to display. When the time is right, place it on a plate (to catch any water) and add your favorite bottle of wine to chill.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

For more ideas and pictures, go to FTD. Images and story courtesy of FTD.

Wannabees Thinking About Honey Bees

A bee swarm is a thing of beauty
My honey bottles
My honey bottles

Ummmm…..that’s sooo good! I hear that phrase over and over when someone tastes my home-grown honey for the first time. Their face lights up and a look of delight transforms them when they dip their fingers into the sticky sunshine. Most people are used to the purchased plastic bear of generic clover honey (sometimes adulterated) available at the local grocery store. For me it was a taste of local honey which began my revelatory journey towards keeping bees over 20 years ago.

Pulling out a perfect frame of honey
Pulling out a perfect frame of honey

Attending a local beekeeping club classes set me on the right path, with loads of information on bee biology, choosing the right equipment, and lots of help setting up my first two hives. There are free on-line courses available and excellent books on the subject, but I found that personal hands-on help was the most valuable. For ‘Wannabees’ who have sat on the fence for years, and pored over glossy bee catalogs, my bee journey might help you take the first steps. But be warned, you have to order bees now, for the spring. Most bee suppliers are sold out of bees by early March.

You can order bees by mail
You can order bees by mail
One of my newly installed nucs last spring
One of my newly installed nucs last spring

Cost   

What does it cost to get into beekeeping? Costs can be steep the first year, as you are paying for equipment, plus your bees. But then it levels off. At a major retailer of bee equipment, you can pick up beginner kits for a complete setup for around $400 which includes tools, hive bodies, and equipment. That doesn’t include the most important part though – your bees. Bees could run you anywhere from $130 to $200 per colony, depending upon colony size. So, we are talking about $500 per hive and I suggest that you start with two. You are more flexible with two (a stronger one could help a weaker one) and you won’t be devastated if one doesn’t make it through the winter. The total cost just doubled but the advantage it gives you the first year is worth it.

I recommend that you start with at least 2 hives
I recommend that you start with at least 2 hives; the tall one has supers on top for excess honey; the shorter one isn’t as strong

Factor in buying large amounts of granulated sugar to make up sugar syrup for feeding. When floral nectar is in short supply or unavailable, like early spring or late fall, bees draw on their honey stores in the hive. During these times, it is important to feed your colonies because when stored honey in the hive is gone, the colony will starve.

Time

I use entrance feeders
Entrance feeders full of sugar water

Your first spring of beekeeping will suck up the most time. Everything is new, you panic over nothing, and you are driven to open your colonies a little too frequently. You will be installing new packages of bees, hovering worriedly over your new babies, and feeding them sugar syrup every day to get them going. See my post on Installing Packages or Nucs of Bees or Honeybee Nuc 101.

Beeswax that I have poured into molds
Beeswax that I have poured into molds; Go to my post on Beeswax Sachets

Leveling off in the summer, your time is more likely to be spent observing and peeking into your hives, and adding extra boxes as the colony grows. If you are using disease medications (I do it organically), you are spending time applying chemical controls.

Inspecting an open beehive
Inspecting an open beehive

Extraction of your long-awaited honey surplus will take a full day in the late summer. It involves removing bees and boxes, uncapping honey from frames, spinning the honey out, and the most time consuming of all-cleanup of a sticky mess. See my post on Spinning Honey  or Beeswax-Honeybee Gift.

 

Straining raw honey
Straining raw honey

A few hours is involved in Fall and Winter, wrapping your hives for winter, and feeding more sugar syrup. I am using a new product for wrapping called, Bee Cozy which streamlines the winter process greatly. Over the entire year of beekeeping, I estimate that I spend at least 30 – 40 hours tending to them.

Bee Cosy on hive
I love using the Bee Cozy, which is insulated,  in the winter
Setting up hives in the spring
Setting up hives in the spring

The wonder of the symbiotic relationship of flowers, bees, and nature continue to fascinate me and make it worth my time. When my bees visit my year round greenhouse in Maryland on a mild winter day, I am amazed! Amazed that they can zoom in on one orange tree that is blossoming from several thousand feet away in the dead of winter. And the unexpected events that happen (like swarming) causes me to marvel at honeybee behavior and never get bored with it.

