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Total eclipse or Sun Got Bit by Bear

Click below to listen to my 2 min. Garden Bite radio show:  Total eclipse or Sun Got Bit by Bear

In case you’ve been living under a rock in a cave in Alaska… today, the Earth will cross the shadow of the moon, creating a total solar eclipse.  That’s a NASA link!  

Eclipses happen about every six months, but this one is special. For the first time in almost 40 years, the path of the moon’s shadow passes through the continental United States.  From Salem, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina, a 70 mile wide swath will get the full effect of the total solar eclipse.   If you’re in the path, you’ll see one of nature’s most awe inspiring sights. The moon will completely cover the sun and the sun’s tenuous atmosphere – the corona. Observers outside this path will still see a partial solar eclipse where the moon covers part of the sun’s disk.  

That means those of us in the upper midwest, will be looking at between 80 and 85% eclipse, IF it’s not cloudy!  

Click for a map of the eclipse.

DON’T look directly at the sun OR the eclipse.  Click the link and Live Science tells us WHY!

NASA has kits for a total eclipse party!  Gotta love it when an auspicious government agency gets down for a solar party.  Here’s the link to their page!  

There are some interesting myths from around the world. In the U.S,  The Pomo, an indigenous group of people who live in the northwestern part of the country, tell a story of a bear who started a fight with the Sun and took a bite out of it. In fact, the Pomo name for a solar eclipse is Sun got bit by a bear.  After taking a bite of the Sun and resolving their conflict, the bear, as the story goes, went on to meet the Moon and took a bite out of the Moon as well, causing a lunar eclipse. The ancient Greeks believed that a solar eclipse was a sign of angry gods and that it was the beginning of disasters and destruction.  Look for more lore and myth

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Dog days – where did that name come from?

Click below to listen to my 2 min. Garden Bite radio show:  Dog days – where did that name come from?

Hmmm, really, dog days?!  Where are they???  What an odd year this has been.  Although we’ve had a few hot days, it hasn’t felt that bad.   However, we ALL know there will be more warm/hot days to look forward to.  Ahh, the dog days of summer…

Gigi just hangin'

Gigi just hangin’

The “Dog Days” comes from the ancient Greeks and Romans, namely for Sirius, the Dog Star.  The brightest star in the heavens beside the sun.  It was believed to be an evil time!  Personally I think people just went a little bonkers due to heat!

Gigi dug herself a right cool place in the dirt!

With the heat, we need to pay special attention to our container plants (water once or twice a day) and to our newly planted perennials, shrubs and trees.  Give them deep drinks.  Not a surface water sip.  The roots will grow deeper when watered this way.

NOTE:  We’ve had rain…. but that doesn’t mean all our containers are getting it and it does run through them much faster!  And as pointed out yesterday, we still need to take care of those newly planted plants!

On average, plants need an inch of water a week.  Many of our annual plants have “heat stall” right now.  You can leave them be and hope for the best, or you can replant.  Some plants that fair better during the dog days are zinnias, moss rose and amaranthus.

Gigi was a great girl!  Miss her every day....  She had a good life

Gigi was a great girl! Miss her every day…. She had a good life

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Yellow jacket trap

Click below to listen to my 2 min. Garden Bite radio show:  Yellow jacket trap

That little flyer you have hovering over your hot dog is most likely the Yellow Jacket wasp.  In late August yellow jackets are at peak numbers and they want a sip of your drink or a bite of your food just as much as you do!  I read about a great way to handle a stinging situation.

Yellow jacket wasp

From Rodale’s Organic Life magazine – 3 easy steps – the full how-to take out yellow jacket wasps near your BBQ! 

Although these guys are beneficial insects they’re certainly not welcome at your barbecue.  You want them outta there.  Toxic chemicals are hardly an appealing solution around your picnic or your pollinator plants.

Using one of those flat 2 liter bottles, you know the ones that fit in your refrigerator door, you can make your own trap.  Pour a half cup of water into the bottle, add a quarter cup of sugar and shake till the sugar’s dissolved.  Add a cup of apple-cider vinegar, shake again and then add a decaying banana peel.  The combination of sweet decay is nearly irresistible to the yellow jacket.  Add enough water to make the bottle half full.  Cut a three quarter inch hole in the top half of the bottle for the wasps to go in and have a sip.  Most will not find their way back out.

Place it out near the nest or at least away from your eating area and lay it down on it’s side with the opening facing up.  That’s sort of stating the obvious but just to be clear!   If you’re around yellow jackets, try not to make sudden movements, that’s an aggressive move and they will attack.  Unlike bees, yellow jackets can sting repeatedly.

