Greengirls Helen Yarmoska, Nicole Hvidsten, Martha Buns, Connie Nelson, Kim Palmer and Mary Jane Smetanka are dishin' the dirt from the back-yard garden and beyond. Whether you're a greenthumb or greenhorn, they're eager to learn from your mishaps, mistakes - and most importantly, your sweet successes - all growing season long.

Posts about Critters and pests

One step closer to fresh produce

Posted by: Nicole Hvidsten Updated: June 18, 2013 - 8:21 AM

Gardeners, we have liftoff.

I was downright giddy when I checked my garden over the weekend and saw the sunflowers peeking through and realized that the carrot seeds did not get washed away after all. Tomatoes are thriving, the strawberries are coming into their own and my herbs become more fragrant by the day. Alas, the poor peppers are trying to stay strong after it appears rabbits used a fair share of their leaves for a tossed salad. But now that my little gardens look like Fort Knox (thanks, Pa!), I expect them to flourish as well.

But something I didn't expect? Just how happy my little gardens make me. I love checking them to see what's new, I love how they look in the corner of my yard and I love that neighbors stop to talk about what's growing and the curse of rabbits. Gardening gives me a different kind of energy, and it's refreshing.

Even the rest of the yard has benefited from the gardens. After a few lackluster year

A little mulch and some hand-me-down pavers dress up the area formerly known as the garden.

A little mulch and some hand-me-down pavers dress up the area formerly known as the garden.

s, the lilac bushes are in full bloom, not wanting to be outdone by the new kid on the block. The space formerly known as the garden was spruced up with mulch and pots of herbs, making it much more pleasing to sit outside on the patio. We even raked the lawn after mowing, and have vowed to be more committed to trimming.  I'm starting to think about the yard in terms of possibilities, not just a chore. (Because really, who needs more chores?) Even the kids are getting into it, with one daughter eyeing the perfect spot for a flower garden with a bench for reading. The ideas are flowing much quicker than time or money allows.

The key to my success, though, is not only making time for gardening but trying to maintain this momentum. It's easy to get excited when the seeds start to sprout or the first tomatoes start to turn -- I can already taste the BLTs -- and we have fresh strawberries with our homemade ice cream. What will happen when the adrenaline wears off and the weeds start to invade? A couple of years ago I might have been more concerned. This time I'm approaching gardening very differently: It's not what gardening does TO me, it's what gardening does FOR me. Yes, I believe I'm hooked.

When did you become hooked on gardening? Did it take a couple of tries? What does gardening do for you?


Oh, deer! Not more garden woes

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: June 11, 2013 - 9:27 AM


So far, nothing is going gardeners' way this growing season. Spring arrived late, with freezes continuing into mid-May, which delayed planting.


Then it was endlessly cool and rainy, giving new gardens plenty of moisture but not enough sun and heat to really flourish. 

Now the deer have invaded. They've eaten every bud off my roses except for a handful on the climbers that are above their reach. The new growth on my coralbells and coneflowers has been nibbled to the nub, to the point that I'm not sure those plants are even going to survive.

I live in an area with a lot of wooded spots -- and deer. They've always been a bit of a garden menace, but it was spotty, a few plants here and there.

Not this year. Every morning, there's fresh evidence of their visits, with new buds sheared off and fewer tender leaves. 

I'm guessing that the lateness of everything green has reduced the amount of new growth in the wild, forcing deer to forage more heavily in gardens.

I haven't done anything to deter them --  yet -- but I may get serious about deer deterrence if this continues.  The National Gardening Association offers advice on its website (

A couple preventive tips: If you're still filling in your garden, try planting things that deer don't especially like. They tend to turn up their noses at ferns, ornamental grasses, plants with fuzzy foliage, plants that taste of lemon, mint or sage, and anything with bitter or spicy foliage, according to the site. 

And if you're fond of fertilizing, you might want to lay off for a while. Excess nitrogen in plant tissue makes foliage especially appetizing to deer.

What's going on in your plot? Are you seeing more deer damage than usual? What's worked for you as far as deer deterrence?



Bees and Bales and Bears, oh my!

Posted by: Helen Yarmoska Updated: May 29, 2013 - 10:59 AM

Several weeks ago, we found two of our bee hives did not make it through the winter.  Whether the hot September, the windy location or the chance of colony collapsing disorder – I’m not sure.  But I did the job of cleaning up the boxes and prepping them for a new family. 

We were too late to order bees from our usual sources, but hoped that maybe one of our friends from the MN Hobby Beekeepers Association might be able to help.  We didn’t get the bees before going up north for Memorial Day and maybe that was a good thing.  BEARS.

Please note that in this picture, you will see wires.  That’s our electric fence powered by a solar charger.  However, after cleaning up the boxes – I forgot to plug back in the charger.  Oops.  Not only did this hungry bear smash through the empty boxes, but she also toppled over my straw bale gardens that I had just started conditioning with blood meal. 

