When to Pick Butternut Squash

Butternut Squash Vines

This spring my husband added some soil from one of our compost bins to our front beds, and before long we had butternut squash vines coming up in the front yard. Nice!

Butternut Squash - Not Ripe Yet

Those plump butternut squash have been tempting my taste buds every time I walk past them, but I’m not picking them just yet because I know if I pick them too soon they won’t keep well.

So, how do you know when butternut squash is ready to be picked?

Pick them when …

  • the skins are tan, with no green lines showing
  • the stems are brown, and the vines have died back

Many gardeners also recommend waiting until after the first frost to harvest any winter squash.

To Pick Your Butternut Squash

Be sure to leave two to three inches of the stem intact. If you cut them shorter, they’ll rot quickly. Inspect your squash carefully, and place any with damaged skins or stems in a pile to be used right away. Cure the rest by sticking them in a warm spot with good air circulation for a couple weeks. Turn them regularly to ensure even curing. This will allow the squash to shed some of their water weight and to develop tougher skins, so they store well.

How to Tell When Crabapples are Ripe

Crabapples

I’ve been watching the crabapple trees near our house closely, and it’s almost time to pick them! If you’ve never picked crabapples before, here’s a simple way to tell when they’re ripe and ready! [Read more...]

How to Keep Birds from Eating Your Grapes

Immature Grapes

Our grape experiment was a huge success. Read on for my update.

Grapes are easy to grow, but hard to protect from birds. The first year our grape vines produced, I decided to hold off on netting our grapes, until I saw the first sign of birds munching on them. Well, the very next morning all of our grapes were gone. Clearly the wait and see approach was the wrong approach to take.

Having learned from the experience, we netted our grapes as soon as they set fruit last year. And that worked brilliantly, until a mocking bird figured out how to get inside of our nets. She had quite the feast at our expense, and we were left with just a few grapes (not grape bunches) to sample.

But that’s all in the past. This year, we will be the ones to eat our grapes. And we’ve taken drastic measures to ensure that it ends up that way … [Read more...]

How to Get Rid of Mosquitoes Naturally

Mosquitoes are annoying, but you know what else is annoying? Most of the advice on how to get rid of them. Do a quick web search for “get rid of mosquitoes” and you’ll get two basic pieces of advice:

A. Dump any standing water on your property.

B. Spend a bunch of money spraying your yard with chemicals. Then, repeat the process every two weeks.

That first piece of advice isn’t bad, but that second piece of advice is just plain rotten, in my opinion. I’m not comfortable with the idea of spraying chemicals around my family, and I don’t like broad spectrum insecticides, either. Will they kill the mosquitoes? Sure. But they’ll also kill a lot of beneficial bugs, too. Maybe even some that were eating my mosquitoes.

So what are you supposed to do when dumping your standing water isn’t enough action and spraying your yard with chemicals feels like too much action? You turn to nature for the solution.

And nature is all about balance. If mosquitoes are a problem in your yard, it’s because there aren’t enough predators to keep the population in check. Introduce those predators, and over time, the problem will take care of itself.

So, am I suggesting that you unleash a bunch of scary beasts in your backyard? Not at all. In fact, let me show you what I’ve done to solve the mosquito problem in my own backyard:

Foraging Chickens

We got chickens. Chickens love to eat all sorts of bugs, including mosquitoes. We give them time out of their coop each day to forage, and we get rewarded with fewer pest problems. If a mosquito happens to land on one of us while holding one of our hens, she’ll eat it right off of our arm. Sure beats DEET. Find out more about keeping chickens.

Toad in Bird Bath

We got toads. Toads eat mosquitoes, slugs and other garden pests, so we’ve introduced several into our garden. They’re fairly easy to attract, but you can also buy toads, if you prefer to go that route. Read more about toads.

Bat House

We installed a bat house. Bats eat mosquitoes, beetles, moths and other nuisances bugs. We already have bats in our neighborhood, so we installed a bat house to attract them to our yard. I hope to get a second bat house up soon. Get my instructions for a bat house.

Bird Bath

We’re working to attract dragonflies. Dragonflies are beautiful, and they love to munch on mosquitoes. We don’t have a pond or a large water source to attract them, but we’re doing what we can. So far, we’ve set up a small fountain and several bird baths around our yard to give them a place to lay larvae and hang out. It seems to be working because I recently spotted a dragonfly on my office window. I know having standing water around your yard runs counter to most people’s advice for getting rid of mosquitoes, but it’s okay as long as you have something eating the mosquito larvae. In our case, both the dragonflies and toads are serving this purpose.

Koi Pond

We hope to add a Koi pond someday. A pond full of hungry fish will gobble up your mosquito larvae, while adding a cool feature to your yard. This is on my definite must-do list.

So, Is My Yard Mosquito-Free Now?

No, but it’s much better than it used to be. We can go outside without getting chewed up, and it’s a lot of fun to watch the chickens, toads, bats and dragonflies in action.

Do I Still Use Bug Repellent?

Sometimes. I haven’t really needed it lately, but if I notice mosquitoes, I’ll run back in for one of my homemade bug repellent sticks. It doesn’t have any of the junk that you’d find in store-bought repellents, so I feel good about using it (and letting my kids use it). If you want to experiment, I also have an all-natural bug repellent bar and a bug repellent spray recipe.

Your Mileage May Vary: While this method of mosquito control works well for me (and my small suburban lot in the south), it may not work as well for you. Customize your mosquito plan to meet your own needs.

How to Dry Tomatoes in a Dehydrator

How to Dry Tomatoes in a Dehydrators

Living in the South, sun-dried tomatoes aren’t much of an option for me. It’s just too humid outside for tomatoes to dry out properly. But that’s okay because I can make the same thing in my dehydrator. I made my first batch of the season yesterday, and thought I’d take you through the process. [Read more...]