4 Natural Ways to Keep Squirrels Out of Your Garden

keepinh squirrels out of the garden.

Often referred to as Tree Rats by aggravated gardeners, squirrels can do a lot of damage. They can jump 6 ft. straight up, and have been known to use sunflowers as a mode of transportation; snacks included. Fencing does little to stop these pests, unless it is an electric fence.

Squirrels enjoy taking just a few bites from a juicy tomato, and then moving on to the next one. It can be very frustrating to pick a beautiful, long anticipated fruit, only to find bite marks.

But there are a number of things you can do to help keep your veggies safe.

1. Use hot pepper.
Squirrels hate that stuff. You can use it as a spray or just buy a cheap powdered spice. It will need to be reapplied after a rain or after watering, that’s the down side.

If you have a bird feeder, lace it with hot pepper as well. The birds don’t care, but it will help keep the squirrels away.

2. Use a motion sensitive sprinkler.

This will startle the squirrels and then may just move to some other garden instead.

3. Let nature do it’s thing.

If you already have a dog, try letting it get in the area of the squirrels. Cats can be great at scaring off squirrels, just be sure they don’t damage your garden themselves. Letting your pets into the garden, unless they are trained, can also do harm.

You might consider attracting some owls to your neighborhood instead. They do a great job at rodent control in general. Supply them with a place to live, and you get the added advantage of catching glimpses of these beautiful birds.

4. Give them what they want, but on your terms.

Squirrels only take a few bites of a tomato because what they are really after is the water content. Of course they do more damage in the hottest part of the season, which is also when the tomatoes are ripening.

You can help by providing them with a water source. We use an old birdbath set on the ground. Little by little, move the water source away from your garden and you’ll be drawing their attention away as well.


Categories: gardening, pests


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How to Make a Vinegar Weed Killer

killing weeds with vinegar

Sprayed and not sprayed.

Until recently we thought using white vinegar as a weed killer was well known.
It has been around for a long time, and often is referred to as a ‘Grandma recipe’ because it is so old-timey.

We started using it many years ago, when we first read about the dangers of chemical herbicides such as the popular Roundup brand by Monsanto.

killing weeds with vinegar

Even dandelion damage.

We are especially happy we went to a natural herbicide after getting our free range chickens, and most importantly to us, after our grandson arrived.

There are a few variations on the recipe.
Some people dilute the vinegar, but we would think that would take more applications.
Others add things like tree oil or salt.

killing weeds with vinegar


Preferring to keep it simple, we just add about 2 Tbs. dish liquid to a gallon of white vinegar.

It is best to apply on a sunny day, as the light helps the acid burn the plant.
Some plants will take more than one application.

You can use any squirt-type bottle.
Mandolin likes this device, as he can get quite a bit of the yard in one trip.

killing weeds with vinegar

The tools.

Note that like all herbicides, vinegar does not discriminate between good plants and weeds, so be careful you don’t hurt what you want to save.

We only use the vinegar on garden paths, and away from the garden area.

In our part of the country there are still many people canning, so the vinegar usually goes on sale about this time of year.
We recently stocked up on a BOGO sale.

Effective, organic, and on the cheap…
You can’t beat that!

Categories: pests


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2 Ways to Thwart Birds

Keeping birds away from strawberries.

The mother lode.

There are two problems with birds in our roadside garden this time of year.
The first is that they are stealing seeds. Specifically, squash seeds.

They must be attracted by the newly turned soil and its promise of worms; the seeds they find are most likely just a bonus.
But of the 6 squash hills containing 3 seeds each, only one sprouted and one other was found to still be in a hill.

The other issue is that they are going after our June-bearing strawberries which were moved to a new location last year.
The bed they are in now makes using bird netting problematic, so another method needed to be found.

stopping birds from stealing seeds

Squash seeds cozy and safe.

A few years ago we heard a suggestion to paint stones bright red. The idea is that the birds come down to peck at what they think are berries, and when they are disappointed a few times they stop trying.

After all, there are other gardens and other strawberries that are much easier to eat.

So we solved both issues, we hope, by covering the squash hills with window screening, and holding those in place with the red rocks.

