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Milk Jug Spider

I love making Halloween decorations! I also love to make CHEAP decorations. I don’t think I can find a good reason to buy a lot of what I see in the stores. 1. Because I want my kids to grow up knowing that they can build things, grow their own food and be creators instead of just consumers and 2. I hate spending money on junk from China that’s most likely built in sweat shops. I am pretty happy with a lot of what I can make, too. 

I live in South Texas. Halloween celebrations are almost as big as high school football down here. I have seen some amazing stuff (and I’m a little competitive, craft-wise!) and we have learned to really get into and appreciate Halloween. A couple of years ago I made some packing tape ghosts. Last year I made a dead body and some ghosts with styrofoam heads covered with cheesecloth. This year I’m focusing on spiders, grave stones and witch circles. It’s a good thing we have a big front yard!

Here are my directions and some tips for making $5 spiders out of duct tape, a one gallon milk jug and foam pipe:

First you need to go to your local hardware store and pick up a couple of things. One is black duct tape. You’ll find it in the paint area with all of the other tapes. Second you need to head over to the plumbing section and get some foam insulation tubing. The tubing comes in 6 foot sections and I got the cheapest, which were about 97 cents a piece. You will need 4 of the six foot lengths for each spider.

Once you have these two ingredients for your spider, you’ll need: a clean,  dry, empty milk jug

some fairly sharp scissors and a paint pen (in a color other than black.) 

First you need to find the center of the tubing. Bend a tube in half and mark where the middle is with a paint pen. Straighten the marked pipe out again. 

Place the four pieces of tubing where the ends are lined up equally. Now is when I used my assistant to help me hold the tubing straight. Tape across the marked area. You only need to have one tube marked for this. 

There’s the middle!

Next you need to tape off the milk jug. You could randomly tape across this, but your milk jug is almost square, I suggest horizontal lines. Cover all but the handle corner.

Wrap all but the back corner panels of the jug (the area by the handle.) You can wrap the whole thing in tape if you like, but the legs will cover the back of the 90° angle, so you don’t need to. 

Cut the lid area off.

Don’t tape over the hole just yet. You will probably need to blow into the jug to puff out the sides that will collapse a little as you tape. 

Next cut U shaped cuts across the centered part you taped.

Line your cut marks along the handle of the milk jug. 

Now tape the legs to the body where the center of the legs is in a V shape and the feet are at an angle away from the floor. You don’t need to be too perfect, but leave area to adjust the legs with tape. 

Spider upside-down. 

Now bend one leg in half to mark where you want the leg joint. It should be about 1/2 of the length of the leg. Mark that fold with paint pen. Continue with all 8 legs. Remember to approximately match the legs on the opposite side. 

With the spider upside down: cut the joints like you did the center of the legs, except instead of a U, make a V. Remember the angle you cut should be at the same point in each leg to keep the legs angled correctly. 

Now it’s time to tape each leg joint. I found it really helpful to do this while the spider was upright on the ground. If you do it on your lap the legs will end up wonky and you’ll probably have to redo them. Luckily this is just tape and foam so you can fix things by just retaping or adding a new piece of tape somewhere. If you have too many layers down you can get around that mistake by cutting the joint back open and taping again. 

You can get an idea of what the legs will look like finished: while the spider rests on the floor. 

If you ended up with crooked legs: this is where you fix them. Tape a small circle around the base of the leg. Hold the leg like you want it and then tape it that way. I ended up with a lot of waste during this part because I kept getting the sticky sides stuck together in tight spaces. This is the only frustrating part of the project. Remember that the tape might not permanently adhere to the foam but it will definitely adhere to itself! 

Holding, twisting and taping. I have found that you should over correct to get the legs to stay in the right place. 

Now go back and tape over any exposed undersides of the tape. Use small strips. It’s extra work but it’s worth it! Angles should already be the way you want them. This is just to fill out the body and cover exposed edges. It also takes it from milk jug looking mess to spider! 

I hope you enjoyed this! Keep tuned in for other cheap Halloween projects! 

LED shoe port cover

So, this is another post where I couldn’t find any advice on my specific problem and thought I’d share the solution I came up with.

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LED shoes are super popular right now. They have a switch inside the shoe to change the light pattern and the colors. That button is usually along the cord, right under the USB port (where you charge the shoe). The main problem is the placement of the port/switch. If it’s inside the shoe (like all three pairs my kids have) it will rub your child’s ankle making the shoe uncomfortable and possibly creating blisters where it rubs.

