Grow Your Own Hops

Filed under: Gardening — Savvy Housekeeper at 7:36 am on Monday, June 9, 2014

Three years ago, a friend gave us two Cascade hops plants. Since we make our own beer, I put them in the ground to see what they would do.

Two years later, they were doing this:

Hop plants are a sticky, fast-growing vine. They produce papery flowers in late August, then die down and go dormant until spring.

Hop flowers, of course, are a major ingredient in beer.

The first two years we had the hops plant, they didn’t do much, just produced a few flowers before dying back down to the ground for the winter.

But last year, the vines grew about 10 feet and were loaded with flowers. I harvested two buckets worth of flowers, which I then de-stemmed and cleaned.

Since we couldn’t make beer with them right away, we vacuum sealed them in bags and popped them in the freezer.

I can’t wait to see what kind of beer Mr. Savvy makes with them.

How I Grow Lettuce

Filed under: Gardening — Savvy Housekeeper at 8:04 am on Thursday, June 5, 2014

For years, I had trouble growing lettuce. My California climate meant the lettuce tended to bolt–i.e. form flowers–before I had a chance to harvest it. Either that, or I just never got enough lettuce to justify the work of growing it.

However in the last few years, that all changed. I hit upon a system that allows me to eat lettuce deep into the summer. Here’s how I grow lettuce:

1. In early spring, I sow a mix of salad seeds in the ground.

I sprinkle the seeds liberally in a shallow trench, cover, and water thoroughly.

Currently, I’m using the Rocky Top Lettuce Mix Salad Blend. I like a mix of seeds because lettuce, like everything else in life, is enhanced by variety.

2. As the lettuce grows, I eat the lettuce I thin.

With daily watering, the lettuce quickly becomes big enough to thin. When it does, I begin to pull the small lettuce plants out, leaving the bigger ones in their place. I break off the dirty roots and collect the leaves. I usually end up with a salad’s worth of lettuce.

The lettuce remains very densely planted, but you know what? Lettuce seems to like being densely planted.

What you’re looking at here is a row of lettuce in my garden. As you can see, I plant the lettuce densely together so that they grow into each other. The plants are happy and shiny and delicious.

3. When the lettuce begins to form heads, I begin breaking off the outer leaves for the salad.

As I go along, there are fewer lettuce plants in the row, but they are bigger. Instead of pulling whole plants, I start pulling leaves from the outside of each plant, which are very tender because the plant is still young and in the ground. This stimulates the plant and makes it put energy into making more leaves into making flowers.

Every time I want a salad, I go out and collect a bowl full of lettuce.

4. To keep the lettuce from bolting, I cover it with a grate, like so.

Bolting means that the lettuce plant starts making flowers. For most lettuce, this makes the leaves taste bitter and nasty. To slow this process, I put a grate of wire over the plant. This lets light through but keeps the lettuce from getting too hot. (Alternately, you could just plant the lettuce in dappled sunlight.)

5. After a month or two, the strongest lettuce plants have formed heads, like you see in the grocery store.

That’s when I pluck the whole thing out and take it inside for dinner.

That’s my method. What’s your favorite kind of lettuce?

Growing A Wild Flower Lawn

Filed under: Gardening — Savvy Housekeeper at 7:37 am on Tuesday, June 3, 2014

As much as I like the idea of a clover lawn, there’s one idea that I like even better: replacing my lawn with a wild flower meadow.

According to HGTV, you can swap out your traditional lawn for a unique mini meadow, giving it a splash of color. From the site:

The simple way to create a meadow look is to allow your lawn to grow long and let the grass flower. To add extra color, plant wildflower plugs in groups within the grass, along with small bulbs. Plant in the fall after cutting the grass short. To keep fertility low, which will encourage wildflowers, do not use lawn fertilizers and always remove clippings so nutrients cannot re-enter the soil. It can take several years to establish a balance between grass and wildflowers.

And then your yard will look like a Monet painting?

Growing A Clover Lawn

Filed under: Gardening — Savvy Housekeeper at 7:39 am on Monday, June 2, 2014


[Small Things]

Up until 1940, clover lawns were common in the United States. In fact, the first gardening book in the US, published by Andrew Jackson Downing in 1841, said to “sow four bushels of it to the acre and not a pint less as you plan to walk on velvet!”

The clover lawn fell out of favor in the US with the advent of more weed-killing pesticides, which is a shame, if you ask me.

Our front yard is a patch of weeds right now, but next year I’m considering planting a clover lawn. I see them around town and always think they look charming and friendly in a way that your usual grass lawn do not. There are lots of advantages to a clover lawn. For example:

1. You don’t have to fertilize. In fact, clover are nitrogen affixing plants, meaning that they actually improve the quality of your soil over time by pulling it from the air and putting it into the soil.

