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Butterfly in butterfly garden

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My daughters and I started a butterfly garden a couple of years ago, though we have seen a few butterflies pass by this was the first time we have been able to capture one on camera. 

This butterfly was visiting our butterfly bush, which for by many standards is basically a noxious weed.  But it doesn’t need much water, makes pretty flowers, and butterflies/bees like it so seems like a good plant to me.

Multiple rain barrels hooked up with common garden hose connectors

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Last summer I setup some cheap rain barrels which I describe in this post which worked great though had one major flaw.  If you wanted to do some maintenance or add any new barrels you would have to literally have to saw them apart.  This time around I came up with a design that is not only simple but can be done with almost no tools and uses common garden hose connectors.

Materials needed

 

Construction

Knowing Pascal’s principle I wanted to take advantage of all the height I could safely get.  I chose to elevate my rain barrels by taking cinder blocks 2 wide and 3 high.  I then place two 4”X4” lumber cut at 4 foot lengths to provide a few additional inches of height, but also provide some room for my connections under the barrels.

Now I have a firm foundation not it is time to get these barrels hooked together so I can get maximum water pressure and access to the water in all of the barrels.

The caps on the barrels (pretty common) I picked up had a nice feature of including some nice threads on the inside of them.  This provides me a nice 1 inch thread I can get a nice tight seal.  The only problem these are sealed closed.

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Not having a drill bit just under one inch in diameter I used a pocket knife to carefully cut the inner cap off being careful to not harm the threads.

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Whats also great about this threads is they match that of standard garden hose connections.  So my taking the male end of one of the garden hose splitter with a 4-5 wrappings in Teflon plumbers tape and screw it into the cap you opened up in the previous step.  Repeat this process for all of your remaining rain barrels.

Note: This addition of Teflon plumbers tape is technically optional should be water tight without this but seems like a cheap insurance for the alternative of having a slow leak under your barrels.

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Next add one end of male the garden hose to the end you typically would hook up to your faucet and hook the other end (other male end created using Male garden hose mender mentioned above.  For this I cut an old garden hose which had a couple leaks in it to proper length since obviously 25 feet of hose between barrels would be some serious overkill.

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If you have more than two rain barrels you can then use short lengths of typical garden hose (one male/one female) and link them together in a similar manner.

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For overflow I went with a pretty simple option of drilling a hole and manually threading a pipe fitting that attached to piece of tubing (easy finds at your local home improvement store)

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Better picture of overflow…this tube goes right down to the drain the water used to flow down with the drain spout.  So once all the barrels are full all the excess water will just flow down here.

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Speaking of the drain spout I used some cheap vinyl drain pieces to redirect the water into a 3 inch hole I cut in the top of the barrels.

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I added a piece of screen to filter out the leaves and little piece of sediment that may come from the roof.  I also screwed on a plastic lid I scavenged from the recycling bin which I cut a matching 3 inch hole into.  This had a decent lip on the lid to help direct the water into the barrels when the rain starts coming down pretty hard.

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Overall I really like how this came out.  Not only does this allow me to easily add new rain barrels and I decide to add them but I also with the valves on the 2 way garden hose splitter I can easily start/stop flow from any barrel and do maintenance on another barrel without having to draining all of the water from the system.

How to make the most of a small garden

Today’s post was written by Ricky, who works for www.SwallowAquatics.co.uk. Ricky is a garden lover and enjoys nothing more than spending time in his own, diminutive but beautiful garden.

So the size of your yard leaves a little – okay, a lot – to be desired, but that doesn’t mean you should permanently hang up your secateurs. You’ll be surprised at what you can squeeze into your space with a little ingenuity. Check out our tips below, and let us know your ideas!

Wall to wall

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Image credit: The Blue Girl

When floor space is limited, it’s time to get creative with other surfaces. One trend that is particularly popular in small gardens is the living wall, or wall garden idea. There are various ways to create an interesting, structured display such as in the image above, but climbers such as ivy, honeysuckle and roses will work just as well and create a more unruly feel.

