First hummingbird of the year

>> Sunday, April 29, 2007

Saw the first hummingbird to return from their yearly trek. It was a black-chined hummingbird, the only one we have here in Utah. The others will soon follow.


Utah is in for longer, worse droughts than ever

>> Monday, April 23, 2007

Another article I found in the Salt Lake Times

"Drought in Utah: Learning from the Past — Preparing for the Future" was issued this month by the state's Division of Water Resources. A dozen experts from the division prepared the document, with Brian King as the primary author.

The report emphasizes the need to diversify water supplies in order to mitigate future droughts. It praises Salt Lake City for taking such measures, ensuring a reliable supply.

"Drought can never fully be mitigated and an element of 'coping' or 'living with drought' will always exist," it points out. But action can lessen the severity of coming dry cycles.

A surprising finding is that for more than a century, Utah has enjoyed an unusually stable climate.

That is the same period during which many scientists have claimed human-caused global warming has accelerated. But whether this phenomenon — if it actually exists — missed Utah or its effects aren't fully felt yet in the Beehive State — or if it is actually beneficial to the state — the fact remains that the past 111 years of instrumented weather records show unusually good water supply.

Dendrochronology, the study of tree rings, lays out tangible evidence of year-by-year weather conditions stretching back more than 2,000 years.

The width of tree rings, reflecting trees' yearly growth, tell of wet or dry conditions.

"Analysis of this record indicates that many droughts, before the advent of the instrumental record, were more severe, more frequent and impacted larger areas," the report states.

"On average, drought contained in the reconstructed ... record (roughly 1,900 years before the instrumental record) was approximately 10.9 years in length compared to the average drought duration of 6.8 years during the last 111 years (instrumental record)."


Vanishing honeybees mystify scientists

Read this article in the Washington Post
(comments in parenthesis are mine)

Washington-Go to work, come home. Go to work, come home. Go to work -- and vanish without a trace.
Billions of bees have done just that, leaving the crop fields they are supposed to pollinate, and scientists are mystified about why.
The phenomenon was first noticed late last year in the United States, where honeybees are used to pollinate $15 billion worth of fruits, nuts and other crops annually. Disappearing bees have also been reported in Europe and Brazil.

Commercial beekeepers would set their bees near a crop field as usual and come back in two or three weeks to find the hives bereft of foraging worker bees, with only the queen and the immature insects remaining. Whatever worker bees survived were often too weak to perform their tasks.
(The general public only cares when it begins to affect their pocketbook).

If the bees were dying of pesticide poisoning or freezing, their bodies would be expected to lie around the hive. And if they were absconding because of some threat -- which they have been known to do -- they wouldn't leave without the queen.
Since about one-third of the U.S. diet depends on pollination and most of that is performed by honeybees, this constitutes a serious problem, according to Jeff Pettis of the U.S. Agricultural Research Service.

"They're the heavy lifters of agriculture," Pettis said of honeybees. "And the reason they are is they're so mobile and we can rear them in large numbers and move them to a crop when it's blooming."

Honeybees are used to pollinate some of the tastiest parts of the American diet, Pettis said, including cherries, blueberries, apples, almonds, asparagus and macadamia nuts.
(I heard last summer that a mite was causing the declining population).

Pettis and other experts are gathering outside Washington for a two-day workshop starting on Monday to pool their knowledge and come up with a plan of action to combat what they call colony collapse disorder.

In some cases, beekeepers are losing 50 percent of their bees to the disorder, with some suffering even higher losses. One beekeeper alone lost 40,000 bees, Pettis said. Nationally, some 27 states have reported the disorder, with billions of bees simply gone.
Some beekeepers supplement their stocks with bees imported from Australia, said beekeeper Jeff Anderson, whose business keeps him and his bees traveling between Minnesota and California. Honeybee hives are rented out to growers to pollinate their crops, and beekeepers move around as the growing seasons change.

Honeybees are not the only pollinators whose numbers are dropping. Other animals that do this essential job -- non-honeybees, wasps, flies, beetles, birds and bats -- have decreasing populations as well. But honeybees are the big actors in commercial pollination efforts.
"One reason we're in this situation is this is a supersize society -- we tend to equate small with insignificant," Berenbaum said. "I'm sorry but that's not true in biology. You have to be small to get into the flower and deliver the pollen.

"Without that critical act, there's no fruit. And no technology has been invented that equals, much less surpasses, insect pollinators."
(Please, don’t use insecticides when honeybees are around. They are having trouble enough already.)


One transplant at a time

>> Sunday, April 22, 2007

I love gardening, but my love is tested daily as I attempt to turn these lawn-filled, clay plots into flower-supporting, food-producing, horizontal compost piles. When we moved into this house, several years ago, there were four rose bushes (in sad shape), five evergreen shrubs (dying), five fruit trees (apple, cherry, peach, pear, plum, all in desperate need of pruning), a catalpa tree and a dogwood tree both in need of pruning. And all in desperate need of fertilizer. There was not one bit of mulch to be seen and the soil was hard-brick clay. Talk about your gardening challenge! The joy of having a clean slate to start with was not to be found here. I was faced with first getting what I had cleaned up and healthy before I could consider starting anything new.