A bee swarm is a thing of beauty
A bee swarm is a thing of beauty

My bee journey took me other places too-like becoming interested in all pollinators and how our native pollinators as well as the imported honey bee are in decline and need our assistance to survive. I learned what plants were beneficial to pollinators and established a meadow around my bee hives to supplement their foraging diet. See my post Grow These For the Bees Garden Plan.A meadow surrounds my beehives

I still love opening my bee hives -thrilling to the sight of their collected honey full of nectar and pollen foraged from close by. Smearing honey on my toast in the morning has given me a new appreciation for all their hard work; To produce 1 pound of honey, 2 million flowers must be visited. I savor the flavor!

After extracting, the hives go crazy
After extracting, the hives go crazy

So, if you are still thinking about it after reading about the cost and time, look up your local beekeeping club and get started!

Extreme Weather Strategies for Birds

Birds at my triple tube feeder
Cardinals cluster on a snowy day

Birds have many strategies to survive without our help but as a concerned birder, I like to think that my feeding them nutritious food tips the balance in their favor during extreme weather.  Mortality during extremely cold weather is much greater for birds and it has been proven that bird survival improves with ready access to backyard feeders.

Hawks prey on birds at feeders

Predation of birds will occur at your feeders and is the way nature happens. Hawks and other prey birds have to kill and eat one to three other birds or rodents a day to survive. Your best strategy is to provide cover such as hedges or shrubs near your feeders so that feeding birds have somewhere to shelter if a hawk comes hunting.

Sometimes you just see a streak plunging through the sky when a hawk appears and all the songbirds scatter for cover. Flocks of crows will also descend on my feeders and empty them out. If I see them I let my dogs out to chase them away. The same for squirrels…. I don’t mind squirrels raiding the feeders once in a while and my dogs make sure they keep their visits to a minimum.

Cardinals are regular visitors

Top Three Strategies

Shelter

Evergreen trees provide the best place for a roosting bird to hide from predators. An alternative to planting coniferous trees is building a brush pile of repurposed branches and debris from your yard.  Gather branches, moss, and other yard debris pile them up in a sheltered corner. Birds like to hide and settle in these brushy havens.  I have a meadow with towering spent goldenrod and other wildflowers that over the course of the winter tends to flop over and create hidden pockets for animals to find sanctuary in.

Thickets of goldenrod in my meadow create pockets for birds to take shelter 

Re-purpose your old Christmas tree as an instant shelter. Put up old plywood sheets as a windbreak. Keep up old birdhouses/nesting boxes over the winter which allows birds a safe haven from weather also. Empty the old nesting materials and place old cotton, scraps of fabric and yarn into the cavity.

I have reused an old planter as a smorgasbord with pine cones smeared with peanut butter, wool for nests, and millet branches
I have reused an old planter as a smorgasbord with pine cones smeared with peanut butter, wool for nests, broom seeds, and millet branches

Placing your feeders close to shelter, evergreen and deciduous, allows birds to perch and zoom in on the feeder when it is safe.

A fluffed up Bluebird is perching in a nearby tree close to my feeders

Birds in extreme cold puff up their feathers in order to trap more air in them, which is then warmed by their body heat and keeps them warmer.

Fluffy Cardinal perched in a tree overhanging my feeder

Fresh Water

Birds more than any other time of year need fresh water in the winter. It is a precious commodity and if you provide it, birds will take advantage. The cheapest way is to buy a heated dog bowl. Simple but effective.

My pond is almost frozen but the waterfall is still running and I find birds hopping in the running water.

The birds can still access water in my waterfall

I also have a pond de-icer to keep a ring of water free around the unit. An alternative is to buy a bird bath heater to keep the ice away in your bird bath. Even if you put out a bowl of water, in this weather, the water freezes very quickly, and a heater is a must have.

Place a rock in your bird bath for birds to perch on

Set the Table with High Fat Food

If done right, feeding birds can be very beneficial, both for the bird and bird watching friends. Make sure your seed is high and dry. A hopper or tube feeder keeps the food dry and free flowing. I use a high capacity triple tube feeder to lessen my trips to fill it up. Peanut feeders, suet feeders, and platform feeders are all options to increase your odds of attracting the largest variety. Think fatty things! After cutting fat off of a chuck steak, I placed the chunks on a platform feeder and it was gone in a few days. Meat scraps, meal worms, peanuts, suet, and peanut butter are all healthy options for a high fat diet.

