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Archives for January 25, 2014

Landscaping a yard for outdoor living

If you get out your seed catalogs every winter and dream of what spring could bring, then take a look at the dreams these young Boston transplants had and see it up close during the Chapel Hill Garden Club’s 2014 Spring Tour.

Melanie and Kevin Biese and their three young children, who live in the heart of Chapel Hill, have been enjoying family life in expanded outdoor living spaces maintained by Creative LivingScapes’ Annie Lewis.

The family found Lewis a little over five years ago when she was working on neighbors’ yards.

“We had talked with several landscapers,” Melanie said. “Annie was working on another house on our street and we just really liked what she was doing there. We have three young kids, and Annie had good ideas about how to make the yard beautiful and landscaped, but still usable for our kids. She made the yard beautiful in all the seasons. It is not just an April yard, but has plants and trees that bloom at different times. It is beautiful and has color year-round.”

The couple has done a lot of construction and remodeling of their home over the past five years. They hired Weinstein Friedlein Architects of Carrboro to build a two-car, two-story detached garage addition with adjacent space for a ground-level guest bedroom suite, second-story home office and recreation room.

The office balcony looks over vegetable garden and children’s swing set. The courtyard can be seen from dining room, guest room and office windows. There is a ground-level fountain that separates the courtyard from an outdoor patio with outdoor fireplace, which, Melanie says, is now “our favorite room in the house.”

“My husband loves sitting on the patio and hearing the fountain while the kids play outside,” Melanie said.

Coby Linton was the project architect and Rod McLamb, a graduate of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University, was the builder. McLamb is the owner of Spyglass Building Company with offices on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. Linton now heads his own Durham-based architectural firm, Linton Architects, where more photos of the Biese addition can be seen on his company’s Website portfolio under “gimghoul guesthouse.”

David Swanson, a landscape architect (Swanson and Associates of Carrboro), drew an original plan for the entire, two-lot yard except for the center courtyard. Swanson wrote down his ideas of how it would work, and Lewis says that she, working with the homeowners, picked and chose from Swanson’s ideas, except for the center courtyard, which was designed by Lewis.

“The courtyard is central to connecting our house and our detached building,” Melanie said. “It is right beside our big outdoor patio and outdoor fireplace. We put on a big addition by buying the lot next to us. The yard was disturbed with construction, and Annie really helped us incorporate our new lot into our old lot and have a unified feeling where it came together as one yard.”

Both Melanie and Kevin wanted the sound of flowing water to be heard from this central courtyard and adjacent patio, but didn’t want a traditional fountain or pond-type water feature.
Linton designed an in-ground pebble “fountain.” Its recycled water flows from two copper faucets along the border of the bricked breezeway. McLamb installed it and Lewis chose to cover the midpoint where the water flows underground with an 18-inch by 18-inch bluestone paver to match those she chose for the path leading across the grassy area of the courtyard. The Biese children — ages 1 through 7 — call this the Hop Scotch path.

Ed Palmer and his wife Gwendolyn of Gwendolyn Gardens installed the winter-hardy fescue grass after Palmer worked with Linton to ensure the grassy areas drained away from the buildings. Palmer also installed some of the larger trees in the back of the yard. ACME Well Company installed a well for watering of the yard.

The addition was finished three years ago. The Biese family left the plant choosing up to Annie.

“We moved from Boston where we did not have a yard,” Melanie explained. “This gardening was all new to us. Annie has educated us a lot. She has great taste. There were a lot of plants that had overgrown in our Chapel Hill yard and she helps us prune and manage those plants — sometimes by moving them to another location in the yard as she did a large bay leaf plant that was under our kitchen window and is now thriving at the edge of the backyard.”

Over the past five years, Lewis has gotten to know a lot about what the family likes about outdoor living. Lewis does a lot of the maintenance. Each year she does a spring and fall update, where she is planting pansies for winter and some bulbs in the fall.

“It is nice that some of the flowers come back year-after-year,” Melanie said. “We know what to expect come March, June and October, but we like the bright colors of the annuals she chooses, too.”

Melanie says that she is a stay-at-home mom for her three children, ages 7, 5 and 1. Her husband works a lot, she says, and caring for the large yard and vegetable garden “would be a lot for me.”

