Fertilizer or Composted Material: Which is Better for Your Garden?

To support the life of growing things over a prolonged period of time, all soil will inevitably need to be enriched in some way. Plants use up many of the nutrients within it, and others are leached away as water passes through. The vegetables, herbs, and flowers that we grow can obtain the carbon, hydrogen and oxygen that they need from air and water. Any complete commercial fertilizer can provide the three other nutrients that they primarily use: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Relying solely upon fertilizers, however, can eventually result in soil that is stripped of many other health-giving ingredients. They cannot correct or improve soil structure, for example; this requires the addition of organic matter. Also, fertilizers cannot compensate for unbalanced soil pH.

Humus, the end result of composting, can sustain a garden just as well as fertilizers in the short term while also bringing with it such beneficial things as microbes, enzymes, and earthworms. Composted materials also improve the soil structure, providing it with aeration and allowing for greater moisture retention. Introducing composted soil into our gardens over time can adjust the pH and bring it into proper balance. Because it does not carry nutrients in concentrated form, there is no danger that the surface feeder roots of our plants will be burned when we apply it. Humus is, in short, the most natural and complete substance that is available to us for replenishing the soil in our gardens.

Unfortunately, a stretch of time is required before we are able to obtain it: as much as a year, or 6 or 7 months from early autumn until spring at the least. If we intend to use composted soil in our gardens then we have to plan ahead and begin setting out our organic materials to decompose long before the growing season begins. Frequent turning and moistening can speed up this process, as can the introduction of earthworms. Still, the period of time can be longer than the eager gardener is willing to wait through.

One compromise that works well for many gardeners is to use fertilizer to “jump start” the garden soil and then use composted soil to sustain it over the long haul. Most soil will benefit from a complete fertilizer – that is, one that contains nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium all in balanced proportion. This should be mixed into the soil, and watered in, before any planting is done. Our gardens will then have the basic nutrients that they need to thrive; and in the meantime, we can allow nature to do its work in the compost. Once the compost is ready to be drawn from, we can begin to rely upon it more and more until, finally, it is supplying everything we need to sustain our gardens – in a never-ending cycle.

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Cold-Hardy Banana Trees, Bamboo and Orchids: Do They Exist?

When you garden in a cold-winter area, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking certain plants are just off limits.
With some careful research, however, you may find there are exceptions to every rule….

Winter bananas, anyone?

Nothing gives the look of the tropics like a banana tree. If you’d like to have a banana tree in your yard, but you don’t have a greenhouse to move it to in winter, there are a couple of types you might want to try.

The Japanese fiber banana, Musa basjoo, is an interesting possibility for cold-winter gardeners. But don’t bother to harvest it; the fruit is not edible. This banana tree gets 10 feet tall and is a reliable grower in Zone 8. For colder zones it requires heavy mulch. There are reports of Musa basjoo surviving -20 degrees F.

For a slightly warmer winter climate, consider the Chinese wax banana, Musella lasciocarpa. This banana is cold hardy in Zone 7. It has a pretty yellow bloom.

The Orinoco Banana, Musa Orinoco, is one of the most cold hardy of the bananas that produce edible fruit. It can reach 10 feet in Zone 7, or twice as tall in warmer climates.
http://www.plantdelights.com/Catalog/Current/page74.html

How about bamboo?

Many people think of bamboo as a tropical plant. Actually, there are many varieties of bamboo that are cold hardy to well below 0 degrees F. Many are large in size, ranging from Ruscus Bamboo, Shibataea kumasaca, at 6-7 feet, to Greenstripe Vivax, Phillostachys vivax, topping out at 70 feet. These are often used as screens or for decorative groves.

A word of caution on selecting bamboos: Many of them spread rapidly and are considered quite invasive. Be sure to do your homework so you don’t create a monster in your yard. “Clumping” versus “running” is only the first thing to look for. Check out the second website below for a great explanation on how to choose the right bamboo for your yard.
http://www.jmbamboo.com/coldhardy.htm
http://www.countrywhatnotgardens.com/bamboo/bamboo.html

Orchids in winter?

I was so pleased to learn about cold-hardy orchids. There are several types of Bletilla that are hardy in Zones 5-9. These hardy orchids prefer moist soil and a little shade. They get 15-18 inches tall and bloom in early spring. The flowers are white or pink.
http://www.plantdelights.com/Catalog/Current/page18.html

Another delightful choice for cold-winter gardens is the native orchid called Nodding Ladies’ Tresses, Spiranthes cernua var. odorata. This hardy plant produces loads of white flowers August through November. It likes moist soil or bogs and is hardy in Zones 3-9.

