Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Gardeners Beware! You are warned!

I just finished reading a compact book you should --no--you MUST run right out and get or go to your favorite online bookstore and grab a copy - see below for the details.

How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack
By Chuck Sambuchino 
Ten Speed Press 
ISBN 978-1-58008-463-5 
Reviewed by Billie A Williams 

“Keep reading if you want to live.” Talk about a hook. If that doesn’t get you, nothing will. Am I reading Tess Gerritsen or Stephen King? Neither.  I’m reading How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack by Chuck Sambuchino. 

 I have three of these little Garden Gnome predators, but they decided not to come out this year to sit in the Keebler Elves type doorway created by a major branch breaking off our willow tree.  When another one quarter of this willow tree toppled in a windstorm this summer, I realized how very clever devious and clever these  little Garden Gnomes have become. Sambuchino verifies my observation. 

A delightful tongue in cheek, but clever look at thwarting an eventual takeover by these increasingly prolific and clever Gnomes awaits the reader. Garden Gnomes do seem to multiply. They come in various sizes and colors to fit any landscape or indoor décor. 

Tidbits of ‘Gnomenclature’ (coined by Chuck Sambuchino) impart knowledge and a question in the reader’s mind –truth or "Sambuchinoed"—you might ask. An interesting trip through some natural world wonders, complete with photographs, impart wisdom, exploration and do a great job of raising the curiosity level of the reader. 

This book is a delightful treatise on our penchant for collecting. It’s an innocuous, harmless habit – or is it? 

Would you worry about reaching into your mailbox if you knew that, perhaps, a gnome waited there to attack that hand?  Would you opt for a Post Office Box even though it cost you time, travel and money to retrieve your mail every day? See page 45. It’s scary. 

Do you know how to make quick sand? See page 36, it’s for your own defense. 

You know about crop circles don’t you? Do you know how they are formed? See Page 22 for insider information. 

On every page there is a footer. Each footer is marked, yes by yet another infiltration of the dreaded Gnome takeover--there is a -- a pointed, little red, gnome cap. There is no escape! 

You’ might laugh. You might question the sanity of the message. You will look with new eyes on that garden gnome you thought was a mere, sweet little elfin garden ornament.

I found myself wondering as I finished this marvelous small book; when will How to survive a Pink Flamingo Attack, be released? 

I highly recommend this book to gnome lovers/owners everywhere. Even if you are not a gnome owner, but a gardener or have a neighbor who gardens—you need to read this book for your own protection-- or-- for a laugh a minute if you prefer humor.
Billie A Williams
Money Isn't Everything, Best Seller
Mystery Suspense, Wings Press

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Goldenrod - Friend or Foe?

The Best of Organic Gardening: Over 50 Years of Organic Advice and Reader-Proven Techniques from America's Best-Loved Gardening Magazine

I had never thought of deliberately planting Goldenrod in or among my flower beds. When I see the beautiful bouquets Mother Nature makes on the road beds as we travel from town to town, I wonder at my wisdom. I equate Goldenrod with hayfever--sneezing, wheezing, itchy eyed culprit? Am I wrong?

I could be...could it be that it's the ragweed that blooms so near, that blooms so readily at the same time as the beautiful, butterfly attracting Goldenrod? The Goldenrod loves full sun, and nearly any soil--but a light soil works best, like the road banks along our country roads. Its tall, it blooms for a long time and at a time when our flower beds are looking tired and in need of a spark of sunlight. I'm rethinking my garden design. I don't need only Black Eyed Susan's and yellow mums, or coneflowers - why not Goldenrod? I'm sure I can find a spot that cries for color and longevity of bloom. Organic Gardening (2-year)

You can even find sources for seeds for a variety of Goldenrod types such as Forestfarm, in Williams, Oregon at or how about Michigan Wildflower Farm, in Portland Michigan, 

I believe the lowly Goldenrod's time has come to be brought back out of hiding. The bees, the butterflies will thank you. It seems our bumblebees are disappearing, perhaps we can reintroduce a few native plants and invite them back.