“The kids and I will plant vegetables and then Annie takes over to care for plants and stuff,” Melanie said. “We appreciate being able to dig in when we have the time and like knowing that our yard is in good hands when we are busy with other things.

“We are there every week,” Lewis said. “We weed, prune, keep bird feeders filled and maintain everything. We mow when needed and make sure the fountain is kept running.”
Lewis, a graduate of N.C. State University’s Horticulture and School of Design, says that over the past seven years of doing business as Creative LivingScapes in Chapel Hill that she has developed a niche.

“We cater to individual’s needs,” Lewis said. “We are not a ‘mow, blow and go’ lawn maintenance firm. We can do one-time clean-ups or full landscape installations, but we also do maintenance on a regular basis. My favorite part of my job is the people I work with and catering to each customer’s needs.”

“Annie has great taste, is really hands-on, very easy to communicate with and her creativity is super,” Melanie said.

The Biese yard is filled with drought-tolerant plants along with trees and some shrubs that have been there more than 100 years. For more photos of the Biese yard, go to and click on “projects.”

The Biese yard is scheduled to be on the 2014 Chapel Hill Garden Club Spring Garden Tour May 3 and 4. Go to for additional information.

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Homework: Prevent woodpecker damage; Repair heat-damaged tabletops – Tribune

Prevent damage by woodpeckers

The Audubon Society says woodpeckers peck at homes for three reasons.

First, the fast machine-gun pecking, referred to as “drumming,â€� is the male woodpecker’s attempt to attract a mate loudly and establish territory. Tightening loose parts of the house may solve that problem. Hanging flashy objects nearby can also scare the woodpeckers away.

The second reason for pecking is the birds’ search for insects in external boards. Often, carpenter bees drill holes into wood and tunnel through, laying eggs. Woodpeckers open up tunnels from the outside and eat hatched larvae. Attaching an untreated board to the outside of your house for the bees will provide habitat for a valuable pollinator species, and hanging shiny strips can scare the birds away.

Woodpeckers may find your wood or stucco siding an attractive and easily excavated site for a nest or roost hole. If the woodpecker seems to be making a round hole big enough for it to enter, you will need to stop it by blocking access, say with bird netting or metal flashing.

It may be easier to install a woodpecker nest box on your house so the bird uses the box instead of making holes. Remember to fill the nest box with wood shavings, because the birds prefer to excavate their own homes.

System speeds door-painting

The Door Rack Painter is a rack system that lets you paint both sides of a door at one time and store multiple doors for drying.

The system comprises a spray rack designed to hold a door while it’s being spray painted, as well as a dry rack that can hold nine full-size doors or 18 cabinet doors. A pair of dry racks can be converted to hold baseboards and crown molding for drying or long boards for storage.

The racks can be ordered from The system of one spray rack and one dry rack costs $625. Individual dry racks and rods for converting racks into storage units also are available.

Remove heat marks from tabletops

Most of us have at least one piece of furniture damaged from hot food placed on it without table pads.

Gary Hendrix of Hendrix Furniture Restoration in New Franklin, Ohio, has this tip for removing whitish heat marks from furniture: Cover the heat marks with a plain, brown paper grocery bag with no printing, and iron over the paper with an iron set at medium heat. The heat may draw the moisture out of the finish and into the paper.

If that doesn’t work, he said a furniture refinisher may be able to apply a chemical to soften the finish and allow the moisture to evaporate before the finish hardens again.

If all else fails, you can have the table top refinished. You can do that job yourself if you’re skilled, but you’ll probably get better results from a professional.

Author’s tips on landscaping

Julie Moir Messervy understands the challenges involved in making sense of outdoor spaces. The landscape designer helps readers envision the possibilities and turn them into realities in her new book, “Landscaping Ideas That Work.�

The book guides users in assessing their property, identifying their style preferences and determining what they need and want in their yards. It provides plenty of photos and descriptions of landscapes and features.

Messervy covers all the elements of landscape, from paving options to plants. For some features, she addresses the benefits and drawbacks and provides a guide to the relative cost of options.

“Landscaping Ideas That Work� is published by Taunton Press and sells for $21.95 in softcover.

