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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

7 Years of Garden Blogging and A Giveaway from Troy-Bilt!

This week marks seven years since I began this blog, Growing The Home Garden. It's amazing to see how many changes have taken place in the garden and in my life since that late October day. When I started this blog our backyard was vacant of trees, plants, and anything resembling a garden. It's grown and so has our family. When I began blogging our oldest daughter was 2 and the next one was due to be born that Thanksgiving. Now there are four kids running around the garden, 3 girls and 1 boy. Everyday is an adventure! My little garden blog grew from barely anyone reading it (or even knowing it existed) into one that now gets a couple thousand visitors a day. My experiences in plant propagation, vegetable gardening, and assorted other garden projects have given me opportunities to work with great companies like Lowe's, Troy-Bilt, and several others along the way. It's been a good 7 years!

Most of all though I have to thank you for being a reader. Without your visits, shares, and comments on this blog and in social media it wouldn't have grown to what it is now. It is because of this that I love doing what I get to do next...give something away! The folks at Troy-Bilt sent me one of their newest products for the yard, the Jet Blower. They also told me that I get to give one away to a reader of Growing The Home Garden! For my 7 year blogging anniversary I thought that giving one lucky reader a Jet Blower would be perfect.

Here's a little about the Jet Blower from Troy-Bilt. 

Before I review the Troy-Bilt Jet Blower, I think it is important to note that I have never used a blower for garden use before. I've always been able to manage with the mowers and weedeaters to take care of cleaning up leaves and debris from mowing. That being said I can definitely see some good uses for a blower. Blowers can take a lot of the work out of raking leaves in the fall. They can easily cleanup the grass clippings from the street which will keep the clippings from entering gutters and drainage areas. Back in the days when I was a band director our band kids and parents used blowers to cleanup the trash after football games. Blowers can definitely be useful!

The Jet blower was very easy to put together, any easier and it would have been fully assembled. It had three parts for me to assemble: the engine/blower area and two parts for the spout of the blower. The parts snapped easily together with a small twist and it was ready for gas. The Troy-Bilt Jet has a two-cycle engine and needs a mixture of gas and oil to strike the proper balance. The first bit of oil was provided in the box and I mixed it together with a gallon of gas then loaded the Jet. Don't mix the oil in the tank. Just get a small 1 gallon gas can for easy mixing.

The Jet blower started up very easily. The start up instructions are on the side of the Jet for easy reference. Once I started the Jet I took care of clearing the grass from my driveway with a few minutes then proceeded to take care of some leaves in the back. Overall it did great and can definitely hang with all the other leaf blowers marketed for backyard use.

Noise is always a concern with power equipment like the Jet. I was really surprised by how quiet it was. It still makes a lot of noise (anything with a gas powered engine will) but it is much quieter than other blowers on the market. It has a decibel rating of 71.8.

Now you can have one of these for your backyard garden! All you need to do is comment here on this post and tell me what you do with your fall leaves? Do you compost them? Use them as mulch? Grind them in the lawn? Or blow them into big piles your kids (or you) can jump in? After 7 days (Nov. 4th) I'll draw from the names in the comments and one winner will be chosen. You need to be within the continental United States to win a Jet.

Thank you for reading, don't forget to follow on the Facebook page, and please share this contest with your friends and family. Who knows, maybe one of them will let you borrow the Jet if they win!

Monday, October 20, 2014

How Long Does It Take Roundup to Dissipate from the Soil?

There are lot of home and garden products that a gardener can choose to use in the garden. Not all of them are good to use frequently and should only be used sparingly or not all all. Roundup is one of those types of chemicals. It accomplishes its goal very well but will leave residue in the soil. Here is a question I was asked this weekend about Roundup:

Q. I am a renter, 2-1/4 years at present location. Landlord sprayed roundup before I moved in, so I've done container gardening from day one (and got him to quit spraying). What is your opinion/guess on how long, if any, to let the ground lie fallow before raising food in it?

A. According to Monsanto (the maker of Roundup)in a document they published called Glysophate Half-life in Soil (link to PDF file) the half-life of glysophate is around 32 days. This can vary quite a bit due to soil conditions. Microbial activity can play a big factor. The more activity the faster the glysophate degradation. Soils with very little microbial activity have been found to retain measurable amounts of the chemical for 3 years after application.

