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Archives for September 11, 2015

DIY tips to spice up your vegetable garden

The concept of terrace farming is taking the country by storm, especially with even celebs getting involved in organic farming on a large scale.

The changes have been quite visible, and you see at least one vegetable plant in every other terrace. However, there are many vegetable garden enthusiasts who are unaware that following certain simple steps can make a huge difference to the yield. We visited some of the organic vegetable growers, who shared some simple methods to reap a good harvest. Nirmala, a homemaker and terrace gardener says that for about two weeks, the grow bags should be kept in a shaded area and watered daily . “Later, the bags can be shifted to the terrace.Make sure that the floor of the terrace is painted so that water does not seep through the roof,” she says.

Here is a do-it-yourself (DIY) plan for seven days of the week that will give you optimum yield. Happy farming!


Grow bags are available at the various nurseries around the city and also with some private entrepreneurs. Grow bags are normally supplied with the sapling planted in the potting mixture. An organic vegetable grower says that one can get 25 bags for `500 at a subsidised rate or `2500; it varies according to the place one buys it from.


According to John Shery, an official at a veg etable and fruit promotion council, Monday’s star is organic manure. Mix 10 kg of cow dung with one kg of powdered peanut oil cake and one kg of oil cake from neem seeds. Mix one kg of bone powder and dissolve it in water or cow urine. Keep it in a closed vessel and stir daily. After four days, the manure will be ready to use. Use this manure in the proportion 1:10 (one cup manure with 10 cups of water) and pour it, preferably during the evening, under the sapling.


John adds that Tuesday can be considered a holiday and except watering the plant, nothing is required on this day.


The speciality of this day is that one should use a friend ly bacteria, pseudomonas fluorescens, as the manure.

This is available in stores and costs about `70 per kg. John explains, “Mix 20 gram pseudomonas fluorescens in one litre water and pour it to the sapling base.The friendly bacteria help the growth and ensure more strength for the roots of the plant.”


This day is meant to do some anti-pest activities, says Geetha Gopalakrishnan, a teacher, who is also an enthusiastic terrace farmer. She says that neem extract is an ideal biological pesticide. The ex tract is available in the market and costs about `50 for 100ml.Add 2ml of the extract to one litre of water and spray on the plant leaves.


Fish amino acids can also be used to control pests. It can be made by mixing one kg of dried fish and one kg of jaggery. Mix well and keep in a closed container. Do not open it for 15 days and you will get a wine-like liquid.

Filter the liquid and add 2ml of the extract into one litre of water and spray it on the plant.


Is a rest day and only watering is needed.


The final day of the schedule is meant for sharing and caring. Just spend some time with the plants and try communicating with them.John and Geetha concur that like taking care of kids, plants too need affectionate care.They say that caressing and conversing with the plants will help reap a good yield.

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5 Tips to Get Your Lawn and Garden Ready for Fall

It’s football and fall festival season, but for homeowners and gardeners, it’s prime time for lawn and garden work.

Our master gardeners will answer your questions during our Ask Fairfax online chat Wednesday, Sept. 16.

Submit Questions


In the meantime, the gardeners offer these five tips.


Test soil to determine which nutrients are available in your area. Test results will provide liming and fertilization recommendations. Learn more about the Home Turf program.


Seed now through mid-October, then again in March to achieve best results. Tall fescue is the most commonly used lawn grass in this part of Virginia. It is tolerant of a wide range of soil types and climatic conditions, and makes a great choice for those trying to get their lawn lush and green.


Fertilize in October and November – not in the spring! Use those soil test results to determine which kind of fertilizer you should be using.


Mow high maintaining a grass height of 2”-3” using a share blade in your mower.


Get ready for autumn with the Fall Garden Day Plant Sale at Green Spring Gardens on Saturday, Sept. 19, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Local vendors will be on hand with a collection of perennials, annuals, shrubs, edibles and trees to keep your landscape vibrant as the days grow shorter.

