Thursday, June 16, 2016

Herbs    by Doug Niemeyer

            Herbs go back centuries, even throughout the millennia; they have truly stayed “botanical originals” since the third day of creation.

            Most, if not all, of what we grow to eat has been fussed with, or hybridized way beyond its original form, taste, and size. But “herb fussing” over the centuries, has not been necessary; and why would this be? Well, you “fuss” with something for three basic reasons: You want it to grow bigger; you want it to produce more; and lastly you want it to be more bug and disease resistant. But did you notice taste was not in this list? Taste seems to get watered down as the size of the vegetable increases; what does the Kool-Aid taste like when you add the third quart of water? Kind of what happens to Hybrid Broccoli; the bigger the head the weaker the flavor. Find yourself some “Open-Pollinated” Broccoli if you want to taste Broccoli.

            There has not been any reason to fuss with Herbs; Herbs are prolific growers and they naturally repel bugs and disease; hard to improve on perfection.


            You’ve heard the expression “fresh is best”? My wife informs me that even though the price on the 16 oz. jug of Sweet Basil is financially tempting don’t give into it; unless of course you put it on everything. Most herbs and spices have a taste shelf life of about one year; if you’re a professional chef you’re dumping them out after four to six months. So what could be fresher than growing your own herbs?


            To start, you will need a sunny spot to grow them; be it an outdoor garden plot or a sunny window sill; more sun the better. And why is this?….. Herbs typically come to us from the Middle East where the “sun” and the “hot” are a way of life. This also answers the question of whether they are perennial or annual here on our snowy side of the globe. But the wonderful thing about growing herbs is that you can take them indoors when it gets cold, and keep them growing all winter.


            Soil preparation in the outdoor garden plot consists of building up good draining soil with manure or compost; this will be all the fertilizer herbs need, they are not gargantuan eaters like most of their garden bunkys.

            Soil in plant containers or window sill pots must be potting soil; garden dirt gets rock-hard quite quickly, and most people are adverse to the idea of outfitting their sill pots with earthworms to keep this from happening.

            A good rule to keep in mind when planting in pots is to secure those that are at least one-third the final height of the plant. Now with that said, you can use the little window sill pots, but keep in mind they will become root-bound in a few months (they never tell you that in the Infomercial, they’ve got you believing you can “will” them to your Great- Grand kids).

            Fertilizing potted herbs consists of mixing a weak liquid fertilizer in with one of the waterings that month; nothing is required in the outdoor garden; enough worms wiggle by, leaving their gifts of nourishment, keeping most, if not all herbs happy.

            The sunlight requirement for indoor growing is “more is better”, at least 5 hours of direct sunlight. If you don’t have that much don’t worry, if you do what you can; they’ll do what they can. Mist the leaves every so often; winter furnace heat makes the air a little too dry.

            Harvest herbs in the morning, the oils are the strongest at this time. The sun causes chemical changes to take place and diminish the natural oils. Mulching around the plants will not only keep the weeds at bay, but will reduce the need to wash your harvested leaves, thus keeping your handing of them and the bruising that takes place to a minimum.


            Storage is done three different ways Drying, Freezing, and Fresh.


            Drying is the most common, and can be done  in a variety of ways. You can hang them in a dry ventilated place. You can lay them on screens in a dry ventilated place. You can dry them in the oven.

            Hanging them is the most common; the only drawback is that they could get dusty. You can get around this by putting them in a paper bag, plant down, tie up the opening of the bag round the stems, and then cut out the bottom of the bag. Drying time may take a little longer than the customary two weeks, but the dust problem will be kept to a minimum.

            Screen drying is done by stripping the leaves off the stems and laying them on the screen. Cheese cloth laid over them will keep the dust off during the two weeks they need to dry.

            The oven set at 150 degrees for 3 to 6 hours is the fastest way to dry herbs. Lay the herbs leaves on brown paper that has had slits cut in for air passage. This high of heat is not recommended for Basil or Chervil, natural air drying is best for them.


            Freezing is good for those herbs you like to use fresh during winter cooking. Just place them whole or chopped up into labeled containers. No need to thaw them out before using them, they dice up easier while still frozen. They can also be chopped up and measured out into ice trays; when soup’s on the menu just drop in the required number of cubes.


            Fresh is, well, fresh; go out and pick what you need at the moment; no rocket science here.  


            Finally, what to grow. To make this decision look at your spice rack; what do you use? Grow that!



   If you have questions A You Tube enhanced version of this article is on our WEB site at along with a daily gardening Blog with timely information. Also, like us on Facebook at Niemeyer Landscaping.



            Moss! Good where you want it, Bad where you don’t.


