How to Use Plants and More to Repel Mosquitoes

by Tiffany in Gardening

Use Plants to Repel MosquitoesIt is the worst when pesky mosquitoes keep you from enjoying the outdoors, especially your own backyard. Some of us with harsh winters don’t want to let even one summer night go to waste, so what can be done to keep those blood suckers away??

Well, your garden can actually be used as mosquito control headquarters if you plant strategically!

Just be aware that none of the plants I am going to mention can keep mosquitos simply by growing them in a garden or inside a container. I think many people misunderstand and think that all you have to do is grow certain plants and the mosquitos will smell them and stay away from the area. This is simply not true.

You need to grow the plants and then USE the plants. They contain great natural mosquito repellents that you have to apply personally. The mosquito repelling plants only work if you strip off the leaves, crush them up, and rub them on your exposed skin. When you use these plants in this way they work just as well as any chemical based repellent you will find in stores. Even better, if you grow these repellent plants then they are always available when you are outside working in the yard or just relaxing on your patio.

Plants to Repel Mosquitoes

Lemon Balm – This is a great mosquito repelling plant because it produces large leaves fairly quickly. Because it so easy to grow and it is actually on the invasive side (like mint), you may want to plant it in raised beds or large containers.

Lemon Thyme  – This lemony scented planted is one of the absolute best mosquito repellents you could ever grow. The caveat is that it is small plant with tiny leaves so you have to grow a lot of it to last a family through mosquito season. However it is a trailing plant perfect for large containers and hanging baskets.

Catnip – Another great plant that can be used to keep those skeeters away but I have never been tempted to grow this one because I don’t want cats in my yard.

Before you crush up some leaves and rub them all over your body or that of your kids do a patch test first to determine how your skin will react. Rub the leaves on the skin of one forearm only and give it some time. Just because something is natural does not mean is always 100% safe for you personally. The are potent plant oils we are dealing with. Also don’t assume that because many of the repellent plants are lemon scented means you can just go ahead and use lemon or lime leaves. These plants have been known to cause serious skin reactions, especially if you are in the sun.

Other Ways to Keep Mosquitoes Away

A fan – If you are enjoying some time outside on your patio or laying on a deck or lawn chair then set up a fan to circulate air around you. Mosquitoes cannot fly very well so a strong breeze will keep them away.

Standing water – Don’t allow standing water to pool around your house. Clean gutters of debris often and make sure rain barrels are secure and cannot become mosquito breeding houses.

BTI – Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis is bacteria used to control larvae stages of certain species. You can use dunks or granules in areas where there is water around your home to decimate the mosquito population. It is a natural biological control and it will NOT harm bees, birds, frogs, toads, pets or people. It only affects mosquitos and certain flies.

Attract Birds – If you want fewer mosquitoes then you may want to attract more predators that eat them. Bird houses for nesting, bird feeders, and bird baths with fresh water will usually mean more birds and fewer pesky mosquitos.

The mosquitoes may invade your yard and make it a less likely for you to enjoy your time outdoors but you can turn the tables and use it as command central to combat these blood suckers and get back to enjoying every lazy summer evening you have. Good luck!


Get Rid of Slugs in Your Garden Naturally

by Tiffany in Gardening

Get Rid of Slugs in Your Garden NaturallyFor the first time in my gardening career I am facing a slug invasion. Slugs can be a problem when it comes to plants and vegetables. Many gardeners have been reduced to near tears after seeing the fruits of their labor eaten by slugs. If you’re gardening organically this makes the task of getting rid of slugs that much harder.

This is my first year gardening at our new homestead so it would appear that slugs may be a problem in our new location but so far I am having success keeping them under control. Well, that is after they destroyed pretty much all of my green bean plants. Lesson learned. I am encouraged that if I stay on top of the issue they won’t cause me to much angst.

There are some things you can do to get rid of slugs from your garden…

Here’s how:

Build a barrier – If your vegetables and fruit are planted in raised beds this is quite easy. Simply attach a barrier that the slugs won’t cross and get into the border. The best material to use is a strip of copper all around the sides of your borders. Slugs don’t like copper and so it will be difficult for them to enter.

Make it bumpy – Slugs don’t like bumpy or rough textures as it is difficult for them to crawl on it. Add crushed egg shells or spiky rocks and pebbles around your vegetables to make this task difficult. Mulch is not good as slugs are attracted to rotten decomposing material. It is the same with straw, they are thriving in my straw bale garden but I can add rocks and eggshells around the individual plants.

Build a trap – You make your own traps very easily. Bury a small plastic cup in your vegetable patch….kind of like a slug swimming pool. Fill these traps with beer. As the slugs crawl into the traps they will fall in the beer and drown. It really does work. I fill a beer trap every evening and in the first week I got dozens of slugs each night.

You can also make a trap with human hair. Just brush your lovely locks and grab the tufts of hair left behind and place them near your plants. The slug will get tangled in the hair.

