A DAY OF GARDENING

Lee McDonald's terrariums

The Duval County Extension Agent put on another fabulous event Saturday, February 25th from 9:00 until 2:30. It was called A Day of Gardening and I’ve got to give their secretary, Becky Davidson, some major kudos for organizing our registration packets, by name, with the Agenda glued to the front of the 9×12 envelope and all of our color-coded handouts inside. That must have been some job preparing 300 of those.

Not always being of sound mind, I referred to that Agenda throughout the day to help me figure out where I was supposed to be and when I was supposed to be there. In between lectures, I would visit the vendors who were arranged around the perimeter of the auditorium.

Terry DelValle gave a short, informative lecture on Attracting Beneficial Insects which prompted me to buy the University of Florida’s bug book for vegetable gardeners. It was a tad pricey at $12 BUT it was bound with two one-inch rings allowing it to lie flat when open. The color photos were on heavy, coated card stock a mere 3 inch by 4 inch which meant you could haul the book out to the garden and compare the photo to the bug on your tomato bush and then tuck the book in your garden apron or jeans pocket.  Any garden book identifying bugs or wild mushrooms should be done this way.

Victoria Freeman was up next to tell us a thing or two about Permaculture. A former school teacher now running a bed and breakfast on the St. Johns River, she often treated us like third graders by making us put our heads on the table and holding our fingers up to vote. Anyone not playing along was admonished, “Heads down” and she would not proceed until all heads were down. She was absolutely hilarious and the star of the show.  She had a lot of material that she had to run through far too quickly for my pea-sized brain to comprehend but I did make note of a few frugal tips she had because, as you know, I am, for the most part, dropping out of the consumer culture because of strong feelings that corporate lack of loyalty towards American workers should not be rewarded. Frugal Tip No. 1 – you can make a solar collector from one of those silver sun visors for car windshields. Frugal Tip No. 2 – you can start a “pocket garden” in one of those cloth grocery bags you get at the grocery store for 99 cents.

Our first Breakout Session started at 11:00. When pre-registering, we chose between Organic Vegetable Gardening, Water Conservation and Container Gardening.

Lunch was provided – a sandwich, bag of chips and cookie – but forty-five minutes was not near enough time to get 300 people through one food line with enough time to eat considering their habit of staying on schedule.

The second Breakout Session started at 12:30 with Tomato Varieties and Growing Tips, Caring for Palms and Terrariums on the menu. I chose Terrariums with Lee McDonald, a Master Gardener, mostly because I didn’t know anything about it and it might come in handy to know a thing or two if my succulent seeds make it past the two-leaf stage. He taped gold coins to the floor under some of the chairs which the chair holder exchanged for a bag of ultra-special terrarium dirt. He swore up and down that two of the coins were not redeemed which had a half dozen of us scurrying around the room tipping chairs because, after all, free dirt is free dirt to a gardener.

The last lecture was on Exceptional Plants for Northeast Florida by Chuck Hubbuch. When his lecture was over I bolted for the door. I realize they wanted to keep an auditorium of 300 people comfortable but I was frozen to the core. I missed a rare February day of sun by going to this shindig and luckily my car had been roasting in the sun. It was probably 85 degrees inside the car but it felt really, really good after a day of polar bear treatment. According to the thermometer readout on my dash, the outside temperature was 61 degrees. Now I ask you, WHY would they blow arctic air over us all day long when the outside temperature had risen to a meager 61 degrees by 2:30 in the afternoon? That is the third time I’ve been cold in that auditorium, the last two times I was miserably cold, and they’ve just about torn it with me. Yes, their classes are excellent. Yes, their classes are good value for the money spent but I don’t like coming out with my internal organs riddled with icicles. I’ve already registered for their chicken thing this Tuesday night but I’m not certain I will go.

Rummaging Recycle Bins

Bleach Jug Garden Markers

Sometimes the neighbors just don’t cooperate. Year after year, they faithfully put their recycle bin at the curb and you don’t think anything of it until you need it to be out there because you want to rummage through it. Yessiree bob, I wanted a white bleach jug to cut into plant markers for my seed tray and that is precisely when the neighbors stopped recycling. I suwanee. It’s enough to have you putting hands on hips and sighing with great exasperation.

For several weeks, I had to resort to rummaging through our own recycle bin waiting for Momma to toss a bleach jug. As you can see here, I made plant markers from Momma’s bleach jug.

The next time I empty one of my own bleach jugs it will go in the greenhouse instead of the recycle bin. Better to have something and not need it than wait on the neighbors to cooperate.

Grow Light Update

The Extension Agent said my tomato seedlings would get leggy and spindly without a grow light and they did. I never doubted her expertise. I was busy trying to find the most economical way to provide light that would not result in a storage problem after the seed starting season. I ultimately went with the Extension Agent grow light stand as you can see here.

Poppie warned me when I headed out for my supplies that I wouldn’t be able to get anyone to wait on me at Home Depot. After proving him right, I drove to Lowes where I got wonderful assistance by a guy named Ricky. I had my Extension Agent material list in hand which he took and started tossing supplies in my buggy. He graciously cut the 10 foot PVC pipe into the pieces I needed and the whole supply list came to $29.14. I must admit I did not buy grow light bulbs because they were $12 each. I had read elsewhere that I could get by with “cool lights” so I’m trying that first.

