Luffa Gourd Soap

Every year I plant a few luffa gourds or dishcloth gourds on my fences. Such a wonderful cucurbit that doesn’t seem to be affected by the dreadful squash beetle. They bloom later in the season and continue until frost. The bees can’t seem to get enough and I love having a continuous food source for them in the garden.

Although you can wait until the gourds turn brownish in color, I harvest when they are firm to the touch, still green and heavy. Some say you can wait to harvest after a light frost, big mistake for me as they all rotted that year.

Once I harvest, I cut the ends off with a sharp knife and knock the seeds into a 5 gallon bucket. Not all the seeds to cooperate but no worries, get out as many as are willing. Peal outside skin off by hand, then I dip them in water, squeeze as much water as I can out and lay them out to dry in the sun. The sun does a great job of drying but also helps to brighten the sponge color. Some folks add a little clorox to the water and soak them for a little while to bleach the sponges before wringing out and drying. I don’t mind if they are not white.

I don’t always get to all the luffas right after harvesting so I lay them out without touching one another on a table in the barn where they won’t freeze until I find some extra time to process them.

I needed some quick last minute gifts this year so after looking through my supplies I decided to make some scented goat soap scrubbies .

First I cut the luffa sponges into 3 inch slices and placed them in recycled containers and disposable cups. Next, I melted goat milk soap, added lavender and peppermint essential oil and poured it over the sponges.  After it cooled I removed the luffa filled soaps and voila, wonderful scrubbies!  I packaged them in cellophane bags tied with string and a piece of evergreen.  A nice gift anytime of year.



Choosing the Perfect Christmas Tree and Tips for keeping it Fresh

Tuwanda and I giving tips on fresh cut trees for Talk of the Town at Farm Fresh Vintage Finds in Fairview, TN

Tuwanda and I giving tips on fresh cut trees for Talk of the Town at Farm Fresh Vintage Finds in Fairview, TN

There is nothing as wonderful as a fresh cut or live Christmas tree.  The feel, look and scent will put you right and get you into the Christmas spirit. There are so many choices when it comes to choosing the perfect fresh tree.  First you need to decide if you want a fresh cut or a live (container grown or ball and burlap) tree.  Fresh cut is just that, harvested from a Christmas tree farm and placed in a tree stand in your home for the holidays.  A live tree is one you can bring inside for holidays then take it outside and plant it in the yard to be enjoyed year after year.


When it comes to fresh cut or live trees there are some big differences so I’ve compiled a list of common varieties usually available plus some tips on caring for them…

Christmas trees at a glance:

Douglas Fir: One of the top Christmas tree species in the U.S. Great aroma when needles are crushed. Holds blue to dark green; 1” to 1 ½ “ needle that radiate in all directions from the branch.

Fraser Fir: Good form (pyramid-shape) and needle-retention. ½” to 1” long flattened needles, dark green on top with silver underneath. Branches are strong and turn upward slightly.

Colorado Blue Spruce: Nice symmetrical form with attractive blue sharp needles that are 1’-1 ½” long. Good needle retention.

Norway Spruce: Good conical shape with 1/”-1 ½” shiny, dark green needles. Strong fragrance but for needle retention must give proper care.

Virginia Pine: dense form with stout branches and dark green 1 ½”-3” needles twisted in pairs. Strong pine scent. Popular Christmas tree in the South.

White Pine: Shape is full with 2”-5” long blue-green needles. Retains needles throughout holiday season. Little or no fragrance, which is good for those who have allergic reactions to strong scented evergreens. Branches not as sturdy as other Christmas trees for holding heavy ornaments.

Cut Tree care tips:

  • Be sure the tree is healthy and fresh – of course if you cut your own you won’t have to worry! If tree is already cut, check for excessive needle loss by giving the tree or branch a good shake. Naturally occurring loose needles should have been removed mechanically prior or if you are buying a fresh tree, the farm will have a mechanical shaker to remove loose needles eliminating any unnecessary mess when you get home.
  • Don’t buy a tree that is too big for your home. If you have to cut off a large portion of trunk – it may ruin the shape of the tree.
  • Look at the bottom of the tree, be sure there is plenty of trunk before branches start so you can carry and cut some off at home.
  • If your ride home is more than 15 minutes, wrap the tree with a tarp or place it inside to keep the wind from causing damage. Most tree farms and retail centers will wrap it in netting for you.
  • Place the bottom – trunk of the tree forward to protect needles and keep it securely in place when you tied it.
  • Keep tree out of sun if it can’t be placed in home right away and make a fresh cut at the base of trunk then stand it in a bucket of water in a cool, shaded location inside or out. If trunk remains covered in water a second cut when it goes into tree stand will not be necessary.
  • Before placing in sturdy tree stand make a straight across cut of ½” – 1” on bottom of trunk. Most retailers and many farms will do this for you if you are going straight home to display your tree. My husband and I purchased a heavy duty tree stand a few years back called “the marriage saver”. I highly recommend it or any stand that holds the tree firmly in place without fishing line running hither and yon while holding a large amount of water as a tree will drink up to a gallon the first day and a quart or so every day thereafter. Investing in a quality tree stand will save many tears and “I told you so(s)” keep water in the stand covering bottom of trunk at all times for best needle retention.
  • Use cold water without chemicals. Do not let the bottom of the trunk dry out. A sap will form sealing it so water can no longer be taken up. No need to spray tree with any chemicals to keep needles from drying out.
  • Place Christmas tree in a cool area of home away from direct sunlight and heat.
  • After Christmas,  set your tree in the garden.  The birds love to have a place to get out of the wind appreciate some holiday food in the form of popcorn and cranberry chains along with bird seed ornaments.
Douglas fir

