What… is it already time to think about spring cleaning?! It might still be winter, but spring will be here faster than we know it. Some quick cleaning is a great way to take care of a garden that we enjoy during the year!
If you’re wondering where to start, this blog post could be a way to jumpstart your cleaning. Here’s 5 tips on things to clean in the garden.
It’s a great feeling to see all types of birds using and enjoying your bird feeder. While they’re great, bird feeders can actually pose a major threat to bird health: excrement that is on the feeder perch can pass from bird to bird, spreading Salmonella and other diseases. Even if you don’t see dead birds around your bird feeder, birds that use your feeder could still be passing disease elsewhere, after they use it. Luckily, it’s a simple fix! How to clean a bird feeder: It’s best to clean your bird feeder regularly, say in between fills. Ideally, take it inside and wash it with soap and water. Then, soak it in a bleach solution (9:1 water to bleach) for 10 minutes. Rinse again to rid the feeder of any bleach solution. Make sure to wash your hands after touching the feeder! For more information, check out this link.
Bird baths: Algae isn’t fun to look at, but did you know it’s also dangerous for birds? Luckily, there’s simple fixes to keep bird baths clean and fresh for visitors! The easiest way to help keep your bird bath clean is to wash it out regularly (sometimes even every day, especially in the summer).
There are two other mixing solution options for doing a deep clean of your bird bath: vinegar or hydrogen peroxide. Each mixture is nine parts water and one part vinegar or hydrogen peroxide. Use a scrub brush to fully clean the bath and then ensure no cleaning mixture remains. Refill with water, and you’re good to go!
Tools help us take great care of the garden… let’s show the same level of care to our gardening tools! Cleaning gardening tools helps to extend their lifespan and can also help prevent the spread of disease.
How to clean gardening tools: Different options exist to clean gardening tools. For those tools that have metal, you can fill a 5 gallon bucket with sand and about a quart of car motor oil. After you’re done using the tools for the day, dip them in the sand and oil mixture. This mix helps to both clean the blade and coat it in a thin layer of oil. If you want to do a deep clean, you can wipe off any tools with a damp rag and some alcohol. If there’s sap or other buildup on your tools, try using sandpaper to get rid of it. Sandpaper is also a great way to refresh the wooden handle on tools (if you want to add a layer of oil after sanding wood, try mineral oil as a finish)!
Debris from diseased plants. Did you find black spot on any roses last year? How about other diseases on plants in the garden? Remove those diseased leaves or other debris from infected plants to prevent the spread of disease.
Stepping stones/moss slipping hazard. Moss is great! But if you have too much of it on your walkways, it can be a slipping hazard. Use your best judgment – if you’re worried about it being a potential hazard, it’s rather easy to select where you want to remove it on pathways/pavers. Mix a solution of bleach with water (up to 15% bleach) and use a scrub brush to agitate and remove the areas of concern.
The growing season is quickly approaching, so I reached out to the members of the Garden Ecology Lab to ask them to share three plants they’re looking forward to growing this year.
I love zinnias so much. This year I want to branch out and grow some less usual ones. Like those in the Queen Lime series and Zowie™! Yellow Flame.
This isn’t a plant as much as a technique: I really want to maximize vertical space, and grow tomatoes and squash vertically. I’m going the route of C-Bite stake clips, self described as “tinker toys for the garden.” I can attach and snap to common garden stakes and build my own structures. Up, up and away!
After watching all of the success in the Grow This! challenge last year with potatoes in grow bags, I’m inspired to grow potatoes for the first time. Really excited about this. And remember: the time to plant potatoes is St. Patrick’s Day.
