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Halloween traditions

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Halloween traditions

Pumpkins were not the original Jack o Lanterns!  It was the turnip…

Scary, huh?!?  (The Vikings pumpkin not the lantern!!) This is what night watchmen carried on their rounds.  Pumpkins were used only in the United States.  Ancient Celts celebrated the New Year on November 1st.  It was called Samhein (pronounced Sow in).  This was the end of the Harvest and summer and entering into the dark days of Winter.

They believed the veil between the living and the dead was thinnest at this time of year and spirits could return to Earth.

European immigrants brought lots of tradition to America but we started Trick or Treating here.  Kids were getting out of hand with their pranks, so it was almost like a bribe!

perfect carving pumpkin

perfect carving pumpkin

Vikings Pumpkins

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Mischief Night in the Garden

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Mischief Night in the Garden

When I lived out east, the night before Halloween was called “Mischief Night”, the night the older kids went out and soaped windows, tee peed trees and got into trouble!

What creatures create nighttime mischief in our backyards?

The top prankster has got to be that cute little bandit, the Raccoon!  From tossing our garbage to making their home in our uncapped chimneys, they are a nuisance to say the least.   The DNR on Raccoons.

Toads are rather creepy looking with their warty bodies but they really are a good thing to have!  The croaking creatures come out at night to dine on insects and other small animals.  Contrary to popular belief, toads don’t give you warts!  Learn more about frogs and toads from the Minnesota DNR.

Toads need to be on the lookout for shrews!  The shrews tiny body belies a nasty attitude!  They attack bigger animals than themselves and need to eat their weight every night.  Minnesota DNR on Shrews.

And then there’s the Badger!  This guy has a reputation for ferocity but it’s actually not as mean as the shrew.  Unless you corner it, then be prepared!  These guys can actually chase a gopher down a hole and GET IT.  Now that’s worth having them around… at a distance.  Looks mean!  Learn more about the badger at Minnesota DNR.

Nocturnal Coyotes are a whole other thing.  Keep Fifi indoors at night or make sure you’re on the watch.  Otherwise, she’s a snack for the Coyote.  As pretty as they can look, don’t be deceived, these guys are predators.  There’ve been no attacks in Minnesota, but why take the chance.  Learn more about urban coyotes at Minnesota DNR.


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Creepy creatures

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Creepy creatures

What creepy creature lurks in the garden? Nightcrawlers!


Halloween will bring out the little ghosts and goblins at your door but it’s the invasive nightcrawler you may be frightened of!

Nightcrawlers - YUK

eek! I’m not a worm lover. These nightcrawlers are an invasive species. Yes, I was surprised too. When dumped on forest floors, they will crawl and eat through the decaying leaves and mess up the natural ecosystem. Think of these Earthworms as the milfoil of the forest floor. Don’t dump them in the woods, dispose of them in the trash.

Here’s an article from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, “Contain those Crawlers”.

Don’t get me wrong, worms are good for a lot of things like loosening compacted garden soil but, the nightcrawlers in particular, actually create more compaction in the forests thus creating surface runoff and erosion.

These are my kind of worms!

Gummi worms

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Storing garden chemicals

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Storing garden chemicals

It’s time to button up, nestle in, stow away…

In regard to storing garden chemicals, be sure you know what’s in your containers.  Don’t mix chemicals, even if they’re the same thing, if they are in different containers, leave them IN those containers.  There may be different ingredients in them.  If their labels have started to come off, make sure you know what’s in them.  Use a sharpie and write it on the container.  By the way, it’s actually illegal to transfer those chemicals into anything else….  If you can’t remember what the chemical was, then dispose of it properly.  Check with your local city or county officials or your garbage hauler for proper disposal.


Those sprayers you used, empty them and label them with what you used them for.  OR wash them very well!

Find an area away from heat, freezing temps and sunlight.  Preferably up off the floor of your garage (away from kids and pets).  Liquids should not freeze, granulars should not get wet.

Chemical storage

Certainly the above would be ideal if possible.  Otherwise, just making sure they’re above the reach of curious kids!

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Orchid love

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Orchid love

After some wonderful days of sunshine and decent temps, the winds have whipped our trees of most of their gorgeous  display of leaves.  We’re starting to nest now, our lawns filled with leaves and we know that the browns and whites of winter will come calling,.so I’m thinking of orchids.

orchid 5

I went to buy a friend on orchid and was delighted to see the huge variety!  Hands down, the easiest flower to care for is the Phalaenopsis!


After your Orchid has flowered, prune the stem down to the second node.  The node is that little knuckly you see about every 2 inches or so.  A new branch (stick) will grow from that point and you’ll have new flowers again.

The above photo is from a website called Orchids.com and I would suggest you browse it for the beauty!  I’ve not bought anything from this site so I can’t endorse it but it’s sure fun to look at all the options!

The Ladyslipper Orchid is our Minnesota state flower.  Check out this link to the DNR for more information.

I wanted a rare orchid for my friend so I bought her this stunner:

Cypripedium Tibeticum orchid aka Tibetan Lady Slipper

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Tool attention

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Tool attention

One of the last tasks of the gardening season is tool attention. You’ve been abusing your trowels, shovels, pruners and hoes all season, leaving them scattered about your yard and gardens to let mother nature do what she will to them, or maybe that’s just me. Regardless of who’s been naughty or nice to their tools, it’s time to clean them up and get them ready for storage.