Poppie helped me put it together. I could have done it but I was lacking confidence and was afraid it would take me half a day to assemble when he could do it in fifteen minutes.

Due to my storage concerns, the only piece that is glued is the top 49″ bar. After inserting the wooden dowel for strength, Poppie glued the two 90 degree elbows to the 49″ bar. Everything else is hammered together (I’m hoping it will come apart later on). If I had known what kind of condition his PVC glue was in, I could have saved another $3.67.

I know somebody will give me grief over this photo of my grow light hovering over the grass. There was a reason I took the photo outside. I wanted you to be able to really see it. I don’t have a flash attachment for my camera and indoor photos are iffy at best.

Materials

  1. 10 foot length of ¾” PVC pipe
  2. 2 PVC 90° elbows to fit pipe
  3. 2 PVC “T” connectors to fit pipe
  4. 4 PVC end caps to fit pipe
  5. Dowel or bamboo stick to fit inside PVC (roughly 4 feet, big enough to barely fit inside the PVC pipe)
  6. 1 4 foot fluorescent hanging light fixture (shop light 2 or 4 tube, wide reflector, no bulb cover)
  7. Fluorescent grow light tubes to fit fixture
  8. Scrap wire
  9. Silicone caulk (optional, in my opinion)

Tools

  1. Saw or PVC cutter (I didn’t need the PVC cutter; Ricky at Lowes cut my PVC)
  2. Pliers

Building the Grow Light

  1. Cut a piece of the PVC approximately 49” long (light attachment – length just a bit longer than the light fixture)
  2. Cut 2 pieces of PVC 18” long (uprights)
  3. Cut 4 pieces of PVC 8” long (feet)
  4. Cut a piece of dowel or bamboo slightly shorter than the longest PVC piece. Slip it inside the light attachment piece to stiffen it.
  5. Remove 2 links from each of the chains the light fixture is hung from. Grasp a link in 2 pairs of pliers and twist to the side to open the link.
  6. Fit the PVC pipe pieces to look like my photo above. You may glue it together, but it’s not necessary, and if left unglued, can be taken apart for storage.
  7. Cut a piece of the scrap wire long enough to wrap around the light support pipe, leaving enough extra to twist the ends together. Slip the wire through one of the closed links, wrap the wire around the pipe, and twist it tightly. Repeat with the other link, at the other end of the light support pipe. Space them so the light fixture chains will hang straight down from the open link. A dab of silicone sealant will protect you from sharp wire ends.

These directions for constructing the grow light were provided by the Duval County Extension Office, Jacksonville, Florida.

GARDEN TIP: Reduce Reuse Recycle

I got these foam pots at Dollar General a couple of years ago for $6 each. I don’t remember what year, exactly, but I believe it was before Dollar General’s ownership was transferred in 2007.  You will note that the passage of time, and probably wild animals, have taken their toll on the foam pots.

Before

Prior to the Crash of ’08, I would have likely trashed these pots and purchased new. Given that today’s purchases enrich corporate america but do not help working Americans replaced by part-timers or cheaper overseas labor, I see no reason to spend money. Besides, I now have more time than money, so I tend to think in terms of reduce, reuse, recycle. I am fast becoming an expert on baling wire, duct tape, and paint. 

Momma was always a fan of the quick coat of paint to clean up a decrepit-looking item. Even Poppie making fun of her painting ability did not deter her from whipping out paint and brush or a can of spray paint. The fact that he did make fun of her is probably why I remember the coat-of-paint-trick.

While the pots look really bad and the top rim appears to have been gnawed by some kind of critter, they are still in good shape and recycling them with the coat-of-paint-trick came to mind. You can’t buy really small cans of paint anymore, except for a limited palette of colors in Wal-Mart, so I bought a quart of paint in this celery green color. A quart is a lifetime supply of paint when all your projects are small. By the time that quart of paint is gone or dried up, I’ll probably be sick of celery green but, for now, the pots look good again.

After

GARDEN TIP: Fixing A Pick

I think gardeners must have taken up pick mattocks after the gold rush went bust. Probably  ten cents on the dollar after the bust, some traveling snake oil vendor loaded up his caravan with them and sold them to unsuspecting homesteaders. I say that because the head of the thing is heavy duty forged steel weighing in at 2.5 to 3 pounds. Heave that up in the air a few times and you are going to feel it the next day.

Still, I’m not one to turn down garden goodies. A friend recently cleaned out her garage and the pick mattock was among the goodies transferred to me. The head was loose, sliding up and down the handle and she said to me, “Maybe your Dad can fix this.” I mentally grunted because I couldn’t imagine how he would fix it. Yet he did in less than a minute. To my horror, he slammed the handle on the floor of the concrete garage hard enough to send me vibrating across the floor like a cartoon character. He then handed it to me to marvel that the head was now securely fastened to the end of the wooden handle. Seeing my stupid look of wonderment, he explained that the handle was tapered and the pick mattock merely needed to be reseated. And that, gardening fans, is how you fix a pick mattock.

I handed it back to him to sharpen but that task is more involved and I found the thing this morning gathering dust in a corner of the garage. For now, that’s okay. I’m really not into the idea of that much exercise.