Saturday, June 22, 2013

How to Grow Perfect Tomatoes

How to Grow Perfect Tomatoes

How to start tomatoes from seed, transplant tomato seedlings to your garden, condition the soil, the best supports for tomatoes and the essentials of mulching.
organic garden tomatoes
Tomatoes ripening on the vine in my organicvegetable garden
Hands down the most popular garden vegetable in the world is the tomato. It’s estimated that there are about 7500 varieties, from the Arkansas Traveler to the Zorba, in a multitude of shapes, sizes and flavors. Sometomatoes are open pollinated (OP) heirlooms whose seeds can be saved and passed down through generations; others are hybrids (F1) whose seeds, unlike heirlooms, won’t necessarily express the same traits of the parent plants.
The “perfect tomato” is literally a matter of taste – one person’s Beefsteak is another’s Cherokee Purple. The climate in your region will play a significant role in which tomatoes grow with abandon and which bear only modest fruit.
Many techniques, tips and tricks for growing tomatoes are handed down generation to generation. Every gardener has the method they swear by, but regardless of climate, cultivar and whether it’s determinate (bush-type) or indeterminate (vine-type), these guidelines will get you on your way to growing perfect tomatoes.
Know the last frost date for your area
Frost kills tomatoes, so knowing your last frost date is critical. See my post on how to find your first and last frost dates, or find it at the NOAA satellite and information service.
Think of the last frost date as your line in the sand. It’s the date after which you’ll plant seedlings. Where I live in Pennsylvania, the last potential frost date is May 14 and I rarely plant tomatoes before then, unless the spring is unusually warm. The tables are remarkably accurate-last year, the last frost in my area was only a few days prior to the 14th.
organic tomato seedlings covered by milk jugs
Tomato seedlings set out early are covered by milk jugs, which protect them from frost, cold nights and hungry rabbits
If you’re tempted by early warm weather to plant before the last frost date, make sure that seedlings are covered at night with plastic milk jugs, because even without a frost, cold nights and cool days can wreak havoc on exposed tomato seedlings. Gardeners using row covers or garden tunnels can plant weeks earlier, as the covers keep frost off the seedlings and add roughly ten degrees to air temperature inside the tunnel.
Starting tomatoes from seed
If you want to grow tomatoes from seed, start them indoors eight weeks before your last frost date. Tomato seeds germinate best in starter pots warmed with a heat mat, but they’ll also germinate at room temperature, but may take two or three days longer.
I start seeds in 4″ square or round peat or plastic pots, because I have the best results when seedlings stay in the same pot from germination to transplant. Not having to transfer seedlings from seed trays to pots minimizes stress on the roots, which can disrupt growth or damage the plant.
Sow 2 or 3 seeds in each pot and cover with 1/2″ of additional potting medium. Moisten the top of the starter mix with a spray mist bottle, then cover the pots with a sheet of clear plastic or a clear plastic dome to create agreenhouse effect.
starting organic tomato seeds in peat pots image
Starting tomato seeds in fiber pots
Keep pots covered with plastic until seeds germinate in six to eight days, then remove the plastic to prevent mold or fungal infection. Water as needed, but don’t allow the soil surface to become dry.
When seed lings are about two inches, select the healthiest in each pot and snip off the unwanted seedlings with a garden snip or very sharp scissors. Do not pull unwanted plants from pots, as it may disturb the root zone of the seedling you wish to keep. Tomato seedlings need lots of light from this point forward, so move pots under grow lights.
Transplanting tomato seedlings
organic tomato seedling image
tomato seedling at about ten weeks
Plant seedlings in your garden bed on a cloudy day after your last frost date – cloud cover helps the seedling to adjust to sunlight and avoids early sun scald. But first, harden them off outdoors one week prior to planting, so they can adjust to night and day temperature fluctuations. A covered porch which receives morning sun and afternoon shade is ideal.
Plant seedlings so at least four inches of the plant’s stem is buried in soil. This encourages deep rooting, which will protect your seedlings during a drought or heat wave. Tomatoes can actually create additional roots from any part of the stem buried in soil.
If you’re supporting your plants with a tomato cage, wooden stake, or other device, plant the seedlings 15 inches apart in a straight row down yourraised garden bed. If you will not be supporting your plants, allow 24 inches for determinate varieties and 36 inches for indeterminate varieties.
Soil and fertilizer
Tomatoes prefer soil that is light, with lots of organic matter and a pH range of 5.8-7.0. I mix lots of tree leaves into the bed in fall, compost in early spring, compost around the plants after transplanting and then twice more throughout the season.  Supplement the compost and leaves with a feeding of fish emulsion or liquid seaweed every two to three weeks.
Mulching tomatoes
Use grass clippings, straw, pine mulch or pine bark to mulch tomato seedlings immediately after transplanting, and maintain mulch levels throughout the growing season. Mulch should be two to three inches deep and come to within one inch of the stem. This keeps roots well insulated in case of a heat wave, suppresses weeds, and helps to maintain adequate moisture levels. Keeping the mulch away from the stem helps prevent fungal buildup from excess moisture.
Supporting indeterminate tomatoes
Indeterminate (vine) tomatoes will grow just fine without support, but you’ll lose a lot of fruit to soil-borne pests and moisture. Get the fruit in the air.
In my experience, a tomato cage is useful for bush varieties, but useless for the long vines of indeterminate plants. Late in the season, when the plant is producing copious amounts of tomatoes, the vine will grow over the top of the cage and down the other side, creating a pinch in the vine, which restricts fruit development. To avoid this, “cap”  the top of the plant with pruners when it reaches the top of the cage.
Wooden garden stakes are the tried and true, best means of support for tomatoes in a backyard garden. Tie the vine to the stakes as necessary with short pieces of fabric (wire ties cut into the stems). Make sure that you plant the stake at the same time you plant the seedling – this avoids root damage down the road. Trellising and training tomato vines overhead are quite effective as well, and are the preferred methods of commercial growers. Overhead support allows the vine to climb, but proper pruning with these methods is absolutely necessary and best left to experienced hands