            This article will probably not be for the sunny homeowner. Nope, the sun and a crop of moss do not generally share the same landscape location. Moss typically lives in the shadows, on soils that are more times compacted, highly acidic, and moist most of the time. Whereas sunny situations are, well, sunny; which means it has a high probability of being hot, and dry some of the time.

            But moss is not always a “scourge”, it is a welcomed site in the woods; it gives the appearance of a woodland carpet. It’s neat and tidy and it looks like it belongs there. But your front, side, or back yard is a different matter though; you were wanting to grow grass there, but the moss is ever so slowly choking the life out of it. What is a person to do?

            You are embarking on a daunting task my friend; I must say this up front. For my guess is you have the three things mentioned above going against you, so let’s look at what will reverse those conditions.

            First and foremost is the light condition. Does it get any sun at all? Can you do something to get more light into that area? Can you trim some branches? Take down a fence? Remove a tall shrub? What can you do, short of moving the house to get at least three hours of sunlight into that area? If you can’t, then I hope you can embrace moss as a friend. Say things like “no, I’m growing it there on purpose” or “I wish I knew how to get that pesky grass out of my moss”, even better “Hey! Take your shoes off, you’re on my moss!”


            If you can shine some more light on this subject area you may then go on to the second dilemma; soil compaction.

            Typically this was a high traffic area at one time; possibly foot traffic, but over time the kids grew up or the adults slowed down. Most times however it’s the mower tires taking the same path week after week, but as the grass died so did the reason to mow there. In either case the damage was done and you are stuck with a wormless plot of hard pan whose only boast is its ability to yield moss.

            So, what do you do?

            First you kill off the moss with a heavy dose of Roundup. Then you rake it off a week later after you made sure you killed all the moss, if you didn’t spray it again. Next you rototil the area, breaking up the hard pan and infusing air into the slab of granite it once was. Next, run the tiller through it once again, and then one more time to reach a depth of as deep as the rototiller can go.

            But maybe you were procrastinating and using the excuse “I don’t want to hurt the worms”, believe me Chumly, the worms were squeezed out a long time ago. At this point there’s not a living thing tumbling through the tines of that tiller.

            OK with that done sprinkle some garden lime on the newly roughed up soil, to the tune of 20lbs per 1000 sq. ft., and run the rototiller through it again; this takes care of the third predicament, the acid soil.

            Now your soil is as ready as it will ever be to receive new grass seed. Make sure you have purchased “Dense Shade Grass Seed”; but even this seed needs 3 hours of sunlight. If you are getting 5 to 6 hours of sun, and you don’t see the area getting any shadier due to an ever expanding tree canopy or juvenile shrubs becoming adults, you can use a Sun & Shade mix. If you are one of those rare situations that grew moss in the sunlight, a sunny mix will work great.

            The only maintenance you will need to do from here on in is to put lime down once a year at a rate of 10 to 15 pounds per 1000 sq. ft to keep the soil from reverting back to its acidic state. You will need to keep some of the branches trimmed back as well, and stay off it for a while.

  If you have questions A You Tube enhanced version of this article is on our WEB site at along with a daily gardening Blog with timely information. Also, like us on Facebook at Niemeyer Landscaping.


Sunday, May 29, 2016




    After cool-weather crops are spent, till soil in preparation for fall vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower. Stake or cage tomatoes before they become too large. Plant okra and a second crop of lima beans, green and yellow beans, zucchini, and corn. When melons begin to "vine", feed with garden fertilizer, manure or compost; also feed asparagus.

   Feed peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, and zucchini when they blossom. After the soil has warmed thoroughly, mulch tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, zucchini, okra, melons, and squash with grass clippings. Keep your eyes open for insects. Eliminate the first Mexican Bean Beetles and Squash bugs you see to prevent bigger problems later. Cutworms are responsible for the broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower plants lying on their sides with a bite out of their stems. Remove the chewed plant; dig around with your hand and find the little bugger a destroy it. Placing a paper collar around the transplant will provide safety. The collar must be pushed a half-inch into the soil.  

   Tomatoes will produce blossom end rot if you water heavy before a soaking rain, so water only if you have to. If you are growing tomatoes in a container on your deck, do not fertilize them with the same stuff you water your flower baskets with, the heavy nitrogen will cause black spots; use tomato food.

   Watch the onions. When 3/4 of the tops fall over, knock the remainder over, expose the tops of the bulbs and allow to dry for 2 weeks in the garden.

   Start controlling earwigs and slugs now.


    As soon as spring-flowering shrubs have finished blooming, prune as needed. Cut dying flowers from lilacs before seedpods form. Take root cuttings of mums, phlox and lavender. Divide bearded irises after flowering.