Come to me, my pretties.

Come to me, my pretties.

In the meantime we’ll keep an eye on those strawberry plants that are producing now, and hope the rocks left after the screening is removed help the ever-bearers all summer.
Long after the squash are all bearing as well.

stop birds from eating strawberries

Update 6/20/14:

It has been about 2 weeks and all of our squash plants are up and growing, and we have noticed a definite decrease in the number of berries bitten into. In this most recent small harvest, there was only 1 berry we had to toss out.

Categories: pests



6 Ways to Protect Your Plants

You put a lot of work into growing food, so it is all the more difficult to bear when nature hampers or even destroys your efforts.
Here are some ways you can protect your plants from what life throws at them.

1. Season extenders.
Early in the season and again in the fall, depending on where you garden, you may need to protect against frost. Using cold frames and other season extenders such as Wall O’ Waters can help when your plants are still small.

The Jones' Garden System model at work.

The Jones’ Garden System model at work.

This picture is of the rough model of our garden system.
As it was going to dip into the 30′sF last night, the beds of tomatoes, peppers and eggplants were easily protected with plastic panels.
This kept the plants snug and happy, and helped the soil warm up faster in the morning.

Metal bars in the ground securely hold the bent PVC.

Metal bars in the ground securely hold the bent PVC.

Constructing a small fame, such as one from PVC pipe, can likewise help protect your plants. A sturdy frame will make it easy to drape over a sheet, keeping plants comfy when frost threatens. If the weather is really cold, adding plastic turns the frame into a mini high tunnel, extending the season by as much as 3 weeks on both ends.

2. Bird netting.
Frames like these can also be used to support bird netting, which keeps out other small critters, such as rabbits.

Protection on a larger scale.

Protection on a larger scale.

This picture is of the support ready to hold bird netting in an effort to keep the squirrels away from the fruit on our dwarf trees. The frame is kept more securely in place with the use of metal cross wires. It is new this year, so we’ll let you know how it worked later in the season.

3. Screening.
For plants that do not need pollination, mesh screening can be draped over a frame in an effort to also keep the bad bugs out.

4. Aromatics.
You can add plants with strong odors to your garden, such as onions and marigolds, to help deter critters. Likewise an intense pepper spray will cause many of the plant damaging critters to stay away.
Of course, if they are hungry enough they will do what it takes.

We have had success with a liquid spray call Repels All. It is an appropriate name as it made us not want to go into the garden either. It worked when we had a large population of squirrels a few years ago.

5. Fencing.
The only way to keep deer out of the garden here is to have a good high fence. Even then, if they think they can jump it they will.
Placing decorative objects, such as chairs or potted plants inside the fence at the approximate spot a deer would land makes them think twice.

Fencing doesn’t just help vertically.
Laying chicken wire on the ground around your garden will also keep deer away, as they are afraid of getting their hooves caught.
If underground animals are a problem, you can use the plastic coated mesh as a base for a raised bed. The coating prevents the metal from rusting away, keeping your garden safer longer.

6. Props
A few simple props can help keep your veggies safe.
The owl in the picture above is said to help deter squirrels. Simple whirligigs, even ones from a dollar store, can also help deter critters; they don’t like the movement.
And finally, motion activated sprinklers can not only help keep some critters out, they may keep strangers out of your garden as well.
If nothing else, you’ll know when your garden is being invaded.

If you want some serious but simple protection in a small area, follow the progress of the Jones’ Garden System.
It does all this and more.

Categories: pests, techniques



Squash Bugs

Although prevalent in many gardens, we never had squash bugs before.
It was only recently in fact that I remarked to Mandolin how lucky we have been not to have them, or worse, squash vine borers.
I guess I spoke too soon.

squash bugs

It was that same day that these showed up, as if they were called in.
To be honest I wasn’t sure what they were, so turned to my favorite gardening group on Facebook for an ID.

It was almost immediate, and all the comments were emphatic.
“Squash them!”

Apparently these are the young nymphs, that will eventually lay their eggs on the undersides of the squash leaves.
The tip of the squash bug iceburg.

