Thursday, May 18, 2017

Natural Bug Repellent

Working in the garden can be buggy business.  Using herbal essential oils suspended in water is a perfect way to chase the bugs away while gardening or other outdoor activities.

There are several essential oils (these are oils extracted through distillation from plant material - the concentrated natural essence that give plants their scent) that work well at chasing insects.

  • Lavender Essential Oil - an insect repellant that soothes, calms and heals the skin.  It can relieve the pain and redness of insect bites too.
  • Peppermint Essential Oil - repels insects and stimulates your senses and your circulation, while disinfecting your skin.  It can also relieve the itch of insect bites.
  • Lemongrass Essential Oil - uplifting and cleansing lemongrass is the best insect repellent oil.

Natural Bug Repellent Spray
Safe for the whole family, including children and pets, you can spray often, both yourself and the surrounding areas to keep bugs at bay.  It is both cooling and refreshing as well as effective on bugs.

4 ounces of distilled or spring water
10 drops lavender essential oil
10 drops lemongrass essential oil
10 drops peppermint essential oil

Mix ingredients together in a 4 ounce spray bottle. Shake well to mix.

TO USE: spray on skin and clothes, hair and hats.  Use often for maximum effectiveness, especially on a warm sunny day.

Alternatives- you can add this essential oil combination to sun screen or body oil to also use as a repellent.

NOTE-- use only 100% pure essential oil, not scented oil, potpourri oil or bath oil.  These are not the same.  NEVER place essential oil in direct contact with skin unless diluted in another medium. Contact toxicity is possible that way.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Dividing Iris - Garden Tip Tuesday

Garden Tip Tuesday 
      (come back each Tuesday for more!)

How to divide Irises

  • Dig up a bearded iris clumps every three to five years or when the center dies out. They are close to the surface so slip a shovel underneath and pry up. Divide them in the spring after the flowers fade.
  • With a knife, separate rhizomes.  Check for Iris borers (fat white worms.) Destroy them and discard any soft or rotten rhizomes.
  • Each Rhizome division should have one leaf fan (three leaves or so coming from the root.  Cut the foliage back to 4 to 6 inches.
  • Replant divisions 12 to 18 inches apart with rhizome tops barely showing above the soil surface.

Image result for photo of iris
courtesy of the New Zealand Iris Board

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Working in a community Garden again!

2015 Community Garden plot
In 2015 we moved from our apartment to a house and when we changed communities we had to give up our community garden.  I did put in raised beds in our yard so if you want to see the gardens from the 2016 season, check out my other blog where I posted an update each month:


2016 backyard raised beds
In 2017 however, the village of Villa Park where we now live, is putting in Community Gardens for the first time and the garden club that I belong to is in Villa Park so we are putting in a demonstration plot where we will try techniques and illustrate ideas for other gardeners.  I thought it would be great to document that community garden here.  So follow us in the 2017 season as the Garden Club of Villa Park works in its community garden.  I hope to interview other community gardeners in the plots and see what there experiences are as well.

We will be doing gardening lectures at the Villa Park Library all summer, so I will post information from those lectures and other related information too!

Stay tuned in the next month for plant suggestions, recipes and other things to get you into the gardening spirit.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Watering Plants for Healthy Growth - or what to do if you are not flooding

As I pointed out it rained after I put the plants into the "other Community Garden."  Then it rained the next day and the next, and the next, then on July 15 we received a storm that exceeded the average rainfall for the month.

This week we received 7 to 8 inches of rain.  Five inches fell on June 15.  The locally heavy storm flooded streets where I live so badly it actually made the national news and was mentioned on NPR, most probably because the rain was worst between 4:45 and 5:15 in the midst of rush hour.  Being a Chicago suburb this resulted in stranded motorists on the local freeway.
lots of streets in Elmhurst looked like this.
Last year we had a similar hard rain event, but then it came in late July and was followed by several other heavy rains that eventually resulted in our growing season ending early.

That white sign in the middle  is on the underpass, normally  15 feet from the street, seen here filled with water.
This month at O’Hare Airport  there has been 4.36 inches of rain as of 6/16/15, the average rainfall in the month of June is 3.5 inches, so we are halfway through the month and have exceeded the rainfall for the month and with Tropical storm Bill hitting Texas this week we can expect more rain next week and storms are already predicted for Thursday.
East End Park (near garden plots)
I have not been to the garden.  The roads leading to it were closed this week (Have I mentioned that the City wanted to turn the area around the gardens into flood retention as it already floods terribly?) I suspect there is still some standing water on the gardens, but I guess I do not want to know.  The photo above was taken at the park near the garden plots.

With all this extra water, we have not had to figure out if our hose reaches far enough to allow us to easily water the garden.  We’ve never hooked it up.  But not everyone is having this excess, so I thought I would take a moment to speak about how and when to water your garden. There are a range of factors which determine the best way to water each plant.

Watering your Garden

The Old Farmers Almanac, part of, has a short, sweet, informative video on watering your garden. 

Here are the highlights:
You want to encourage plants to produce deeper roots that will seek out water deeper in the soil, however frequent watering causes plants to create shallow roots which are more affected by dry spells. Thorough watering once a week is better than shallow watering every two days.

Seedlings need more water until they can produce their own root systems.

Squashes, cucumbers, beans and peas need a bit more water when they are producing flowers and fruits.
Root vegetable crops like parsnips and carrots need less water as they are the tap root.

Water close to the ground trying to avoid wetting the foliage as this promotes disease.

Never water in the middle of the day as much of the water will quickly evaporate.

