GardenDishes

dishin' the DIRT on hit and myth landscaping

Archive for the tag “gardening with children”

Ants-in-the-Pants Not a Fun Game

Yesterday while removing spring/summer blooming plants in a raised bed, I found a little more than dying plants. Recent rains encouraged fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) to look for higher ground. Raised bed = water-free home. Think of a beach house on stilts. Part of the mound fell from the root ball of a plant onto the leg of my jeans. Passersbyers witnessed moves that haven’t come from my body in quite some time when  I was
stung several times. I still can’t figure out how those demons got skin contact. Soon after the fiery sensation (thus, the common name),  itchy red bumps emerged, morphing overnight into nasty looking bumps that made my right leg look more like a 14-year-old boy’s face.

These boogers have been a southern gardener – and nature lover – problem for several decades now, hitching a ride into the U.S. on ships or even plants imported from their native South America. This invasion does have its upside, though. “Fire ants voraciously consume populations of fleas, ticks, termites, cockroaches, chinch bugs, mosquito eggs and larva, scorpions, etc.” says Galveston County Master Gardener Trish McDaniel in a publication called “Beneficials In the Landscape” from Texas A&M University. “(The) culinary creed for fire ants could be: if it will stay still for a bit, then it’s dinner!”

As far as full-grown humans and livestock, this appetite fire ants have for the things we hate most is good news. Not so much for little ones, though. A fawn born near a fire ant mound can spell disaster if momma doe doesn’t get her baby away quickly enough. So too with a calf or kitten.

a-on-playground

Organic pest control is always best to use near children or pets.

There are a number of organic methods for ridding yourself, albeit temporarily, of fire ants. (A great website for this information is from Urban Harvest.) One free way is to pour boiling water on the mound’s freeway. Do this several times over a two-hour period for the best results, as some of the ants could be too far down in the earth to be killed with the 1st pour. As they BRING OUT THEIR DEAD (you Monte Python fans know the line), hit the mound again.

When I found the mound – or they found me – yesterday, I took a little different approach. With a school nearby and me nearby (I’m a clutz and can’t blame McDonald’s if I get scalded), I sprinkled a bit of instant grits around the area.

kiss-my-grits

For a cheap & easy fire ant bait, you can KISS MY GRITS!

The ants will take it down deep into the mound where it will absorb liquid and they’ll blow up like they’re on steroids and eventually implode. Or explode. The point is, they’ll no longer bite.

So sorry to disappoint, but I’ll not be doing the ants-in-the-pants dance for a bit. Unless DANCING WITH THE STARS calls. Then could I borrow a mound from you? That’s basically the only way to get my groove on these days, I’m afraid.

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YOU CAN GROW THAT: squash isn’t just a child’s game!

When you follow the rules in gardening, it works.  When you don’t, it doesn’t.

A harvest in summer requires following the recipe in spring.

But the rules we must follow are not OURS.  They are nature’s rules.  That’s why gardening seems difficult.  We Americans tend to be proud of our rule-breaking ways! Actually, rules make things much easier and as Andy Rooney loved to ask, “EVER WONDER WHY…. ?”.  Well, in gardening, you don’t have to wonder.  The law of sowing and reaping cannot be bargained with or altered.  It offers a comforting predictability. Plant a squash seed, get a squash, unless yet another of nature’s rules intervenes, such as survival of the fittest squirrel or cutworm or squash bug. When it comes to planting any seed, it will have its own set of rules.  Too deep for one is just right or too shallow for another.  Think Goldilocks.  As trying as it may be, knowing thy seeds is much like knowing thy child (or spouse): they are all different and have specific needs that, like it or not, require meeting if they are to thrive.  Okay, back to seeds….  squash seeds, in particular. I grow primarily two types of summer squash. (I’ve put out seeds for winter squash, too, but those disappeared in a downpour the next day. Probably could look in my neighbor’s yard for them, but didn’t have a decent LOW-FODMAP recipe for them anyway, so just waved good-bye.)