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Organic on the cheap

Click below to listen to my 2 min. Garden Bite radio show:  Organic on the cheap

We’re bombarded almost daily with how to live “green” or organic lives.  Sometimes it’s a pretty easy thing to do, other times, not so much.  I can’t afford an electric car or solar panels on my home, but what I can do is take the bird bath I had on a pedestal and place it on the ground.  So what does THAT do?

watering station

It offers a watering hole for little critters you WANT in your garden.  That would be frogs, toads, lizards, salamanders, snakes and spiders.  They are a cheap method of bug control.  If you buy predator bugs from a magazine, expect them to leave after they’ve eaten this years fill and/or die over the winter.  BONUS – that water is also available for pollinators!!

Nearly everyone loves to hear birds singing and watch for their delicate or sometimes bold colorings but they offer much more to the gardener.  They’re voracious feeders and your best ally in your fight with insects that eat your prized plants.

Ruby-throated hummingbird


Some other cheap options for insect control include diatomaceous earth which slugs hate or using a soapy water mix for aphids and japanese beetles.  Start with a few drops of soap in a spray bottle of water, increase if needed.

this was soapy…. still is, just no suds… only dead bugs

Baking soda is a pretty decent fungicide.

A mix of raw eggs and water will, supposedly, hold back bunnies.  I haven’t tried this yet.

Also, a key thing to remember is that these home remedies need to be used more frequently.  They don’t have the staying power of commercial chemicals so your diligence is required.

Mulch is excellent food for worms which keep your soil loose and airy by digging through it.  They also fertilize the soil with either droppings or castings and with their bodies when they die as they’re flesh is high in nitrogen.

If you have cheap organic methods of dealing with garden issues, let the rest of us know and share it on my Garden Bite facebook page.


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2017 garden triumphs and disappointments

Click below to listen to my 2 min. Garden Bite radio show:  2017 garden triumphs and disappointments

This year has had it’s share of triumphs and disappointments in the garden.  Harvest has brought roadside sweet corn, which is fantastic, thank you to the Grism’s in Northfield!

I’ve been munching ‘sungold’ and ‘sweet million’ cherry tomatoes, which, are like candy without the guilt.

sungold and sweet million

My little neighbor, 5 year old Maggie, declares ‘Sungold’ the best tomato she’s ever eaten and she doesn’t like tomatoes!

I just dehydrated a bunch of cherry tomatoes.  The process intensifies the flavor and then I freeze them for winter use!  This year, for the first time, I’m growing ‘Hungarian Heart’ tomato.  It’s a large heirloom that’s perfect for roasting.

Hungarian Heart 8-12-17

A huge disappointment has been the constant battle I lost to the rabbits for my beets, peas and lettuce.  This is the first year they completely defied my Plantskydd.  Next year I’ll try another organic method.   Likely a fence.

A triumph has been my new native butterfly garden!  OH, it’s glorious!  Except for some rotten rabbits munching on the edges of some of the plants.

Butterfly garden 8-13-17

Another disappointment has been the HUGE influx of Japanese beetles.  Due to our warmer winters, those nasty plant munchers are rising in power.

On roses

A local garden club woman has 70 rose bushes.  She said they’ve been covered and she just can’t keep up.  And, it sounds like they’ll be back with a vengeance next year too.

On the other hand, I’ve not had anyone complaining about powdery mildew on their monarda or phlox or any other plants.   That JUST changed a couple of days ago.  Now seeing powdery mildew on the monarda….. SIGH




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The magic of microbes and why we like them

Click below to listen to my 2 min. Garden Bite radio show:  The magic of microbes and why we like them

Microbes are everywhere!  In our soil, in our plants which means in our food and water and, of course our guts.   So why should we care?  Wellllll… without them life would cease to exist. We’re talking about the magic of microbial science.

Before you zone out – hear me out!

A little gram of soil that’s the size of the tip of your little finger has 10 million microbes!  Scientists are mapping microbes and figuring out ways to manufacture them without harming our plants.  An example is the cancer drug Taxol.  It was discovered on the bark of yew trees which meant they nearly became endangered from overharvesting until scientists figured out that the actual basis for the drug was the microbes that live ON the trees rather than the trees.  Pretty cool.

Soil microbes

Soil microbes

Microbes have a lot to do with maintaining good soil structure, which promotes infiltration and drainage of water, soil aeration, and vigorous root growth and exploration.

