Reap the fruits of your labor

Overgrown, weedy and abandoned.

August is around the corner. Every year around this time, I observe vegetable gardens around town looking overgrown, weedy and abandoned.

I too run out of steam right about now.
Tomatoes are finally ripening, string beans, long and thin, are hanging on their vines, eggplants, ivory black with dark purple tinge, are plump and ready. The summer squashes are multiplying faster than we can eat them. The garden is at its best–beautiful and overwhelming. We need to catch our breath. Continue reading

Dog Days

Every day of this past week, I have seen dogs doing intense exercise mid-day in the sun.

Because dogs would follow you–their person, their beloved person–to the end of the Earth, doesn’t mean you should ask them to.

I have observed that people who own exotic pets, farm animals, birds, fish, etc. know a lot more about those species than than dog or cat owners know about their pets. Dogs and cats are so integrated in our lives that we forget that they are a very different species from our own. Continue reading

Feed the Greens

Summer is finally here! Put your rain gear and boots back in the garage and find your straw hat and sunscreen.

Although my perennial gardens have done very well so have most berries and greens, I have noticed unusual yellowing of leaves on blueberries, some vegetables, even roses. My theory is that the torrential rains have washed out a lot of the nutrients plants need to thrive, and most certainly any fertilizer I may have introduced before roots had a chance to use them. Continue reading

Two Peas in a Pod

My favorites

I would be mighty disappointed to find only two peas in a pod. Thankfully it is not ever the case. So let’s plant snow and snap peas. Sweet shelling peas are planted
later in the season with the beans. Yes, it could still snow, yes it will probably hail a few more times. What ever! The worst that can happen is that we’ll need to replant.

When planning a veggie garden, here are my concerns:

Continue reading

Rain, I don’t mind.

(The title is a lyric from ‘Rain’ by The Beatles)

Ruts on wet lawn

Here we are in the second week of non-stop rains, snow flurries and hail. Forgotten tools are rusting, puddles are appearing all through the garden, so are ruts from wheelbarrows, and bicycles.

I have seen imprints from three coyotes on the move in Oaks Wildlife Refuge, ant colonies taking residence in our domiciles, cats on porches hunkering down, waiting for better days. I do not have that choice.

Continue reading

Bon Voyage

This month I have cat clients galore. Scat Cat and Misty, Pushkin, Bee, Diablo, Prado, Kazi, Snow Pea, Lily and Omar.

Snow Pea

I have a picture of my beloved cat ‘Breakfast’ on the fridge. It has been ten years since I buried her at the very back of my garden, where she liked to take naps. I could see the place from my bedroom window. I even tied a little japanese bell to the maple branch above her resting place, wanting to make sure the wind would not let me forget. There was no need.                    She still has my heart.

The people who call me to care for their felines are not the kind of people who ask me to ‘check in every once in a while’. They want me to have a relationship with the being who has their heart.

They leave me detailed lists of what’s to be done. The quirks/desires/dislikes, who should get what, when; the meds and how to administer them with utmost care. They describe the games, the naps, the neck scratches, which brush, which treat, which bowl and how full or empty it should be. 

And that is indeed what I give. I read short stories of their lives together. I tell Misty to please eat her treats with the pills hidden inside. I tell Omar that he will be strong as an ox, while injecting his heart medication. I whisper to Kazi about his person, swimming in warm oceans and walking in sands soft as silk.

Almost every day I send them a picture a text, an email, a little movie. This is my life, I say, with the one who accompanies you through yours. All is well here.

And when it is time to leave, I write the shortest of notes; my presence no longer needed. They have stories to tell.


See you out back…

Tip of the day: don’t hesitate to write every word, every detail, and use as many pages as you need to feel comfortable that your sitter has all the information needed. Ask for texts and emails. I would!



The sun is hotter, the day longer, squirrels and birds are gathering nesting materials, daffodils are flowering.