Another popular cultivar is Spiranthes cernua ‘Chadds Ford.’ This hardy orchid is known for being a vigorous grower with large flowers that are extremely fragrant.

Northern gardeners not out in the cold

So even far northern gardeners can have some “exotic” plants in the garden. Do a little research and see which of these plants would bring an unusual element to your garden.

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Diseases that Affect Black-Eyed Susans in Michigan Gardens

Image result for Black-Eyed Susans

Black-Eyed Susans are an extremely hardy plant, but even the hardiest of plants can succumb to disease. Knowing what diseases are possible is one of the easiest ways to treat or prevent disease from occurring in your Michigan garden of Black-Eyed Susans.
Different Types of Leaf Spot in Black-Eyed Susans

Angular Leaf Spot

In Black-Eyed Susan plants, angular brown spots that occur on the leaves are known as angular leaf spot. These spots can potentially cover the entire leaf and with this particular type of leaf spot, the spots generally affect the lower leaves of the plant prior to moving upward toward the top of the plant.

To treat angular leaf spot, during the late fall (following the first full freeze,) all of the Black-Eyed Susan that is present above the soil must be removed. Tools that are used to remove the infected plant should be thoroughly cleaned using a product specifically for this situation; as the tools can re-spread the infection when reused later in the spring or summer the following year.

Cylindrosporium and Ramularia Leaf Spot

These types of leaf spots are not as common as Septoria. However, when they do occur, they can produce small lesions that are often angular in appearance. Therefore, it can be difficult to differentiate from angular leaf spot.

These plants too, must be removed from the root up.

Septoria Leaf Spot

Septoria leaf spot is currently among one of the most common diseases affecting Black-Eyed Susans. Like with Cylindrosporium and Ramularia leaf spot, the lesions start out small in size. These lesions, which are dark brown in color, will double in size and most of the lesions are round in appearance. However, angular spots may occur around the leaf veins in the plant.

Again, removal of the infected portion is necessary and the tools used should be cleaned to prevent reinfection.

Aster Yellows in Black-Eyed Susans

Aster yellows is a phytoplasma, meaning it does not have a cell wall. It spreads via insects (also referred to as leafhopper vectors,) so there is little a gardener can truly do to prevent them, as any insect could potentially carry the disease.

Unfortunately, aster yellows can affect several plants within the daisy family including, but not limited to: marigolds, purple coneflowers and cosmos. Symptoms of aster yellows include deformed flowers of which additional leaves and plants grow outward from within the cone of the flower.

To treat aster yellows, the infected plants (including the roots) must be removed entirely from the garden.

Powdery Mildew

Mildew affecting Black-Eyed Susans is generally more of a visual issue, though if left untreated it can result in a die-off of the leaves. With powdery mildew, the leaves will slowly turn a shade of yellow before dying and falling off.

Like with many diseases, the affected leaves and flowers should be removed from the plant. In severe cases, the entire plant (including the roots) may need to be removed.

Stem Rot in Black-Eyed Susans

Stem rot will begin by causing lower leaves to become discolored (often to a shade of yellow or yellow-brown.) Eventually, the entire plant will die. During the process, you may notice that there is a cotton-like mound growing at the base of the plant in your garden.

Plants with stem rot should be removed from the area, including the roots and the surrounding soil.


Additional Information:

University of Minnesota: Diseases of Rudbeckia

Missouri Botanical Garden: Aster Yellows

Do It Yourself: Identifying Black-Eyed Susan Diseases

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How to Care for Torch Lily Plants

Image result for torch lily

Torch lily (Kniphofia uvaria), also known as red-hot poker, gets its name from its 1- to 2- foot tall spikes of densely-packed tubular flowers in brilliant shades of red-orange and yellow. The spikes are said to resemble glowing torches or pokers, and bloom in late spring and summer. These flamboyant plants grow 3 to 5 feet tall, and look best planted in groups of 3 or 5. The foliage isn’t particularly attractive, but the flower spikes rise several feet above the foliage and look great in the back of a border. Use plants with graceful foliage, such as cushion spurge, white phlox, variegated ornamental grasses and licorice plant to hide torch lily’s ratty foliage.

Site Requirements

Torch lily prefers a humus-rich, well-drained soil in full sun. It won’t tolerate a wet or heavy soil. The flowers are top-heavy, so choose a location protected from strong winds. Torch lily is hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture zones 5 to 9.

