AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: Two quick ways to engage your preschooler in gardening DATE: 9:18 AM ----- BODY:
I took our nearly four-year-old daughter Z to a plant sale last weekend and she had a wonderful time. I noticed that we have a couple of unspoken rituals related to plant browsing.
We're working on a raised bed that we hope will be ready for fall planting that is situated next to her playhouse in our garden. Our plan is to let her control the planting of this bed - pick out what she wants to plant, tend to the plants, or just play in the dirt if she wants to.

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: While the family's away... DATE: 5:03 AM ----- BODY:
June has come and (almost) gone in a blur of activity. We were on vacation for a week, during which the strong sun and rain caused everything to shoot up out of the ground. My jaw dropped when we pulled into the driveway in the middle of the night and the headlights illuminated our quickly-growing squash plants. "They're HUGE!" It's fun to watch the yellow blossoms (which are tempting not to pick and eat, for anyone who's ever been lucky enough to have had them stuffed with ricotta cheese and basil, battered and fried) turn gradually into tiny pale fruits. We ended up with five plants; I'm not sure how many are pattypan and how many are zucchini, since a few were late-blooming seedlings that I had given up on and thrown away the labeled stakes.

The pepper plants are happy; there is one tiny red one and a bevy of tiny green ones waiting to ripen into red. I also mishandled the labeling of these, and since I purchased them from a couple of different places as well as starting some of my own, we really will have to be surprised when they're ready to harvest!

The greens are growing like gangbusters. I finally thinned the lettuce plants after taking this picture; it was less painful than I'd thought it would be, especially since the thinnings went straight into the colander to be washed and turned into dinner. The spinach is starting to bolt, which I know means I should harvest and freeze the whole crop before it turns bitter. I intend to do that within the next day or so, before we leave again for a week. Does anybody know whether I can plant more spinach, now? I might try it, since I have the seeds and the space.

A few nights ago when our cat Maia was curled up on my lap, I smelled something odd on her, and it took me a few minutes to place it. Finally I realized she'd been lying between the tomato plants for most of the afternoon while Rob and I planted a new bed. Hopefully, the squirrels took note!

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: Orioles and male behavior DATE: 8:11 AM ----- BODY:
One of the main advantages of an interesting and healthy yard (so I tell myself as I suffer) is that it attracts all sorts of beneficial and sometimes beautiful critters. It also attracts the malovelent and the ugly, too, but that's a well covered topic in gardening circles.

Several weeks ago, this fine fellow became quite interested in his reflection in our front window.

Worried that he would dent his beak or otherwise injure himself trying to get at that elusive mating competitor, I thought I'd put some objects on the sill to deter him. Evidently, I chose the wrong figure for the job, since he seemed even more arrested by them than by his own reflection.

I consider this second photo proof positive that the male of the species is inexpicably drawn to smurfalicious beer.

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: Forgetting the rules DATE: 3:16 AM ----- BODY:
Have you ever ignored your own gardening rules, even though you know they work?

I've long used a "wall of water" on my tomatoes every year through mid-July, when the weather around here finally breaks into dependable heat. But through some crazy combination of denial and optimism I took the things off my plants during a freaky-hot day in May (90, can you believe it?).

Then out of laziness I left them off all through the June Gloom, even though night temperatures dipped dangerously close to that tomato-leaf-curling zone of the mid-forties.

What brought on this destructive behavior?

So far I've been lucky - only a tiny bit of leaf curl on one tomato - but a windstorm a couple of weeks ago did blow over my brandywine. Luckily it's still short and didn't have far to blow.

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: Moose photos DATE: 8:40 PM ----- BODY:
Mox's moose post now has some amazing photos. Take a look.

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: Moose: Or, encounters with an Alaskan-scale garden pest DATE: 11:32 AM ----- BODY:
They come out at night. Big, voracious creatures intent on feasting in your garden. It's no story to scare small children, although they can be every Alaska gardener's nightmare: Moose.

Moose 1, Fern 0 - Unfortunately this fern has still not rebounded from the beheading it got in early May.

Moose need plenty to eat all year long. In fact, they need about 30-60 pounds of food a day. Willow and aspen trees are among their favorites. Tulips and lilacs are especially tasty treats. This season a yearling who has decided he likes our neck of the woods has taken out ferns and bergenia, and did a real number on a wild plum tree. "They'll eat anything!" says Marge, our neighbor and resident garden expert.

