The world is a different place today than it was about a month ago.
We are encouraged to stay home and self-isolate. Kids are not in school. Parents may not be working. Having everyone home 24/7 can be really stressful!
One way to cope is to have fun projects to do. I’ve got some good ones to share with you that are cheap, easy, and many of you already have these things on hand.
Sparkling Garden Jars
You can add some visual interest to your garden with Sparkling Garden Jars! Many crafty people already have this stuff lying around…if not, you can easily get them at a Dollar store or craft store. (Can’t go out? Use a service like Postmates to run and get it for you, or order online and have it shipped.)
A Glass jar, or a glass – make sure they’re not anything you mind altering permanently – I highly recommend having several glasses, jars, etc to make a display.
Glass floral filler stones in whatever colors you like – they have a rounded top and a flat bottom, they’re often called Glass Gems and come in LOTS of different colors.
Adhesive: examples: E6000, Gorilla Glue, or a Hot Glue Gun with extra strong or jeweler’s glue, or clear caulk like you would use for windows – anything that will adhere to glass and dry clear
Wooden stake(s), or sturdy stick(s) of different heights (suggestion)
OPTIONAL: Other fun see-through small items like beads that won’t melt with a hot glue gun, or shiny plastic jewels if you’re using cold glue (like the “bedazzle” jewels).
Clean your glass/jar out, and remove any oils that might be on the outside.
On a protected surface, turn your glass/jar upside down.
Plan out a pattern for your glass gems and/or other decorations on a flat surface to make it easier to transfer onto the glass/jar. You can use a soft sewing tape measure to measure the circumference and height of the glass/jar so that you know how big your design can be.
Glass Gem Pattern Example:
Prepare your chosen adhesive.
Starting at the lip of the glass (which is at the bottom right now because the glass/jar is upside down), use glue to adhere the decorations onto the glass one at a time. ***If you want to use the lid of the jar later to mount the jar somewhere do NOT glue anything to the jar’s lid threads.*** I recommend covering the lip/bottom first and then continue up the sides, covering the bottom of the glass/jar (which is the “top” now) last.
While that sets, you can take your stake(s) or stick(s) and find a place in the garden to insert it/them into the ground. You’ll want the top of the stick to be above the other plants you’re growing in that area so the jar will be visible.
When your glass/jar is dry, go to the garden and place it onto the stick so that the stick is inside the glass/jar. The jars might move around, and that’s ok, they won’t fall off the stick because of their weight.
You can make multiples of these jars, with different shaped glasses/jars, different colors and patterns, and mounted at different heights, for maximum effect when they are clustered together. I find that odd numbers work best in groups like this.
When the sun hits the decorations, they will shine bright!
Another Glass Gem Pattern Example:
Additional idea: You can use pennies instead of glass pebbles. Shine up the pennies using either silverware polish OR use tomato paste and let the pennies soak in it for about a half hour or so. Use a toothbrush to scrub them clean and the patina color of older pennies should come right off and be shiny copper again! (acid from the tomatoes removes the patina).
Additional idea: You can use these as lights! The project from The Empress of Dirt shows you how (link at the end of this section). You’ll have to use jars with lids and get some solar tealights that fit inside the jars. Decorate as above. Then mount the lid to a fencepost or other structure you choose upside down (the screw lid threads are facing upward). Put the solar tealight onto the lid. Place the jar threads into the lid and twist to close the jar. Great for lighting pathways and fencelines!
Additional idea: Use leftover glass gems and spread them in a shallow dish, like a terra cotta plant drip catcher. Fill the dish with water so that the tops of the stones are NOT underwater. Set this dish out on a flat surface near your flowers. This allows bees, butterflies, and other pollinators to land, rest and take a drink. Make sure you clean and refill daily.
Please note: This project was inspired by The Empress of Dirt, she has wonderful projects: https://empressofdirt.net/gardentreasurejars/ . I’m sorry I don’t have any pictures to show you of my version – this project was something I helped someone else do when I was much younger and they are no longer around!
