Create a Memorial Garden

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA memorial flower bed is often a great way to create a peaceful tribute to someone we’ve lost. Whether from illness, age or sudden accident – whether we “knew it was coming” or it was unexpected, the situations may vary but this small area can be a place of peace.

Begin by defining the border. It might be a small four foot square area in front of the landscape, or a raised bed with a variety of materials used for the border. Once your borders are defined, clear and turn over the soil in the area. If the ground is too hard or unsuitable, you can still create a memorial bed with a raised bed. Combine compost, bagged or purchased topsoil and peat moss, mixing thoroughly. Add in composted manure or rabbit manure and mix in.

Decide on what you want to create with plants. You might use red, white and blue flowers, or a theme of pink or blue flowers. Still others might use the person’s favorite color, with purple flowers or other vivid colors. You might favor bulbs, or select a low maintenance wildflower blend. Other options may be butterfly bushes or plants to attract birds.

Still other options might be herbs such as mint or rosemary, which can be used as well as serving as a quiet respite area.

The possibilities are nearly endless! Once it’s set up the first year, if you use annual seeds you’ll need to replant every year in the spring. Perennials just take attention for planting the first year, and maintenance afterwards.

In or near the garden you might place a bench or seating area, or solar lighting. There are many memorial plaques and stones that can be made or purchased but there are more alternatives! For example, a model car, or horse or other animal may “watch over” the garden. A bird feeder or bird bath nearby may attract living birds, or you may collect small ceramic birds to dot the garden area.

These are all ideas that don’t take a great deal of money. If money is an issue check Craigslist or Freecycle for materials to make a raised bed, or even for flowers and bulbs to put in it. The small items decorating the bed may be collected in time, and may be a help in dealing with grief when you see things that your departed loved one would have liked.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe cannot change the loss, but the simple act of creating a memorial can help many deal with the grief and take small steps to remember and celebrate life. The beauty of a garden, even if “just cheap wildflowers,” can be a comfort to those left behind. If some of those are children it can be a way to do something without talking about “feelings” or even open the door to discussion of those feelings in a non-threatening way.

Make it personalized and within your budget and capabilities. Even a small memorial spot can help provide comfort when flowers are blooming and butterflies fluttering around.

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Considerations for Fences

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe biggest factor in choosing fencing materials is what do you want the fence to do? Is it decorative? Are you seeking to keep animals in – or out? Sometimes it might be both! Costs and maintenance are other factors to consider in choosing a fence. Additionally the gate materials should be the same or stronger material.

There are several types of fence materials available. Wood fences have a traditional look. They may be a privacy fence or board fence, and are easily cared for with painting or staining to preserve the life of the fence. They are relatively easy for the novice to care for – but privacy fences can be expensive and board fences may not keep animals in or out, depending on the type of fencing.

Chain link is expensive when the top rails, posts and such are figured in but once installed are relatively low maintenance. They tend to be able to keep in not only small livestock but pets.

Many who like the look of board fences go to a vinyl covered board, similar in appearance but easier to maintain. The painting effort is removed but an occasional pressure wash keeps mold and other debris from wearing on the fence. Cost is higher than board fencing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWoven wire fences are suitable often in combination with boards. Typically wood and steel posts are used and sometimes a board on the top is used. Woven wire is better at keeping sheep or goats in and keeping dogs out of the herd. For long term investment pastures fenced with woven wire are preferred by many because whether it’s horses or sheep or goats it’ll generally keep them in safely.

Electrified hot wire is another means, effective enough that once trained a herd of dairy cattle can be kept in a field with a single strand – until the power goes off! Electrical outages can mean loose livestock. The cost is considerably less than other types but unless you use a more permanent high tensile fence it isn’t likely to keep dogs in or out.

Barbed wire may have won the west but today’s horse owners have nightmares about a horse getting caught in it. It persists in popularity as three or five strands can cover large areas fairly inexpensively and, if properly strung tight, it’s an effective barrier for cattle and other large animals. It does let small animals navigate to escape however.

A fenced area is of little use if animals get out the gate, so pay attention to gates as well. A solid gate is needed as animals quickly learn you come and go through the gate as well as sometimes food. The gate may then take a bit more abuse than the fences with bumping, biting and pawing.

Use good solid hinges. A tip in hanging your gates – typically the gate hangers screw into a wooden post and the gate hangs on it – easily lifting off. Easy for you is easy for smart animals! Take a little more time and carefully turn the hangers towards each other. This way the bottom one slides on as normal but the top one, pointed down, holds the gate in place so it can’t be lifted off the hinges.

These are just a few options available for homeowners or those seeking to keep animals in a small farm situation. Take a look at what your options are for the species you’re fencing, the costs and abilities you have, the space you need to fence and the maintenance.

Choosing fencing materials need not be difficult. Attention to detail and occasional maintenance keeps fences a long term investment.

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10 Tips for Wood Fence Success

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWood fences are popular for many reasons. They’re easy to maintain, fairly easy to put up and can be painted any color. They can combine with wire fences if you add a dog later and are a physical barrier towards trespassers getting in – or out of – your yard or other fenced area.