Do not be fooled by the dry surface.  Grab a trowel and dig into the soil to see if it is actually wet underneath.  If the soil near the roots still clumps when you squeeze it, put off watering for another day.
Drip irrigation is always best for a garden, but in a community garden this is usually not possible, so instead try deep watering containers

Plastic one pint milk bottles or dry drink mix containers from Aldi make great long time waterers if you poke holes in the bottom and bury them in the ground near plants.  Filled with water, they will slowly drip down into the soil by the roots of plants rather than watering at the surface.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Garden Addition - Another Community

We ran out of room in our Elmhurst Community Patch and after visiting the Community Garden Fest in Berkeley I decided to get a patch there.  The patches are smaller 5 feet by 15 feet and cost less, but the community feel is much larger.  I will share some details of the garden in future posts or you can check out the Garden Fest Post.

I was able to plant the garden on Thursday, June 11 around 4:30.  We went over on Sunday, but the rain the day before made it too muddy, so we did not want to risk compacting the soil. Today we are going to have more heavy rain, so after work I hurried over with a selection of plants and got them into the ground.  When it rains later they will get a nice drink and hopefully will not be beaten into the ground.

not planted

My patch is on the end of a section with about 7 other patches going off to the left.  The water at this location is in rain barrels and I believe the Village of Berkeley takes care of filling them when it doesn't rain.


I did not have room for the three dahlias I got from the Garden Club and last year they did not bloom due to competition, so I brought those over and planted them at the south end of the garden.  I made two hills for squash, then I plated Kohlrabi, broccoli, and a few herbs.

There is really no more room here, but I have one tomato plant left and I may bring that over to try and fit it in.

The soil has a good amount of compost and a nice dark richness, however there is a high concentration of clay.  You can see in the image of the soil by one of the holes for the kohlrabi.

Kohlrabi is a cool season plant and it may bee too late to get a good crop from it as the days have turned rather hot, but I think they will be okay until July and we will see about harvesting the roots (like a turnip) and maybe also the leaves for a salad.

Here are the dahlias, three different varieties three different colors, but they are pinkish, I think.  I have the names but will have to look them up again to know for certain.

I planted an oregano, a common sage, some chives and flat leaf parsley.  I just could not have a garden with no herbs in it, so I chose a few duplicates.

Chives                                                   Oregano                                               Parsley                              
My only fear is that as I pulled up to plant there was a bunny running through the yard toward the back, so I may lose the parsley.

It will be interesting to see how this garden fares versus the one in Elmhurst.  I will continue to post a weekly update and if I need to another day of the week to update the second garden.  However, the second garden is between the Elmhurst garden and my apartment, so I can stop at both on the same day with out too much trouble.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Weekly Update - June 8, 2015

The excessive rain has destroyed the plan.  We did not have the ability to craft the different raised beds we wanted.  We are just trying to get the plants into the ground so they do not get root bound and die on the porch.  When the rain let up for several days this week allowing the soil to dry enough to plan, so we got up early Sunday morning to go out to the Garden and plant the herbs.

We left the south side of the garden for herbs when planting last week. We checked the weather when we got up at 6 am and it said the rain was going in but not until 10 AM, so we loaded up the plants and went over getting to the garden around 6:45 AM.

We had to remove the weeds from the garden space as we did not weed this section previously.  We used the soil twister to pull out the larger weeds and loosen them so they could be easily raked out.  It was not that time consuming.

Since I want to be able to lift out some of herbs from the garden at the end of the season, I decided to bury plastic containers and place the plants inside.  They can grow in the container, yet still be removed at the end of the year, reducing the root shock which killed the herbs I removed from the garden last year.

I used plastic cat litter containers.  They are thin flexible plastic, easily cut with a box cutter.  We made them deep for all but the thyme plants which we cut the container slight more shallow for.  We cut holes in the bottom for drainage.

I then dug out the dirt in various holes slightly larger but not deeper than the containers.

Placing the container in the ground I packed dirt around it, then filled it part way and added the plants.  We added water before and after plating the plants.

The spaces we planted back in May had a fair amount of weeds, that were in some cases taller than the plants.  It had been two weeks since we had been there, so this was to be expected.

The excessive rain was not loved by all the plants and resulted in one plant death. These are the cucumber plants.  I have yet to plant any bean seeds, but I will take care of that this week.

 The peppers are doing okay, but the hot peppers that had a few peppers forming have lost those peppers, probably again a product of the extra rain.

Hot pepper with damaged fruit

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Planting Tomatoes and Peppers

We used the same method for planting both the tomatoes and peppers. We did not grow the plants from seed, rather we bought seedlings at a plant sale at the beginning of May.  As someone who lives in an apartment I do not start plants from seed indoors.

The Technique

The best way to plant vegetables is first to lay them out with the proper spacing.  Tomatoes need between 18 ans 24 inches of space.  Peppers need only 18 to 20 inches of space around the plants.


A hole is dug twice as large and twice as deep as the root ball of the plant.  I fill the hole with water and allow it to percolate into the soil, This tells me if the soil drains well and also wets the soil so that the root is not dried out when buried.

Before placing the plant in the hole I toss in a handful of compost to give the plant a bit of a boost to off set the shock of being planted.  The finally the plant is placed in the hole and the soil firmed around the plant.  It is then water thoroughly.

Once all the plants were planted I gave them a top dressing of more compost.

We could have waited a couple of weeks to put up the cages, as the plants hardly need them now, but we decided to just stake and cage them now in case we had warm nights that would cause rapid growth.

We would have watered them one more time before leaving the garden, but rain was predicted that night so we did not.  Good thing, as it rained for several hours that night.