There’s a lot of talk about mycorhizzae and gardening.  And for good reason – read on HERE

mycorrhizal fungi

mycorrhizal fungi

Gummy substances produced by soil microbes help cement soil particles together into aggregates, which contribute to soil structure. This cement also makes aggregates less likely to crumble when exposed to water. That’s a good thing!  In general, the abundance of microbes in soil is proportional to the organic matter content. Add that compost!

compost bin B&B

More info can be found at The Atlantic – Healthy soil, Healthy people




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What seed to use for your lawn

Click below to listen to my 2 min. Garden Bite radio show:  What seed to use for your lawn

Depending on where you live this question is answered differently.  We talked about overseeding your lawn but what’s the best mix for you?  There are blends and there are mixtures.  A blend is the same type of grass but different cultivars.  A mix has 2 maybe 3 different varieties of grasses for cultural diversity.  In other words, for lawns that have differing sun/shade conditions.  The best recommendation is to figure out what you’ve got and then go to your local nursery and ask them what they would suggest OR your local county extension OR certainly, your local Master Gardeners.  The University of Minnesota Extension has a very comprehensive article “Selecting Cool Season Lawn Grasses”. 

lawn prep

lawn prep

repaired lawn

repaired lawn

In Minnesota (climate zone 3,4 and some 5), Kentucky Bluegrass is used most often because it’s pretty, it’s adaptable, cold tolerant and is generally able to recuperate from drought.

Grass - Kentucky Blue

However, there are always drawbacks to using just one type of any plant.  Diversity is a good thing as one type may have an issue one year, another can “take over” to keep your lawn looking good.

Other grass species include perennial ryegrass.  It’s a great germinator and quick to establish, which helps protect the other seeds, but it’s not real tolerant of our cold winters and summer heat, so use only about a 25% mix.

Perennial ryegrass

Perennial ryegrass

Fine fescues is a category of about five different species that are often mixed together. These species include hard fescue, slender and strong creeping red fescue, Chewings fescue, and sheep fescue. Like perennial ryegrass, the fine fescues germinate very quickly. Fine fescues are often the best performing species in drought trials and no-mow turf situations. They are also adapted to shade or full sun.

Fine leaved fescue

Fine leaved fescue

And last is tall fescue – a coarse grass that has high traffic tolerance.  Something to think about if you have children that might play games on the lawn.  Again, there are lots of pictures and lots more information on the University of Minnesota Extension site “Selecting Cool Season Grasses”.    They’ve put a lot of effort into turf trials and you can see their results.  They continue testing grass types at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum as well.  Planting Grass Seed Center – University of Wisconsin.  Minnesota and Wisconsin have very similar climates and natives species.   Although the extreme northern portion of Minnesota and the southern portion of Wisconsin are a few climate zones apart.

lawn with bench 2



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Overseeding your lawn

Click below to listen to my 2 min. Garden Bite radio show:  Overseeding your lawn

This is a perennial subject, one I like to share on Garden Bite each year as I always get questions about it.

Wanna really make an impact on busting those weeds out of your lawn?  The best defense against weeds is a lush lawn and now’s the time to overseed.  Mid to late August, is the BEST time to overseed your lawn in the Upper Midwest.  The soil is warm, so seeds germinate quickly, The temps, in theory, should be starting to cool and getting perfect for growing grass.  Notice in the photo below the grass is dry in full sun, where there’s shade it’s green, well, greenER…


July rains have made the “normal” photo above, not really the case.  Our lawns are greener, albeit with a lot of crabgrass!  Or maybe that’s just MY lawn.  I’m not big on chemicals (a perennial disagreement with my husband)!

With THAT out of the way, HOW to overseed…….


Cut the grass as short as possible.  It will act like a living mulch.  If the thatch layer, that brown dead stuff, is thicker than a half inch, remove it.  Use a vertical mower (you can rent one) and set the blades to cut the top half inch of soil.  This will remove the thatch while creating grooves or slits in the soil surface, making it a great seedbed.  Rake up the mess and compost the debris.  You might also choose to core aerate your lawn.  Again, these machines can be rented.  The goal of a core aerator is to take plugs of soil out of your lawn to literally give it some oxygen!

Lawn thatch

There are numerous types of dethatchers.  Here’s a look at a rental unit.


And another…

dethacher 2

Core aerator

core aerator soil chunks

Looks a little like something the family dog has left behind!  There are spike shoes too but they don’t pull out the soil like the aerator does – at that’s the point, to pull the chunks out and let them decompose back.

