Monday, April 18, 2016

Growing a Garden: Best Garden Helpers

I am loving spring this year, people! The past few days were glorious and beautiful and all the things I love about this season. My tulips burst into bloom last week and I have three types of daffodils waving in the wind. You can smell the difference in the air - sweet spring! How happy I am to see you!

It's on days like today I am tempted to play hooky from everything and just be outside. Winter's brown residue is calling me and I could not be more excited to get out there and clean it up! One of the downsides to being a newly-single-lady, though? Only one pair of hands to help with the yard.

That's where my helpers come into play :) Garden helpers are so much more than tools. They are creative, productive elements within your yard that allow you to spend less time and money solving life's little gardening problems. I've come up with my personal list of the very Best Garden Helpers - the best part? Most of them cost little, if anything at all.

Bees and butterflies and bugs, oh my! Now is the time to start attracting pollinators to your garden. Pollinators are fantastic little buggies because they spread pollen among your veggie flowers. Those pollinated flowers? They produce the fruit (or vegetables) that we eat. Pollinators are quite literally responsible for the propagation of edible goodness in your garden - they are more valuable than gold!

Now I know what you're thinking: "Jen, I don't even have seeds sprouting outside yet, let alone veggie flowers. What are you thinking?" And I hear you. I am a bit of a nutcase and sometimes I don't know what I'm thinking, either. But in this situation, I promise you, it is in your best interest to attract pollinators now.

Honeybees, in particular, are on the move. Queen bees are gathering their loyal subjects and swarming all over the place, hoping to find a beautiful place to set up shop. Provide food for the honeybees and they might just deem your yard (or area around your yard) prime real estate. What a blessing that would be!

Now is also a wonderful time to plant coneflowers, one of my favorite plants for attracting butterflies and making herbal tinctures. Coneflowers are just starting to sprout in my front yard. They are beautiful, hearty, extremely useful perennials that you should plant now to attract butterflies later!

Run a quick Google search for the top pollinators in your area and plant some attractive flowers to ensure a heavy supply of food for these fantastic, useful little creatures :)

I can't say it enough - kids are the best helpers around. They need guidance, yes, and encouragement, and of course an abundance of patience....but when they finally feel confident enough to do it on their own, it is beautiful. Little ones can help pick up sticks and leaves. Big ones can pull weeds and mow. Kids LOVE to water! Teach them how to use a hose and while you're at it, talk to them about the importance of water conservation.

Want to capitalize on the super-nutritious dandelion greens in your yard? Have your kids pluck the greens. Teach them how to identify flowers and plants. My youngest is 3 and is completely capable of distinguishing a daffodil from a tulip from a dandelion. And they love it! They get so excited when they head out to other places and see flowers and plants they can identify!

If you don't have kids no big deal, ask your friends. Most of my close buddies don't garden at all and while some would rather chew rocks than help me weed, a select few swing by every now and then and help me arrange a bonfire or rake up leaves.

Bottom line: More hands is always good, even if they're smaller or less experienced :)

Those pollinators I talked about? Well, most of them are on the verge of collapse, so they don't count. But the other bugs in your garden? You're going to need some control methods to keep them at bay. And I don't know about you, but hand-picking insects seems like the most unpleasant use of my gardening time.

Birds are fantastic at controlling insect populations. They swoop down with lightening speed to gobble up mosquito, wasps, and spiders. Set up some simple birdhouses, feeders, and birdbaths to make your yard more attractive. Are you looking to attract a specific kind of bird (the Yellow Warbler is my 2016 bird-attracting goal - they eat mosquitos!)? Pick a birdhouse that best suits the species you are looking for and do your research when picking out your bird feed.

Bonus? Birds sing lovely songs and are often totally gorgeous when you stop to look at them.

****Side note, I obviously advocate the use of chickens more than any other bird in the entire whole wide world for backyard bug control because backyard chickens eat any bug ever and are so cute and have fluffy butts and I love them. But this blog series is intended to reach all levels, even those who can't have chickens. Plus everybody could use a little more oriole song in the morning, am I right??

Weed Knife
This is my favorite, favorite, favorite garden tool. It cost me about $10 and I use it every time I garden. It has a long metal beveled shank (giggity) with a prong on the end for cutting apart weed roots.

This sucker is perfect for those long-rooted weeds you need cannot pull out with bare hands. It's easy to control and doesn't leave a ton of dirt overturned or disturbed around the weed site like a trowel or shovel does. Mine also has a ridged edge that I can use in a pinch to cut string. Oooo, multipurpose!

A really friendly neighbor once told me a real gardener's hands are always caked in dirt and feeling the dirt under your nails is the true sign you're doing it right.


See, in Jen's world, I always inevitably grab onto some spiky Little Shop of Horrors plant, or the Lord of the Rings spider comes out with *new and improved* vampire fangs, or a get a splinter from my wooden raised bed, or something unidentifiable but curiously yellow slips under the edge of my thumb cuticle and I die a little.

I love my gloves. I love them because I am not afraid to grab anything, yank anything, dig into anything, or poke anything while I'm wearing them. I have heavy gloves for heavy lifting and lighter, thinner gloves for manipulating smaller plants and tender little sprouts. I harvest my food glove-free, but the weeding, clearing, cleaning, fertilizing, pruning, pulling, and digging is all done with a set of trusty gloves. Never let anyone tell you you've got too many gloves. You can never have too many gloves.

Baling Wire
I bought a roll of this on a whim after I heard it was great for securing panels of hardware cloth together for my chicken hoop house. Can I please tell you....this stuff is awesome. Need to hold a tomato plant onto a stake? Use some baling wire. Need to keep a tarp from flapping around? Secure it with some baling wire. Hanging a wasp trap outside your back door? Hang it with some baling wire.

You can use baling wire to keep gates closed, secure pallets together, hang lanterns from trees, or tie bean vines to a trellis.

Garden twine is helpful, too, if you're looking for a softer material with less poking properties. Be warned, however, that garden twine is not nearly as strong. I've had tomato plants snap my garden twine right in half!

Bamboo Poles
I once felt like everywhere I looked, I saw bamboo. Bamboo floors, bamboo tables, bamboo as a living fence. Gardeners were using bamboo all the time to stake plants and create fences. I decided I was finally going to get some, too.

Bamboo poles are super strong and weather-resistant. They can be used all over the garden, either as stakes and fencing as I said above, or in more creative applications, like bean tepees and cucumber or tomato trellises. Trust me, when your tomatoes start going berserk, you're going to want a more effective way to keep them contained than those flimsy little wire cages. Bamboo poles are stronger and can be moved around and encircled with twine to keep plants manageable.

Do you have a favorite garden helper? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading :)

Did you miss a Growing a Garden series post? Don't worry! Click the links below to catch up!
Where Do I Start?
Starting with Seeds
Organic Pest Management
What to Do While Seedlings Sprout
Movin' Your Plants Outside



  1. I bought a garden weasel on sale at Lowes and it's the bomb. Without having to use too much effort I can really break up the soil. I don't have any other favorite tools but I do have about 100 empty plastic coffee containers and am looking forward to seeing what I can do with those. Thanks for the post. I'm gonna look for baling wire!

    1. That is awesome!! I need to start collecting plastic containers too....winter sowing!! It will be here before we know it....!