Hanging baskets are another great option for your vertical garden – as long as you hang them appropriately to avoid injuries! Check out some more ideas on how to structure your walled garden here.

Color pop

Sticking with the vertical surfaces idea, it’s important to make the most of any patches of wall or fence that peek through in between your plants and pots. You could paint walls or fences in a bright color to add interest even on the drabbest of days, or even use the space as a canvas and create a mural. Check out these tips on how to paint your fence well.

Man in the mirror

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Image credit: jimwolffman

Mirrors are a small room’s best friend – and that applies to your outdoor room, too. Just like they do indoors, mirrors will make your garden seem bigger than it is by creating the illusion of extra space. Make sure you treat or the frame of your mirror so that it is protected from the elements.

Twinkle, twinkle

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Image credit: Wonderlane

Garden lights don’t have to be restricted to tacky Christmas novelties, and there’s no need for your garden to end up looking like Blackpool Illuminations. As well as offering a little extra security during the darker hours, a few lawn lights will allow you to enjoy your garden for much longer and, when placed cleverly, can make use of the space to show off the best aspects of your garden.

Whether you want something subtle, or a more grotto-like feel as in the photo above, go for solar options for a low cost, environmentally friendly option. Here are a few tips on how to go about installing solar lighting in your yard.

How to prevent weeds in your garden

I doubt there is anyone who enjoys pulling weeds, though now at the end of the season is a great time to do some preventive measures to prevent new growth next season.

Kill your weeds early: The sooner you pull your weeds the easier it is to keep up with them.  In addition, if you pick the weeds before the mature and flower and drop seeds you will save a ton of time pulling weeds for every one of those seeds that drop.  Call me old fashioned but I normally skip the whole herbicide method and just pull the weeds by hand.  Not only does your lawn or garden immediately look better, there is no coming back to see if the weeds need another dose of spray and the whole environmental part of keeping some chemicals out of our water system.

Mulch: This is one I didn’t completely understand until I had been gardening for a while.  I for one never have found “beauty bark” beautiful and have always preferred the more natural look and benefits of fertile soil.  But that is entirely why you want to use a mulch such as ground bark, straw, pine needles, leaves, newspaper, rubber bark, or even some old carpet.  This helps prevent weeds in twp ways.  First, it blocks light from the potential little weed seedlings to make their way to the surface.  Second, they are not fertile mediums to grow seeds, which is exactly what you are looking for for your large flower beds which like to create good crops of weeds.  As a final benefit they help insulate and hold water down for the plants you want to thrive having great growth and eventually shading out those “poor” weed seedlings.  just 3-4 inches during the fall and your back should be bending over much less next spring.

If you are thinking, “What about my vegetable garden?  I want seeds to be able to grow in there next year.”  For your vegetable garden I highly recommend chopped leaves and a vegetable garden mulch.  If you happen to have a leaf blower/vacuum that will chop them up all you need to do is empty those bags in a thin 1-2 inch layer across your garden.  I used to have one of these though accidentally sucked up a rock which didn’t “chop” well and broke it so the alternate method I use is the following.  Bag your leaves throughout the fall and once the leaves stop falling dump them out in a long row in your yard.  Then use you lawnmower with bagger attachment and run them over until they are all chopped up.  You can also do this more frequently during the fall but I find this a good time to use all the gas in the lawnmower before the end of winter feeling more like I am doing something more meaning other than just letting the mower sit there until it burns off the remaining fuel.  With these leaves on the surface you smother any weed seeds and also block out all light to the soil.  When spring time comes you simply work in the decomposed leaves into the soil and your garden has a head start with some good organic matter.

