The Teaser

Somehow it is ironic—instead of me describing a tool that I feel you need, but don’t have, here is a tool that you do have, but probably don’t need.  Unless you have steadfastly held onto the eating habits of your Neanderthal ancestors, I’m betting that you have at least one set of eating utensils in your home.  It is the dinner knife that I am singling out this time.  I have found that this is the best tool for teasing out weeds from ground cover.  Now, if you don’t have ground cover, stop reading and go out to your garden and do something useful—take a flashlight if it is dark.

Since you are still reading, you must have ground cover . . or are just too pooped to crawl out to the garden again.  Now the term “teasing” is a biological dissection term for the act of carefully separating the organs of small specimens with pointed tools like probes or dissecting needles.  Every time I use a dinner knife to tease a weed out of desired ground cover plants, I cannot help but be reminded of my first biology dissection where I cut through the dorsal surface of a preserved earthworm and teased through the connective tissue until I found the two lobed brain and the nerve cords that led down and around the pharynx.  Hmmm . . . you don’t have those same memories

Back to the garden:  The way you use your knife to tease is to grab the offending weed and pull gently while you work the knife down into the root area and move it about.  If you are successful, the weeds will be extracted and the ground cover will remain intact.  If you are unsuccessful, the stem of the weed will break off only to regrow when you aren’t looking.  Now I will be the first to admit that this is not a pleasant gardening chore.  You are on you hands and knees with you nose to the ground (not literally).  Even using knee pads does not appease my knees which insist on complaining for hours afterwards.

I have included 3 examples of weeding that recently required teasing in my garden.  I always refer to the ground cover plants as conspiring plants as they seem to delight in hiding offensive weeds until they grow into maturity.

You know, if using grandma’s sterling dinner knife seems disrespectful, drop by a thrift store and pick up a strong stainless steel model, but watch out for impulse buying!

Stan, The Tool Man

Australian violets in baby tears Grass in baby tears
Spurge in Dimondia Australian violets in baby tears Grass in baby tears

My Wife Is Thrilled

Today (June 16) my wife is thrilled.  Caterpillars are eating her passion vines.  Not only that—the adults are doing a little dance to spread their pheromones.  Soon there will be Gulf Fritillaries all over the back yard.  If you are interested in attracting butterflies to your yard, your best chance is to grow either Passiflora caerulea or Passiflora edulis in your garden.  Many other passion vines are not attractive to this butterfly, especially those with red flowers.

LaVille will not have vines available at the upcoming Fall sale, but if you are eager, you can come over to the house and she can give you cuttings to give you a head start on next Spring’s growth.  I suggest you come early while there is still plant material left over from voracious larval munching (just kidding).

Stan, The Happy Husband

Catepillar on Passion Vine
Caterpillar on Passion Vine
Gulf Fritillaries orange butterfly
Gulf Fritillaries

 

Would You Like To Drip?

I have been trying to be able to write a comprehensive article about drip systems.  I began with a list of a half dozen mistakes that I have made.  I then thought I could add to my list of suggestions by viewing a few YouTube videos.  Well, this went on for hours.  I ended up with 2 full pages of notes.  It was then that I realized that there is too much information to put into a single article.  No one is going to read an article pages long.  So, instead, if you are truly interested in creating a drip system, you need to do your own research.  The best single YouTube program I found can be reached by googling “YouTube Drip System Watters Garden Center”.  Now there are 3 videos—view the 2015 version.  This is a program put on by the owner of a nursery in Prescott, AZ.  He will give you a lot of practical information.  If you are not yet saturated with him, simply Google “YouTube Drip Irrigation” and check out more videos.

 Now I will try to add ideas that you may have missed:

If you have distance separated plants, for instance potted plants, then using drip emitters is wise.  If you have plants densely planted or areas of ground cover, then using mini sprayers would be better.  You cannot use drippers and sprayers on the same system.  If you choose sprayers, you need to see me before buying items.  I will get you started right.