Super Easy Bird Feeder
Clean and empty tin can(s), label removed
Wood dowels or sticks, about 8-12″ long
Paint and brushes – acrylic is ok
Modge Podge Outdoor (optional)
Ribbon or Twine
Hot Glue Gun and glue.
Peanut butter (optional)
Make sure your tin can is clean and dry.
Using your paint and brushes, paint the outside of your tin can with whatever kind of design (or just a single color) that you want. Let it dry.
Paint a coat of Modge Podge Outdoor over the paint, let it dry. This step is optional, it allows the paint to last longer against the elements. You can choose to not do this step, and instead, re-paint your tin cans more frequently, changing up the look for the seasons, etc. How cute would that be?
Hot glue your dowel or stick to the inside of your tin can so that the stick is adhered along the inside of the can from the bottom to the opening. This is going to be your feathered friends’ perch when the can is hanging from the ribbon/twine.
Next, take a 3-4 foot length of ribbon or twine and fold it at the halfway point to make the loop shown in square 1 below. Make a larkshead knot around the can using the diagram below.
I recommend a Larkshead knot for stability and easy removal.
Next, fill the can about halfway with a seed mix (or a ball of seed mixed with peanut butter if you wish).
When you pick up your can by the ribbon or twine, your tin can should rest sideways and level with your stick/dowel pointing straight out at the bottom of the can, parallel with flat ground. If the can tilts upward, rain and other things will get caught in the can and accumulate; if it tilts downward, the birds will be unsteady and the seed will fall out.
If your can can’t stabilize, consider using a piece of ribbon or twine at the opening and near the base of the can tied in larkshead knots around the can to stabilize it. And of course if larkshead is not working for you, use a standard overhead knot.
Once your ribbon/twine is in the position where the can hangs level, use a little glue to hold it in place so it doesn’t shift with the wind or with bird landings/take offs.
Using the two free ends of the twine or ribbon, you can tie them together with an overhead knot and then hang the can with the seeds from a tree branch, shrub, a shepherd’s hook, or a plant hook. It’s extra special if you can place it near a window where you can watch the birds find it and eat.
Another idea – you can make a feeder stack! Just hot glue the tin cans together top side to bottom side so that your sticks are at the bottom of each can when the cans are on their sides. Sweet, right?
Easy “Hydroponic” Planter
Do you like to recycle? How about upcycle? This project is all about it! While technically not a hydroponic setup, it is indeed a sub-irrigated system, which means it’s watered from the bottom using the wicking properties of cotton and soil.
Plastic 2 liter bottle with cap, label removed
Scissors or box cutter
Cotton twine that is the same length as the bottle is tall.
Starter Plants or seeds
Drill with small bit (about the width of your cotton twine)
First, mark the 2 liter bottle about half- way up from the bottom around the outside. Cut around the bottle at that marking to separate the top from the bottom using the scissors or boxcutter.
Clean the bottle inside and out.
Take the cap off of the top of the bottle. Place it on a surface where drilling won’t harm anything, like a woodworking table, or clamp it in a vice. Using the drill, drill a hole in the center of the cap.
String your cotton twine through the cap. Screw the cap back onto the bottle so that part of the twine is “inside” and the other part is “outside” and set aside.
Take the bottom of your 2 liter bottle and fill it with water about a quarter full. Set it on a protected surface.
Flip the top third of the two liter bottle so that the cap is facing downward and the opening upward. Place it into the bottom piece so that the string dangles in the water, and the cap is closest to the water. This makes a reservoir for planting a plant at the top of your Hydroponic setup. Adjust your string so that the string has an inch or two touching the bottom of the water reservoir and has plenty of string still above the cap.