Homemade suet- see my recipe below

Also, don’t forget to have clean, bleached (one part bleach to nine parts water) bird feeders ready to go when your old ones get all soggy from precipitation. Scatter seed at the edge of woods, under hedges, and in brambles to encourage shy birds to eat, especially in snow covered areas.  Some birds won’t venture to feeders and compete with others.

High fat smorgasbord- meal worms, sunflower seeds, beef fat, and sunflower seeds
A starling on a suet cage
Woodpeckers use their long pointed beaks to dig out suet

Suet is easy to prepare and you can add lots of types of seeds and berries to improve over bought varieties.

Suet Recipe

Peanut Butter Bird Suet

This makes a simple high fat suet cake that you cut up to make any size or shape. I use lard or beef suet for the fat. Lard is easier to find. I also throw in many additions like raisins, sunflower seeds, nuts, etc.   

Ingredients

  • 2 C Crunchy Peanut Butter
  • 2 C Lard or Beef Fat
  • 4 C Oatmeal
  • 4 C Corn Meal
  • 2 C Flour, white of whole wheat
  • 2/3 C Sugar, brown or white

Instructions

  1. Melt lard and peanut butter in a dutch oven. 

  2. Stir in the remaining ingredients. The mixture will be very stiff. 
  3. Spoon into a 9 x13 glass casserole or disposable aluminum pan and spread flat. When hard, cut into squares and you can store any excess in the freezer.
Suet supplies
Melt suet and peanut butter in a large saucepan
Stir in dry ingredients
Spread mixture in pan to harden completely
Put in refrigerator to harden completely and cut into chunks; I added raisins to this batch

These strategies don’t cost you much but on those nights when the wind blows icy cold and the snow swirls around, our feathered friends will be puffed up and cozy in the shelters that we provided, well-nourished and hydrated. To read more about Bird Buffets go to my post Berry Bird Buffet.

Dueling birds

Microgreens: Health Benefits and How to Grow

Have you ever been served a dish in a restaurant which was garnished with colorful and vibrant  greens? Most likely these were microgreens, know for their visual appeal, and crunch. Though minuscule in size, they are concentrated with nutrients. Studies have shown that micro greens are loaded with good stuff, such as vitamins C, E, and K, lutein, and beta-carotene- many times more than the mature leaves of the plant.

Flavorful and providing a textural contrast to a dish like a soup or slab of fish, a few microgreens can go a long way.

Pea shoots garnishing a tortilla
Pea shoots garnishing a tortilla

Not to be confused with sprouts- germinated seeds that are eaten whole-a microgreen is an immature green that is harvested with scissors when the plants are about two inches tall. The stem, cotyledons (or seed leaves) and first set of true leaves are all edible. You are essentially eating seedlings! And the variety of seedlings include herbs and flowers, and vegetables. Most popular are sunflowers, radishes, peas, arugula, basil, beets, kale, and cilantro.

Countertop Gardening

Sunflower, peas, and mixed salad greens
Sunflower, peas, and mixed salad greens ready to be harvested

Pricey to buy in a grocery store and hard to find, microgreens are a snap to grow quickly in a small amount of space. Gather your supplies and you could have a variety of greens growing within a half hour of starting. The harvest time is a mere one to two weeks.

Botanical Interests seed company has an array of different microgreens available
Botanical Interests seed company has an array of different microgreens available

I use Botanical Interests seeds because they are organic and  have a wide variety of heirloom varieties.

The easiest method to grow microgreens is using a soilless method with jute pads. Soilless means no splashing up of soil to spatter the newly emerged sprouts and I prefer this way of starting to others now.

No fertilizer is needed for these quick growers; it is all included in the seed package.

Green Ease jute pads are perfect for microgreens
Green Ease jute pads are perfect for microgreens
Use two flats that fit together, one perforated for drainage, the bottom one solid
Use two flats that fit together, the top one perforated for drainage, the bottom one solid
Saturated jute pad ready to be planted with microgreens
Saturated jute pad ready to be planted with microgreens

You need two seed flats, one perforated for the top and a solid one to hold water on the bottom. Nest these together and place the pre-cut jute pad inside and fill the trays with a half-inch of water. After an hour or two, the jute pad should be saturated and you can dump out the excess water and you are ready to sow your microgreen seeds. Sprinkle them thickly on the top of the jute pad-you don’t need to cover or press them in-just sprinkle. Then spray with a mister to moisten everything and place a clear plastic cover on top to hold in moisture. That’s it! And you will be harvesting in less than a week.