— Staff and wire reports

Send Homework items to Features in care of Sue Jones, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, D.L. Clark Building, 503 Martindale St., Pittsburgh, PA 15212; fax 412-320-7966; or email

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Green Business Ideas: Organic Lawn Care and Residential Landscape …

Green Business Ideas
organic lawn care

Published on January 24th, 2014
by Derek Markham


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organic lawn careStarting an organic lawn care and eco-friendly residential landscape maintenance business can be one green business idea that keeps you outside in the sun and fresh air, while making a difference in local water quality and the health of homeowners that value a sustainable yard. Today’s lawn care and landscaping businesses are a far cry from the traditional “hire a neighborhood kid to mow the lawn” model, and bringing an organic and eco-friendly angle to lawn care and landscape maintenance can help differentiate your business from all of the other yard care companies.

1. What is an organic lawn care and eco-friendly landscape maintenance business?

The U.S. has 58 million residential lawns, and Americans spend $25 billion annually with professional lawn care service providers.  An organic lawn care company can help offset the tendency for residential landscapes to use large amounts of artificial fertilizers and herbicides, by relying instead on compost, compost tea, and natural turf techniques. This kind of company maintains residential landscapes (lawns, shrubs, gardens, patios, and hardscapes) using eco-friendly and green landscape maintenance equipment such as rechargeable electric lawn mowers and battery powered hard-surface sweepers, effectively doing the same job as conventional landscape maintenance companies but with more environmentally friendly equipment.  It also helps clients reevaluate their landscapes in order to reduce the need for chemicals and water, or to assist them in managing their landscapes for a variety of other eco-friendly uses, including planting permaculture-based food forests.

2. What required knowledge or skills are necessary?

You must be able to lift up to 50 pounds, conduct physically demanding work in varying climatic conditions, including heat, rain, cold, and lack of shade, in order to run your own organic lawn care and residential landscape maintenance company.  On the administrative side, must be able to maintain a client spreadsheet using Excel or similar software or at least be adept with paper record keeping.  Unless using a bicycle tote, you must be able to drive a vehicle capable of towing a utility trailer.  Alternatively, you may be able to hire employees with these attributes.

3. How much money is required to start?

$   (on a scale of $ to $$$$$) At the minimum, you’ll need basic lawn care equipment, including a lawnmower and raking and bagging equipment, and if you wish to also care for other elements in residential landscapes, an investment in a small tiller, pruning and lopping shears, as well as a trimmer (weed-eater), plus a small utility trailer for hauling equipment and materials to and from the job, will be necessary.

4. What is the income potential?

$$$   (on a scale of $ to $$$$$) The type of clients you have in your organic lawn care and residential landscaping business will determine the income potential of this business, as larger properties and more affluent neighborhoods can demand a much larger fee. Landing accounts with property management companies can be a key element in a lucrative landscaping business, as can making contacts with home builders and developers.

5. What is the best location for an eco-friendly and organic landscape maintenance business?

It doesn’t matter where you start this business, since you’ll be traveling to job sites.  Most of your clientele for this kind of business will be in urban or semi-urban environments, however, and therefore to maximize your efficiency and penetration of this market, you might benefit if you currently live in one of these areas. Getting multiple clients in the same neighborhood or housing development can also cut down on travel time and costs.

6.  Three best questions to ask yourself to find out if this business is right for you (if you can answer yes to all three, this business might be for you):

  • Do you enjoy physical labor, working outside, and getting your hands dirty?
  • Can you conduct work outside without worrying about severe, debilitating allergies to pollen, fresh cut grass, or other plant-based allergens?
  • Do you enjoy the feeling of seeing the fruits of your labor every day, despite knowing that the next time you go to a particular job site, it will need almost exactly the same kind of service as you just performed?


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About the Author

lives in southwestern New Mexico and digs bicycles, simple living, organic gardening, sustainable lifestyle design, slacklining, bouldering, and permaculture. He loves good food, with fresh roasted chiles at the top of his list of favorites. Catch up with Derek on Twitter, RebelMouse, Google+, or at his natural parenting site, Natural Papa!

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Harris County Master Gardeners release schedule of upcoming February events

Posted: Friday, January 24, 2014 6:00 pm

Harris County Master Gardeners release schedule of upcoming February events


The Harris County Master Gardeners are gearing up to host several local events in February.

Mike Shoup presents his monthly “Hamburger Tuesday” lecture at noon on Feb. 4, speaking on “Empress of the Garden- Old Garden Roses-The Ultimate Plant.”