This tree was stripped of bark in April. It will most likely survive, but will be scarred for life!

When I first moved to Alaska, Marge advised me to remove the willow from my yard, as it's especially attractive to them. When I balked at the task, I was told it was easy: Just tie the trunk of the tree to my car and drive away, tree, roots and all! Now that's a true Alaskan solution for you!

For years Marge had observed a particular moose mama every spring as she'd bring her latest calf around to teach it what was good to eat up and down the street. Being a neighborhood of avid gardeners, there were plenty of delicacies to be had. "Eat this here," the mama seemed to say, and, "Now, eat this one here."

One day a calf was taught a new lesson - by Marge this time, who spied the munchers in her backyard. The mama moose had moved on, but Marge caught the calf in mid-bite. She yelled, "YOU PUT THAT PLANT DOWN!" The calf startled and its expression almost said, "Mom, you didn't tell me how to handle this one!"

The happy ending? Once the calf ran away, Marge successfully returned the plant to its home in the dirt.

Connie, another gardener in the 'hood, relates a similar story: "I was watching and tending a neighbor's small garden while she was away. I kept the little patch weeded and watered. Her only cabbage was getting big and beautiful and I knew she would be happy with it. The evening before she returned, a moose came and plucked that cabbage right out, roots and all. I forgot myself for a second and started running after the moose, making lots of noise. I got close enough to see the mosquitoes hovering over its hair; then I came to my senses and realized I was too close for comfort and better run the other direction!"

I haven't been gardening in Alaska long enough to have lost anything really precious - yet. This year I planted tulips for the first time in my life and they are coming up nicely. But every morning I venture out fully expecting that Mr. Yearling will have devoured them in the night, just before they can bloom. If it happens, I'll probably be disappointed. And I'll regret I didn't get the chance to teach him a lesson in the manner of Marge and Connie. The lesson I'd teach? "HEY YOU! Here's the dandelion patch. Now get busy!"

Mail carrier Terry Chase provided this photo of a mama and baby resting contentedly, no doubt after a nice forage.

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: A hedge on the ten-year plan DATE: 8:00 AM ----- BODY:
I used to hate hedges, kind of like some people hate golf or the color pink. I think it was subliminal reverse-classism on my part. I've since gotten over it, knock on wood). Then I saw Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control, which features a topiary artist (among other eccentrics), shown above. The film taught me to appreciate the fetishized neatness of an ornamental hedge. Especially in my garden, which is quite messy (plants flopping all around, grass hopping the barriers, slugs evident). In that environment, a neatly clipped hedge seems to say "See, I AM capable of control, I just choose not to wield that power."

Still from the film Fast, Cheap and Out of Control

What really hooked me was figuring out you don't have to stick to boxwoods - you can use flowering or berry-producing shrubs and create something interesting that is also beneficial to birds and insects. You can mix up varieties in the same hedge. The only constraint I've found is the plant needs to be small-leaved if it's going to look good sheared.

A 2 year old cutting!

But did you ever realize how expensive a hedge can be? I wanted mine to be made from native huckleberries. At 13 dollars a plant times 20 plants, that's 260 dollars! No way. Luckily, I found one of the closely related vacciniums already in my garden sprouts from cuttings. It's been a couple years since I took these cuttings and they're finally putting on some weight. Maybe in a decade I'll finally have my little hedge. And it won't cost me a dime!

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: Mystery mites DATE: 6:30 AM ----- BODY:
We're very proud of our silverleaf maple because it's a second-generation tree from one of our friends. He had an old pot of soil on his back porch, into which fell helicopter seeds from his trees, year after year, and he never bothered to pull the seedlings out. So when we moved into this house, we asked if we could have one. It's now a thriving eight-foot-tall tree.

I recently made the amazing discovery that the tree now produces enough shade to cover me, if I position myself just right and the sun cooperates. As I relaxed in the shade, I noticed a bunch of little red lumps, no more than 1/16" in diameter, on the tops of the leaves. I panicked and pulled most of them off (probably around 100) but I saved one so I could take a photo:

It's just above the center of the photo, a tiny red dot on the tip of a green leaf. I was guessing it was some kind of egg, laid there so the little bug would have something to eat when he emerged. But, after a little research, I discovered I was both right and wrong. Actually, it was the leaf reacting to a tiny mite who had laid its eggs there. And although the "galls," as the lumps are called, are not pretty, they are not harmful either. Thanks for the tip, Ohio State University! Isn't the Internet amazing?

