Category Archives: Technology

‘Weeding’ Through Gardening Websites

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

Gardening resources on the internet are plentiful but can quickly become overwhelming for both novice and experienced gardeners. Over the past year I have noticed certain websites that continually show up at the top of my search results; these sites are “gardening content farms”, a term I learned from fellow Master Gardener Cathy Kavassalis (@CathyKavassalis). A content farm (or content mill) is a website that provides limited pay to large numbers of writers to generate a wide range of (user-generated) content which is often specifically designed to maximize page views in order to generate advertising revenue.

Examples include gardeningknowhow.com, gardendesign.com, thespruce.com, theflowerexpert.com. Many have names that entice you into their site (like a fly to a spider’s web). The websites may contain lots of information about gardening, but it appears to be mostly collected from other sites or produced by writers with minimal gardening knowledge. As Cathy puts it “The quality is variable but the sites are created to ensure they show up early in Internet searches to generate ad revenue.”

For a while I actually didn’t notice the content farm sites because I have an adblocker program (so I didn’t get the ads). Once Cathy mentioned the sites in response to a question on our Master Gardeners of Ontario Facebook site, I consciously looked and was shocked by the number of ads that had been blocked when I clicked on the links – 6, 9, even 15 or more.peonies

So I purposefully put “types of peonies” in the subject line in a Google search, keeping the topic very general. First link up is from gardendesign.com. Some good information there, but 8 ads blocked. And of course first of all I get a pop-up wanting me to sign up for their newsletter (to sell me more stuff).GardenDesign.pngThis is where you have to be an engaged researcher. Often the author may own a business (for example, one that sells expensive peonies); this doesn’t mean the information isn’t good, but their primary motivation in writing the article is to drive you to their website, or for you to share their article with others to increase their profile. Other sites engage writing generalists to search the internet for information on a topic and repost it on the site, which could mislead you into thinking they wrote the article (usually there is an attribution to the source at the bottom of the page in small lettering).

The content provided on these sites are not a bad place to begin your searches, but the quality varies significantly, as these are not generally writers with gardening knowledge. Also if they are reworking other (maybe erroneous) information, they are simply continuing to spread misinformation.

I offer three suggestions to help you find gardening information on the web:

If you are doing a Google search focus your search with as many key terms as you can so you get what you need, often bypassing the gardening content farms. For example, typing in “ontario gladiolus bulbs overwintering” brings up good local answers from sites such as TorontoGardens (with Helen and Sara Battersby), Landscape Ontario, an Agriculture Canada publication on gladiolus, and Toronto Master Gardeners. Then the aggregate (garden farm) sites follow, as they have more general information.

Rather than Googling for information, use some of the great resources available on Facebook and Twitter. Master Gardeners of Ontario, Ontario Horticultural Association (OHA) (through GardenOntario), and many regional Master Gardener and OHA groups are on Facebook and Twitter – it really is a terrific way to learn (and make new gardening friends). Also there are many good gardening websites to be found (really another entire post) – look for information with that provided by a government agency (e.g. OMAFRA, USDA, etc.), respected horticulturalists, a botanic garden and/or arboretum, a university, a Cooperative Extension services associated with a university (USA), or a wildflower or native gardening society.

Subscribe (or follow) excellent gardening blogs – find those that match your interests and where the writers are passionate gardeners who want to share their knowledge. You are on one now 9a2684c4213171476e13732af3b26537 so sign up to get notifications of new posts (every week). Other blogs I like are The Impatient Gardener, Savvy Gardening, and  Three Dogs in a Garden. Ask friends for recommendations. You can also reach out to me on Twitter.

Filtering through all the information is challenging, but hopefully this blog gives you some tools to separate the wheat from the chaff. Happy Gardening!PMG

 

My Favourite Garden Tools

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

By day I am a writer and editor, using words, graphics, and design to communicate with my audiences. However, once that working day is over, I have an entirely different set of tools that I use in my garden landscape. What are those “tools of the trade”? Here are my favourites – what are yours?


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A Giant Wheelbarrow 

A good wheelbarrow is worth its weight in gold to a gardener. An essential tool, I use it to transport tools, dirt, mulch, rocks, and garden cuttings from one place to another. For me the most important features are the volume and the wheels. While I have another ‘regular’ one wheel wheelbarrow, this yellow two-wheeled monster is my best friend. I love the stability of the two wheels in my ‘not-flat’ garden. I have had it for so long the bottom plastic has finally cracked from all the big boulders I have dumped into it, but the yellow barrow bottom is now covered with a sheet of metal so it’s still functional. I’ve replaced the original pneumatic (air filled) tires with airless tires. Now I just need to find a new barrow that doesn’t cost more than replacing the entire wheelbarrow! (Special mention to my second favourite wheeled vehicle – an old Radio Flyer red wagon. Acquired from a cousin, this metal workhorse is great for moving plants around, especially in tight spots)

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My Felco #7 Secateurs and Leather Holder

Pruners or secateurs (from the British – a pair of pruning clippers for use with one hand) are indispensable to the serious gardener. There are many brands on the market, but there are two primary types, so it’s important to get the ones that match your needs. Anvil pruners have a blade that pushes the plant material onto a cutting board, whereas bypass pruners have two blades that pass by each other to create a cut. Anvil pruners tend to crush soft plant tissue but, used properly, bypass pruners minimize plant damage. You can read more in Robert Pavlis’ blog on the subject here.