Shoup earned a master’s degree in horticulture from Texas AM. He founded the Antique Rose Emporium in 1984 and is a past president of the Heritage Rose Foundation. Shoup is the author of two books: Roses in the Southern Garden and Landscaping with Antique Roses, as well as co-author with Liz Druitt of the book, Empress of the Garden, released in October. 

The talk is open to the public and all visitors are welcome to enjoy a hamburger lunch at 11:30 a.m. for a $5 donation.

The Green Thumb Gardening Series of free lectures continues with talks on ”Spring Vegetable Gardening,” on tap from 10 a.m. to noon on Feb. 15 at Maude Smith Marks Library, located at 1815 Westgreen Blvd. in Katy.

On Feb. 19, Master Gardener Jean Fefer will provide a preview talk about varieties of plants being offered at the annual Tomato Pepper Sale. The talk will begin  at 7 p.m. in the Extension Office auditorium, located at 3033 Bear Creek Drive. The sale will be held March 1 and March 8, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and features 21 varieties of tomato plants and 17 kinds of pepper plants, plus basil, green eggplant and a bookstore featuring selections for local gardeners. The organization’s monthly Fourth Tuesday Open Garden Day will be held Feb. 25  in the Demonstration Gardens at the Bear Creek Extension office. A hands-on talk on ”Spring Vegetable Gardens” will take place at 10 a.m. in the raised vegetable garden bed area for adults. Activities will also be available  for children. 

Visitors will also be able to tour the gardens before and after the demonstration. In addition, Harris County Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer any  horticulture questions from attendees.

© 2014 Katy Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Friday, January 24, 2014 6:00 pm.

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Lush and low water? It can be beautiful

Roberta Walker didn’t need a drought declaration to know people are worried about water. She sees it every day in her work as a Sacramento landscape designer.

“Absolutely, the message is getting through,” said Walker. “Almost all I do anymore is take out lawns and put in water-wise landscapes.”

Walker will be among the most popular speakers today at the Northern California Home and Landscape Expo at Cal Expo. Her 1 p.m. presentation – “Designing a Lush Yet Water-Wise Landscape” – hits home with many gardeners.

“Years ago, people got rid of the lawn because they didn’t want to mow anymore,” she said. “Now, it’s all about water. They know they have to do something different to save water. It looks like we’re headed for our driest year ever.”

In light of last week’s state drought declaration, new restrictions will limit landscapes to once-a-week irrigation – or less if it doesn’t start raining. In warmer months, most lawns need watering three times a week – or more.

“If you can only water once a week, what’s going to happen to your landscape?” Walker said. “That’s the question everybody is asking themselves. Some people say they’ll just let the lawn turn brown, but how fun is that to live with? Most people leave the lawn dead because they don’t know what else to do.”

I’m trying to educate people; there are alternatives to dead lawns that look beautiful.”

Landscapes and garden design have always been a highlight of this huge expo. Including Walker, several experts pack this weekend’s speaker schedule. The idea is to inspire and help homeowners visualize the results. For example, Sacramento garden designer and author Michael Glassman will show plenty of before-and-after examples in his Sunday talk, “Plain Jane to Wow! Solving Landscape Problems One Yard at a Time.”

Right now, too much lawn may be the No. 1 issue. But the solution doesn’t mean going without plants.

“The biggest misconception: People hear ‘drought-tolerant’ or ‘water-efficient,’ they think ‘Arizona’ – all rocks and cactus,” Walker said. “But there are plants that grow with very little water – even no water (some months of the year). They don’t know there are ways to have a beautiful garden with less water.”

Over the past 17 years, Walker has created more than a thousand water-wise landscapes. She’s also heard hundreds of questions about lawn conversion. The most common among Sacramento gardeners may be surprising.

“What about the leaves?” Walker said. “Most people have established trees in their yards. Those leaves used to fall on the lawn. If the lawn’s not there, how do you deal with all those leaves? There’s no flat surface to rake them off.”

In recent landscapes, Walker dealt with that issue by substituting crushed lava rock or river cobblestones for bark as mulch under drought-tolerant shrubs and perennials. “When you blow, the leaves go, but the rocks stay put,” she said. “Unlike bark, they don’t break down, either.”