What should we do in the garden this month? A LOT! I don’t want to overwhelm you, and besides, we have two months to really set up our gardens. Cleaning up, helping new growth on established plants and planting are the priorities this month. Let me explain those tasks:

  • Cleaning up                                                                                                                    - Go bed by bed with a five gallon bucket, a hand rake, your favorite hand-weeder, hand clippers, and a kneeling pad. Attend to every square inch. Weed, cut down the dead stems of last year’s perennials, rake dead leaves and other debris into your bucket; march-on.                                                                                                           - Prune your trees, shrubs and berries. All the information you need can be found on-line, in books, or, even better, check out the free classes given by nurseries. My favorite fruit tree pruning classes are with The Home Orchard Society. Fantastic people. Dress warm for their workshop and bring a thermos of something hot!
  • Helping new growth                                                                                                         - Prune your small and large shrubs to new growth. Understandably, you will not know how to manage all of them. If you know the name, google and read (do not read forums; concentrate on advice given by University Extensions or nurseries). Unsure of what you have? Take a picture or cut a small branch and bring it to the info desk at Portland Nursery. If you find Mike Wallace there, say hello for me -he’s a good friend. Rose bushes are often pruned this month but I wait because they easily start their growth without my help and there is so much else to do. I do attend to the climbing roses. Portland Rose Society is an excellent resource!                                                                                     – Once your beds are clean, spread a dusting of steer manure. Mulch/fertilizer will be added after the days are less wet and warmer.
  • Plant bare-root or potted trees, shrubs, roses, vines and fruit trees. When the rains have let up, hopefully by end of month, plant dahlias, asparagus, and all berries. Here’s a little help to show you how to plant a bare-root tree, or a potted tree (thanks to OneGreenWorld). I highly recommend planting figs, asian pears, kiwis, persimmons. Those fruit trees and vines are hardy, and have almost no diseases or bugs. But if you attend a few of the Home Orchard Society workshops you will quickly feel brave enough to grow any tree, and even graft your own.
    - Veggie seeds can be planted indoors. I have already planted a few six packs of chard, kale, spinach, mix lettuce directly in garden beds. I use the bed reserved for tomatoes, because by the time the tomatoes go in, my greens will be done.

    Fig tree and persimmon are pruned, herb bed is cleaned and manured, tomato bed is planted with greens.

Lawns need attention now. Start mowing regularly, use Moss Out (with no added fertilizer) to kill the moss, a week later spread garden lime. By the end of the month spread an organic lawn fertilizer. In April I will show you how to repair bare spots.

See you out back…

Tips of the day: if the ground is too wet to plant, or work on a bed, spread a tarp overlapping the area for a week or two.

Come, Sit, Play: A Primer in Dog Behavior


From the day my mother said yes to my incessant begging for a dog to this day, rarely have I been without at least one hound by my side. They come everywhere with me. When I accept a dog-client to stay in my house versus housesitting in theirs, they become part of my pack and also come with me everywhere. How is that determined? By how well they behave within my urban life.

Frequent visitor and friend 'Jack'

You can train most puppies or adult rescues in six months. It may seem like a long time in your busy schedule, but remember the effort you put in will reward you for a decade maybe longer. Or you may struggle for years, rehearsing the same commands over and over, with poor results until you give up, and the dog is kept home, in the backyard, isolated when friends come, fitted with hurtful gadgets because you do not have control.

I use positive methods. Rewarding what I want and mostly ignoring what I don’t want. I may give a verbal cue letting the dog know that what the dog did is not what I need, but I do not yell, intimidate, or threaten. My goal is to have trust, love, and mutual respect. For example I asked Baruch to move from the drivers seat to the back seat of our truck. She went to the passenger’s seat and looked at me. I said “uh-uh,” get in the back (the tone did not change) as soon as she went back,  I said YES. She circled her bed and plopped down. If she didn’t know what I wanted, I would have either helped her or made it  into a 5 minute training lesson, throwing treats in her bed in back, holding her collar, “ready, steady, go, YES!” Making it a game.