Next, use potting mix to fill up the portion above the cap, making sure that the string is layered in the dirt. I like to circle the string around where I’m going to plant my plant, maybe an inch or so in from the outer wall of the bottle. Push your soil down to firm it, but not too hard, just enough to make sure the dirt will wick water up from the bottom.
Once you have your potting mix in, make room for your starter plant or seeds in the center, and plant them in the that bottle top inside the string circle you made. If you need more dirt, add it now, until the dirt level is about an inch or so from the top opening.
Add a tiny bit of water to get your starter plant or seeds started (you don’t need much!). Any amount of water needed after that will be drawn up through the cotton twine “wick” from the water reservoir.
To refill the reservoir, lift out the portion of the bottle with the soil in it, and refill the bottom reservoir. This makes it easy to clean out the water reservoir as well, as occasionally it will need it.
This setup will maximize your room to grow herbs while making sure they get the right amount of water. You can’t over or under water…just keep the reservoir full and you’re good to go! You can make one of these for each herb you want to grow.
You can also use smaller plastic bottle to start seeds in using this same method (like the 16 ounce soda or water bottles). What a great way to recycle and reuse!!
And don’t think you can’t expand to other types of plants too using soda or water bottles! Here’s some cute succulent pots (shown below) that you can make with smaller bottles – for succulents make sure you put some pebbles in the bottom and use cactus soil mix! OK, these don’t have the sub-irrigation setup, but they’re a great way to recycle plastic!
Another idea for recycling bottles – a vertical garden!
Here’s another use for a plastic bottle – a hanging garden! Great for a window display, or to string together a bunch along a fenceline.
I hope I’ve given you some fun ideas for the garden using things you probably already have lying around the house.
Stay safe, don’t panic, we’ll make it through this as a community as long as we help each other.
P.S. Do you want some more fun projects? Why not look at my article about DIY Garden Markers? Has lots of great ways to label those containers and garden beds so you know what you planted. Take a look:
Are you feeling it yet? That blistering white-hot H-E-A-T that signals that Summer is actually here already?
Yeah, me too. It’s starting to feel like a muggy oven out there, and actually, the heat can be dangerous if you don’t stay covered and hydrated appropriately. I know if I overheat and don’t drink enough water I get “wicked headaches” (borrowed that term from a Boston friend). So don’t do that!!
For most gardeners, summertime is a time to move some plants to areas that get a bit of afternoon shade, and to pull other plants out entirely when they can’t take the heat. I know that my compost pile is happy at this time of year. It’s also a brutal time if you’re battling powdery mildew (on top of the leaf), downy mildew (under the leaf), or other such funguses. Even if you’re only watering in the mornings so the sun can dry your crops, afternoon showers can ruin that attempt to keep your plant leaves dry and leave them soaking wet all night long…and you’ve lost Battle Fungus.
I’m not complaining – the weather here is actually why we have such success growing food, ornamentals, shrubs, & trees. But learning how to adapt to the weather we’re given is a key strategy for gardening success. Funny thing is…the rules change every single year. But there are some general Summertime planting guidelines that will help you get through the season that feels like we’re sitting on the surface of the sun!
Summer Gardening Tip #1 – Let The Healthy Spring Crops Keep Producing
Just because it’s Summer doesn’t mean that you necessarily MUST pull a plant. If the plant is healthy, disease-free, and still producing flowers, edible leaves, fruits, and/or veggies, let it be. Keep taking care of it, harvesting as needed, treating for pests as needed (hand-picking, organic, or regular methods all apply).
As we transition from Spring to Summer, worms become a huge issue, and you’ll need to be diligent picking them off and/or applying BT regularly.
Some of the crops that might transition well from Spring to Summer include:
Tomatoes, especially the smaller cherry, grape, and Everglades Florida Native variety tomatoes
Peppers – from Sweet Bells to Mild Poblano Anchos, to Jalapenos, Habeneros, Serranos and more, peppers have always grown really well for me in the Summertime.
