Dirt-y secrets: an introductory column on gardening

By Ranel Hansen
Reader Columnist

I am Ranel Hanson. You might know me from my years as the owner of Zany Zebra or from my previous years as an admissions/marketing consultant for special purpose high schools. I have retired those vocations to quarantine in my garden. 

I have an interest in gardening, specifically flowers. I want to cover the world (or at least my yard) with as many budding, blooming things as I possibly can. Being an older person with a lot of gardening years behind me, I have learned some things that might help you, if you haven’t already discovered them for yourself. This is not to say that I am an expert. I am, at best, a hobby gardener. 

Eggshells and salt sprinkled around your leafy greens helps prevent slugs. Courtesy photo.

Every month I will be appearing in the Reader with a few hints for my fellow flower lovers. 

I also am way into bees. Specifically, Mason Bees. They don’t sting, they don’t make honey, they don’t make hives and every female is a queen. What they do — and better than practically any other pollen seeker — is pollinate. They are the Beyoncé of the pollinators. We will talk more about these amazing insects later. They deserve a whole column.

I will also include tips from other local gardeners. There is a whole community of energetic and creative folks who grow flowers and vegetables for the pure joy of it and who love to share what they know. I grow flowers and buy vegetables from the farmers at the local Farmer’s Market, but you can certainly do both.

Now, let’s get to it.

It is summer after a wet spring, so let’s talk about weeds and slugs. Weeding is not something you do once and call it good. No, it is a never-ending summer job — but, it is also meditative and so satisfying when you see a clean bed. 

First, water deeply the night before you weed. Get up early and gather your tools: trowel, bucket or box, knee pads or one of those cool benches that you can kneel or sit on. I like a trowel with one serrated edge. 

Ideally, you want to dig out the root of the weed you’re attacking. Most of the time, they break. That is why weeding is a constant pastime in summer. There are so many kinds of weeds and, after all, they are just unloved flowers. Clover, dandelions, hawkweed, horsetail — all are pretty but not welcome in the garden. So, pull them, dig them, whatever it takes because they will suck the nutrients and water away from your beloved flowers. 

Throw the weeds in your bucket and throw them away. I keep them out of the compost pile because the pile sometimes isn’t hot enough to kill weed seeds. 

An added observation about weeding: It puts you in touch, close up, to your flowers and your soil. The insects are right there, too. Butterflies, bees, ladybugs and earthworms are all there to be appreciated and cared for. 

Please don’t be tempted to use herbicides or pesticides. They are poison for the birds, the bees, the other insects, your pets and you. They travel to our lake, too. It’s more work to dig up weeds but oh so much healthier for everyone.

Now, slugs. They are creatures just trying to make a living. But not on my primroses, zinnias, hostas or dahlias. Oh, I know. Beer in a shallow dish to drown the little buggers. Not my method. I don’t want to dispose of the drowned slug bodies in the morning and it seems like a waste of perfectly good beer. 

Here’s what I do: I save my egg shells all winter and beyond. I throw them in a bucket after rinsing them in water. Then, when I see slugs, I add some Epsom salts to the bucket and crush it all up together. Sprinkle liberally around your plants. The egg shells discourage them, but the salt makes them disappear.

And, your plants will love the salt.

While we have you ...

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