Whatever system you use, try to buy parts made by the same company so they are compatible.  Rain Bird seems to be the most common drip system brand.  I just checked out at Home Depot, and that seemed to be just about all they carried—which was a lot!  I particularly suggest buying the Rain Bird ½” couplers because they will handle all the various brands of “half inch” delivering tubing that will vary a lot in size.  But order your ¼ inch delivery tubing from Amazon: “MIXC ¼ inch Blank Distribution Tubing Drip Irrigation Hose”. This is superior product.   Attach the ¼ tubing to the barbed coupling first before insertion and grab the coupling with pliers to give you more leverage when forcing the coupling into the ½ inch delivery tube.

I’m going to assume that you are going to hook to a hose bib.  If that bib is attached to your house, make sure it’s not delivering softened water—not a good thing.  If you are buying connectors that are threaded, remember that pipe thread and hose thread are different.

If you have plantings that are lined up like in a vegetable garden, your best bet would be the tubing that contains inline pressure compensating emitters.  Limit ¼ inch line runs to 25 feet. ½ inch lines can go hundreds of feet.  I recommend these inline emitters over rubber soaker hose or T-tape.  Run your inline system first before planting so you can see where the moist soil will be.

You barely need to cover delivery tubing if you choose to.  Sun exposed tubing will last for 10 to 15 years.  Then too, covered tubing won’t be tripped over.  Leave the ends of lines exposed or at least located so they can be found and opened for flushing once a year.  Also, flush out a line before using it the first time.

You can make staples to hold down tubing out of wire coat hangers.  I can do this for you.

You will have to have different systems for trees and shrubs vs. flowering plants.  One system is for infrequent deep watering and the other is for more frequent short watering.

Set your timer to water very early in the morning, but occasionally run the system briefly while you are out there to detect problems.

Plan on expanding your system as you do more planting and as plants get bigger and need more emitters surrounding them.

Don’t forget to buy a backflow preventer, timer, filter, pressure regulator and a Y splitter with valves so you can still attach a hose at the hose bib.

Good luck!  Stan (You may simply call me Dr. Drip.)

Got Nuts?

I’ll bet you do have nuts!  As I look across the kitchen from where I am writing, I see a big jar of Planters peanuts and next to it is another big jar of Kirkland’s Marcona Almonds.  (These are SO GOOD!  but the store supply is seasonal, so you need to buy many jars when they are in.)  Right next to the jars is the frig where we keep the walnuts.  (I don’t know why.)  Just checked the pantry and found an unopened bag of Blue Diamond lightly salted almonds. Anyway, we definitely got nuts, and I bet you do too.

 Now, how about rats?  Do you have rats?  We have rats because we have citrus trees.  Unfortunately we park our cars in the driveway nearby and rats love to make a nest in the engine compartment.  Those little b*#&+%s (I’ve never sworn in a blog before—can you tell?) ate wiring in our Yukon.  That was expensive.  They also did a job on our air conditioning condenser on the other side of the house.  Not cheap either.  Anyway . . . we know rats.  We have also killed a lot of rats, and one of the problems is disposing of the carcass.  If you just put it in the garbage, it will probably stink up that whole side of the house even when you bag it.  We have had to resort to double Ziploc bagging the varmint and putting it in the freezer until garbage day.  The problem is that we often forget it, and when we discover it several weeks later when looking for dinner, it’s rather disturbing.

Now, how about tomatoes?  Since you are a gardener in the Sacramento Valley, I know you have tomato plants—It’s the law.  Don’t you just hate it when a rat gets into your tomato plant and takes just one bite out of your best tomatoes?  (Insert you own swear word here: ____________.

 Now that we have determined you have nuts, rats, and tomatoes, let’s get ready to kill those suckers.  (Is that swearing?)  You have baited your rat traps with peanut butter before, and that works well, but I am always disappointed when the ants get to the bait first, leaving me with a very clean, empty trap.  Here is what you need to do.  Take one of your nuts—preferably an almond—and hot glue it to the trip pedal.  Do this before you set the trap, or you will end up with hot glue everywhere!  Now you have a trap that can be used over and over.

I’ll leave trap placement up to you.  One of my favorites is to secure it to the limb of a citrus tree with green tape or a zip tie.  Somehow it is more satisfying to find a rat hanging suspended from a trap.  I have also found it advantageous to drill a hole in the corner of the trap and attach a cord when positioning a trap on a fence or on a ledge.

