Author: Melanie Haiken

Creating a Fall Vegetable Garden

local vegetables

The cooler days of autumn may mean the end of tomato season, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to put away your gardening tools. Vegetable gardening can bring you just as much satisfaction in the fall as during the spring and summer, as long as you follow the guidelines for your area and climate. And fall vegetable gardening has some unexpected advantages, too. Numerous vegetables actually grow better in the fall, when they don’t have to withstand the stress of blasting heat and there’s more moisture in the air. Some even produce richer colors and stronger flavors – beets, for example, attain a deeper red and sweeter flavor in the fall. And there are other advantages as well, such as fewer insects and less competition from invasive weeds.

Start your fall vegetable garden planning by making a list of what you’d like to plant. The most important question, of course: What do you like to eat? Another important factor to take into account is the date your region typically experiences the first frost, and how cold it’s likely to get. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower, greens like kale, lettuce, and spinach, and root vegetables like turnips and carrots are all good fall choices for most geographic regions of the U.S. Other popular winter vegetables, depending on region, include radishes, onions, peas, and more.

Before choosing varieties, check the length of its growing season, which is typically listed as “days to maturity.” This information is particularly important for those who live in cold-winter climates, because your plants need to reach harvest before it gets too cold for them to survive. 

Some vegetables withstand winter cold better than others – for example, carrots can survive temperatures as low as 15 degrees, and cauliflower has been known to survive down to 10 degrees. You can also help your garden withstand freezing by covering it with a row cover, or even with an old sheet, when you expect temperatures to drop.

Next, you’ll need to revitalize your soil, which has been depleted of nutrients by summer’s growing frenzy. Turn over the soil to a depth of 8 to 12 inches and add plenty of compost or a good fertilizer that contains fish oil, manure, or other natural enrichments. Mix it in thoroughly until the soil looks dark and crumbly.  

Unless you live in the southwest or another dry or desert climate, your garden may need less water now, and in some areas fall weather can be frustratingly unpredictable. For those reasons, fall is the perfect time to install an Orbit B-hyve Smart Indoor/Outdoor Sprinkler Timer, which uses proprietary WeatherSense technology to compile local weather data and adjust the watering schedule based on these predictions. WeatherSense also takes into account soil type, sun exposure, and how level your garden is to deliver just the right amount of moisture.

Start a vegetable garden now, and you’ll have the enjoyment of a harvest to brighten the darker, shorter days to come.

Optimizing Your Waterflow

In the heat of summer, water usage becomes a hot topic (sorry!) as gardeners seek to keep plants and lawns green and healthy without running up astronomical water bills. And water conservation is becoming an urgent concern, as 40 out of 50 state water managers expect their states to experience water shortages in the coming years, according to one report. So, what to do? Use water more wisely of course! And these 5 strategies will help you do it, while keeping your plants and lawn healthier and happier along the way.

Use Smart Tech to Customize Water Use

Imagine a sprinkler system that knows there’s a storm coming before you do and turns itself off. That’s the beauty of the B-hyve Smart Indoor/Qutdoor Irrigation Controller from Orbit, which collects local weather data using WeatherSense technology and automatically adjusts your watering schedule to accommodate. When manual operation is preferred, B-hyve smart timers also allow you to set up and switch between several watering programs for maximum flexibility. And you can control remotely from your smartphone — Android or iPhone — from anywhere in the world! 

Get Greater Control of Lawn Sprinklers

Lawns require frequent watering to keep your grass lush and soft. But if you use a hose-end sprinkler, chances are you occasionally forget to turn it off and wind up wasting water. Luckily, there’s a solution for that, the B-hyve Smart Hose Watering Timer, which takes care of the remembering for you. There’s a smart timer for underground sprinkler systems, too: the B-hyve XR smart indoor/outdoor sprinkler timer.

Set Up Your Plants to Water Themselves

Self-watering hacks are all over the internet, with DIY suggestions ranging from putting plants in a bathtub full of water to using upside-down soda bottles and rope wicks. Products for sale run from decorative stakes and bulbs to sophisticated self-watering pots. While these products won’t necessarily minimize your water use, they will allow you to get away for a few days of vacation. 