Use your hands – This is by far the most time consuming way of removing slugs but if all else fails it’s good to catch them at dusk (this is when they tend to be out) and remove them one by one from your plants. Also avoid watering at dusk and do it instead in the morning. They like the cooler dusk temperatures and moist soil. By keeping things dry you make things less hospitable for them.

Sprinkle cornmeal – Slugs love to eat cornmeal but it expands in their stomachs after they eat it, resulting in dead slugs. Sprinkle cornmeal liberally around your garden to feed the slugs what YOU want them to eat and end up with fewer slugs in the long run.

I hope that one or more of these tactics will help you conquer the slugs in your own garden!

Get Rid of Slugs


Straw Bale Gardening

by Tiffany in Gardening

Straw Bale GardeningIf you have enough space for a bale of straw, then you have enough space for a garden. Growing vegetables in a straw bale is easy, fun and a good way to inspire kids to start gardening. A straw bale acts much like a raised bed, you just plant directly in the bale. It is a great gardening method to use in areas that have poor soil, or if your dwelling has minimal outdoor space. Use these tips to grow your own straw bale garden.


Any flat surface that receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day is a great location for a straw bale garden.If it’s a grassy outdoor location, place several layers of newspaper or weed inhibiting fabric on the grass, then place the straw bale on top.

Straw Bale

Organic straw can be sourced from a local organic farmer. Bales can also be purchased from local garden supply center, but they may not be organic. I used Craigslist to source mine and I emailed before hand to see how the straw was grown and if it was sprayed with anything or grown in a field where the previous crop was sprayed.

Place the bale on its side with the twine running around the perimeter so it won’t impede plant growth from the top of the bale. The twine will also hold the bale together during the garden growing season.

Straw bales are usually cheap too! You can often find them for under $10 bucks a bale. We started our first straw bale garden with 20 bales and we got them for $6 a bale, delivered.

Bale Preparation

Start preparing the straw bale two weeks before planting time so the internal composting process will be well underway at planting time. You can find directions for how to do this but the basic idea is to water the straw bales thoroughly every day for a week. Every other day, place 3 cups of organic fertilizer on top of each bale prior to watering. The water will push the fertilizer down into the center of the bale where it’s needed. For a free natural source of nitrogen fertilizer look into human urine. It works!

On the tenth day place 1 1/2 cups of phosphorus and 1 1/2 cups of potassium on top of each straw bale and water thoroughly. Continue watering daily until the end of 2 weeks.

If you have prepared the bale(s) correctly, the interior should be hot and moist and black spots and/or mushrooms should be visible on the exterior of the straw bale.

mushrooms on straw bale

Essentially what you are doing when conditioning straw bales for a straw bale garden is you are causing the bales to start composting which makes it easier for planting and it fills the bales with beneficial microorganisms. You need to wait 2-3 weeks after starting so that your bales are not still “hot” from composting and burn your plants.

Time to Plant

Use a hand-held trowel to create planting holes in the top of the straw bale. Place potting soil in each planting hole, then place selected vegetable plants into each hole and cover roots with potting soil. Water plants well.

To plant seeds, spread 2 inches of potting soil over the entire top of the straw bale and sprinkle selected seeds on top. Cover seeds with a light layer of potting soil and water well.

Plants that grow upward (peas) or need support (tomatoes, cukes) can be grown quite easily too. Just add some stakes with wire or twine going across to support vines and plants with heavy fruit. You can even plant in the sides of the bales. The growing space seems small but it really isn’t.

For information on companion planting and ideal layouts for straw bale gardens I highly recommend the book Straw Bale Gardens. I borrowed it from the library initially and had to buy it, it is a great wealth of knowledge.

straw bale gardening

Water straw bale as needed during the growing season. Straw bales can dry out quickly so make sure you are harvesting rain water so you can water frequently. A good drip system or soaker hose down the middle of each row of bales is also beneficial.

lettuce and swiss chard straw bales

There is often no need to add more fertilizer, the straw bales contains enough nutrients to sustain the plants until harvest time. Though if you feel you need to add some extra nutrients you can use compost and compost tea.

Monday, May 30th, 2016

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5 Composting Myths Debunked

by Tiffany in Gardening

5 Composting Myths DebunkedDid you know that it is International Compost Awareness Week? Say what? Yes we have a week dedicated to composting awareness and I think it very much warranted. There is so much misinformation out there about composting. I want to pull my hair out every time I hear someone say they want to compost but is smells bad, or it attracts rats to their pristine neighborhood. My bullshrimp meter skyrockets.

Composting is incredibly easy and it is incredibly important to do. A whopping 50% of landfill waste is compostable. That means 50% of what you throw out in the waste bin could instead be thrown into the compost pile to make a valuable product that our much depleted soil wants and needs. There are no good excuses for why you aren’t doing this…right this minute, in some form. If you have a yard, then a compost pile is easy to set up. I have two and building them took about 10 minutes each. If you live in an apartment or condo then an indoor setup, such as a worm bin can be used, I did this for years. We can all do something.