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: Bargain buy turns spendy DATE: 6:20 AM ----- BODY:
This post could also be titled "You know you're old when..."

A few years ago I put in a flower bed around this large garden rock. Some of the white dianthus that came back this year were looking pretty sorry in their old spot, so I moved them to this up-front-and-center real estate where I'd previously had a nice show of violas. I mixed in some crimson salvia for contrast.

Tonight I was feeling good about myself, having gotten in most of the plants I'd purchased over the last couple of weeks. I even remembered to throw in a little peat here, a little organic matter there.

So in a moment of supreme but tired satisfaction, while checking out the dianthus/salvia combo to see how they were faring in the chilly weather, I notice this guy poking out of the ground off to the left of the rock:

Hmm, I think. Wonder how he got there? Obviously a bulb, but my experience with bulbs is minimal. Pretty sure they can't arrive by carrier pigeon. Also pretty sure my neighbors didn't plant a single bulb to surprise me. Looks different than my tulips, which are already sprouted up on the other side of my driveway.

Later, while excavating in the garage to find a garden tool that hasn't been used yet this year, I discover this:

Oh yeah, got these on sale along with the tulips last... fall...

And then it dawns, the lightbulb comes on, the "Oh, man!" groans come forth.

My mind shoots back to a rather cold day in October or November. Ten hyacinth bulbs in the package, but where to plant them? Wouldn't they look so nice rounding that rock?

Just one was far enough to the left to escape my vigorous soil prep for the dianthus/salvia. Not so proud now, realizing that last year's find... what was probably a $5 bag has now turned into a single $5 hyacinth. Gee, I hope it's lovely!

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: Five ways to use your rhubarb DATE: 10:30 AM ----- BODY:
A whole bag of delicious rhubarb stalks

When I was a little kid, I thought even the idea of rhubarb was gross. Eating the stalk of something - cooked! Eeeeww!

Now I love rhubarb. I have a massive bed of rhubarb that came with the house - according to my elderly neighbor, it has been a big nice plant since the 1930s or earlier. When we re-did the backyard a few years ago and the rhubarb was in a spot that we wanted to use for wildflowers, we had the landscaping guys driving the small backhoe dig the ancient rhubarb out. I carefully divvied up the massive plant into chunks and replanted it in a new spot. It came back, that year, better than ever. I think after over 70 years in one spot, it benefited from some fresh soils.

Having so much rhubarb means that you find good things to do with rhubarb. I made 72 jars of strawberry-rhubarb jam as wedding favors when I got married. That was fun, and years later people are still telling me it was delicious.

One of the beauties of rhubarb is that if you harvest it by cleanly pulling the stalks out at the base when the stalks are still thin and red, then it grows a second harvest that is almost as tasty. Double the fun! If you cut the stalks, or wait until the stalks are thick and light green all over, then it is too late to create a second harvest. The rhubarb will still be good, just not quite as delicious.

Strawberries on the left, rhubarb on the right

Rhubarb comes in a few varieties. My plant is a greenish-to-white-to-red stalked variety that grows giant quasi-tropical looking leaves and thick stalks. My senile shut-in neighbor has the most unbelievable variety of rhubarb that she lets me harvest so that it doesn't go to waste. This variety has an all beet-red stalk and it bleeds red sap onto everything. The stalks are thinner and shorter, and the leaves are more arrow shaped. If you ever buy rhubarb, or get some starts from a friend, try to get her kind! It is better in both color and flavor.

And now, in the spirit of excessive rhubarb harvests, five ways to use your rhubarb:

Rhubarb Raspberry Pie
Preheat oven to 450. Mix ingredients and pour into the unbaked crust. Bake at 450 for 10 minutes, then 350 for 40 minutes more. Let cool a little bit, and serve with ice cream for best results.

Rhubarb Creamy Custard Pie

Preheat oven to 350. Mix ingredients well with a whisk and pour into crust. Then add small amounts of rhubarb chunks, gently and evenly, until the uppermost rhubarb layer is about half submerged in the custard filling, and half is exposed. This is about two cups of rhubarb, but it really depends on the type of pie dish you are using.