The three veggies I am most looking forward to growing this season are tomatoes, peppers, and lettuce. Last season we grew over ten varieties of hot peppers and tomatoes in our hüglekultur beds. These types of beds are great for warm season plants that need just the right soil temperature. I am also looking forward to growing lettuce again next season because I eat so much salad! I got these amazing varieties of lettuce from Wild Garden seeds in Corvallis that I am super excited to try next year. To save space, I like to grow lettuce in a tower. I used chicken wire fencing, plant debris, and potting soil to create the foundation. I then used a stick to poke holes and plant the seeds. It grew into a beautiful ball of lettuce and I am so excited to try it again!
In addition to veggies, my goal for my outdoor space has always been to maximize the amount of flowers and wild space, while also reducing the amount of turf grass. During the winter, our garden looks a little unsightly with all the tarps and cardboard we use to smother the grass and weeds. In the spring, we remove the tarps and broadcast seeds all over the yard. My goal is to provide pollinators with year round foraging and improve the biodiversity on our property. One of our big projects last year was making a sunflower room in the yard. We planted American Giant sunflowers in a circle that eventually became a beautiful area for our community to hang out, surrounded by flowers and pollinators.
Elliot & I don’t have a yard to garden in so we’ve been experimenting with container gardening and a tiered planter box. The only place we can put them is on the north-facing side of our townhouse, which receives direct sunlight for a maximum two hours during the height of summer, so you can imagine our options are limited!
This year I am excited to stop experimenting and just grow some plants that have been successful: strawberries, basil, nasturtium. Although these are fairly basic selections, they have proven to produce in abundance in our tiny space! ( Abundant compared to squash and tomatoes that grow, take up a ton of space, and then get powdery mildew and die before a harvest is even possible).
Marigolds. I’m inspired to make a flower one of my goals this years as well. The timing for some summer and especially fall crops for me has been hard as I usually move in the middle of summer. One way or another, I expect to have a place to grow something over this period, and some of it will hopefully be beds of Marigolds.
Napa cabbage, cuz I need to make kimchi again and stop buying it.
Sweet potatoes, cuz I think I can do it again this year. And hey, when you strike it big, you gotta try again.
I don’t have a garden to grow in here in Corvallis, but I do have an apartment… with a north-facing balcony. While the conditions aren’t ideal, I do plan to grow a few things in small containers this year.
1) Begonias! I grew them last year, and since they thrive in the shade, I had great success. They provided such a nice pop of color to the balcony and I loved sitting out there in the morning. Plus, you can get so many different colors that even if I have multiple pots they can all bring their own fun.
2) Chard. I haven’t tried this one before… but even if the crop I grow isn’t quite enough to make a meal out of, I love chard because it’s beautiful to look at. Plus, it’s one of the few crops that might make a go of it in the shade.
3) Fiddle leaf. While I can’t eat this one either, I’ve been growing a fiddle leaf since I moved into my apartment. It lives inside with me during the winter and goes back outside during the summer. It’s easy to take care of, grows relatively quickly, and I love the way the big leaves can add texture and some height to a small gardening space.
Last June, I moved into a rental house that has a small, mostly-shaded garden bed in the backyard. I’ve helped out my parents around the garden throughout my childhood, but this is the first garden I can call my own! Last summer I worked on bringing some life into the soil (which was incredibly compacted and muted grayish-brown in color) by growing a cover crop of buckwheat that flowered and brought some bees and syrphid flies to the yard. I then tilled in the “green manure” which attracted worms, millipedes and molds into the soil! Hopefully this will pay off in the Spring, as I’ve seeded a mixture of native and nonnative wildflowers from pollinator seed mixes.
As an undergraduate student studying horticulture I am both thrifty and surrounded by opportunities to acquire plants for free! I am enrolled in a plant propagation course this Winter and will have many seedlings coming my way to plant in the Spring, and through my involvement at the Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture, I generally grow whatever comes my way from the rejects, cuttings and leftovers from the greenhouses there.
If the flower seeds don’t pan out, I hope to grow some of my favorite herbs: Rosemary, Thai Basil and Cilantro!
