Archive for July, 2010

Garden Journal

Mary Beth: I finally finished the addition to my little waterfall pond. It was pretty easy and I’m pleased with the results. It sounds great — like a little babbling creek running through the garden. I took notes and pictures so I could show you how it was done.

Small Garden Pond with Waterfall

You’ll need:

  • Felt liner
  • Rubber liner
  • Water pump
  • River rocks
  • Pea gravel
  • Small pond kit

Home Depot sells the liners and pumps. They’ll cut the felt and the rubber to the size you need. They also sell pond kits.

  • Choose a site that will allow you to have one pond higher than the other.
  • Dig the holes for the upper and lower ponds to whatever shape and depth you like. If you’re adding water plants make sure you know the planting depth of each plant and dig the hole to the appropriate depth. And if you’re going to have fish, be sure you find out how deep they need the water to be to survive the winter.

  • Measure the dimensions of the holes so you’ll know how much felt and rubber liner you’ll need. Don’t forget to include the length and width of the waterfall. When I measured I added a little for wiggle room, about 3 feet extra of the rubber liner on all sides, just in case I measured wrong. (A common occurrence with me!) And it’s a good thing I did, because I had very little left over.
  • Next lay the felt liner in holes you’ve dug. Then put the rubber liner on top of that.

  • Cut pieces of felt and rubber to fit on the “waterfall” part and lay them down too. I should have added a few more inches up the sides of the waterfall because sometimes the rocks shift and water runs outside the liner which tends to drain the pond. You can use some of the rocks to hold things in place as you go.

  • Trim the extra rubber pond liner that extends beyond the rocks that surround the edges of the ponds.
  • Arrange the river rocks around the pond edges and up the sides of the waterfall.
  • Place the pump in the deepest part of the lower pond and snake the pump hose up to the top pond. Secure it in place it so it can fill up the top pond and not spray any water outside of it.
  • The water will up the small pond and flow over the edge and down to the waterfall into the lower pond, and then be pumped back up to the top pond again. The little top pond (it’s a plastic pond sold from a kit) is tipped slightly down towards the waterfall.

  • Place the stones for the waterfall in a kind of stair-step pattern. Getting the water flowing down the stones the way I wanted it to was the hardest part. You’ll have to play with it until it looks right. Of course it didn’t help that the raccoons would climb over the rocks during the night shifting them every which way!
  • Fill the ponds with water and check for leaks.
  • When I was sure that there were no leaks and I was happy the way the water was falling, I laid the rest of the river rocks around the edges and put the pea gravel in the pond and gaps of the waterfall. Important note! Make sure you rinse all of the rocks and pea gravel before you use them. I didn’t rinse them and all the dust from the stones covered everything in the pond. I had to drain the pond and clean it out.

Pond Maintenance:

Don’t forget to add water to your ponds periodically. You’ll lose some to evaporation and you’ll need to replace it so the pump won’t burn out from the water level falling too low.

You’ll also need to be sure that your pond doesn’t become a breeding place for mosquitos. I use Mosquito Dunks to eliminate mosquito larvae. I put them in the pond and then had a panic attack the next day because I hadn’t read the warnings to make sure they wouldn’t poison anything. Thankfully I found out they do not hurt bees or other insects drinking out of the pond. They are safe for fish and animals too.

Sometimes the water in your ponds can get cloudy. To prevent this I use  Barley Clear which I bought on Amazon.com. It’s a bit pricey, but you don’t need much so it should last for a while. For good measure I added a little EM-1.

The book I used for reference was Better Homes and Gardens New Complete Guide to Landscaping.

We love our little pond and so do the fox, raccoons, birds, bees, insects and other critters that visit during the night. Though the raccoons have been a pain in the ass — recently pulling the new water plants out — the novelty has worn off a bit for them and have been respectful of the pond lately.

Just a warning: animals will be drawn to the water, and therefore the rest of your garden, so you’ll have to take this into account. I’m diligent about spraying deer spray on all the garden plants and they have not so much as nibbled a plant. My biggest concern at this point is my tomatoes. When they start to ripen are the raccoons going to eat them?

Stayed tuned for the ongoing saga on those pesky masked demons!


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Tomato Daydreams

It’s tomato season! We’ve all been waiting for it, dreaming about it since the last of the sun-warmed tomatoes were enjoyed so many months ago. We’ve been carefully watching our lusty beauties in anticipation of this year’s harvest. But guess what? There are plenty of other creatures that have been eagerly awaiting this very same event. And more than likely, unless you camp out in the garden 24/7, they will get to your tomatoes before you do.

Is there anything more discouraging than taking your morning walk through the garden and finding half-eaten tomatoes trashed by some nocturnal thief? How can we protect the fruits of so many months’ labors?

The sad truth is that even if you employ all of the tips we’re about to impart, you will lose some of your harvest to pests big and small. So here’s hoping that you planted enough to share.

Tomato-saving Tips

  • Hot Pepper — Sprinkle hot pepper around your plants. On whiff of this will send the smaller fuzzies like squirrels and chipmunks scurrying away. Reapply after it rains.
  • Bloodmeal — We’re not so sure about this one. While bloodmeal may work to keep some animals away from your plants, it’s likely to attract others. Mary Beth found that it attracted skunks to her garden and it you’ve got dogs you know this is a BAD thing.
  • Cages — Creating a physical barrier is probably the only thing that will keep raccoons and birds away from your tomatoes. For birds, you can use netting, but be sure to anchor the netting to the ground. Some birds are smart enough to go under it. As for raccoons, you’ll need to build cages from chicken wire or hardware cloth. Don’t forget to close off the top of the cage and make sure the cage is a raccoon-arm’s length away from the fruit so the little devils can’t reach your tomatoes.
  • Shake Away — Some people swear by it, but we haven’t found it to be effective.
  • Water Scarecrow — This is a motion-activated water jet that squirts a powerful stream of water at garden intruders. We haven’t used this yet, but just you wait. Mary Beth’s tomatoes are ripening and the raccoons are gathering. I’m betting that we get a report its effectiveness shortly.

