Critter Control

Since I live in a small town that is fairly densely populated, I don’t get to enjoy watching a picturesque scene of wildlife frolicking across my backyard, with the exception of the occasional scurrying bunny, squirrel, or chipmunk.

When I do encounter wildlife, it is usually not enjoyable.  The other day when I was walking my dog, I swear I was dive bombed by flock of Ravens (I’m not sure if that is what they were, but they were like crows on steroids with bigger bills) that were perched along my roof and my next door neighbor’s roof (picture a Hitchcock bird attack).  It was terrifying!

BUT the wildlife that I fear most is… the evil cats.

I know it is a fairly common gardening problem, but I have literally been pushed to my limit with cats using my garden beds and planters as litter boxes.  It is so freaking nasty to come across a landmine while I’m digging in the dirt.  To try and protect my garden beds, I have tried bamboo skewer grids and sprinkling cayenne pepper around my plants without much luck.  I have also considered more, let’s just say, extreme deterrent methods… but I won’t go into detail.

The cats should consider themselves lucky because on a recent shopping trip to the Farm Market I bought an organic animal repellent that is produced locally (and who doesn’t love to support local businesses?).

The product is called Weiser’s Nature’s Defense ( and it is non-toxic and environmentally safe.  It is also easy to use – you just sprinkle the granules in or around the area that you want to protect.  It should be sprinkled twice for the first week and then once a week for maintenance.


It claims to defend against:  Deer, Rabbit, Squirrel, Mice, Rats, Moles, Voles, Shrew, Skunk, Chipmunk, Woodchuck, Gopher, Groundhog, Porcupine, Elk, Beaver, Armadillo, Raccoon, Possum, and Prairie Dog.  Most of which don’t apply to me (I would love to see an armadillo or prairie dog around town!).  BUT most importantly, it also deters Domestic and Feral Cats.

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The product literally looks like a spice rub.  It contains garlic, cinnamon, clove, white pepper, rosemary, thyme, and peppermint.  Sounds delicious. 😉


Particularly for cats, it says to sprinkle it every time you find a nasty nugget to discourage them from using the same spot over and over again.  This is what the product looks like sprinkled on some dirt.


So, I am hopeful that this animal repellent will work.  Unfortunately, I sprinkled the granules in my onion patch and less than an hour later I saw an evil cat sitting / chilling out in my onion patch.  Luckily it wasn’t squatting, but I’m sure it had bad intentions or had already done its business.  My corgi (Goldie) and I chased it away, but I was bummed that one application of the product didn’t seem to deter the cat at all.  Needless to say, after I brought my dog in, I “seasoned” the patch much more heavily.

The product does say to allow a week for it to take its full effect…  Sigh, gardening is truly a test in cultivating patience and restraint.

From Seed to Seedling

I seriously cannot express the joy I feel when my vegetable seedlings start poking out of the soil!  The only other time I get as excited is when I see my first signs of actual vegetables on my plants.  Even though it is still supposed to get down to 30 degrees this week in Pittsburgh, the dawn of full-on spring is on the horizon!  And the 70 degree weather we had last weekend kicked my butt into gear to get my vegetable seeds going.

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I started my tomato and pepper seeds indoors last Sunday, April 12th.  As you can see below I used seed germinating mix from Gardeners Supply Company ( along with yogurt containers with holes poked in the bottom and old plastic plant pots.  I have never used this germinating mix before, so as per the directions, I moistened the soil in a separate container before filling the individual containers.




Now, I have tried a lot of different ways to start seeds indoors, but I keep coming back to my old standby… Just sticking them in pots with seed-starting soil in front of a big window and watering from above with a spray bottle at first and then with a little watering can when the seedlings get bigger.  I also use a heat mat under the plants because my 100-year old house is very drafty.


I have tried a lot of different methods for seed starting…  With the germination domes, I usually have moisture / ventilation issues.  I have had some success with the self-watering / bottom watering systems, but the germination seems to take longer, and I’m impatient.  I have also tried a “grow” light, but I put that in quotations because it was actually just a work light, so that may have been why it didn’t work so well.  I can say that I definitely do not like the peat pellets.  They seem to either be extremely soggy or bone dry and I don’t like having to pot up my seedlings.  Also, despite the claims, the netting does not seem to fully disintegrate into the ground after planting them because I am still picking some out of my garden from previous years.