Pruning tomato plants
As mentioned in part 1, pruning tomatoes of the determinate (bush) variety is usually not necessary. However, you may wish to do so during wet and cool summers in order to increase air circulation around the tomato plants to prevent fungal infections. With indeterminate (vine) cultivars, pruning is necessary to insure an excellent crop.
Start pruning tomato vines about three weeks  after you’ve planted seedlings outdoors. Remove all suckers as they develop so that all of the growth is on one main stem. Suckers are the stem outgrowths that appear in the crotch of each leaf – they don’t bear fruit, so the plant is wasting energy if it continues to feed this growth.
If you’re supporting the tomato vines with wooden stakes, top off the plant once it reaches the top of the stake, so the vine doesn’t outgrow its support. Use fabric to tie the vine to the wooden stake to avoid cutting into the stems and always tie-in loosely to allow for growth.
The climate in your area, even the micro climate in your garden is a significant factor in how much fruit your tomato plantswill produce.  Tomatoes are originally native to the coastal areas of south america and they thrive under similar weather conditions: dry air and temps in the 80-85 degree range.  During wet and cool summers however, tomato blight and other fungal infections can be frequent and widespread, which sometimes result in a complete loss of plants and fruit. Early heatwaves, with temps in the 90+ range when the plants are young, slows growth and reduces fruit set. Row covers can be effective in protecting your seedlings in either of these situations.
how to grow perfect tomatoes watering can
A watering can like this one from Fiskars should be used to water your tomatoes at soil level – not overhead
Watering tomato plants