After sprinkling your seeds in, mist them
After sprinkling your seeds in, mist them; I planted three varieties in each tray

To speed up the process, I placed my flats on top of seed heating mats.

Heating pads are just coils that heat up encased in plastic
Heating pads are just heat coils that are encased in heavy plastic

Place the clear plastic lid on top and place on top of a heating mat

Heat mats are wonderful tools for seed starting and inexpensive. I have two of them and they are in constant use in January and February. Bottom heat will jump start your seedlings even in your warm house. Seeds actually germinate quicker and healthier when supplied with warm soil or substrate (jute)—obtained through a bottom heat source. For seed germination, ideal temperatures should range from 65 to 80˚F. You could actually duplicate these conditions by placing on top of a radiator or furnace, but watch out that the soil doesn’t dry out too quickly.

In less than 24 hours, the seeds had sprouted
In less than 24 hours, the seeds had sprouted on the jute
Plant the seeds pretty thickly so the sprouts support themselves
Plant the seeds pretty thickly so the sprouts support themselves

After the microgreens have germinated, I place the trays under a four foot all-season shop light suspended by a PVC frame that is easy to put together. For about $47, you can cut up PVC to make a quick hanging frame that will suspend your light over your seedlings-much superior to natural light on a windowsill.

My PVC set up with a grow light
My PVC set up with a grow light; the trays should be a few inches from the light

Root Pouches

Another option are root pouches which are perfect for use in growing microgreens.  The Designer Line of Root pouches are made out of porous material that allows the plants to breath, and the containers come in three colors: Navy Blue, Forest Green and Heather Grey. For my microgreens, I used the Joey size at 5″ in diameter and 3″ high.

Root pouches planted, labeled,  and ready to go

Studies have shown that using grow bags made out of recycled materials, produce healthy, strong fibrous root systems on plants. Breathable material, the Root Pouch company says on its website: “Root Pouch is a family run business that turns discarded plastic bottles into a versatile, geotextitle material. The Root Pouch fabric planting container keeps plants healthy by letting excess water drain and allowing roots to breathe and grow.” Allowing air to pass through the pot, it promotes a healthy root system.

Pea tendrils ready to harvest

How to Plant

  • Fill pouch or container about 2/3 full of potting medium
  • Press your seeds ( I get mine from Botanical Interests) into top of potting medium
  • Sprinkle top with a light covering of soil
  • Firm soil with fingers, and mist with a light spray until saturated
  • Place in a warm place (heating mat) in indirect light
  • Shoots will sprout within a few days
Pea seeds don’t even have to be covered with soil-these are started in milk cartons

Harvesting

Working carefully, taking care not to crush or bruise your tender seedlings, cut the shoots right above the soil or substrate line. Begin cleaning the sprouts by laying a damp paper towel on a tray and placing it near the sink. Give tiny clumps of seedlings a dip in cool (not icy) water, and lay out onto the paper towel.

You can start them in greens containers from the grocery store

Store greens between the paper towels and place in a ziploc plastic bag in the refrigerator. They will last about a week wrapped up this way. Garnish your meals with these high nutrient-packed greens to add more vitamins to your diet.

Pea tendrils freshly washed

 

 

Scented Beeswax Sachets

Scented Beeswax Sachets

Winter is the time that I make use of all my beeswax that I have collected from the hives in the summer. I have melted and cleaned it right after harvesting in August and it is ready to be made into something creative and useful. To see how I clean the raw beeswax, go to Beeswax-Honeybee Gift.

Scented Beeswax Sachets
Scented Beeswax Sachets

If you don’t have access to beeswax, use plain old paraffin white wax instead.

Beeswax from my hives
Beeswax from my hives

Sorting through all my Christmas stuff and putting it away, I noticed my cookie cutters still out, so decided to use these as my inspiration. I even had a bee skep shaped one!