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We figured out pretty quickly that the port was going to be a problem. My kids wore them on meet the teacher night and were complaining as soon as we got out of the car. My youngest wanted to take his shoes off by the time we got into the school. So sending either of them to a full school day in their super cool new shoes was not looking likely.

I considered gluing one side of the tongue of the shoe, over the port, but I figured the tongue would probably tear. Then I thought I might just hot glue over the port but I’ve used hot glue enough to know that making it perfectly flat (so that it wouldn’t irritate my kid’s feet) was probably not possible. So I settled on the idea of creating a padded pocket for the port.wp-image-1585711791

(You can see the area of the sock I used above.)

I looked over our errant sock collection and decided to use the thickest one I could find. I found an old Merrell sock. It’s probably the thickest sock I’ve ever owned so it was what I chose. I suggest using a sock that is like a sports sock (I’m thinking of soccer socks) because: they are made to stop rubbing in the shoe, over an extended period of running.

I also decided to use the top of the sock. Because this was an ankle length sock: I had more of the finished edge than a tube sock would have. I had enough from my one sock to repair two sets of shoes.

Here is what you will need:
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A very thick sock/s (amounts will be different depending on how many shoes you are repairing and how the sock is made. Plan for about a 2×2 inch square per port patch.)

Sharp scissors

A mini hot glue gun (I suggest the mini because you will have more control over the amount of glue that comes out. I’m sure you can use a standard sized glue gun, if you believe you can work with it.)

The process:

Look at your sock. You need the finished edge for this so that it doesn’t unravel at the top of the pocket.

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Next look at the port. Half of it should fit inside the lining of the shoe. Make sure it is pulled back into the area it’s supposed to be inside of. If it’s not: try and work it back into the hole for the cord.

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Next lay the edge of your sock over the port. You are going to need to use a large patch so that it keeps itself where you’ve placed it even while your kids are at recess (or if they’re yours: wherever you are gonna rock your super awesome flashy shoes). A small patch will more than likely rub free and then you’ll need to start over.

I cut about a 1 3/4in wide x 2in long piece of the sock. This is where you are going to need to eyeball it. It should come along the upper edge of the shoe and down onto the inner side of it (but NOT onto the bottom, inner sole of the shoe.) Your switch and port should be completely covered by the patch.

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Next: it’s time for the hot glue. You don’t need much: a big lump of cooled hot glue could be just as uncomfortable as the port. You also need to leave the top unglued so that you can still charge the shoes. I glued around the sides of the port keeping the top of the sock next to the sewn side of the shoe. Next I raised the loose bottom of the patch and glued the three remaining sides that weren’t secured. I then flattened them from the top sides to the bottom of each patch. Your patch should not have any of the port exposed.

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I also poked the tip of the gun inside the top loop of the finished edge of the sock and secured it.

All that is left is to check that you can still access the port AND have your kids (or you!) wear the shoes around the house for an hour or so and see if your patch is sufficient to make the shoes comfortable.

Hopefully you used a thick enough sock that the shoe’s ports are no longer painful. This worked for the shoes I patched. My kids say they are much more comfortable. I’m still going to send a different pair with them in their backpacks, just in case some part of this patching fails. I will also check the shoes regularly to make sure no part of the patch has broken free.

I’m glad we could find a way to make these super cool shoes school ready. If you do this: let me know how it worked out in the comments below. And if you post your fix: as a courtesy, please link back to this page!

 

Last Minute Christmas Gift

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Want to know what I made at the last minute this year? Fun winter themed footprints from my kids! If you are searching for something you can complete quickly: the shirts/sweatshirts need time to dry in between layers but it won’t take too long if you follow my  directions.

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I chose a winter theme (rather than Christmas) because if you gift these to grandma and grandpa: they can wear these outside of the Christmas season! Also, if these arrive late: who cares!? Grandma and grandpa will still love them and be able to wear them until it gets warm out. If your Christmas season is during the warm months (those of you South of the equator) you can give these during the colder months of your year.

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You need:

Sweatshirt/s Or T-shirt/s (in the correct size/s for the recipient and pre-launder them so you remove the chemicals that come on new clothing.)