Care

In spring, cut back top growth to 4 to 6 inches to make room for new growth. Once the flowers on a stalk fade, snip out the stalk near the base to encourage fresh blooms. Use an organic fertilizer or compost in late fall.

Winter Protection

The crowns need winter protection in USDA zones 5 and 6. Mulch heavily or tie the foliage over the crown for winter protection. This prevents water from getting inside the crown and freezing. To grow them in colder zones, move them into cold frames for the winter.

Propagation

Kniphofia doesn’t recover easily once divided, so established clumps are best left undisturbed. Propagate by removing crowns along with their attached roots from the outer edge of the clump in fall. Trim the roots and cut back the foliage to 2 or 3 inches before replanting. Space the plants about 18 inches apart. Kniphofia takes off slowly. Fill in the space between new plants with bedding annuals for a full look.

Seeds need a period of cold treatment before they will sprout. Plant them in pots or flats and place them in the refrigerator inside plastic bags for 6 weeks. Once moved to a warm location, seedlings emerge in 3 to 6 week. Remove the bags as soon as the seedlings emerge to allow free air circulation and prevent fungal disease.

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Living With Pets: How to Effectively Get Pet Hair Out of Carpets

Having pets in your life can be a pretty special thing. They offer unconditional love and companionship that can get you through some pretty tough times. One setback, however, is the sheer amount of hair that they leave everywhere. If you leave it alone, you will start to feel like you are being overrun. There is nothing pleasant about having your furniture, clothes, and surfaces covered in your beloved pet’s hair.

Many of us have our own pets and have come up with our own methods of getting pet hair out of carpets. Here are a few of our effective methods:

Sponge Mop Method

There are mops that are sold with a sponge tip. Before you use the sponge mop, it would be wise to do a bit of vacuuming beforehand. This way, the other things in your carpet like lint and dirt won’t stick to the sponge. Once you are done with your vacuuming, you can spray a bit of water on the carpet. This will help the sponge pull up the hairs as the water clings to it.

Use your sponge mop and gently mop over the surface area of your carpet. You’ll be surprised at how much hair can be pulled up with this method.

Lint Remover Method

Admittedly one of the more tedious ways but it works well if you don’t have a lot of time to clean. You can purchase lint removers or lint rollers from department stores and hardware stores. You simply need to remove the roller from its case and roll it over surfaces. The writer in our team that utilizes this method says that it works for her since she has so many other things to do during her day. So if she sees any pet hairs or has a spare moment, she can just whip out the roller and pull out the pet hair.

What is best about this method is that it doesn’t take much time but you need to be consistent with it to keep your area clean.

Always Remember

What works for us may not necessarily work for you. It all boils down to what you are comfortable with and what you are able to do with your means and time. The methods that we have listed come from our own tried and tested experiences—so we’re fairly confident that they actually work.

What methods have you tried to get pet hair out of carpets?

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Health Puzzle: Three Simple Ways to Improve Your Health on a Budget

If you have noticed, a lot of the food trends have leaned toward being grossly unhealthy. Our technology now also empowers us to be less active than we used to be. So how do you stay healthy? After all, not everyone has the time or the extra finances to empower a healthy lifestyle. The concept of ‘staying healthy’ is something that is often passed on by many due to the fact that it does cost money.

Here are the three simple ways that you can improve your health while on a budget:

Work Out at Home

One of the biggest misconceptions that people have about getting healthy is the necessity of a gym membership. While there are certain pieces of equipment that would certainly help getting fit a whole lot easier, it is not critical to the task.

There are a lot of different workouts that can be done in the comfort of your home. The simple act of doing daily calisthenics is a big contribution towards getting healthy. The act of simply cleaning your home is already an exercise in itself. Be creative.

You can do yoga from your home. You can get the poses and instruction from websites or even YouTube channels. Utilize the sources that you presently have and run with it.

Lay Off Food Fads

Food Fads are pretty hard to ignore since you see them everywhere—especially on social media. The world, it seems, is always waiting with bated breath for the next big food fad. You may have come across several of them: the red velvet craze, the Nutella obsession, the gooey cheese scrapings, the several layers of burgers, the need to put matcha on everything, etc—there have been so many.

What they all have in common is that they are notoriously high in calories and sugar. These, as you can imagine, can and will add several pounds to your weight.

Educate Yourself

Being educated about your choices is one of the best ways to stay healthy. If you know what you need more and less of, the better your chances will be. Information is so easy to come by. The internet is right there—full of useful information.