Beeswax poured into a bee skep cookie cutter
Beeswax poured into a bee skep cookie cutter

The best way to melt your beeswax is in a dedicated crock pot – one that I have used for years for just this purpose. If you don’t have this luxury, use an old tin can inside of a saucepan of water on your stove top. I had about 4 lbs of beeswax to work with and ultimately only used about half of that for nine sachets. I added 2 tablespoons of lavender oil to the wax for fragrance. Use more if you want the scent to last and linger. Great as a small gift for someone, these didn’t cost me a penny, as I already had all the supplies.

I used old pressed flowers and lavender essential oil
I used old pressed flowers and lavender essential oil
Old crock pot for melting beeswax
Old crock pot for melting beeswax

Directions for Beeswax Sachets
1. Set out your cookie cutters on parchment paper on a cookie sheet. You can also use small pastry molds instead of cookie cutters.

Cookie cutters on parchment paper with dried flowers in bottom
Cookie cutters on parchment paper with dried flowers in bottom

2. Add pieces of fragrant dried flowers to the bottom of your cutters to add color and fragrance. Mine was pressed flat in my dried flower press over the summer. Or you can use crumbled pieces of dried flowers from an old flower arrangement.

3. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of essential oil (I used lavender) to the melted wax and swirl in. Don’t skimp on the fragrance to make sure it lasts.

4. Spoon melted wax, using an old plastic measuring cup, into the cookie cutters on parchment paper, letting the first layer of wax solidify before adding more. Wax will bleed out from the edges of the cutters onto the parchment. That excess can be gathered up later and returned to your crock pot for reusing.

Spoon wax into the molds
Spoon wax into the molds

5. Pour another layer of wax into the molds and drop in more dried flower pieces. I made my sachets about 1/2 inch thick.

6. While still soft, insert some dowels into the top of the shapes for hangers or leave them whole.

Insert dowels for hangers
Insert dowels for hangers

7. Place in the freezer until hard for several hours. Remove the cutters when firm and cold.

Place molds in freezer to harden
Place molds in freezer to harden

8. Take out dowels and insert hangers ( I used raffia) if desired. The dowels can be tricky to remove, but I just continue to rock them back and forth in the hole until they release.

9. To clean any excess wax on the cookie cutters, boil them in water in a large pot.

The whole house was very fragrant when I made these and the smell lingers after hanging them in your closet or placing in drawers with linens or lingerie.

For more ideas on beeswax projects, go to Beeswax Citrus Soap, and Lavender Honey-Scented Body Butter.

Citrus beeswax soap
Citrus beeswax soap

 

Garden Trends and New Plants for 2019

January, right after Christmas, means MANTS (mid-atlantic nurseryman’s show), and I attend every year to see what is up and coming in the gardening world. New plants, new products, new trends, are the things that I look for in the upcoming year. It is the CES of gardening, not as exotic or techy as electronics, but still exciting and new, and way more interesting.

Discussing new products with one of the vendors, Organic Mechanics
Discussing new products with one of the vendors, Organic Mechanics

New Plants

My favorite item to look for are new plants, or new improved cultivars of old plants. I have written about ‘Party Pesto‘ a mildew resistant basil from Burpee Seeds before and found another resistant one called ‘Amazel’ from Proven Winners.

Downy mildew of basil is a destructive pathogen that develops on lower leaf surfaces, all but rendering what’s left as inedible.

'Amazel' is a new downy mildew resistant Basil
‘Amazel’ is a new downy mildew resistant basil

‘Amazel’ is a basil that is resistant to basil downy mildew, and because it doesn’t flower early in the season, produces more foliage in July and August than most plants. The plants grow 24 to 36 inches tall and 18 to 24 inches wide. This is on my list to plant this year as I love basil and have had unsightly crops for the past couple of years.

Basil downy mildew
Basil downy mildew

‘Rockin Fuschia’ annual Salvia from Proven Winners caught my eye right away with glossy dark green leaves, and profuse bright pink flower wands that covered the plant. Salvias are one of my favorite plants because of the non-stop blooming and deer resistant traits, but this one stopped me in my tracks. Stockier and more compact than the taller forms, this would be perfect in a container.

Salvia 'Rockin Fuschia'
Salvia ‘Rockin Fuschia’
Truffula Gomphrena
Truffula Gomphrena

Gomphrena  Truffula also caught my eye because these are long bloomers, dry well, and last a long time as a fresh cut.This a tough and durable airy annual. I have written about ‘Pink Zazzle’ Gomphrena, another gomphrena. which I love and is a great looking plant, but I have trouble keeping it alive as it needs dry conditions with perfect drainage.