Tomatoes should only be watered around their root zones. Don’t water from overhead with a hose or sprinkler, as the moisture left on the leaves and fruit may lead to fungal infections. In the absence of rainfall, water your plants deeply once a week and more often if needed during heat waves. How much is enough? Your hand is a great moisture meter – stick your index finger into the ground up to the middle knuckle. The ground should feel wet the entire length, but not saturated.
Tomatoes need consistent moisture when fruit is on the vine to avoid cracking and blossom end rot. Both conditions may appear on the fruit after a long period of dry, intense heat followed by a heavy rain. Keep tomatoes well watered during dry conditions to avoid this.
Share the raised beds
Tomatoes like the company of basil, parsley, bush beans, mint, nasturtium, marigolds, garlic, and leafy vegetables. The herbs and flowers attract beneficial insects that prey on tomato pests and the leafy vegetables love the shade that tomato plants provide when summer is at its most extreme. The herbs should also keep rabbits from making a home in the cool shade of mature plants – supposedly they hate the smell.
Harvesting tomatoes
For indeterminate tomatoes, harvesting will start with the first ripe tomato and continue through frost. Determinate tomatoes will for the most part ripen within a period of a few weeks and then the plant will begin to brown and fade away.
It’s pretty easy to tell when your tomatoes are ready to be picked. They’ll be firm (but not hard) to the touch, have a nice mature color, and can be pulled from the stem with a gentle tug. If you have to work hard to pull it off, it’s not ready. As the date of your first frost draws near, harvest the green tomatoes which have no chance of ripening and bring them inside. Let the plant direct all of its energy into the more mature tomatoes which have a better chance to ripen before Jack Frost visits.
Saving Tomato Seeds
growing tomatoes organic gardenTomato seeds are one of the easiest seeds to save – just witness the thousands of heirloom tomato seeds passed down through generations. The process is pretty simple, according to Marc Rogers in Saving Seeds: The Gardener’s Guide to Growing and Storing Vegetable and Flower Seeds:“It is the whole plant, rather than an isolated individual fruit , that you should consider (saving) in making your selection…the luscious, early-bearing plant that you’d choose first to eat is the one from which you should save seed.”
Let the first cluster of tomatoes ripen completely, then pick the best of the best to save. Cut the tomato in half vertically and scoop out the seeds and pulp. Place seeds and pulp in a mason jar with a small amount of water and shake gently. Leave to sit two to four days, shaking occasionally, until the tomato seeds sink to the bottom of the jar. Add more water and shake again to separate and clean the seeds.
Remove the tomato seeds from the jar and allow to air dry on a paper towel. When the seeds are fully dry, store them in a white envelope inside a mason jar and keep cool until next season, preferably in the back of your refrigerator, but never let the seeds freeze. Make sure you mark the envelope with the tomato cultivar and the date harvested and any other information you might find useful.
It is not advisable to save seeds from hybrid (F1) tomatoes, as the fruit which comes from them may not resemble the fruit of the parent plants.
Keeping Tomatoes
Do not store fresh garden tomatoes in the refrigerator, as they lose flavor quickly – they’re best held at room temperature. If your harvest exceeds the amount which you can eat before they go bad, there are a few ways to store tomatoes for later use.
Freezing is quite good. Par-boil them, score the skin when hot, peel, and then put them in a freezer container (preferably glass). This is fantastic if you make a lot of sauces over the winter. You can also freeze the tomatoes whole. I find freezing to be the the simplest and fastest method if you have the space and are not subject to frequent electrical outages. Of course, if you have enough tomatoes, you can make a vat of sauce right away and freeze that for your winter pasta dishes.
Other ways of keeping tomatoes are by freeze drying, which makes a wonderful winter treat or by canning tomatoes for use over the winter.
 For more gardening tips check out
Problems with your tomatoes? Here are a few tips
As certain as the heat and humidity of summer are the questions about tomato problems.
So far, I have not seen tomato late blight, although it has been reported in a few areas of the mid-Atlantic region. But blossom end rot and tomato leaf roll have made their annual appearance in home gardens.
Blossom end rot
Blossom end rot (BER) is not a disease, but the result of insufficient calcium in the plant when the fruit is developing. The lack of calcium in the plant causes the blossom end (opposite the stem) of the fruit to become dark brown, leathery and sunken.
Although there is usually enough calcium in the soil, roots may be unable to absorb it for a variety of reasons. Drastic moisture fluctuations in the soil, the result of too much or too little rainfall; high temperatures; excessive nitrogen fertilization; rapid plant growth; or damage to the roots due to cultivation, are all possible causes for inadequate calcium uptake.
The solution is to make sure that you supply an adequate amount of moisture to the plant — about 1 inch per week — during the growing season. Drip irrigation and straw or plastic mulch will help you ensure even moisture to the plant.
Unfortunately, you can’t do much about excessive rainfall.
The results of a soil test will give you the proper amounts and kinds of fertilizer to use on your tomatoes. When the flowers and fruit start developing, use a fertilizer designed for tomatoes to ensure adequate levels of phosphorus and potassium, both important for fruit production; the first number in the fertilizer ratio (nitrogen) should be low compared to the last two numbers.
For a quick fix, you can put 1-2 tablespoons of hydrated lime over the root zone and water it in thoroughly. You can also try a calcium spray applied to the foliage (not the fruit). It’s important to follow the label directions, as you can burn the foliage if you apply too much or too often; the calcium spray won’t correct affected fruit, but it may help to prevent BER on fruit just beginning to develop.
Tomatoes affected by BER won’t recover; removing them from the plant when you first notice BER may help later-maturing fruit from developing the same problem. BER can also happen to peppers and eggplant.
Tomato leaf roll
Tomato leaf roll is usually seen on older leaves. The leaflets curl up lengthwise, sometimes into a very tight roll, and they often become thick and leathery as well. Although you may find an insect or spider hiding in that rolled up leaflet, the critter is not the cause of the problem, nor is this a disease.
Leaf roll is a physiological condition, a functional response of the plant to some stress factor, and it is worse in certain tomato varieties than in others. The plant senses it is losing more moisture through the leaves than can be replaced through the roots, so it tries to compensate by rolling the leaves and making them thicker to reduce water loss.
Stress factors that can lead to leaf roll include heavy pruning, excessive fertilizer, cultivating too close to the roots, saturated soil after a heavy rain or any sudden change in weather. It often happens when mild, rainy spring weather transitions to hot, dry summer weather, and the plant’s top growth has outstripped root formation.
Fortunately, leaf roll is not something you need to worry about, as it does not affect growth or yield, and will often correct itself when conditions become more favorable. To minimize leaf roll on tomatoes, use mulch to keep the soil at more even temperature and moisture levels; don’t damage the roots by cultivating or hoeing too close to the plants; and water well to keep the soil moist, but don’t overwater so it stays saturated — the soil needs to dry out slightly between waterings.

