Archive for the ‘Garden Tips’ Category

Unusual Ways to Use Cucumbers

I harvested my first cucumber yesterday and several more are on the way! If you have an overabundance in your garden, be glad. Below are some clever, “green” uses for them.

My cucumber plant

  • Cucumbers are loaded with vitamins and minerals and make a great energy-boosting snack. They contain most of the vitamins you need every day – Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B3, Vitamin B5, Vitamin B6, Folic Acid, Vitamin C, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium and Zinc.
  • Rubbing a cucumber slice on a fogged up mirror will eliminate the fog and provide aromatherapy at the same time.
  • Cucumber slices in an aluminum pie tin will repel grubs and slugs from your garden.  The chemicals in the cucumber react with the aluminum to give off an undetectable scent to humans but not to garden pests.
  • Cucumber is especially beneficial for the skin.  Rub a slice of cucumber on your cellulite and wrinkles to tighten the skin. Cucumber also reduces eye puffiness.Image by Betsy Wild
  • Eating a few cucumber slices after over imbibing and before going to bed helps to eliminate a hangover.  The sugar, B vitamins and electrolytes in the cucumber replenish essential nutrients.
  • Shine your shoes with cucumber – the chemicals provide a quick shine that also repels water.
  • A cucumber slice pressed on the roof of your mouth for 30 seconds kills bad breath germs. The phytochemicals kill the bacteria.
  • Next time you are out of WD 40, take a cucumber slice and rub it along the problem hinge and the squeak will be gone!
  • No time for a stress-reducing massage or facial?  Cut up an entire cucumber and place it in a boiling pot of water.  The chemicals and nutrients from the cucumber react with the boiling water and be released in the steam, creating a soothing, relaxing aroma that has been shown to reduce stress.
  • A slice of cucumber is a great, non-toxic way to clean your faucets, sinks or stainless steel. Simply rub it on the surface and it will safely remove tarnish and bring back the shine!

Have fun trying some of these versatile tips with your extra cucumbers.  Email me and let me know which ones you especially like!

Information compiled from:

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Controlling Mosquitos Naturally

Along with the cookouts, volleyball games, hiking, camping and other glories of summer come mosquitoes and ticks.  But pesticides or products containing DEET, are associated with a variety of health problems ranging from dizziness to seizures with children being particularly susceptible. There are several safer and effective alternatives.

Natural Repellents

A garlic spray in your yard provides excellent control.  Garlic has natural sulfur which repels insects, including mosquitoes, ticks, fleas and even black flies, yet does not harm humans, pets, bees, butterflies or plants. Mosquitoes are soft-bodied insects and garlic juice is toxic to them in increased concentrations. Mosquitoes are also extremely odor sensitive and garlic can repel them for up to a month or more, as long as they can still detect an odor. Farmers have been using garlic for generations. Organic based landscaping or pest control companies often offer a garlic spray or you can buy a product called Garlic Barrier and do it yourself.

For small areas like patios or decks, certain aromatic plants keep mosquitoes away.  Marigolds planted with pungent herbs like catnip (nearly 10 times more effective than DEET) and rosemary are effective and attractive in containers.  I planted a “mosquito plant”, really a wild scented geranium, which grows fast and seems to work.  It was specifically grown to keep pests away. Citronella candles can be helpful, as well as all natural insect repellent incense sticks.

Cultural Practices

Two important and effective cultural practices are: 1) Don’t keep standing or stagnate water around where mosquitoes can breed and 2) consider putting up a bat house.  Mosquitoes are the primary food source for bats and some species eat up to 1000 of them an hour!

Personal Repellents

For personal repellents sprayed directly onto your skin, soybean-oil-based products have been shown to provide protection for a period of time similar to a product with a low concentration of DEET (4.75%).  Other ingredients usually include pure plant extracts like citronella, cedarwood, eucalyptus, geranium, lemongrass and peppermint, which are natural, effective and have a nice aroma.  Buzz Away and Bite Blocker are good brands that are potent and long-lasting.  You can find them at Whole Foods. In areas heavily infested with deer tick,  a DEET product may be needed.  Just spray directly onto your clothes, not your skin! For more information on deer ticks, click here.