So following what I do know and the instructions of my fellow gardeners, I hunted each one down and squished them.
Gross? Yes. Necessary? Again yes.

I did also carefully spray the undersides of the leaves with some diluted neem oil, avoiding all the flower areas so as not to hurt the good guys.
Although all seems well, we will keep a close eye on the leaves from now until frost.

Never trust a squash nymph, apparently they like to hide and sneak up on you later.

Name: Anasa tristis or Squash Bug
Victims: Squash and its relatives, melons and cucumbers
Damage: Adults suck fluids from the fruit. This in turn damages the leaves and in extreme cases can kill the plants.
Your weapons: Prevent damage by squishing the bugs or picking them off. If needed, Neem oil will help kill them. Carefully watch for any eggs and remove them.

As with all pests, keeping the garden clean of dead and damaged plants and leaves is a good preventative action to take.
Plus, it makes your garden look better… which in turns makes you a happier gardener.

Categories: gardening, pests



How to Handle Ants, Slugs and Beetles

Bad bugs. Every garden has them.
It seems the warmer your climate, the bigger and more numerous the plant destroyers are.
It can be tempting to just grab a good pesticide and give the garden a douse.
There’s one sure problem with that:

The good bugs need to be safe.

The good bugs need to be safe.

So here’s what works for us on the pests we are currently dealing with:

With slugs we don’t wait for signs of damage. Once we realize we are having a wetter than normal season, we just fill any type of saucer with some fresh beer. This one happens to be a kitty travel food/water dish. Perfect.

They only get cheap beer though, no Heineken for these guys.

Slugs love beer.

Slugs love beer.

The damage from Japanese beetles is easy to spot; plant leaves start looking like lace.
They seem to favor beans, raspberries, and grape leaves.

Dinner and an afternoon of fun.

Dinner and an afternoon of fun.

They’re easiest to dispose of during the mating season, as grotesque as that is; their minds simply aren’t on anything else.

Put some dish liquid and water in a pitcher or bowl, and easily shake them, two by two, off the leaf.
Some times you can get numerous multiples of two all at once.

A pitcher of Japanese beetles.

A pitcher of Japanese beetles.

This is our first full year growing okra, thanks to last year’s rabbits, so the ant problem was one we had not faced.

We had read that they like to eat cornmeal, but cannot digest it. It ends up filling them up and they pass away.
So we dusted some of the plants, and especially the flower buds where they were hanging out.

By the next day the population was less.
We gave it another pass, just in case.

ants okra flower

If you are concerned about anything GMO in your garden, just use some organic cornmeal like we did.

Okra and corn meal.

Okra and corn meal.

The slugs may not get Heineken, but it’s only the best for our ants.

Day 2 there were barely any to be found.

Day 2 there were barely any to be found.

NOTE: Most often ants are beneficial in your garden. Okra is one of the exceptions. Fireants are not beneficial, and actually dangerous. Just be sure before you act to remove any bug, that it is actually one that will do your plant harm. Just being on a plant does not make a bug bad, it may in fact be going after others bugs you don’t want.

Categories: gardening, pests



9 Ways to Deal with Cabbage Worms and Loopers

Too full to move.

Too full to move.

A cabbage worm is the larva of a butterfly, a looper the larva of a moth. Both are pretty common and the damage they do is the same. If you want to know which one is in your garden, watch it move. If it crawls like an inchworm, it’s a looper.

Although this was over first experience with these pests, I knew what we had as soon as I saw the damage, albeit too late. So many other gardeners had asked me to help identify what happened to their plants, that I recognized the signs.

3 damaged and 1 harvested

3 damaged and 1 harvested

These nasties can do a lot of damage in a short period of time, if you can watch over your plants more closely you may find them before its too late. We lost 2 broccoli plants and 3 out of 6 cabbages. When I found the worms the next morning, they were so stuffed and exhausted from feeding they were napping. Sigh.

So here’s how to protect your cole crops, and in the case of loopers, some of your nightshades as well:

Prevention & Treatment

1. Keep your garden clean of spent plants in the fall, and turn your soil over. This will help prevent many pests from finding a home to hunker down in for the winter.
2. Keep as close an eye as possible on your plants, and check the undersides of leaves.
3. Sprinkle your cabbages with corn meal, which these worms will eat but cannot digest. Corm meal is Worm-B-Gone for cabbages.
4. Use pest resistant hybrids.