WORKOUTS-or what you can do to come close LOL

While I aim for 20 or 30 minutes of daily exercise, I don't always get there and I've decided that's OK but I never miss an opportunity to sneak in extra movement throughout the day. After all, your muscles have no idea if you’re in a fancy gym or in your kitchen — as long as you’re working them, they’ll get toned!
By doing little exercises throughout the day wherever you can — in the kitchen, in your car, while you brush your teeth, or while you're sitting at your computer — you’ll keep the oxygen flowing and stretch and tone your muscles. You’ll also boost your metabolism: Did you know you can burn up to 500 calories per day just by fidgeting? It’s true! I like to call these little movements "fidget-cizes." They take only one minute or less and they really do work! Fidget-cizes don't replace your regular workouts, but when life gets too hectic, use these moves as a way to squeeze in a little extra fitness all day long. Here are a few of my favorites. Give them a try!
  • Squeeze that butt: Do it in the elevator, as you're walking down the aisles of a grocery store, and while you're waiting in line at the bank. No one will know — and it's so effective!
  • Work those legs: Try doing leg lifts at your desk or squats while you brush your teeth at night.
  • Add some steps to your day: Whenever you can, sneak in extra walking. Park your car far away from the store, take the stairs instead of the elevator at work, or do a few laps of the mall before you shop this weekend. Every step counts!
  • Tuck that tummy: If you're relaxing in the living room in front of the TV, try lying on the floor or on a blanket and doing crunches. Make a deal with yourself that you'll do them throughout each commercial break. Easy!
  • Take a “dip” on the couch: Sit at the edge of the couch and place your palms down on each side of you. Move forward so that your body is off the couch, bend your elbows behind you, and lower your body toward the floor with your knees bent and feet together. Bend and extend your arms multiple times as you watch TV — you’ll lose that arm jiggle in no time!
  • Stretch it out: Tension can build up in the neck and shoulders simply from sitting at your desk, and it gets even worse as the long work day drags on. Stretching encourages those tense muscles to relax and counteracts any tightness from poor posture and tired muscles. Try doing my Shoulder and Chest Relaxer, One-Arm Reach, and Neck and Shoulder Release at your desk — you'll probably start an office trend!
  • Get firm on the phone: If you spend a lot of time on the phone like I do, don't just sit there — make it a workout by "pretending" to sit! Press your back flat against a wall and lower your body by bending your knees to a 45- to 90-degree angle. Hold the position for as long as you can.
  • Get lean while you clean: Did you know that by doing household chores — carrying laundry upstairs, vacuuming, making your bed, dusting — you can burn up to 400 calories an hour? You’ve got to do these tasks anyway, so you might as well turn on some music and think of it as exercise!
Go ahead: Turn idle time into exercise time and look for every opportunity to move your body. All of those little moments will add up to major health benefits — you’ll see!

