Feb 172015

by Avis Licht

An organic gardener’s success is based on a few basic necessities. I think the health and quality of one’s soil is right at the top of the list. After that comes sufficient sunlight, appropriate water and healthy plants.  Today I want to talk about some simple ways to fertilize your garden and improve your soil’s growing  capabilities.

Compost and mulch make a beautiful cover for the sil

A beautiful garden grown with compost, manure and mulch

An organic fertilizer refers to a soil amendment derived from natural sources that guarantees the minimum percentages of nitrogen, phosphate, and potash. These include plant and animal by-products, rock powders, seaweed, inoculants, and conditioners.  These minimum amounts can be very small. For example, horse and cow manure  often have less than 1% nitrogen by weight. This is not to say it’s not a good fertilizer, it is. But depending on your plant’s needs, you may need to add other sources of nitrogen.

One word of caution. An organic fertilizer means it comes from natural materials, BUT it doesn’t mean it’s organic.  Cottonseed meal comes from a plant, but cotton is one of the most heavily sprayed crops.  There will be pesticide residues in cottonseed meal unless it specifically says it comes from organic cotton.  Bloodmeal and bone meal take a great deal of production and energy to produce these fertilizers. Plus you don’t know how the animals were raised. It can seem very complicated to stay fully organic. When possible ask for the source of your fertilizer.

Different manures have different nutrient values based on the animal, what it ate, how much bedding is in the manure and so on. In another post I’ll talk about the relative merits of different manures. For now, let’s just agree that manure from herbivores that is composted, is a good organic fertilizer. I say herbivores, because we don’t want to use poop from meat eating animals like dogs, cats or humans.  There is risk of parasites or disease organisms that can be transmitted to humans from meat eating animals. For ease of listing, here are Vegetable fertilizers: alfalfa meal, cotton seed meal, green manure, sea weed, wood ash. Animal by-products include: manure, blood meal, bone meal, fish meal, feather meal and bat guano. Mined minerals include: rock phosphate, green sand, gypsum.

compost bin

Compost bin for a family of 4 – 6 people

The easiest fertilizer is compost that you make at home from material in your yard.  But it takes a LOT of material to make a little compost. You’ll probably have to bring in compost or topsoil when you first start your garden. This is not terrible, it just costs money and uses outside resources.  Sometimes we have to do that.

Soil amendments are materials that don’t have a minimum amount of nutrient, like compost.  They can be worked into the soil or laid on top. Amendments are important for the humus they add, the tilth, and aeration of the soil. Without proper soil aconditions, it doesn’t matter how much nutrient you put in.  Roots need air, water and microbial activity, which all comes from adding organic amendments.

Mulch is material laid on the surface and does not add nutrient to the soil until it breaks down over time. Mulch protects the soil from compaction, erosion and keeps the weeds down.  It also conserves water. Even though we don’t call it a fertilizer, it’s a very important part of the garden and soil and plant health.

The Four Major Elements to Fertilize Your Garden:

1. Nitrogen: For Vegetative Growth:  Bloodmeal, Cottonseed Meal, Liquid Fish, Fish Meal, Pelleted Fertilizers, Feather Meal

2. Phosphorus: For Flowering and Fruiting: For fruit, flower, and root development. Use Soft Rock Phosphate. You can also use Bone Meal.

3. Potassium: For Vigor and health. Use Sulfate of Potash or Greensand.

4. Calcium and Trace Minerals: For Health and Resilience: Almost all soils test low in Trace Minerals. Add Compost, Kelp Meal

In previous posts I wrote about legumes, which fix nitrogen and wood ash.  Keep coming back, as I’ll go through the whole list of fertilizers. In the mean time, dig up your beds, or sheet mulch them, and then add compost and/or composted manure.  You’ll be off to a good start.

Jan 192015

by Avis Licht

If you’re in the winter doldrums, then now is a great time to start planning your Spring garden. From sowing seeds, to picking the right spot for each plant, composting, and getting your soil ready  for planting, I’ve got it covered in this easy to read booklet, The Spring Garden Made Easy.

Vegetable Garden

Zauschneria, edges an inviting path into the edible garden.

Get my book  and  be ready for Spring!


It’s that time of year – time to start the Spring Garden.  If you want to know what to grow in your own climate, how to start seed and how to make compost, be sure to get my e book.  Under $5 and you get all the information I learned in 40 years of gardening.  Well, maybe not all, but probably the best parts.