Monitor Your Usage Before the Water Company Does

Avoid an unpleasant surprise when the water bill comes by tracking your water usage on an ongoing basis with the Orbit Hose Water Flow Meter. Designed to fit any standard garden hose, this simple tool tracks each watering episode as well as total water consumption. Or track all the water usage in your home with the Flume Smart Water Flow Monitor, which can alert you to leaks and overuse. 

Don’t Let Site Conditions Steal Your Water

Every garden has its own unique characteristics when it comes to soil, slope, sun and shade and these four S’s have a major effect on water use. For example, clay soils absorb water much more slowly than sandy soils and may need to be watered at intervals in order to reach the roots. Interval watering is likewise helpful in a hillside lawn to prevent wasteful runoff. Knowing your yard profile is key to a healthy lawn and reducing water waste.  B-hyve smart watering controllers allow you to input your soil type and amount of incline to calculate optimum water use.

By putting as many of these practices as you can into place, you just might out-smart your water company.

How to Prevent Garden Pests the Natural Way

Garden Enforcer Sprinkler

Garden Enforcer Sprinkler

There’s nothing more frustrating than watching bugs dine out on your carefully tended plants, leaving them droopy, denuded or worst of all, dead. But while your first thought is to head for the pesticide aisle at your garden store, here are some natural options that pose less harm to the environment and fewer risks to the four and two-legged residents of your home.

Start with the Basics: Water

Did you know you can get rid of some garden pests simply by washing them away? That’s right, your hose is your simplest pest management tool. But you’ll get much further by putting some force behind it, so use the X-Stream Watering Wand from Orbit to blast away even the most persistent critters.

Discourage Critters by Spraying

Water also works well to prevent plants from being eaten by animal pests such as gophers, moles, and deer – use the yard enforcer motion detector to instantly activate your watering system and send them scurrying.

Banish with Beer

You’re not the only one who likes a tasty craft brew — snails and slugs are attracted by that rich, yeasty smell. Use tuna cans or something else with a deep rim so they fall in when they come for a cold one. Fruit juice is almost as effective.

Suds Away

Gardeners in the know stretch their garden dollars by making a homemade insecticidal spray with dish soap, vegetable oil, and water. The most common recipe: 2.5 tablespoons dish soap and 2.5 tablespoons of vegetable oil per gallon of water. Add two tablespoons of hot pepper sauce to the brew to keep even more varieties of pests away. 

Go Strong with Garlic

Apparently pests dislike garlic just as much as vampires do. To protect houseplants, stick a clove of garlic into the soil. Outdoors, make a spray by crushing six cloves of garlic and pouring a quart of boiling water over it to make a concentrate. Dilute again by half, then put into a spray bottle, first straining out the garlic bits so they don’t clog the nozzle. 

Keep Away with Copper

A safe, non-toxic way to keep slugs and snails out of garden beds is to line the edge with copper strips. Slugs and snails hate copper and won’t cross it, and you won’t have to kill them to keep them at bay. 

Mix in the Marigolds

That pungent smell you may have noticed emanating from marigolds is repellant to whiteflies and thrips, making them the perfect disruptive neighbor in your garden beds. At the same time, marigolds attract beneficial insects like ladybugs which attack and kill aphids, and the roots are toxic to hornworms and nematodes.

This is just the beginning when it comes to natural pest control — mint, neem oil, and many other ingredients can be added to homemade sprays to boost their potency. So have fun with that kitchen chemistry and say goodbye to garden pests.

Plants are the New Healing Crystals

Plants as Healing Crystals

Plants as Healing Crystals

Throughout history, crystals have been used to promote health and well being, so it’s no wonder that their popularity is on the rise. Plants feature in ancient medicine in much the same way, used to convey energy, vitality, relaxation, and other healthful qualities. In fact, just as you might choose between turquoise, jasper, and rose quartz based on their specific properties, you can select one or more of the plants below to bring you the benefits you seek.