DO NOT Listen to what the doctors SAY

All we hear or read about these days are Get healthy, well I'm NOT, wish it was easy but it's SO NOT!
This country has ruined US. It happened years ago and now WE PAY. So now it's our fault we are unhealthy and over weight? So now we are to live on tons of medications that ruin our liver and give us more health problems, well you know what I for one will not take all the poisons they shove at us, nor will I stand to be called names by a doctor who is getting over paid for telling me all the bad things about my LIFE.
I am human, I am not perfect nor do I want to be, I just want to be happy and I want to stop hearing the shit from doctors that they go on and on about, then I look at them and have to laugh because they are worse than I AM.
I do though say we should all try to live better, can't do it 24/7 but I know there are things that can be done to help achieve perfection, however what is perfection? Do I want to live to be 100? Not if I look like most people that age or hurt and ache as bad as most nor do I want to live on tons of pills a day to barely walk around.
I will miss my family and friends but I also know that the day will come when I will have to give in and say I have spent my life here for as long as I can without being a pill popping nuisance and pass over to a mew and pain free life one of these days, until then I will continue to back talk doctors, and give my out spoken opinion on what I think of the world of medications -poisons made to addict us to be a slave to doctors!!!
I have found out there are many things that we can do to avoid taking the poisons and that is how I chose to live my life and no doctor can force me to take their crap.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Natural Ginger Ale

Natural Ginger Ale
A naturally fermented old-fashioned ginger ale (also once called Ginger Beer) that contains beneficial probiotics and enzymes.
Recipe type: Cultured – Beverage
  • A 1-2 inch piece of fresh ginger root, minced. Adjust this to taste. I use 2 inches as I prefer a stronger ginger taste.
  • ½ cup of organic sugar or rapadura sugar. if using plain sugar, add 1 tablespoon molasses for flavor and minerals.
  • ½ cup fresh lemon or lime juice
  • ½ tsp sea salt or himalayan salt
  • 8 cups of filtered (chlorine free) water (Here is the water filter we use)
  • ½ cup homemade ginger bug (or can use ¼ cup whey for a faster recipe though the flavor won’t be quite as good.Here is a tutorial for how to make whey)
  1. Make a “wort” for your ginger ale by placing 3 cups of the water, minced ginger root, sugar (and molasses if needed), and salt in a saucepan and bringing to a boil.
  2. Simmer the mixture for about five minutes until sugar is dissolved and mixture starts to smell like ginger.
  3. Remove from heat and add additional water. This should cool it but if not, allow to cool to room temperature before moving to the next step.
  4. Add fresh lemon or lime juice and ginger bug (or whey).
  5. Transfer to a 2 quart glass mason jar with a tight fitting (air-tight) lid. Stir well and put lid on.
  6. Leave on the counter for 2-3 days until carbonated and transfer to the fridge where it will last indefinitely.
  7. Watch this step carefully. Using whey will cause it to ferment more quickly and it will take less time. It should be bubble and should “hiss” like a soda when the lid is removed. This is very temperature dependent and the mixture may need to be burped or stirred during this fermentation time on the counter.
  8. As with any traditional fermented drink, it is more of an art than a science as it depends on the strength of your culture, the temperature of your house and the sugar used. The final mixture should smell of ginger and slightly of yeast/fermentation and should be fizzy. Watch carefully that it doesn’t become too carbonated as this will cause too much pressure and may result in an exploding jar!
  9. The mixture can be strained and transferred to Grolsch style bottles before putting in the fridge (we like these bottles).
  10. Strain before drinking.
  11. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Growing and loving LILACS