Robert Kourik, author of Your Edible Landscape – Naturally writes:
“Avis has condensed over four decades of gardening skill into one information-packed handbook. This is important reading for the beginning gardener. You will skip making many mistakes by reading this attractive handbook first.”

If you would like a simple, easy to follow handbook on starting your Spring Garden, then you’re in luck. I’ve written a concise, 20 page manual for the novice gardener. Based on 40 years of gardening experience I’ve winnowed down the information to make it a straight forward process.Only $4.99.  You can’t afford not to have this helpful guide to start your Spring Garden!

Spring Garden Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Spring Garden Made Easy

The first book, The Spring Garden Made Easy, is aimed at helping you start out, one step at a time to be successful and inspire you to keep going. Yes, there may be set backs – snails, earwigs, gophers, deer, they all want a part of your garden. Learn to how to keep them from getting too much and even how to share. Click on the Buy Now button above  and you can download it immediately. My hourly consultation is definitely more than $5, which is the cost of the book.  Since I can’t be with all of you in your garden, take this opportunity to pick my brain by buying the book.  Be sure to sign up for the blog as well, it’s free and it’s got lots of information.  I always love to hear from my readers.  Leave me a comment and let me know how your garden grows. In the joy of gardening, Avis


Mixed lettuce varieties

Mar 222014
Douglas Iris

by Avis Licht

Borage in the rain

Borage in the rain

By the date on the calendar it’s Spring – but by weather it might be any of the seasons where you live. In warm weather areas it’s definitely time to start the garden work – from sowing seeds, getting beds ready, fertilizing your flowers and generally getting involved in the excitement of coming out of hibernation.

This is the time to make sure you have good tools that help you in your work. Visit my Store to see what tools I recommend and use myself.


In my garden the wisteria is blooming, the pear, cherry and apple trees are bursting with bloom. The strawberries and blueberries are putting out blossoms like crazy.

Crab Apple Blossom with bee

The bees adore this Crab Apple which blooms in early spring

I have a lot of flowers in my garden that the bees love to pollinate.  It is important to create  diversity in the garden to encourage beneficial insects, birds, and butterflies to create health and delight in the garden.

Edible flowers in early Spring bring beauty. Calendula is a powerful plant

Edible flowers in early Spring bring beauty. Calendula is a powerful plant

Native plants are starting to bloom and are a great addition to all gardens. In California where we are experiencing severe drought conditions, California natives are the perfect solution – they are happy in this climate and can flourish in the most difficult of conditions.

Douglas Iris

This Douglas Iris is native to the California Coast. I love it.

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can come and learn from me directly Hands ON! in the garden! I love to share my experience. Go to the Events page for all the dates.

You can sign up NOW right here.

Jun 122013

by Avis Licht

Mixed herbs in the landcape

Mixed herbs in the landcape

In the garden my plants are bursting with happiness from the latest rains after some very warm days.  In northern California we rarely get rain in June, and when we do, it’s cause for celebration.  Irrigation from the municipal water that is treated with chemicals, is not the same as rain and the plants truly respond to the difference.  Read about nitrogen and rain in this post.

Father’s Day is coming up soon.  Be sure your favorite Dad has the tools he needs for his garden. Great Garden Tools

A few easy and useful tips for keeping your summer garden growing well:

1.Check your irrigation system for leaks and make sure all the plants are getting watered.  With overhead sprinklers plants can get missed by interfering foliage.  With drips, you need to check that they are working, haven’t popped off and that there are enough for your plants. Drip is good at conserving water, but you still need to check for moisture  around your plants.

I recommend Robert Kourik’s book on drip irrigation. He is the expert and as we say, wrote the book on it.  Read about it here. 

Here is the place to get drip irrigation at excellent prices: Drip Irrigation Products

2. Mulch your plants to keep the soil from compacting, to preserve moisture and reduce weeds.  Read this post about different types of mulch. I talk about how to pick the right mulch for your garden.

3. Keep Your Eyes Open.  By this I mean, walk around the garden regularly and look at the plants, the soil, and the birds and the bees. By noticing changes in your plants early you can rectify things. For example,  if they are being eaten by bugs, snails or birds, if they’re wilting due to lack of water, sun or even too much moisture, or just not thriving, you will be able to keep the garden healthy before it is too  late. Doing this one thing can be the difference be success and not so much success.

4. Enjoy your garden.  Take the time to sit back with a cup of your favorite beverage and enjoy the fruits of your labor.  I’ve placed chairs in various places around the garden so that there’s always the right place to sit no matter what time of day it is.