Ticks and mosquitos don’t have to ruin your summer!

Appreciate Your Trees  

I love watching the trees take turns blooming this time of year. First the magnolia with its lovely pale pink flowers, followed by the cherries with their brighter pink and fuchsia blossoms, then the apples and their tufts of white flowers. Coming along is the golden chain tree with its delicate, dangling yellow flowers. The oaks are also flowering with their tender green leaves slowly emerging. (Did you know that all trees flower, some less conspicuously than others?) The majestic upright horse chestnut flowers are peaking and the fragrant purple lilacs are everywhere. Take a walk in your yard or around your neighborhood and appreciate the gift of trees.

Horse Chestnut Tree

Trees Need Care Too

Trees like humans, need preventative care to ward off disease, especially as they suffer from environmental stresses like air pollution, soil contamination and compaction, exotic invasive insect pests, temperature extremes, devastating storms and drought.

There are several organic approaches to prolong the life of a tree and maintain its good health and vigor.

  • Fix the soil with compost and organic supplements. Raking leaves in the fall removes vital organic matter, and toxic chemicals and high nitrogen based fertilizers deplete the soil of important nutrients.  It is imperative to replenish the soil with amendments or compost.  Healthy, nutrient rich soil determines how well your trees grow.
  • Consult a local arborist – a tree needs to be periodically inspected for structural defects, insect pests and disease.
  • Trees should be pruned properly and focus on removing dead, dying, diseased and broken branches.
  • Proper irrigation and mulching, especially in times of drought, are essential to maintain a tree’s good health.

Trees play a critical role in the health of the planet. They are not living statues – they need care and protection just like any other living thing.  Please help preserve these majestic beauties.

Some information compiled from


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Controlling Weeds in Your Garden Organically

You can live with a few weeds in your lawn, but in a vegetable garden, weeds are a problem. They quickly spread; compete with the plants for moisture and nutrients; and impact productivity.   If you are growing vegetables organically, then obviously your weed control should be non-toxic as well.

Cultural Practices

Try to smother weed seeds in your vegetable garden before they develop using organic mulches such as hardwood mulch or wood chips, newspaper, cardboard, cocoa mats or straw, which degrade in a few months plus add nutrients to the soil. Synthetic mulches like landscaping paper or plastic don’t breakdown and last several seasons, but I prefer not to use them in an organic garden.

When designing your garden, choose large, leafy shade plants that hide the weeds from the sun, which causes them to proliferate. Include plants like squash, pumpkin, melons, tomatoes and potatoes.

Inevitably weeds will sneak in. Even though pulling weeds is like eating peanuts –  you can’t stop my mother used to say – you will still need to spot spray them. Listed below are simple recipes using basic kitchen ingredients to help you manage your garden.



A well-placed shot of vinegar right on the plant can thwart dandelions or other broad-leaved weeds.  Be careful not to splash it on the turf or any plants you want to keep, because vinegar will kill grassy plants as well. A section of newspaper or cardboard can act as a shield for desirable plants.


Vinegar (as close to 10% acidity as possible); Dishwashing Liquid (optional); Pump Spray Bottle


Fill the spray bottle with undiluted vinegar (or mix 3 parts vinegar to 1 part dishwashing liquid).  Spray a narrow stream, dousing the weed’s leaves and crown (the area at the base of the plant).   Rinse the sprayer well with water, especially if it has metal parts because vinegar is corrosive.  This is a spot spray only!


Rubbing alcohol is a simple way to kill a weed.  Mix it with water and it will dehydrate almost any weed.  This also works against spider mites, aphids, and scale, but may require some experimentation to find the right level of effectiveness.  Test spray on one leaf to check for burning.


1-quart water; 1 (or more) tablespoons rubbing alcohol; Pump spray bottle


Mix water and alcohol in the spray bottle. (Use 1 tablespoon of alcohol for weed seedlings or thin-leaved weeds and 2 tablespoons or more for tougher weeds.)  Spray weed leaves thoroughly but lightly.  (Avoid surrounding plants.)