The remains of what they ate spattered on the plants.

The remains of what they ate spattered on the plants, adding insult to injury.

5. Use row covers to keep your plants free of infestation, especially in the spring when eggs are laid.
6. Plant a fall crop instead of a spring one, you may just miss them altogether.
7. Attract their enemies by planting flowers that bugs love. These include marigolds and sunflowers, as well as dill.
8. If your garden is relatively small, you can just hand pick the little buggers. Feed them to your chickens, they love that stuff. It’s like caviar for poultry.
9. If you have a more substantial crop, you can treat it with Bt. This is a disease that occurs in nature and kills caterpillars, but does not harm other insects. You can find it in most Farm & Garden stores. We like this the best because it does not harm other bugs like other, even organic, insecticides do.

One beautiful little head for dinner tonight.

One beautiful little head for dinner tonight.

Categories: gardening, pests



7 Common Tomato Problems

critter chewed tomatoes

There are so many diseases, disorders, and pests that can cause problems for tomatoes that it has led to a ton of information online on the subject.

But this can actually make it more difficult to find a quick answer.
So here’s a few of the problems we most often get asked about, and what to do about them.

Blossom Drop
Suddenly your tomato flowers start falling off instead of developing tomatoes.
There are a few causes of this, the most common is high temperatures. Once it gets to be about 90F and above, the plant will abandon hopes of reproduction and just try to stay alive. Don’t worry, it will resume setting fruit when the weather is more suitable.

Lush foliage, no flowers
Your plants look great with lots of green leaves, but few or no flowers.
You probably have given it too much fertilizer, specifically nitrogen. Back off and it should come around.

Splitting skins
If your tomatoes are getting cracks in their skins, it is because they are suddenly getting too much water. Of course you cannot change the weather, but if you are having a dry spell try to get some water to your plants. Mulching them also helps keep the moisture in.
Go ahead and eat the fruit, just realize they won’t store as long.

Blossom End Rot
This is a common problem most often seen early in the season. It shows up as a blackening of the fruit, starting at the end away from the stem, the blossom end. It can end up covering a large portion of the tomato.
It is caused by a calcium deficiency in the plant, most often due to insufficient water. There may be enough calcium in the soil, but if the tomato can’t get it through its roots, it doesn’t help.
To help prevent blossom end rot, be sure to plant your tomatoes when the soil is warm and put them in deep to encourage good root development. Many gardeners also use Epsom Salts to help promote the root growth.
Mulch to help retain moisture.

Cat Facing
More common in the cooler regions and most often affecting large types of tomatoes, cat facing is a very disfigured looking, though edible, fruit.
It is caused by temperatures that are too cold when the blossom develops. Covering your plants can help if a cold snap is coming.

Both Early and Late Blight are caused by a pathogen and appear as dark spots on the leaves of your tomatoes. These lesions get larger as the disease spreads through the plant and fruit, and from plant to plant.
Early blight usually occurs sooner in the season, and if treated with a good fungicide is easier to control than late blight, which is pretty much considered fatal to the plants.

If you suspect either one of these diseases, please contact your local cooperative extension for more information on how to treat it. Because the spores that produce late blight travel long distances through the air, it is important to report cases of it to them.

If you find a lot of your leaves are being eaten, you most likely have a Tomato Hornworm. We have never actually seen one, fortunately, but have seen many pictures. The warmer your climate the more likely you have these light green caterpillars, and the bigger they will be.
The best way to deal with them is to hand pick them off and squish them.
If you find any with white eggs on them, move them away from your tomatoes but don’t kill them. The eggs are the larva of a small wasp that feed on the hornworm, and when they hatch kill it and any others they find.

Our biggest pest problem are squirrels, followed by rabbits, with racoons bringing up the end. These critters will take a few bites out of a juicy fruit, then move on to the next one.
See the picture? Yep, critters.
Keeping them out of the garden is the best way to protect your fruit, though stopping a squirrel is nearly impossible.