A  quiet shady place to read

A quiet shady place to read or perhaps catch a few winks

May 212013
Edible landscaping

by Avis Licht

Bamboo poles for climbing plants

For a front yard, make sure your structures are ornamental as well as useful.


Edible landscaping has become more popular than I ever thought it would or could. Every day we hear about some new project in cities all over the world. We’re seeing gardens that are both beautiful and have delicious, healthy produce. I mean, it only makes sense.

In Marin County the municipal water district has been encouraging people to conserve water by planting low water use plants as well as food gardens.  In May they have a tour of the best gardens that use principals that they call “Bay Friendly”:  organic, drought resistant, permeable surfaces, habitat friendly for beneficial birds and insects, and lovely to look at.

On the tour last weekend I took some photos from a few of the gardens that incorporated some good edible landscaping ideas.  See if anything inspires you for your garden. (Click on the photos to enlarge them.)

Artichoke, plum, alstroemaria

Raised vegetable box

Raised vegetable boxes define an area and let you put good growing soil into a small area. It’s also easy to maintain.

California native plants

These California native plants look good, are low maintenance, provide flowers and habitat. They go beautifully in an edible landscape.

Native California plants

Another view of the same yard. This shows that the native plants create a small patio area and the vegetables are at the far end of the yard near the fence.

To read more about designing your edible landscape, read this post. 


Be sure to leave a comment or shoot me a question by going to the Ask Avis page.

Container Gardening

This suburban backyard is all raised beds and container plantings. Easy to maintain and very productive.

Chicken coop

This tiny chicken coop in an unused side yard provides fresh eggs for the owners.

Fruit trees in containers

I’ve never seen this many fruit trees in containers. Lots of varieties but also a smaller harvest from the containers. When growing in pots, be sure to give plenty of water and nutrients. It is easier to find the right growing conditions when you can move the pots to the right micro climate. Since they will be dwarf simply by being in pots you can grow more trees in a smaller area.


To find out more about growing in containers read my post on self watering planters.


This huge cauliflower was in a raised planter. You can get huge results when you have the best soil and perfect growing conditions.



tower of strawberries

This tower of strawberry pots is fun to look at and certainly easier to harvest the strawberries.









To find out more about growing strawberries read this post.






Back yard garden

Path, flowers and bird bath highlight the backyard garden. This yard has many fruits and vegetables, yet is entirely enchanting. At least I think so.





The Entry Patio

Entering the garden, you are led by a curving path, under fruit trees, by flowers, herbs and native plants.

Vegetable Garden

I love that this vegetable garden looks like a garden garden. It’s not just utilitarian.


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May 032013

Mixed lettuce varieties

by Avis Licht

I’m starting a new feature on my blog as a result of popular demand. Whatever your reason, it’s going to be easy to send me your gardening questions and get a quick answer.  If I don’t know the answer, I’ll direct you to a good source.


Honey bee in borage

Honey bee in the borage.

Here’s chance for all of you far flung fans to ask me questions about gardening. No question is too simple. Gardening is a wonderful, yet perplexing activity.  Why something works once and then the next time it’s a total bust can be frustrating.

Nature will have her way, but there are methods that work to ensure  success in the garden.  After 40 years with my hands in the dirt, I’ve probably made as many mistakes as you could imagine, but trust me, I haven’t given up yet.  And you can be the beneficiary of my experience.

Ask a question in the comment section below and I’ll get back to you pronto.


I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours in the joy of gardening,


I love answering your questions, and you can help me to keep doing it when you buy your tools, books and garden stuff through my site. Thanks! Great Gardening Tools

Jun 082012
citronella grass

Grow a natural mosquito deterrent with Citronella grass

by Avis Licht

Many of us gardeners like to sit outside in the evening to enjoy the fragrance and beauty of the garden, only to be attacked by the tiny but insidious mosquito. Here are a couple of plants that you can grow for both beauty and also to repel the mosquitoes.

The term citronella plant applies to both citronella grass (Cymbopogon nardus) and citronella geraniums (Pelargonium citrosum). Both plants boast the insect-repelling aroma but are grown and cared for in slightly different ways. Citronella grass is an ornamental grass that is used commercially to create citronella oil — a potent insect repellent with a lemony aroma. Citronella geraniums, also known as mosquito plants, are hybrid plants that were created by crossing citronella grass with geraniums. These plants release citronella fragrance when they are crushed or rubbed.