Creeping Charlie is a low-growing, yellow-flowered perennial weed that can be a real nuisance in lawns.  If you have noticed it in yours, borax can be a very effective weed-killer, particularly in late spring or early summer when weeds are growing most actively.


5 Teaspoons borax, like 20 mule Team Borax, for every 25 square feet of lawn; 1-quart water; Pump spray bottle


Mix borax in water.  Measure exactly: Too little and it won’t kill the weeds, too much and you could kill the grass too.  Spray to cover a 25-square foot area.  Water and fertilize your turf after the treatment so that it rapidly fills in the space left by the dead weeds.


For a very effective disease and insect fighter, go no further than your kitchen.  This concoction works best as a preventative, so spray susceptible plants before disease symptoms start and continue at weekly intervals.


1 ½ tablespoons baking soda; 1- tablespoon insecticidal soap; 1-tablespoon canola oil; 1 cup plus 1 gallon water; 1-tablespoon vinegar; Backpack or pump sprayer


Mix the baking soda, soap and oil with 1 cup of water.  Add the vinegar.  Don’t mix the  vinegar in until last or the mixture may bubble over.  Pour the mixture into the sprayer and  add 1 gallon of water.  Shake or stir to combine the ingredients.  Spray plants, covering the bottoms and tops of the leaves.


If you are a garlic lover, you may want to use this simple recipe to fight diseases and insects on your plants.


3 garlic cloves; A blender; Pump Spray Bottle; Molasses (optional)


Liquefy 3 garlic cloves in a blender that is half-filled with water.  Strain out the garlic, then mix the remaining liquid with enough water to make 1 gallon of spicy concentrate.  Two tablespoons of molasses will help the mixture adhere to the leaves.


Aphids and other leaf-sucking insects can cause considerable damage if you don’t control them.  This mixture neutralizes aphids and can also act as a deterrent to ants!


1-pint water; Rind from 1 lemon, grated  (or orange or grapefruit rind); Cheesecloth; Pump Spray Bottle


Bring the water to a boil.  Remove from heat and add the grated lemon rind.  Allow the mixture to steep overnight.  Strain the mixture through cheesecloth, and pour into the spray bottle. Apply the mixture to plant leaves that are under attack.  (This mixture must come in contact with the insects’ bodies to be effective.)


Use boiling water to eliminate weeds from sidewalk or driveway cracks.  Be careful not to splash it on to neighboring plants or turf.


Teakettle or pan


Boil a full kettle of water.  Pour slowly and carefully, dousing both the weeds and the soil immediately surrounding them.

For more recipes, email me at


Don’t forget – weeds are a messenger of problems in your soil and will grow where nothing else will. Try and analyze them and find out what your soil needs. How do you control your weeds?


Recipes for organic weed, insect pests and disease controls compiled from Great Garden Formulas, 1998 Rodale Press, Inc.


Information compiled from:


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Friday is Arbor Day!

This Friday is Arbor Day – always the last Friday in April – a tradition that began nationwide in 1872 and continues today with individuals and groups celebrating trees and nature.

Planting new trees and caring for existing ones is more important than ever as we battle exotic invasive insect pests, air pollution, soil compaction and contamination, limited water and nutrient availability and the overall effects of extreme weather conditions and climate change.  Trees are much more than just a beautiful big plant; their social, communal, and environmental benefits are numerous.

  • They manufacture oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide.
  • They provide shade in summer and windbreak in winter.
  • The beauty and serenity of trees have been shown to help hospital patients recover more quickly.
  • Trees reduce crime in low-income urban areas and increase home property values.
  • Trees save energy, improve air quality, conserve water and provide homes to wildlife.
  • Trees offset our carbon footprints.
  • Large and majestic trees are a major asset to any community.

This Arbor Day, plant a tree seedling, learn how to care for the trees in your yard or neighborhood, read a tree identification book, or simply take a walk and appreciate not only their beauty but what they do for our health and for the health of the planet.