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In the garden with Urban Harvest: Use nature’s patterns to reduce garden labor



This calamondin tree was planted very close to the nearby kitchen, so a year-round supply of tasty sour flavored citrus is just seconds from the kitchen. As a bonus, the tree provides bird nest habitat, a privacy screen and fragrant flowers.

Photo: Bob Randall

This bloomsweet grapefruit produces a seven-month supply of fruit while shading the house from the western sun, and for residents, making the roadway less visible.

Photo: Bob Randall

These semitropical lychee (center) and lemon trees (lower right) each benefit house occupants by providing a privacy screen, while each in turn benefit from the north wind sheltering provided by the house.

Photo: Bob Randall

This calamondin tree was planted very close to the nearby kitchen, so a year-round supply of tasty sour flavored citrus is just seconds from the kitchen. As a bonus, the tree provides bird nest habitat, a privacy screen and fragrant flowers.

Photo: Bob Randall

A highly beneficial insect, the green lacewing, laid this egg spiral (center) on a window screen. By not removing the eggs, we assured that the garden’s pests will have their own pests.

Photo: Bob Randall

For many of us, gardening is mostly entertainment, and planning what happens sounds too much like work. So we dabble in this and try that, often with fun, but rarely with much success. The basic reason is that we only have a little time and money, not much experience, and little knowledge of possibilities. So at best our “experiments” mostly will achieve modest results.

There is another way to do things, and that is, to design our site and implement a program. Make a plan with goals, steps, a budget, and use sound landscaping principles to make sure you get a lot of benefit for your labor and money. Many people hire experts to assist them in this design process, and for most people this is by far the best choice. Who, after all is more likely to be better at designing a garden than someone trained in the field and has thousands of hours of practice?

But even if you decide to hire, you will still have the problem of selecting your expert and telling them what you want. So the more you know about what you want and are willing and able to fund and maintain, the better you will do with your design.

There are many issues related to your goals, your maintenance capacities, your budget, etc., and many ways to achieve them. But for me, the best of the possible strategies is embodied in a 40-year-old, nature-inspired design system known as permaculture. The sequence of PC classes this fall starts with “Introduction to Sustainable Living” Sunday afternoon, Sept. 27 (see

Here I want to talk about a few permacultural design techniques that will save you labor and money while increasing your benefits.

First, figure out what you need to visit daily and put those things close to the house or walk. Put things you rarely need to visit in more inaccessible places. The larger your property, the more not doing this will reduce your results. This permaculture principle of zoning seems obvious, but it is a big error when it is ignored.

Second, use nature and anything free – sun, rain, wind, dead plant material – anything possible to achieve your goals. Reduce where possible dependencies on imported energy and materials. And at all costs avoid designs that force you to fight nature or physics. In gardens, this means we use nature to improve soils and nature to manage pests. Soil-improving microbes are fed dead plant matter and pests have their own pests because you provided for your pests’ enemies.

Third, make sure you achieve many goals with each element of your design. If you plant a tree for example, get five or more uses out of it. Get uses from its connection to other plants or structures. Get uses out of the edges it forms where shade is less dense or roots hold soil. Get uses out of the habitat it creates for beneficials such as butterflies, insect eating birds, or ants. Get quality fruit in abundance year after year. And get multiple uses out of the space, with plants below the canopy and maybe even vines in it.

These are just a few permaculture design principles. Designing gardens can be fun, and appreciating the results is even more so.

Bob Randall, Ph.D. is the retired co-founder of Urban Harvest and is author of Year Round Vegetables, Fruits and Flowers for Metro-Houston. Contact him at and Urban Harvest produces this column. Learn about gardening classes, community and school gardens, farmers’ markets, fruit tree sales and more at

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Steven Sotloff, Journalist Murdered By ISIS, Honored With Memorial Garden in …

Just over a year after Pinecrest native and freelance journalist Steven Sotloff was brutally executed by ISIS, a new garden is opening in his honor. 