5 Composting Myths Debunked

Compost Smells Bad – This is an excuse most commonly used by folks in nicer neighborhoods and cities who don’t want the neighbors to see (or smell) an icky compost bin. I have composted for over ten years now. I have never once had an issue with smell. If you have an issue with smell you are doing something wrong and it can be fixed. A gooey, sludgy, wet compost pile may in fact smell and this means you need to balance it out and add more dried leaves and paper. You can also turn to allow air to circulate. You may also be putting things in the compost that should not go in it. Read my post about What Goes In A Compost Pile. A compost pile done right smells like dirt and dirt is nothing the neighbors can’t handle.

Composting is Complicated – No, it really isn’t. Dead things decay, that is the process of life. Those things will happen with or without you. All you are doing with compost is managing it. All you have to do is add roughly the same amount of carbon materials as you do nitrogen materials (50/50). That is all.

Composting Takes Too Much Time – I have two large compost piles. We compost the food waste and paper waste for a family of five, we have rabbit manure that we collect and compost, and we have over half an acre of yard waste. We spend maybe 10 minutes a week doing anything compost related. Tell me again how composting takes so much time?? Pfft! That is what I love about composting. It is almost effortless and the rewards are so great..aka a beautiful landscaped front yard and a large produce garden in the back…all nourished with rich, nutrient dense compost.

Here is my 10 minute compost plan:

  • Put food scraps in compost buckets daily.
  • Once full empty buckets in rubbish bin just outside the back door.
  • Dump rabbit manure in rubbish bin
  • Add yard waste to the rubbish bin
  • Once full (or getting too heavy) dump the contents of the bin into the compost pile
  • Once a month (maybe) turn the compost using a pitch fork.
  • Easy peasy and and barely any time required at all.

You Need Lots of Space to Compost – No you really don’t. When we lived in an apartment we used an indoor worm bin. When we moved to a duplex we composted in a 2×6 wooden box that my husband built. Since we had no yard waste (or rabbits) it handled all of our food and paper waste and we borrowed the neighbor’s leaves when needed. They really didn’t mind. This is what we worked with back then and we had some darn good compost!

5 Composting Myths Debunked

Now we have half an acre and much more room to work with but really we don’t use much space for composting, as you can see. Each bin is about 5-6 feet across and 4 feet deep.

5 Composting Myths Debunked

Compost Bins Attract Animals and Bugs – Bugs, yes and that is to be expected and celebrated. Bugs helps the composting process along. They do not however create a haven for so many bugs that it impacts our life in some negative way. As for animals, well in ten years I have never noticed any animals getting into my compost, ever (and we have lots of wild animals in the area). I even use open air compost bins with food waste. I just make sure that I do not add foods on the no-compost list such as meat, fat, and dairy. I find that this myth is just another “excuse” for why composting cannot be done and it has no basis in truth.

What composting myths are you willing to let go of and give this whole composting things a try? I would love to know!


Garden Markers and Labels

by Tiffany in Gardening

Garden Markers and LabelsDo we really need garden markers or labels? Well, if you are anything like me you go a little crazy when it comes time to plant seeds in early spring and then seedlings in late spring. Some plants I am used to because I plant them every year. I can identify them rather easily. Others are new to me and rather than be left scratching my head wondering what in the sam hill I planted in various spots around the garden I like to use garden markers. They also help my kids learn to identify what is growing in the garden. No more asking a child to cut some cilantro for dinner and have them return with parsley.

Here are some garden markers that would be super helpful your garden…

Vegetable Garden Markers – This set of ten markers are super cute! They actually have pictures of various veggies that are popular among vegetable gardeners. Includes: Onion, Eggplant, Lettuce, Pepper, Tomato, Cucumber, Carrot, Broccoli, Radish, and Peas. (pictured above)

A more grownup version of this can be found here.

Slate Artisan Plant Markers – These hand crafted markers are made of slate and can be written on with a waterproof grease pencil (also in the set) to create a chalk-lettering look and comes off easily with mineral spirits. The markers hang on a metal rod you stick in the ground.

Herb Garden Markers – These laser-etched plant marker stakes are stylish and made just for herbs.

herbs garden markers

Copper Plant Labels – These cute labels come on stainless steel stakes and can be written on with markers.

copper garden label

Seed Packet Plant Markers – These might actually be my favorite marker. My mom always taught me to tape or glue the seed packet to a stake and use that for my garden markers so this takes that to a new level. Of course that won’t work if you are using heirloom seeds or seeds from a seed swap!

seed packet marker

Plant Labels Made from Recycled Pots – Not a huge fan of plastic but I like that these are recycled. They have a very solid, robust slate-like look and feel so no plastic “look” and of course we know the material is weather resistant and long-lasting. 20 labels in a set.

pot markers

Ceramic Garden Markers – If you are a hardcore herb gardener or vintage lover and you have money to burn than you might want these gorgeous sculpted markers with a glossy ceramic finish in four vintage colors. They are expensive though!

ceramic garden markers

Thursday, April 14th, 2016

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