However planning is essential and doing it right is important. Here are some tips for a successful project.

  1. If you’re putting up more than 40-50 feet of fence rent or hire someone with a posthole digger. Lay out the posts and have it ready to dig on arrival. This saves a great deal of time and blisters compared to digging by hand.
  2. Measure accurately. Once you get those posts set eight feet apart make sure it’s centered – otherwise you may not have anything to nail the board to that is supposed to run between the posts!
  3. Use good quality posts. Don’t skimp on posts – solid, treated posts done right are something that will last several years. If you enjoy the work of digging up to replace worn fence posts by all means take the cheap route, but it’s much better value wise to do it right the first time.
  4. Decide what you are fencing. Many farms fencing horses for example put the rails on the INSIDE of the posts rather than the outside. When horses lean on the fence (which they will without a hot wire) it’s less likely to pop the nails out. Livestock can be hard on fences.
  5. If you’re fencing livestock in your wood fence invest in a single strand of hot wire run on the inside of the fence. Once they get stung a time or two they’ll be much more respectful of your fence. This means it lasts longer. Electrified wire also keeps animals from chewing on the fence.
  6. If you plan on painting your fence do so when it’s dry. Use some type of paint or sealer to protect the wood. Some opt for white fences while others use a dark stain that appears as a black fence. This, too, helps your fence last longer.
  7. Set posts so that about 1/3 is in the ground. This is a factor for your post length – a six foot post put two feet in the ground leaves you a four foot fence. Common eight foot posts are needed if you want a five to six foot fence.
  8. Decide if your wood fence will be a post and rail or a board privacy fence. This doesn’t change the need for posts but does alter considerably the cost of the fence.
  9. Set the corner posts first. This insures you have a point to work to and from. Take some lightweight string and run from one corner post to another – helping to insure your fence line will be straight. Put a little gravel in the bottom of the hole – this helps drain water from the post, helping it last a little longer. Brace corner posts and mound some dirt around them, which also helps prevent water from standing around the post.
  10. Before starting your fencing project make sure any permits needed are in place. Restrictions on fencing may be set by local ordinance as well as homeowners associations.

A beautiful wood fence is functional and decorative. Make it an investment in time and money that lasts!

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Creative, Low Cost Yard Projects

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe wanted a small pond in the yard – but like many priced them and dismissed being able to actually have one. Then a free tub came our way…and a pile of concrete blocks that were broken and deemed worthless. The initial unloading of the materials drew complaints – but once done a neighbor has imitated it in his own yard.

So often yard projects are a matter of a lot of time, a lot of money, or both. Some things you can’t get around. But for those willing to think creatively it can pay off in unique ways. One I recently came across was a man who would take old “worthless” garden tools and make ‘garden art’ – a shovel might become a wing of a bird. Raised beds made of ‘recycled’ materials are a great way to increase being able to grow things and making use of “trash”.

An old mailbox can become a small storage in the corner of the garden – secure to a post and store small hand tools and gloves right by the garden yet protected from the weather! Being presented with something that is less than perfect can be an opportunity to find what else it can be used for. In our case, the tub was set up, blocks carefully stacked around it, the tub filled with water and a few garden plants put in. The only cost will be a few fish to put in it. Plans are to put together a bigger pond, with a couple levels, bricked in and being able to get some koi. With a pond liner or heavy plastic, a little cement and $40 for a pump it can be a fountain with running water – and well under $100 for estimated a few hundred gallon tank. A commercial bought tank of that size is roughly $300 – so it’s worth looking at other options!

Sometimes creative reusing means using something in a MUCH different way than it was intended. When a neighbor tore down a large old satellite dish they were going to throw it out – we took it, set it upside down on blocks in the back yard and it’s a large dome dog shade for several large dogs. The yard is shady but in case of sudden rain squalls or storms the dogs can get under this and stay dry. A bonus – we realized after a couple storms the lip of the dome held water rather than letting it run off…just over 5 gallons of water as it happens. This allows 20 gallons of water to be available for the dogs in the lip of their shelter or, part water part a place to eat food in a section without water in it. This can’t be tipped over and assures they won’t run out on hot afternoons. The dogs love it…they’ll hang out in the “dog dome” and there’s little chance of it being too small – even the German Shepherd only takes so much room! This was free.

One dog has an upside down broken garden tub, discarded as worthless. Tipped upside down, the broken open area is just enough for the dogs to get under it – allowing for a more closed in area than the dome.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAProjects that don’t take any money, solve a need and keep things out of the landfills seem a good thing. It takes a little figuring and creative observing from different angles to “see” the project – but once done it’s a low or no cost unique project.

Some other ideas to get you thinking: take an old “useless” wheelbarrow – the heavy metal ones that have seen better days and leak. Fill it half full of compost then top with good soil…plant some vining flowers or gourds in it. Completely portable, you can move this easily to a more sunny area if needed or closer to the hose. A slab of discarded countertop set on a couple old filing cabinets makes a desk area for a garden office. Pallets can make a compost bin – hang flower pots on the slats around the top with trailing flowers and many won’t even know it’s a compost bin! Another composting option – older leaky metal garbage cans – poke a few holes in the sides and give it a paint job. No one will know it’s a compost bin in plain site – easy to put this out the back door or on the deck even to easily dump kitchen and yard waste in it – reusing the garbage can as well as reusing more “waste” than you realize once you start collecting it this way! The compost once aged can be put back into your container plants or garden.