But back to THIS year.  My tomato and pepper seeds are from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (  I always like to try new varieties that I have never grown before and this year is no exception!  Iraqi tomatoes and Polish peppers, oh my…


For tomatoes, I like to plant determinate varieties.  This means they will only grow to a certain compact height.  I do this because I have very limited space in my raised beds.  One year, I grew an indeterminate German heirloom tomato plant and it literally grew to the size of a small tree!  A metal pole could not even keep it standing upright and ultimately it fell over and crushed a bunch of plants!  Although it was quite a sight to see, it was a complete disaster.

This year, I am growing Rutgers Tomatoes, which are a fairly common heirloom, but hey, they are new to me!  I am also growing Al-Kuffa tomatoes which are from Iraq of all places.  It is a compact / dwarf plant that produces tomatoes that are slightly larger than a cherry tomato.

For my peppers, I am growing two varieties that are imported from Poland!  I am 50% Polish and very proud of my Polish heritage.  The one is called Ostra-Cyklon and it is a paprika type of pepper with a little heat to it.  The other is a Marta Polka Pepper which is a yellow bell pepper that is tolerant of poor growing conditions (Western PA weather can be crazy unpredictable!).  Both should be excellent when sauteed with pierogies!  I am also growing Santa Fe Grande Peppers which are spicy and will be perfect in my homemade salsa!

This is also the first year that I am growing Marigold flowers from seed to include in my garden beds.  I read that Marigolds will attract bees to the garden.

I have to admit, I was getting impatient with my peppers and carefully dug a little down in the soil to see if there was any action going on.  I think I may have planted the seeds too deeply because, after reading the seed packets more carefully, it said to barely cover them with soil to encourage quicker germination and I probably had them about ¼ inch deep.

BUT it does appear that all of my seeds have germinated!  I know, I know, I am a very talented individual (and modest too, hehe!).  Unfortunately, I always grow way too many plants, and that’s how I end up with wild jungle-like raised beds.  This year I *promise* not to jam them all in there!


From seed to seedling to plant to veggies to… fork to belly!  Can’t wait!

Growing Sweet Potatoes Experiment

Yeah, SCIENCE! (Breaking Bad reference)

Who doesn’t love a good science experiment?  Unfortunately, I don’t think I inherited a lot of my Dad’s scientific genes (he was a chemist), but I do get a kick out of trying new things that seem a bit weird and nerdy.  And ‘geek’ is now ‘chic’, so why not totally geek out?

With this experiment, I am trying to sprout sweet potatoes slips (tiny potato vines) from organic sweet potatoes that I bought at Whole Foods (Japanese & Jewel).

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And yes, I probably looked like a total weirdo in Whole Foods whipping out my phone and taking pictures of the sweet potato displays and foraging for the gangliest looking ones that might already have some little roots.  It’s a wonder they let me out in public.

With a little water, the sweet potato will start to grow roots out the bottom and then the tiny plant vines (slips) will grow out of the top of the potato.  Once planted in a garden or container, each slip should produce approximately 10 sweet potatoes.

The method to grow slips that seems very nerdy / Bill Nye-esque to me is sticking toothpicks in a sweet potato to keep it propped above water in a jar.  Even though I consider myself to be a garden geek, I found a lazier method that I thought I would try first.  I saw it posted on The Outlaw Garden at

So as you can see below, I chopped my sweet potatoes in half and just stuck the chunks in a plastic takeout container.

Then I put the chunks cut side down and filled the container with about 1 inch of water.  And yes, my Japanese sweet potato is somewhat anatomically correct.


Below is a picture after a week.  The Jewel seems to be progressing with a few very small roots, but no slips have emerged up top.  I think the little bumps are where the slips will pop up.  The Japanese just seems to be chilling out and it might just end up in my composter.


Even though I’m not using the scientific method to make a groundbreaking discovery, I think Bill Nye the Science Guy would approve of my sweet potato growing experiment (although I guess he now supports GMO’s, so maybe not).  I also think my Dad would be proud.