   Early in the month, plant tuberous begonias, cannas, gladiolus, and dahlias. Set out annual bedding plants. As shrubs finish flowering, feed with compost or fertilizer (14-7-7) and apply mulch. Feed for the last time, acid-loving plants such as Azaleas, Camellias, Japonica, Mt. Laurel, and Rhododendrons with fertilizer made just for them, then mulch with oak leaves, pine needles, wood chips, or bark.

   Feed roses with good high middle numbered rose fertilizer: spray them with a multi-purpose fungicide every two weeks.

   Pinch back early planted annuals like petunias, snapdragons, blue salvia, verbena, and mums for bushy growth later.

   Let tulips and other spring bulbs leaves die back naturally, but clip out the seedpod formed by the flower. Dig up the bulbs that flowered poorly this year and thin them out.

   If this is the forth layer of bark you are putting down, apply a thin layer of lime before you but this top dress of bark down. This will sweeten up the soil that is becoming quite acid due to the continual bark application over the years. Do not apply lime when Rhodos, Azaleas, Yews, Holly, and other acid loving plants are present.


   Keep strawberries picked and watered. Pull any that show signs of powdery mildew or rust. Soak newly planted stock once a week if the spring has been dry.

   After the June drop, thin remaining apples and peaches to 6 to 8 inches apart and plums to 4 to 6 inches apart. Thinning grape clusters may prevent black rot later in the season.

   Feed trees with fertilizer or compost. Check all trees, vines and bushes for insect pests. Start control measures now to keep populations low and to increase chances of harvesting unblemished fruit. How often should you spray? Every time you think about it.

   Water and mulch blueberries.


   June can be a good month to sow grass seed. Keep seeded area moist but not puddled. A seed starter fertilizer will give the grass seed a jump on the weed seed that may blow in later.

   A weed-n-feed fertilizer can be applied the first of the month, when broadleaf weeds have leafed out.

   White grubs can be controlled now with products containing Dylox and Offtenol. These products will not kill your earthworms.

   If you have questions A You Tube enhanced version of this article is on our WEB site at along with a daily gardening Blog with timely information. Also, like us on Facebook at Niemeyer Landscaping.

Monday, April 25, 2016


            This is the month for planting everything that's anything, so go out and dig and plant, water and weed.


            Early in the month make the first planting of snap beans, Swiss chard, and herbs. Check seed packets for suggested spacing. In smaller gardens, space rows a little closer than recommended. Do not crowd them any closer in the rows, the plants won't have enough space to develop properly.  Thin radishes, lettuce, spinach, carrots, and beets as needed.

            Cultivate shallow at least once a week to keep soil loose and weeds down. Side-dress with fertilizer and mulch when plants have established themselves. Asparagus will continue heavy production through early May. When emerging spears are pencil thin, stop picking, but do fertilize and mulch heavily.

            About mid-month, plant warm-weather crops such as corn, lima beans, pole and bush beans, pumpkins, summer and winter squash. Continue making succession plantings (plant some radished – wait two week – plant some more radishes – wait two weeks…) of beets, carrots, radishes, spinach and lettuce.

            In mid to late May, transplant peppers, eggplant, squash, melons and herb seedlings into the garden. Water heavily and frequently if spring is dry, but do not mulch yet.

            When buying tomatoes pick those that are dark green in color, with thick stems and no yellow leaves. Pick off all flowers and tomatoes, they will sap the plant's energy now when it's trying to establish itself in a new environment. When planting, burying as much as 3" of the stem; the little hairs you see are potential roots. Tomatoes need full sun but plant them on a cloudy day, so they can adjust to their new home before getting a daylong dose of sunshine. 


            As new shoots appear in perennial beds during early May, side-dress generously with a good organic fertilizer. Divide Mums and Shasta daisies as soon as growth begins. After the last frost, sow snapdragons, four-o'clocks, marigolds, asters, nasturtium, tuberoses, zinnias, and other tender flowers and bulbs.

            Pinch back mums at the end of the month. Prune mock orange, forsythia, flowering almond, and other spring-flowering shrubs after blossoms fade. A good rule when it comes to pruning flowering shrubs is to prune them after their flowers fade. Most flowering shrubs set their flowering sequence for next year soon after the flowers die.

            Keep an eye open for bagworms on evergreens and shrubs. Also tent worms are starting at this time. Check lilacs for scale; scrape off now before it spreads.

            Do not cut off leaves of spring bulb flowers until they have yellowed naturally. But do snip out the seedpods that form after the flower fades.