I only use bypass pruners; my Felco #7s are comfortable, light, efficient, and ergonomic. Why Felco? Because they are excellent quality and last forever. There are many models; many friends like the Felco #2s, but there are some designed for left handed people (Felco #9), people with small hands, or people like me that want to minimize hand strain, which is the focus of Felco #7. It provides me with hand and wrist protection, and optimizes the force exerted by the revolving handle. I should probably buy shares in this company. 9a2684c4213171476e13732af3b26537


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A Drain Spade

There are lots of different spades out there, so take the time to find one that works for you. Your height, the weight of the tool, what you need to use it for, and ergonomic considerations should all be taken into account. I have both shovels and spades – shovels tend to have longer handles and a more curved blade than spades – but once I used my drain spade I realized it was going to be my favourite. It’s heavy but I love the long blade for getting deep into the earth, and the narrowness for getting into tight spots. I have actually managed to dig the full taproot of a mature lupin and transplant it (and have it survive) using this spade, and that is an accomplishment in itself.


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Great Gloves

Gloves are a very personal item of clothing for gardeners, but since this is my blog I’ll let you know my favourites are the West County gloves I can get from Lee Valley (the orange ones above) and the Noble Outfitter gloves I just picked up at the TSC Store (the only ones that fit me as I am wearing a finger splint at the moment – that’s a whole other story). Many people like the nitrile and latex gloves, especially for fine gardening work like pruning, but they are too hot for my hands. I am pretty tough on my gloves, so it’s normal for me to go through a few pairs each season.


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My Garden Bandits

What the heck is a Garden Bandit™? Nope, it’s not a robber, just a very handy tool for weeding and clearing areas with minimal hand strain. Its innovative shape, designed after a garden tool used by early settlers, allows you to remove weeds but cutting them off at their roots. It also lets you safely work soil close to existing plants without damaging foliage or tender feeder roots. I got mine from Brenda at the Avant Garden Shop in Peterborough. Made in Canada, the bandit is not sold in big box stores, so contact your local birding/gardening store or nursery to see if they stock them. Check them out here.
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Collapsible Garden Bags

A variation on traditional English ‘tip bags’ and often called kangaroo bags, these lightweight, collapsible bags are great for collecting weeds and waste (and leaves when that time comes). They can be collapsed and stored away easily when not being used, and who doesn’t like space-saving things! I have had several of these bags, but I am not sure where I got these particular ones. They do have them at Lee Valley (or give Google a try). I like them better than the plastic tubs because (well, plastic!), they are lightweight, and I can maneuver them into tight spaces.


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Hori Hori Knife

I was introduced to this tool by my fellow Master Gardeners, and now I understand why it’s a favourite (as you can see I have two of them!). Made in Japan, the hori hori knife is a cross between a knife and a trowel, and can serve multiple functions, including dividing perennials or planting. Traditionally used in Japan to collect specimens for bonsai (hori means “digging”), the knife has a rust-resistant steel blade with a serrated edge on one side and a sharpened edge on the other. About 12 inches overall, it has a hardwood handle and comes with a belt sheath. I have only ever seen these at Lee Valley.


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A Wide Brimmed Hat, Bandanna, Sunscreen, Bug Spray, and Towel

Last but not least the essentials for all gardeners – a nice wide brimmed hat and sunscreen to protect you from the sun’s rays, bug spray (I feel like I am wearing this 24/7 this year!), and a towel to wipe off all that sweat – gardening can be a great workout.

One final hint – you may notice that most of my tools are bright colours. If you – like me – tend to ‘lose’ tools in the garden, or the compost, or the leaf pile, or under a plant, you’ll want to look for tools in nice bright colours so that when your husband turns out the compost in the spring he can say ‘hey honey I found your garden bandit’. That reminds me – I need to put some paint on my hori hori knives!

Happy Gardening! 

Please note: I do not receive any compensation for mentioning where you can get these items

 

 

Facebook Groups for the Green Community

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Two weeks ago, I wrote about iPhone and Android apps that can help you to identify plants & trees, know where/when/how/what to plant and also help you to connect with like-minded people for discussion.  Facebook groups serve similar purposes.  At this time of year, these groups are eye-candy for the green community as they often remind us how few days are left until spring, where to attend local (indoor) green/gardening events, and how to care for those houseplants that need a fb groups bloglittle TLC.  During the gardening season, these groups magically transform to become a forum for a little bragging for those inclined to share pictures of the results of their hard work, and also a forum for those needing a little help.  I’ve posted a plant picture to one of them, and had a definitive answer to an identification question in literally less than ONE MINUTE (Thanks, Jeff Mason!).