I know you hate to give up a nut, but it’s only one.  I was going to use a marcona almond, but couldn’t bear to lose one, and opened the Blue Diamond bag instead.

 

Rat trap baited with almond
Rat trap baited with almond

Happy trapping, Stan, The Nut Man

P.S. I just ordered an ultrasonic rodent repellant deterrent device from Amazon that will attach to my new car’s battery.  I figure $24 is cheap insurance preventing over $1000 worth of damage.

The Old Man

There was once an old man that lived down the street.  Along with other home owners in the neighborhood, he had a magnolia tree growing in the middle of his front lawn.  Every day I would see him wandering all over the lawn picking up magnolia leaves with a grabber.  I assumed he probably was too stiff to bend over, or perhaps was fearful of doing a face plant on display for the entire neighborhood.  He eventually had the tree cut down so the only time I would see him is when he would drive by.  Dr. Chambers died probably 30 years ago.

I recently spruced up my front landscape with a yard and a half of mini bark from Hasties.  I appreciate the improvement so much that I constantly am out there with a grabber picking up the magnolia leaves that my nextdoor neighbor’s tree provides.  I wonder what the neighbors think of me?

Stan, The Old Man

Where’s Bernoulli?

 This is a science lesson.  So if you have no interest in science, stop reading now.

 You know the saying, “You cannot keep an old dog from teaching old tricks.”  I taught science for 37 years, so I cannot help thinking about scientific principles while gardening.  For instance, every time I use my leaf blower to move a stubborn magnolia leaf that my neighbor’s tree has provided, I think about Bernoulli’s Principle.  Good old Bernoulli discovered that the faster a fluid moves, the lower the internal pressure.  The next time you fly (in an airplane) look at the wing.  You will see that the upper surface is curved compare to the bottom surface.  This causes the air moving over the top of the wing to travel a longer distance than air beneath it.  The air on top therefore has to move faster to get the back of the wing at the same time as the air beneath it.  Since the pressure on top is reduced, the greater pressure beneath will lift the wing (and hopefully you along with it).

 

Bernoulli’s Principle
Bernoulli’s Principle

 So why, when I blow air over the top of a magnolia leaf, doesn’t it rise?  Well, unfortunately I know the answer.  Technically it is called “angle of attack”.  (LaVille and I used to fly small planes.)  The air blown at the leaf is coming down on it rather than parallel to it.  I supposed if I laid the blower down on the ground so that the air flowed along it, the leaf might rise.  But that would look stupid, and I get ridiculed enough as it is.

So the next time you are out blowing leaves and a leaf sticks to the ground so you have to go and kick it, yell out “Where’s Bernoulli?” . . Or the next time you are flying along in a plane, say a silent (or loud) thanks to Bernouli.  He’s doing a great job of keeping you up.

Stan, The Science Man

Improved Lawn Edging

If you look at the first photo below, you can see that absolute mess I made trying to edge my otherwise beautiful lawn with a string edger.  Lawn edging is something that I have never been able to do well.  Well, I solved my problem.  I removed the guard from the edger.  Now I can actually see what I am doing, and have been able to do a good job, if I do say so myself.  If you also choose to remove the trimmer guard, you must wear eye protection.  I would also suggest that you floss your teeth when your edging is finished.

Stan, The Much Improved Man

Butchered lawn edging
Butchered lawn edging

Trimmer with guard removed
Trimmer with guard removed

 

Got Roots?

Root Slayer
Root Slayer
Here is another tool recommended by Anita Clevenger.  The Root Slayer is a shovel with a sharp V-shaped tip and blade edges with saw teeth.  It is perhaps Anita’s favorite tool because using it vastly reduces the strain on her hands and wrists.  She says it’s absolutely essential for digging around trees.  One of the drawbacks to this shovel is that it will slice right through irrigation lines as well as roots.  Then too, the tool description says not to use it for prying action.  The Root Slayer comes in 3 basic models—a straight long handle version for $47, a short heavy-duty version for $64 and a light-weight short version for $35.  In Amazon’s description the light-weight shovel is suggested “for women and mature gardeners”.  If you are not sure if you fit into these categories, give me a call and I’ll help you decide.