Plain Old Acrylic Craft Paint (you do not need special fabric or additives and those would have longer drying times. Let your recipients know that they should wash these on delicate to keep the paint it’s freshest looking. Although, these should stand up to regular washing.) I used: brown, green, red, black and white

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Craft Paint Brushes (You really only need: one large brush to fill areas and one small brush for edges and details)

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Chalk (I used my kids sidewalk chalk, but thinner chalk or chalk made for marking fabric would work better.)

A Pencil Or Washable Marker

A Plate For Paint (with some cling wrap to keep the paint fresh between layers)

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Paper Towels: for clean up on mistakes, chalk removal and to moisten the fabric before you paint details. (The only paint I had trouble with on damp shirts was red because it bled. I would recommend wetting the shirt/sweatshirts for all other colors)

Cardboard: to keep foot prints off the floor and to test your first prints

A Way To Clean Up! A bathtub full of warm water for older kids or warm water on paper towels to clean paint off of a baby’s foot.

Time To Do This (Mine took two days to complete with the drying times included.)

 

Instructions:

Get out your supplies. Put on the shirt or sweatshirt (if these are too small for you to wear hold them up against your shoulders so they drape like you are wearing them.) Go in front of a mirror and use the chalk to make a large square where you would like the footprints to be. Make sure your bottom line is straight and that you have left room for whatever labels and names you want to add below the feet.

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Grab your kids and go in the bathroom! This is really messy while your kids are involved! Choose the foot you want to use (or if you are using both of one child’s feet start with one foot first.) Paint your kiddo’s foot with black craft paint and test stamp it on the cardboard. Once you’ve figured out how much paint you need for a good stamp CAREFULLY stamp your kids foot on the shirt with their toes at the bottom line. (If you are dealing with a baby put some cardboard inside the shirt so you can stamp sideways while the baby lays on it’s back. Wait until they are sleeping heavily to do this or they will wiggle their toes. You may only have one shot at this per nap.) Make sure you have room to either hang these out of the way immediately or have a place you are able to put them flat to dry!

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Once you get a stamp: quickly wash your kids foot off or they will put black paint everywhere! It doesn’t have to be perfect because you will be filling it in with more paint in a moment. Get all of prints that you want to use. (For a large family this could take some patience!) If you really mess this up and need to start over: carefully wipe off as much paint as you can and scrub, then wash the shirt well.

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Once you and your kids are cleaned up take the shirt in on a clean hard surface and fill the footprints in until they are solid. It is easier to push the paint towards a line than pull it across the fabric. A moist surface accepts paint better than a dry one will.

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Let the foot prints dry completely.

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Draw in your details on the foot print with a pencil or chalk.

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Draw in your labels or names with a washable marker or chalk (pencil doesn’t work well directly on fabric.)

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Paint your large white front on the penguins, add wings in black, paint in the names and paint the background colors on any details you want to add.

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Let dry.

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Finish painting details. Let dry. Use your wet paper towels to remove the chalk markings and any mistakes you make as you are going (the paint is really hard to completely remove so try not to make any big changes.)

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Get ready to impress your gift recipient! We mailed ours to the grandparents but if you are going to see them this Christmas: you still have time to finish these!

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Have fun, try not to completely stress out and if you post your work online please remember where you got your instructions and link back to this page! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

 

When Life Gives You Grubs, Serve Them Nematode Tea!

There is a lot going on in my garden this week:

My peas are going crazy.

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My kohlrabi is looking good.

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My corn is happy.

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The peppers I started from seed are closing in on transplanting time.

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The only issue I am having are super-sized, extra giant grubs.

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“Everything is bigger in Texas”. Yes, these are real and not photoshopped and I’m sorry if you were eating while reading.

These are not your June bug variety lawn grubs. My best guess after some research is that they are Eastern Hercules Beetle larvae. I am not sure they are actually damaging my plants. The profile for these says they are feeding on decomposing organic matter in my beds. However, I had these in my pots last season and I am certain they were responsible for the demise of the tomato plants that were growing in them.

I am not usually squeamish about bugs. I invite all sorts of things to enjoy my garden with me. I teach my kids that garden spiders are my helpers. I squish the caterpillars on my veggie plants by hand so I don’t have to spray. I encourage wasps so they can eat the caterpillars I miss. I collect and transfer any earthworms I find on the sidewalk after a rain, into my raised beds.

But…everyone has a breaking point. Had they been in a compost pile I would have left them. Unfortunately, these were where I was working and they were out of control. I was digging up three or four for every plant hole I dug. They are so big I was smashing them with a trowel rather than get the gross innards on my shoes. Plus: since I couldn’t tell where they were as I dug, I punctured a few while digging and they were making my planting experience a gross one.