Tomorrow evening, in a ceremony open to the public, the Steven Sotloff Memorial Garden will be commemorated inside the larger Pinecrest Gardens on Red Road. “The garden is centered on three water features, a long-time tenet of garden design, often referring to heaven, Earth and man,” Michelle Hammontree, a spokeswoman for the Village of Pinecrest, wrote in a release.

Surrounding the water features are numerous plants, including Peace Lilies, soft ferns, luxuriant Begonias and palms; much of the design for the garden and memorial was chosen by Sotloff’s family, Hammontree said. “Steven’s parents … have expressed that the memorial is very important because it will be a public memorial where they can go and pay their respects to their son,” she says. 

After growing up in South Florida as a deeply inquisitive and sometimes mischievous kid, Sotloff attended boarding school on the East Coast and then the University of Central Florida, where he excelled as a writer on the college paper.

He later moved to Israel, his ancestral homeland, eventually receiving dual citizenship; in several years as an adventurous freelance journalist, he travelled throughout the Middle East and wrote for numerous outlets, including a series of pieces for Time about the American embassy attack in Benghazi, Libya.

Sotloff was captured by ISIS militants at a makeshift roadblock just inside the Syrian border in early August, 2013, and held in captivity until his grisly murder more than a year later. After his death was shown to the world, Sotloff’s numerous friends and family were left mourning the passionate, funny young man who had committed his life to telling the stories of ordinary people in difficult circumstances.

“Steve wasn’t a very flashy guy,” Sotloff’s close friend Barak Barfi told New Times last year. “He just liked to do his work.”   

The memorial commemoration is at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, at 11000 Red Road, in Pinecrest. 

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Augustana grad to others: Think big

When I started writing a follow-up story on the completion of a house built in memory of Augustana University piano teacher Solveig Steen, I looked at the original story and saw the name of Lance Shaull. Shaull, a Tea Area High School graduate, was instrumental in building a new house on property Steen had once owned.

It was where Steen died, succumbing to carbon monoxide fumes after a fire broke out in her house in April 2013. The house, two blocks east of the college campus, was a total loss.

Schaull had never met Steen, but he knew people she had influenced. He also knew — and still knows — the importance of service. That’s why he proposed building a new house on that property as part of the Big Ideas Committee.

I had hoped to pick up the phone and call Shaull to be part of the story on the house’s completion, but I soon learned it wouldn’t be that easy. Shaull moved to Kenya two weeks ago and will remain there until medical school starts in July 2016.

Instead of a phone call, we emailed.

“There is a hospital here called Sagam Community Hospital that works with Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital to train Kenyan medical doctors while taking care of patients,” Shaull wrote. “I am here doing research on pediatric brain development and serving as a coordinator in the hospital. I have learned a ton so far!”

Shaull last saw the house that replaced Steen’s home in mid-July before he left to begin his research in Boston. The house was constructed and painted then, but since his departure the landscaping has been completing.

“I think that seeing the house begin to really become a home and blend into the rest of the neighborhood will be wonderful,” he wrote.

The Big Ideas Committee worked with a not-for-profit group, Affordable Housing Solutions, to make the house a reality, and Shaull described AHS as “incredible” during the process. Hundreds of students and many faculty members put in hours to get to the point of a completed house, he said.

“With pioneer projects like this, you run into a lot of unexpected obstacles. Our group encountered nothign but patience and support as we moved forward, and it was phenomenal to have that.”

Shaull’s advice to the students still on campus is both specific but also could be applied to many of us, too.

“I would really just encourage Augustana students to go as big as they can when thinking about service they could accomplish,” he wrote. “At Augie, you have so many influential people and so much support that it becomes difficult to fail. It’s a place that will bring you as far as you try to go. You just have to give it a shot.”

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Gardening with birds can enrich properties

To non-gardeners, landscaping might seem for the birds. But for the majority of us surrounding our residences with beautiful (and often edible) botanical delights is a natural in our mild climate. In broadest terms, our gardens range from professionally-designed and maintained spaces to hands in the dirt, do-it-yourself gardening. Wherever you fall on this spectrum, you are literally gardening with and for the birds.