Georgia Collards – they were REALLY hard to get ahold of this year from our grower (they had some issues with powdery mildew and had to discontinue them), but if you were lucky enough to pick up some Collards in early February from our plant shelves, they’re still producing great greens right now.
Onions – you can still grow great green and bulbing onions this time of year. Want some onion-growing tips? Here you go.
Sunflowers and some other annuals, such as marigolds, geraniums, pentas, pom pom flowers, zinnias, sunpatiens (in partial to full shade), coleus (in full shade), and some types of begonias too.
Woody-stemmed herbs like Rosemary and English Thyme (I know that last one is debateable, but my English Thyme grows really well partially shaded).
Herbs in the Mint Family – if not potted they can become aggressive, so they’re pretty hardy!! These include Mint, Peppermint, Spearmint, Chocolate Mint, and Catnip, among others.
Summer Gardening Tip #2 – Plant for the Heat
Maybe this seems obvious, maybe it doesn’t. This time of year, big box stores will sell you winter/early Spring crops, because they don’t really care that those plants most likely won’t survive. So, things like lettuces, broccoli, leafy greens & herbs, cabbages, squash, and more are sold to you in May in Florida, when their chances of survival are slim, at best. Don’t fall for it, unless you’re a really experienced gardener or have a microclimate in your yard that allows for survival of these delicate plants!
Lettuces for the most part are too fragile for the heat and would require almost constant shade this time of year to even possibly survive. Broccoli, cabbages, and many leafy greens require cold to be flavorful, which is why they make great winter crops. And with the heat, these plants will sing their final opera and send up their flower shoots and go to seed right away, seeing the writing on the wall…or rather, the thermometer.
For Summer, there are still some great crops you can grow, and you should!!
Sunflowers and native wildflowers will grow really well in our regular soil (without amending – but a top dressing of compost is really helpful!). If you’re looking to produce Sunflower Seeds, we have a lot of options for you, including bulk seed that has a decent germination rate, come check out our selection! Both of these are great for our local butterflies and pollinators. See flawildflowers.org for more details and species that will help!
Okra is a high-heat rock star, producing beautiful flowers followed by many, many tender pods for eating or pickling (pick them young – they get very tough when they’re older!). They will produce well even in 100+ degree heat – just make sure they are sufficiently watered! They are water hogs, and you’ll see why when you plant them – they make enormously thick stalks!
Cowpeas and black-eyed peas are awesome nitrogen-fixers for the soil – you can grow them all summer, eat the delicious peas, and then till the stalks/leaves under a couple of weeks before your fall planting.
Sweet potatoes LOVE the heat and will flourish all summer. You can eat the youngest tender leaves in salad, a bonus treat for you while you wait on the tubers to finish up at the first cold snap in the Fall/Winter. Need more sweet potato growing tips? Take a look here.
Summer Gardening Tip #3 – Increase Your Watering As Needed & Cover Soil to Hold Water
Your plants will need more water as it gets hotter, just like us humans. And just like our own skin, when a plant gets too hot, their leaf pores open and they release water vapor to cool the air immediately around them. If they don’t have enough water to replace what they release, they will wilt, which is characterized by leaves shriveling and stems bending/curling.
One of the ways to help plants hold on to some of the water from your irrigation is to mulch over the soil to help cool the soil and prevent evaporation from the sun. This can be done with compost, wood mulch, pine straw (fresh), dry leaves, hay, etc. Covering the soil is one of the key concepts of the Earthbox system – and one of the reasons these boxes are so successful. In a ground garden or raised bed, your mulch can be tilled under at your next planting, adding organic material to your soil that will break down over time and provide a steady stream of nutrients to your plants as well as increase water retention. Over time, continuing to add organic materials to your soil will make your garden area soil very nutrient dense and loamy, and less sandy.