'Pink Zazzle' Gomphrena
‘Pink Zazzle’ Gomphrena

I was ready for another Gomphrena with easier care. Truffula is a large multi-branched plant which mounds up and is literally covered with flowers and I hope this one fits the bill.

Another plant that appealed came from Terra Nova Nurseries, Artemisia Makana. A soft grey pillowy plant that you could sink into, Makana would be wonderful in mixed containers.

 Artemisia Makana from Terra Nova
Artemisia Makana from Terra Nova

NewGen Boxwood is high on my list of shrubs to try this year. Boxwood blight/leafminer resistant, attractive, and deer proof are all traits that I am looking for in my landscape design business. Introduced by Saunders Brothers who spent years developing it, NewGen will definitely  be on my list this spring.

Sandy’s Plants was introducing a new Arum ‘Pamela Harper’ with a beautifully patterned leaf. An under-used shade perennial that bears wonderful red berries in the fall, deer won’t browse on it. A great ground cover that will add beauty with foliage and berries, I will look for this one in the spring.

Sandy of Sandy's Plants in Virginia
Sandy of Sandy’s Plants in Virginia
Pamela Harper Arum

A New Invasive

The MD Department of Agriculture had a large display on the dreaded Spotted Lantern Fly which is moving south from Pennsylvania into Maryland. A scourge for crops, especially hops, grapes, and fruit trees, I have seen this insect in Pennsylvania and they are expected to hit us home in Maryland soon.

Spotted Lantern Fly
Spotted Lantern Fly

An invasive with no known predators and laying eggs in the host plant Tree of Heaven, another invasive, I am not looking forward to this onslaught. But it looks like the MD Dept of Agriculture is on top of it with tons of information to give out.

The spotted lantern fly is actually a beautiful insect
The spotted lantern fly is actually a beautiful insect

New Products

Root Pouch makes great seed starters
Root Pouch makes great seed starters

I have written about Root Pouches before and they continue to wow me. Great for Micro Greens which continue to be a huge health trend, these sustainable alternatives to plastic pots, are useful for many situations.

Root Pouches
Root Pouches

Hydroponics continues to be strong and I can see a Millennial having one of the new hydroponic carts on display in their apartment growing greens and herbs. No soil required is attractive, and growing a lot of edibles in a small space with no additional watering is the perfect solution for busy people. Fresh healthy greens at your fingertips all year round!

AutoCrops' hydroponic set up called LF-ONE
AutoCrops’ hydroponic set up called LF-ONE

Garden Trellis & Fence, Co. was a new vendor this year. They solve the problem of tall-growing plants and vines. The trellis system allows you to plant large plants in a smaller footprint using their easy put-together(no tools!) trellis system. How many times have you planted a tomato and it grows quickly to the top of the cage and then drapes over becoming this huge cumbersome plant? Supporting your tomato plants to grow up rather than out sold me on this hot dipped galvanized trellis system that won’t rust and can be left in place all year-long.

Garden trellis system
Garden trellis system

 

New Services

Best Bees
Best Bees

Have you always wanted honeybees on your property but were afraid of the upkeep and the work involved? Best Bees is for you! A company that installs and maintains beehives on residential or commercial properties, they will make sure you have honeybees that you can watch and enjoy the honey benefits but not lift a finger! Yes, it costs money, but if that is your dream, then you can use this company’s services.

You can even get a custom paint job on your hive to duplicate your house
You can even get a custom paint job on your hive to duplicate your house

Another unique service is Bower & Branch, an online service that delivers ordered plants to a local garden center for pick up. Trees, shrubs, perennials, ornamental grasses are available. Their plants on display were beautiful and you can get unusual things that a local garden center won’t carry. How many times have you lusted for a plant but it isn’t available locally? I can see the benefits of this right away. I need to try it!

Bower & Branch is an e-commerce solution for independent garden centers
Bower & Branch is an e-commerce solution for independent garden centers

The Year in Review-Top Garden Posts For 2018

 

It’s that time of year again, where I review my most viewed posts from all over the world and I was surprised at some of the posts that were at the top of the heap. The top ten countries that view my blog in descending order are the U.S. Canada, UK, Australia, India, Germany, France, South Africa, Brazil, and New Zealand. I am always amazed at this! India is near the top and reading my blog in great numbers? And Australia and New Zealand are reading too! That just goes to show you that gardening topics are a universal theme.