All land animals including us require 5 basics for survival: Food, Light, Air, Water and Space. As an outdoor educator, I’ve had fun making up fanciful, memory-aid acronyms for these basic needs: FLAWS.

Animals are in a sense, FLAWed, having to eat food rather than making their own like green plants do. Green plants, of course, are also dependent upon nature’s LAWS.

Just by being landscaped, our inhabited spaces are ever so much richer and diverse than the deep shade, nutrient-poor coniferous forest surrounding us. Our properties are wildlife magnets: Insects, frogs, birds and mammals flock in to exploit our oases; wet with irrigation systems, water features and hoses.

Landscaping provides a rich smorgasbord of hiding, nesting and feeding places. Invited or not, wildlife shares our wealth of FLAWS.

Birds: To feed or not to feed?

Fascinating plumage and antics, beautiful songs, and hundreds of species make birding America’s foremost nature hobby.

Binoculars, scopes, feeders and supplies are in big demand. At our house, black oil sunflower seed in a single tube feeder brings birds up close just outside our viewing window all year. As I write this, a family of five native Band-tailed Pigeons — not the common city pigeon — weighs down our feeder tray; our most exciting sighting this year!

Nesting in our trees, these large shy birds are more often heard cooing than seen. Some birders get so excited about their avian friends; they regard them almost as pets needing to be fed year round. Since private and public lands’ habitat with its food source loss is wildlife’s biggest threat, saving and restoring diverse healthy habitats is most important. At home, adding native plants to our landscaping mix is a good start to compensate this loss from human encroachment.

With an abundance of FLAWS, our home sites are a microcosm of larger wild spaces all around us; a wonderful opportunity to “Think Globally — Act Locally.”

We have logged 44 bird species so far on or above our quarter-acre since moving to Gig Harbor in 2012. Likely 95 percent of these would visit or nest here anyway if we didn’t feed, just not quite so viewing-close. Chickadees, nuthatches and warblers glean insects from leaf and twig, and six woodpecker species doctor our tree trunks. Sparrows and finches relish wild seeds and insects, as well as feeder fare. Birds need us far less than we need the joy and free environmental housekeeping services they and all the other critters provide. We also enjoy watching and wondering at their complex ecological interactions. Exclusion netting protects our vegetable garden and deer repellent guides their browsing choices.

Radical changes aren’t necessary to go incrementally greener. Your landscaping should reflect your tastes and lifestyle. Like many of your neighbors, you could let peripheral lawn areas go dormant in summer. Replace the summer brown with lower maintenance, drought-tolerant plants saving mowing and watering costs. For me, the most beautiful gardens on this year’s Gig Harbor Garden Tour had almost no lawn at all with decks or stone patios for social gatherings surrounded by plantings and containers.

Tempted to consider the transition? Remember, it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. How about a small colorful, pesticide-free butterfly, bee and hummingbird garden? Two excellent books cited below can provide many more ideas. Green gardening is such a popular activity that many local agencies and organizations including Audubon, Master Gardeners and WA Native Plant Society provide information and workshops.

Send me an email with subject heading GREEN LIST for a single-page resource list.

Bibliography from Pierce Co. Library System – For Children: “Wildlife Gardening: How to bring Birds and Bugs to Your Backyard,” by Martyn Cox, 80 pages, DK Publishing, NY, 2009. Many activities and projects for elementary children through adults.

For Adults and Families: “Landscaping for Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest,” by Russell Link, 320 pages, WA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, Univ. of WA Press, Seattle, 1999. Comprehensive classic with 96 color wildlife photos.

Naturalist Ramblings columnist Frank Knight can be reached at

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Why Latinos—and Other Americans—Are Fearful of Donald Trump’s Crazy Talk

Tower Hill Botanic Garden packs restorative punch

BOYLSTON – Looking for ideas for your garden or landscaping? Or just need an escape from the daily grind?

You’ll find it in abundance at Tower Hill Botanic Garden, a breathtakingly beautiful, impeccably maintained oasis of horticulture northeast of Worcester.