Bake at 350 for roughly an hour. At 50 minutes, look at the pie. If the center has a matte finish (is not shiny) it is done. If not, check again every 10 minutes until that glossy look goes away. If it doesn't look done after 1 hour 15 minutes, take it out anyway to avoid scorching it.

Let cool completely if you can stand it - the texture it is much better cool then hot.

Rhubarb Muffins
Preheat oven to 400. Melt butter, then add milk, making sure mixture is mildly warm but not hot. Mix all dry ingredients in a separate bowl.

Beat eggs in a separate bowl until frothy. Pour in butter/milk mixture, then pour all of it into the large bowl with the dry ingredients.

Stir with a large spatula or wooden spoon until barely smooth. Less stirring is better - the mixture will be probably be slightly lumpy.

Add rhubarb chunks. Defrosting not required if frozen. Fold these in with a delicate hand to prevent the muffins from getting tough.

Muffins need 20-25 minutes at 400. If you bake it in a 8x8 buttered and floured loaf pan it will take 30 minutes and you won't need the little paper cups.

Rhubarb Strawberry Jam
Cover the rhubarb in a big bowl with 3 cups of sugar and let it sit out for 2 hours. Mix in the berries and the rest of the sugar. Heat in a big pot on low until the sugar completely dissolves and the mix gets watery looking. Turn the heat to high and boil the mixture until it is spattering and getting pretty darn hazardously hot and violent. Stir constantly. Then, pour into prepared jars (jar prep is very particular and you'll need to read the directions from a good canning resource). Boiling water process the jars for 10 to 15 minutes depending on altitude.

Yields roughly 80 ounces. Total time for this is 3 hours, actual jamming time is 45 minutes.

Rhubarb Storage


Wash stalks in hot soapy water, rinse with cold water, chop into 1/2 inch chunks, put ample amounts into freezer bags, and freeze. Then sometime in winter, bring it out and make something delicious and summery.

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: Divide and prune DATE: 11:30 AM ----- BODY:
The Secret Garden was one of my favorite books as a child. I especially love the scene where Mary discovers large green shoots beginning to poke out of the ground: she doesn't know a thing about plants, but she instinctively thinks they won't be able to breathe with all the other plants around, so she clears a space around them. Rob and I are certainly not experts, but we've learned how to trust our instincts while following conventional gardener's wisdom regarding pruning and dividing. Both can help ensure you will have more and bigger blooms.

Our old-fashioned climbing roses are taking over the side of the house. Rob plans to build a trellis for them later this month, which we hope will detract from the old, flaking, peeling shutters - or, alternately, add to their charm.

To prune these guys, wait until the blooms have faded and shriveled and the ground is covered with dry, crunchy petals. Then simply cut off the dead blooms along with the closest pair of leaves. It takes longer than lopping off the stalks to a uniform length, but over the years, we've found it is incredibly effective, encouraging many, many blooms. We'll often even get a second flowering out of them later in the season.

Dividing is one of the easiest things you can do to your plants, and we love it because we feel like we're getting free plants out of the deal! With many plants, you can simply dig out the clump, chop it in half and replant the halves. The timing has to be right, though, so do some research first.

We had some yellow irises along the side of the house which grew to about a foot tall. We liked them so much that we decided to divide them to see if they'd take over more territory. Since they bloomed in the spring, we divided them in the fall.

They don't grow down but rather across, as they're rhizomes (think of the clumps of ginger you see at the grocery store). It was easy to pry a huge clump out of the ground, and I didn't follow the precise instructions of cutting them with a sharp, sterile knife; I just broke them into pieces, each piece with a small bud attached. We replanted the pieces in three places, including their original home, and had 4 or 5 gallon-sized bags of leftovers, which we gave away to friends.

We weren't sure if they'd bloom the next year, but they did. And this year, they have surprised us by growing at least twice as tall. They love the extra breathing room!

The moral of the story is, check with the pros, but trust your instincts. Just like Mary.

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: Drip Irrigation for Home Gardeners, Part I: Getting Water DATE: 4:00 AM ----- BODY:
We recently completed the setup of a rainwater drip irrigation system for our garden, which feeds about 400 square feet of tomatoes, peppers, acorn squash, strawberries, sunflowers, herbs, and melon vines.

