Jeanne Grunert is a freelance writer, blogger and book author from south central Virginia. Her books include "Plan and Build a Raised Bed Vegetable Garden" and many others, available on Amazon and wherever fine books are sold. Learn more about Jeanne, her books and her garden at


Create Healthy Garden Soil
by Jeanne Grunert - posted 08/15/15

Healthy gardens begin with healthy garden soil. There's nothing beter than naturally improving your garden's soil through the use of compost, manures, and other natural methods.

I like using plenty of compost as well as a good layer of mulch on top. When starting a new garden, I've used cardboard and paper over a grassy area to do two things: kill the existing grass and replenish the soil.

This experiment worked really well in my garden recently when I started a new garden area. Read all about it on my website, Home Garden Joy:  Weed Barriers for Healthy Soil

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The Stings of Summer
by Jeanne Grunert - posted 08/10/15

This summer has been a doozy for insect stings. Not one, but six stings total between two adults - and all of the stings complete accidents! It's as if the wasps, hornets and yellow jackets are in a particularly foul mood this year.
Gardening is a wonderful hobby, but it's not without its share of risks. Heck, all hobbies have risk. I used to horseback ride, so I can tell you about injuries and risks. Cyclists, runners, even artists have risks. Gardening is no different.
If you're allergic to insect stings, you probably have a plan in place to deal with them on an emergency basis. Many people with known bee venom allergies keep an epi pen or an emergency antihistimanine available at all times. But what about plain ordinary folks like you and me who aren't allergic to the nasty stinging insects but who end up in intense pain thanks to an overzealous wasp? That's when it's a good idea to have a backup emergency plan to deal with bee stings in the garden.

Honey bees, bumble bees and other true bees are gentle creatures unlikely to sting humans unless provoked. You really have to step on them or touch them to rouse them to sting. Some will only sting to guard their hive. Not so the wasp, yellow jacket or hornet. They aggressively defend their territories, which may be defined quite a big larger than you may define them.

Take my case for example. I was cutting brush back on the western side of the garden when I felt a searing pain in my leg. I thought I'd managed to hit myself with a thorny cane from one of the vines I was hacking back until a flash of yellow on my jeans alerted me that a yellow jacket was leaving his painful calling card. I'd accidently stumbled onto his ground nest, and he wasn't happy about it.

Limping back to the house, I realized I didn't have an ice pack. An unfortunate package of frozen lima beans was sacrificed to stand in as an ice pack. The following week when my spouse was stung, frozen corn did the trick. 

Now that we both know that we've got yellow jackets a-plenty in the garden, we know we need to do a better job of making a plan and stocking up on first aid items. Thankfully, neither of us are allergic. But both of us are avid gardeners, keen to remain outside weeding, tilling and planting until dusk finally forces us indoors on a warm summer evening. It's likely we'll encounter Mr. Angry Yellow Jacket again or his cousin, Wrathful Wasp, on one of our evening gardening expeditions. It's time to make a plan now for first aid for stings.

First Aid for Bee Stings in the Garden

  1. Know the signs of an allergic reaction. Even if you've been stung before, you can develop a reaction to later stings. If someone has shortness of breath, hives, trouble breathing or loses consciousness, call 911 immediately. Better be safe than sorry!
  2. For non-allergic reactions, remove the stinger if it's in place.
  3. Ice and elevate the affected limb, if possible.
  4. Pain can be treated with ibuprofin.
  5. Itchiness can be treated with over the counter antihistamines.

Another good idea is to carry your cell phone with you in the garden. You can always set the ringer to vibrate or silent, but you'll have it at the ready in case you need to call for help. 

Nearly every time I step into the garden, I have a wonderful time. I smile and relax as I pull weeds and just explore the wonders of nature. Sometimes, however, nature bites, stings or hurts. When it does, it's important to have a plan to swiftly deal with the problem.

I love bees, and they are a great help for pollination. Without all types of stinging insects, even the nasty yellow jackets and wasps, the garden would be a sorry place. Each has its place in the order of things. But when insects sting, it's helpful to have  plan in place.

I hope that these tips help. For more on first aid for bee stings, see Web MD.







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Beneficial Insects in the Garden
by Jeanne Grunert - posted 07/07/15

Some people seem to have a general aversion to insects of all kind. They see an ant, a beetle, or a slug in the garden and shriek, running for the pesticides on the shelf in the garage. That's a shame, because the majority of garden insects are harmless. Some are even beneficial, or helpful, to your garden.

Of course you know that bees, like the friendly little honey bee on the peach tree blossom above, are good bugs to have in the garden. Virginia's native bee, the Mason bee, is actually a more efficient pollinator than the honey bee. Mason bees have tiny hairs all over their bodies, which collect more pollen as they brush against the stamens of flowers. When they visit their next flower, it's easier for them to leave pollen behind to fertilize the flower. 

The praying mantis above visited my hydrangea a few days ago. These insects are beneficial because they eat many smaller insects, changing their diet as they grow. I've seen them catch beetles, wasps and other insects in their "praying" hands. They are very useful insects in the garden and will keep the pest population down for you.

This green fellow isn't a beneficial insect, but the white bits clinging to his back ARE quite beneficial. He is a tomato hornworm, the scourge of gardens everywhere. Tomato hornworms can destroy an entire tomato plant in one night. They eat the leaves and leave skeletan stems behind. Because they are so well camouflaged, they are difficult to spot among tomato plants. But not hard for the predatory wasp to find them. She lays her eggs on the back of the tomato hornworm. When they hatch, the larvae, shown above, kill the hornworm and eat it. Nature is gross, but efficient....and the wasp itself is quite a beneficial bug, helping to control the bad guys in the garden.


Your Virginia garden is an amazing microcosm, an ecosystem of insects busily at work helping your garden grow. Avoid using pesticides in the garden. Plant a wide range of flowering plants, especially native perennials, to provide suitable habitats for our native species. The more you can do to help beneficial insects in the garden, the better. 

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