End of Spring: Tips, Tricks, and Happenings

We’re rounding the corner on the end of Spring, and the start to my favorite season is upon us.   We’ve been  busy getting the yard and garden ready. Come on over, and see what’s happening in the ‘burbs.  I’ve got some great tips to share!


Many birds have returned, like hummingbirds entertaining us at the kitchen window and colorful goldfinches at the feeder.   A few weeks ago, we were treated to a rare and exciting sight.  Coming home one evening, a large bird swooped in front of the car and perched on the wire above the street.  At first we thought it was a hawk, but soon realized it was a Snowy Owl! He sat above us for several moments, then flew off into the woods.  We were very excited to get a glimpse of “Harry Potter’s pet”!

Remember the birdhouse I repainted a few posts back?  We usually get a house finch nesting in it, but this year have been treated to a family of bluebirds!  They’re so vibrant!   A house finch tried to sneak into the birdhouse, but was bounced right back out!  I’m sure we’ll hear baby bird voices soon.

Mama and Papa bluebird have moved into the birdhouse.

This gang of turkeys has been frequently having breakfast at the feeder.

No matter what we do, a few fast-flying feathered friends find their way into the glass each season. This little warbler hit, sat for a moment, then flew on its way.

Peek-A-Boo

The garden is starting to treat us with some beautiful blooms. The air’s been fragrant with the intoxicating scent of my Miniature English lilacs. This lilac blooms later than the traditional-sized flowering lilac, but its blooms are just as fragrant, inviting beneficial bees to our yard. I love cutting bunches of lilac blooms, placing them around the house in simple Ball Mason jars.

A view of the cutting garden.

Rhododendrons are in full bloom and remind me of pom-poms.

It’s also time for one of my favorite flowers to bloom, the peony.  (Did you see the article on peonies in the current issue of MaryJanesFarm?  Peony paradise!  I don’t have nearly that many, but I love the ones I do have).  A friend, who’s a new gardener, recently asked me what to spray her peonies with in order to get rid of the ants.  My answer? Nothing!  Ants and peonies go together like peanut butter and jelly.  While there is debate on whether or not the ants are beneficial, they do not harm the plant or buds. Once the flowers bloom, the ants disappear.  I’ve also been babying my rosebushes, feeding them with used coffee grounds at the base of each plant, a tip I learned from my late grandmother, Carolyn, who was known for her roses.

Peonies…over the course of a few days.

I battled the yard, and the yard won. For over three weeks I’ve suffered from an acute case of case of Poison Ivy.  On a Friday, putting in the vegetable garden, I pulled a weed wrapped around the fencing. It crossed my mind it might be poison ivy, but I was wearin’ gloves so I thought I was safe. By Saturday night, I was breaking out.  By Sunday, big, red patches of painful scarlet covered both my arms and both my legs. By Monday, when I went to the doctor, I was running a fever and the rash was infected. I ended up on a strong antibiotic and prednisone (double yuck)! Everywhere I went,  people offered advice.  I was surprised by how many people are allergic, and also by how many people do not know what poison ivy, oak or sumac look like. Poison Ivy can be found anywhere, and can grow on the ground or as a trailing vine. Its color can range from dark army green to bright green.

Look-alike weed Virginia Creeper, peeking  from beneath a hosta in my hosta bed, although Poison Ivy pops up there.

The invisible oils of a poison ivy plant are what cause the rash.  The more exposed a person is over a lifetime, the higher the chance that person will develop a reaction from exposure.  Humans are the only animal that have reactions to poison ivy, which explains why a dog can transfer the oil from its fur to its owner. A dead vine of poison ivy can affect a person over a year after a plant is dead.  Its invisible oil is what causes the rash, and the residue can remain on surfaces including clothes and garden tools.  Regular soap and hot water will not prevent the rash,and can also spread the oil and the rash. The best action is to prevent the rash by removing the oil before soaked into the skin.  If exposed, jumping in a swimming pool of chlorinated water will prevent a reaction.  (I was also told I could wipe my skin with bleach – no thank you).  My friends and fellow sisterhood chapter members Dina and Kristen both recommended Tecnu,  a wash found at the drugstore that removes the oil from the skin.  Leave it to Farmgirls to have the answer!  I also found  it brought some relief to the rash itself. Fels-Naptha laundry soap on the rash is a remedy from way back, but I found it didn’t help me.  A paste made of vinegar and baking soda, although messy, brought cooling relief.  After the rash has started to heal and dry, prevent scars with coconut oil.

How do you get rid of the weed itself? Posting on the Farmgirl Forum for advice, goats were recommended.  Great idea, but we aren’t zoned for goats and the family dog would be horrified.  I don’t relish the idea of using pesticides, so I researched to find something more natural to rid our property of this enemy. Most “recipes” call for making gallons of poison ivy killer at a time.  I broke it down to try a smaller batch and put it in a spray bottle: 8 cups vinegar, 4 drops dishsoap, and ½ cup salt.  I can report that it did kill the poison ivy, as well as weeds growing in between my walkway. Be careful, it will kill any plant it touches, so only spray what you intend to kill. Laurie, a Farmgirl sister in New York state, emailed me a similar recipe that calls for boiling the vinegar and salt together to dissolve the salt. I’ll do that next time, to prevent the spray from clogging.