Let me know if you agree or disagree. Will you try it next summer?
Billie A Williams

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What is That White Stuff?

It's that time of year when Powdery Mildew (Microsphaera penicilliata) is likely to raise its head in one woman's garden - mine or matters not. It mars the beauty of the end of season blooms. Usually affecting plants like roses, pumpkins, squash, lilacs, bee balm, phlox, that seem to be most susceptible.

Plants growing in shady areas or crowded together with poor air circulation along with overcast skies, higher than usual amounts of rain, and higher humidity levels (at the microclimate level as well) make powdery mildew a common problem and everyone knows, in our Northern Wisconsin summer, this year we have had plenty of both. It's sad and right away I want to know what to do? 

Actually, it won't kill your plants in most cases. You can get rid of it with a solution of baking soda (gotta love that product - it has as many uses as duct tape or WD40)and water. Spray the affected plants and you should see it clear up. There are fungicides on the market that you can use as well. But, whenever possible I prefer organic. If you have excess milk, a more costly solution than baking soda,  you can dilute that and spray it on affected plants as well. Roses: Placing Roses, Planting & Care, The Best Varieties

Now, when these leaves fall off, do not compost them but instead burn or otherwise dispose of them so as not to create a possible problem next season.  
Happy gardening.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Fall - what of the trees in your garden

I count trees as part of my garden because the shade bed includes a maple, a willow, a blue spruce and a smoke tree, there is another but for the life of me I can't find out what it is. The birds love it. Now there is another brand new maple on the far side of this bed. The hosta, lily of the valley, bleeding hearts(two varieties) klonchoes on the fringes, and impatiens all find this a good spot to be. Today a large branch of that willow came crashing down...soon the other trees will have to take over to cast the cooling shade that this one did. My husband says it needs to come down, carpenter ants have eaten a hole in the center of it and it's just a matter of time.

So while cleaning up the garden for fall is still a ways off, October is soon enough--I must ponder the loss of my favorite tree. This year I planted a Pear, a Mountain Ash and an Apricot, and the small red maple - but, none can replace my willow. I may have to borrow the one from my friends book, she painted it for the cover of all three of her books, Willow Walk is SK Hamilton's work to match what God created in the real world.
The Kahill's of Willow Walk will need to take my Willow's place.The Kahills of Willow Walk

Friday, August 27, 2010

Shrubs - Blue Berries as Shrubs

As you are looking over your fall garden and trying to decide what you'll do next year, why not consider blueberries. They are edible, and beautiful all seasons. It is possible to grow them in pots, or to plant them direct into a planned flower bed.

The major consideration is the soil they prefer. Soil is the most critical component of growing success with blue berries. It needs to be very acidic. (pH 4.0 to 5.5). Another thing you should be aware of is that blue berries have a shallow root system.

 A mulch of organic matter such as compost, peat moss, or composted leaves will do the job really well and they contain enough acidic mix to the delight of the blue berries. You could also use a couple inch think layer of pine needles. Or as one tree trimmer told us, the small willow tendrils (branches) of the willow tree run through a shredder and soaked in rain water makes an excellent drink/tea for all your trees and shrubs --I venture to say, especially blue berries.

Blue berries have very few problems with insects or diseases which is perfect for the organic gardener who dislikes having to use pesticides. While the birds may pose a problem if you plan to harvest your blueberries for yourself, you can stall them off by covering the berries with netting - or plant a few in a place away from your cultivated berries so they may eat to their delight on them.

Be sure to water your blueberries during dry spells, especially the high bush types, fertilize them lightly in the spring with an ammonium sulphate nitrogen fertilizer and test your soil to see if you need additional phosphorus or potassium.