When people throw things “away” it doesn’t go “away” – it goes somewhere. Landfills are a waste of land but in a disposable society it seems a necessity. Thinking of reusing items can reduce what goes to the landfills – and inexpensively solve a need for you too!

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How Much Raised Bed Do You Need?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARaised beds can be a great way to make the most of poor drainage spots, as well as other imperfect areas. What you want to grow can determine how much area you need.

For example, tomatoes and corn take up a larger space, one per square foot  if planted as a square foot garden, while carrots or other smaller plants you might get nine or even 12 in that same square foot. If growing a plant that puts out vines – for example gourds – or those with large leaves, like cucumbers and zucchini, you’ll need to figure that in.

One option is using a container bucket for some of the sprawling plants, and place it on the end with a wire trellis.

While it’s cooler this time of year, as the seed catalogs come in many get the itch to plant something. Planning can work wonders now. If you’re just starting, decide what you like to eat. This may sound obvious but if you don’t like sweet corn don’t feel obligated to grow it because it’s popular.

If you have limited room you might choose a 4×4′ or 5×10′ and use peppers, herbs and lettuce in the garden, and buy sweet corn and squash at farmers markets. You can still stock up and preserve for winter use!

An honest look at what you want to grow can make your raised bed a success.

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Starting Spring Tomato Seeds

We love tomatoes at SlowMoneyFarm. One of the cornerstones here is, as much as possible, using heirloom varieties and breeds, and tomatoes are no exception. To do that we often have to start our own plants.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are many reasons for starting your own tomatoes. While saving seeds from store bought or many of the modern’ tomatoes is an option, those that are hybrid won’t breed true or produce consistently the heirloom ones will. Additionally, if you keep seeds from your biggest and strongest plants consistently, you can develop plants that are well suited to your particular garden and location.

Starting seeds is often made to be more difficult than it really is. Start seeds indoors in flats by sowing them inch deep and inch apart. If you’re using pots rather than flats, start 2-3 in each pot. This makes it easy to thin by pulling the weaker ones and leaving the strongest plant to develop for planting.

Growing seedlings need 12-14 hours of light per day. Without this they’ll get spindly with a lot of stem, and this weakens the plant. A windowsill will not provide enough sun for the plants but there is an easy solution.

Fluorescent shop lights or grow lights can be used, plugged to a timer that allows automatic turning off and on of the lights at regular times. Use a light chain or rope to keep the lights initially within a couple inches of the seedlings, then it’s easy to raise the light as the young plants grow.

When the seedlings have developed four leaves transfer to deeper flats or to individual pots. Plant them slightly deeper than what they were growing allowing stronger stem growth. Remember that stem has to support many pounds of wonderful tomatoes for your kitchen! Make it strong.

Fertilize regularly and be sure to take 10 days to harden plants off so the transition outside doesn’t stress them. This is not only for cooler temperatures but also to condition them to the direct sunlight. If you have cold frames this is a great way to harden them off. They get plenty of sun but are protected from the cold temperatures. If the inside of the cold frame gets too warm open it up for ventilation.

Location is important while tomatoes love the sun and will grow well in containers on a patio, in areas like the deep south where the summer sun can be scorching it’s well to provide some partial shade relief. A week or so before planting in their bed or in the garden treat the soil with a pound or so of 5-10-10 fertilizer per 100 feet of area. Very light or sandy areas can easily double, possibly even triple, that amount.

Growing your own seedlings takes a little time but is not difficult. When you bite into that tasty salsa or real homemade spaghetti sauce it will be worth the effort made! Developing a tomato that works for you is a reward all its own. Enjoy!

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3 Ways to Save Money On Spring Plants

Who doesn’t like saving money? If you’re starting from scratch, the idea of putting in a garden can be – and get – overwhelming. How many people dig up a 30 x 40 foot area then plant and a month later it’s overwhelmed with weeds? The time, money and seed is wasted.

Here are some ways to save your hard earned money and get a garden!

The first – remember healthy plants pay off. Those wilted, sorry looking plants with discolored leaves may be marked down, but unless they’re marked down substantially pass them by. Drought stressed plants may never recover fully. If you can look under the surface – a roadmap of roots circling the container is overgrown and crowded. A strong root system is essential.

Secondly – check for giveaways. Do you know someone you can get cuttings from or divided plants? Check garden sections of Craigslist and local garden clubs. If you can’t find one, host a plant swap day where people can bring seeds, starts and other garden items and swap.

Lastly, don’t overlook barter. If you have more room than time, will a fellow gardener ‘lease’ the area for a share of the produce? Is there a youth or 4-H member who may be interested in helping manage an herb garden for a project? Time spent in a garden means they aren’t getting in trouble – a win win situation. Your unwanted items may also be of use to someone who has more time than money.

Gardening can be, but doesn’t have to be, expensive. A good start is important!

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