Several years back we bought a 1500-gallon cistern and placed it next to our house to catch runoff from the roof. Since that time we've had on-again, off-again problems with delivering water up the gentle grade to our garden, which sits in a small patch of pasture on the way to the road. This year I pulled out an old submersible pump and PVC assembly I had created several years back and had put away in disgust after having some problems with its functioning. Miraculously, it worked fine.

We also had a huge tangle of drip irrigation lines we originally used when we were gardening in a traditional row layout, before we switched over to raised beds. More on that in the follow-up to this post. Suffice it to say for today that the pressure from the 1/2-horsepower pump (or was it 1/4?) would have been too strong for the driplines, and either damaged the pump (backup pressure) or the lines (forcing too much water through them too fast). That was our theory, anyway. So we decided that we'd need to pump the water into something closer to the garden, and then gravity-feed it into the lines, with the pump off.

That's where our small stock of 55-gallon barrels came in - the same ones we used for our rain barrel. I discovered that the outlets at the top of the barrel had an inside thread that didn't go anywhere (walled off) and by drilling in carefully with a 1/2" bit I could turn the barrels' 4" lids into donuts that could have a hose screwed into it. After a bit of fiddling my father and I realized it would be more convenient to use a faucet instead of plugging the hose directly into it, as we'd have more options when the barrel was full of water.

We created a platform out of cinder blocks and the remains of some rough, handmade pine bookcases I had recently dismantled. The bookcases' sides have somewhat regularly-spaced strips of 4" board screwed to them which had held up the shelves, and almost seemed custom-designed for this project - they made great braces for the heavy barrels, which were already filled with water. More wood was used as a ramp to get them up in position.

One last bit of wisdom I lived to gain was that the top entry for each barrel, which I had cleverly drilled out to put a hose in, offered no way for air to get out of the barrel when it was being filled using that nice big pump. You can probably see the barrel swelling in this photograph. Luckily the barrel walls were very strong and Jenni noticed the issue before I burned out the pump motor. We now remove those top plugs completely and drop the hose into the barrel in order to fill it.

We really had no idea if 55 gallons of water was going to create enough pressure to drive water through our driplines, but it was. I'll describe and offer photographs of that system in my next post - basic drip systems are actually pretty easy to set up, offer your garden plants water at a rate they love, and can somewhat automate an otherwise labor-intensive garden task.

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: Potato barrel project DATE: 4:00 AM ----- BODY:
A few weekends back we finally got our pumpkin, cantelope and watermelon seeds in. We planted those seeds in a very steady rain on a Friday after work. It was actually kind of fun. The following day we got our potatoes planted - not in the ground but in our old half whiskey barrel.

I thought that it would be too difficult for the potato roots and such to make much headway against our native clays. I also think that the clay would hold too much moisture and cause any potatoes that formed to rot. My mom and nephew had grown potatoes successfully in a half bushel basket several years ago.

The theory behind this method is that the shoots you cover up essentially revert back to root status and the plant is forced to grow upward once again to find the sunlight it needs. By raising the soil level this way (in increments) the plant is able to continue growing without suffocation, at the same time creating a longer tap root than when planting directly into the ground. With the longer tap root many more lateral roots can develop and each lateral root can then produces potatoes (at 3-4 levels rather than the normal single layer). So, this method should solve a soil suitability issue and hopefully increase yield.

My mom said that the harvest was easy - just knock it over!

I looked around the internet and saw other ideas that were very similar. I was hoping to come up with an aboveground growing process that involved free or cheap materials. I asked about bushel baskets at our farmer's market and was told that they are hard to come by and they wouldn't sell me any. I saw that you could use old tires - set one down and fill with soil and the seed potatoes and then keep layering soil and hay until you needed another tire and so on. That idea was not welcomed by the other adult in our household, who has a lower threshold for trashiness than I do.

I had hoped to do several separate potato plantings but since I couldn't come up with anything besides using our whiskey barrel, space was limited. I think it'll work and I am just excited about trying a new vegetable in our garden. So we drilled holes in the bottom for drainage.


Next we added a bit of compost and soil.

We placed the seed potatoes in and covered them with a layer of chicken poop-infused hay and then more soil from Mount Weed. We'll add more hay and soil layers as the shoots come to the surface.

