Sunday, July 5, 2015

A Short Growing Season? --- Mature what you have FAST!

This year I planted later than my folks in zone 5, and I'm in zone 6. Their tomatoes, cucumbers and beans were transplanted, while mine sulked at the window looking out on yet another day of cold, cold rain. The soil remained cool long into late May! Just now, in late June, do the old timers say ''Mother Nature has finally settled down.'' Its hot, sunny....real hot.

My tomatoes and cucumbers will likely show something to harvest, should the growing season last into mid-September as it usually does. But, I am reckoning with scrapping my hopes that this be a big year for canning garlicky dill pickles. (I've been looking for the perfect recipe all season long!) I had planned on this being the year I truly focused all my learning and love on my sweet melons.  But that, too, may not be a worthwhile use of time.

Yep, resetting expectations.

What *is* a worthwhile use of time?
1) Ensuring plants, which will thrive in the conditions summer is providing - both the hot and the shorter season, have what they needs for optimal growth.

A. BEANS: I didn't plan on focusing on string beans, but I didn't wait long for the first batch to emerge, before giving up (my own saved seed for purple pole beans) and replanting. The second time around I went straight to the bean experts in my garden for how to plant optimally, and which varieties do well. This is not a year for sloppy planting or trying out a new variety.

B. WINTER SQUASH & MELONS:  I pulled a lovely, big winter squash plant this morning. Burgess Butternut - both a prolific producer and my fave for soup.  It hurt so much! Yet, I knew that its presence was going to cheat the sweet melons of sun nearby.  (Trellising isn't a viable option in a bed raised this high. Winds often precede our late-afternoon rains.) Yep, need to ensure the sun pattern is just right and influence it in any way I can.

In fact, I am generally clearing out anything I can, which will compete with maturing plants, as soon as possible. for example, I am not waiting for my 'cut and come' lettuce to come again. Its going after the first large head. Peas, which I generally allow to dry in the garden, will instead, be taken down when all pods are ripe.  (And all parts tilled under so that max nitrogen fixing is realized.)

I am also fertilizing. I generally don't do alot of this, spending rather additional monies on great soil. But this year, I'm not counting on my soil to do all the work. I love Dr. Earth and FoxFarm.

Here's a good schedule for fertilizing:

"The first time for fertilizing butternut squash plants is when the seedlings are a few inches tall. A dose of fertilizer at this stage will help the plant to get as large as possible. Larger plants mean bigger, more well formed squash. Once the plants begin to take off and get big, avoid adding more fertilizer until after the blossoms appear. This will encourage the plant to focus its energy on producing squash. After the blossoms appear, another dose of fertilizer can be applied to maximize fruit production. "

Finally, pruning and burying squash vines - this is a delicate matter! - and excess flowers, too, can help your squash vine to put energy into fewer fruits, which ripen before your first frosts.

C. TOMATOES and EGGPLANT: This isn't the year for trying out new water-saving strategies. Instead, a long, slow soak - as long as your busy schedule allows - is the name of the game. I do this each morning. Knowing that I am novice enough to over-watering, I team my deep watering with---
Plenty of hoeing and oxygenating those roots. Give 'em what they need, folks, and your plants will grow wild!

Ok, and of course, I am watching the pests a bit more closely.
- I am holding mulch at bay,
- I check the undersides of the leaves of my brassica for little green worms for a couple minutes in the morning,
- I generously sprinkle Iron Phosphate around lettuce and brassica at night - I am not holding back on my battle with slugs!  &
- Emerging beans are dusted with diatomaceous earth, as soon as they emerge. In my deep, soak watering method, I can lay the hose near the beans, and water in a way that helps me avoid re-dusting each day.

Friday, July 3, 2015

A few more Plants which Attract Beneficial BUGS

I've done it again. Planted a beloved plant which attracts the hawkmoth at night, within a short distance from my veggie patch. Shucks!

I've seen them flying about 4 o'clocks in the past, so I left them off the landscape roster this year.  But shucks!  I see hawkmoths devouring my larkspur, at twilight, too. 'Grow' magazine reports that the larva LOVE nicotiana. Elementary! But I missed skipping that one, too...sigh. Avoid all light-colored tubular shaped flowers, they say. Larkspur isn't exactly light-colored.