Douglas fir

Farm Fresh Vintage Finds offer fresh cut trees in Fairview, TN

Farm Fresh Vintage Finds offer fresh cut trees in Fairview, TN

Live tree care – container or ball and burlap:

  • Keep tree in shady area, unheated garage or porch until it is time to bring inside.
  • Carry tree by ball or container, not the top.
  • Keep soil or ball moist. A galvanized tub works well to hold ball if not in pot.
  • Place tree in a cool spot inside home away from direct heat.
  • Try to keep tree inside home no longer than 1 week to 10 days.

After Christmas go ahead and plant your live tree if the ground isn’t yet frozen. 

  • Dig hole in yard 3-4 times size of container or ball.
  • Amend soil if it is heavy clay by adding organic matter; ground leaves, compost, soil conditioner, etc.
  • Remove burlap, twine, etc before planting or take out of container.  Be sure the top of ball is level with ground, not to deep and not sticking above soil.
  • May want to stake tree for first year if needed.

Poinsettia, A Perfect Shade Plant for the Garden

Can you imagine Christmas without poinsettias? This tropical plants give such color and beauty to our holiday decorating.  But what do you do with them after the Christmas tree  and decorations are all put away and you are left with these plants that are still healthy and looking good?  If you are like me, the gardener in you won’t allow you to throw perfectly good plants  away.  So just send them to vacation under a sunny window in the garage where they won’t freeze and with minimal care (watering only when needed) they will be happy until spring.

Bright red poinsettias just scream Merry Merry!

Bright red poinsettias just scream Merry Merry!

After all danger of frost has past and the nights are holding 50 degrees,  plop those leggy (maybe even leafless) poinsettias directly in the shade garden soil, cut them back and enjoy a great foliage show all summer. But, don’t forget that they are tropical so if you’ve grown attached you may want to dig them back up before the first frost, or toss them because you have now gotten your money’s worth of enjoyment.

If you are looking to challenge your green thumb and would like to take a shot at getting these poinsettias to bloom once more in time for the holidays then here are a couple of steps:

  1.  Sometime around the middle of September pot the poinsettias and give them a week to acclimate before bringing them inside.
  2. In order for Poinsettias to bloom you will have to shorten the length of daylight. Do this in late September by placing the plant in total darkness for 15 hours every night. A closet works great…(no peeking with a light of any kind). 60 – 65 degrees is optimal. Set the timer, routine is important. Miss a day and the results can change. Did I mention it is a challenge?  5pm till 8am is a good schedule.
  3. Each morning bring the  plant(s) out of the closet and set it in bright light  for the remaining 9 hours.

Usually after about 4-8weeks of this daily “in and out of the closet routine” the bracts (you may think of them as blooms) will start to show color. When this happens they can stay out of the closet for good in a bright sunny spot where the color will fully develop for the Christmas holidays.

Remember to water soil evenly and let soil dry out between watering like you would any other houseplant throughout the whole process and beyond.  Fertilize weekly with a houseplant fertilizer or compost tea.

Just so pretty!

Just so pretty!

It is hard to recreate a commercial grower’s conditions for growing poinsettias, the bracts will probably not be a big or showy as they were the previous year.  So, just have fun with the process and see what happens. If you get beautiful re-blooms your gardening buddies will have green thumb envy and you will be the talk of the garden club.


Boskey Dell Native Nursery Visit

I’ve wanted to visit Boskey Dell Native nursery ever since it was recommended to me on an herb walk a while back. Located in West Linn, Oregon; a cute little town just south of Portland. So, when my husband decided we needed a driving adventure to Oswego Lake(another little town south of Portland) I jumped at the opportunity knowing we would be close to Boskey Dell Natives.


After a lovely lunch and community garden stop in Lake Oswego (more about that later) we found it, a Native Nursery like no other.

There are some native herbs here in the Pacific North West that I would like to take back and grow on my farm in Middle TN. Like Oregon Grape; which you have to admit seems rather appropriate considering it is native to Oregon and the official state flower. We have Mahonia aplenty in Middle Tennessee but I wanted a woodland species not so readily available like Mahonia repens, a low growing spreader.