Stan, The Tool Man

P.S.  A further discussion with Anita revealed that there are many models of the Root Slayer.  Her model is actually the lighter version discussed above, but with a different handle than the ring handle.  She feels the lighter shovel is better because it can maneuver into smaller spaces.  She also indicated that this is a popular shovel with backpackers and users of metal detectors.  I suspect that short 29” “Mini-Digger” or the trowel would be useful here.

Got Grass?

Here is a tool via Anita Clevenger.  The Japanese grass sickle saw is an inexpensive tool that will really save you a great deal of time when it’s time to cut back your ornamental grasses.  There are many models, but the one Anita bought at Home Depot is unique in that the inner blade is a fine-toothed edge that is extremely sharp—I mean really, really sharp.  Wear a substantial glove with the hand you use to grab a bunch of grass and slice off that bunch with a careful quick pull.  The one model I found on Amazon with a finely serated edge is the “Hounenkihan Japanese Grass Sickle Saw” and runs $16.99.  Remember to count your fingers when you finish the job.  You may have left something behind.

Stan, The Tool Man

Japanese grass sickle
Japanese grass sickle

Building Raised Planter Beds

With all the pandemic caused emphasis on home improvement, this would have been a good article to write a year ago.  Better late than never.  As usual, wanting to advise others comes as a result of mistakes I have made, some of which are described below.

Size:  Length can be whatever you want.  Width, however, should be no more than 4 feet.  I have 3 beds that are 5 feet by 8 feet and it is difficult to do any work near the center of the beds.  The one 4 footer is so much easier.  The walls of my beds are made with three 2 x 6’s, so they are about 18 inches high.  Now that I think of it, 24 inches would have been much better in terms of having to bend over less.  But then, I think proportions look better at 18”—you gotta look good even if it’s painful.  The higher you raise the box, the stronger the support needed to keep boards from bowing out if they are long.  People use raised beds to make tending them easier and to create an enclosure for the new improved soil that can be brought in that, hopefully, plants will love.  Most people find that a bed 10 or 12 inches high works well for them—not so much for growing tomatoes which are best planted 18 inches down.

Materials:  Most people use wood.  Redwood is probably the best.  When you are picking out your 2-by boards, try to find those that have the most heartwood.  The reddish heartwood is far more resistant to rot than the pale sapwood.  Cedar is another good choice.  Pressure treated wood is more controversial.  No arsenic has been used in this wood since 2003-4.  Currently 2 different copper compounds are used and although no traces of these chemicals have been found in either soil or vegetables, pressure treated wood is not recommended for planter boxes in which food is grown.  You can alleviate you fears by lining the box with heavy plastic—say 6 mil.  You can also seal the box with paint or another kind of sealer.  One caution—avoid breathing the dust when cutting pressurized wood.  Wear a mask.  I know you know how to do that.  More expensive, but far more durable is construction with masonry.  There are all kinds of attractive alternatives here.  The drawback is that you have to lean over farther to work with your plants and the material is not gentle on elbows and knees

Misc.  Plan ahead and bring irrigation lines up into the box.  Cover the bottom with hardware cloth—you know, the substantial ¼” wire mesh, to keep varmints out.  A layer of weed cloth will also discourage the invasion of roots from a nearby tree.  Trust me—tree roots will love the great soil and water you have provided.  If you are using wood, consider installing flat boards on the top edges for ease of sitting.  Don’t just use screws to hold lumber together.  Use lag screws, or better yet, use bolts with washers.  If using lag screws, predrill to prevent splitting.  You can attach a band of copper mesh around the outside to keep snails and slugs out—but not earwigs.  Finally, as you can see below, if you use treated posts, you have to add preservative, sealer, or a cap to cuts that have exposed untreated interior areas.

In-box irrigation
In-box irrigation

Rotting post
Rotting post

Copper mesh prevents slugs
Copper mesh

Post cap
                        Post cap

Why does most of my learning have to come at the expense of mistakes I have made?