So besides planting my garden, I had more projects to add to the list thanks to nature.  But you know, the bear were there

first, I just need to work around them. 


Speaking of ‘there first,’ Kim Palmer has a great article about planting for pollinators.

As a beekeeper, I need to stress one thing in the article that’s especially important to beekeepers; it’s neonicotinoids.  They are pesticides placed in the soil before you even buy the plants.  The poison helps reduce bugs in the greenhouse so it is used more often than you might think. 

So now I have not only to look out for bears, but for people putting poison in my plants.  Oh my.

Reclaiming the back-yard garden

Posted by: Martha Buns Updated: May 9, 2013 - 9:16 AM


Each spring nesting birds claim their territory, often in the same yard as the year before, even after months away on migration. I feel like I’m the same way with the garden, each year having to reclaim it after months of hibernation when the only back-yard forays were to tromp through crusty snow to the composter.

With the delayed spring, it seems even longer since the yard was “ours,” and the other denizens of our space behave like they have squatter’s rights for having braved out the winter there. Squirrels act as though they’ve secured drilling rights and are trying to dig for oil under every single coral bell. Rabbits clearly found plenty to eat in our yard, sampling anything that wasn’t cordoned off. On the plus side, they saved me the task of trimming back a wayward spirea (which might make it easier to dig up and bring to the May 18 plant swap...) . On the down side, the rabbits treated our raised beds and brick pathways as a latrine. Not my favorite spring cleanup job.

It isn’t just the year-round wildlife that looks at us as though we’ve crashed their pad.  I caught a brief glint of red in a trellis not far from our garage door a few weeks ago and realized it was a female cardinal, giving me the stink-eye from her nest in the tangle of last year’s clematis leaves. Since that clematis is the kind that comes back on old growth, I hadn’t bothered to remove the leaves last fall, leaving an attractive nuisance for our returning cardinals. We traveled  the long way around the house for a week, trying to avoid disturbing Mama cardinal any more than necessary. Luckily, they apparently fledge in just a few weeks, and it will take me at least that long to clean up other garden areas.

Fauna isn't the only thing trying to take over our yard; green grass shoots are thriving in garden plots, blurring the lines of what's yard and what's not. So far I’ve pulled enough leaves and debris off the garden that I’m starting to reclaim its shape. The pathways look like they go somewhere again.

Now to reclaim our raised beds from the bunnies. Even the area protected by netting has turned into bunny heaven, since late last fall a tiny rabbit found it could chew a hole just big enough to give him access to a prime salad bar. Over the winter, the hole was enlarged enough to be the equivalent of a rabbit freeway entrance, so reinforcements need to be deployed. I'm now searching for the best way to do something attractive with chicken wire.

What's your favorite way to protect plants? Or do you just decide to share and share alike with the wildlife in your yard? That's why I plant twice as many tomato plants as I should need, so when the squirrels take half, we get the rest.

Lessons learned from the garden

Posted by: Martha Buns Updated: October 3, 2012 - 7:50 AM

Gardening is a perennial learning opportunity. Every year I learn something new, and relearn the hard way some lessons I know but resist internalizing.

This year, I've learned: That fancy-pants small animal barrier I bought isn't rabbit-proof. It did last until late August before the baby bunny chewed an entrance and exit hole on opposite sides of the netting surrounding the raised bed. The upshot: Better barriers are on the drawing board for next year, the trick being to devise something strong enough to ward off sharp rabbit teeth but attractive enough to not detract from the looks of the back yard.

This year, I've relearned: You only need one kale plant to feed two people, even if you freeze lots of it. Actually you only need half a kale plant to feed two people it it's the four-foot monster out back, but they don't come in halves. The upshot: I'll make sure to pass along three of the four-pack at next year's plant sale.

This year, I've learned: Watering systems aren't forever. Rascally rodents have done a number on parts of our labyrinth of soaker hoses. The upshot: A trip to the garden supply store is in order for replacement parts. No idea how to deter the pests from trying again, but  I'll ponder that in the off season while I'm devising ways to keep them out of my raised beds.

This year I've relearned: The names of some of my plants. I've had a bad habit of planting something obscure and then obscuring (or losing) the ID tag. This year I went back through my receipts and mapped out where the unknown plants were, consolidating my records so I can refer to them again. The upshot: A little bit of inside organization can help you outside.

This year I've relearned: Standard tomato cages just don't bear up under the weight. At some point, I inevitably come home to find an avalanche has occurred and prop up the works with something less than esthetically pleasing. The upshot: I've been googling rebar tomato cages. It's time for industrial strength reinforcement.

Sometimes I do internalize the garden lessons from the previous season. This year I managed to follow through on a lesson from last year: Just because a tomato volunteers some place doesn't mean you have to let it grow there.

What has your garden taught you?



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