Tobacco hornworm will do serious damage to tomato plants. Boy, are they nicely camouflaged! They are so easy to miss. Honestly, I find them ugly.

Last early winter, I found a HUGE hornworm in a box of tomatoes, I was ripening after the first frost, atop my fridge.  It was munching on any little leaves and stems I left behind on the tomato, as I had been advised, this was a better way to ensure that the tomato ripened well, when picked fully green from the plant.

I could have perhaps created a zen balance in my garden, by interplanting flowers which attract parasitic wasps to my plot - wasps which lay their eggs inside the unsuspecting hornworm - yep inside! - such as cosmos & sweet alyssum. 

Johnny's Seeds makes a 'Beneficial Insects Attractant' seed mix selling it in 500 seeds or by the ounce and pound. It includes a few I hadn't thought of before such as -
Dill, Siberian Wallflower, Coreopsis, Daisy, Cilantro, California Poppy, Fennel, Globe Gilia, Liatris, Begamot, Baby Blue Eyes and Rudbeckia.

On first glance it seems the mix is to attract bees, too, but they offer a 'bee feed' mix in a separate product. Also, they note, this flowers/herb mix is formulated to attract predator insects. I can't say even with a fresh, swollen bee-sting to the lip, as I write this, that I consider a bee a predator.

So, hail, hail to planting more herbs and flowers in the garden! (And if you're looking for the gosh-darned best company for herb seed selection, check out John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds!)

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Burpee seeds Grow old Fast & Germinate very Poorly after their Inaugural Year!

I live in a climate where its dry. Quite dry.  Getting used to a place much drier than what I grew up with, there are many mental adjustments to make. For starters, I had to scrap my ideas of what should be included in an ornamental garden, and embrace a whole new look!

There are benefits, too. Blight is far less common here.  Devouring the advice in 'Grow' a special publication of 'Fine Gardening' I learned that beans grown in dry climates are the safest to harvest when the intent is to use as seed bean the next season. Why? Common blight on seed beans is rare where precipitation rarely penetrates the pod when the beans are growing....forming. Lord knows, the hot dry of this place, dries up any moisture in the pod before anything can take hold!

In general seed keeps very well here. Sure, I take extra precautions, such as keeping it out of direct sun and storing it in ajar Ziplocs in a dark, dry basement room. Truly, I can still germinate seed well into year 3 and 4; in the case of tomatoes and peppers -- into year 5 and beyond! My fellow garden club members note that this is not uncommon.

But I have one beef. Why should it be, grown side by side, my Burpee seeds truly don't germinate after the first year of purchase?  Whether its beans, basil, corn, radicchio, annual agastache, 4 o'clocks, or Robinson's painted daisy, ... I can't get them to budge!  Any of the other seed companies I support, don't seem to have this issue. In fact, my own seed, unwashed, not properly separated from chaff (all conditions that contribute to its deterioration in storage) even germinate fabulous compared to my Burpee seed in year 2!

I've read what I can about the company.  In this post, you'll find interesting links. If you're not going to use Burpee seed up in year one, forget it. BUT, is there more than meets the eye if they're produced to play dead forever after, if not used up in year one?  Its too creepy.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Harmless Grub, pretty Pupa, or scary Nuisance?

Bumble flower beetle, Euphoria nigra.I dug around a raised bed made of retaining wall stones.  To be expected, there on the warm south interior wall, I uncovered some creepy blue-gray caterpillar-like bugs. They 'played dead' when I scooped them out, for a few minutes, until they felt the powerful mid-day rays, and then came to life, scraping along the edge on their backs, 6 little legs in the air, towards the soil. They needed to be back in the soil. That was different behavior than I'd seen a a metamorphing or pupating insect before.

We have bugs in the community garden. Squash bugs in pupae, are often mistaken for a friendly butterfly the pupae so resemble what you might attribute to a lovely, good flying bug.

So, I wasn't playing. And these grubs are gross. Really gross. I could only imagine with such appearances, they were wreaking HAVOC on the roots of the plants in those beds. I am truly sorry to post photos of such yucky things on my blog. But you must know what I was dealing with here.