Gardening is a universal theme
Gardening is a universal theme

I have about 5,000 followers that receive regular emails when I post and my average viewings per day is around 250 to 300 readers. And for the year, I ran around 100,000 visits or page views.

For 2018, I gathered the most popular posts for the year, some of which are old and are continuously viewed from years ago, but others that are new. I work on some posts a year in advance. For instance, I am working on Christmas ones for next year. And I am working on a book with all new projects.

So, here are my top ten posts from 2018.

Top 10 

Planted container in an old bundt pan
Planted container in an old bundt pan

1-Containers With Pizzazz

This is a golden oldie. Container plantings are one of my favorite things to put together, not just in spring, but all year long. Most people do their containers in the spring and are done! But I am coming up with ideas all year long. And with the recent addition of a greenhouse in my backyard, I am going coming up with lots of new ideas. Seasonal, and non-traditional containers are my specialty.

Shade container
Shade container
Succulents planted in truck
Succulents planted in truck
An easy but dramatic shade container
An easy but dramatic shade container

2-Christmas at Winterthur

Dried flower tree at Winterthur
Dried flower tree at Winterthur, picture by Amy Sparwasser

Winterthur in Wilmington, Delaware, has a tradition going back to 1986, of decorating a large tree with dried flowers. And the dried flowers aren’t your grandmother’s musty dusty dried arrangements that dotted the home. These are air dried and silica gel dried (think of those little packets that come with new purchases) to retain their jewel like tones that almost seem fresh. I made my own miniature dried flower tree that I will post about next season in time for the Christmas season.

Miniature dried flower tree
Miniature dried flower tree

3-DIY Birdseed Ornaments

This one was a surprise. There are a lot of bird watchers out there and there must be some super hungry birds that are getting a smorgasbord of home made treats. Easy to put together for anyone, these make great gifts for your bird loving friends.

Bird seed ornaments come in all shapes and sizes
Bird seed ornaments come in all shapes and sizes
Great gifts for the bird lover on your list
Great gifts for the bird lover on your list

4-Taking Root: Delaware Botanic Garden’s Progress Report

Meadow at Delaware Botanic Gardens
Meadow at Delaware Botanic Garden at Pepper Creek, photo by Ruth Rogers Clausen

Put this garden on your radar. It is a world class garden taking shape in Dagsboro, Delaware- on my doorstep! Designed by world renowned Dutch designer, Piet Oudolf (think High Line!), it has been in the making for some years and is scheduled to open in 2019. The development of this garden has been written about on my blog and I will keep you posted as it opens to the public.

 

Left to right: Raymond J. Sandler, President of DBG, Piet Oudolf, and Sheryl Swed, Executive Director of DBG, photo by Ray Bojarski
Left to right: Raymond J. Sandler, President of DBG, Piet Oudolf, and Sheryl Swed, Executive Director of DBG, photo by Ray Bojarski
Brand new Greenhouses have been erected
Brand new Greenhouses have been erected

5-Decorating the White House 2018

Though I didn’t participate in decorating the White House in 2018, I have done it three times in the past and have lots of friends who sent me updates and pictures of the current decorations. Take a look!

Closeup of the Blue Room tree, Photo by Marci Lindsey
Closeup of the Blue Room tree, Photo by Marci Lindsey
Gingerbread House in 2018, Photo by Marci Lindsey
Gingerbread House in 2018, Photo by Marci Lindsey
My volunteer aprons from past years
My volunteer aprons from past years

6-“Hairy Balls” -A Different Kind of Milkweed

Monarch caterpillars cover the Balloon Plant or Hairy Balls  Milkweed

A plant oddity that takes people by surprise when they see it growing in my garden. Having grown it for years, I am tickled when people exclaim over it.  Easy to grow and attractive to Monarch caterpillars, this is a fixture in my garden.

Hairy Balls are fun to arrange with
Hairy Balls are fun to arrange with

7-Pesticide Free Nurseries and Seed Companies

There is a real interest and need for sourcing of pesticide free nurseries and seed companies. Posting this information brought in a lot of comments and appreciation from gardeners who strive to garden organically as much as possible.