I also am intrigued with Ceanothus (California Lilac) another Pacific Coast native herb that I have always admired in England and Scotland (before I realized it where it was from). It is a spring bloomer that pollinators just love and the blue color is just so pretty. I hope with a well drained and protected sunny spot I can convince this blue stunner to be happy in my garden where humidity and clay reign…and where cold to hot (and visa versa) weather fluctuations is the norm. A girl can dream and perhaps with a little gardening know how, well time will tell.


We arrived at Boskey Dell Natives late afternoon and when I stepped out of the car and was greeted by a small flock of hens I knew it was going to be a fun experience. The nursery was made up of rooms filled with containers based on the plant cultural needs…sun, shade, protection from winds, etc.  IMG_4876

As I rounded the first corner, there was a vintage sink under an evergreen tree with Touch-me-not or Jewelweed growing in it. Perfect since, this wild herb thrives in a wet, shady habitat.



I watched customers push their carts loaded with plants and couldn’t help but hear them talking excitedly about what they needed for where in their gardens.


As I looked around and waited to ask someone where I might find the plants I had come for I noticed all the interesting vintage architectural pieces that had been added to the greenhouse ends that gave them a warm inviting feel. IMG_4871I like to be surprised by unusual old stuff that has been repurposed and at every   turn I was delighted.IMG_4878


After I had found the native plants I was looking for, had paid for them, and was headed to the car I met the owner, Lory Duralia. A woman after my own heart, after talking to her for just a short time I knew we were kindred spirits. Lory graciously took the time to take me on a tour to show me her latest projects and explain to me how she creates and works along side mother nature to build habitats to ensure a balance in her gardens, business and life. Her enthusiasm is contagious and her sense of style is inspirational. Her love of antiques is beyond obvious and how she incorporates them into every aspect of her life is beyond fun…a page out of Country Living on steroids.IMG_4868


She showed me her new building that she built as a memorial to her mother with an owl apartment above. Every old window, door, beam, and architectural piece has a story. And as for the owls, she didn’t exactly have any but her, “if you build it they will come” attitude worked as there are a pair of screech owls who have taken up residence, now granted they aren’t in the foretold apartment but they are close, roosting on the beams just under the apartment.

IMG_4860    IMG_4861

Another project was a remodel or build out of a carport/garage where she made a habitat or respite place for people…anyone who needs a place to come and get quiet with some comfortable chairs, woodstove and a window that overlooks a small creek meandering through peaceful green woods.

IMG_4857A place to duck out of the world for a spell to collect oneself, “It works for me”, she says with a smile.


Lory’s love of flora, fauna and folks, young and old are apparent everywhere you look. She is a giver and she will be the first to tell you it comes back over and over again as she shares her passion of nature with others.

Lory in her 'happy place'

Lory in her ‘happy place’


She takes her stewardship of her piece of this earth seriously and encourages everyone to build habitats to enjoy wherever you live. Thank you Lory and I look forward to a return visit to Boskey Dell Natives soon. 🙂



Got Bugs? Try these Simple DIY Natural and Herbal Solutions

Nothing is more irritating then pests taking advantage of your hard work by helping themselves to your kitchen garden, picnic or pantry. It’s time to fight back but many times the cure is worse than the bite …adding toxins to the environment or food or perhaps killing the beneficial insects that are working with you… so what can a gardener do?

Before reaching for those containers that you don’t really feel comfortable using, why not try some natural solutions along with some common sense and good gardening practices.

The first step in any kind of warfare is to understand your enemy and be vigilant. Any pest is easier to take care of when there are fewer of them, before they reproduce or call in their cousins because your garden or pantry is ‘easy pickins’.

This is not hard to do if you make a habit of making the rounds and checking on your kitchen garden or pantry and catching pests red-handed or observing their path of destruction before they are out of control. You can handpick many bad bugs and squish them on the spot or drop them into a container of soapy water (gardeners can’t be squeamish).

When you do observe pesky pest and plant problems, arm yourself with solutions that you can make yourself using plants from the kitchen garden or ingredients that you probably already have on hand or can find locally.

These solutions are simple to make and easy to apply. It may take several applications or a combination of remedies to stun, kill or discourage armies of royal pain insects so don’t get discouraged and give up before you can claim victory in the war on pests. Be as persistent as they are.

Early Strikes: Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to be on the defense before pests or diseases ever enter the picture. Companion planting often works because of the strong scents many herbs produce that confuse would be pests and in their confusion offer opportunity for beneficial warrior insects to come in and clean up.

One way to up the aroma factor is to add more strong scents to the garden by sprinkling veggies with shaker containers filled with dried and powered herbs. Use a food processor to quickly make small batches each time to ensure the strongest fragrance punch. Sprinkle this dust on early in the morning while the dew is still on to help it stick. Reapply often to the leaves of plants and also around the base of veggies.