Looking for a way to keep my garden tools handy, I re-purposed a vintage drink carrier.  It’s sturdy, easy to carry, the slotted bottom allows dirt to fall through, and I can easily spot any missed tools I may have left in the garden.

In my box: garden tools, a jar of raffia, wooden sticks, scissors, my garden journal, a pen, gloves.

I love finding bargains, don’t you?  I recently found this wooden potter’s bench, marked down from $49 to $12.00! I figured at that price, if it only lasts a season, I’d use it for firewood! After my hubby assembled it, we were pleasantly surprised it’s made of cedar.  I’ll stain it with a weatherproofing stain.  We re-purposed some old walkway steps and made a little patio for it next to the veggie garden.

Wanting to increase my garden, I’ve added more containers.  Here, gourmet lettuce and rosemary grow on the deck. I re-purposed leftover floor tile as” planter coasters”.

We always need matches to light our patio candles… here’s a cute match safe I created from a jelly jar, which keeps my matches dry and handy.

Next on my to-do list is to “upgrade” my composter, like my father’s. He used four wooden pallets, attached with eight hook and eyes.

That’s what’s been happening here in the New England ‘burbs.  What’s happening where you are? Drop me a line and let me know!

Leave a comment 11 Comments

  1. Debbie says:

    Hey Nicole! Looks as if spring is in full swing at your house! I love all of the old fashioned blooms you featured today…I DID see MJ’s Peony article and loved it of course. I have two plants that bloomed while we were away at the cottage this weekend! I’m going to cut some this evening when it cools down a bit! We know all about poison sumac and poison ivy too. Seems like almost everyone in our beach community has a story to tell about being broken out with the rash at one point or another. It’s all over our little island! WE have to be careful that the poison sumac doesn’t end up in any bonfires. The smoke can cause a break out! Love your deal on your potting shed too! I’ve been busy in the greenhouse and planting my raised beds with flowers and veggies! Enjoy this wonderful season!
    xo Deb
    Happy almost Summer Nicole!

    Hey Deb, Thanks for the reminder…I meant to include that fact in my blog….NEVER burn poison ivy, poison sumac, or poison oak.  Like Debbie pointed out, the smoke can carry the poison.  It can also infect the lungs, too. (This happened to my brother once). Happy Almost Summer to you, too, Debbie! -Nicole

  2. Jan says:

    Yikes! I used to have the most wonderful ‘vine’ at my rock garden’s edge. Then came the rashes (mostly in lines!) and there you go…My hubby used one of those flame weed killers (a propane tank hooked up to a hose with a flame devise on the end) to burn it to the ground and then I used something similar to your recipe. If you live in a wooded area it seems to be a natural occurrence.
    Yes, it’s been a wonderful year for peonies here in eastern Washington state. I just picked a large bouquet of my old magenta type. I also have a fern variety (deep red) and a tree peony which is blooming for the first time (grabbing the camera as we speak!) and is a double creamy yellow with swirls of pinky peach mixed in…Delightful…I also noticed that there don’t seem to be any bugs dropping off of the bouquet blooms once I bring them in the house- unlike the previous lilacs.
    Love the toad! Wish I had them here!
    Good luck with your continuing garden projects!

    Thanks Jan!  You, too!  My double light-pink peonies on the other side of the house haven’t bloomed quite yet…any minute now!  I just love them.  And the smell of a peony…delicious!  Happy Gardening!  -Nicole

  3. Laurie Dimino says:

    HI Nicole!
    Your yard and gardens look great! How fortunate you have been to see so many different birds! I’m jealous! LOL
    I am glad to hear that your Poison Ivy seems to have been killed, and that you were able to do it naturally! Good for you! Glad you found the vinegar/salt/dish soap to be successful!
    Great score on that potting bench too! What a find!
    Enjoy the gardens- I certainly have been enjoying mine here across the sound on Long Island!
    Farmgirl Hugs,
    Laurie
    Farmgirl Sister#1403

    Hi Laurie!  Made a new batch of "Poison Ivy Poison", boiling the salt and vinegar…which worked great-no clogs! Thanks for the tip! The poison ivy rash is gone, and I am back to normal.  Still putting coconut oil on the marks, since I look like I’ve been hugged by Edward Scissorhands!  Another week and I think it will all have faded.  Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  4. Doris says:

    Hey Nicole, I love your postings and look forward to see what you are doing. The plant under your hosta is not poison ivy nor oak. They have only three leaves. Your five leaf plant is known as Virginia creeper and is not poisonous. I can’t wait to mix a batch of the vinegar solution. Love your toad and owl. Keep us posted :)

    Aha!  Thank you…I did find some poison ivy under the hostas, as well.  I didn’t want to get too close.  If you saw me, you’d know why! I seem to have the Virginia Creeper taking residence in many places, too.  My gardening friends and I have have all noticed many more weeds (some very invasive, too) than ever before.  I think it’s from the hurricane blowing seeds and from a very mild winter. As for our toad friend, it has taken up residence in the veggie garden.  My daughter has even named her "Toaditha".  Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  5. Nella says:

    Hi Nicole, Thanks for the poison ivy recipe. I’ve been using plain vinegar in an empty dishsoap bottle to squirt between my patio bricks to keep the weeds away but I had no idea it was strong enough to spray on poison ivy, which I try to keep at bay along my forest tree line. I hate using the chemicals and will be making a batch of this up right away. Also loved your dad’s idea with the pallets. It’s so great to pick up ideas from each other!