Blue berries are beautiful, easy to grow, pest free (for the most part if you don't count the birds) and they are so good for your healthy self.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Clean Garden Healthy Plants

Clean Gardening Practices will keep your soil and your plants healthy. Now while you are harvesting the bountiful crops you have grown this summer, keep an eye out, and keep a wheel barrow handy. As you weed, and when you cut off the unusable tops of certain plants as you harvest them--take them to the compost pile. Do not leave them in your garden.
Clean the garden area of debris and weeds. They are breeding grounds for insects and can be a disease producing mess. It is better to buy a good mulch to put around your plants then hope that the weeding and thinning of plants will be a good mulch for the garden. They are not. Put them in your compost bin where the intense heat of the composting process with kill insects and disease.

We have had a crop of volunteer sunflowers in an area by our vegetable garden where I also have a bird feeder. We let them grow because we had room and the little Gold Finches love to eat them as they ripen. It was going great until I stopped feeding birds at the feeders because of an influx of brown squirrels. These little monster-pests are worse then red squirrels, and more destructive than chipmunks. They crawled up the sunflowers and decapitated the biggest ones. They had a mess all over our yard. Needless to say, there are no more sunflowers standing as tall as my hollyhocks. We pulled them, cut off the seed heads and hung them on the clothes line away from the squirrels but available to the birds (Until the squirrels find a way to get to them anyway.)

Keeping your garden clean helps to deter some pests, but not all of them. Still, it's the only way to insure a healthy harvest this year and next.

Monday, August 9, 2010

RX For Your Yard and Garden

Just because the humidity is high doesn't mean your plants in your garden can get enough to drink. In Wisconsin we know about humidity - and 90 degree weather. It  usually happens only one or two days a year in July - but ....This summer is an exception.

Please be kind to your gardens and give them a drink from your saved rain barrels.  You do capture rainwater don't you?  It's great for your plants during these outrageously hot days. It saves your well or water bill and electricity. Its easy and very good for all your gardening and lawn care needs.

Your lawn probably is screaming for more water as well. To help it absorb more and give it a good summer treat use Jerry Baker's formula 2 cups of weak tea water, 1 cup of baby shampoo, and 1 cup of peroxide mixed in a 20 gallon hose-end sprayer... It's sure to perk it up. Just be sure to water well, to really soak the ground.

For more of Jerry's tips and his books go to  You'll find his blog down the list on the left hand side. I highly recommend his frugal and sage advice.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Summer is in full swing and my garden is over flowing!

What a wonderful summer this has been for growing. The rain is on schedule every week - the new Pear, Apricot, and Mountain Ash are growing like weeds. The hollyhocks are 8 feet tall, the tomatoes are competing for height and the pole beans could easily reach the sky like Jack in the Beanstalk if they had taller supports.The grapevines are covering their support and have totally taken over a bird feeder hanging near the arbor. Incredible. Unfortunately frost hit the plums and apples when they were in full bloom and we won't get any fruits from them this year. But they needed a rest.  I hope your garden grows as well.

I had a thought about wild plants - so many things we think are nothing but weeds really are useful as food and or medicine. The Native American's knew this and found ways around pills. From wild rice to maple sugar we still enjoy some of the Native foods, but did you know Dog Bane, Yarrow and Barberry were used to cure a head ache--wild ginger was used to tame a tummy of indigestion. Have a sore throat try tansy, cow parsnip or choke cherry. Some of these remedies would be made into teas from the leaves or bark, others it was the roots--chewed or gargled with. A book that can take you through the basics is How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine and Crafts by Frances Densmore, available by clicking the title.
You may want to be sure next year that you have some of these "weeds" in your garden or on your property.
Mean time, May your garden provide you with all your needs be it food, beauty, or peace.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Poison Ivy and Other Summer Surprises

If you've ever gotten mixed up with the itch that follows an encounter with any of the plants that are like Poison Ivy, you know the torture it can cause. Poison Ivy, Leaves of three, let it be--the sharp edged leaves that resemble strawberry plants can fool us sometimes. If they do, hit the shower quickly using plenty of soap and water. Then apply a soothing paste made of one of the following:
Water: and Cornstarch, or oatmeal, or baking soda, or Epsom salts, or a combination of witch hazel and baking soda.