1.Citronella grass is a coarse, clump-forming tropical grass that can grow 5-6 ft (1.5-1.8 m) tall. The stems are canelike and the leaves are grayish green, flat, about 3 ft (0.9 m) long and 1 in (2.5 cm) or so wide. It does not spread by runners, as some grasses do, but the clump increases in size as the plant matures. You can find it online at Colonial Creek Farm. This grass is closely related to Lemon Grass (Cymbopogon citratus), which is used in Asian cooking.

Do not rub the citronella grass on your skin. Some people experience a dermatitis with contact. You can crush it and rub it on your clothes. Some folks claim that just growing it in the garden seems to keep the mosquitoes away. I guess you’ve just got to try it for yourself.  At least it will smell good and look good.

Light: Does best in full sun.
Moisture: Citronella grass needs at least 30 in (76 cm) of water a year.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 10 – 12. Citronella grass is perennial in USDA zones 10-12. It needs a long, warm growing season, and may not survive cool, damp winters. Citronella grass usually is replanted anew each spring after the ground has warmed.
Propagation: Propagate citronella grass by dividing the clumps. Do this before winter and keep some of the smaller clumps indoors to insure live plants come spring.

citronella geranium

Scented geraniums are easy to grow - in pots or in the ground

2.Citronella geranium is a drought resistant, tender perennial. It is evergreen in climates above 25 deg F. You can find it at Mountain Valley Growers nursery online. It also makes a great container plant. You can rub this plant on your clothes to repel mosquitoes. I’m not sure about rubbing it directly on your skin.

I happen to love all scented geraniums. They’re easy to grow and when you crush them in your fingers they smell so good.  I use rose scented geraniums in baking.  Yummy!







Flowers for a fundraiser

I picked these flowers this morning. What a great way to spend the morning.

May 242012
June in the Northern California Garden

Water, feed and stake up your plants before they fall over.

by Avis Licht

With the warm sun on our backs we can heave a sigh of relief that the winter is over. The Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year and we can expect some spectacular days ahead of us.

Your plants will be growing fast now. Irrigation coupled with warm weather can produce excess growth that is attractive to unwanted critters, like snails and slugs.



In many places early summer is the time to start some serious watering in the garden. If you’re lucky to have summer rains, be sure to check the soil for moisture.  Windy days and hot sun can really take the moisture out of the plants and the soil.

I still recommend checking your soil with a trowel to be sure it is neither too dry nor too wet. Just looking at the surface, does NOT tell you what ‘s going on underneath.

For those of you who would like to learn more about putting in an excellent irrigation system I recommend Robert Kourik’s book, Drip Irrigation for Every Landscape and All Climates. You can find this book and others he has written on his website:



Snails and slugs are in abundance due to all the moisture and spring growth. Controlling these guys organically can be tricky. They come out at night when it’s cool and moist. You can go out with a flashlight and see exactly who’s doing what to whom. At this point you can hand pick them off the plants. (This is not the most frequently chosen method around these parts.) You can also collect your eggshells in a can, and then crumble them around your plants. The snails don’t like the sharp edges of the shells and won’t crawl over them. You can also use Slug Magic, a product found in nurseries that has the main ingredient of Iron Phosphate which kills them. This is considered a safe and organic method of getting rid of snails and slugs. You can find this from Gardener’s Supply.

gopher trap

Effective and safe for handling. It will kill your gopher quickly

Another pesky critter is the gopher. You will notice their presence by raised mounds of soil. Gophers tunnel underground and push the soil up. They can and will eat roots and stems, killing your plants quickly and easily. I’ve had entire broccoli plants pulled under into the tunnels. Traps, either metal or wood can be set into the tunnels. It means digging into the soil and putting a trap facing in both directions of the tunnel. Only those not afraid of pulling out a dead gopher should try this. this trap is called a Victor Box trap.  You can get it through Amazon.

A preventive measure is to put mesh wire, called hardware clothe, in the soil. It can go under a bed of vegetables or in the hole where you are putting a bush or shrub. This is an initial investment of time and money, but lasts for years and protects your plants.

Of course, there are many more pesky critters, but to keep this post short and readable, I’ll save them for another day. Stay tuned for how to cope with aphids, deer, raccoons and more.

A wilting plant may be just that, not because the soil dry but because a mole or gopher may have tunneled near the roots and exposed them to the air, which dries the plant. Check for these critters and fill the holes around the roots.

