Mulch is anything put in a garden or flower bed to improve the health of the soil, hold the weeds at bay and save water.

There are many mulches to choose from and all will work for various purposes. I have chickens that live in a big barn with lots of straw. They don’t get outside unless I happen to be spending the day in the barn preparing for the next load of fresh straw. (We have coyote and skunk-type critters that adore a fresh chicken snack, and I don’t want to share with them!)

By the time spring comes around, my flock of 50 (or so) chickens have literally chopped up at least 2 or 3 big round straw bales you see in the grain fields in the fall of the year. I end up with several huge tractor scoop loads of the stuff, and it all goes in my garden. It has a dual purpose as a fertilizer and a deep mulch that keeps the moisture in and cuts down on the amount of weeding I need to do.

I also use old black and white newspapers as a weed barrier in the garden. I till the garden and plant the early crops the first part of May, but don’t set out the tender plants until almost June since we are prone to late frosts here. The row plants (beans, etc.) are marked with strings that I leave in place for several weeks while I put newspapers in the walking path. I then put lots of straw mulch over the top of the papers and wet it down thoroughly, until the straw sort of ‘locks’ into place. (One year I just layered paper, and we got one of our South Dakota ‘mega-breezes’. The papers decorated the shelterbelt for weeks, until I got them all picked back up again.)

As I said last month, the tender greenhouse plants are wrapped in paper, set in a deep hole, sometimes with a gallon jug beside it for future watering. I put the newspapers around the plants and then pile on the mulch and soak everything thoroughly. As the plants grow over the summer, I add more of the straw mulch and by harvest time, the garden is completely covered with several inches of the spongy mulch.

The advantage to doing this is that I buy NO commercial fertilizer, have very few weeds to deal with, and I don’t have to have the water running constantly in the garden. We have our own well, but the pump uses electricity and after all, nothing is free. When I water, I do it at night.

We have a rather sizable group of resident deer that like to snack on the garden during the night hours. We have found that by driving long sections of pipe–6 feet long–spaced down the center of the garden, stringing hoses and putting those whirling sprinklers set for 360 degrees in the tops of the pipes and watering at night, the deer stay out. I guess they don’t enjoy getting splashed in the face or on the rump with ice cold water in the middle of the night. At any rate, they leave the garden alone!

Fruit Flies GONE!

Spring is on the way and that always means the fruit flies will show up when we start to bring in the first of the fresh fruits of the season. There is a very simple way to keep those critters under control without chemicals.

Simply put a little bit of water in the bottom of a pint jar, add about ½ cup of vinegar and a couple of drops of dish soap. Stir up the mixture and set it on the counter. (I have used sweet pickle juice mixed with the water and the dish soap and it works too. The sugar seems to draw the flies to it). The fruit flies will be attracted to the mixture and fall in. They can’t escape because of the soap.

I will mix this up and leave it on the counter for a day or so and when the flies look like pepper on top, I dump it out and refill the jar again and again!
It works great, is cheap and if a child would happen to drink the stuff, it won’t hurt them.

Pepper Those Pests!

If you are lucky enough to live where spring has already sprung and have squirrels chomping on your precious outdoor plants, give this a try: Buy some cayenne pepper (powdered form) at the grocery store and pepper the plants well. The critters do not like the cayenne, and will leave those plants alone.

Of course, it has to be reapplied occasionally, or after a rain, but it’s chemical free so it won’t hurt the dog or the kids!  (tip submitted by KE, SC)

Un-Sticking A Stuck Envelope

If you’ve forgotten to include a check in a bill you’ve just paid, put the sealed envelope in your refrigerator’s freezer for an hour or so and it will come unstuck easily. You can use a glue stick to reseal it.  (tip submitted by CL, MN)

Find That Tiny ‘Something’ Fast!

If you drop something small on a carpet, like the screw out of your glasses, and can’t find the darn thing, put a piece of nylon stocking or other very thin fabric over the end of your vacuum cleaner hose and start vacuuming. I use a rubber band to hold the fabric in place as I work. The fabric will trap anything little that you’ve lost and keep it from going through to the dirt bag!  (tip submitted by WG, MD)

Pancake Roll-Ups

Use up those leftover breakfast pancakes as a snack for the kids. Put a little peanut butter and jelly on the cold cake and roll it up; it can be eaten out of hand easily and nothing is wasted. My children will often take their peanut butter roll ups in a napkin and eat it on the way to school instead of eating sugary breakfast cereal.  (tip submitted by DD, SD)

Banana Saver

A reader says: “If you buy bananas on sale like I do and have some go bad before you can get them all eaten, take the bananas apart at the stem end and line them up separately. They will last much longer and don’t get ripe all at the same time.”

No More Soggy Pizza Crusts!

If you want to heat up some left-over pizza in a hurry, toss it into a skillet on top of the stove. Set it to medium-low heat until nice and warm. The crust will stay nice and crispy instead of getting soggy like it does in the microwave.

A Not So ‘Corny’ Idea…

For some of you, fresh corn is not too far off to start thinking about. A reader sent in the hint to use a bundt pan or an angel food cake pan to help you cut the corn off of the cob easily. Just put the end of the ear in the opening at the center of your pan and slice the kernels off of the ear with a sharp knife. They fall into the pan instead of all over the counter and the floor, and the ear won’t slip out of your hand. And you won’t have a mess to clean up!

   

by Paula Vogelgesang

Do you have any tips or ideas you would like to share? Email them to Paula at pennywise@gwtc.net  

Please be sure to mention the "Farm And Livestock Directory" when you respond.

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