Since they are mainly looking for water, some gardeners have had good results by making a supply of fresh water available, and inching it farther and farther away from the plants.

Well those are the most common issues we hear about. Hopefully you won’t have any tomato problems at all, just beautiful fruit.
If you do, and you didn’t find what you were looking for here, we would recommend .edu websites as good sources for answers.

Categories: gardening, pests, plant problems


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5 Ways to Know if it’s a Veggie or a Weed

“A weed is a plant that has mastered every skill except how to grow in rows.” ~Doug Larson

You’ve planted your seeds, and patiently waited.
Now things are spouting, how exciting!



But hold on… is that a carrot or something else?
Doug Larson was almost right; but even a weed can grow in rows if you have put mulch in between them.

So are there any indicators to tell which is what you want and which isn’t?



Why, yes:

1. Rows still are the most obvious of course. Especially if you haven’t mulched yet. Then again, if you have been using a trowel or hoe in between rows, you are back in the same predicament.

Beans with seed pods attached.

Beans with seed pods attached.

2. Is there a seed casing attached? Many veggies, when they first poke through the soil, will still show evidence of the seed you planted. Larger seeds are the most obvious, such as beans and squash. Still, look carefully and you may even see a tinier seed still attached to a sprout.



3. Is it only growing where you planted it? Not counting volunteer plants, is what you are looking at confined to the area you would expect? If what looks like a pea or a pepper is in a number of areas of your garden, it’s most likely weeds.



4. Does it have more than one set of leaves? Give it a chance to grow it’s second set, or ‘true’ set of leaves before you write it off or pull it out. Many plants, both veggies and weeds, look so similar at first you cannot tell them apart. Keep in mind that they are often related. Did you know that carrots and parsnips are also related to dill, parsley and Queen Anne’s Lace?


Parsnips, mostly.

5. Experience really is the best teacher. Take notes, make drawings or save photos. After a while you will know what to look for; well, at least you will have a better idea.
There are many seasoned gardeners who occasionally neglect to pull a weed, thinking it’s a veggie… or worse, just the opposite.



Categories: How to Grow, pests, techniques



9 Things You Can Do to Help the Bees

Pesticides kill bugs, that’s what they are used for.
Even ‘natural’ pesticides kill bugs.
Most pesticides kill indiscriminately.

Here’s the thing, we all have problems with bad bugs on our plants; and we want to get the best harvest possible.
This is a double-edge sword.
By killing the bad bugs, we may also be killing the ones that will pollinate them, like bees.

bees and sunflower

There is already a problem with the bee populations due to Colony Collapse. Add to that the use of pesticides in home lawns and gardens and it gets worse.
Some of these pesticides may already be on plants you buy at your local Farm and Garden as well. Put them in the ground, and they will continue to kill for years.
Not just bugs either, also the birds that eat them.

If the use of these pesticides continues, our ability to grow our own food declines as well.

bees are a gardener's friends

Please READ THIS short article. Share it, print it out and take it to your local Home Depot or Lowe’s.
You can also Take Action here.

What can you do to prevent the need for any pesticide?
1. Keep your garden clean. Remove spent foliage at the end of the season.
2. Keep your plants healthy and strong. If you have healthy soil, your plants will be stronger and better able to fight off any pests. Give them what they need.
3. Keep a close watch for pests. As soon as you see them, pick them off by hand. Most pests can easily be swiped off and into a bucket of soapy water.
4. Look into pest-resistant hybrids for veggies you have the most trouble with.
5. Start your own seed with an organic seed starting medium, or buy from a local organic grower.
6. Add in some plants that will attract the good bugs. Bees love sunflowers, Ladybugs favor dill and oregano. Not only will good bugs help pollinate, many feed on the bad bugs.
7. Learn more. We recommend the book Good Bugs, Bad Bugs by Jessica Walliser as a great source for the information you need to know to grow a healthier garden.

If you need to use a pesticide, please go organic and target the bug you are after. Use as little as possible.
Here’s a few natural solutions to try.

Categories: gardening, living green, pests, techniques


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