I didn’t want to use a chemical across my veggie bed, so I took the plunge and ordered some beneficial nematodes. I bought them through this site: link.

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Nematodes are microscopic. Some varieties of nematodes naturally found in sandy soils down here are harmful to plant roots. I have read horror stories from people who were trying to eradicate those.

These nematodes are different. They don’t infest plant roots: they eat bugs. They are microscopic hunters that will go after quite a few of my least favorite garden insects. As long as it pupates or lives in the soil: I should be covered. One of the bugs I’m hoping to get some control over are squash vine borers that have two life cycles per season down here. The squash borers love to decimate my favorite winter squash varieties and they pupate underground.

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What I found when I opened the nematode tub. Inert media mixed with my supposed hunters. Since the nematodes are microscopic I was wondering what took up so much room!

So this is the claim from the brand I bought:

  • These microscopic insects will seek out and destroy over 230 kinds of soil dwelling and wood boring insects
  • They are completely compatible with beneficial insects such as ladybugs, lacewings, and praying mantis and do not harm earthworms.
  • Will not affect humans, animals, or plants
  • Steinernema Feltiae, covers 200 sq ft

They are supposed to stay refrigerated, so I’m guessing you won’t have a lot of luck with them once the weather gets hot. I put mine down on an overcast weekend. They were easy to apply.

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Add a cup of cool water and wait 30 minutes

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Mix into some soil in a bucket and a little more water. I used the cup they came in to stir the mixture and scoop it out across a few pots and my beds.

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I am hoping for great results. I will settle for any recognizable change in soil dwelling, problem insects this season. I will also be watching the claim about not harming earthworms. I have said before that I need a degree in entomology to identify the vast array of insects down here. Hopefully, my new friends: the nematodes, will help me get out from under the bug avalanche my garden experiences every summer. Wish me luck!

Update: The nematodes worked incredibly fast. The grubs were gone within the week and I haven’t had many problems with bugs this year. I will definitely be using them again!

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Ever Had Spiced Hibiscus Flower Tea?

One of my favorite plants to grow down here is hibiscus. It is truly a beautiful plant and the flowers are breathtaking.

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I am not the only one who appreciates hibiscus. We frequently have hummingbirds in the garden sipping hibiscus nectar. My favorite part about the plant though, is that it’s edible. Hibiscus is high in vitamin C and iron. It is high in antioxidants as well. I find it interesting that it is iron rich considering hibiscus often suffers from iron chlorosis (a condition caused by a lack of available iron in the soil. You can spot it in the above picture as the light colored leaves with dark veining). Hibiscus may use and store more iron than most plants which might make it more susceptible to iron chlorosis. That would be a great question for a specialty grower or botanist.

Hibiscus is a member of the mallow family (Malvaceae.) It’s a kissing cousin to okra (one of my very favorite high heat vegetables.)

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This is an okra flower. You can see the mallow family resemblance!

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I grew okra in my front yard last year. Nobody complained! It isn’t as showy as hibiscus but you get the okra pods as a consolation prize!

Hibiscus is in flower most of the summer down here, which is quite a feat. Most plants (and people) wilt in the mid summer soaring temperatures. Everything tends to shut down and wait out the heat. I know I’m completely nuts, but I can honestly say that the heat usually doesn’t get to me. But I grew up in Texas, it’s highly probable that I just don’t register heat like people do who are from cooler climates.

When the flowers are in bloom I can usually be found enjoying hibiscus tea. I make it daily in the summer and it’s a simple process.

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Gather approximately 8-12 newly opened or unopened flowers in the morning. Use flowers from plants that have not had chemicals sprayed on them. I have used flowers from later in the day. The problem with this is: that you need to remove any damaged areas of an older flower. You will need more flowers to make up for what you remove.

Twist off the stem and the sepal (the green part).

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Open the flower if it is still closed and remove the reproductive parts: the pistil and stamen (Flowers are a plant’s sex organs! You can deal with your issues over that new found knowledge later.)

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You should be left with just the petals. Put the petals in a strainer and rinse them off.

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Start a pot of water on the stove. I usually use about four cups of water for the tea, enough to share. You can measure out the water by using the cup you intend to drink from.