Libraries still exist. In case you have no internet in your own home and rely on free Wi-FI options, you can take a jog down to your local libraries. Join symposiums near you. All local government health centers will have dates on talks that they have about health and these are usually free.

Always Remember

Your health is in your hands. You do not need the fancy workouts or the equipment to get into shape. At the same time, you do not need to jump on every single food fad that comes on simply because it is there or looks so delicious.

What other ways can you think of to improve your health while on a budget?

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Building an Archaeological Garden in Your Backyard

If you are looking for something new and interesting for your child, you may want to build them an archaeological garden in your backyard. An archaeological garden is a pit designed to look like an archaeological dig site. You can fill the inside of the pit with faux artifacts like coins or broken pottery to give your child something to dig for. Planting ivy or other growing vines on the outside will give the site an ancient atmosphere. Just make sure your garden and your trees have no infestation of harmful insects that might bite your kids and cause them illness. You can request for tree trimming and inspection from your local tree services so they can check on schedule, just for safety purposes. I know it’s part of nature and we encourage our kids to love nature by this activity. Just some minor precautions to be aware of, before the real fun starts. 🙂

Here is a quick guide to building your own backyard archaeological garden:

Install the support poles

First, lay out the weed barrier fabric over the site you have chosen for your archaeological garden. This fabric will choke off the grass and weeds while still allowing for drainage. Set your poles on top of the weed barrier, making a square. This will be the outline of the pit for your archaeological garden. To create the supports for your archaeological pit, dig a small hole at each corner. Set an upright pole in the hole and fill with quick-drying cement to hold the pole in place.

Build up the pit’s walls

Once the cement has dried and the upright poles of your archaeological garden are set, you need to build up the pit’s wall. Set the horizontal poles in place by bolting them onto the upright support poles. Stack these horizontal poles as high as you wish, but at least two poles works best. If you build the archaeological pit very high, you should also add a step stool or stairs so your child can get in and out easily.

Hang the ivy

Affix a sturdy steel rope to the tops of the upright support poles. You will be planting ivy that will grow up the upright poles and onto the ropes to give your archaeological garden more of an ancient ruins look. Be sure that the rope does not hang low enough that it will trap your child. You may want to leave the rope off of one of the side so there is an clear entrance for children.

Fill in the pit

Now you can fill the inside of your archaeological garden with some “treasures” for your child to find. Old coins, small toys, or broken pieces of pottery work well. Be sure that any sharp edges have been filed down if you choose to use broken items of pottery or ceramics. Fill in the pit with sand, layering in more of your archaeological “treasures” every so often. Attach some plastic hooks on the support holes and hang a plastic collection tray and sieve for your child to use as their archaeological tools.

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Kicking Your Butt into Gear: How to Get and Stay Motivated

Being in a rut is one of the most unpleasant things that you can be in. It affects your work, it affects your relationships, and it can even affect how you view life. This is why it is important to know how to get and stay motivated.

A lot of people often overlook or take the cultivation of their motivation for granted. As a consequence, they suddenly find themselves feeling at a loss or stuck despite things looking okay from an outsider’s perspective. So we would like to take this chance to discuss how you can cultivate and sustain your motivation.

What is Motivation?

This refers to the thing that gives you an extra spring in your step. You can even refer to it as what gets you out of bed every morning. It is the very reason why you do what you do and what gets you through hard and stressful times.

Some call it their inspiration but mostly, it is your motivation. Motivation is critical because it can mean the difference between accomplishing your goals and letting them lay stagnant and inert.

Getting Motivation

Before you are able to sustain motivation, you must first have it. While it can be something that is organic, it may need a bit of help. So here are a few ways on how you can build or get your motivation started:

Set a Goal

Having a destination is always good—otherwise, you’ll just be going forward aimlessly. Having a clear goal gives you an idea of what you need to do and what you’ll get by the time that you’re done.

Get a Buddy

If you feel like you are lacking motivation, talk to someone you trust about it. You would be surprised at the difference another person’s opinion will make. They can talk you through your rut and give you the jumpstart that you need.

Maintaining Motivation

Once you have your motivation started, it is important to keep stoking it. Here are a few ways how:

Keep a Progress Journal

Nothing keeps your motivation going like having a physical representation of your progress. It triggers the reward sensors in your brain and can release endorphins which can drive your energy further. Keep a journal or an app wherein you can jot down what you’ve done for the day and how much closer you are toward your goal.