Make it a game. Dogs love games. And they can pickup on, and match your energy. Happy fun human = Happy fun dog ready to learn and try.

You do not need to be the pack leader. Let me make one thing absolutely clear: dogs do not want to take over the planet.

  • Know what you want from your dog.
  • Be clear, consistent and calm.
  • Make a plan before each training session and keep them between 5 to 15 minutes.
  • Be playful.
  • Enroll in a beginning class.
  • Positive does not mean permissive.

Some dogs have serious behavior problems. Those need to be addressed by a professional behaviorist. Not by a beginning obedience teacher. Not by your dog walker who is “so good with dogs.” Not by using hurtful methods because you are desperate. Call a licensed professional.

Books and people I recommend:

Control Unleashed.  Leslie Mc Dewitt MLA, CDBC, CPDT is a certified dog behavior consultant.  She teaches in the Philadelphia. She published a book describing her training, ‘Control Unleashed’. Greta Kaplan, CPDT, CDBC,  teaches Control Unleashed in the Portland area.

Patricia  McConnell. Any of her books and pamphlets, but for those of you with a rescue dog, definitely read her new book ‘Love Has No Age Limit’. Her blog and website.

Susan Garrett. She is a world renowned dog-sports trainer. You can find free tips/video clips and the very very best webinar on recalls. (the ‘come’ command). She’s positive, funny, has trained all breeds. Really a great trainer. Check out her books and videos too.

Here are my “can’t do without” commands: watch me, come, wait, down, sit, go to your bed. Just with those six commands you lives together can be so much easier. You can find classes to help you train all the basic commands. One word of caution: if your dog/puppy is small do not let  larger dogs overwhelm/scare/bully your companion. You are the one who has to step in to prevent injuries–always.

See you out back…

Tip of the day: try to remember to talk to your dog instead of pulling him in different directions. A simple “this way”, “stop”, “wait” is more respectful and a good way to build trust.




Boots on the Ground

Rain, mud and cold. Heat, take the fleece off. Pouring rain–too cold–fleece/hat back on,  and you’re wondering why you even bothered. What ever you do, keep those boots on your feet, and off your garden beds.

I concentrate on work that keeps my boots at the periphery of my cultivated beds, may it be roses or Swiss Chard. You want your soil to be as fluffy/aerated as possible. Roots grow easier, drainage improves and there’s plenty of oxygen to keep organisms in the soil thriving making weeding a much easier chore. If you walk on water saturated soil, which has a lot of clay in our region, you will compress the particles and they will not spring back, depriving the soil of oxygen.

Raised beds are a great addition to our Portland gardens, and a very good project for the entire family regardless of weather conditions.

Use non-treated wood, but don’t worry so much about what kind. Yes, cedar will last longer, but it is expensive while the much cheaper knotted pine boards last four years. I like mine to be 5′x10′x2′(tall). That way I can reach all my plants and I don’t have to walk too far to get around. Make sure you leave a path wide enough between beds so a wheelbarrow can go through.

Fill the inside with what you have on hand first. Leaves, straw, compost, old potting soil etc. For the rest I use 4 in1 mix: yard debris compost/steer manure/sand/top soil/. For the path I use quarter-ten gravel or straw or even recycled jute coffee bags you can find at coffee roasting businesses for cheap or free.

I buy all my soil/compost/rock/gravel and firewood at Mt Scott Fuel Co. on Foster and 69th. They are close and deliver on time (you can also pick up). They are a 4th generation small business and the lab test results on their products reliably come back clean of herbicides and other unwanted chems!

See you out back…

Tip of the day: Go to recycling centers for used wood boards. Keep an eye on your street, maybe a neighbor is replacing her fence. Use Fall leaves in your raised beds as well as old straw from Halloween displays.