I brought them right to the tenured folks at the open spaces and forestry division of my city.  My community garden falls under that department - so its an easy connection, too. Besides, they were the folks who had just filled those raised beds with new, loamy soil.

They suggested they were roly polies or pillbugs -- that is most of the quart jar - yes, I said quart jar - of grubs I brought them. I dug up half a quart of these suckers from each 3x3x3' raised bed. The soil was dense with the buggers! If you have read my entries on pillbugs, you know that I am familiar with them, and knew they hadn't been added to the jar.

Extension service to the rescue! I walked in, and the cowboy who picked up my jar, only peered at it a split second before proclaiming them grubs of scarabs, 'bumble flower beetles.' God save the bug geeks and smart master gardeners!

Here is a picture of the grubs by well-known insect specialist, Whitney Cranshaw. They seem large to me. And indeed they are. The beetles they become can be decently large, too. I dug up exoskeletons of the mature beetles (the picture of which you see above). They are 1.5 to 2'' long, at least.

While these grubs can loosen the soil around growing things, they are mostly considered a pal of gardeners given how much composting action they provide. In fact, the specialist suggested, if we begin composting operations at the garden, we'd be hard pressed to compost without ever seeing one of the mature beetles. Huh! They were attracted to the amount of compost in the soil blend, the city added.  I had been speculating, with such an insect issue, the soil they gave me was pure bunk. Quite the opposite!

The adults can prey on corn and overly ripe fruit, though. So, keep a watch, gardeners!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Where to find seeds for Mountian Native and Xeric Plants

I’ve never quite clarified the name of this blog for you. So here goes. I read that a good landscape can add 10% of your home’s value, to the total value.  Yet, I don’t have nearly $20,000 at my disposal.

How to save bucks?
1 Grow all possible perennials from seed
2 Save mucho on water bills in the years I am developing my spot, but freeing myself the huge lawn! (More on this later.)
3 Re-use all stones, gravel, etc, left behind by the former owner - albeit, in more effective ways.
4 Re-upholster used garden furniture, treat weathered surfaces of old decks so that they see re-use or can be made useful and durable once again.
5 Find places that offer free mulch. Arborist Alliance, is a great resource. My local farmer, who offers his empty acreage to one-off tree trimmers, accepts their dumped loads of chipped lumber & brush, too. Its free for the taking….er….loading, too!
6 How about free compost? Well, my kitchen produces a ton of leftovers for my own piles, but simply driving around the edges of my metropolitan area turns up more signs for ‘free manure’ and ‘free compost’ or even ‘eggs for sale’ (a good lead for wonderful chicken manure!) than ever will.

By far, the most challenging (and yes, rewarding, sigh….) of the above, is growing water wise or native perennials from seed. One would think, though, that specific how-to’s for germinating seed, would be found on the internet —- someplace!  Indeed, the geeks who germinate these hard-to-germinate seeds either speak to one another exclusively in garden clubs, or this is just considered proprietary knowledge by greenhouses and their staff.

I have come to highly value, hence, seed companies which actually tell you how to germinate their product and here are my faves for high and dry gardens:

Using the latter requires a bit of sifting; tip: search by specific variety's latin name. Their customer service is very good, though. I find all 3 companies delightful and hope you will, too.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Keeping up with Japanese Beetles in the Garden

The Japanese beetle  appeared in Colorado 3 years ago.  Black and white signs were posted at greenhouses; when you asked employees about it, they all sighed. We thought we could skirt this pest here in the high and dry, but those little buggers are all-too-adaptable.

It was thought that they made their way here from southern areas of the U.S. on trucks bound for large gardens centers of places such as Home Depot and Lowe's. Without experts working in these garden centers, checking the quality of an incoming shipment - employees  who may not know what the damage of Japanese beetles look like - a shipment containing any part of their life cycle could not be refused.  Sigh.

There are 3 plants in my landscape, which the Japanese beetles just eat to the ground.
1 Missouri evening primrose
2 Mexican or desert primrose, pink
3 White Butterfly Gaura or Bridal Gaura

I noticed a 4th & 5th today in a Xeriscape Demo garden, namely, California fuchsia & pale evening primrose.