    Thanks, Nella!   For the composter, use hook and eyes to attach the pallets.  That way, you can open up each side to scoop whatever compost is ready to be used in the garden.  The slots allow air to circulate. Thank you for reading and commenting!  -Nicole

  6. Sandy says:

    I so enjoyed following you through your back yard. Time for a glass of cold ice tea!

    Sandy, Iced tea is my favorite!  Nothing is better after a warm day of gardening!  Enjoy!  Farmgirl hugs, Nicole

  7. Hey Nicole, sorry about the poison ivy. I hate it. I too have allergic reactions and I use Tecnu, my husband knew some cable/phone guys and they say that is what they keep on their trucks for the guys when they are working in the weeds. My doctor told me once though and he was so right when someone asks what to do to get rid of poison ivy, wait 10 days. No matter what we do, we will keep it for 10 days. HA! Happy summer and stay away from that stuff.

    Vivian, Isn’t it horrible?  But…not keeping me from being outside.  I am being very careful, for sure!  I don’t want to go through that again!  Thanks for reading and commenting.  Glad to know the Technu works.  It also says on the bottle it can be used for skunk oil. (Hope I never have to try it for that, ha ha).
    Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  8. Nancy says:

    Peonies have a waxy coating that needs the ants to gather or eat it off the buds before blooming. When my peonies wouldn’t open for a couple of years I talked to a master gardener about it and so I moved some ants I found on my neighbours peonies onto mine and watered it with a light mist of sugar water for good measure to attract the ants back and they bloom faithfully now as I don’t get rid of those wee little ants any more.

    Nancy, the sugar water trick sounds like a great tip!  Thanks for commenting! -Nicole

  9. Rose says:

    Nicole. Thanks for such an informative blog! I wish I had more time to do the activites that you do.
    Have you heard of Jewelweed? It grows next to poison ivy and can be used in a salve to treat poison ivy rash. I am glad that you are feeling better!

    Rose, thanks for commenting!  I have heard of Jewelweed from several farmgirls on the Forum, but need to research to see which weed it is.  Thanks for the recommendation! -Nicole

  10. Valerie O'Sullivan says:

    Wow ! What beautiful spring pictures ! I too have been plagued by poison ivy, and my yard has been invaded by the stuff. I am so excited to use the natural weed killing solution in your blog. Thanks for providing it in your blog. I never knew that it existed and I have tried pulling the stuff out for years….needless to say it has been a losing battle. With a 90 degree weekend coming up and this solution, I am armed and dangerous. I am sure glad I have stumbled on your blog. Starting my garden and switching out my winter clothes has kept me off of the computer.
    I hope that you feel better.

    Thank you, Valerie!  Good luck with the solution. I find it really does work! -Nicole

  11. Vladas says:

    The cure to removing poison ivy from your body..the Key to not breaking out with poison ivy is to get the urushiol off of you ASAP. DO NOT USE HOT WATER.The irritant in posoin ivy is urushioil. It is a sticky oil. If you come into contact with it, it will cause problems until it is removed from your skin and anything that comes in contact with your skin. There are several products sold just for this. I’m very allergic to urushioil and have tried many. The best and most readily available is the same soap that your mechanic uses to remove motor oil from their hands.Because urushioil is a sticky oil it does require a little more scrubbing but it works 100%. Directions for removal:1.Apply the soap dry (DO NOT ADD WATER) to the affected area.2. Scrub for 2 minutes. The soap needs to get between the urushiol and your skin. It will temporarily break down the oils ability to stick.3. Wash off completely with COLD water. If you use hot water, then you may be in for an unpleasant surprise!Note: The residue soap will now contain the urushioil, and when the residue drys it may become sticky oil again.4. All itchiness should be gone. If not repeat the process. I like Lava and JoJo brands the best. The grittier the better. Walmart, KMart, Your local auto parts store will all carry this soap. I usually buy the 16 oz squeeze bottles for around ~$2.This soap also gets the urushiol and many stains out of clothes. Just be sure to hose the residue off the clothes before adding them to your laundry.

    Hi, the Tecnu wash is the same concept, but is a liquid and is easy on the skin.  I wondered about Lava soap; I remember it from my childhood, and will look for it.  I found out the hard way about hot water!  Thanks for the tips.  The invisible sticky oil in poison ivy is derived from a Japanese word.  Thanks for all the tips, hope you have a poison ivy free summer! -Nicole

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