2. You don’t have to mow. At full height, clover get about 4-8 inches tall and produces small white flowers. If you’re happy with that height, you don’t have to get out the mower anymore.

3. Clover attracts beneficial insects.
Bees in particular like clover.

4. Clover is drought tolerant. Once established, they take less watering than regular lawns.

5. A clover lawn looks cute and smells great.


[Urban Pollinators]

Do you have a clover lawn? What do you think?

Controlling Aphids

Filed under: Gardening — Savvy Housekeeper at 8:38 am on Wednesday, May 14, 2014


[Courtesy Luc Viatour]

Ugh.

Aphids come in many colors. I’ve seen them in green, gray, black, white, and red. Sometimes they have wings and sometimes they don’t. Despite their changing appearance, aphids always do the same thing: clump on the ends of your plants and slowly suck the life out of them.

I may be jinxing myself by writing this, but I have been gaining control of my aphid problem lately. My garden is changing over the years, and as it does, it is becoming more balanced and the aphids (knock on wood) are less of a problem. Here’s what worked for me:

1. Observe The Aphids. The first step of getting rid of any pest is to observe what is happening in the garden. Are the aphids there on their own or are they being put there by ants that want to feed on the sugary honeydew the aphids secrete? (Read more about the relationship between ants and aphids here.) Are the aphids attacking all the plants or just one kind of plant? How are they getting into the garden? Think of this step as information gathering. If you know what’s going on in the garden, it’s much easier to act.

2. Attract Beneficial Insects. Last year I talked about putting in plants that attract predatory insects in the garden. This really works. My garden is full of insects that were simply not there a few years ago–ladybugs, soldier beetles, predatory wasps, etc. This is the best way to control your aphids because the bugs do it for you. For example, this winter my fava beans had aphids. Before I could react, a bunch of soldier beetles descended and ate the aphids up for me. The downside is that is a slower control method–it took about a year to start seeing results–but you can jump start the process by buying ladybugs in the store and releasing them into your garden.

3. Kill Ants. Often the aphids aren’t really the problem, the ants are. If you have both aphids and ants streaming into your garden, the ants are probably putting the aphids on the plants. If that’s the case, you can remove the aphids all you want but the ants will just put more of them on your plants. Here is a post on how to kill outdoor ants.

4. Spray Aphids Off With Water. If the plant can handle it, spray the aphids off with the hose. Even assuming they could survive, aphids are not smart enough to regroup and go back on your plant. This works great for established plants, but won’t work for seedlings or more delicate plants that will bruise from the water.

5. Use A Gentle Insecticide Soap.
Finally, I preemptively spray areas that I know are vulnerable to aphids with insecticide soap. In particular, I always spray the new growth on my squash plants, which is apparently an aphid paradise. Use insecticide soap that says you can use “up to the day of harvest” and doesn’t harm bees. Or make your own.

That’s my method. How do you control aphids?

Five More Beneficial Insects

Filed under: Gardening — Savvy Housekeeper at 7:01 am on Monday, May 5, 2014

I’ve talked about beneficial insects as a means of pest control in the vegetable garden before. Without a doubt, getting natural predators to destroy pests for you is the easiest, cleanest, no-hassle way to have happy plants.

While attracting these insects is not hard, the first step is to learn to recognize them when you see them. So here are Five More Beneficial Insects to keep an eye out for in the garden:

1. Soldier Beetle. As I mentioned in my post on controlling aphids, last year I had an aphid infestation on my fava beans. I was out there every day spraying my plants with water, but there always seemed to be more aphids on the plants. Then suddenly, this swarm of bugs descended on my fava beans. They were soldier beetles, and like a protecting army, they ate all the aphids and then moved into the backyard and ate more aphids off some sow thistle I had allowed to grow up. I couldn’t believe how great these bugs were.

To attract to your yard, plant hydrangea, catnip, or goldenrod in your garden.

2. Tachinid Fly. There are many types of flies out there in the world besides the common house fly, and tachinid flies are some of the best for your garden. The adults lay eggs on pests like cutworms or earwigs, and the larvae then destroy the insect from the inside out. One female can lay up to 6,000 eggs. The adult flies are also pollinizers.

To attract to your garden, plant parsley, buckwheat, or lemon balm.

3. Black Ground Beetle. Talk about ubiquitous, these beetles are everywhere. They like to eat soft-bodied insects like caterpillars, snails, and slugs. Black Ground Beetles are nocturnal, meaning they are a defense to insects that do damage to your plants at night.

They like to live in decaying plant matter, so black ground beetles will probably show up in your mulch.