Water-wise landscaping is shaping a new paradigm for Sacramento gardeners: a lush look with less water.

“We have this romantic idea of English gardens,” Walker said. “But I can create that look with plants that exist on very low water. Maybe they’re not all totally drought-tolerant, but part of this (strategy) is switching to drip irrigation. You cut your water use down to one-third of what you use with a spray system because the water goes to the roots and is not lost to evaporation.”

Another key to this strategy is using plants that can grow here without much effort – or water.

“During the building boom, it looked like every house became Mediterranean,” she said. “All these palms and bougainvillea; no matter what you do, you struggle to get them to survive here. There are many alternatives – cannas, clumping bamboo, flax, purple potato bush, geraniums – that give a lush tropical look with less water.

“There are so many options with low-water,” she added. “Actually, it excites me.”

A cleaning tornado?

Inspired by our recent story on getting organized in the new year, reader Charles Tatter offered this perspective:

“Many of my decisions as to whether to keep or throw away household or office items are based on the simple idea, ‘If a tornado or hurricane were to hit my house and my things were scattered about, what would I want other people to find, pick up and know about me?’ ”

It’s a good thought to hold as I scan my desk, which looks like it got caught in a landslide of paper, books and magazines.

Added Tatter, “And I try to heed noted clean-up author, Don Aslett’s advice, ‘Don’t love something that can’t love you back.’ 

It makes breaking up with that mess a little easier to do.

Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.

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Gardening trends for 2014

Click photo to enlarge

Purposeful gardens — habitat, edible and sustainable — have been on the rise and 2014 promises more of the same.

Chemical-free gardens for birds, butterflies and bees remain high on the gardener’s to-do list, and organically grown edibles play their own harvest-to-table role with health-conscious backyard gardeners.

Gardeners are also more cost conscious, turning discarded items like packing pallets into planters, planting from seed and composting kitchen scraps. In fact, composting is the new recycling, according to Peggy Krapf, a member of the Virginia Society of Landscape Designers and owner of Hearts Ease Landscape and Garden Design.

“Garden supply companies sell attractive containers to pre-compost on the kitchen counter and you can purchase worm composters that do the job in a box in a closet or basement,” she says.

People in general want to restore balance to their lives, so frivolous spending on more “things” is out, according to Susan McCoy, president of the Garden Media Group and a national garden trends spotter.

“They are beginning to truly understand the relationship between gardening and connecting with nature — and how this can lead to a fully satisfied, purposeful life,” says Susan.

10 Gardening trends for 2014

Here, more garden gurus forecast their own idea of fun and purpose in the garden for 2014:

· Manly moves. More masculine colors and styles in home and garden decor are showing up at markets and in stores because there’s a “role reversal of fortune,” where 40 percent of women are the sole or primary income earner for the household and the number of stay-at-home dads continues to increase.

In addition, fairy gardening is a trend that’s morphed into miniature gardening with expanded product and plant selections for both indoor and outdoor gardening. With the name change alone, there’s an increase in men taking up the hobby. — Tish Llaneza, owner of Countryside Gardens and just back from a buying spree at the markets in Atlanta.

· Garden journals. Master gardeners across the United States are using Nature’s Notebook to help track bloom times on sentinel species to make bloom calendars, which, in turn, gives scientists data on climate change. Gardeners can also use phenology (seasonal changes in plants and animals from year to year) information (and recording) to understand the relationships between garden pest outbreaks and timing of the plant phenology to know when best to apply Integrated Pest Management strategies. And, having it become part of the National Phenology Database also furthers scientific research, not only regarding a changing environment, but also for horticulturists and land managers to make management decisions. — LoriAnne Barnett, education coordinator Nature’s Notebook and USA National Phenology Network

· Edibles and more. Several things come to mind: Integrating edibles into woody ornamental and perennial gardens — a cultural shift, not a trend; planting native species to benefit bees and other insects; recycling objects into creative plant containers; and using Pinterest to share ideas and inspire others to garden. — Nicholas Staddon, director of new plants for Monrovia, a plant brand sold at garden centers nationally.

· Bees matter. Saving our pollinators is big and getting bigger. Organic farmers have been all about this for a while, but now that the public is becoming aware of the desperate state of affairs, it’s spreading like fire — thank goodness. Everyone needs to read the Aug. 19, 2013, Time magazine with the cover that spotlights “A World Without Bees: The price we’ll pay if we don’t figure out what’s killing the honeybee.”