Another simple way is to incorporate fresh herb leaves by using stems or branches strewn on surfaces or between and around plants, or hung (think upside down bouquets) or by rubbing a fresh bunch on surfaces to allow instant aroma to waif into the air warding off attack. This is also a wonderful way to use excess herb plant material. Now you know what to do with all those aromatic herbs you grow.

Yet other early strike measures is to be proactive with traps, dustings or oil sprays to take them out on route or smother eggs before they hatch using the following simple ingredients:

Wood ash (hardwood are the best) sprinkle around the base of plants to avoid cutworm issues. The worms don’t care for lye, which soaks into the ground and makes them leave. After seedlings are up and strong, sprinkle a little wood ash in and around the new sprouts. Gardeners swear that wood ash sprinkled around squash seedlings greatly reduce squash bugs and cucumber beetles.

Diatomaceous Earth is soft sedimentary rock made from the fossil remains of a type of hard-shelled algae. Use food grade DE from your local co-op or farm store.

  • Fill a container with a shaker top to dust (carefully so as not to breath any into lungs) plants and the soil around the plant to kill and discourage cutworms, onion root maggots, slugs, snails and even cabbage root maggots. I also sprinkle it all around squash and cucumber plants to repel squash bugs and cucumber beetles.
  • If you prefer to spray: Mix 4 Tablespoons to 1 gallon of water.

Egg Shells –if you are battling cutworms and snails or have issue with blossom end rot in peppers, eggplant and tomatoes, save your eggshells.

  • Rinse and dry egg shells (removes possible order issues later) and toss them in a plastic bag. Run a rolling pin over bag to crunch them up and spread a handful around the base of any plant (or bed perimeter) that is being troubled by cutworms or snails. The sharp edges tear up these soft-bellied creeps before they can do their worst.
  • Eggshells are a natural source of calcium and are beneficial to the nightshade family. Simply work a handful of crushed shells into the soil around each plant being careful to keep away from the stem (don’t want to cut them).

Sticky Traps are a nontoxic way to trap flying hopping insects in the garden and are especially helpful in hoop and greenhouses to gather flea beetles and whiteflies.

  • Apply an ample amount of Vaseline to both sides of a yellow 3 x 5 inch notecard. Use a plastic fork to hold card or punch a hole in card (before starting) and tie a string to the card.

Codling Moth Fruit trees – The codling moth larva scar apples making them unsightly. To nip this problem in the bud, try this remedy to trap the moths before they lay eggs. In a one-gallon clean milk jug add: 1 cup vinegar (I have also used cheap wine) and one cup sugar. Fill the rest of the jug with water. Shake it up and add one banana peel. Hang at an angle in apple trees before blossoms open. When I had an orchard of 225 trees, I would hang these jugs around the perimeter of fruit trees. It was very effective.

  • I have also used these traps in between raspberries on Shepard’s hooks for similar results from pests at bloom time.

Two basic ingredients for most homemade mixtures are in your kitchen, soap and oil. Most all household soaps will work. Dishwashing (i.e. Ivory, castile), gentle washing flakes or bar soaps. The key is to use only unscented and purest forms available. ½ – 1 teaspoon (approximately) per quart is a general rule of thumb. Soap will kill soft-bodied insects and even some hard-shelled beetles (if they take a direct hit).

Oil: I like olive oil but any kind of vegetable oil works and even mineral oil can do the trick. Oil helps your homemade concoctions stick or adhere to the leaves while smothering eggs and larvae.

At the first sign of an infestation in my garden I quickly mix ½ teaspoon soap and 1 teaspoon oil in a quart of water and spray every other day for a week early in the morning or evening.

If I need more fire power or not sure what to do I go to this simple all around insect spray: mince and powder using food processor: 1 onion, 2 cloves garlic, 2 hot peppers (or 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper or hot sauce). Add to 2 quarts water. Let stand overnight, strain and add 1 teaspoon liquid soap and 1 Tablespoon oil. Keeps in the refrigerator for a week (if it lasts that long) If it doesn’t kill, it will burn, smother and repel…all good ammunition in the fight against bad bugs.

Always test your mix by spraying part of a plant and waiting to see if it does any damage. Don’t spray any type of oil mix in the blazing sun and heat of the day or it may burn plants. Early morning or evening works best. Start at the top of plant and spray down, then come up under to get bottom of leaves.


ALWAYS REMEMBER: Be kind to bees

If a homemade mixture will hurt pests, it can hurt, sicken or repel beneficial insects as well so be aware and responsible. Bees are important for pollination so spray after they have finished working for the day. When is that? I often hear after 4pm but I have noticed bees working plants later so just be observant and when they are no longer around, spray your plants.

Herbs are easy to grow multi-faceted plants that are a real friend to the gardener as well as good neighbors in the Kitchen Garden.  Here are some easy herbal remedies to help you in your fight against bad bugs:

Basil, Ocimum basilicum is an annual herb that is known for its companion relationship with tomatoes. With natural fungicide and repelling properties it is wonderful to use with soap to make a solution to spray on vegies to help with fungal issues and knock down soft-bodied insects.