First things first, wash as much of the dirt off as you can.  For the tough stuff, like clay soil, you may need to use a stiff wire brush.  This will also help remove some rust.  You can use steel wool to really get at that rust.  For pruners, axes and knives that may have some sap on them, use just a little paint thinner on a cotton cloth to clean up the gummy stuff. Be sure to wipe all your tools dry. Then apply a coat of oil.  I use a little WD-40, LPS or plain old cooking spray.

Check out my Tool Care segment on Dig In Minnesota!

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Fall journaling

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Fall journaling

Oh, quit your groanin’!  ;-)   It’s not the chore you think it is!  Seriously, journaling what’s happened in your landscape is the best way to track what you like or don’t like in your gardens.  It’s also a great way to keep track of weather and to help diagnose issues that may pop up.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve thought, “oh I’ll remember that”, and promptly forgot it.  Annual flower combinations that I love, I try to write down in my journal what I did.  How long did certain flowers actually bloom rather than what the catalog or tag said?  What were those tomatoes I loved?  Which ones just didn’t produce the way I thought they would?  What was the weather like?  What insects invaded?  What diseases showed up?

The list goes on….  Grab a hot beverage, sit by the outdoor fire and write!  You’ll find that you may write other notations that talk about how you felt, what bird delighted you, how the trees sounded in the wind.  I love those memories.


I know there are all kinds of digital ways to keep track of your “stuff” but, I still enjoy actually writing it out in a journal.  Although I admit my hand gets a little tired!  ;-)

I won’t be planting any other carrot but ‘Purple Dragon’.  The ‘Mighty Sweet’ cherry tomatoes were very prolific, tasty and wonderful roasted too.  I’ll plant those again.  I planted Burpees ‘Butterbush’ squash and while I got squash vine borer, I still had 2 little squashes and they were delicious.

carrot tomatoe pepper squash

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The Myth of Peat Moss

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  The Myth of Peat Moss

I do the twitter thing for Garden Bite, although I admit I’m not super active, I did get a message to sign a petition to call for a ban on using peat moss.  Hmmm, I decided to look into it and found some very conflicting ideas on the use of peat and it’s sustainability.  On one blog I read: As a soil amendment, which is what the baled product is mostly sold for, peat moss is a poor choice.  It breaks down too fast, compressing and squeezing air out of the soil.

Organic Gardening “Questioning Peat Moss”

On the other hand…  Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss



Cornell University [scroll down the list of fact sheets for this link to reach peat moss] explains that Canada, where we get most of our peat moss in the United States, has 25% of the world’s peatlands and only .02% of them is being harvested. The industry is regulated and practices restoration and reclamation to attempt to keep peat a sustainable resource. Environmental assessments are conducted before opening a virgin bog to harvest.  They do suggest that perhaps we should consider using peat in growing mixes for starting seeds and cuttings but use compost and manure as soil amendments.

University of Vermont Extension – Peat moss or compost?

peat moss mined

peat moss mined

peat moss mined in Ireland

peat moss mined in Ireland

peat moss chunk

peat moss chunk

Do NOT just lay peat moss on top as a mulch, it will absorb moisture and block it from getting to your plants roots.

peat moss

peat moss


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Falling for shrubs

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Falling for shrubs

Fall is just a spectacular time of year with the colors of trees changing and the nip in the air (which seems rather cold this week!)  As I mentioned in my radio show, I had tried to book a B&B and found them all filled up around the state throughout October.   At least the ones I could reasonably afford!

My mind had been on the fall colors which got me thinking about other sources of color besides Maples and Burning Bush, which I have in my front yard.

Maple and Burning bush

Maple and Burning bush

A new zone 5 Viburnum that’s worth a look see is called ‘Brandywine’ from Proven Winners.  The green berries turn vivid shades of pink and blue while the glossy leaves become a dark maroon-red.  It grows to 6 feet tall and prefers full sun.

Viburnum 'Brandywine' berries

Viburnum 'Brandywine' fall foliage

Consider the Itea virginica ‘Little Henry’.  This shrub is normally rather large but ‘Little Henry’ grows to only 3 feet tall, has abundant lightly scented unusual white flowers that remind me of sparklers in the summer and foliage that turns fiery in the Fall.

Itea virginica 'Little Henry' fall

Itea virginica 'Little Henry' spring

Another Fall beauty is either loved or hated.  Virginia Creeper – maligned or marveled over – it’s foliage is definitely a statement.  The vine is a, shall we say, vigorous grower.

Virginia creeper

It’s a fast grower, hardy to zone 3 and salt tolerant.  Don’t let the unnamed native cultivar grow on your specimen trees.  It will climb them, casting shade on their leaves, depriving them of needed sunlight.  However, this is stunning growing on old homes and arbors!  It also tolerates shade.  It also can be mistaken for poison ivy!  The difference is that Virginia Creeper has 5 leaflets while poison ivy has 3 and IT gives you a rash, the creeper won’t.

maple 2014


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Box elder bugmania

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Box elder bugmania

Box elder bugs may be benign but it sure doesn’t feel that way when they fly in your hair!  EW, it’s like a scene from a horror movie as I approach my garage and have to bat away the bugs.  I’d scream but I don’t want to open my mouth – what if they fly in?!?  Egad.


Boxelder bugs on Boxelder tree!

Use caulk, expandable foam, fine mesh screens or steel wool to secure all your windows and doors.  Even those areas you don’t think they can get into, they can!

Mix a 1/2 cup of laundry detergent with a gallon of water and spray the daylights out of them!  They tend to cover the south side of homes during a day of sunshine.

There’s a Minnesota company with a non-toxic insecticide that I’ve heard good things about.  Boxelder B Gone

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