Home gardeners really need to learn about: keeping blooms coming; easy and quick-growing cover crops that can fill a space to provide excellent habitat; and how to let go of chemicals, even certified organic pesticides can be harmful to bees. — Lisa Ziegler of The Gardener’s Workshop, an online garden shop.

· Container craze. Containers can spice up a yard without a lot of cost and effort. For instance, bamboo stems, upside down brooms or even twisting, turning branches can be painted colors to match the season, celebration or your home’s exterior palette and then inserted decoratively into pots that may already contain evergreens or annuals like winter pansies or summer petunias. For easy-use containers, Smart Pots are lighter and cheaper than ceramic containers; the large, raised-bed size acts as its own weed-block when placed on the ground and provides a temporary garden space if you can’t install a garden bed where you live. The weave of the fabric allows a dense root system because you can air prune roots that come to the surface. Reviews for the Big Bag Bed version are good on Amazon, where they can be ordered, as well as The manly gardener may like the look of ammo boxes mounted on ladders, an idea seen in a Denver boutique. — Marie Butler, horticulture curator at the Virginia Zoo, where she specializes in creative containers

· Repurpose, reuse. There’s a continued focus on using recycled building materials. I was surfing the net, looking for compost bin designs and came across a wide range of recycled indoor and outdoor garden furniture using repurposed pallets. People are staining and painting them or leaving them natural and creating some really beautiful stuff! I’ve also seen new ways of vertical gardening using recycled materials such as pallets, felt pockets and even things like two-liter bottles hung from strings. — Grace Chapman, director of horticulture at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Va.

· Keep it simple. Classic elegance in colors and landscaping will be popular in 2014. Plant drifts of similar or blending colors and mix a single color with white in containers, outdoor fabrics, or furnishings. Buy quality products which will last for years — and eco-friendly products with a smaller carbon footprint. Use slow-growing plants like boxwoods which live for many years and natural materials like stone or brick that get more beautiful with age. — Peggy Krapf

· Perfect plants. Re-blooming and extended bloom plants are hot. Color is paramount. Dwarf and compact plants are in demand. Plants that are less likely to become maintenance nightmares are dominating the market, therefore “low maintenance” is less of a buzz word and more of a reality. Plants that can provide color or interest in multiple seasons enable customers to enjoy their landscape all year. — Allan Hull, nursery manager at Peninsula Hardwood Mulch

· Imperfect OK. Increasingly, homeowners are relaxing their notions of what’s “right” in their landscapes to embrace seasonal drama and its disorder. In spring, weeks of bright daffodil flowers are worth weeks of un-mown bulb foliage recharging for next year’s display. In summer gardens, sequential pockets of bloom are enjoyed with no effort to achieve all-over-bloom all of the time. In fall, brilliant fallen leaves are savored with no rush to clean up. Winter landscapes are dotted with dried grasses and seed heads left for the birds. These arewell-maintained properties kept with a different mindset. — Sally Ferguson, a Pawlett, Vt., master gardener and gardening and outdoor living communicator

· Chicken chic. Chicken keeping continues to attract more who want fresh eggs for their table and cute chickens for backyard buddies. The Peninsula Chicken Keepers had 30 people at its first meeting in September 2010 and now include about 320 backyard chicken enthusiasts, some of whom now open their coops for an annual Coops of the Peninsula tour. — Carol Bartam, chicken keeper in Yorktown, Va.

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Lynne Allbutt: Green Scene


I enjoyed an incredible couple of days attending a Zhan Zhuang workshop in Bristol this week with the much respected Master Lam (

Master Lam brought Tai Chi to the UK in 1975 and in 1987 he gave the first European demonstration of the art of Zhan Zhuang Chi Kung.

At that time, he was the only Master in the whole of Europe.

It was a real honour to be taught by him and he generously imparted lots of general health and wellbeing tips during his session with me.

He advised that one of the easiest and most beneficial habits to adopt is to start your day with a couple of slices of fresh lemon in a glass of warm water.

Stir it well to ‘enliven it’ before drinking.

Oca oca oca – oi oi oi!

My wonderful bee mentor Alan never ceases to amaze me with his knowledge, wisdom and enthusiasm and last week was no exception as he dropped off some oca for me to try.