8-Miniature Gardens-Whimsical Creations 

My love of creating miniature little worlds has been with me as long as I can remember. The Philadelphia Flower Show has some of the best examples around and I visit every spring for my inspiration. I like to change my miniature gardens with the season and decorate my home with them.Miniature garden seen at Philadelphia Flower Show

Miniature garden seen at Philadelphia Flower Show

A seasonal holiday miniature garden
A seasonal holiday miniature garden
Halloween miniature garden
Halloween miniature garden

9-From the Ground Up-Choosing the Right Ground Cover For Shade

As a landscape designer, I am frequently asked;  “What can I plant in shade under a tree?” Besides Pachysandra, Vinca, and Ivy, in this post I give you lots of plants you might not have thought of that work much better than the “big three”. There are so many perennials suitable for this hard to work with area, and this post give you information on what works.

At the Bloedel Reserve near Seattle
Brunnera variegata, a great ground cover for shady locations that deer won’t eat

10-Floating Beauties

Bowl arrangements are easy and great for entertaining
Bowl arrangements are easy to make and great for entertaining-this picture is from Chanticleer, in Wayne, PA

Bowl arrangements are for those who are too intimidated to arrange flowers. I started making these with leftovers after making a floral arrangement and sometimes like them better than the arrangement that I spent more time on. No mechanics are needed other than a wide open bowl and a few flowers and /or some foliage. Staged inside or outdoors, I have made these in the dead of winter with some odds and ends from my garden.

A winter arrangement with nandina and dried alliums
A winter arrangement with nandina, red twigs, and dried alliums

Comments about my posts are very much appreciated and I always read them and learn from them.

Thanks to all my readers out there, where ever you are, and have a great New Year!

Last Minute Christmas Centerpiece

Centerpiece with orange roses and satsumas

Centerpiece with orange roses and satsumas

I was having the family for dinner and want a sensational centerpiece for my table. Too busy all week with work and other chores, I was too pressed for time to do anything about it. But I found an old  bubble bowl that had been sitting in the basement from an old flower arrangement. I threw some fake snow in the bottom and placed a bottle brush tree and a Putz house ornament with some small glass balls. The finishing touch was battery-powered tiny lights. And I could have stopped there. That is absolutely all you have to do and it is awesome!

Bubble bowl with fake snow and putz house
Bubble bowl with fake snow, lights, and putz house

But to bring it up to another level, I added a fresh flower arrangement on top.

I added a little bit of floral clay to keep the tray from slipping

A metal saucer that I use for many arrangements was sitting around and it happened to fit exactly on top. I stuffed it with water-soaked oasis and went looking for fresh flowers. When I went to my local grocery store (Wegmans), and found some orange ruffled roses called Milva, I had to have them! Also there, I bought some Satsumas, which is a larger type of Mandarin/tangerine orange which is one of my favorites and is grown in the south-eastern US. Very sweet and juicy, this is the orange that you find in cans called mandarin oranges.  The mandarins still had the foliage attached so I knew they were fresh. A perfect pairing, oranges and the Milva Roses!

Satsuma mandarin orange
Satsuma mandarin orange
I had a dozen Milva Roses and cut the stems short and inserted them in the oasis
I had a dozen Milva Roses and cut the stems short and inserted them in the oasis

Gold was the next color that I wanted to use with this coppery orange rose and I found some glittery gold leaves from a local craft store that were sitting in my basement. I added a touch of purple using statice and some seeded Eucalyptus for texture, also some peach Alstromeria, and the arrangement was complete. An easy centerpiece that took about 20 minutes to create,  it looked like it took much longer. Adding some Satsumas and gold and silver orbs on my green plaid table runner completed the look. Not the typical red and green arrangement, but I love peach and orange.

Start filling in with seeded eucalyptus and purple statice
I filled in with seeded eucalyptus and purple statice and some peach Alstromeria
I added purple statice, purple statice, and seeded eucalyptus
Finish up with gold glittery leaves

 

Bubble bowl with putz house
Bubble bowl with putz house

At the last minute, I decided to add some variegated white pine from my yard to add some extra texture and I lit the lights and I was done! This should last about a week with regular watering of the oasis.

Merry Christmas!!

Centerpiece on table runner
Centerpiece on table runner