Another way to conserve water is to use an organic-grower safe product called Hydretain. Hydretain, when applied in your next watering, helps bind water to the roots of your plants/turf/ornamentals and keeps it available to the plants for longer. It can save up to 50% of your normal irrigation water usage – it’s completely worth it, and really helps with that late-afternoon wilt that is so prevalent in Florida Summer gardens.
Summer Gardening Tip #4 – Observe & Report
Ever been part of a neighborhood watch group? The police contact for a neighborhood watch group will tell you that your job as a participant is to observe and report.
Well, it’s the same for your garden. Observe your garden daily, and at different times of day, to see where the sun and shade areas are, what plants wilt in the afternoon, what plants are no longer producing fruits and can be pulled, etc.
A garden journal is a helpful tool for this – if you’ve read my blog over time you’ll see this suggestion often because it’s really great to have records of what works, what didn’t, and brilliant ideas that come to you over your gardening career.
Summer Gardening Tip #5 – Solarize if You’ve Got Soil Issues
So, your garden got Fusarium Wilt, or Root-Knot Nematodes, or is just overrun with a horrendous invasive weed problem. Or, it’s just too dang hot to be out there working in the veggie garden.
One thing you can do to use that heat and eliminate those problems is to Solarize your soil. I wrote an article about that some time ago, and I invite you to go see it now if you’re interested in the particulars. Solarize Your Soil.
Note: You don’t need to Solarize your soil if you don’t have problems that are soil-borne. Solarizing will sterilize the top couple of inches of your soil, including the good organisms, so only use it if you’ve been overrun with problems.
Do you have any great Summer gardening tips? Feel free to share them in the comments below!
I hope this article was helpful to you for navigating our fiercely hot Summers while still having gardening fun.
As a reminder, Our last Monthly Community Seed Swap of the Spring 2019 season happens this Saturday, May 18, 2019, from 8:30-10:30 am. This is a free event – more details on the swap right here.
It is estimated that 90% of flowering plants, and over 30% of human food crops require pollinators to reproduce, such as creating the fruits and vegetables that we eat, and creating new flowering plants in our environment. Additionally, pollinators are an integral part of the widely diverse and complicated web of relationships between all living things on Earth.
Without them, we literally lose life on our planet.
Although bees are the first thing to come to mind on the topic of pollinators, it goes well beyond that. Bees are a large portion of the incredibly diverse group of pollinators, but they aren’t doing all of the work. Other insects, such as wasps, ants, beetles, flies, butterflies, and moths, and animals, such as hummingbirds and bats, are all part of the fragile and necessary pollination process.
Research has shown that the numbers of native and domesticated pollinator populations are declining. The wide use of pesticides and increased habitat loss, as well as new diseases, are wiping out pollinator species all over the world. They are struggling to survive, as well as struggling to pollinate all the plants that need their help to reproduce.
OK, that’s all the depressing news. Here’s the good news:
YOU can help your local pollinators. Yes, you can make a difference in all of our lives and help your community continue to grow and thrive. It’s not only possible to help your local pollinators, but it can be easier than you think and you’ll reap the rewards of helping struggling beneficial insects while boosting the health of your garden.
Here’s a few tips:
Create a native plant garden
Here in Tampa we are part of an area known as the Outer Coastal Plain, which spreads along the East Coast of the US from Delaware south through parts of the Carolinas, Georgia, Louisiana, and most of Florida. No matter what area of the world you live in, your local pollinators rely on native plants to eat and reproduce. In many cases, pollinators don’t even recognize exotic plants and won’t be drawn to them for nectar and pollen! Some examples of our favorite plants native to our area include:
Having native plants to help the pollinators eat, shelter, and reproduce will help ensure that they are available to pollinate your garden and keep local biodiversity thriving. You’ll host a home for many important pollinators, and you’ll enjoy the bonus of a low-maintenance garden full of local natural beauty, too.
