Monday, June 24, 2013

The Basics Of Composting

Compost is organic matter that has broken down.  Composting enriches the soil in your garden; protects plants from disease; reduces waste; is good for the environment and is a great project for the whole family.

Compost consists of two main ingredients.  ‘Dry Browns’ and ‘Wet Greens’.  Some materials are better to use than others.  Here are some suggestions:

Dry Browns are high in carbon and can include:
- dried leaves - saw dust
- shredded branches and twigs        - pine needles
- straw - shredded paper

Wet Greens are naturally high in nitrogen and include:
- grass clippings - coffee grinds
- kitchen scraps - tea bags
- manure - egg shells
- cut flowers

What to avoid putting your compost?
- weeds that have flowered
- dog/cat waste (their worming meds can kill composting worms)
- deseased plants
- meat, bones
- citrus peels (too acidic for worms)

Any ratio of Dry Browns to Wet Greens will work over time, however, to get things going faster, a higher Dry Browns content will work better.

Where to compost?
Bins, piles, holes, self-container tumblers all work well.

How can you speed up the process?
- Keep materials small, they will decompose faster.
- Avoid clumped grass.
- Turn the pile with a pitchfork regularly to circulate air
- Keep pile moist, but not soaked
- Cover with a tarp to keep our excess rain, animals and add heat.

When compost ir rich, loose and’s ready!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Attract Hummingbirds To Your Garden!

Here in Central Pennsylvania, bird-watchers await anxiously the return of the Ruby-Throat Hummingbirds each year.  These little jewels are the smallest of birds, and are fascinating to watch as they busily feed from flowers or a feeder provided for that purpose.  Hummingbirds also eat tiny insects and small spiders.

Contrary to popular myth, hummingbirds enjoy perching on a small bare branch or sturdy weed that is high enough for the bird to survey his territory.  Hummingbirds have little fear of man or anything else; their speed makes them inaccessible to cats and other would be predators.  Hummingbirds have a feisty disposition, and are known to drive off much larger birds.  The males often fight for territory and stage ‘dogfights’ displaying their tremendous agility and acrobatic prowess.

Hummingbirds breed in our area, with each female typically laying two eggs no bigger than a pea.  Their nests are about the size of a half dollar.  They like to nest above a creek or stream, on a 
down-sloping branch anywhere from five to twenty feet above the water.  They locate their nests on the saddle of a horizontal twig or branch.  The nests are built of plant down, spider webbing, lichen, and young oak leaves typically.

Hummingbirds migrate from Costa Rica and Mexico in the winter to our area as spring flowers start to open.  They are particularly fond of columbine in the early spring.  The males precede the females.  Females will return to their nesting spots each year.

Hummers are fond of red flowers, as well as a host of wildflowers.  Some plants, like Cardinal-Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) depend on hummingbirds for pollination since their flowers have such an elongated tube that other pollinators cannot reach their nectar.  Here are a list of other flowers that attract hummingbirds.

Impatiens Nicotiana
Trumpet-Vine Salpiglossis
Salvia (Scarlet Sage) Hollyhocks
Red Honeysuckle Gladiolus
Bee Balm (Monarda) Balcon Geraniums
Jewelweed Fuchsia
Phlox Wild Honeysuckle
Petunias Penstemon
Lilies Mimosa Trees
Nasturtiums Yucca

In addition, hummingbirds will also feed on fresh sap from a hole made by a wood-boring bird.

There are a variety of hummingbird feeders available to supplement flower feeding. Most are constructed of plastic and have red tops or plates to help the hummingbirds zero in on the nectar.  You may buy hummingbird nectar, or make your own.  To make your own, use a ration of one part white sugar to four parts water.  Boil the water, add the sugar and let it cool.  Store unused portion in the refrigerator.  It is important to clean your feeder at least once a week to keep mold from forming.  Clean them with hot water and a little vinegar.  Rinse thoroughly before refilling.  Do NOT use honey to feed hummingbirds - it grows a fungus that can infect the tongues of hummingbirds.

Other insects are also attracted to hummingbird feeders, and hummers have been known to fight bumblebees for food.  To keep competition at a minimum, spray your feeder daily with water.  It discourages insects, and hummingbirds love to dive in and out of water drops.  In fact, spritzing water fascinates these little birds, and they enjoy taking baths regularly.  If you are fortunate enough to have a fountain, it can make a nice centerpiece for a hummingbird garden.

Even those that live in town can enjoy hummingbirds by planting containers and window boxes full of their favorite flowers.  A bird bath can provide water and a large tree can be used for cover.  On suburban lots, a grassy expanse ringed by medium-sized trees that is under-planted with shrubs provides the type of cover hummingbirds seem to enjoy.

Hummingbirds make a chatter that sounds like a squeak, followed by a ‘tsk’ sound.  Most often, their approach is hear as the flutter of rapidly beating wings.  They are very curious, and will often hover around a person with a bright red shirt or red hair ribbon.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Square Foot Gardening

A square foot garden generally is a raised bed filled with good earth and compost mix so that packing and erosion from rain don’t affect your vegetables or small fruits. It can measure three feet wide or four feet if you prefer and as long as you want, since you can reach in from either side to plant, tend and harvest your crops. The height can vary from 6 inches to 12 inches depending on how deep you want your roots to grow.

A plant or seeds can be sown in each square foot depending on the habit of the plant you want to grow. For example lots of carrot seeds will fit into a square foot, but it may take several feet if you decide to grow a squash or pumpkin in it. The nice thing about this type of garden is that is easily tilled and watered and is accessible even for the handicapped.