Poison Ivy does have a good side, Since poison ivy absorbs more than its share of CO2, it is helping combat climate change. And yes it has gotten worse, more of the juice that makes it itch, it has become stronger because of the very nature of it's CO2 absorption.

Remedies don't have to be expensive to work. A recent encounter with fire ants showed me that. The cornstarch and  worked better paste worked better than Hydro cortizone, anti-itch or any of the first aid meds. My arm was swelling out of control until a friend suggested the cornstarch paste. It worked.
I am allergic to many of the green leaves in my garden, beans, cucumbers, squash, I react as if they were poison ivy. I wear long cotton blouses in the garden but it doesn't always help. The cornstarch does. It's good to know there are other sources of relief as well. Try one, try them all if you should find that your walk into Mother Nature was less then pleasant on any given day.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Gardening with the Bomb

We've all heard of Guerilla "everything" basically. Have you ever heard of Guerilla Gardeners?  I just read a short newsletter from Jerry Baker where he commented on the "do good" in all of us, but this in particular was about some who are bent on prettying up the ugly.

It seems some Guerilla Gardeners are bombing the planet. At least in and around their town. The idea is, vacant lot and free way eyesores. As these Guerilla Gardeners travel by foot or bicycle they drop, lob or toss green grenades, or seed bombs, made of compressed compost, fertilizer and seeds onto the barren plots of land.  Eventually, they sprout all manner of flower and fauna to reclaim for Mother Nature what pollution or disuse, or misuse has created. What a great idea, don't you think?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

How Far Did Your Meal Travel?

Can You Shorten The Trip?

The average American meal travels 1,500 miles from farm to table. With so many recalls of food a Victory Garden, A Kitchen Garden or a few well-placed containers in an apartment window or on a balcony can help you take back control of what you eat. What you feed your family.

Organic gardening, foregoing the use of chemical pest controls, to preserve the nature-friendly atmosphere is a huge plus as well. There are many ways to feed yourself and your family and even your neighbors healthy fare.
Salad greens are one of the easiest to grow and supply fiber, calcium and vitamins such as A, C and K as the spicy lettuce-like Arugula (eruca sativa) does. This is a quick growing leaf (35 days) with many benefits. Cold and heat tolerant, it can be grown year around in zones7 and South from there. Its relatively short growing seed to maturity is ready when your radishes are making it an attractive salad choice.
All it needs is a fertile soil and full sun, although in the hottest part of mid-summer some shade is beneficial from the heat of the afternoon sun. Spinach, leaf lettuce, kale all seem to have similar needs.

Water plants deeply twice a week to keep the leaves from becoming too spicy-hot and so that the plant won’t bolt.

Since early plantings do bolt as the days lengthen, plant at 10 day intervals to ensure a lasting feast.

Recommended varieties are: Roquetté – an extremely frost tolerant variety or
Sputnik – a more mild-flavored variety with a wide range of leaf shapes which will add interest to any salad.
The arugula leaves can be substituted in most any recipe that calls for spinach, mustard greens, or Swiss chard. A very versatile vegetable, indeed. So why not give it a try. You may find a new favorite.

To protect your Arugula from the flea beetle you may want to use a row cover/caps.
Billie A Williams, Best-selling, award-winning author of Writing Wider, More Exercises in Creative Writing

Friday, June 25, 2010

Birds of Every Color - Eye Candy

Birds and Pieces
By Billie A Williams

It's not only the garden that satisfies this woman's garden. A flash of red catches my eye as the Cardinal comes in for his turn at the mix of sunflower seeds, sesame and other seeds mixed especially for him. ( A rather expensive mix that I dilute further with black sunflower seed and wild finch seed because I have a universal feeder in my front yard). But the colorful display is enough reason to spend the extra for the entertainment of these beautiful creatures. The small brown to yellow female isn’t upstaged by her brilliant male counterpart. I begin to realize the tradition of men being the brilliantly dressed, wig coiffured specimen of years ago must be from seeing the male bird in his splendid plumage next to the often dull female markings. I’m tempted to say, she does all the work (bearing and rearing the children, etc.) He gets all the glory, brilliance of plumage. But I digress this is about the birds.