            Do not remove ants from peonies; no ants no blooms. To get bigger blooms remove the inferior buds that surround the terminal or main bud at the end of each stalk.

            Remove seedpods after lilac have flowered.

            Start spraying your roses with a fungicide every 10 days until a temperature of 85 degrees prevails during the day.

            Remove spent Rhododendron flowers, the seeds they try to grow will only sap energy better used else where on the plant. Feed them at this time with a Rhodo fertilizer.


            Early in the month, fruit set on trees should begin fleshing out. Remove misshapen or damaged sets. Thin lightly if trees are exceptionally crowed, but hold off on serious thinning until after June fruit drop. Remove suckers and water sprouts from apple trees.

            Check trees for codling moth (tiny white moths laying white eggs that hatch into thread-size worms, which burrow into immature fruits). Spray as necessary, which is every time you think about it. Do not spray insecticides while flowers are setting fruit, bees may be killed.

            Cut back black raspberry shoots when they reach 30 inches.

            Pinch blossoms from this year's planting of strawberries. Mulch between them with pine needles, clean straw, grass clippings or well-rotted compost. In established beds, remove and destroy strawberry plants showing signs of disease.

            Plant strawberries at this time. Make sure that the crowns are planted at ground level. If planted to deep the struggle to push foliage through the dirt will exhaust the plant and berry production will be light. If to the crown is to high it will freeze and die.


            Reseeding can begin at this time. An application of a seed starter fertilizer would give the grass seed a jump on the weed seeds that may blow in.

            If the month has been warm Weed-N-Feeds may be applied to established lawns at the end of the month.

   If you have questions A You Tube enhanced version of this article is on our WEB site at along with a daily gardening Blog with timely information. Also, like us on Facebook at Niemeyer Landscaping.

Saturday, April 16, 2016


            Believe it or not there are people out there harvesting Michigan’s first crop of the season The crop I speak of is Maple Syrup.

             This golden nectar that has graced the breakfast tables of Americans for well over 3 centuries is available to you also; if you have the right tree or trees.
                                         Leaves like this one
                                                          Not this one:
            The trees that will produce the sap necessary for making syrup are Norway, Black and Sugar Maples; these trees produce the highest quality syrup. The youngest a tree can be to receive one tap, or "spile" is one with a trunk at least 10" in diameter. Additional taps may be added for each 6" of diameter.

            The equipment needed to start will be, a drill with a 7/16 drill bit, a tap (a metal spout known as a spile), hammer and a bucket or milk jug.
            To know when to tap your tree can be tricky. Spring sap runs can begin as early as the late January, or as late as the first of March. Since we are not a big operation we generally tap as soon as the sap flows, and would suggest you do the same next year, for the early sap runs are the sweetest.

            To find out if the sap is flowing, go out to your tree on a sunny 40 degree day and drive a nail about 2" into the trunk and pull it out. Sap will flow within seconds, if the sap run is happening.

            Once you have established that the sap is running, drill a 7/16" hole, on a slight downward angle, going 2 to 3 inches into the trunk. Stay 4” to 6” away from any previous years taps. Next pound in the tap just hard enough for a snug fit; going beyond this may mean a split in the wood causing a leaky tap.

            With this operation done hang your bucket or milk jug on the spout. If your using a 3 to 5 gal. plastic pail, drill a 1" hole just under the top ridge. This will enable you to use the cover it came with, keep out the rain, snow, twigs, and other stuff that can spoil the sap. These buckets can usually be found in the bakery department of your local grocery store.

            Once your sap has been collected, you have 3 days to boil it down before it spoils. Freezing it as you gather it is also an option for those who only tap one or two trees. This way a bigger batch can be done at one time.

            To boil the sap down to syrup, you will need something to cook with. A camp stove is ideal, as is a hot plate. Either way you choose DON'T BOIL IT IN THE HOUSE! Even in the garage, like we did once, can be shaky; you see it takes 30 to 40 gals. of sap to make 1 gal. of syrup. With that much water suspended in the air, your kitchen will take on the climate of a jungle or for those of us who a politically correct a "tropical rain forest". Don't have any pets? No problem you will be host to hundreds if not thousands of little sweet ants that will be helping you remove the sugary glaze that is coating everything in your kitchen. SO DON'T BOIL IT IN THE HOUSE!

            As the sap is boiling keep adding to it from the batch you've accumulated until there is no more to add. Skim the impurities off that gather in the foam.

            NOW PAY ATTENTION you are getting close to the finished product.

            You will notice that the bubbles are not breaking as fast as they did earlier. The reason being, the ratio of sugar to water is rising. At this point do not take your eyes off the pot! Please believe me when I say the syrup has "eyes" and it is watching you also.