Core aeration

RESEEDING:  Spread grass seed over the renovated area using a broadcast or drop-type spreader.  Use 3 to 4 pounds per one thousand square feet of sunny grass-seed mixes or 4 to 5 pounds per thousand square feet of shady mixes.  Apply half the amount in one direction and the rest at right angles to the first.  Rake it in for good seed-to-soil contact.  The seed has to be touching soil to germinate.  Just tossing the seed over your grass is really a waste of time and money as odds are it won’t settle down far enough to make soil contact.   You could think of it as bird food.  My lawn is crispy right now and mostly weeds.  I suggest that you buy seed from a local nursery, tell them your sun/shade conditions.  Should you reseed, be sure to keep those seeds moist.  That may mean watering twice a day.  Check out this comprehensive guide to Lawn Renovation by the University of Minnesota Extension.  Lawn Care by the University of Wisconsin Extension.


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Edible weeds

Click below to listen to my 2 min. Garden Bite radio show:  Edible weeds

Your yard weeds MIGHT be edible! The lazy gardeners veggie garden right in your backyard or coming up through your sidewalk cracks! We all have plenty of weeds in our lawns, well, MOST of us anyway.

I just found out that Purslane is edible. Who’d thunk it? Apparently a professor at the U of MN and another guy who’s just wild about wild edibles: Wildman Steve Brill lists a number of weeds and wild plants that are edible.  He also has pictures, which I highly recommend you examine carefully before just eating something, and explains how to fix them.



You can eat the stems and leaves of purslane!  More on purslane and recipes too HERE.

Now for another edible, I suggest Lamb’s Quarters. But please take a look at Wild Steve’s website, I’m going to link you directly to the Lamb’s Quarter page so that you can get a good look at what this plant looks like. It’s a member of the spinach and beet family and is loaded with good stuff for you!  And it’s abundant…


Burdock looks like rhubarb but it is most definitely not. The root is an enormous taproot that you can eat like a potato.  Steve Brill is a rather interesting character with lots of information on foraging and more!



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Of woodchucks and hydrangeas

Click below to listen to my 2 min. Garden Bite radio show:  Of woodchucks and hydrangeas

No, they’re not related.  It’s just that the 2 subjects came up!

Or should I say Whistle Pigs?  I have a friend who insists on calling woodchucks, whistlepigs.  Yes, it’s a funny word.

Woodchucks run amok!  That was what it seemed like in a discussion on a gardener chat board.  Lots of folks discussing how to get rid of unwanted critters.

Many talked of catching nuisance animals live and then releasing them “in the country”.  Well, then a lot of people who live “in the country” sounded off about giving them more problem critters than they already have.  So, what’s the best advice?

If you’re not willing to “dispatch” them, then perhaps hire a professional to trap them and either find an appropriate place to take them to, or in some instances, they will take them away and euthanize them in a humane manner.  Here are a couple of places that were suggested by other Master Gardeners:

Minnesota Nuisance Wildlife Control

Wisconsin Wildlife removal professional directory

Conley’s Wildlife Control

And from the Minnesota DNR here’s information on Living With Wildlife  Wisconsin DNR Urban Wildlife

Now from nuisance animals to, what was termed by one Master Gardener, the Endless Bummer!  I bought 3 ‘Endless Summer’ hydrangeas when they first came out back in the early 2000’s.  They were gorgeous, I amended the soil and planted them just like I was told.  They ALL died.  What we didn’t know then is that these guys need MOISTURE.

In the Upper Midwest, where the ‘Endless Summer’ series was created by Bailey Nurseries, you need to plant ‘Endless Summer’ in full sun, that means you also need to keep this plant watered.  They are thirsty plants!  You also need to acidify your soil if you want the blue color, the recommendation is a ph of 5 to 5.8.  Otherwise, in our more alkaline soil (normally around 7), the blooms will be pink.  This plant will flower on old AND new wood, that’s a bonus for those of us in Zone 4.  PS, I tried SEVERAL times to link to more information about ‘Endless Summer’ and the page would not come up….  Ironic?

Now for my FAV hydrangea:

I admit I love them around old homes.  They’re so old school!  Well, sort of.  The newer varieties are amazing.  ‘Incrediball’ descended from ‘Annabelle’, who’s been around for like forever.  And, unlike ‘Endless Summer’ has had almost all stellar reviews.  It’s flowerheads are enormous.

Hydrangea 'Incrediball'

Hydrangea ‘Incrediball’

This beauty has been on the market long enough to earn some street cred.  Or ‘garden’ cred!


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