Be sure to add fresh mulch to the garden. This will preserve moisture and help the soil. It will help keep your plants happy and healthy.

Edible Patio

The edible landscape is ready for summer entertaining




Apr 192012

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Blue Forget Me Nots

Weeds come in many disguises like this invasive Forget me Not

This always happens every Spring. I think I’m on top of the jobs I need to do in the garden, and then boom, I look out the window and the weeds have grown overnight like the bean in Jack and the Beanstalk. Although some of them actually look kind of pretty, like these Forget-me-Nots. This innocuous looking plant is actually an aggressive, invasive plant. Have you ever tried pulling out these “innocuous” plants when they’ve gone to seed? Their seeds stick to you like glue and it can take hours to get them off your clothes and socks.

In general we mean a plant is a weed when we don’t want it in the garden at all, or at least not where it has shown up.  Certain plants are always unwanted.  These are the category of pernicious weeds such as poison oak, creeping morning glory, bermuda grass and the plants that are harmful to you or impossible to get rid of. Let me  say right off the bat, that I never use chemical poisons. Weeds in my yard need to be removed by hand, digging them out, or by barriers to cover them and keep them from getting sunlight, or by spraying them with nontoxic potions, such as, Dr Earth Weed and Grass Herbicide or vinegar/soap/ solutions. (Use white vinegar: Add 2 tablespoons of dish soap to vinegar. Pour this mixture in a spray bottle. Spray your weeds!)

In his book, On Good Land: Autobiography of an Urban Farm, Michael Abelman wrote this great bit on weeds.  “When dealing with “weeds,” timing is especially critical.  Remember that “weeds” are merely plants out of place and that weed competition is primarily a problem in the early stages of crop development.

“Three things resolve weed competition easily: early cultivation, the right tool and attitude.  The goal is to never weed but to cultivate.  Cultivation aerates the soil around the plants, and cuts off or buries young tender weeds.  If you have to actually weed, your are too late and will have created far more work for yourself.”

Don’t be too late – start weeding now!

If you want to find some great tasting heirloom tomatoes, Burpee is having a sale. You can get them on special just through this site:$10 off orders of $40 or more with code AFFTOFF thru 4/23 at Burpee.com!


My favorite tools for cultivating weeds out of your garden:

Long handled hoe

Best use of time and energy - use this hoe early and often

The Hoe : This long handled, double edge weeder, lets you go back and forth for most efficient use.  When the weeds are young and the blade is sharp, you just put it lightly below the soil surface and it cuts them off cleanly, leaving them in the ground.  You don’t have to bend over and it is easy on the back.

Corona Clipper SH61000 Diamond Hoe

The Triangle Hoe: I use this hoe to go between plants that are close together, especially good in vegetable beds and flower beds. Like all other cutting tools, you should keep the blade sharp.

Truper 30002 Tru Tough 54-Inch Welded Warren Hoe, 4-3/4-Inch Head, Wood Handle

Long handled triangle hoe

Great for tight places: vegetables and flowers. The Triangle Hoe $22.99

Hori Hori Japanese Weeding Tool

The Hori Hori: This strong tool is useful for many tasks $27.95

Japanese Hori Hori Garden Landscaping Digging Tool With Stainless Steel Blade & Sheath

Hand Weeding: The Japanese Weeding Knife: Hori Hori Tool

I love this tool and use it all the time. It’s good for weeding, planting, and scarifying the soil. I have a confession, though. I put it down in the garden about 6 months ago and can’t find it. I know it’s there and am sure each day that it will turn up. I’m afraid I’ll have to get another one.  Is there a GPS tracking app for lost hand tools?

SPRAYS: Usually a last resort, sometimes we have to go there.  For particularly pernicious weeds like poison oak, bindweed and bermuda grass I use Dr Earth Weed and Grass Herbicide.  Ingredients include Citric Acid, Cinnamon Oil, Clove Oil, Soybean Oil, Rosemary Oil, Sesame Oil, and Thyme Oil. You can buy this from Organic Green Roots, which donates a portion of every sale to school gardens.

Safe weed spray

Mar 222012
Magnolia stellata 'Royal Star'
Magnolia stellata 'Royal Star'

The first buds opening on my Magnolia (click to enlarge)



by Avis Licht – Taking a walkabout in the garden each day lets you see the changes taking place in both subtle and not so subtle ways. I take my coffee out in the morning and stroll around the garden.  This quiet time encourages me to see what’s happening, instead of just seeing what work needs to be done.