  • Add one cup of fresh (or dried) basil leaves to a quart of hot boiled water, cover and let it steep until cool or overnight. Strain and add 1 teaspoon of dish soap. Pour into sprayer.
  • Cut fresh bouquets and hang upside down around entrance of buildings to discourage flies. Sprinkle dried and powered basil anywhere flies are bugging you or make strong tea; cool, strain and spray for similar fly repellant effect.

Bay laurel, Laurus nobilis leaves have natural insecticidal properties that repel, stun and kill bugs. Ways to apply:

  • Make a strong tea with 8-10 leaves (fresh or dried) per quart of boiling water. Steep overnight, strain and pour into sprayer.
  • Grind dried leaves in a food processor or coffee grinder then add to a container with holes in the lid to dust plants (early morning).
  • Drop a leaf in containers before storing dried veggies, fruit or in bags of flour and cornmeal to keep bugs out and kill any larvae that hatch. Students have told me countless stories of mother or grandmother putting a bay leaf into a bag of new flour from the store. Within 24 hours bugs would come to the top of the flour and they would scrape them off.
  • Scatter bay leaves in kitchen cupboards and shelves to discourage pantry pests. If lady bugs are taking up winter residence in your home try spreading some leaves near suspected point of entry to repel naturally.

Borage – Borago officinalis has a reputation as a health-boosting neighbor in the kitchen garden. Brew a strong tea from the leaves (2 cups of leaves to 1 quart boiling water) cover, strain when cool and spray on leaf chewers.

Catnip – Grow near entryways to discourage ants. Dry and powder catnip leaves then dust around door frames and windows for ants and sprinkle on veggies for flea beetles.

  • Brew 2 cups catnip leaves to 1 quart boiling water), steep overnight, strain (unbleached coffee filters work great) and spray the tea on the yard and garden for a natural mosquito-cide, add 1 teaspoon oil to the mix to help it stick to leaves.
  • This tea spray will also tick off (repel) squash, bean and cucumber beetles when sprayed on a regular basis.

Cayenne peppers – Carefully grind peppers to a fine powder (food processor or coffee grinder) and sprinkle around windows and doors where you see ant trails and on garden plants early in the morning to keep rabbits away. Drop a whole dried pepper in containers of beans and grains to keep weevils and other bugs out.   A dusting of cayenne will persuade kitties to stop using your raised beds as a litter box.

Cayenne adds an extra kick to most any pest mix so try adding a few ground or chopped peppers to any steeping concoction, strain before spraying and wear gloves and eye protection. Here are some combinations to try:

  • Add approximately 1 cup of cayenne peppers chopped and 1 cup of DE (diatomaceous earth) to 2 quarts of water. Cover and let sit overnight. Strain and spray on leaves to repel most leaf eaters.


Chrysanthemum – dried flowers from this popular fall blooming perennial makes a strong smelling tea that helps to eliminate most pests without hurting the good guys.

  • Simmer 1 cup of dried flowers for 15 – 20 minutes. After it has cooled, strain and pour in sprayer.

Chives – (garlic or onion), both in the Allium family are easy to grow perennial herbs. Brew a strong tea (1 cup blades, chopped to 1 quart hot boiled water) to spray spider mites. This spray will also help fight against mildew and fungus issues.

Garlic – Discourage deer from eating your garden for dinner; sprinkle dried, powdered garlic on plants and around perimeter of garden. Soak cloves in water overnight to make a tea to spray plants and garden to help with deer control and add other herbs to make homemade mixtures to stop bugs in their tracks.

  • To make a natural sticker (an ingredient to help your pest solution adhere to leaves) make garlic oil in advance and have at the ready when you notice an outbreak of whiteflies, mites or beetles. Mince 4-6 cloves of garlic in 1 cup of olive oil in a pint mason jar. Cover and let sit for a week. Strain and label. Whenever you make a pest repelling mixture add 1 tablespoon of garlic oil per quart to give your pest solution some odorous sticking power.
  • To combat fungus and mildew problems mix 1 Tablespoon garlic oil and 1 teaspoon dish soap per quart of water and spray early morning or early evening.
  • Mix 1/2 cup of garlic oil to 1 gallon of water and spray fruit tree trunk and limbs while dormant to suffocate eggs (Early Strike)

Lemon Balm, Melissa officinalis is an easy perennial herb to grow in sun or part shade. If you don’t want lots of it be sure to cut it often to keep flowers from forming seeds.

  • Sprinkle dried and powdered leaves and stems on veggies to confuse pests, especially effective on Swiss chard.
  • Rub a handful of fresh cut lemon balm on picnic table or even your skin and clothes to keep biting pests away while you are enjoying the great outdoors.