Stan, The Blog Man

Hosers Only

I was recently notified about writing a blog concerning a very serious matter.  You see, this person (who will remain nameless) accidentally left a hose running all night resulting in the flooding of her back yard.   She  was rather upset about this and felt that she, as well as others, need some suggestions to prevent this happening again.  Here are some ideas:

  1. Electronic and mechanical timers that attach to hose bibs. The mechanical ones may not work if the volume is low.
  2. Electronic timers. These small battery operated timers are otherwise used as kitchen timers.
  3. Alexa is always willing to set an alarm for you.
  4. Exercise tracking watches sometimes have an alarm feature.
  5. Battery operated flood detectors will issue an alarm if water reaches the sensor.
  6. Rubber wrist bands that you store on the hose bib can be worn as a reminder.
  7. The most easily used device is your phone which I know is tethered to your body.

Hopefully you will find one or more of these suggestions useful so you won’t make the same mistake that Beverly (oops) made.  Coincidentally I am using a wrist band right now.

Stan, The Blog Man

Garden Shields

I recently had a newly cultivated area that I wanted to let dry out until planting.  I used 2 political signs to ward off the spray from 2 sprinklers and they really worked well.  By cutting off all but 6 inches from the supporting wire of the sign, you can poke it into the ground and move the shield wherever you want.  The sign is made of corrugated plastic so it is impervious to water.  On the other hand, you might want to shield certain plants from harsh sun rays.  When not in use, these flat shields store efficiently.

As you know these signs are readily available when political issue are made public.  You can either wait until issues are settled, or simply pick up the signs when they don’t agree with your viewpoint. ( My editor says I can’t say that.)

Stan, The Blog Man

Repurposed political signs
Repurposed political signs as garden shields

In Search of Moderation

Here, unfortunately, is an example of “Do as I say, and not as I have done”.  Moderation is a goal to which most of us aspire—whether it is diet, sun exposure, exercise routines, or mountain climbing.  Gardening should especially fall into this category.  For instance, I was barking in the front yard today.  (“Barking” is the technical term for applying bark to your landscape.)  It was 90 degrees out.  It wasn’t too long before I was tired.  So rather than pushing it, I went into the house and relaxed on my recliner.  And, of course, fell asleep.  I was proud of myself because I quit before I became exhausted, which has been the usual outcome of my gardening activities.  (For your information the way you determine whether you are just tired, or truly exhausted is by the length of your tongue hanging out of your mouth.)  This pause was just the first of many that occurred through the day.  The motivation to overdo activities is to finish the job, and it is a very difficult goal to resist.  But I implore you to consider your physical well being over your mental wellbeing (be it as it may).  Give your body a break and take a break.  The weeds will be willing to wait until you return.  Besides, they will be easier to find.  The mess of leaves will remain—perhaps not in the same location—but they will be somewhere.  Water those potted plants and put them into the ground tomorrow.  I think you get the idea.  Be sensible in your gardening activities—save some of the fun until tomorrow . . or next week.

Stan, The Rested Man

A Neatnik’s Dilemma

Have you ever paused for a moment when removing the debris from around a plant?  That collection of organic matter that covered the ground not only helped to retain soil moisture, but eventually would decompose and release nutrients back into the soil.  So as long as the debris didn’t harbor disease, the plant would be happier if you left things be.  But would you be happier?  Probably not, unless you dress up the surroundings with mulch.  Even then I have seen examples of mulch covered gardens that I consider downright ugly.  3 to 4 inches of ugly doesn’t do a thing for me.  On the other hand, I love the effect created by a covering of mini bark.  I used to be able to buy “Pathway Bark” from Garden Time at Lowes, but now all they have available is “Pathway Groundcover” which more closely resembles sawdust than bark.  If you were at Jeannie’s pop-up sale, you might have noticed how great the landscaping appeared as it was dolled up with a covering of mini bark.  I asked her husband and he said he was able to get at Hasties.  He said it was rather expensive though.

As usual, I have strayed from my original topic—that of the dilemma of whether or not you should clean up around plants in your garden—are you making the plants happier, or making you happier?  You can do both, but more often I simply opt for me.  Just being selfish, I guess.