In 2009 here at Ashcombe we had our first square foot garden made with 2 by 12 inch boards. A special corner piece holds the boards together. These can be purchased here or at a home improvement store.

We were amazed at the amount of fresh vegetables we were able to harvest all season long from our square foot garden and as early crops came out later ones were put in. The carrots lasted well into November and were very tasty.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


Sure, you can attract a couple of butterflies just by planting a few of the right flowers in a window box or a corner of your vegetable patch, but to observe a true diversity (as many as 40 different species) and watch their transformation from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis and finally adult, you’ll want to create a haven specifically for them - A SEPARATE BUTTERFLY GARDEN!

Your butterfly garden should offer plenty of sun and protection from strong winds - the south or southeast side of a stone wall, building, hedge or slope are excellent.  If you don’t have such a sheltered site, you can arrange the plants in the garden in a bowl shape, with the taller ones on the outside creating a sheltering effect.

Your butterfly garden doesn’t have to be large, but the more naturalized the better.  Chemical pesticides are, of course, deadly to butterflies and their offspring.  But if you’re an organic gardener, you don’t have to worry about accidentally killing what you’re trying to attract.

Good butterfly plants HAVE three traits:  shape, color and fragrance.  Butterflies sip nectar through their tongue (proboscis) so plants that allow them the easiest access to that nectar are preferred.  Many butterfly flowers are purple, lavender or pink, but because butterflies see differently than we do, their response to flower colors is not entirely predictable.

A heavy perfume appeals to butterflies, so stick to the old-fashioned or heirloom varieties in place of the faint-scented modern forms of the same flowers.  Butterflies have an acute sense of smell.  They can detect the most fragrant flowers from afar and will delight on them rather than on modern hybrids that have little or no fragrance.

The average adult butterfly lives only two weeks, and much of that time is devoted to reproduction and egg-laying.  To lay those eggs, females search for a proper host plant on which to deposit their eggs.  When those eggs hatch, the larva (caterpillars) emerge and begin feeding, usually on the leaves of that host plant.  These host plants are often different than the plants that adult butterflies use as nectar sources.

You don’t absolutely need host plants in your butterfly garden, but by having a few of them around - either in your main planting or somewhere nearby - you will help to increase the local butterfly population and increase your opportunity for observation of the next generation’s adult form.  Most butterflies travel only a few hundred yards from where they grow up as caterpillars.

You can raise your own butterflies indoors - even after summer has passed.  No matter what your age, it’s fun to watch the metamorphosis from egg to butterfly.  By releasing the adults, you may even help to increase the butterfly populations in your outdoor garden and neighborhood.  If you have just one square foot of space, you can easily raise 50 to 100 butterflies.  It’s relaxing and rewarding.  When you release a new butterfly that you’ve raised, you can make a wish or simply watch your cares fly away with it.

The first step is making an aviary - or butterfly house.  To begin, identify the proper host plant for the kind of butterflies that you wish to raise, and pot one up so that you can bring it indoors.  Then use two long pieces of wire to construct a teepee-like frame work over the plant.  Cover the framework with mosquito netting or an old sheer curtain and fasten the bottom of the net to the pot with string or a rubber band.

Now find a female butterfly - the right species for your host plant - and catch her.  What’s that?  How do you tell a male from a female?  The best way is to consult a good field guide to butterflies:  Males and females of the same species often have distinguishing marks or flight patterns that will be illustrated or described in the guide.  For example, the male monarch’s scent pouch on its hind wing looks like a large black dot.  (Hold the butterfly upside down by its wings, and look at the tip of its abdomen.  You’ll see claspers on a male, but not on a female.

Butterflies are most active, and therefore easiest to spot on sunny days.  Late morning is prime time.  Late afternoon is also good for seeing and catching butterflies, but they often hide during the hottest part of the day.  To catch your butterfly, wear subdued colors and approach very slowly.
Almost any female that you catch in your garden will already be fertilized.  After you put her in the cage, add a small melon cube for food (sugar), or provide a few nectar flowers, such as cosmos or zinnias.  A brand new, never used orange pot scrubber in a shallow dish filled with sugar water also works.  At first you may need to coax her to eat by opening her proboscis with a tooth pick (Yes, you can do this!  It’s easy!)  and she’ll soon catch on.

Cover the entire cage with a brown paper bag to keep the butterfly calm; strong light will cause her to become active and she may hurt herself in the enclosed space.  After 24 hours, begin checking the leaves of your host plant for eggs - a female will generally begin laying in one to seven days.  (After she’s laid a few eggs, you can release her.)


ANNUALS BLOOM TIME1. Alyssum summer to mid fall
2. Cosmos late summer to fall
3. Heliotrope late spring to summer
4. Marigold summer into fall
5. Nasturtium* late summer
6. Salvia summer through fall
7. Zinnia mid-summer to fall
BIENNIALS8. Red Clover * summer
9. Queen Anne’s Lace late spring through fall
10. Sweet William spring through early summer

PERENNIALS BLOOM TIME11. Asters late summer to fall
12. Bergamot summer through fall
13. Butterfly Bush mid-summer to fall
14. Butterfly Weed summer through fall
15. White Clover* summer
16. Coreopsis all summer
17. Purple Coneflower late summer into fall
18. Hollyhock* summer
19. Lavender summer
20. Lupine* late spring to early summer
21. Phlox (paniculata) all summer
22. Black-eyed Susan mid-summer to early fall
23. Salvia summer into fall
24. Shasta Daisy summer
25. Thistles* late spring through fall
6. Violet* spring
27. Yarrow mid to late summer
* also serves as a caterpillar host plant