For group activity ideas, go to

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Gardening with Charcoal and Epsom Salts


A few weeks ago I did a post on gardening with baking soda.  I recently came across more clever organic gardening tips using common household products – charcoal and Epsom salts.     Read on….




And yes, I’m talking about the charcoal you’ll barbeque with this Memorial Day, as long as it’s additive-free (natural hardwood charcoal, not briquettes)!                 photo

1.  Activated carbon and water remove pesticides from the soil.  This is good to know if you are putting in a vegetable garden and are not sure if the area was treated        with pesticides in the past.  Combine 1 pound charcoal with 1 gallon water, transfer to a spray bottle and mist directly onto the soil. The charcoal/water combination  absorbs the chemicals.

2. Use charcoal as mulch.  It keeps the soil moist and deters weed growth. Anything that helps control weeds is worth a try!  Simply break the charcoal into small chunks about an inch in diameter and sprinkle around the plants.

3.  Charcoal helps cut flowers last longer.   Put a charcoal chunk in the bottom of a vase to extend the freshness of the water and flowers.


Epsom Salts (Magnesium Sulfate)


Like baking soda, Epsom salts is an economical and unbelievably diverse product.  Throughout time, not only has it been used to treat a variety of human and animal ailments, but is has also been known as a great garden supplement, especially with organic gardeners.

Tomatoes, peppers and roses need high levels of magnesium for optimal growth and are particularly responsive to Epsom salts.  Tomatoes are prone to magnesium deficiency later in the growing season and you’ll notice this with yellowing leaves.  Epsom salts help with plant chlorosis in general, the loss of chlorophyll in the leaves, even your lawn’s yellowing leaves. According to the National Gardening Association,  “Don’t rely on Epsom salts to correct large soil magnesium deficiencies, but rather use it as a supplement to soils with adequate or slightly low magnesium levels to boost plant growth, flowering, and fruiting.”

Epsom salts enhance the soil’s and fertilizer’s capabilities in much the same way a gourmet salt enhances the flavor of food.  Your houseplants, vegetables, herbs, (with the exception of sage – don’t ask me why), flowers, shrubs, trees and lawn will benefit from their application. You can either apply 1 tablespoon of granules around each plant or spray a solution of 1 tablespoon Epsom salts diluted in 1 gallon of water.  As a foliar spray, it is taken up more quickly by the plants.  Apply after the initial planting, about a month later when the plants begin to grow, and then one more time as the vegetable matures.  For detailed information about specific plants, visit

Another great property?  Epsom salts also deter slugs!

Learn from the organic gardeners who consider Epsom salts a  “secret ingredient” to a lush, bountiful and affordable garden.

Try both the charcoal and Epsom salts and let me know you think!


For more green living tips, visit

Information compiled from: and

Plant a Tree for the Future

The social, aesthetic, and environmental benefits of trees are numerous.  They manufacture oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide.  They provide shade in summer and windbreak in winter.  The beauty and serenity of trees have been shown to help hospital patients recover more quickly. Trees reduce crime in low-income urban areas and increase property values.   Trees help us save energy and improve air quality, conserve water and provide homes to wildlife.   Large and majestic trees are an important part of the community.

According to American Forests, the national urban tree deficit now stands at more than 634 million trees.  Unprecedented environmental stresses are making it more difficult for trees to grow and flourish in today’s world.  Because trees sequester carbon and offset our carbon footprint, or the amount of energy a person consumes in their day-to-day activities, it is more important than ever to plant trees.  The average person produces 26 tons of CO2 per year.  6 twenty-five year old pine trees absorb 1 ton of CO2.  36 twenty-five year old maple trees absorb 1 ton of CO2.

Planting trees is a way for people to give back to the environment for future generations and to offset the damage done by their carbon footprint. Spring is the perfect time to plant.  Plant a tree for a new grandchild, in memory of a beloved pet, or to honor a special anniversary.  When it comes to planting, the smaller the tree the better.  Smaller trees develop a better root system and you’ll be amazed how quickly they  grow.    If you live in a condo, an apartment or have no place to plant a tree, will plant a tree in your name with a small donation.  Makes a great gift too!


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