1. Prospera basil- this is a disease resistant Italian type basil that simply makes life easier in the pacific northwest! The downy mildew resistance actually comes from a thai basil parent, though I can’t detect that in the flavor profile much. Planting this, I can rest assured my basil crop won’t be destroyed by wet weather late spring.
2. Japanese trifele black tomato- My favorite heirloom tomato. This tomato is indeterminate, and has a complex flavor profile that usually comes with black tomato varieties, as well as a silky-smooth texture. It is wonderful for fresh eating and canning alike! I like to train my indeterminate tomatoes to a simple trellis constructed of fence posts, electrical conduit pipe, and twine.
3. Heliotropes- I always purchase a few heliotropes for my patio. The smell is intoxicating and I love their old fashioned charm. This is the first year I am planning on starting them from seed.
Most of my planning for this year has more to do with long-term restructuring than individual plants, but I do have a new bed of Tristar day neutral strawberries I was able to put in last fall. I’m hoping for a much extended strawberry season by adding those to the June bearers. I am encouraging more natives to spread and self-sow along the front of my property, where I put in a dry streambed a couple of years ago to catch a neighboring spring before it goes down the street. This has worked very well to provide groundwater into the summer.
I’ll be continuing the attempt to eradicate a bed of one native, Asclepias speciosa, which got away from me even though I knew it would be a spreader and was watching it. (Anyone want any? NOT recommended for small spaces). I’ve been collecting Carex, both native and non, to evaluate which are best for gardens here (durable, non-running, attractive year-round). In my vegetable garden, I will NOT be growing potatoes this year. Last year’s large crop was riddled with wireworm, so I want to give the beds a rest. I may just grow summer cover crops, and grains that can serve that purpose, except for tomatoes, which I always grow a few of.
I’m excited to grow moringa again. Moringa is a superfood, very nutrient dense, and I think the foliage is quite aesthetically pleasing. Moringa prefer warmer weather, so the plants will grow all summer and then go dormant for the fall/winter. We planted the moringa in containers so we can move them around seasonally without disturbing the roots. We have a few dormant moringa plants hanging out in the greenhouses at Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture that are waiting for the return of sunny weather.
Everyone at the ILC Garden is excited to grow Lagos Spinach (Celosia argentea) again. Lagos Spinach (also called Nigerian Spinach, or Efo Shoko) is in the Amaranth family and has beautiful reddish-purple leaves with a bitter taste that really adds to the flavor profile of salads, soups & stir-fries.
Lagos spinach is not quite as bitter as some of the other amaranth leaves I’ve tasted before. As you might deduce from the name, the plant is indigenous to West Africa, but they seemed to be well adapted to the soils and climate of the Willamette Valley summer. Very heat and drought tolerant!!! The plant flowers later in the season, which is an added bonus for pollinators. The lagos spinach was such a lovely addition to the garden last summer… I’ve included a picture, the Lagos spinach is nestled between the collards and sunflowers in the photo.
I also plan to try growing more watermelon this year. We only planted two watermelon plants at the ILC Garden last year, and they did not fair well. We transplanted them a bit late, so I don’t think they had enough time to reach maturity. This year I’m dedicating about 150 sqft under the high tunnel for growing watermelon!
I don’t have any plans for planting this spring, as there is very little outdoor space at my house in Corvallis, and the indoor space is currently dominated by my twin brother’s many, many succulents, and his newly indoor orange tree. But at my family’s farm, my mom has endeavored these past few pandemic years to bring back her pre-children garden that she loved to work in.
This spring she is planning on planting some different types of tomato plants, as we are a tomato loving family. She also loves to plant sunflowers every year, and we have a measuring contest on which one gets the tallest. I think this year she is going to try her hand at growing different types of peppers and squash. I know she is very excited, and loves to try to to grow many different things, so if anyone has any suggestions, she would love to hear them.
In terms of growing food for the animals, the goats love to eat any (safe) leftovers, or any overripe harvests. Anything they don’t like, the pigs are more than happy to clean up! So we don’t grow anything specific, but some favorites are sunflower seeds for the goats, and potatoes for the pigs. Included here is our goat Nutmeg and her babies from last summer, waiting for some treats!