I just love lilacs and I remember picking them every year growing up as a kid around mother's day
I would fill our house with them and pick some every couple days during their short growing and blooming season. Then I moved south and found out lilacs do not grow in Texas, not my lilacs, I was sad. Then when I moved to Oklahoma I found out they grew, hooray, so I bought a couple plants and have them growing again.

I really love flowers, haven't seen one I didn't like, but lilacs are my favorite flower I do believe.

Here are some growing tips on lilacs that I have found
Do plant some if you can raise them.

The unique scent and beautiful flowers of a Lilac are a welcome sign of spring. This relatively care-free shrub is a beautiful addition to nearly any home landscape.
Lilacs are ubiquitous in New England in the spring, great in landscapes as well as cut in vases.  They are an historic plant, found around many old homes and even surviving around old foundations after the home has fallen down.  They are easy to grow, require little care, have a famous fragrance, and come in variations of red, pink, white, and purple.  Even though blooms only last a couple of weeks, with a diversity of different plants from the various species you can have blooms over a 6-week period.
lilac bush in bloom
The two main requirements for lilacs to succeed are a well-drained soil and full sun.  They will tolerate some shade, but won’t be as dense nor bloom as well.  Once established, they will even tolerate dry soils and drought. Make sure when planting you allow plenty of room for the mature size of a lilac (maybe 8 to 15 feet tall and wide), otherwise you may need to “basal prune” all stems back near the ground, and then wait a couple years for new shoots to develop and get a few feet tall.
You should plant lilacs where you can appreciate their informal upright natural shape. Lilacs are often seen near building foundations, and are especially good near corners.  They make great specimens in lawns and borders, and planted in a line make a fine seasonal hedge.
If you like the look of neatly rounded shrubs, most lilacs won’t please you, although there are a few exceptions. The single purple Paliban Korean lilac (Syringa meyeri) which grows 4 to 5 feet tall and a bit wider, and the single violet ‘Miss Kim’ Lilac(S. patula). Both have a rounded habit, unlike other lilacs.
Once established, fertilize lilacs lightly each year if at all.  In good loamy soils, or with some compost placed around plants, they may need no fertilizer.  If fertilizing, do so right after bloom.  Too early and flowers may abort with only foliage appearing. Too late and plants may not harden properly for fall.  Around the fourth of July is about as late as you should fertilize, or for that matter prune.
Types of lilacs
Most lilacs gardeners are familiar with the common lilacs (S. vulgaris) and their cultivars (cultivated varieties) that bloom in mid to late May in the northern U.S..  Some that bloom just a bit earlier are the hyacinthiflora hybrids, first bred by the famous Lemoine nursery in France in 1876.   Examples of these are the single purple ‘Pocahontas Lilac’, the single white ‘Mount Baker’, the single blue ‘Blanche Sweet‘, or the single magenta ‘Asessippi‘.
As you see, lilacs come in more colors than “lilac” and white.  Lilac specialists have grouped the over two dozen species and hundreds of cultivars into 7 flower colors: white, violet, blue, lilac, pink, magenta, and purple.  For each of these there are singles and doubles.  In addition there is the single yellow ‘Primrose’and the bicolor ‘Sensation’.  The latter arose as a mutant in a Dutch greenhouse (from the lavender ‘Hugo de Vries’ that was being forced to flower at Christmas) in 1938, and has purple petals each in white.
The other large group are the late lilacs, mainly the Preston hybrids originally bred by a Canadian breeder by that name.  These may not have the wonderful fragrance of the common lilacs, but bloom a week or 10 days later and tend to be larger in all respects– leaves, flowers, and wider plants.  A few of my Preston favorites are the deep pink ‘Miss Canada‘ and ‘Donald Wyman’, and the white ‘Agnes Smith’.
I often get asked what is my favorite lilac.  It is hard to answer as so many, in fact most including the common species, are beautiful.  The one that stands out for me and many though is ‘Krasavitsa Moskvy’, or as many know it Beauty of Moscow.  It was selected by a famous Russian breeder in 1947 from an offshoot of ‘Belle de Nancy’– one of the French Lemoine hybrids. The pink buds open into creamy white flowers tinged with pink, a silvery opal color.
How to prune a lilac
When it comes to pruning lilacs, experts have a couple of opinions. Some (such as myself) only prune branches as needed, eventually removing about a third of old branches each year.  This allows the plant energy to produce new branches.  Eventually most lilacs will get very tall, with most of the flowers appearing at the top.  This makes the blooms hard to see up close, but fine from home windows, the street, or at a distance.  Plus, with some pruning of lower branches you can appreciate the attractive stem architecture.
Others like to prune about a third of new growth off each year, back to sideshoots, not sheared like a hedge.  This keeps plants and their flowers lower, but sacrifices the natural shape and effect of the stems. If you need to prune lilac branches that are obstacles, or crossing and rubbing on each other, do so right after bloom.
Lilac pests and diseases
The main problem you may see with lilacs is the white powdery mildew disease on leaves.  This will be most common if if your site has late morning dew and little air circulation. Powdery Mildew is more of an aesthetic issue with lilacs and doesn’t cause enough harm to plants to warrant treating.  During very wet springs some branches may suddenly wilt, and their tips turn black. This is a blight which should only come once, and new buds should emerge from stems in a few weeks. Occasionally a lilac may get small rounded brown bumps, or scales, which can be treated by cutting off the infected branches.
Dr Leonard Perry is an Extension Professor at the University Of Vermont and an advisor to the Vermont Association Of Professional Horticulturists