I'm pretty sure that we planted too many potatoes in there but well, we had them. There are fingerlings, red potatoes and some blue potatoes. We don't usually eat that many regular potatoes - sweet potatoes are lower on the glycemic index and just a lot better for you, so we tend towards those. Maybe next year we'll try to grow some sweet potatoes, depending on how things go this year. Anyway, hopefully we'll get a good enough harvest this year so that our son and I can make some blue gnocchi!

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: "Bad" weather DATE: 6:40 AM ----- BODY:
Last night at a party, a friend was complaining about all the bad weather we've had recently: lots of thunderstorms, a few tornado warnings, high winds and even scatterings of hail.

My dad shook his head: "Nope, we haven't had any bad weather yet." The friend cocked his eye and said, "Define bad?"

Without batting an eye, my dad replied, "Over 80 degrees."

I have to say, I agree with him. But today, the bad weather begins in earnest: it's 95 and climbing, with that sticky Baltimore humidity that ensures you will get sweaty between the back door and the car, even if that's only a couple of yards.

The sun and rain have come in ideal proportions for growth in the weeks since I planted a combination of seeds and purchased starts. The photo above is of the garden after I put them in.

Today, about 2 weeks later:
Lettuces and spinach:


Beans and squash:


And tomatoes and arugula:

I'm jealous of those of you who are already eating fresh garden tomatoes. We're looking longingly at the buds and urging them to hurry up and do their thing!

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: Water Bottle Giveaway, Week 2: BPA-Free Nalgene DATE: 5:43 PM ----- BODY:
This week we're giving away a pair of BPA-free Nalgene bottles - one On The Go Tritan bottle (24 oz., $9, reviewed in our Water Bottle Showdown) and one classic 32-oz. HDPE bottle ($6) - to two winners!

One winner will be drawn from the comments on this post. To enter to win, comment here with your favorite non-water, non-alcoholic liquid refreshment for hot summer days.

The other winner will be drawn from fans of Gardenaut on Facebook. We'll contact the winner directly through Facebook's messaging system. If you have a Facebook account, take note: We'll be occasionally offering giveaways through our Facebook fan base, either announcing giveaways exclusively through the site or randomly contacting a winner to see if they want a prize. Become a fan now and you could be our second winner this week! Already a fan? Then you're already entered!

No purchase is necessary for either entry; every entrant can enter using both methods, Facebook and these comments, which means that there is a snowball's chance in hell that one individual could win both prizes! U.S. residents and addresses only, please, and we'll accept entries through Friday, June 13 at 5 p.m. CT. If you leave an email address, we'll contact you using it, but we won't follow links to blogs or profiles looking for one; we will be announcing winners on this blog, as well as sending the names to PRIZEY.

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: Location, Location, Location DATE: 5:00 AM ----- BODY:
Most of my herbs are doing the best this year that they have ever done. I think I am finally (after eight years of trying) getting basic herb growing down pat. It all comes down to location.

Being in Central Texas means I can't always go by what the back of seed packets, those little labels on transplants, or most books say about whether or not plants require full sun. I?ve been growing herbs based on trial and error from the start. I'd plant according to the seed packet or little label for herbs which where supposed to live forever, only to have them shrivel in the hot, seemingly endless Texas heat. Summer here really extends from end of May to the end of September, if we are lucky. Hot is over 95 degrees, which if the past 2 weeks are any indication, we are in for a very long, unbearably hot, countless- days-over-100 summer. Thus, parsley does not really like full sun, nor does basil, oregano, and newly transplanted mint. If I can provide plants a shady late afternoon, they are more likely to hang on longer and not whither under the hottest part of the day, between 4 and 6 p.m.

My parsley going to seed!

Which brings me back to my trial and error. For years I have tried to get my parsley to weather over the summer. It should have a two-year life span before going to seed. Until this year, my parsley never went to seed; it just got fried in the sun. With a very shady spot on the northeast side of the house, and part of the yard irrigation system, my parsley not only weathered last summer, but has gone to seed. Success! Best case scenario, my parsley will reseed and I will not need to buy any parsley transplants next year.

I also struggled for years to find the perfect spot for mint. I discovered if I planted in the fall, the location didn?t matter nearly as much as if I planted in the spring. In the spring, it needed afternoon shade to make it through the summer. If I planted in the fall, it was established enough to make it through the summer without a problem, letting us enjoy fresh mint tea all year long.

Oregano and Lemongrass. Anyone need some oregano?

