Monday, March 27, 2017

DIY Pet Pill Pusher for Cats

Dogs are easy to give pills to - toss them a few treats and then the pill wrapped in a bit of lunch meat ... snarf, and it's gone.
Cats are different. When one of our cats, a muscular 9-pound adult, needed medication  twice a day for 10 days we quickly realized that we needed tools as well as hands.
They'll be too busy on Facebook to find me here!

So I made a pill pusher to make the process easier for us and her.

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Using a Seed Starting Heating Pad


Many seeds require a warmer soil temperature for germination than the seedling needs to grow after germination.  This ensures that the seeds germinate when the weather is warm enough for the plants to survive.
Frost on my lettuce seedlings.
For most seeds, directly planting the seeds in the garden is the preferred method, but many gardeners start some of their plants indoors with "bottom heat" to provoke germination and get an early start on the season.
  • They want to harvest as soon as possible, whether for market stalls or just bragging rights.
  • Their growing season is too short for this plant.
  • By the time the soil is warm enough, the remaining growing season is too short to get any harvest.
  • Their soil never warms up enough to germinate the seeds, but transplants will grow.
  • Their area for starting seeds indoors is too cool for germinating.
  • They need to get the plants germinated and seedlings established before hot weather arrives.
  • They want to get their garden work done before hot weather arrives.
I'm gardening in several of those categories, especially the last two.  I want to get the chili peppers and tomatoes in the ground to avoid the coming hot weather, and my workshop is too cool.
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Monday, March 13, 2017

Improved Frost Cover Support


The frost cloth was working, but rain made it sag and I was afraid the weight of the wet cloth would rip itself.  I added support lines between stakes to support the cloth in more places. It worked well after a moderate rain and a light snowstorm.
Support lines shown in yellow

It's easier to put on and off, and the cloth doesn't snag around the support posts.

The lines use clove hitches around the base of the mushroom cap on each support - it's an easy knot to make and unmake, easy to adjust in the middle of the line, and one of the few that can be made in the middle of a line without untying one end.
Supports with the added guy lines (orange garden twine)

 Possible Variations and Improvements

I don't have time to try these, but they would work.
  • Alternate supports ... use PVC pipe with end caps.  PVC pipe can be cut at home, is not as rough and is less likely to snag the frost cloth than rebar.
  • For a removable but convenient support system, pound in pipe big enough to hold the supports so you can drop them in quickly. Plug the pipe holes with something between uses to keep dirt, dead leaves, and critters out.

Read more!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Watching Grass Grow: Sprouting the Buffalo Grass Seeds

Instead of waiting until nights are reliably above 60 before seeding, I'm pretending that the grass seed is in Kansas and experiencing a nice wet spring.  I'm watering it every few days, and letting the jute mesh keep it moist.  Nights here are starting to be above freezing with days in the 50s and 60s and even 70s, so it should be happy to sprout.

(Feb 21)  3+ weeks after scattering seed and upholstering the lawn, a few days of rain, a couple days of snow, and temps ranging from highs of 45-75 and lows of 25-45 I have grass sprouting. 
 Tiny little shoots, but it's grass.
I don't know if this is buffalo grass or blue grama.
I also have weeds and perhaps some of the wild flower seeds are sprouting.  This area will take some time to sort out. Read more!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Curb Appeal #1: Getting From Curb to Door

Your first thought about your house's curb appeal should not be what color to paint the front door, where to hang hand-crafted wreaths, or what to plant under the windows.
Neglected house

Having the cutest front door on the block doesn't matter if it's hard to get from the curb to the front door.  I'll expand these bullet points later into posts with examples, explaining why they are important, but for now, here's some things to think about.
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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Jute Erosion Mesh As a Seed Cover

Lawn Upholstering? 

Jute erosion control mesh is not burlap - it's a fabric woven with extremely coarse yarn and large holes.  The mesh is commonly used for erosion control along new road construction while grasses and shrubs are being established. It is biodegradable, and within a couple of years, maybe more in a dry area, will decay and turn into organic material in the soil.