I hope this experiment is as successful as my last garden-related experiment – ripening green tomatoes in a cardboard box using an apple.  The rotting apple naturally releases ethylene gas which ripens fruit (geek speak is so hot)!

Last year, I successfully grew “red, white & blue” (‘mercia!) potatoes.  Below is a picture of my potato patch that took over my entire raised bed garden.  Despite my obvious talent for growing potatoes, the thought of growing SWEET potatoes never even crossed my mind!  Unlike regular potatoes, you can’t just cut up a sweet potato and plant it in the ground as a tuber root veggie.  And unlike regular potatoes, sweet potatoes are a hot summer crop.  Speaking of hot…

What do you call a stolen yam?

A hot potato.

Hehe, yes, I am garden geek.


Knowledge is power and geek is chic.

My nemesis – the onion.

I would guess that most gardeners have nemesis plant that they try to grow every year without much success. Mine would be the onion. I’ve tried growing them from seed. I’ve tried growing them from bulb sets. BUT this year is the first time I’m growing them from plants!

I was so excited to see onion plants / seedlings for sale at Home Depot. Unfortunately, in my state of exuberance, I forgot to take note of which ones I bought (and for some reason it isn’t listed on the tag)! I THINK I bought Walla Walla and maybe Red Onions (or at least they look kinda red?). Sigh, I really need to try to retain my composure while shopping for gardening supplies. The plants are sold by Bonnie and this is a link with their planting suggestions:


When I started digging up my wild backyard garlic, the area just kept getting bigger… and bigger… and that’s how I ended up with my cute onion patch!  Much to my dismay I already had a critter get in my little onion patch and dig some of it up. My guess is that it was the (evil) cat from across the street… or the really freaking fat bunny I saw in my neighbor’s yard. This was NOT the way I wanted to start this experiment out! Not to be defeated so early, I replanted a few of the plants that were completely dug up. Some seem to be thriving and some seem to be dying. Survival of the fittest, I guess.


I recently read that onions should be treated more like a lettuce plant rather than as a root vegetable suggesting that they should be planted much more shallowly than I would have ever thought to plant them. Maybe that’s what I’ve been doing wrong all along! Or, maybe my true nemesis is the evil cat that has a fetish for onions. Time shall tell!

Backyard Garlic!

So, I thought what better way to start my Backyard to Fork blog than discussing something that is both the first sign of my veggie growing season and something that I discovered is growing wildly in my yard. GARLIC!

On the first day where I haven’t had to dress like an Eskimo to go outside, I decided to dig up an area of my yard next to my composter to plant some onions. I noticed a cluster of longer strands of grass that I thought were rogue daffodils (although I don’t really have any wild plant identifying skills).

After trying to dig it up to re-plant it somewhere else, the familiar pungent aroma of garlic rose from the ground!

Garlic lasts longer if the stems are left on and since it is still pretty chilly outside, I brought them inside to cure. I am glad I saved the baby garlics from soon being hit by my lawn mower! I hope they are tasty, I have never eaten wild garlic!

Last year I did not cut off the garlic scapes from my garlic plants as some gardeners suggest to do to grow bigger garlic bulbs. I just thought the plant looked too awesome to cut and it was a great conversation starter with my neighbors. And as you soon will find out, I have a hard time trimming back ANY of my veggie plants for fear of killing a baby veggie (the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, right?). I let my garlic grow a huge seed head, which when opened, explodes with little garlic bulbils. I do not believe these are actually seeds, but are mini garlic bulbs. Maybe some of the bulbils “escaped” into my yard during my vigorous garlic harvest!

Back in October, I planted garlic cloves in one of my raised garden beds. I planted my cloves two inches deep and about four inches apart with the tip facing the sky and the flatter part pointing down. This is the second year that I am growing garlic from the same batch that was given to me (I am not sure of the variety). I saved some of the biggest cloves from my harvest from last year to plant this year. The bigger the cloves, hopefully the bigger the bulb!


I was so happy to discover both intentional and wild garlic sprouts emerging in my backyard!