Mint, Mentha is a well known herb that has a sneaky habit of running away with your garden (try corralling in containers or give it room to run in a ditch or hard to mow hillside) Happy most anywhere, this plant dried and sprinkled on vegetable plants will help deter pests especially ants and flea beetles. Fresh cut stems can be used around veggies to keep bad bugs guessing. In the house place mint fresh or dried in suspect places to cause mice to hold their noses and turn tail.

  • Steep 1 cup mint leaves in 4 cups boiling water, cover and let stand an hour or so or overnight. Strain and spray ants and flea beetles.

 Tansy, Tanacetum vulgare has a reputation for being a thug in the garden but once you get to know this herb and learn of its virtues as a bug deterrent you may not be able to get enough of it. The more you cut and use this plant the less opportunity it has to flower and disperse seeds. This and planting in part shade will cut down on the spreading.

  • Cut fresh branches and lay in and around squash plants to deter those dreaded squash bugs.
  • Power leaves and flowers and sprinkle to battle ants.

Wormwood, Artemisia is a strong and bitter herb that needs lots of room in the garden. Spray a strong tea from the leaves to kill cabbageworms and flea beetles (top and bottom of plant leaves).

  • Pour 2 cups boiling water over 2 cups leaves. Cover and let steep for an hour or two, strain and add 4-8 cups of tap water before spraying plants.

Horsetail, Equisetum arvenses is an ancient herb known to have high silica content and can be used as a preventative against fungi diseases, especially helpful with tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, squash and beans. To keep this herb from taking over plant it in a container.

  • 1 cup dried horsetail to 2 gallons of water. Simmer for about an hour, strain when cool and spray on veggies mid morning once a week.

My father who has raised food his whole life often reminds me that balance is key to any garden so, use the best soil you can afford or amend what you have with lots of organic matter (compost), know your pH, plant good quality plants (seeds) in lots of sunshine and water properly. By having a good foundation and the right conditions, beneficial insects thrive and bad bugs will be in danger but when Mother Nature needs some help give her a hand with some DIY natural solutions that make scents.

From Trash to Treasure…Stacked Glass Fun in the Garden


DSC_0070 copy

Winter is a wonderful time to dream up craft projects for the garden. Get together with other gardeners who are having a touch of spring fever and there is no telling what you can come up with.

I started collecting glass pieces for this project a while back by placing a box in the garage and adding cool glass dishes, vases, lamp parts, candle holders and whatever else was interesting when the opportunity presented itself. Like at the flea market or garage sales or thrift stores or when I had to get rid of a few treasures from my cupboards because the doors no longer could close.

Find glass at yard sales and good will stores

Find glass at yard sales and good will stores

I had seen some towers in a garden a while back and thought I could make those… So when my husband announced he was taking that box of junk in the garage to thDSC_0354e thrift store I knew it was time to actually do something with them.




Find an artsy friend to help

Find an artsy friend to help



I invited my friend Diane over to play and explained my vision with her…vintage, elegant, colorful and somewhat useful art for the garden.  It is always a good idea to have a really creative, artsy person to work with on any garden craft project. We drank tea, looked through my box of goodies, admired each piece, reflected on where I found it or which great aunt passed it on to me and declared it would be better to make something pretty for the garden with some of the more memorable pieces then to let them sit around the house and collect dust.

We sorted the items according to color, size, compatibility (how the pieces would fit together for stability) and appeal. We ended up with five piles. We started the ‘playing process’ of stacking things and stand-DSC_0024 copying back and evaluating. We both weighed in then made a few changes before un-stacking and wishing we had taken a picture so we could remember the order we had come up with.







Materials: Glass items of various sizes, textures and colors

Glue: We used 2 different kinds –

E 6000, craft glue readily available in craft section of stores or

Stik ‘n Seal, outdoor adhesive by Loctite.

Both dry clear, hold glass together and are weather proof.

Follow directions on tube. Takes a day or two to really set up.

These are very

both of these glue products worked well

both of these glue products worked well

easy to make and lots of fun, here are the basic instructions. Just remember you are only limited by your imagination and well maybe gravity.

This is a job to do inside on a cold winters day where the temperature is warm (60 degrees or so) so the glue will dry and bond (ventilate room) After sorting glass pieces into piles, play with them by carefully stacking to get a pattern for your tower. Careful, don’t stack too high without glue. ***Take a picture on your phone so you can recreate your idea.

  1. Make sure your glass pieces are clean and very dry, use a blow dryer if you just washed and dried them.
  2. Start the tower with a strong, sturdy base, an old microwave turn-table or a large glass plate flipped over.
  3. Using a sharpie, mark out where the bead of glue will need to go (just dots or corners for a guide).
  4. Run a bead of glue (see materials) to both pieces; wait until glue gets tacky 2-5 minutes (read instructions) before putting them together. Press and hold for a couple of minutes.
  5. Continue building up until you run out of pieces or get tired of gluing or are afraid it’s too tippy. We used a pattern with a glass plate in between each segment for eye appeal and stability.
  6. We thought no tower was complete without some kind of nob or unique piece on the top. You can do whatever you like.
Use a permanent marker to outline for glue placement

Use a permanent marker to outline for glue placement

large plates make nice bases for stability

large plates make nice bases for stability

Let them sit indoors where it is warm for a day or two until the glue is fully dry

Let them sit indoors where it is warm for a day or two until the glue is fully dry

These garden towers are a great way to re-purpose glass into funky and somewhat functional pieces of art that add color and elegance to any garden.