Which brings us to…

  • Mary Beth’s Back-up Plan — MB has sworn by all that’s holy that NO ONE is getting to her Black Krim tomatoes. She planted 4 containers this year — 2 Black Krims and 2 peppers. She plans to drag these suckers into the house every night until she’s had her fill. Now that’s hard-core!

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Garden Journal

Barbara: As I was making the rounds in my garden yesterday morning I found I was experiencing it in a very different way. The shift in perception was triggered by a single perfect rose on a plant that my daughter had given me for Mother’s Day some years ago. Brass Band is a lovely melon color with the most gorgeous fragrance — sweet and spicy, just like my Sarah.

This sense memory triggered many others as I walked through the yard. Over in the corner is the first California native I planted that prompted me to discover more about my state’s history, which then opened my eyes to a whole new way of seeing this amazing state, one that is more in tune with my sensibility and has made me appreciate where I live. This in turn has helped me to see opportunity where I thought none had existed.

In my atrium is a plant that I struggle to grow with very little success, but I keep planting tuberous begonias because my Grandfather, who was a terrific gardener, grew them and they are as much a comfort to me as my memory of him is.

Scattered under the trees are the descendants of a yellow cymbidium my Dad gave me. He and my Mom had stayed in Pacific Grove for a few weeks one winter. He missed his Block Island garden so much that he bought himself this one plant to tend and to keep him company while he was away. I inherited it when they returned to the East Coast. They too bring warm feelings whenever I see them.

Then there are the clusters of Mondo grass that my dear friend Carol insisted that I take. They languished in a dark corner for months before I planted them. Their lovely arching green blades make me smile as I pass by.

And so it goes. All throughout the garden the plants are also memories that recall good times and loved ones — the ones that are still with me and the ones that are gone but never forgotten.

What about you? Which plants are the memory keepers in your garden?

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Mary Beth: I just returned from the East Coast where I witnessed the destructive power of Japanese Beetles. They feed on everything in their paths, chewing up flowers, cratering fruit, and skeletonizing foliage of more than 500 species of plants. They’ve just started their ravenous attack on every plant in our Block Island garden, so I thought I’d do a few tips on what to do to control these horrible little buggers.

Japanese Beetles are a problem mostly on the East Coast. They were first detected in the United States in 1916 in a nursery near Riverton, New Jersey. This voracious pest has infested 22 states east of the Mississippi River and is spreading west (hitching rides on airplanes) with isolated infestations in California, Wisconsin and Oregon. The California Drug and Food Administration inspects planes for Japanese Beetles from May to June in their efforts to try to stop them from spreading further west where the California climate and abundant food supply would be perfect for them.

Japanese Beetles mating

Japanese Beetles mate soon after they emerge from the ground, laying their eggs in the soil. The eggs hatch in about two weeks at which point the grubs start feeding on nearby roots. It is during this period that the grubs cause the most damage to turf grass. The grubs feed all summer then burrow further down in the soil in the fall to overwinter and reemerge in the spring, feeding some more before pupating and turning into adult beetles. The adult beetles live about 30 – 50 days.

When you have Japanese Beetle grubs munching your turf roots the grass dies in big swaths that you can literally roll back like carpet. Crows are sometimes blamed for this damaged grass because they can be seen ripping up tufts to get to the grubs. They are actually helping to eliminate these pests. The grass has been long dead by the time they start looking for a tasty snack of plump white grubs, yum yum!

So what to do?

  • Handpicking is effective in smaller gardens. Carry a small bucket of soapy water and knock them off the plants into your bucket as you go along. The beetles are less active in the morning and the evening so it’s easier to pick them off plants then.
  • Japanese Beetle Traps — Studies have found that traps, which use a pheromone to lure the beetles, are very effective. In fact they are so effective that studies show that many of the 1000’s of beetles you will capture have come from neighboring gardens. (One step forward two steps back!) Be sure you place your traps away from your plants.
  • Spraying Milky Spore on your grass is an effective long-term control and although it will not help get rid of this year’s beetles, it will kill grubs over the next two to four years. Milky Spore (bacillus popillae) is a bacterium that is ingested by Japanese Beetle grubs. The spores germinate inside the grub and multiply, killing the grubs. Over time milky spore builds up in the turf and the process is repeated over a number of years.
  • Spraying with harmful chemicals is definitely not recommended. This treatment last only about 3 days and then you will have to re-spray for the next wave of beetles that are emerging, as they will continue to do for two more months. Spraying pesticides kills the good bugs (who were probably busy eating some other pesky bug) along with the bad, eventually sending something else out of whack in your garden. It also affects you, your pets, the bees that are pollinating your garden plants, and the birds that are helping to keep other bad bugs in check (birds don’t like to eat Japanese Beetles though). Worse still, it seeps toxic chemicals into the groundwater adding to the chemical load in our drinking water and in the food we eat.

There is hope for a future without Japanese Beetles. The folks at the University of California, Davis are working on developing a pheromone-degrading enzyme that could help control the beetles by interrupting their reproductive cycle. Interesting stuff — read more about it here. Let’s hope they succeed.

Rose damaged by Japanese Beetles

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