A half-life is the amount of time it takes something to break down 50%. If the half-life is 32 days, then half of that amount will reduce in another 32 days. Essentially in 64 days you would be down to a quarter of the chemical. It would continue to break down over time. An example of a possible half-life break down would works as follows:

1 Day   32 Days   64 Days   96 Days   128 Days
100%  50% 25%  12.5%  6.25% 

To rectify a situation where glysophate has been used, I would recommend adding organic matter to the soil in the form of compost, mulch, or even a cover crop tilled into the ground. The more organic matter you add the better the situation is for microbes in the soil and the faster the glysophate will break down. 

Once sprayed in an area it may be a couple months before anything can be planted again in the same location. This depends on environmental factors related to the soil and weather conditions. 

After 2 1/4 years of no more use of glysophate at your current location the amount of glysophate in your soil should be almost completely gone based on the estimated half-life time. As a general guideline I would avoid Roundup products as much as possible and resort to natural or organic methods of weed removal.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

How to Save Okra Seeds

It's time to put up the summer harvests and begin preparing for winter and next spring. One way to prepare for spring is to save seeds from plants you grew this year that you enjoyed so that you can grow it again next year. Okra is a southern garden favorite that is very easy to collect and save seeds from. There are only a couple steps to saving seeds from okra.

First A Little About Okra

Okra is botanically known as Hibiscus esculentus or Abelmoschus esculentus but we'll just keep it easy and call it okra. In it's most common culinary form here in the south okra is fried, but it can also be pickled or used in a variety of dishes. I grew two types of okra this year 'Bowling Red' and 'Star of David'. Both germinated great but neither of which grew well due to the grazing deer. Despite the deer I did manage to get a couple seed pods of the 'Bowling Red' variety. 'Bowling Red' grows 6-7 feet tall when not persistently grazed upon by wildlife.

Okra flowers are very similar in appearance to an ornamental hibiscus but are smaller in size. If sited in the right location okra can be a very nice edible ornamental plant!

How to Save Okra Seeds

  • Once pods form on your okra plant harvest a few for drying. 
  • Keep the pods in a dry location and let nature gradually do the work. 
  • When the pod is dry and crisp break it open. 
  • You should see several internal chambers where the seeds are located. Remove the seeds onto a plate or paper towel.
  • I like to save the seeds in a coin envelope, but plastic baggies, jars, and containers can work too.
  • Make sure you write the name of the Okra variety and the date on the outside of the envelope so you can keep track of the seeds. Old seeds will lose viability over of time.

That's all there is to saving okra seed. You can do the same procedure with ornamental hibiscus too. Do you grow okra? What do you like to use it for?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

What You Shouldn't Do With Your Fall Leaves

Fall is well underway and we all know that with fall comes mountains of leaves! The beautiful color changes can quickly transition into a thick carpet of smothering leaves on the ground. Many homeowners are smart and use this natural resource in the garden but others do one thing that drives this gardener crazy. What is it that you shouldn't do with fall leaves? Burn them.

Why is burning leaves a bad thing? Two reasons: it releases pollutants into the air and it is extremely wasteful. Smoke and particulates get released into the air and decrease the air quality. Last year a neighbor burned his leaves and the wind brought the smoke right into my house. You don't want to breathe that kind of air.

fall leavesBurning leaves doesn't just cause pollution but it also wastes a valuable resource. Think about it. Have you ever been in a forest and looked at the dark, rich, and loamy soil? That doesn't happen by accident. It happens with years of leaves dropping and decaying on the forest floor. Microbes, insects, worms, and other creatures break the leaves down into forms that the plants in the forest can use. The leaves free up nutrients as they break down and help to replenish the soil. It's compost.

Now think about those leaves working for you in your garden! When used as a mulch the leaves act just as they do in the forest and gradually break down while smothering weeds. What if you put those leaves into your compost bin with all the kitchen scraps and yard waste from fall? You would end up with rich and loamy compost in the spring to spread around your vegetable garden, trees, herbs, or even potted plants.

Gathering leaves can for garden use can be done in several ways. One of my favorite ways is to use the bagging pushmower I have to grind the leaves first. Then I take the bag and empty it out over the compost bin or in a garden bed I want to mulch. Raking the leaves can be fun for the whole family. Who doesn't remember the smell of crushed leaves after jumping into a huge pile of leaves in the backyard? It's a fall tradition! It's also a great workout.


If you don't want to do either of those methods then simply mow the leaves into the yard. Mowing will help the leaves break down faster and will prevent the grass from being smothered.

If you have too many leaves get in touch with some gardener friends and see if they would help you in exchange for some of the leaves. They might jump at the chance! If you need more reasons to use your leaves check out these 10 uses for fall leaves. Whatever you do, just don't burn the leaves!