With exception of the dill in my garden, my herbs fill the beds around my house. Slowly, all the nandina bushes have been transplanted out of the beds into the back property line of our house. I find this is the best way to tend the herbs. It allows my husband to weedeat the oregano on occasion. Otherwise that plant, which can?t be killed, would take over the whole front yard. By walking past my basil plant whenever I walked into the house, I can deadhead it daily, allowing it to grow into a wonderful three-foot-tall bush of pure goodness. This also allowed the basil to get afternoon shade and guaranteed water twice a week from the irrigation system. Plus it makes it much easier to throw some herbs into whatever is for supper.

Now that I have my basic herbs figured out, it's time to expand. I've attacked my lone basil plant too aggressively for cooking the past few nights; I could benefit from a second plant. I still have time - up until September in fact - to plant new basil plants. Like most other herbs, it just needs the right location in order to flourish for months.

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: ThinkSport Bottle Winner DATE: 9:59 PM ----- BODY:
Congratulations to Donna Ekart (donna_ekart), winner of the ThinkSport sports bottle. Donna, email us with your address and your bottle preference - the 750 ml bottle comes in silver or black, and they also have a 450 ml bottle in silver. We know you'll love it - we love ours.

Reiza and blueviolet, you're alternates. Send in your mailing address and preference and if Donna doesn't respond by the end of the week, we'll award the prize to whoever got their info in first.

Stay tuned Monday for the next in Gardenaut's twelve weeks of BPA-free water bottle giveaways!
----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: Wine bottle border DATE: 4:40 AM ----- BODY:
We've always wanted to do this.

I did get a little zealous with the digging in. We have made more segments of this border since then - they run between three half-wine barrels containing blueberry bushes, then in a 20-foot border we've about half-completed - and I buried them a little shallower so the "wall" would be more pronounced.

I'll post more photos to the Gardenaut Flickr group when the project is finished!

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: On weeds DATE: 8:52 AM ----- BODY:
I'm fairly ignorant about weeds. In fact, I've been known to carefully transplant a volunteer to a flower bed and dote on it before finding out that it's classified as such. Suddenly, instead of taking pride in nurturing, I feel like someone who's harbored a criminal.

But who has made this classification, and why?

In school, when reading the "classics," I often wondered just who had decided these particular books were so great that they would stand the test of time. In the same way, I wonder about weeds and why some plants are worth spraying gallons of herbicide on or ripping from the soil, while others should be carefully fertilized and coddled along.

When a plant becomes too successful at reproducing and moving into a new area, it's no longer welcome. In the act of dominance, it has become the enemy, to be eradicated. And we don't feel badly about it - there will always be more.

Several non-native plants have made their way into Alaska and are thriving. The Alaska Committee for Noxious and Invasive Plant Management has a strategic plan to raise awareness of more than 20 species that threaten Alaskan plants. Every June, volunteers dig out hundreds of pounds of dandelions in Denali National Park in order to protect the native plant species there, which animals in the park rely on as food sources.

There as in the home garden, weeding out the "bad guys" carries a great measure of satisfaction. We've now protected other plants so they won't be overrun by the dandelions, the chickweed, the clover. But if you were left with the last dandelion on earth, would you happily extinguish it forever, or lovingly nurture it along?

Nowhere does this distinction seem more arbitrary than in the tiny kingdom of my own backyard. In my ambivalence about weeds, I've discovered (too late maybe), that invasives have made decisions for me. My back yard, like the yard of MissoulaChick's neighbor, is a crop of dandelions. The front is a haven for clover.

Last year, on my side embankment where I don't venture too often, my neighbors found a lovely orange flower. They admired it, and even wondered about taking cuttings. A few weeks went by and the plant multiplied. Then someone discovered it on the "invasive plant" list. Now I've got a bit of work to do - not because I dislike it, but because I know my neighbors have put lots of time and effort into their own yards, and are a bit less ambivalent about weeds than I.

As I dig it out this spring, I'll feel good about helping protect their flower beds and the native plants of Alaska, but I'll also wonder about whether it's right to kill orange hawkweed just because its ability to survive has given it the "weed" label. I'll also be wondering about native peoples and the historical invasions that have so changed native cultures all over this country. Can native and non-native species, plant and human, ever co-exist successfully?

After all, there are beautiful flowers among us all.