Relaxation:  Lavender and Jasmine

Amethysts are a favorite of crystal enthusiasts, as much for their renown in relieving anxiety and dispersing negative thoughts as for their radiant violet color. A plant with fragrant flowers the same deep purple color, lavender shares amethyst’s healing properties. Studies show that inhaling the scent of lavender actually decreases heart rate and lowers blood pressure. Scenting your bedroom with lavender can help you relax and sleep more deeply, too.

Another popular flowering plant known for its ability to relax and rejuvenate is jasmine, a highlight of many aromatherapy regimens. So beneficial that its name means “Gift from God,” jasmine is a potent stress-fighter that reduces inflammation and helps prevent cardiovascular disease.

Good Health and Vitality: Sunflowers and Peace Lilies

Sunflowers don’t just look cheery – these brightly colored members of the aster family have been under cultivation for more than 5,000 years for their nutrient-packed seeds which can be ground into flour and pressed to produce a rich, skin-healing oil.

An indoor plant with similar benefits is the peace lily, considered so effective at improving air quality that it’s been certified by NASA for its ability to cleanse the air of toxins like benzene, formaldehyde, and carbon monoxide. A tropical plant most commonly grown indoors, peace lilies are not only good for your health, they’re easy to care for, requiring only indirect or filtered light to thrive.

Energy and Vitality: Echinacea 

Among the many crystals with healing properties, quartz reigns supreme, promoting energy and well-being, and amplifying the benefits of other crystals. Like quartz, echinacea is a powerful health-promoter that tops most lists of important medicinal plants. A daisy-like perennial also known as coneflower, echinacea is an immune-booster found in many herbal remedies for cold and flu prevention.

Better Sleep: Gardenia 

Gardenias are more than elegant corsages, they’re also nature’s sleeping pills. Thanks to the presence of certain phytochemicals, they have much the same ability to induce slumber as many prescription sleep aids.  In fact, the waxy white flowers are being studied as a relaxant to treat sleep disorders. Notoriously finicky about watering and drainage, gardenias will thank you for installing a B-hyve smart hose watering timer to protect their roots from rot.

Mental Clarity: Mint and Rosemary

There’s a reason a sprig of mint tastes so refreshing in a drink on a hot summer’s day. Menthol, the primary component in mint’s distinctive flavor, stimulates the area of the brain that controls memory and clarity.  One member of the mint family, peppermint, has been found in studies to boost alertness and decrease frustration levels while learning.

When adding mint to your kitchen garden, why not put in some rosemary, too? In addition to being a popular ingredient in sauces, soups, and stews, rosemary has been found to increase concentration and sharpen memory. According to one study, smelling rosemary before a cognitive test increased memory capacity by 75 percent. Maybe Shakespeare was onto something when he wrote the line “there’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.”

Introduce some of these fragrant and beneficial plants to your home environment, and you just might find your mind and body becoming as healthy as your garden ecosystem.

8 Tips for Better Entertaining Outdoors

Entertaining Outdoors

Entertaining Outdoors

These days, most of us are living life outdoors as much as we possibly can. And when it comes to entertaining, it’s all about making your yard and garden into comfortable places where you enjoy time with family and friends. Here is a wealth of ways to make outdoor socializing fun, festive, and safe.

Get Creative with Lighting

There’s nothing like fairy lights to turn the most ordinary backyard into a magical landscape. Drape trees, fences, and gazebos in strings of colored lights hang decorative solar globe lights from trees, and line paths with glowing torches. For an extra fun touch, put remote-controlled flameless candles inside decorative metal lanterns, then “light” them all at once with the press of a button.

Think Outdoor Rooms

Turn your deck or patio into a den with couches, armchairs, and outdoor rugs and you might find no one ever wants to come inside. Speaking of which, no need to escape to air conditioning when you have Orbit’s Flex Cobra Personal Mist Cooling Sprayer to keep everyone cool. And it’s fun for the kids to play in, too. 

Bank on Buffets

For alfresco dining, dish up farmhouse-style from a long table set up so that guests can serve themselves while maintaining distance. (Make sure each dish has a serving spoon that is used only for filling individual plates.) Consider setting up blankets on the lawn for picnic-style dining or several small cafe tables so that family groups can sit together yet apart.  