Described as a vegetable that is causing great excitement amongst the more adventurous gardeners – and Alan is certainly one of those, he grew New Zealand yams himself – the plant produces tubers in a similar way to potatoes.

However, as oca is not related at all to the potato family it is unaffected by blight and other problems that affect spuds.

Oca tends to have a slightly tangy lemon taste.

The tubers are smaller than potatoes but easier to prepare, as you just wash them rather than peel.

They can be boiled, mashed, fried and roasted and also eaten raw, giving salads quite a zingy taste, which I love.

Cooked, they are quite sweet and make an excellent addition to winter soups and stews, particularly as the tubers are harvested late in the year once the foliage has been frosted.

The small tubers are best planted individually in a 15cm (6in) pot of multipurpose compost during April.

As they are frost tender, they should be grown in the greenhouse or on the windowsill and planted out in late May.

Alternatively, tubers can be planted directly outdoors in late May.

By this time they may well be showing small ‘sprouts’.

Plant oca directly into a shallow drill, about 8cm (3in) deep, and cover with soil or compost and a layer of fleece.

More details on growing can be found at and 0844 573 1818.

Pause to check paws

I had a bit of a panic with terrier Yogi this week as her back feet were obviously painful and causing her discomfort one day after work.

That night, with the news on the radio in the background, I heard about the “terrible killer dog disease that started as lesions on a dog’s feet”.

As you can imagine, Yogi was upside-down having her feet examined in the minutest detail before you could say Green Scene.

Luckily, there were no cuts and she is much better now.

Unfortunately, 16 or so dogs have not been so lucky.

Apparently the first case was more than 12 months ago and, rather worryingly, vets are still not sure what is causing the condition, which is being likened to Alabama Rot, a disease that affected dogs in the States in the 1980s.

Whilst most cases have been diagnosed after the dogs have walked in the New Forest, cases are also coming to light in other parts of the country.

The closest known case to Wales so far is in Worcestershire but, as all dog-owners will agree, it pays to be vigilant.

Vets are recommending that if you see any unexplained lesions on your dog (and not just on their feet), then it better to take them to be checked as soon as possible.

If they are left and the dogs are affected, symptoms develop into signs of severe depression, loss of appetite and vomiting. Kidney failure occurs just days later. It just doesn’t bear thinking about.

That’s shallots

Shallots are delicious pickled in balsamic vinegar or added to rich casseroles, so if the weather is mild and the soil is dry enough to work, you should be thinking about planting shallots. If conditions don’t allow, wait another month or two.

Shallots should be planted like onion sets, with a trowel, as individual bulbs just below the surface in well-prepared, raked ground, around 15cm (5in) apart, leaving the tip showing. They will succeed on most well-drained soil which has had plenty of organic matter added the previous autumn.

Each shallot should surround itself with a cluster of five to six offsets that will plump up easily.

Shallots can’t compete with weeds, so you will need to hoe or weed the area by hand and make sure you don’t break the leaves when weeding.

In most years, they shouldn’t need additional watering in summer, although keep an eye on them in prolonged dry spells and if the soil is exceptionally dry, give them a water.

In July and August the foliage will start to yellow and fall over naturally. Lift the bulbs with a fork to break the roots and leave them on the surface to ripen fully in the sun. In wet summers, cover the bulbs with cloches or move them to the greenhouse to complete their ripening.

Good varieties include Golden Gourmet, which has a good flavour and will keep well, and Griselle, a French type renowned for its flavour.

Your must-do list for the weekend

  • Complete the pruning of greenhouse vines while they are still dormant and remove loose bark which may harbour pests.
  • Bring in pots of forced bulbs for indoor flowering when ready.
  • Protect winter-flowering bulbous irises in the garden from severe cold or damp.
  • Start forcing pots of lily bulbs for Easter and early summer flowering.
  • As cyclamen flowers go over, remove the stems by giving a sharp tug, which should remove the whole stem.
  • Take hardwood cuttings of blackcurrants, redcurrants, white currants and gooseberries.
  • Renew grease bands around fruit trees, if they have been in place a long time, to protect trees against winter moths.
  • Pick yellowing leaves off Brussels sprouts and other brassicas promptly, to prevent spread of grey mould and brassica downy mildew.
  • Bring container-grown shrubs like camellias into a cold greenhouse for extra winter protection.
  • Sow seeds of slow-maturing half-hardy summer bedding plants including pelargoniums, begonias and verbenas, in heated propagators.
  • Start keeping a gardening diary and record book and update it each week.
  • Buy in well-rotted farmyard manure or mushroom compost to mulch borders and dig into soil.