We don’t have a vegetable garden going yet, but last year we had an amazing cover crop mix for the paddocks that were “renovated” by our pigs. The mix included amaranth, field peas, squash, sunflowers, chia, sesame, millet, sorghum, flax, a variety of cereal grains, and other things that I couldn’t identify. It was certainly the most unusual pasture forage that I’ve seen, but our cows and sheep loved it!
Let us know what you’re looking forward to growing this yearby commenting below!
In the Garden Ecology Lab,
researchers are studying specific pieces of the garden ecology puzzle,
including soil nutrient levels, pollinators, and native plants. But what
exactly is “garden ecology”, and why is studying it important?
Let’s start by defining our
terms. If you hear the word “garden”, some pretty specific pictures may come to
mind, but it is really a very broad term, encompassing anything from pots on a
patio to acres of arboretum. A garden is by definition a human-influenced system
involving plants, but there are many human-influenced landscapes that are not
considered gardens, such as agricultural fields (though gardens may grow food),
golf courses (though a garden could include a putting green), tree farms
(though many gardens have trees), and parks (though ornamental plants may grow in
Brittanica defines a garden as a “Plot of ground where herbs, fruits, flowers, vegetables, or trees are cultivated.” This suggests that the keys are variety and control. A garden is typically composed of a variety of different plants and types of spaces…not unlike a natural ecosystem! In addition, there is the element of control (cultivation). Human choice and aesthetic sensibilities strongly influence what plants grow in a garden. Even a very naturalistic garden has some human-imposed order in it, or it wouldn’t be a garden.
we get to “ecology”. Ecology is a relatively new natural science, with
beginnings in the early 1900’s, when scientists in Europe and the U.S. began to
study plant communities. At first animal and plant communities were studied
separately, but eventually American biologists began to emphasize the interrelatedness
of both communities.1
word Ecology (originally oekologie) comes from the Greek oikos, meaning “household,” “home,” or “place to live”,
so ecology is the study of the relations and interactions between organisms and
their environment – the place they live. Brittanica further clarifies that “These
interactions between individuals, between populations, and between organisms
and their environment form ecological systems, or ecosystems.”
of ecology most often takes place in natural, or near-natural, areas, such as a
forest, meadow or mountain. Ecologists study these wilderness environments,
searching for guidance on how to restore degraded ones. This reinforces the common
concept of nature as being “out there”, far away from where most people live.
ecology studies parks, greenbelts, and forest preserves – the large, public
green spaces of a city. But garden ecology? Can something as small as most
gardens have an ecology at all? And why should we care?
Well, if you have a garden, and spend much time caring for it, then you are a part of the ecology of that place. Every person who manages a plot of land, however small, is part of the ecology of that land, and all of them together, along with the other people and parts of a city, form the ecology of that city. What is done on those small plots, what grows and lives (or doesn’t) on each one, multiplied by hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands of individual plots, has the potential to influence the ecosystem – and the health – of the entire city.
deeply-entrenched American reverence for lawns means that, at present, the
relatively barren landscape of manicured, often chemical-soaked turf is the
dominant ecosystem in most cities. Ecologically speaking, such sites don’t
contribute much to the local ecosystem.
But that is changing, as more people become aware that a diverse, densely-planted landscape can support a diverse cast of fauna and provide many ecosystem services, including carbon sequestration. This enriches the local ecosystem immeasurably. If this stewardship ethic can be multiplied by even a fraction of the yards in a city, we will begin to see that “garden ecology” is another name for OUR ecology. It is the interrelationship of we humans to the plants and animals, stones and streams, among which we make our homes. It is part of understanding that nature is not just far away, in pristine wilderness. Nature is right here, sipping nectar from your flowers, nesting in your trees, burrowing under your feet and buzzing past your nose.