The first buds on the spring flowers seem to come from nowhere. Overnight they open up.



Lettuce protected by wire and bird netting

Beautiful red spotted bibb lettuce loves the cool weather

The little lettuce seedlings don’t mind the cool weather and are growing like crazy.


But wait, what’s this? Who ate the bok choy? I bend down and find that the tender leaves are being munched.  By noticing this right away, I’m able to protect the young plant before it’s completely eaten.  It’s good to recognize who’s doing the damage so that you can take the right measures to protect the plants.  No point in covering plants with netting if it is snail damage.  And no point in putting out Sluggo snail bait to stop the birds.  Take a look at this photo.  You can clearly see that a bird’s beak has taken a bite out of the leaf.  If you have only a few plants, try this little trick that my friend uses: plastic fruit boxes over their heads.

The Beak has eaten

Tell tale signs of bird damage - a beak bite in bok choy

Protect your seedlings from bird damage

Protecting your seedlings with these reused fruit boxes.










Early morning walks let us hear the birds singing. We’ve had a pair of California Towhees making a nest in the Manzanita bush near our deck every spring.  When it’s quiet out I can hear them rustling around under the bush looking for nest making materials. They have become so used to us that when we leave our back door open in warm weather they just walk on in to the house.  They like the cat food in the kitchen.  Amazingly enough our cats have never shown any interest in these birds.


Since it’s Spring, it’s time to start your vegetable garden in your edible landscape. Do yourself a favor and use my helpful book, The Spring Garden Made Easy.
Here is the information you need to start your Spring garden. Included is information on soil, sites, annuals, perennials, fruits and much more. This is a 20 page guide to get you started on your edible landscape. Forty years of gardening has given me plenty to share. If you have enjoyed my blog, be sure to get my booklet. Great low cost!

Spring Garden Made Easy


Early blooming tree, the Crab Apple encourages bees to come to the garden

Crab Apple, an early bloomer, brings bees to the garden



A light rain moistens the Calendula, which blooms early in Spring. The petals are edible. Use them to decorate your salad.

A little more looking around and I discover that Miner’s Lettuce, Montia perfoliata, is ready to eat.  A native plant with lots of Vitamin C it is mild tasting and wonderful in salads. According to a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 100 grams of miner’s lettuce—about the size of a decent salad—contains a third of your daily requirement of Vitamin C, 22 percent of the Vitamin A, and 10 percent of the iron. It’s free, it sowed itself and all I have to do is pick it!

Montia perfoliata

Delicious Miner's lettuce, free for the taking

Another plant we think of as a weed, which comes up in profusion in Spring is the wild onion. I harvest it like chives all Spring.  It has a mild oniony flavor. To keep it from taking over, be sure to dig up the roots when you’re weeding it.  Leave a little patch for your fresh early Spring harvest.

Wild onion

The wild onion though lovely in the spring can also be invasive. Keep an eye out for it spreading


Pear blossoms

Beautiful white pear blossoms lighten up the sky

My walkabout this morning had a lot going for it.  Let me know what’s happening in your garden!

Feb 152012

by Avis Licht

Wire fencing covered with bird netting

To completely protect plants, cover with bird netting


We love the birds in our garden, but we don’t love how they eat the young seedlings. Here is the best way I’ve found to keep the little rascals from wrecking your garden.

1. Plant the seedlings, like lettuce, beets or broccoli in a raised bed. When you plant intensively in a bed it is easier to protect more plants than if they are in single rows.

2. Place wire  fencing over the bed in a hoop like fashion.  You can also use heavy gauge wire, flexible plastic tubing or bender board.




Hoop shape over bed with netting

Keep your netting off the plants to allow room for growing

3. Pin the edges down with wire staples that are used for holding down irrigation tubing.

4. Lay bird netting over the wire. Pin it down carefully along the edge of the bed.  If you leave any openings the birds will sneak in.

Seedlings under protection


One little thing. You need to be sure that it’s birds eating your seedlings and not some other pests, like snails or slugs. Bird netting will NOT keep the snails out. A bird will bite the plant and leave a v shaped mark like this > .  Snails and slugs eat both the edges and the middle of the leaf in curves.

snail damage to leaf

Snails and slugs will chew the edges and center of a leaf


Dec 062011
Apples on the Tree
Apples on the Tree

Proper pruning can result in a bumper harvest

December is a good month to put the final finishing touches to the year’s garden.