Pre-emergent weed control: For some parts of your yard like your lawn mulching is not really an options so to protect against pesky weeds like one of my personally loathing weed, annual bluegrass.  Which grows and seeds so close to the ground it is nearly impossible to pull the plants to prevent the spreading.  Pre-emergent herbicides is the solution to this problem.  Pre-emergent herbicides work by preventing weed seeds from germination by inhibiting cell division in their tiny root system.  Given these plants are annuals a successful application can rid you yard of these weeds until they eventually blower over from a neighbors.  Pre-emergent herbicides can be purchased as a chemical or the organic method is applying glutton corn meal which normally can be purchased from your local feed store.  One thing to remember is that this also will prevent you normal grass seed from germinating as well so be sure to time your application after with with enough lead time to allow the pre-emergent from wearing off.

Grow a cover crop:  Growing a cover crop has two major benefits to your garden.  Various legumes, grasses, and buckwheat make good options for for cover crops to plants while you garden is empty.  First it creates a natural shade from the sun making it hard (or impossible) for seedlings are the surface to survive under their great shadows.  Second it provides organic mater as “green manure” to add nutrients to your soil.  One recommendation is to make sure you do a little research on the plant you choose as a cover crop, if you accidentally wait too long to “harvest” your cover crop it could go to seed and you may have an entirely new weed problem on your hands.

Cook the soil:  When all else fails apply some black plastic (thicker the better) covering to your planting beds and let them “cook” throughout the fall/winter.  Like mulch this will prevent any light and most water from entering the areas covered.  This will essentially cook the soil killing any weeds, seeds, fungi, or anything else living in that area.  Though this is very effective in eliminating weeds and disease from your soil it also kills everything else including good bacteria that your friendly worms like to visit your garden, so you soil may take sometime to recover and return to becoming living soil.  I would recommend this method as a last result when the previous methods have proven to be completely unsuccessful.

Just for some positive outlook, you can also think of weeds as green manure assuming you are adding these to your compost, so even out of control they still can decompose and help your garden…

Make your own cheap butterfly feeder



As the days are getting longer (happy first day of summer) it is actually starting to get a little warmer even here in the Pacific Northwest so decided it would be a good time to add our homemade butterfly feeder to our butterfly garden, but first we actually had to make it.

If you want to make your own here is all you need:

– Plastic/glass container (baby jar, water bottle, etc)

– Nail

– Pliers

– Lighter (not pictured)

– Cotton or sponge

Steps to have your own buttery feeder in your garden:

1. Heat up nail with lighter (or candle) using pliers to avoid pain on your fingers.

2. Use hot nail to burn a hole through the plastic.

3. Stuff some cotton (swab, ball, shirt) or a piece of sponge in the hole and tight as possible.

4. Decorate with markers (make sure to have some red) plastic flowers etc (Optional but funnier for the kids)

5. Fill with some butterfly nectar (recipe below) and hang by some of your colorful flowers

Butterfly/Hummingbird Nectar
Ingredients:
¼ cup of sugar
1 cup of water
3 drops of red food coloring [optional]

Directions:
Add sugar and water to water bottle and shake. If you are using raw organic sugar bring water to boil and mix in sugar. Butterfly nectar is good for 2-3 weeks and water in feeder should be replaced a 3-4 days.

Does this all seem like too much work? Well you can also simply place over ripened fruit (bananas, apples, peaches, orange slices, etc) on a plate and your butterflies will love it.
Read Other Butterfly Garden Posts

Planting our butterfly garden

Yesterday with the weather almost getting to 60 seemed like a good day to try sow some of our vegetable seeds outside for our butterfly garden. I tried to make things organized by grouping the Black-eyed Susan, purple coneflowers, zinnias, and nasturtiums, but my daughter decided to distribute the seeds a little more random. I am sure the butterflies won’t mind and guess it should look a little closer to how nature would do it.

I have learned from my years of gardening I normally am too optimistic about when seeds can be planted outside so as a backup plan we also planted some of the same seeds indoors which are currently trying to push their way closer to the PC grow box.

Read Other Butterfly Garden Posts

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