Here’s a list of some of the (mostly local) groups that I’m a member of.  There certainly are a lot more!  Most are public, but don’t let the ‘closed group’ label scare you.  If anything, closed groups are completely welcoming to gardeners!  They just may ask you to answer a few simple gardening questions to make sure that the group doesn’t get infected by spammers.

Over the Fence with Peterborough Master Gardeners (530 members)

A local group specializing in plant identification, local events, and gardening questions answered by knowledgeable Master Gardeners. Novice, expert and professional gardeners are encouraged to join and post freely.

Ontario Gardeners (3, 571 members)

This group is for us Ontarian’s to post, chat or ask about plants we have in the yard, pond or house. Check out our files section newly created Oct.2016 and will be added to over time. Happy Gardening!!!

Canadian Gardeners (10,443 members)

This group is for anyone that wants to discuss flower gardens & vegetable gardens that live in Canada. Help others with tips, share your gardening secrets and stories and maybe learn a thing or two yourself! Lots of gardening links, self help and diy posts. Share your favorite gardening books, tools, websites and photographs with your fellow Canadian Gardeners! Add your zone to aid in advise, tips and to give your fellow Canadian Gardeners the idea of conditions you garden in 😊

GardenOntario (2,026 members)

To reach, connect and help educate all members through gardening related articles, videos, live broadcasts, activities and events happening with our societies across Ontario. Affiliated with the Ontario Horticultural Association.

Canadian Succulent & Cactus Hoarders (2,166 members, closed group)

A community place for Canadians who are addicted to collecting succulents and cacti. Ask questions and show off your collection! For now buy/sell/trade posts will be allowed until the group grows big enough that it warrants a separate group.

Plants for Peterborough Canada (657 members, closed group)

Peterborough Ontario Canada – A place to share plants for free. Upload pictures, share tips, get help thinning your gardens, get advice, play the *What on earth is growing in my garden game* offer plants, get plants, swap plants, its allllllllllll about plants! We encourage FREE share. Please save the selling of plants for kijiji. We also encourage you to share photos of your gardens, and upcycling ideas to beautify them!

Garden Deals for Peterborough, Canada (208 members, closed group)

If you know of a good deal on plants or gardening material in the Peterborough, Ontario, area – please post it here. Also – please share if you find unique plants that people may be interested in!!

Garden Tech for the Green-Finger Inclined

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Gardening is supposed to be natural, right? Many who enjoy the outdoors and gardening downplay screens and technology and also tend to encourage others to put down the devices and experience what’s in front of them. But what if you don’t know anything about what IS in front of you? Your smart phone or tablet can be quite the gardening companion.

Here’s a selection of apps that can be found in the App Store that will help you know when/where/what to plant, and sometimes more importantly, how to find out what’s already growing in your yard or someone else’s that you admire.

LeafSnap: An Electronic Field Guide — Free (iPhone only)

How many times have you been in a public park or garden and fell in love with the trees, but with no one to ask what they are?  Using visual recognition software, Leafsnap can identify trees from a photo of their leaves alone. I can’t tell you how many times I could have used this!

myGardenAnswers Plant Identifier — Free (iPhone/Android)

With Garden Answers Plant Identifier, you can take a picture of a plant that you want to identify and presto — you’ll get its name and all of the information about it. It’s like having an encyclopedia in your pocket. This is easily one of the best free gardening apps in existence, namely because it can automatically recognize more than 20,000 plants. This app also identifies pests and has a robust Q&A section that covers more than 200,000 of the most common gardening queries.

GrowIt!: Garden Socially — Free (iPhone/Android)

GrowIt allows you to join an enthusiastic community of gardeners, helping you to find inspiration, gather information, and share your own gardens with the world. This app is good if you want to find out what plants will grow well in your local area.  As you find plants you love in their extensive database, you can organize them into projects to help you design your own green masterpiece.

BeeSmart Pollinator Gardener — Free (iPhone/Android)

Want to grow a beautiful garden that also helps the environment? BeeSmart is an app created by Pollinator Partners that helps you choose the best plants for bees that can thrive in your specific location. Win-win.

Gardenate — $1.39 (iPhone/Android)

If you’re looking for a simple calendar for planting garden vegetables that comes with an assortment of useful hints and tips, then you should take a look at this app. Gardenate will be your best companion when it comes to keeping your garden in the best condition. There is information about over 90 plants and herbs, and a calendar to know when it’s the best time for these plants to grow.

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