Monday, June 17, 2013

Rain Chain from Wire-Wrapped Rock

Rain Chain from Wire-Wrapped Rock

reposted, I found this CRAFT TODAY ON fb AND i HAD TO SHARE


We recently featured a DIY rain chain, and since I found out about rain chains, I have been slightly obsessed. Basically, a rain chain is a decorative chain that you can use in place of an unsightly downspout on your home. When it rains, the rain chain makes a pleasing water feature using the rain runoff from your roof. Long popular in Japan, rain chains are beginning to trend here in the USA. I saw a very interesting wire-wrapped rock rain chain, and decided to get a similar look by making my own using dollar store rocks and floral wire. Read on to find out how to make it!
inspiration rain chain

Project Materials:
  • 2 spools of floral wire, $1 each
  • 5-10 coils of thick decorative floral wire, $1 each
  • 1 bag of decorative river rocks, $1
  • Paper clips, on hand
  • Pencil, on hand
  • Wire cutters, on hand or $1
  • Needle-nosed pliers, on hand or about $3
Total cost: $8 and up
DIY rain chain
Note about Supplies:
Wire: You can find the thin, green floral wire, the thick decorative wire, and wire cutters in the floral section of the dollar store. If you can't find the thick decorative floral wire, pick up a spool of colored 20-Gauge Wire in the jewelry-making section of your local craft store for about $5. You can also use plain silver floral wire instead of green floral wire if you prefer.
How much wire you need depends the final length of rain chain, on your wrapping technique, and how sparing you are with the wire. It is easier to wrap with more wire, as opposed to less wire, but with practice, you will be able to conserve wire if you want to.
Rocks:  I bought a bag of decorative river rocks at the dollar store because it was easier than collecting my own rocks from outside, but this could be a fun way to showcase rocks you collect on nature walks or at the beach.
Paperclips: These will make the connecting rings. Any old paperclips will do.
link in a rain chain
Note about Technique:
I used two different gauges of wire because I couldn't get the large gauge wire to work well with the slippery rocks. I added a layer of light-gauge wire to give the large wire something to grip onto. If you are an experienced wire-wrapper, you will probably have more success than I did using just the large wire. When I started this project, I had no experience with wire-wrapped rocks, but after I made the rain chain, I found a wire-wrapping tutorial that was very helpful, and I recommend you read it before you start:
I will still share my "folk art" technique with you, just promise you won't laugh too hard at me! I do think that its imperfection is part of the charm of this wire-wrapped rain chain, though!
diy wire wrapped rock rain chain
Here's a pic of the rain chain in action hanging from the gutter of my parents' 100 year-old garage.