I dust my plants with diatomaceous earth each day, but each day I do, I ask myself why.
I choose a plant for my xeriscape given —
1_ Its lush beauty and hence, ability to give the idea of ‘xeriscape’ a brand new identity.
2_ Its ability to weather the challenges of its environment without requiring extra care.

When the plant is so beat up by Japanese beetles, both are defied. So why retain these plants in my landscape at all??? 

I can rip up my Mexican or desert primrose until the beetles pass. It does generate leaves anew in mid-July, when the airborne beetles disappear. It will even bloom late in the season again, but I must rip it up at the first site of beetles munching on its leaves. The plant wants to spread all over anyway, so this way, it stays a small, delicate flower.

The gaura seems to skirt many of the beetles if its hidden in tall coneflowers, larkspur & bachelor buttons -- growing without any mulch around it. They key seems to be a combination of hard, dry unmulched ground & "hiding" it in other non-tasty species.

But the Missouri evening primrose? Sigh..... Rip 'em out?  Yep! I finally did this morning. It took real pluck. Japanese beetles lay nasty grubs in the soil of lawns - anywhere close to where the mature beetles eventually need to feed. I just ordered beneficial nematodes on Amazon. 10 million of 'em for $35. I'll douse my lawn with 'em this year. (I may be a bit late in doing it, but I doubt the grubs are hatching yet.) But, this is hardly something that I am willing to do each and every year.

Bonus?? I found that under the prostrate lovely primrose, there were a host of slugs, earwigs, pillbugs, too -- this atop large rocks even in the super hot microclimate of my south side patio, close to the neighbor's fence! I guess its growth habit, & its lovely flesh -- such a draw for beetles -- just isn't a match with my landscaping needs.

Bye-bye Missouri Evening primrose. Parting is such sweet sorrow.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

What is garden hygiene?

Avoiding a garden area with stinky breath and body odor? Not quite….

Growing up, my mother insisted large weeds be buried or removed, ditto fallen leaves or fruit from plants. Tidiness isn’t too far off the mark, when it comes to the basics, but we know it to be so much more!  Think whole garden, garden health, your own little growing eco system in balance.

1) Manage the weeds & volunteers in your garden.
- Early in the season, they can shade plant roots, giving transplants a boost. But, they can also rob new seedlings of nutrients and water. A flowering weed may draw pollinators to your garden or shelter a spider that eats undesirable bugs, sure, but it can also play host to a virus, too! Find a balance.
- Under the canopy of a large weed, or under a pile of weeds left in an aisle, insect pests find shelter and shade during hot daytime temperatures.  They exit these ‘shelters’ in cooling temps of evening - looking for living plants to munch.
- Cut down early in the season, weeds are easiest to eradicate. Without any pollinated flowers or seeds, they can be buried in the soil to break down. Ensuring they are truly buried, or will completely dry out by nighttime to prevent them from luring pests such as earwigs and pill bugs into your garden.

2)   Prevent disease in your garden.
- Buy hardy and strong transplants.  If you are buying bargain basement transplants, the savings can be used to boost your soil.
- Use clean tools, especially when pruning or harvesting lettuce, celery, tomatoes (if cut from the vine), etc.
- Know when a plant has succumbed to a disease. If you are unsure what the disease may be, or can’t pinpoint it quickly, prevent its spread by removing the plant promptly. Though painful, saying good bye can save neighbor plants. Definitely don’t place diseased plants in the compost. Hello, dumpster!

3) Avoid overcrowding.
- Be it ever so tempting to get as much out of one small garden,as possible (and every-so-trendy), overcrowding plants makes it easier for a disease to leap to its next victim.

The ideal scenario to create is that there is wind movement through the plants and this in itself will help prevent pests and diseases from harbouring within an extremely sheltered space that is your garden.” 

- It also drains soil of fertility.  Fertile, balanced soil is an essential component to garden hygiene.

4) And now for the tidying up:
After a busy gardening season, its very tempting to leave the dry vines or plants in place and wait to deal with them until spring. Yet, this is not a good idea.  Decaying vegetation is the ideal refuge for many pests and diseases. Also, many organisms responsible for disease and insect problems survive until the next growing season (i.e., overwintering) in plant debris such as shriveled fruit or dead, dried up vines.