Keep Things Cozy

Just because temperatures drop doesn’t mean you have to abandon the outdoors. Stock up on soft throw blankets that you can pass out to guests at the first hint of evening chill. (Choose easy-care fabric and launder after each use.) Heat lamps go a step further – just make sure you choose a heater that can warm a large area so that people don’t have to crowd in.

Make Your Lawn a Playground

These days backyards are doing double duty as playgrounds and sports fields, so it pays to keep your lawn greener with a customized sprinkler schedule thanks to the B-hyve Smart Indoor/Outdoor Irrigation Controller. And make sure you have lots of fun gear on hand like soccer balls, badminton, and croquet to keep everyone busy. 

Banish the Bugs

Keep mosquitos and other pesky intruders from crashing the party by having plenty of bug-banishing solutions at hand. Effective options include mosquito coils and smoke sticks, citronella candles, and zapper lanterns. Even better, plant marigolds, which are the nemesis of flying insects, and give them a good soak every few days with the help of the B-hyve Smart Hose Watering Timer.

Gather Around the Campfire

Nothing brings people together like the flickering light of a fire, so it’s no surprise that fire pits are having a moment. Another popular option is the Mexican outdoor fireplace called a chiminea, typically made from terra cotta clay. Either way, stock up on marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate since s’mores will be in demand. 

Turn Your Yard into a Drive-In

Set up a screen and projector —- or even just a laptop and oversize monitor —- and you’ve got everything you need to premiere the latest summer blockbuster. You can even go for the true drive-in experience by hanging a white bed sheet from a fence or curtain rod to make a full-size screen. To complete the cinematic experience, make the menu burgers and root-beer floats —- and don’t forget the popcorn!

5 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Use as Fertilizer

Fertilizer
Fertilizer

Loam for cultivation.

No matter how healthy your soil is, chances are your plants can’t get all the nutrients they need without the occasional help of fertilizer. But before you head to the garden store, look around – here are five natural fertilizers that you won’t have to go far to find.

1. Banana Peels

At more than 40 percent potassium, banana peels are one of the best organic sources for this important nutrient which supports the growth of strong roots and stems. Bananas are also rich in other minerals like calcium and manganese, which aid photosynthesis.

You can bury whole banana peels at the bottom of beds when planting, or chop them up and use as a mulch. Some gardeners recommend putting them in the blender to make a puree. If you have overripe bananas but can’t get to the gardening, don’t worry, you can freeze the skins and defrost them when you’re ready to use.

2. Coffee Grounds

After you brew up your morning pot, hang onto those grounds – they’re rich in potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen, the three key ingredients in commercial fertilizer. They also contain calcium, magnesium, and antioxidants and attract earthworms, offering an additional boost for soil health. If your java consumption doesn’t meet your plants’ needs, ask at your local café; many will give coffee grounds to anyone who asks nicely!

You can put coffee grounds directly onto plants, but it’s best to rake them into the soil to avoid forming a crust that could inhibit watering. Some gardeners prefer to let the grounds dry before applying, while others dump them straight out of the press.

3. Eggshells

Eggshells are more than 90 percent calcium carbonate, the same ingredient found in lime, a traditional soil amendment. So it’s easy to see why gardeners love to crush them up and use them in compost. (Oyster shells have a similar nutritional makeup but are much harder to use.)

Calcium works to break down other soil nutrients, particularly nitrogen, and supports minerals in moving through a plant’s system.

To speed up the availability of the calcium, you can pound or grind the eggshells up and soak them in a few tablespoons of vinegar overnight. Eggshells can also be used to keep away slugs since they can’t crawl over the sharp edges.

4. Epsom Salts

While they look like salt crystals, Epsom salts are actually a naturally occurring mineral known as magnesium sulfate, a compound of magnesium, sulfur and oxygen. This makes them valuable to plants like roses, tomatoes and peppers that need a lot of magnesium to thrive.

Magnesium boosts photosynthesis, aiding the production of chlorophyll for green and healthy growth. In addition, magnesium helps plants better absorb nitrogen and phosphorous, boosting flower and fruit production.