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Gardening Column: Tips for pruning

Snow is falling and the temperature along with it — but homeowners and gardeners everywhere are getting ready for spring. We are poring over seed catalogs and waiting impatiently for nurseries and plant centers to begin stocking their shelves with the paraphernalia that heralds the season.

What gardening tool, plant, or new item is on your wish list in preparation for the 2014 season?

While you wait for spring if you want to begin actual gardening outdoors, snow or no — you can prune some dormant plants. If you do that, use caution. Here are a few examples of things not to do:

•Do not prune spring flowering trees, shrubs and vines until after they bloom. Pruning immediately after bloom gives the shrubs adequate time to initiate new flower buds for next season.

•Do not prune evergreens until late March or mid-April, right before new growth begins. It is best to prune cautiously and request instructions on how to do this properly before going armed with pruning shears and saws, etc.

Here is a huge example of what not to do: A man looked at his junipers and yews, and since they were getting too large for the space allowed, he decided he would cut them down to a couple of feet above ground level so they would grow to a more manageable size. He was shocked that they died! In reality, they were shocked — so much so, they didn’t survive.

It is best to prune judiciously over three seasons and only take off — at the most — a third of the plant each time. (For instructions on how and when to prune anything, contact the Allen County Extension at 481-6826 and ask for Ricky Kemery, horticulture educator — or write me at the email address provided.)

•Do not prune fruit trees in fall or early winter due to possible winter injury. Best time to prune is late February to early April.

•Do not prune grapevines until March or early April. They may bleed heavily, but this is not a problem.

Now, here are a few examples of things to do when the snow melts and we begin having those warmer days when the top few inches of the soil begin to thaw:

•As soon as the topsoil is thawed a bit, turn it if possible. This will turn up pest eggs that are wintering in the upper layer of the soil and allow birds to feed on them; also, if there is another freeze, many of them will be killed.

•As soon as you can see the ground, you can begin cleaning up the garden. You can rake and cut off the dead tops of perennials and add a layer of compost. You can also add spring fertiliz

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This week’s gardening tips: spring-flowering bulbs, rose pruning and potato …

If you purchase pots of spring flowering bulbs in bloom, it is generally best to discard them after they finish flowering. Some exceptions would be amaryllis, paperwhites, daffodils and other narcissi. These can be planted into the garden when the flowers fade. Wait until April to plant amaryllis.

  • Now is a good time to dig, divide and transplant dormant hardy perennials in your flower gardens. Do not dig and divide any perennials that are in active growth now, such as Louisiana irises, calla lilies, Easter lilies, acanthus and spring flowering bulbs.
  • Plan to prune your repeat-flowering roses over the next few weeks. This is particularly important for hybrid teas and grandifloras, but it is a good time to prune any roses that need shaping, dead wood removed or size control. This pruning should be done even if your bushes happen to be blooming now. Do not prune once-blooming roses until mid-summer after they finish blooming.
  • Plant Irish potatoes into the garden now through mid-February. Cut seed potatoes (available at nurseries or feed stores) into pieces about the size of an egg. Make sure each piece includes at least one eye. Allow the cut seed pieces to heal a few days, then plant them into well-prepared beds about 12 inches apart and four inches deep. Harvest generally takes place in May. Red LaSoda (red) and Kennebec (white) are generally the most readily available, and both produce well here.

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Sustainable living tips at the 9th Good Earth Home & Garden Show

EUGENE, Ore. — The country’s first home and garden show dedicated solely to sustainable living returns to the Lane Events Center Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Green living experts from across the Northwest are visiting the 9th annual Good Earth Home, Garden and Living Show to share their collective knowledge on everything from sustainable lawn care to bee-keeping.

A few skilled plant experts will also be in attendance to pass on tips for planting medicinals and growing food in a garden.

The show runs from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free with a canned food donation going to Food For Lane County.

For more information visit the Good Earth Home, Garden and Living Show website.


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