4-6 seeds per mound for zucchini squash is a good start.

RULES FOR SUMMER SQUASH

1) Both my summer types – zucchini style and the yellow straight-neck – have the same basic needs list: SUN, WATER, and TIME.

2) Seeds sown in hills – with 5 or so seeds to a mound and a 1/2 inch soil and a sprinkling of pine straw mulch – is my success recipe. My daddy taught me how and his Uncle Jim taught him.

3) Germination to ripened harvest is a couple of months, but the time from production to harvest seems only a few minutes.  It’s a booger keeping up once they start popping. I find it easiest to have a couple of sowing dates (mid-March and mid-April here in Texas) so they don’t all ripen simultaneously. Squash fatigue sets in pretty quickly at my house.  If I miss early seeding because of a late-cool snap, I purchase plants from my local nursery instead of using open-pollinated seeds stored from last year’s crop, a reputable seed company or CSA.

4) Keep squash plants picked to keep them producing.  The flowers are also tasty, which alleviates some squash over-load.  Top a salad with a yellow squash bloom for a lovely edible garnish.  Folks here along the Gulf Coast eat them fried, too.  (I might try that this summer since my daughter found a gluten-free breadcrumb mix for me.  Thinking about using corn flakes as batter…anyone experimented with that?)

Slice squash thin for freezing or dehydrating.

5) Squashes are impatient. Pick while young so they aren’t tough. And since they rot quickly after harvesting, what I don’t eat or share, I slice thin, put on a cookie sheet in the freezer then into containers and back into the freezer.  Since slices freeze individually on the cookie sheet, they easily pour out individually.

Introducing children to gardening is one of my passions. Passing on to them that there are natural rules and consequences we cannot change makes for a more fruitful – and less frustrating – life, for both parent AND child.  So get a packet of squash seeds and grab a kid (your own, preferably).  A bit of spring sweat will turn sweet come summer.  In fact, it will be a summer neither of you will soon forget. c:

HIT:Gardening with kids teaches EVERYONE patience!

Another gardening blog?

My dad, Dr. Bob Foster, with me at 18 months old.

Growing up with a gardening parent, I recognize my good fortune.  My childhood was spent soaking in Dad’s knowledge of the natural world, although at the time I looked at it as “work.”  Thankfully, by the time I started my own family, that changed.  The hours spent doing gardening chores as a kid paid out even before we saved up to buy our 1st house.  My dorm window was filled with ivies and aloe veras, items Dad deemed as necessary as a good reading lamp.  My apartment balconies (and there were several) were dotted with small pots of color and crop and greenery.  Every corner inside that boasted even a tiny sliver of sunshine hosted a variegated airplane plant.  Every corner that sat in darkness gained a mother-in-law’s tongue.  And when my daughters left for college, I made sure they not only had underwear, but also their ivies and aloe veras.  Hopefully, they now believe themselves lucky for having grown up with gardening parents.

With a generation now nesting raised with blow ‘n go, hire it done lawns, many find themselves horticulturally ignorant when striking out on their own, no experience to call on when the desire comes to build an Eden for themselves.  (My belief is that we are ALL built to be gardeners, designed with an Eden-sized hole in our psyche.  More and more, scientific data is backing up that theory.) And although I lap up a treatise on gardening like a thirsty dog, I realize my propensity for a nightstand stacked with landscaping literature is not necessarily a normal thing.  Especially for NEW gardeners, bite sized rather than force feeding the whole apple at once makes it easier to manage without choking.  So anyone looking for a few morsels to help them get started, this is your table!  Each entry of GardenDishes will serve a HIT and a MYTH: a plant or suggestion that, as a professional landscape designer I’ve found tasty, and a landscaping lie that we’ll toss into the compost heap for good.  If YOU HAVE A FAVORITE TIP OR GARDENING QUESTION, please send it to me along with a photo.  If I don’t know the answer, I know someone who does.  My daddy is still just a phone call away.

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