4. Braconid Wasps. I’m not going to lie, braconid wasps are disturbing little suckers. They are parasitoid wasps that lay dozens of white eggs on pests like the tomato hornworm, which then slowly suck the life out of the poor caterpillar. (Click here to see an image of what this looks like.) But they are extremely effective in the garden and get rid of many pests.

To attract, plant herbs like yarrow, coriander, fennel, or dill.

5. Spiders. Every year in late summer, my garden is suddenly full of spider webs. It is always tempting to remove them, but I usually let the webs stand, at least around tomatoes and other pest-attracting plants. Spiders will certainly eat anything that comes into its web–although that also includes other beneficial insects like honeybees.

To attract spiders, just let the webs stay put. I notice that one web is soon surrounded by several others; spiders must look to each other for good spots to build their homes.

For more on what plants to put in to attract specific beneficial insects, check out this site.

Predatory Insects In the Garden

Filed under: Gardening — Savvy Housekeeper at 7:15 am on Sunday, May 4, 2014

savvyhousekeeping good insects predatory bugs beneficial garden ladybug attracts yard
(Courtesy)

This year, I have noticed a dramatic increase of ladybugs in my garden. I figured this was because of the dramatic number of aphids–and it probably is–but it may also have something to do with the yarrow plant I put on the border of my yard. It seems to be bringing in new insects I haven’t seen before.

savvyhousekeeping good insects predatory bugs beneficial garden yarrow attracts yard
(Yarrow Flower courtesy of Bailie Byrne)

Or maybe the ecology of the garden is just getting more complex. I’m don’t know.

Lately I have been trying to identify the predatory insects, those beneficial bugs that eat the “bad” bugs like aphids. I am hoping that by bringing beneficial insects into the garden, the cycle of nature will get the aphids under control without me having to do anything.

Everyone knows that ladybugs eat aphids, as well as mites and other critters. But I have learned that their larva eats something like 10 times the numbers of bug than an adult ladybug does. Also, the larva looks nothing like a ladybug.

savvyhousekeeping good insects predatory bugs beneficial garden ladybug larva larvae attracts yard
(Courtesy)

It looks like an accordion crossed with an alligator. I have seen these in my garden too, but thought they were another bug. Apparently not, just baby ladybugs.

I also have been seeing this guy:

savvyhousekeeping good insects predatory bugs beneficial garden hoverfly attracts yard
(Courtesy)

I thought it was a wasp or a yellow jacket, but it is a hoverfly. Like the ladybug, their larvae eat aphids, as well as mealybugs, scale, and leafhoppers. Adult hoverflies feed on pollen and are attracted by bright flowers, like yarrow. They don’t have stingers, either.

savvyhousekeeping good insects predatory bugs beneficial garden pirate minute attracts yard
(Courtesy)

This is a Minute Pirate Bug. I think I have seen them around. It eats thrips, aphids, caterpillars, and spiders. So a bit of a mix there–spiders are cool–but anything that eats aphids is welcome in my garden.

savvyhousekeeping good insects predatory bugs beneficial garden big-eyed attracts yard
(Courtesy)

Here is a Big-Eyed Bug. Creepy but effective. It kills everything–whiteflies, aphids, mites, cabbage loopers, and bollworms, among them. I haven’t noticed them in my yard, but I am keeping my eyes open.

savvyhousekeeping good insects predatory bugs beneficial garden lacewing attracts yard
(Courtesy)

Finally, this is a lacewing. Its larvae eat aphids, mealeybugs, mites, and caterpillars. Here’s a picture of the lacewing larva:

Incidentally, there is one plant that is said to attract all of these beneficial insects: the Buckwheat plant. It attracts all the above insects, except the Big-eyed Bug, and you can make cereal out of it.

savvyhousekeeping good insects predatory bugs beneficial garden buckwheat attracts yard
(Courtesy)

Maybe I should plant some next to the yarrow.

Here is more on good and bad bugs in the garden.

How To Grow Peppers

Filed under: Gardening — Savvy Housekeeper at 7:59 am on Thursday, May 1, 2014


Green Jalapeños

One of the common questions I’m asked about my garden is how I get peppers to grow. I don’t think I am the pepper whisperer or anything, but I do usually get a lot of peppers.

A great thing about growing your own peppers is that you can have varieties you don’t see in the store. This year I’m growing chocolate and purple bell peppers, jalapeños, Anaheims, and a gorgeous cayenne pepper variety called Andy, which are sweet and spicy and turn bright red.


Andy Peppers

Another great thing about peppers: they are easy to store. Most spicy peppers dry easily, and all peppers freeze. If you live in a pepper-friendly climate, grow them. You will be glad you did.


Chocolate Bell Peppers

How To Grow Peppers:


Peppers are what I think of as a “greedy plant.”
Like tomatoes and squash, they like a lot of light, rich soil, and consistent watering. Give them these things and they will reward you considerably.