Dormant spraying, winter protection of tender plants and planting head the list of December garden projects. Soon it will be time to prune deciduous trees and shrubs.

DORMANT SPRAYING – November, December, January and early February are the months to apply dormant spray to help control over-wintering insects and diseases on deciduous trees and shrubs. A short and simple video will help explain what dormant spraying is and how to do it. Peaceful Valley Farm Supply is a wonderful source of organic gardening tools, seeds, plants and information.

Raspberries, fruit trees, roses all need winter pruning



WINTER PLANT PROTECTION – When the weather turns really cold all of a sudden  it is a good idea to provide some special protection to tender or early flowering plants. One of the best ways to provide this protection is to simply cover the plants with some type of cloth material. First place three of four stakes around the plant then drape the burlap, old blanket or row covers over the stakes so it does not come into direct contact with the leaves of the plant. Blankets and burlap are only left in place during the cold spell, as soon as the weather moderates, remove the covering completely. If you use transparent row covers you can leave them on during the winter and plenty of light will come through.

PLANTING TREES AND SHRUBS – Fall and early winter are ideal times for planting or transplanting both trees and shrubs. During the dormant season is the time when both will transplant with the minimum amount of transplanting shock. Be sure to adequately prepare the new planting hole by adding generous amounts of compost (if available); peat moss and processed manure with your existing soil. Prepare the new planting soil about twice as large as the root system of the plant being planted or transplanted. Be sure to set the plant at the same level as it was previously growing. Large trees or shrubs should be staked to protect them from wind-whipping during strong winter wind storms. To read a more detailed explanation of choosing a tree, planting and care read this article.

Spring will come soon, and your plants will start budding out before you know it.

Nov 022011
Seemingly innocent cat

This cat looks innocent, but it's not!

I walked out into the garden today to look at my newly dug and seeded beds, only to find that the cats, mine and neighbor’s used it for their very own latrine. Actually disgusting. Because this poop harbors unsafe pathogens and is really stinky we don’t want it in our garden beds. Although I love to put up photographs of what I’m writing about, I will spare you this one.


What to do. Physical barriers, like netting, row coversand fencing are helpful in some areas. But it can be a lot of work to put them up.  I found this great mat, called a Cat Scat Mat that you lay down on the bed and it has prickly plastic things sticking up that the cats can’t walk on. Very useful for seed beds and smallish areas.

Cat Scat Mats, Set of 5 by Gardener’s Supply Company
Cats are also fastidious about licking their paws and if you sprinkle the ground with cayenne pepper, it is reputed to be effective. Let me know if this works for you.
When you do have to clean up the poop, be sure to wear gloves and DO NOT put it in your compost.  Ignoring the fact that I have written that everything natural composts, you don’t want to put anything that has pathogens into your pile if you cannot guarantee that you can get the pile hot enough.
I suggest you use biodegradable waste bags that you put in your garbage. You can find them here. Or you can use these in the ground pet waste composters. These are just for animal wastes.
As a matter of fact, I think I better write about what is NOT good to put into your compost.
The great and wonderful lab, also poops

We love our animals, but also have to deal with their poop appropriately

Check back soon, very soon.
Sep 142011

What is a pest?  In a garden an animal can be a pest one day and not the next.  One of our most beloved members of the garden is the Bird. They’re beautiful, they sing, the eat insects, we NEED birds in the garden. BUT… they can also be incredibly damaging to our crops.

In the Spring song birds come flocking into the garden.   They can absolutely devastate your early crops by pecking at the leaves and pulling them out of the ground.  One way you can tell the difference between snail and slug damage and bird damage, is that a bird will leave a triangular peck in the leaf, like this > from its beak. A slug or snail will have an uneven  edge eaten. The easiest and most effective way I have found to deal with birds is to cover the beds.  I do this by putting a wire cover over the bed and lay bird netting over that. It allows the plants room to grow and keeps out all the birds.

Edible Landscapes need protection

Wire and netting over beds for protection from birds

The wire is cut to the size of the bed.  It is then gently put over the bed like a hoop.  I peg in the bottoms with wire staples  or a stick.  After the wire is in place, I put bird netting over it and tuck in all the corners.  I don’t recommend chicken wire, because it has many sharp edges, gets rusty and you can get caught on it too easily. This green coated wire is not expensive and easy to use.  The coating keeps it looking good and prevents it from rusting.