My bird feeder is alive with color from the brilliant yellow, black and white of the Evening Grosbeak to the muted tan, gray and off white with touches of black of the black capped chickadee, . I can understand the Cardinal color, from the fruits, rose hips and berries it consumes. I can understand the Grosbeak, gold finch and sparrow yellow, black and white from sunflower seeds.

I ponder the brilliant hues of the blue jay, the indigo bunting and the blue bird—what do they eat that turns their plumage blue? Is there something in their eating habits that mixes green and yellow and turns them blue? It would seem they eat the same varied menu as the rest do, yet they utilize the color in such a different way, Puzzlement!

A one legged blue jay visits our feeder regularly puffing himself up to get exclusive use of the feeder platform, where he can forget about balance and just eat. I am amazed as the nuthatches sneak in to grab a seed or two without disturbing the blue jay. The wood peckers in brilliant markings of black and white splashed with a red skull cap — males only have the red says my grandson.

A new kind of woodpecker calls us home this year a along with the usual Hairy, Downy, Yellow bellied Sap sucker we have a ladder-backed woodpecker the Red-Bellied one…too far north but who knows what the weather may have done with all the crazy storms and tornados hitting the Midwest this year.

So I will enjoy his color and inclusion. We’ve put a squirrel baffle over the suet to protect it from the black birds. You can start laughing now. Yes, that worked until the first one jumped up from the ground and found he could cling to the mesh bag regardless of the canopy of the squirrel baffle. And the added benefit he can eat while it’s raining or snowing without getting drenched. {grin} so much for my ingenuity.
We tried a new one just constructed by talented hubby. It's roofed, it securely holds the suet cubes available from a local hardware store where the woodpeckers can eat in peace - well, they could until the black birds --common grackles-- found out by watching the woodpeckers what they need to do. It didn't take but a couple days and they are happily emptying the feeder nearly as fast as we can fill it. Soon the babies will be on their own and then it will settle down. But that is another whole story.

Enjoy the beauty and entertainment of feeding the birds and yes, squirrels, rabbits and occasionally a deer or two visit our in town yard. You’ll reap a double harvest in your summer garden as they forge for food. Birds will be cleaning up snails, grubs, ants, potato beetles and other insect pests for you as a thank you for their winter feasting. And the bird bath - amazing antics--more on that later as well.

Billie A Williams
Accidental Sleuths Solve Crimes
With Wit, Wisdom and Chutzpah

Friday, February 5, 2010

Spring is in the air? NOT!

But it will be anytime now. With that in mind:
While you are thinking spring and planting again…consider this.
Good Companions Gardening – Everyone needs a friend

Here are a few traditional pairings to try:
• Beans or parsley with carrots
• Broccoli with dill
• Cabbage family with thyme
• Native American trio: corn, squash and pole beans
• Radishes with cucumbers
• Kale with potatoes
• Onions with lettuce
Marigolds to surround your whole garden (the stinky variety, not the new hybrids) Not only do they deter insect pests they also deter deer, rabbits and other critters with voracious appetites. I do not fence my garden except with marigolds and while I have deer and rabbits around my bird feeders they leave my gardens totally alone. I also use bloodmeal around peas since they are the most desirable thing on the planet for rabbits and marigolds may appreciate a little help. The addition of bloodmeal to the garden is a boost to the soil as well – a win, win situation.

And if you are waiting to start planting, you may want to look at this little book on writing that will help spice up and create good reading while you anticipate planting.
Watch for crocus and daffodils - soon.