Make a Rain Chain

Part One: Pre-wrapping with floral wire
1. Cut two pieces of floral wire (about 14" long) with your wire cutters. Place them in an X formation on your table, then twist together about 5 twists.
2. Place rock on top of the twists, then bring 2 wires up over the rock and twist together.
4. Repeat with other two bottom wires.
DIY rain chain
I brought my second set of wires to the sides of the rock and twisted them together.
Wrapping rocks with wire
It's okay if the wires are loose around the rock at this point. Just continue to criss-cross the rock with the wires until it is fairly secure. It's all right to leave long "tails" of wire on the rock now. You can use the tails to secure the rock to the thicker wire, or clip them later.
tightening the wire on the rocks
5. To tighten the wire on the rocks, grab a straight piece of wire with your pliers, and gently twist a kink into the wire. Repeat in several more positions on the rock until the rock is snug within the wire wrapping.
Part Two: Wrapping with larger wire
thick wire- bend into a U shape
1. Bend the thicker gauge wire into a U shape. The U will be about 3 inches long.
Twist the thicker wire
2. Twist the U shaped wire about 2-3 times. The resulting loop will be your rock's top or bottom loop. When you make more of the rock-wire links, you'll link them together like a chain.
wrapping wire around rock
3. Place pre-wrapped rock on top of the twist. Begin to twist the thicker wire around the rock.
diy rain chain wrapping
4. There is no wrong way to wrap. Just go around the rock one or two times from different angles. You can tighten the wire later using the wire-kinking method you used with the floral wire.
create the bottom loop
5. While you are wrapping, create a bottom loop. Securely wrap the wire so the loop will stay put. Then clip the heavy wire with your wire cutters. Don't worry about the rough end, we will clean it up a little before we're done.
curl the end of the wire
6. I just curl the pokey edge of my wire up into a coil. Then it's time to take care of the floral wire tails.
DIY rain chain wire wrapping
7. To take care of floral wire tails, you can wrap them around the heavier wire until they are gone, or you can "sew" them in and out of the heavy wire to add an extra layer of security. You can also clip the ends and just fold them over to reduce the chance of them scratching or snagging.
Conserving Wire: You can see in the photo above that I just used a short piece of thick wire twisted with two loops, and then used the floral wire to secure the rock to the loops. This is a way to conserve the more-expensive thick wire.
DIY rain chain
Once you are done, you must make a lot more links to complete your rain chain. Depending on the size of your rocks and your loops, your links will be 3-6 inches long. Multiply that by the height that your rain chain needs to be to hang from your roof to the ground, and that's the number of links you will need.
But how do you connect the links?
Part Three: Making Paperclip Ring Connectors
paperclip connector ring
Making the connectors is simple!
You need:
  • Paperclips
  • Pencil
  • Pliers (optional)
1. Straighten a paper clip out by simply unbending it. You can straighten it further with your fingers if you want.
2. Bend the straightened paper clip around a pencil, making a coil.
3. Use the coil to connect the links of the rain chain, by slipping the coil around each loop (like attaching a key to a key ring).
Part Four: Hanging the Rain Chain
DIY rain chain
I went quick and dirty with hanging my rain chain, but you can mount it to your rain gutter if you are handy.
I just hooked the top loop of my chain on a bolt near the rain gutter. You could also install a hook or nail to hang the chain from.

It took me about four hours to make this rain chain, but it was relaxing to twist the wire around all the rocks, and I did it outside on the porch while the boys were playing outside. In other words, it's a fun outdoor craft.
It's nice to have a custom-made outdoor water feature in the garden, and it only cost me about $10 to make!
DIY rain chain with and without water