Stan, The Blog Man

A Bigger Burning Desire

LaVille and I have recently joined the weeding group working to maintain the WPA Rock Garden.  We meet between 9:00 and 9:30 each Thursday and park above the Rock Garden on the road that leads to the entrance to the zoo.  A finer group of volunteers you’ll never meet.  The task I have chosen is to attack the weeds in the paths with a torch.  Now the torch I use is the same one I use almost daily in our garden going after newly germinating moss, baby tears, and annual bluegrass.  Most of the weeds I toast are less than ½ inch high, so the small torch I use produces a small, concentrated flame that adequately bakes my prey.  (It’s the same torch I described in the blogs on the SPPC web site.)  Like I discussed before, the problem is that I have to bend over the weeds, and unless there is a breeze, the smoke rises up into my face.  I bob and weave about trying to avoid the smoke, but the days following a burning session are sometimes accompanied by irritated eyes.  I tried to solve this one day at the Rock Garden by wearing googles but was discouraged by the ridicule of my wife and the fear in the eyes of children walking the paths.

I just have to stop here and tell you what a fantastic place the Rock Garden is—thanks primarily to Daisy Mah who has made the garden so special.  The winding paths bordered by walls of granite boulders encompass plantings that are marvelous.  It is a joy to see adults with their kids wind through the garden.  Professional looking photographers seem always to be there.  Families have gatherings to celebrate occasions.  It is simply a happy place.

 Now, back to burning weeds:  Not only was the smoke in the eyes a problem, but I was pretty much exhausted after bending over for a couple hours.  And, of course, I always stunk of burned weeds afterwards.  My solution was to borrow a long torch from a club member.  I found this really worked well as the larger flame burned weeds probably ten times faster.  But also used gas ten times faster, and in 2 days I went through 2 tanks of propane gas.  I wasn’t too concerned because I was used to picking up tanks and garage sales and estate sales for no more than a couple bucks.  I went to the Davis Ace—no tanks.  I went to Home Depot—no tanks.  I went to Lowes—no tanks.  That’s when I found out that backpackers grab up these tanks as soon as they come in.  OK—Amazon—yes, but they’re over $11 each and would take a week to get here from the East Coast (No combustible gas aboard airlines.)  So I ordered a packet of 4—but just for use with my small torch in my own garden.

My new plan is to order my own bigger torch with a 10 foot hose that will connect to one of my 20 pound propane tanks used with the barbeque.  I’m going to lash it to a hand truck and roll it around the Rock Garden and hopefully eliminate all the weeds in the paths in a couple sessions.  I’ll add the results to this article after next Thursday’s session.

Weeks Later – I have to tell you that I am somewhat frustrated.  I can’t find any more weeds to burn in the paths for the Rock Garden, and it’s tiring dragging the hand truck with the propane tank attached through all the paths because there are raised steps involved.  But the good news is that I really love my new torch.  I no longer have to bend over with my small hand-held torch.  Smoke no longer rises up into my face.  The flame is much bigger and really hot.  If I can find the same model again on Amazon, I’ll picture it below.  It has a self-starter attached so I don’t have to carry around a flint starter.  Until you squeeze the handle, the torch stays lit with a gentle flame.  Then when you press the handle a roaring flame shoot out.  The size of that flame is easily controlled by the knob right near your hand. The 12 foot hose allows you to cover a big area without moving the tank.  Using a 20 pound tank is much much cheaper than using the small tanks that attach directly to the torch.  Plus you can always get the big tank refilled.  Good luck finding a small tank to buy when you need it.

The bad news is . . the chance that a reader of this article would ever need this torch is slim.  I can’t even use this torch on my own property.  Our lot is average-sized for homes built in the ‘70s and there is very little ground left where there’s no valued plant growing.  Then too, bark covers what is left.  I’ll probably take the torch out front and cook all the weeds growing the joints of the sidewalk and in the cracks of the poorly maintained asphalt of the street.  But other than that, my little torch is a far better choice for my personal weed problems.  But if you are fortunate enough to have a large property and unfortunate enough to have a huge weed problem, this is one honey of a tool for you.

Happy burning!

Stan, The Tool Man

P.S. My editor says I should mention that this is a tool only for use by responsible users who are careful enough not to burn down the State of California.