Add a tablespoon of Epsom salts to the soil at planting time, scratch the granules into the soil around the roots, or dilute the same amount of magnesium in a gallon of water.

5. Molasses

It’s not just for gingerbread anymore – molasses is the secret weapon of many organic gardeners, who use it as a sugar source to increase the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the soil. When applied with liquid organic nitrogen fertilizer, molasses helps the bacteria break down the nutrients so plants can use them more efficiently. And it doesn’t hurt that molasses is sticky, helping the fertilizer stick around.

To use molasses in gardening, choose an unsulphured variety like blackstrap molasses since sulfur can harm the microbes you’re trying to help. Try adding molasses to the water when starting seeds or transferring seedlings and watch them grow in double time.

10 Things Gardeners Often Neglect

Raised Garden Beds

Raised Garden Beds

Whether your garden is a cluster of pots on a patio or fire escape or a backyard spanning acres, taking care of demanding plants can be a challenge. Here are 10 things gardeners often overlook that can make a big difference in whether your gardening experience is discouraging or delightful.

 

  1. Nurturing the Soil

 

Soil is the foundation of every garden, so it’s important to know your soil type, from sandy to clay to loam, and add amendments as necessary. (Take a handful to a local nursery when in doubt.) Container gardening offers more control over the soil, but even the richest potting mix becomes depleted over time, so enrich the soil with each new growing season.

 

  1. Following the Sun

 

Sun – some plants can’t get enough of it, others wither in its glare. Before planning your garden, take note of the sun patterns in each planting location, paying attention to morning and evening angles as well as when the sun is overhead. Next, read up on the sun requirements of any plant before you choose its permanent location, and don’t be afraid to shift things around if a plant seems unhappy.

 

  1. Staking Early and Often 

 

It’s easy to forget when tucking two-inch seedlings into the ground that many plants grow very quickly, especially in the summer months. Left untended, they’ll sprawl in directions you don’t intend or even break if they get too top-heavy. The solution: set up wire cages, poles, arbors, and trellises soon after planting to give plants a head start on support.

 

  1. Watering Too Much or Too Little

 

Believe it or not, both of these are common mistakes – and many of us do both! That’s because plants evolved to draw water from the soil in specific conditions and they need just enough water to thrive. The solution? Install a drip irrigation system that mimics the effects of nature like Orbit’s All-In-One Sprinkler Kit with B-hyve timer. Covering up to 2,500 square feet with a simple hose connection makes setting up a nature-mimicking watering system a snap – and you’ll save water, too.

 

  1. Thinning Out The Crowd

 

Overcrowding can result in some plants shading others and root systems competing for space and nutrients. It’s not easy to dig up a plant you’ve nurtured, but remember that when you remove some to give others space, you’re doing them all a favor in the long run.

 

  1. Setting an Auto-Timer

 

With our busy lives and unpredictable schedules, a timer is an essential part of any irrigation system. But setting your system to water for 20 minutes every Tuesday doesn’t help if a heatwave or a sudden burst of wet weather hits. Orbit’s B-hyve Smart Hose Watering Timer with WiFi hub solves that problem by regulating itself according to online weather data. And it connects over your smartphone so you can control it anywhere – even from your cabin in the mountains.

 

  1. Keeping Weeds at Bay

 

Weeds aren’t just unsightly, they’re also aggressive spreaders, which is how they came to be in your garden in the first place. To prevent weeds from pushing your plants aside, pull them while they’re still young and haven’t done much damage.

 

  1. Feeding with Fertilizer

 

Even the best soil gets depleted over time as plants draw nutrients from the soil and water washes them away. Use fertilizer at least once a month and more often for container and house plants.

 

  1. Pruning and Deadheading 

 

As flowers fade, plants begin channeling their energy into seed development. To encourage repeat blooming, prune branches or pinch off dead blooms, a process known as deadheading.

 

  1. Replacing a Non-Starter

 

Give yourself permission to replace plants that aren’t living up to expectations, offering the discards to friends and neighbors when you can. Real estate is as valuable in the garden as elsewhere and every spot counts.

 

Here at Orbit, we’ve found that following these tips results in happier plants, lower water use, and a greener garden the neighbors can’t help but notice.