Ear to the Ground: The Insider Dirt to Gardening in Upstate NY

From the Publisher: September-October 2020

by janem on September 8, 2020

Hello, friends—

I have a group of girlfriends—we call ourselves the Bettys—who have all been close for more than a decade. We started out biking and skiing together, and although I am more of a tennis player these days, I still love them with my whole heart and jump at any chance to get together. 

Like with everything else, the pandemic situation has limited our opportunities to socialize. We can still ride bikes, sure, but the big dinner at a restaurant afterwards has been out of the question. Usually we’d get together for a happy hour now and again someplace in the city of Rochester, but that’s all been on hold, too. It’s been sad. 

But a few weeks ago, one of these women, a neighbor of mine, came up with a great idea. There are three of us that live in close proximity (walking distance). What about a progressive garden party? It’s outside, everyone can keep her distance, and we won’t be staying in any one place for too long. Perfect!

Nuts, cheese, crudités, and wine at my place. Delicious sate, corn salad, and wine at Michele’s. Then dessert (and a little more wine) at Ann’s. We bumbled along, chatted, and laughed like we always do, two on bikes and the rest walking. It was good to be together! And it would not have happened without our precious gardens, all three beautiful and unique.

COVID-19 has not brought a lot of good into most of our lives, I’d posit. But two very good things it has delivered are more newly minted gardeners and more commitment and passion from people who were gardeners already and now have more time on their hands. 

Our gardens are giving us plenty in return.    


Jane Milliman, Publisher


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Toad house

by cathym on July 4, 2020

by Cathy Monrad

A toad can eat massive amounts of insects in a single summer—up to 10,000, according to gardeningknowhow.com. Toads help naturally keep garden pest population under control; this voracious amphibian’s diet includes beetles, snails, slugs, spiders, flies, grubs, crickets, etc.

A source of water and shelter will attract toads. A toad house can be as simple as a placing a flowerpot upside down over a semi-circle of rocks, or by partially burying a pot horizontally in the dirt.

This “abode” made from items found around the house will make a cute addition to a shady spot in your garden—prime real estate any toad would love to call home.

Large empty yogurt container or plastic flower pot
River rocks in various sizes
Tongue depressor or large popsicle stick (optional)
Spray paint for use on plastic in desired color (optional)
Pre-mixed tile grout (optional)
Twigs or bark (optional)

Thin marker
Utility knife
Hot glue gun and glue sticks
Sponge and water (optional)

1. With marker, draw a “door” on the plastic container as in Figure 1.

Figure 1

2. Use utility knife to cut out door shape. Optional: If you do not wish to use grout to fill in spaces between the rocks, paint the container at this time. Let dry completely.

3. Using hot glue, attach rocks around door as seen in Figure 2. Leave a bit of space between the rocks.

Figure 2

4. Cover entire container with rocks. Note: you can choose to glue rocks on top of container, or create a roof with sticks or bark in Step 6.

5. Optional: To grout the gaps, use your finger to press pre-mixed grout between stones as shown in Figure 3. After all gaps are filled, use damp sponge to wipe excess grout off rocks. You will need to rinse sponge multiple times until rocks are clean.

Figure 3

6. Optional: To create a thatch-style roof, affix a larger rock in the center of the top with hot glue. Break twigs or bark to span from center rock to just past edge of container as shown in Figure 4. Glue roof pieces in a circular pattern until roof is covered.

Figure 4

7. Optional: Create a sign to hang above the door. Write message on popsicle stick with marker. Cut sign to desired length with utility knife. Attach above door with hot glue.

Cathy Monrad is the graphic designer and garden crafter for Upstate Gardeners’ Journal.