Tower Hill boasts being the “first and only comprehensive botanic garden in New England,” and comprehensive it is, but it’s far from a botanist-only refuge.

The grounds are spacious and beckon those who wouldn’t know a daffodil from a black-eyed Susan to come, stroll and while away a morning or afternoon.

According to Tower Hill’s website:

More than 1,000 trees and shrubs and over 200,000 spring bulbs surround its Lawn Garden, where outdoor events are held.

A field of daffodils, mostly planted by volunteers, contains nearly 25,000 bulbs, and there are eight distinct gardens dedicated to woody plants, vegetables, plant systematics, winter interest, fruits, perennials and wildlife.

There’s also a Secret Garden that you enter through a double pergola, a library with more than 6,000 books and periodicals, the oldest dating to the 15th century.

The visitors center has, among other things, a theater, exhibition area, garden shop and cafe that offers a stunning view of the Wachusett Reservoir, an ideal spot to sit and nosh after walking the spacious grounds.

And there’s a preservation orchard with more than 100 pre-20th century apple varieties.

“Tower Hill is dedicated to improving people’s lives by connecting them with plants,” spokesman Robert Burgess said in a recent email interview. “Scientific studies continue to confirm the importance of plants in our lives for our physical and mental well being, and our nonprofit helps bring people of all ages and backgrounds closer to nature.”

Tower Hill does an extraordinary job blending wildflowers, woodlands and fields with meticulously tended gardens, and Burgess said that’s not an accident.

“What visitors see now is the result of careful plans carried out since the property opened in 1986,” he said.

On a recent Free Fun Friday, when admission was waived thanks to the Highland Street Foundation, Tower Hill was buzzing with visitors, many of them young moms and couples with toddlers and infants in tow.

Burgess said Free Fun Friday is one of the destination’s “most bustling” days of the year, but it also draws big crowds to see the Daffodil Field in the spring, check out the Fall Food Festival, or witness the grounds glowing with lights for Winter Reimagined.

Tower Hill had more than 100,000 visitors last year and, Burgess said, and visitation “continues to grow.”

“Word of mouth is spreading as Tower Hill emerges from a hidden gem to a household name,” he said. “It continues to be a sort of mecca for gardening experts and lovers, but more often visitors who are just looking for a break from their routine and inspiration in all seasons.

If you go …WHAT: Tower Hill Botanic Garden

WHERE: 11 French Drive, Boylston

HOURS: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, also open Monday holidays.

ADMISSION: Adults, $12; seniors (65 and over), $9; children 6-18, $7; children younger than 6, free. Group discounts available.

MORE INFO: 508-869-6111,

Opposite page, from top: The Daffodil Field at Tower Hill Botanic Garden is a big draw; the Winter Garden protects sensitive plant varieties in the cold months; the conservatories are lush with subtropical plants in the cooler months. Left: the Secret Garden offers a secluded escape. (Photos courtesy of Tower Hill)

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Book explores early-20th century ‘garden suburbs’ on Long Island

Although Long Island can be perceived as the epitome of cookie-cutter suburban sprawl, in the early 1900s it was the setting for many of the earliest planned garden communities featuring innovative architecture and landscaping.

The story of these “residential parks” is told in a new 304-page coffee-table book compiled by the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities: “Gardens of Eden: Long Island’s Early Twentieth-Century Planned Communities” (W.W. Norton Co., $65).

Edited by society director emeritus Robert B. MacKay, it chronicles more than three dozen of these early “garden suburbs,” where the developers preserved or enhanced the natural qualities of the site, from Brooklyn out through Suffolk.

These home colonies were the result of growing interest in landscape architecture and a “Garden City” movement that had begun in England “to create something entirely new, entirely American,” MacKay writes.

The developments were characterized by large investments in landscaping and infrastructure, varied architectural styles of the houses and deed stipulations to maintain the vision of the developer.