            Syrup is very mischievous and seeks to make your life miserable if it can. The moment you turn your head, just for a minute, the little bubbles say, "Hey guys he ain't lookin, let’s go, hang tight everybody"; and there they go up and over the side of the pot, laughing as they go, giving their very lives to the flames, just so the bubbles that remain can watch you scramble around hysterically looking for the oven mitts.

            Boil over’s happen only because of carelessness. If you pay attention you will be successful in bringing home a wonderful batch of Maple Syrup.

            The next big question is "when is the syrup ready". There are two professional ways and one back yard way to tell. The professional ways are with a maple syrup thermometer, or a hydrometer.

            The thermometer measures the temperature of the syrup of course. Finished syrup is 7 degrees above boiling point, or 219 degrees. Syrup finished below this temperature will spoil in time. Syrup finished above this temperature will crystallize some.

            The hydrometer measures the specific gravity of the syrup, and can be purchased just for maple syrup making.

            The back yard way is to watch the bubbles. When they don't brake and start heading toward the top of the pot, and are just about to go over the side, pull the pot off the fire and let the bubbles settle. Place the pot back on the flame and wait for it to happen again and pull the pot again. Do this about 5 times. This method is not perfect but for the back yard sugar maker it is just dandy.

            Regardless of the method used the finished syrup must be strained through a filter, don't use a coffee filter, the syrup is too thick. Heavy felt works well for this. Pour or ladle the syrup through the felt into canning jars and seal. 

            Maple syrup put in sealed jars at the proper temperature and, or, weight will last for 100 years or more. Your 1 gallon of syrup, because of its wonderful taste, probably won't make it past a month, and if you discover how fantastic it tastes on ice cream it will be history in 2 weeks.

            Spouts are sometimes available at hardware stores. Other equipment, including spouts, can be ordered by phoning Sugar Bush Supply in Lansing (517) 349-5185.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Deadly Car Exhaust on Shrubs

            Chivalry: Going above and beyond in caring for the needs of a fair maiden.

            Question: Is it still chivalry if the maiden is drop dead gorgeous? Or is this just reserved for the “fair” maidens?  If so, is it then and act of “Super Chivalry” if her appearance is less than fair? This has been pondered since the days of Arthur.

            Anyway, warming up the car for your damsel would be considered a modern day act of chivalry. Most men will back out the car a bit so as to not fill the garage with noxious fumes. Unfortunately this puts the tail pipe on most cars directly across from the Dwarf Alberta Spruce you’ve got planted in that little 2x2 spit of dirt next to the garage door.

            To give you an idea of what it’s like to be bathed with the warmth of the internal combustion engine. Stick you face in front of the tail pipe for a while; you will soon get the hint that maybe you should back the chariot out a little further when gaining the affection of the beauty you are looking to be chivalrous toward.


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Christmas lights in the landscaping.


            Some are works of electric magic, some look as though the job was abruptly halted due to a ladder malfunction; hopefully the shrubbery broke their fall.

            Before attempting this vision of outdoor amazement and wonder you might want to watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation; the “what not to do’s” are clearly displayed and should be avoided; Christmas in a hospital room has its challenges.

            If you do watch the movie I would like to draw your attention to the “plug scene”. The lesson learned here is that you do not want to plug in too many strings into one socket. Also, you can plug too many end to end, making up a long continuous strand. Below is the correct number of lights per plug outlet.


            *C7 Glass bulb size was 1 ½” and the C9 Glass bulb size was 2”. 100 bulbs was the                                  maximum number you could plug in.

            *The mini lights we have become used to; some call them twinkle lights, 5 strands can be                          plugged end to end without blowing the little fuse in the first strand. But 14 can                           be plugged into a 15 amp wall plug (just not end to end).

            *LED’s; sets with 50 lights can string up to 40.  20 to 35 on a strand can go as high as 80.


            Christmas lights have come a long way. We 50 and older crowd remember the old C7 and C9’s as kids. They got hot, and they burned not only a lot of electricity but an occasional finger now and then. If you wanted any kind of modest display you were hooking up some hefty cables directly into the fuse box.

            Mini lights kept the electric meter from spinning off the house; and most times the outside fantasy display could be powered by the outside house plug.

            But now with the introduction of LED’s scads of them can be plugged end to end, or 21,000 bulbs into a single 15 amp wall plug (with nothing else going of course). Your house could be visible from the Space Station.


If you have any questions feel free to e-mail me at or post a comment on this Blog. And like us on Facebook at Niemeyer Landscaping. For more Landscape and garden info and pictures on the subject check us out at