I'm using it like a mulch to protect newly scattered buffalo and blue grama grass seed and native wildflower mix. It should prevent my seeds from blowing away, discourage seed-eating birds and hold moisture.  It is definitely weed-free, which my compost is not.  It supposedly decomposes in a couple of years, so I will write more than this post about how it works.
Upholstered Lawn

It does look like I carpeted the lawn, and the neighbors are looking at me funny.
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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Watching Grass Grow: The Return of the Buffalo

We had heat-tolerant buffalo grass in Phoenix and loved the low maintenance and toughness of it.  The landscape plan in New Mexico includes a xeriscape "meadow" of grasses and wildflowers.  Instead of the plugs, I'm using seeds of a buffalo grass variety better adapted for high desert, mixed with blue grama grass and a small number of other native grasses for accents.
Buffalo cow and calf enjoying a stroll in Yellowstone National Park

The front yard was mostly neglected bare dirt. After the visible weeds were killed off, the seeds were scattered over the bare dirt and covered with jute erosion control mesh as a mulch to keep the seed from blowing all the way to El Paso. When the weather warms up, I'll be watering every few days until the grass is established. I'll also be pulling weeds.

Seed Sources

Western Native Seed of Coaldale Colorado
Xeriscape Lawn Mix, 70% buffalo grass/30% blue grama grass
Because the grama grass seeds are smaller than the buffalo grass, it's probably equal quantities of each seed.
Xeriscape Wildflower Mix  A whole bunch of stuff in this.

Prairie Moon Nursery was the source for some of the accent grasses and wildflowers. I'll be writing about them later.  I put about half of the grasses from prairie Moon into the main lawn mix and the rest will be planted as drifts or specimens

Also, I had grass and flower seed collected from along the roads here that I blended into the grass or flower seeds before scattering them. It will be interesting to see what grows. Read more!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

4 Weekends = Improved Curb Appeal

No matter how great the interior of your house may be, first you have to convince buyers that it's worth it to get out of the car and into the house. That's what "curb appeal" is.  I'm assuming you have a short time to get ready to sell your house, so this advice concentrates on removing negative curb appeal quickly and cheaply, not adding positives.
This would take more than four weekends.

The typical suburban house will take about 4 weekends dedicated to yard work to remove the negatives from the curb appeal before the listing date. That gives the shrubs time to recover from pruning, and the lawn time to green up. If your landscape is exceptionally large or neglected, some steps might take more than one weekend. Evaluate what you can do for yourself and hire professionals for the rest.

Remember:
  • Dead plants don't sell houses.
  • If potential buyers can't see the house behind trees and bushes, they won't want to buy it.
  • Clean and tidy is appealing.
  • Well-maintained is appealing.
  • Closely mowed green weeds have more curb appeal than overgrown or dead lawns.

Read more!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Late winter planting to avoid the spring rush?

The experiment - I'm exploring the possibility of starting leafy greens in late fall and "storing" them in the garden under a frost cloth during the winter so they are out of my way when I need the seed starting space for chiles (we have our priorities in this state).
If it works, I can have a three-planting rotation for leafy greens: Late fall for harvest in early spring, late spring for harvest in spring/summer, late summer for harvesting into the winter.

I planted out seedling butterhead lettuce in soil blocks December 3. Earlier plantings of chard, kale, bok choy and leaf lettuce - set out in beginning in early November - are looking happy and putting out leaves.  I've been harvesting since mid-January.  They are under a frost cloth tent, but it's not heated.
Bok Choi, planted as seedlings in December
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Sunday, January 29, 2017

The problem with USDA Plant Hardiness Zones

Any system that puts Phoenix, Arizona and Orlando, Florida together has a serious flaw.  But they are both USDA Hardiness Zone 10.
"USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is the standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location. The map is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into 10-degree F zones."
What it really means:  The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map helps determine which plants are unlikely to die of cold weather at a location, not thrive.   There are many other reasons your location will kill unsuitable plants.  The picture below shows part of the problem.
Both city parks are in USDA Hardiness Zone 10


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