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: Raised beds with PVC accents DATE: 8:30 AM ----- BODY:
Back when we lived in Connecticut, I watched in horror as termites reduced my daughters' sandbox to a dusty mess in only two years. When it came time to build some raised beds in our new yard, it was essential to do something to protect the wood without putting nasty chemicals into the ground. Treated lumber still seems like a bad idea and I avoid it whenever possible.

To make the bed pictured here (better picture here) requires two 2 x 10 x 16 boards, 32 2.5 inch galvanized bolts, and about six feet of 4" PVC pipe (~$45). Prefab metal corners are fine for lower beds, but not real practical for a bed pushing 18" high. In the past, I've used 4 x 4 posts in the corners, but that just eats up space and gives the termites the mother lode if they crack your defenses. They're heavy and expensive, too, and finding scrap lengths of PVC is easy. Here's how I made it:
It sounds laborious, but was a piece of cake. It's rock solid, pretty attractive, and at a great height for kids and adults. Best of all, the PVC pipe creates a little mini space for kids to grow stuff. Last year we planted carrots in them. This year it's nasturtiums and cilantro, sown by my youngest daughter.

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: Putting off summer DATE: 12:00 AM ----- BODY:
Those of us in warmer parts of the U.S. are starting to see our basil plants flower, and experience if not book-learnin' will tell you that any plant you eat the leaves of (there's a name for that, I'm sure) gets bitter if you let it go to seed. We gave up our salad mix to the weeds weeks ago; despite our best intentions, the weeding just stopped being worth the effort. The half-dozen basil plants we put into our new bed (ultimately they all ended up in the ground) are lush and full.

We've stripped or broken off the flowering heads of our basil plants for years as we struggle against the inevitable march of summer and squeeze a few extra weeks of fresh herbs. This year we have a new tip: To most effectively stall flowering, break off not just the flowering tip but the top six inches or so of each flowering stem. The leaves are the day's harvest, and the pruning will encourage new leafy growth before the urge to flower resurges.

Try as we might, though, summer wins in the end. We'll make a huge batch of pesto this month and enjoy it through the summer months.

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: Twelve Weeks of Water Bottle Giveaways DATE: 1:02 PM ----- BODY:
The generous folks at Camelbak, Nalgene, and ThinkSport have each agreed to four weeks of giveaways of the bottles we reviewed in Gardenaut's BPA-Free Water Bottle Showdown last month. We'll run giveaways in rotation, which means we have twelve weeks of prizes for Gardenaut readers!

For this week's giveaway, we're thinking about the searing heat of summer, which is well on its way in Central Texas.

Comment on this post with a short poem about water for a chance to win a ThinkSport stainless-steel water bottle of your choice, a $22 value shipped free to any U.S. resident 18 or over.

No purchase is necessary to enter, and we don't care if your entry is an ode, a haiku, a limerick, a sonnet, or just a little free verse - just ruminate for a few seconds on the glory of H2O and you'll be in the running for this sleek, portable, chilled-H2O delivery system!

We'll accept entries until 5 p.m. CT Friday, June 6, and will select a winner at random, posting it here on Gardenaut and sending in winner info to PRIZEYWinners. The winner will have five days to claim their prize by emailing us with their mailing address and prize preference.

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: Some beautiful native plants for the garden DATE: 12:30 PM ----- BODY:
These four plants grow wild in the woods around Seattle. But they're showy enough to merit a place in the Northwest garden.

Twinberry: Twinberry is a honeysuckle relative. Cute yellow babydoll-dress flowers ripen into a conjoined pair of dark black berries in a peacock colored serving tray.

Lupine: You probably have a native lupine (pronounced "lupen") too. Ours has adjusted to our summer drought. But as a legume, these beautiful flowers are nitrogen fixers too. Note the bee!

Vine Maple: Whenever I see a hybrid azalea, covered in pink like a big ball of cotton candy, I feel a little sad. To ask so much of this plant, that it may be admired, then forgotten the rest of the year. In contrast, a vine maple's flowers are tiny treasures in an oasis of green. When planted in shade, they become beautifully leggy, their leaves like chartreuse clouds supported on storks' legs.

Foxglove: OK, so they aren't native (they're European), but foxgloves been polite guests on our shores long enough to have earned citizenship. Once invited, they'll spring up in new locations every year, remodeling the structure of your garden every year. But it's easy to pull them up if they come up where you don't want them. They transplant well too.

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