Plant Pollinator-friendly No Pesticide Zones
Many garden chemicals kill beneficial insects along with the pests you are targeting. Having areas where no pesticides or herbicides are used at any time helps pollinators survive. If you MUST spray your vegetables or show-garden, please only do so when most pollinators are not active, and only on days when it’s not windy to keep the spray from travelling. Pollinator.org has some good resources on when pollinators are active in your area so that you can be sure, including info for Pollinator Week from June 18-25, 2018. It’s important to remember that the chemicals linger and can still kill bees and other beneficial insects. Hand-picking and other pest remedies are much safer for your pollinators.
I recommend planting an area of the yard that receives no clipping, mowing, sprays, herbicides or any other disturbance. Once planted, allow this area to flower, reseed itself, and grow unhindered (you can trim the edges of the area, as some plants spread). Including plants listed above, as well as other pollinator-friendly plants listed below, will go a long way to ensuring the survival of pollinators in your area. This little patch will be a tiny slice of paradise for your local pollinators, and the native plants that take over are a great reminder of some of the amazing natural beauty we have around this area!
Here’s some garden pollinator-friendly plants to consider:
Iris Purple tansy
Provide Water and Shelter in your Pollinator Garden
We all need shelter and water, and your local Pollinators are no exception. In fact, The Pollinator Partnership has created a contest called The Million Pollinator Garden Challenge that you can enter and help your pollinators thrive while having a lot of fun.
Here are a few ideas to keep in your pollinator garden area:
Safe areas of bare ground – Andrenid bees, Sweat bees, Digger bees, Plasterer bees, Squash bees, some Leaf-cutter bees, and Gourd bees all like undisturbed, bare soil areas for nesting and resting. This can be provided in areas where not much grows anyway, or an area that is cleared WITHOUT CHEMICALS for this purpose.
Upside-down old planting pot habitats – Bumble bees and wasps are attracted to areas that have space, darkness, and one opening to enter and exit. Once it’s there, don’t disturb it.
Tunnels and human-made cavities for shelter – Bumble bees, Beetles, some Leaf-cutter bees, and Mason bees like this kind of cover.
Habitats of stacks of soft dead wood, like poplar, cottonwood, willow – frequented by Large Carpenter bees, they make it into a home by carving the wood. Beetles also make tunnels in wood that Leaf-cutter bees will take over after the beetle emerges.
Pithy stems for habitats, like Rose or Blackberry Canes and bamboo – small Carpenter bees, Leaf-cutter bees, Mason bees, and Yellow-faced bees prefer these small tunnel-like structures.
Stacks of sticks & logs for shelter – many bees, as well as native wasps and other beneficial insects, use this kind of terrain as shelter and homes.
Shallow watering pools – using a shallow terra cotta, concrete, or plastic tray (like one for catching water under potted plants), place rocks with flat smooth sides in the tray and then fill with water, leaving the top of the rock surfaces exposed. Bees, butterflies, and other pollinators will land on the rocks to rest and sip water. Make sure to place it in or near your pollinator garden so that they have everything they need in a close area. Because of mosquitoes, the trays will have to be cleaned out often, but supporting our pollinators by providing easy water sources is worth the 60 seconds of extra maintenance work.
If you would like more information about how to help your local pollinators, check out this document from The Pollinator Partnership and the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign for our region.
I'm an over-educated, passionate, gardening and pet enthusiast, and I have found the perfect job! My writing is based on my studies in Biology and Health, and my experiences from gardening with my family as a child. The great thing about gardening is that it is a life-long learning process. The many blunders and successes of my own gardening projects over the years have been invaluable to me. The late, great, J.C. Raulston once said, "If you're not killing plants, you're not stretching yourself as a gardener." Learn by doing, gain knowledge from the failures, but more importantly, relish the successes, (because they're delicious!) Thanks for reading! Special thank you to Abby's Farms, where the photo on the left was taken. Shell's Feed & Garden Supply sponsors the chickens and chicken coops there. Visit their website here.