They were made possible by transportation improvements, including the Queensboro Bridge in 1909 and the Long Island Rail Road tunnels under the East River in 1910, along with economic growth that boosted white-collar salaries to allow more leisure time for the recreation that was a hallmark of these projects.

Llewellyn Park in West Orange, New Jersey — begun in 1853 — is considered the first planned garden suburb in the United States. The projects that followed also eschewed, for the most part, what the organizers saw as the boring formality of grid layouts.

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“Cottage colonies” of summer homes began to appear at the end of the 1800s out into Suffolk, including Bay Crest at Huntington Bay (1888) and Glen Cove’s North Country Colony (1893).

On the South Shore, where the land was flat, several developments featured canals inspired by Venice, including H.O. Havemeyer’s Bayberry Point near West Islip, T.B. Ackerson’s Brightwaters and Isaac Meister and Victor Pisani’s American Venice in Copiague, where the developers even ordered gondolas from Italy.

From the beginning, amenities like tennis courts, docks and beaches were important. Many communities were developed around country clubs, with golf courses being added by the 1920s in Great Neck Estates, Lido Beach, Munsey Park, Garden City, Belle Terre and Montauk.

Even now, “on Long Island,” Mackay writes, “the early planned communities, a century after their creation, exude a strong sense of place.”

Here’s a look at some of the communities.

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Alexander T. Stewart, who established the first American department store on lower Broadway in Manhattan, purchased more than 9,000 acres and began to build his model town in 1870. It had a rectangular street grid layout, although some curving roads were added later. Garden City had one of the first sewage disposal systems in the country.

In 1874, a four-story brick hotel was completed to serve as the home for Stewart and his wife as well as the social centerpiece of the community. The Long Island Rail Road built a branch to the site; train service was a trademark of the communities that succeeded.

Garden City was not initially one of them, in part because the houses were rented and marketed to vacationers. After the death of the Stewarts, the community prospered when homes were offered for sale and recreational opportunities emphasized. These included tennis, a gun club, a racetrack, golf courses, a polo ground and later automobile racing and bicycling.

Much of Garden City’s early architectural history remains intact, including the Cathedral of the Incarnation and the endangered St. Paul’s School. The Garden City Hotel is a modern incarnation, and some of the recreational sites have been developed, although several golf courses remain.

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The United Holding Company acquired 77 acres of farmland just east of the Queens border and was building houses by 1910. What was unusual was that the company’s founder was a woman, Helen Marsh.

Her development was marketed as affordable houses for commuters to the city. Her engineer laid out the streets to fan out from the railroad station. Marsh retained architectural control so no two houses were alike; by 1920, there were 117. Today, Bellerose still looks pretty much the way Marsh established it.


The city by the sea was the brainchild of former State Sen. William H. Reynolds, who had constructed thousands of homes and apartment buildings in Brooklyn and Queens.

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In 1906, the master marketer — he employed elephants during construction to garner press coverage — came to Nassau to develop a combination resort and residential community for the “wealthy classes” on an almost empty barrier island. Reynolds dredged a 5-mile-long channel that bears his name along the north side of the island and used the sand to build up the land. He also built a 50-foot-wide boardwalk, a hotel, bathing pavilion, casino and stores.

Reynolds’ city was laid with wide landscape boulevards, and he stipulated all houses be built of concrete faced with white stucco with red tile roofs. When the Estates of Long Beach formally opened in 1907, the project was an immediate success. Many of the houses retain their original appearance.


Thomas Benton Ackerson in 1907 began work on a 1,300-acre development on the Great South Bay. His year-round “commuters’ paradise” included a canal from the bay to a series of small man-made lakes with winding roads running over graceful arch bridges.

By 1910, he built a Grand Plaza with a boat landing and flanking pavilions at the end of the canal at Montauk Highway.

By 1917, the company had built about 200 homes, making Brightwaters one of the most successful planned suburban developments of its time.

Brightwaters retains more than two-thirds of the pre-1918 structures, along with most of its landscape features.

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Gardening: Right-sizing your planting plans

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