I don’t advise drinking more than two cups of this in a day. In high enough quantity: the spices you will be adding will upset your stomach. So, unless you are sharing with a crowd or storing some in the fridge for later don’t try to make gallons of it. Moderation, in all things, is a good plan.

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Gather up your spices. I like chai and use some of the spices you would find in it. For this tea I use: cinnamon, cardamom, allspice and fennel. You don’t need much, maybe a teaspoon to 2 teaspoons combined total. In quantity the spices will quickly overpower the hibiscus flavor, so start conservatively. Omit anything you don’t feel like shopping for or using.

I use whole spices and crush them in my mortar and pestle, but pre-ground spices from your grocer are fine. If you are interested in a mortar and pestle you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled for a set while you’re out and about. A good place to try would be a spice specialty store or you can search online. Unfortunately it’s a pretty outdated tool here, but it’s a wonderful addition to a kitchen collection for those of us in the know.

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Bring your water to a boil and turn off the heat. Add your petals and spices. Let steep for 5-10 minutes but no longer or it will get bitter. The petals will quickly transfer their color (and flavor) and turn a light purple/gray color. If you want a stronger flavor: add more flowers, instead of steeping the tea longer.

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Scoop out your petals and put them in the compost pile. Pour your tea through a strainer to remove the spice pieces.

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Add a dollop of honey, stir and drink up. You can vary the spices according to your taste.

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For an entirely different way to enjoy hibiscus tea you can try this site: link There is a short video at the bottom that shows how to make a tropical iced tea version.

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Now you have one more reason to grow and enjoy the beautiful and tasty hibiscus!

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Please Don’t Rock Your Yard!

As an update to this post: spread mulch where you would have put rock. Read along about how taking permanent action against a short term problem creates even more problems and stops permanent solutions. You can create something more, but it will only happen once you add to nature and accept her, rather than fight her. She is always just outside your door and she’s listening. Let her speak back to you, or at least let her try.

While we were in Colorado there was a trend to rip out anything that was growing and replace it with a gravel landscape. Every time I saw someone ripping out their grass to do this: I wanted to throttle them. Here is why: rock is not low maintenance. I understand those who don’t garden are looking for a low maintenance option for their yard. Please. I beg you. Do not put gravel across your property!

Please Don't Rock Your Yard!!!

An example of what a rocked yard looks like after a few years.

Now it might seem counterintuitive to hear that rock is not low maintenance but rocks do not stop weeds. Sure: you might like the way it looks the first season you have it down, but gravel and rock are permanent. The problems associated with gravel and rock are permanent too.

Here are six very good reasons NOT to replace grass with gravel:

#1 You can’t rake up the leaves or other plant debris that drift into your gravel landscape.

Nature makes soil out of leaf litter. If you put rock down, the leaf litter will still come. It will create a layer of soil on top of your rock and in the end the rock layer and soil layer will be indistinguishable.

Nature makes soil out of leaf litter. If you put rock down, the leaf litter will still come. It will create a layer of soil on top of your rock. At some point the rock layer and soil layers will become a single unit.

Your gravel will look just like you want it to for about a season. However, as soon as you put it down: you will have things blow into your yard that you will need to pick up by hand. This will be an almost insurmountable task and delaying picking up organic matter will only create pockets of composted material (aka dirt) that weeds will take root in.

#2 Rock is expensive, it takes an enormous amount of effort to put it down. It is even harder (and way more expensive) to remove it.

Pea gravel runs a little over $4 a bag. If you are considering having a truck deliver a load from a local rock yard: you will also need to consider the delivery fee. You will need an enormous amount of rock to be successful.

Pea gravel runs a little over $4 a bag. If you are considering having a truck deliver a load from a local rock yard: you will also need to factor in the delivery fee into your quoted price. You will need an enormous amount of rock to be successful.

Digging out rock is a lot more labor than spreading it. It is backbreaking work to try and remove gravel because you have to do it shovel by shovel full. Gravel that has been down a while will settle into the soil below it. To get it up: it will need to be dug out. I was stuck with a strip of rock in our last yard. I had several contractors come out and bid to remove the strip. I couldn’t afford to remove the rock. We are talking $500 to remove it! It was way too heavy and too much work to do it ourselves…and if you know my blog: I am willing to do a lot. Once gravel is down: you are pretty much stuck with it. Even if you manage to get it all up, you will need to find a place that will take it, and there will be a disposal fee for it.

#3 Sooner or later you will end up with weeds.

