The Big Book of Gardening Skills

Book Review: The Big Book of Gardening Skills
Buy at Amazon

For beginners & advanced gardeners alike, The Big Book of Gardening Skills is a comprehensive, generously illustrated volume is the complete guide to growing flowers, fruits, herbs, vegetables, lawns, & shrubs.

Clearly organized by topic with added charts, tables, & over 450 illustrations to help you plan, plant, & maintain beautiful, healthy, & productive gardens, this book can be read from cover to cover or by topics.

You can learn the masters’ tips & techniques for just about anything that needs doing in the garden, including: garden basics; info. for large or small gardens; plant selection info.; specialty garden hints; safe organic growing methods; illustrated pest & disease guide; & garden equipment guide.

Growing my own food – by gardening of all types – is my weakness.  I have a black thumb instead of a green one.  But knowing you have a weakness is the start of fixing it.  I use this book to help be diagnose what I did that ended up killing my plants.

This year I used the Big Book of Gardening Skills to help with the spindly tomatoes and pepper seedlings that I started in the house.  It helped me learn to fix it so I could grow them in the garden so I could start my own this year rather than go with seed.

How to Get Rid of Woolly Aphids WITHOUT Hurting Bees

How to Get Rid Of Woolly Aphids WITHOUT Hurting Bees


How to Get Rid Of Woolly Aphids WITHOUT Hurting Bees
Buy at Amazon

As I went out inspecting my trees I noticed what looked like a white fungus growing on the bark.  This worried me and when I tried to brush it off it “mushed” in my hands like a bug. Obviously about 2 minutes later Google was busy storing information on my search habits related to white mushy fungus on apple trees and trying to see how that applied to selling ad space…

I quickly learned that the fungus was NOT a fungus.  It was a waxy protective coating around a bug called a woolly aphid. Apparently woody aphids like to grow on fruit trees.  If they are not killed can burrow into the bark and make knots. Therefore, the next Google search was for “bee safe methods to kill woolly aphids” and “Woolly Aphids in Fruit Trees”

How to Get Rid Of Woolly Aphids WITHOUT Hurting Bees

I read on several sites that the best thing to use was mentholated alcohol.  This eats through the waxy protective coating that made the aphid resistant to most pesticides.  It is also bee friendly.  This is because it is non-persistent and not used on flowers.  It is sprayed directly on the bug and the trunk of the tree.

Next step was to find mentholated alcohol.  The local pharmacy said they did not carry it.  The said they could order me some.  Unfortunately I wanted the bugs killed TODAY…

The garden department at lows had no idea what it was and sent me to the paint department. The paint guy looked puzzled and said they don’t carry mentholated alcohol. I was stuck again.

Back to the interwebz….

Mentholated alcohol led to Methanol which lead to denatured alcohol.  This lead back to the paint aisle at Lowes to get some solvent and a spray bottle.

I kicked myself all the way out as I learned about mentholated alcohol.  Recently, I was doing some research into alcohol stills for making fuel.  I learned that to get a license to own a still for fuel production you had to be able to make the alcohol non-potable.  A common commercial way was to denature it with menthol.  Basically, complex chemistry lesson aside, was that denatured alcohol and mentholated alcohol are pretty much the same thing.


It was easy once I got the right equipment.  Just a quick spray MELTED the aphid.  It was the coolest thing. I sprayed one tree to see what would happen.  The mext day all the aphids were gone.  So I sprayed all the other trees.

It has been over a month and no more aphids came back.

My trees are doing great, and are as strong as I have ever seen them (but they have only been planted a year)…

Denatured alcohol sprayed on wooly aphids kills them quickly and seems to prevent them from coming back.

The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control: A Complete Guide to Maintaining a Healthy Garden and Yard the Earth-Friendly Way (Rodale Organic Gardening Books)

How to Make Bee Fondant

How to Make Bee Fondant

How to Make Bee Fondant
Buy at Amazon Fondant

Bee fondant is basically a sheet of hardened sugar candy that is used as a backup food supply to tide your bees over until they can start bringing in their own food. If you are not greedy and leave the bees enough of their own honey to make it through the winter then you will not need fondant.

Some commercial apiarists use fondant because sugar is sometimes cheaper than honey.  Fondant does serve a secondary purpose, in the winter months it helps absorb dangerous moisture that often kills colonies.

I looked over several recipes online, but in the end I choose the recipe from a local bee expert – Trevor Qualls from Bon Aqua Springs Woodenware  because I know and respect his judgment when it comes to what is best for bees in my area, as well as he works to provide organic solutions to bee management problems. His recipe stays away from ingredients that are genetically modified, and I like that.

I followed his bee fondant recipe exactly, and it worked perfectly on the first try.

He does not mention it in the recipe, but the vinegar is used to invert the sugars to turn the sucrose in table sugar to glucose and fructose sugars found in fruits or honey. (This process is often used by those brewing alcohol also).

Trevor does say that the vinegar will not make your fondant taste like vinegar, and he is right about that.  I broke off a little piece of the bee fondant to verify.  It is very close to a piece of hardened plain sugar frosting.  That is not surprising, because it is pretty much what fondant is.

Recipe for Bee Fondant


  • Sugar
  • Water
  • Vinegar


  • Mix 1 part water to 4 parts sugar.
  • Add 1/4 tsp. vinegar per pound of sugar.
  • (Since 1 cup of sugar weighs 8 ounces. 8 cups of sugar needs one 16 oz. glass of water and 1 tsp. of vinegar)
  • Bring to a boil, stirring constantly until boiling begins. (If you do not stir constantly you will get a transparent gel that is be extremely sticky instead of the opaque nonstick sheet fondant). The sugar mix will look clear.
  • Boil covered for 3 minutes without stirring.
  • Boil until mixture reaches 234° F. Take caution not to exceed 234° F as the sugar will caramelize and that is harmful to bees.
  • Remove from heat and allow to cool to 200° F. This will cause the candy to have an increased thickness.
  • Whip with a whisk until whiteness occurs.
  • Quickly pour onto waxed paper having a towel beneath. Be sure that the towel is not fluffy since it will depress the cakes width. This method will make a nice cake.
  • Allow to cool undisturbed.
  • Remove wax paper and store each cake in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. The cakes can be handled as plates but may be a little soft like fudge. They will be completely white with whiter areas inside. Tiny crystals will shine from a broken edge.
  • Place fondant directly over the brood cluster so the bees have access to it.

This is a very easy fondant recipe, but if you take care to not over rob your hives, you probably won’t need it. Traditionally (a hundred or so years ago) Honey was harvested in the spring, to insure that the bees had access to the entire summer’s harvest to make it through the winter and to ensure that only true surplus was taken by the beekeeper.