By adding pieces

Use passalong dishes that would just sit in the cupboard and never be seen

Use passalong dishes that would just sit in the cupboard and never be seen

that double to hold birdseed or water for our friends who flutter and fly we know these towers will be doubly appreciated.

These towers help to add color to the garden and double as a bird feeder

These towers help to add color to the garden and double as a bird feeder

Add a 'shiny' piece to the top like this stainless steel tea pot for reflections

Add a ‘shiny’ piece to the top like this stainless steel tea pot for reflections

A large decorative plate makes the perfect top for a bird bath

A large decorative plate makes the perfect top for a bird bath

Discourage, Stun and Destroy Pests with Herbs

Looking for natural, organic ways to discourage, stun and destroy pests?  Here are some simple tips to use herbs to help in your quest.

Cindy and Tuwanda

Cindy and Tuwanda

Basil – Keeps flies away. Grow pots of plants around the patio, dry and powder leaves to use as a dust to discourage flies and horn worms on tomato plants. Spray tea on veggie plants to keep Colorado bean beetles away.

Sweet Basil

Sweet Basil

Bay – Drop a leaf in containers before storing dried veggies and fruit or flour, cornmeal to keep bugs out. Scatter bay leaves on cupboard and pantry shelves.Dry and powder leaves to use like an insecticide in the kitchen garden. Chases ladybugs away when leaves are placed at their point of entry into the house.

Bay Laurel

Bay Laurel

Catnip – Grow near entryways to discourage ants. Dry and powder catnip leaves then dust around door frames and windows for ants and sprinkle on veggies for flea beetles. Brew catnip leaves into a strong mosquito-cide, strain (unbleached coffee filters work great) and spray the tea on the yard and garden.

Cayenne peppers – Carefully grind peppers to a fine powder and sprinkle around windows and doors where you see ant trails and on garden plants early in the morning to keep rabbits away. Drop whole dried pepper in containers of beans and grains to keep weevils and other bugs out.

Garlic – Discourage deer from eating your garden for dinner; sprinkle dried, powdered garlic on plants and around perimeter of garden. Soak cloves in water overnight to make a tea to spray plants and garden to help with deer control and add other herbs to make home-made mixtures to stop bugs in their tracks.

Lemon balm – Rub a handful of lemon balm on your picnic table (and you) to send biting bugs packing. Dry and powder leaves to dust veggie plants to confuse would be pests.

Lemon Grass – Dry and burn this herb like incense to make mosquitoes turn tail and run!

Lemon Grass

Lemon Grass

Lavender – Moths, ticks and flies don’t like this herb. A spring in the bird bath may keep mosquito larvae out. Put dried flowers in the closet or drawers.

Mint – Scatter dried peppermint leaves in kitchen cupboards to make mice run back outside. Use the dried powdered leaves to dust veggies for flea beetles.

Pennyroyal – Make a strong tea to spray on yourself and your pets to keep fleas, ticks and other biting critters away. Roll leaves in a bandana and tie around your pet for a chemical free flea and tick collar.

Rosemary – A strong tea spritzed on your pets between bathes will help control fleas. Throw some spring on the grill to flavor food and smoke out mosquitoes.

Next time pests are ‘bugging’ you try herbs from the garden for a natural solution.


Okra – Super food and Medicine


Okra: here in the South, is a favorite fried, and available at many southern restaurants was not a ‘love at first sight’ kind of experience for me. As a student at the University of Tennessee, I was given a bunch of okra at the UT farm where I worked my first summer; I took it home and boiled it. For the life of me I couldn’t understand why anyone would eat such a slimy mess.

Later, perhaps when my taste buds matured and I learned various ways of cooking to avoid the slime from my native friends I came to appreciate this southern vegetable and now it is one of my favorites in the kitchen garden. I can’t imagine my garden without it.

Okra, Abelmoschus esculentus, a member of the mallow family is a sun loving plant native to Africa that is beautiful in the kitchen garden, flowerbed or even in a container.

Varieties to Try:

‘Clemson spineless’ is an old favorite that always grows well. It usually grows 3-4 feet tall. I have found this can get 5 feet tall when happy.

‘Burgundy’ is a prolific heirloom producer with beautiful red pods and stems.

‘Little Lucy’ is a dwarf variety that is only two feet tall with red-veined leaves and yellow and purple flowers. Pods are about 4 inches long and dark red; perfect for small gardens, flowerbeds or in containers.