Schedule Your Breaks

It will do you no good if you keep pushing forward with no rest. Your motivation is a blade that needs to be tempered in order to be sharp. Schedule your breaks both long and short. They can be little pit stops toward your destination.

Always Remember

Motivation is something that you need to work on. While it is something that would be good if it was a self-sustaining things—it sadly isn’t. So you’ll constantly need to work at it in order to meet your overall goal.

What ways do you have to start and sustain your motivation?

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Children Not Wholesale: Why You Should Not Compare One to Another

Children can be the joy of your life but raising them is anything but easy. Stress and lack of sleep can be leading factors why you can do or say things that you shouldn’t do. One of those things is comparing children to one another.

When you compare children to one another, several things occur:

Toxic Relationships

Siblings are supposed to be there for each other. If you start comparing them to each other, feelings of resentment will start to fester and ruin their relationship. What parents do not realize is that the feelings of inadequacy or inferiority to a sibling can stain the relationship for the rest of their lives.

Rather than having siblings that are supposed to look out for each other when the parents are gone, you will have adults who harbor resentment toward each other. Not exactly ideal for a loving relationship!

Self-Esteem Issues

Children are still growing. They are discovering who they are—what they like and what they are good at. They will not have a chance to do that if at every opportunity they are compared with a more successful sibling.

Confidence is needed to be successful in life. If you clip that by comparing them, you effectively contribute potentially damaged individuals to society.

Distance from Parent


When you start comparing your kids to each other, they can feel that you favor one sibling over them. This can drive a wedge between you and the child. If a child feels that they cannot rely or count on their parent for support that is hardly conducive to a well-adjusted individual.

You may be in charge now but you won’t be forever. Children might be a bit more understanding while they are young. They might even be inclined to give you numerous chances. However, once their feelings have hardened against you, not much will soften them toward you again.

Always Remember

Children are not an extension of you. Children are not a second chance for you to live the way you wanted to. Children are their own persons with their own plans, dreams, and aspirations. It is your job as a parent to help them realize who they want to be. You do not do that by comparing them to one another.

Give them a role model to aspire to—an elder rather than a sibling or a cousin. You can even use a famous person as a role model. No flower grows by being kept in the shade. It is needs sunlight. So what better ways can you inspire your child to do better?

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Keeping the Home Clear: How to Get Rid of Hard Water Build Up

Your home is supposed to be your shelter and your castle. As much as possible, you wouldn’t want anything untoward happening there. However, reality like hard water buildup sometimes happens. Let’s talk about how to get rid of it on your own before you call a plumbing company to assist you when the problem gets uncontrollable.

What is Hard Water Buildup?

They are usually known as hard water stains. They are left behind when the water you use has usually high mineral content—which usually would be either calcium or magnesium. When the water evaporates usually on the floor, walls, any reflective surfaces, or the sides of the tub it leaves behind a grimy looking residue. What issues arise from hard water?

Grimy appearance

As you can imagine, these can look like they’re pretty gross from afar and up close. It can give the impression that your bathroom isn’t very clean because of those stains.

Clogs

If hard water accumulates around drains, faucets, or showerheads, it can severely impede the flow of water.

Permanent Damage

Over time, the will eat away at the material of your surfaces especially if you’re sporting glass shower doors. Your plumbing will also end up damaged if you let hard water stay.

How Do You Get Rid of It?

There are several ways that you can get rid of hard water buildup. Just be mindful that the processes will depend on what you’re cleaning in particular. For example:

Showerhead

If you’re going to clean a showerhead, turn off the water source and take off the showerhead. Put the showerhead in a bag of white vinegar and leave it overnight. After that, rinse it with water and scrub with a small brush. Try running water in it to see if the clog is gone or if the water coming out is clean. Reinstall and use.

Shower Doors

Get some more of that white vinegar to work for you. Spray it on the doors. Let it sit for about an hour or so then rise and wipe off. Repeat when necessary.

Pipes

Use a combination of cream of tartar and water. Make sure the consistency is that of a paste. Hard water buildup there can result in rust and the mixture will clean it right off. Just make sure that after you apply the mixture, let it dry then rinse it off.

Always Remember

While prevention is always important, it is still just as important to know how to remove it by yourself. Professional cleaning can cost you a pretty penny. As hard water buildup can occur repeatedly, it is ultimately more cost effective to know how to get rid of it yourself. It certainly will be a good skill to pass on to any kids that you’ll have. After all, if you had a hard time with it, so will those youngsters.

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