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The weeds will find a small patch of soil between stones. All it takes is a few leaves drifting in and sticking in your gravel to give weeds something to grow in. The first plants to move into an area after it has been cleared are called pioneer plants. These plants will grow where nothing else will grow. They usually have deep tap roots and are a pain to remove (Dandelions are a common pioneer plant. Nobody enjoys removing dandelions. In my experience though, the worst pioneer plants to pull from gravel are tree seedlings.) Pioneer plants are natures answer to events like fires, mudslides, overgrazing and volcanic activity. They also move in after man-made activities like clear cutting, grading land for development and in our farms and gardens. They will show up all over your gravel yard and they will require constant removal.

#4 Weeding through gravel is really hard work.

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I love to garden, but I absolutely hate trying to weed through gravel and rock. Anyone who has done it will agree with me. You usually have to move gravel away from deep rooted plants to remove them (in the case of large rocks you will need to roll each one away from the weed to pull it.) The larger the size gravel or rock you are using the harder it will be to weed. Pea gravel is the easiest to weed through (outside of garden soil.)

If you have ever had to weed through gravel that has been down a few years: you know that weeding gets harder the more settled the rock gets. I lived in a home that had lava rock and crushed rock that had been down for decades. I absolutely hated it. It was down so long that it was like someone had just mixed the surrounding soil with a ton of rock. I couldn’t remove it, I couldn’t weed through it and I couldn’t get enough out with my shovel to plant through it. This experience showed me how permanent the choice to rock a yard becomes.

Rubbing your hands repeatedly on rocks while weeding will tear them up (and frequently bruise them) even with gloves. You will need to dig to remove most tree seedlings. The gravel will be in the way of the spade making for a frustrating experience.

Rock is way too much work!!!!

Herbicides aren’t the answer either. You can spray roundup all over your rock landscape but you are still going to have to pull the plant out after you kill it. Round up (or vinegar, boiling water, etc) doesn’t make the plant go away, it just makes it stop growing, turn brown and look ugly. You will still need to dispose of the plant. I don’t use spray in my beds, I prefer to hand pull weeds. Normally, in decent dirt, it’s quick work.  In gravel or between rock: it is a long and laborious process.

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Removing things like grass around rocks takes a while. It frequently means you need to move the rock to remove all of the weed.

My advice for weeds is: put on some gloves, grab a large screwdriver to dig out taproot plants (like dandelions) or get a hoe and remove the plant directly. Outside of use in maintaining a large grass lawn: I think herbicide is a waste of money. Spraying gravel with herbicide leaves the plant. You will still need to remove the plant, so why bother with the spray? You can use a pre-emergent herbicide across gravel if you already have some rock down. This will stop seeds from sprouting, but it is still a chemical and you’d be better off without the gravel in the first place. Weeding torches will remove the weed but they scorch rock. You also have to know what you are doing if you are going to use a torch. In a dry area you could easily start a fire that you can’t control.

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My beloved stirrup hoe!  (Like the one in this link. Some stores call it an action hoe.) I love it because it is super fast and I don’t have to bend over to get most weeds. You could use this in deep pea gravel but it would eventually ruin the blade on the hoe. Here is a good comparison of different weeding hoes: link They recommend a different kind of hoe. When my stirrup hoe dies I may try a different kind. Right now a stirrup hoe is my favorite way to weed.

As far as pushing for the idea of getting dirty in the first place: There are microbes in the soil that alleviate depression. This is an excellent reason to get dirty pulling weeds! That and natural vitamin D from the sun…what’s not to like about a little weeding? If you don’t enjoy weeding: don’t put something down like gravel and rock that will just make it harder. (It’s also been my personal experience that being inverted while weeding and planting seems to cause more blood flow to my brain and helps chase away the blues! Try it!)

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#5 Most people don’t read up on how to lay rock mulch correctly.

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Most recommendations I have seen say to use a minimum of 3 1/2 inches but 5-6 inches is ideal. At over 4 bucks a bag…pea gravel is an expensive option.

For a rock mulch to work it needs to be deep. To keep weeds out of the soil below you need to use a heavy duty landscape fabric underneath the rock. No matter what you do though: eventually you will end up with leaves and other organic matter over the top. These will eventually break down, fill in the spaces between rocks and support weeds.

#6 Rock does nothing to alleviate the heat island effect.