Easy to start from seed:

After all danger of last spring frost and when the soil is warm it is time to sow seeds. Soak the large seeds in water overnight or nick the seeds with a file before planting to make germination quicker. Sow seeds about ¾ inch deep in average pH (6.0-8.0) soil rich in organic matter and compost.

Spacing: Okra is a large branching plant growing 2-6 feet tall, I usually space plants about 12 – 15 inches apart in my raised beds but I would space them 18 – 23 inches by 3 feet in a row garden. After the plants are up and set leaves I usually thin or transplant to fill in any areas needed in the bed.

Mulch:  Mulch around plants as soon as they are 3 – 4 inches tall using newspaper, cardboard, straw, leaves or anything else that will keep moisture in and weeds out.

Water requirements: Okra needs regular watering to germinate seeds and to get established but after that it is drought tolerant during hot dry spells.

Fertilize: Once a month side-dress with compost or water with compost tea. Because I start with composted soil I don’t find the need to fertilize along the way.

Companion plants:

Basil or borage


Healthy okra that has been rotated and planted in good soil seldom has pest or disease problems. Should leaves begin to yellow and wilt, your okra plants may be infected with Fusarium wilt which is a soil borne disease. If you see this happening just pull up affected plants and destroy.

Time to harvest:

In about 50-60 days pods you can start picking pods, they are best young and small (about 3 inches long) but they can be bigger as long as they are still tender.

Pick often as they grow pods quickly, I use clippers but you can use a sharp knife too. Wear sleeves and gloves when picking as contact with plants and pods can make your skin itch…even if you plant a spineless variety.

Continue harvesting regularly and you will have fresh okra until frost. Okra can be cut down to about 6” midsummer, fertilize and it will produce a second crop. I have done this when I’ve been out of town and couldn’t harvest all the pods.

Enjoying the harvest:

My favorite way of eating okra is fresh off the plant while I’m still in the garden. Dip the pods in your favorite ranch dressing or hummus or slice them into salads or on sandwiches.

Okra is great in gumbo and stew because it is a natural thickener. Freeze whole pods for use later or slice and place in a dehydrator for a healthy crunchy snack. Of course there is nothing better than fried okra. No matter how you fix (except for boiling) or eat it, okra is one vegetable no garden should ever be without it(except for boiling) or eat it, okra is one vegetable no garden should ever be without(except for boiling) or eat it, okra is one vegetable no garden should ever be without.



Resources: ‘Little Lucy’ hybrid seeds available at
‘Burgundy’ and other heirlooms – and

Now for the rest of the story:

Here are a few things you may not know about Okra:

Okra contains: protein, niacin, riboflavin, phosphorus, zinc, copper, potasiums, Vitamins A, B6, C and K, thiamine, manganese, folate, calcium and magnesium

  • Fruits or the pods can be dried and ground into powder and used to thicken soups, sauces, curries, gravies, etc.
  • Young leaves can be steamed like spinach for a summer time green
  • Flower buds and petals can be eaten or used to make tea
  • The seeds can be dried and used like beans, especially nice added to rice dishes or ground into flour for bread
  • Roasted seeds can be ground and used as a coffee substitute

Medicinally speaking:

  • Leaves, small fruit, and even roots can be used as a poultice to relieve pain, swelling and inflammation
  • A leaf tea has been used in Africa for heart pains and to help with childbirth delivery
  • Decoction of okra pods has been used to treat fever, headache, arthritis, and urinary problems.
  • Okra seeds may treat and prevent muscle spasm.
  • Turns out all that slime is good for you, eating okra may help normalize cholesterol and blood sugar levels as well as help with asthma. The mucilage in okra binds with cholesterol and bile acids and exits the body through stools. Also acts as a lubricant and a laxative for the intestinal tract.
  • Full of dietary fiber and Vitamin A, eating okra helps to clean out gastrointestinal system so your colon can work properly and help mucous membrane health in the process.
  • Some folks report success in stabilizing blood sugar levels with drinking a cold infusion daily of 2 pods pierced with a fork and left to soak in cold water for few hours or overnight. Seems
  • Okra helps to smooth skin, prevents pimples, repairs damage and encourages collagen formation – Boil a few pods until tender, cool and mash and apply to face for five minutes, rinse. A slimey but softening facial!
  • Okra is high in Vitamin C so it has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and helps to lower homocysteine levels, which may prevent heart disease.
  • May inhibit bacteria growth that might cause stomach ulcers and cancer

Watch Monday’s “Talk of the Town” Video Segment from NewsChannel5

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Infuse, Drink and be Healthy

photo 1-2

Drink more water, you hear it over and over but sometimes its hard to get 8 glasses of water a day down. Sweet tea, sodas and so called power aid drinks are easy to reach for when you are thirsty and open the refrigerator door, even though in the back of your mind you know its probably not the best for you.

Infused water to the rescue! A tasty alternative that is actually good for you and easy to prepare and have at the ready when you need a cool drink now. Plus it is a great way to use extra summertime produce and herbs.

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