Bird netting works very well

Bird netting over wire hoop keeps the birds away from your vegetables

The next photo shows how I put the bird netting over the wire. It’s important to keep it pegged in at the edges so that birds don’t get caught inside the netting.

When the plants are up to the top of the wire I take it off and by then, the plants are no longer of interest to the birds.  They want something more tender.

Simple Dog Barrier

How can a bamboo stick keep a large dog out of the strawberries

How can bamboo sticks keep a large dog out of the strawberries?

I know this may seem ridiculous, but in the photo above I used small bamboo sticks to create a little fence around my strawberries.  I found that my large Black Labrador Retriever would walk through the strawberries and do his stuff right in the middle.  Big Yuck.  Once I put up this little barrier, he walked around the bed and we never had a problem.  My point here, is that sometimes you can find very simple and easy solutions to a vexing problem.

It’s also the case that a beloved member of the family can be a pest as well.


Sep 122011

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I just got a question about some really annoying critter(s) in the vegetable garden. Since pesky critters are a common problem, I will help you figure out who is doing what in your garden and how to take care of them, without poisons or pesticides. There are many challenging pests, and in this post, I’ll talk about raccoons, moles and gophers. Stay tuned for other pesty guys tomorrow.

Here’s the question:  “For the last week or so there has been some critter routing around in my garden digging through the soil.  What could this be…skunk, possum, raccoon, other?…and how do I keep it from digging up my vegetable plants and trampling my young greens.”

My first thought, is that it is probably a raccoon.  They are notorious for rooting around in the soil looking for grubs to eat.  They will also dig up new sod lawns, looking for food. Raccoons will climb trees and wreck havoc in your fruit trees, breaking branches and eating your fruit.  They will open garbage cans, get into your compost and in general be a HUGE nuisance.  They will also, come directly into your home and rummage around your cupboards looking for treats.  I am NOT exaggerating.  All these things have happened to me.

Make sure you are not leaving any dog or cat food outside that will lure them to the house.  Be sure to close your doors at night.  This may seem obvious, but we always leave our doors open at night for our cats to go in and out. Imagine my outrage, when I discovered that the raccoons had been coming through our bedroom, down the hall, through the living room, into the kitchen, onto the counter and taking my avocados back through the house outside for some evening dining. The nerve of them!

We had a cat door put into the front door of our house.  The cats wore magnetic collars that opened the door.  The raccoons literally tore the cat door out of the front door, bolts and all. It was like something out of a Stephen King horror novel.

But I digress. Close your doors at night. No food outside.  If you have a compost bin, you need to make sure the lid and doors close tightly or they will come back nightly to raid the food.

Wire and bird netting protect vegetables

A simple wire and bird netting to protect plants (click to enlarge)

I screwed and bolted the door of my compost bin and they cannot get in now. I guess I showed them who’s boss.

The picture on the left shows a garden bed with wire over it.  Draped over the wire is bird netting.  In the Spring birds like to eat the tender young greens.  This keeps both large and small critters out of the bed.

This next picture is a close up of the wire and netting.

Protect your edible landscape

Wire and netting over a beet bed






The other animals that like to dig in our gardens are gophers and moles.  Gophers are serious pests and can do a lot of harm.  They burrow underground in a network of tunnels.  One sign of them in the garden is a raised mound of earth with a little hole at the top.  This is the result from their tunneling. The minute you see a new mound is the best time to get the gopher.  Trapping is the most efficient method.

gopher trap

gopher trap

You need to dig directly into the mound and find the tunnel underneath.  It will go in two directions.  You need to put a trap into both sides, as you don’t know which direction they’ll be coming from.  I rub the trap with parsley or carrot greens. This takes away any human smell and also lures them.  You can see in the photo, that I’ve put a rope on the trap.  I peg it into the ground so that they don’t pull it into the tunnel.  I also put a board or stone over the hole to keep the light out. Keep checking the trap.  Sometimes they throw dirt into the hole you’ve dug, and you need to clear it out.

A set trap

Set your trap carefully (click to enlarge)

Trapping is not for the faint of heart. But I’ll tell you, when they start pulling your beautiful broccoli plants under ground, you’ll be  motivated.

Moles are insectivores. They don’t eat your plants, but they do tunnel underground.  This sometimes creates air pockets around the plants that causes them to wilt. Push the soil back up against the roots of the plants and water them.  That will usually take care of your plants. I don’t trap moles.  I think they do more good than harm.

Come back tomorrow for more about pesky critters in your Edible Landscape.

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