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Rock reflects and absorbs heat. Plants create shade. There is a phenomenon called a “heat island”: the more pavement, the more asphalt and the less natural shade: the higher the ambient temperature. Cities are especially affected by this because flat (often man-made) surfaces are much better at heat retention and absorption than natural surfaces that have variations in depth.

If you think your summer is too hot: look around and see if there is a way to create some shade. City temperatures are up to 10 ̊ F (5.6 ̊ C) higher than rural areas. Here’s a government site that explains this: http://www.epa.gov/heatisld/resources/pdf/HIRIbrochure.pdf People in cities frequently equate their personal experience in a heat island with global warming. These are two different things, but if you don’t understand the two you aren’t going to be able to create solutions. Cities wouldn’t be so damned hot if they were designed with heat in mind.

Examining satellite images is a simple way to visualize what causes the heat island effect. When we were looking for a home I searched areas by looking them up on Google maps using the satellite image setting. I was completely awestruck with the amount of asphalt and concrete housing developments create. Even within the same developed area you will easily see what causes the huge discrepancies in the ambient temperatures caused by heat reflective/absorbing surfaces.

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Here is a great example of an area that will contribute to a heat island effect. In this photo there is a huge parking lot with stores surrounding it. Everyone down here is aware of how concrete and asphalt absorb heat and then radiate it out until late in the evening. We can stay over 100 degrees after midnight in the summer. During those awfully hot times of the year: the concrete and asphalt stay hot to the touch until well after dark. A treed area does not absorb and radiate heat in the same way. (If you are interested in the technical side to this look up thermal radiation to see this effect in more detail.)

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This housing area has unshaded: grass lawns, streets and sidewalks. There are a few immature trees. There is almost no shade to relieve summer heat in this area.

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Here’s an example of what high density living does to the heat island effect. There is almost nothing but asphalt road, asphalt shingles and concrete. People who live in apartments and town homes don’t have yards to take care of, but they are completely surrounded by the worst of the heat offenders. I would imagine it is pretty miserable outside in the summer in this area.

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Here is a good shade example: These houses are benefiting from the shade of mature trees. This area has intense shade. The trees are so large that you can’t see the homes. You can tell the streets and sidewalks are shaded. These people probably can’t have a vegetable garden, but their homes are going to cost less to cool and their yards will be much more enjoyable.

All of these examples are choices. If the problem stems from having the original trees removed to develop land: the solution could involve homeowners who later choose to plant large shade trees. The choice of a resident in a high density home like an apartment could be: to show the managers and owners examples like what I have put in this article. See if there is room for more trees. If not: a balcony with a few plants can be a personal choice to add a little shade. Planters (of any size) around high heat areas can be an inexpensive way to start. Those who don’t want lawns can choose not to rock their yards and instead search for low maintenance perennials. There’s always room to apply solutions, no matter the size of the impact.

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My neighbor’s tree graciously offers shade as I wait for the school bus. Trees need water, but unlike rock: they offer a solution, not more problems.

If you see a problem and you know the answer: find a way to implement the solution. Solutions don’t need to be huge overhauls. Solutions start with one person who has the will to make a difference in what they have the authority to change. Make your personal changes while you share what you know with others.

Nature makes shade. Man makes reflective surfaces. Unfortunately, down here (and in most of the world) the habit is to tear down trees, clear brush, cover everything in man made surfacing that is heat absorbing or reflective and maybe add some grass. In comparison to the natural state of things, we create some ugly (and not especially intelligent, in regard to heat) structures and surfaces.

I’d never really noticed how different the satellite images are between the subdivisions and the country until we moved down here and I started looking at areas to buy a home. Miles of concrete and asphalt make heat islands possible. Trees can be a part of a larger solution. Rocking yards just contributes to the heat island affect.

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If you don’t want to take care of lawn grass: consider planting some trees, wildflowers and perennial ornamental grasses. Think about what the builders in your area had to remove to build your home. See if it makes sense to replace some of that original plant material.

If you live in the United States and are at a loss as to where to start with plants:

In your computer’s search bar: put the name of your county and “county extension”. This will pull up the county sponsored horticultural experts in your area. Hopefully you have access to local people who are Master Gardeners. Master Gardeners earn (and keep) that designation by volunteering hours educating the public. Don’t have anyone local? Find a university in your state. Most universities have an agriculture or botany expert. Use their expertise!!!! They should be able to point you towards people and groups that can help you. Extension advice is usually free. Most plant people are excited to share with new gardeners and want to encourage you to learn.