Choose full sunlight.
Peppers do not like it to be cold. They do best in at least 6 hours of sunlight.

Plant after the frost date. Pepper plants do not bounce back from frosts. I’ve found that even one frost will permanently sicken a pepper plant. In general, plant in the late spring, around the time you would put in tomatoes.

Peppers like good drainage.
The last thing you want is a pepper sitting in clay soil where its roots will stay soaking wet. If your soil isn’t the type that drains well, consider planting 2 or 3 peppers in a big (20-gallon-ish) container, where they will have room to stretch out, and where the water will drain better.

Mix fertilizer with the soil. When planting peppers, I add steer manure or compost to the soil for added richness and to help establish roots. I find this is all the fertilizer that peppers need.

Watering peppers is easy. Water every day, consistently, but don’t over water. At the height of summer, each pepper plant gets about 1/2 gallon water a day.

That’s it! It’s pretty simple: keep them warm, give them regular water, and make sure they have rich soil with good drainage. This formula should lead to a harvest of nice big peppers in late summer.

Optional companion planting tip:
I find that basil and peppers seem to need the same resources in terms of water, soil, and light, so planting them together makes sense.

Basil likes to bunk with tomato plants, too.

How To Get Rid Of Outdoor Ants

Filed under: Gardening — Savvy Housekeeper at 7:04 am on Wednesday, April 30, 2014

I always say I live on top of an anthill. Truly, the number of ants in my yard is amazing. They don’t invade my house, but they love to destroy my plants by colonizing them with aphids and scales. I’ve gotten pretty good at controlling aphids but the real problem was the ants putting the aphids on the plants, and I knew it. If I didn’t cut down the number of ants in my yard, this problem would keep coming back year after year.

And these ants were maddening. Unlike sugar ants, which will go to any ant bait and take it blithely back to the nest, these ants walked right past the commercial ant traps I put out. And no matter how many times I dumped boiling water on their anthills, there always seemed to be more of them.

Finally I did some research and discovered that they are Argentine Ants, an invasive species that can be found all over the United States, especially California where I live. They are sometimes called piss ants.

Unlike other species of ants, Argentine ants aren’t competitive. While other ants fight over territory, Argentine ants join forces and make huge colonies with multiple queens, forming what biologists call “supercolonies.”

So what do you know, I really WAS living on top of an anthill.

The multiple queens also explained why the boiling water didn’t work. Dumping the water on the hill may have killed off a number of ants, even the queen, but there were eight more to take her place.

The answer to my problem was Borax. This white powder is sold in most grocery stores and is a common ingredient in cleaners. One box costs about $5.

I used the following recipe and the ants were so excited about it that they stopped colonizing my Jerusalem artichoke with aphids and concentrated on taking the bait back to the nest instead. Soon enough they had all disappeared.

Since then I have used the recipe several other times to the same results.

And the best part is, while borax may be poisonous, this trap is set up so that your pets and other wildlife can’t get to it.


How To Get Rid Of Outdoor Ants:

Ingredients:

    3 parts sugar
    2 parts borax
    Enough water to loosen the solution


Directions:

When dealing with poison of any kind, always wear gloves.

In a pot, dissolve the sugar, borax, and water over medium heat until it turns to a paste. Carefully spoon the mixture into and old soda or beer can. This keeps animals out of the bait and protects it from rain.

Place the can in the ant stream and wait for them to notice it. Once they do, leave it alone and soon enough, the ants will be gone. (This can sometimes take awhile depending on the size of the colony. The first anthill I killed went at the bait for almost three weeks before they died out.)

To illustrate, here is a trap I set for a colony that recently appeared on my porch. The ants have been on it nonstop since I set it out:

As you can see, I accidentally squeezed the can and some of the baits spilled onto the bricks. Although that sped up the ant’s interest in the bait, I don’t recommend it because it encourages other animals to notice it as well.

To protect my cats, I put a plastic tub over the bait.

Now nothing can get at it, except the ants.

But not for long.

Trellising Tomato Plants

Filed under: Gardening — Savvy Housekeeper at 7:52 am on Monday, April 28, 2014


[The Garden Grows]

This year, I’m going to try trellising my tomatoes. After all, tomatoes are a vine, and it makes sense that they can be trellised like any other vine. The advantages of a trellis is:

* It looks neat and organized.
* It gives the tomato plenty of room to branch out.
* It’s easy to harvest the tomatoes.
* If the trellis is strong, it won’t be collapsing over like weaker cages do.

How to do it? I’m still researching, but these people have a nice strong trellis. I also think this one (pictured above) looks nice.

The key, it seems, is to make a strong trellis, preferably with wire. Tomato plants, if you plant them the right way, get huge and very heavy.

Have you ever trellised your tomato plants? Share your tips below.

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