You will also find pages of information on your local extension office website directly relating to whatever planting questions you have. Most importantly: you won’t feel so overwhelmed that you want to give up and rock your yard.

To be successful: start slow and do your research. The tab at the top of this page called “Gardening Basics” will walk you through the process. If you choose to use the information provided: you will be able to make informed decisions and be happy with your property for years to come.

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If you are in a dry or hot climate you definitely need to create shade, so plant some shrubs and trees. Native plants are usually xeric (low water) and fairly low maintenance. It is a combination of the terms xeros ξήρος (Greek for “dry”) and landscaping.

Look up xeriscaping online. High Country Gardens is a great place to start: Xeric Zones. They have a ton of great information. Their site is a great place to see xeric plant variety examples. You can get an idea of what you are going to get with xeric plants.

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xeric plant choices under a tree.

Even if the native shrubs and trees for your area are some scraggly, funky looking varieties: it is so much better to add green and shade than go without! Native flowers are also better nectar sources than plants that have been bred for showy flowers. You will make the bees, butterflies and hummingbirds happy with native plants.

Nature will not allow you to keep her out. She will eventually win, and those who fight her, will end up with a yard full of tall weeds that have lots of seed and insignificant flowers. Something will grow. You get to decide what that will be.

Tickseed (coreopsis) A beautiful spreading perennial that is long blooming.

Tickseed (coreopsis) A beautiful spreading perennial that is long blooming.

Go out and plant something: It’s important!

If you enjoyed this article please make sure to share it with others (especially if you are involved with a Home Owner Association or other property governing system.)

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Solution For Sore Shoulders: Microwavable Rice Sock

I went to a fair that offered job advice, help with nutrition and health, free haircuts (by cosmetology students…that was interesting!), scalp massages and this: the microwavable rice sock. Oh, have I enjoyed making (and using) these!

This is really a simple project and after being out in the yard raking, digging, weeding etc: I got mine out and soothed my sore shoulders.

Today I am making one to send to my granny. My granny is 87 years young this year and while her gardening years are behind her: the sore muscles are not.

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My granny. A radiant beauty in her youth!

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Still beautiful at 87!

She and I share the genetic gift of fibromyalgia. If you have ever wondered about this “cluster of symptoms” (they don’t consider it a disease because it doesn’t progress): it sucks. If you ever meet someone who has this and wonder why they are sitting by themselves with a sour look on their face: it isn’t because they are a grouch; it’s because it hurts…all over, all the time. Heat really helps mine, but it’s hard to use a heating pad on my shoulders. This is why I love this rice sock. It delivers heat for a long time with about a minute of time in the microwave. This is so easy to make but I wouldn’t have figured this out on my own. So here is the super simple, warm and comforting rice sock instructions:

Things you need:

A groovy looking knee high sock (Yes, I use that word!) My granny loves purple so that’s what I got.

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2 cups uncooked rice. DO NOT USE INSTANT RICE: IT WILL CATCH ON FIRE IN YOUR MICROWAVE!!!! I’m using Thai jasmine rice because that is what we eat. Do not fill the sock completely. It needs to be pliable to lay correctly on your shoulders.

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Optional: Scented oil. I’m using lavender. You don’t need much. Maybe two drops. If you use more you will want to hide this thing  somewhere until the scent dissipates. (This is experience talking.)

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You need a glass or ceramic bowl to mix the rice and oil. The scent will stay in plastic.

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A tube to keep the sock open and get the rice easily into the toe. You can use the a tube from a toilet paper roll or a paper towel roll (the paper towel roll will be easier to use.) I am using a tube from one of my kid’s toys.

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Pull the sock up so the tube is down in the toe.

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Scoop the rice up with a measuring cup with a lip. You can hold your hand around the tube top to act like a funnel. I wouldn’t suggest using an actual funnel unless it has a very large hole. The rice doesn’t move through them well.

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Pull the sock off your tube.

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Tie it towards the top.

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You are done! Here’s mine (rainbow stripy sock!!!) and my granny’s. Image

Microwave your sock in 30 second intervals for about 1 minute total. If you get it too hot, just wait for it to cool a little. Drape it around your neck and know you have beaten some of the the spring fever pain you caused with overzealous yard work!

Make sure to celebrate your achievement! My four year old and I took a celebratory bounce on the trampoline!

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