I had never gardened in clay before, I had never grown roses or fruit trees either so I began reading, listening to garden talk shows on radio and television and visiting the many garden centers and nurseries surrounding me. I also visited the wonderful public gardens to see what grows here. Thankfully, the knowledge base concerning plants and landscaping has expanded greatly thanks to the internet and the ability to blog. All of the wonderful people who have given advice can only be summed up as golden. Thank-you all very much for sharing your pictures and advice. I wish I could thank each of you by name but given that I can't possibly remember all of you, I have tried to list as many as I can on my blogroll. The sum total of all of this knowledge I have gathered has given me the confidence to expand my gardening abilities and grow with my gardens. And now I want to share my mistakes and successes with all of you in hopes that some new gardener might learn and gain the confidence to start their own gardens.

While attempting to nurse everything back from the throes of death I immersed myself in the fantasy of drawing up plans. Many of you know what I mean, I was filled with the excitement of planning new and glorious flower beds and life-sustaining vegetable plots and sensuous herb gardens. Well, in the meantime, I had to learn what to do to get the clay soil into some usable state. So my hands were full and my ideas were flowing. I love learning new things!

I spent the first full year observing how everything grew here, where the sun and shade fell and taking note of different views from each window in the house. This was essential in order to determine where best to place all of the planned plants and hardscape I was planning. Many plans and bed designs have changed from the originals or should I say I have 'adjusted' them to better fit the reality of a budget and available space. To be modestly honest, my inadequacies and enthusiasm needed to be trimmed a bit.

The second year we added a deck to the back of the house and this provided at least two new corners and ideas for beds, one a shade garden, the other an herb garden.
At this time I began removing lawn to make five beds and began adding as much compost as we could afford. I also began covering the areas with small bark knowing it would help keep the soil cool in the hot summers that is part of Utah living. I was trying to get worms to come up closer to the surface so they could help loosen the soil. I couldn’t resist the urge to add some plantings so I put in a couple of Irises (which are one my favorite flowers), a Plumbago, and a clematis. All of which died by the next year. The clay was still too much for them to survive in. The lesson of patience had been taught and learned so it wasn't a total bust.

Two of the existing rose shrubs had to come out. They were not able to be saved, unfortunately, the other two are now blooming with beautiful red roses and, of course, the not so beautiful typical black-spot, powdery mildew and aphids. But these are getting less and less common because they are slowly getting under control.

The evergreens all had to come out. Neither my wife nor I cared for where they were planted nor did we care to have them in the yard, besides the fact they were mostly brown and not worth the trouble of saving. Sorry evergreen lovers, I just could not do it. Besides, removing them opened up two planned beds.

That Fall I began putting bulbs everywhere, mainly Tulips, Daffodils and Hyacinths and the following Spring they all brought much needed color to the otherwise drab landscape. The soil was beginning to loosen up but still needed more work. So, in went more compost and mulch and the worms were beginning to show up for work and have helped greatly.

One major enemy I have to deal with through all of this, and the prospects are good that I will be dealing with this for a very long time, is field bindweed. If you don’t have to fight this very prolific weed then you are indeed a lucky gardener. Not that there aren’t many other weeds to deal with, but this one has roots that can travel thirty feet! When you pull them they break off easily and come up again. If you don’t throw away what you did manage to pull up (in the trash can, not the compost pile!) they will sprout and start anew. If you till and break them each into ten separate pieces they will grow ten separate new plants. Whole articles have been written on just how to kill these things. Some articles say you will never completely get rid of it. Others offer more hope but lean more towards just surviving with it as opposed to completely eradicating it. To control it is basically a matter of timing. The only time spraying is effective is during Summer when they flower and on into the Fall as they store energy to make it through Winter. Glysophate (there are over 200 name brands that use this as their main ingredient, with the most notable being Round-Up) is probably the safest for humans. The smallest drop of it will kill any plant. So extreme caution is advised. But it breaks down within seven days of use and when it hits the soil it becomes inert. So, all in all not bad for an herbicide.

One local Master Gardener I heard of feeds the plant into plastic bottles without breaking them off and allows them to grow there. In June, as they begin flowering, he cuts the bottom of the bottle open and sprays Glysophate on them until they are completely soaked. This is the time of year they take the Glysophate down into the roots and die. They are so prolific that he will be doing this every year, but at least there is some hope of getting it under control. Of course, you can always count on neighbors who don’t garden and don’t care if it survives in their yards. This means that it will always come back.

This year, in January, I decided to buy one of those ‘complete’ gardens you see in catalogs to put in one of my full-sun beds. It is a butterfly/hummingbird garden. So when Spring came around I covered the bed with composted steer manure and more compost and an all-purpose fertilizer and then tilled it all in. When the plants arrived about a month later the plot was fairly easy to dig and so I planted all 51 plants. This planting took place just three days ago and the weather has been pretty much perfect for it. 50s to 60s daytime and down into upper 30s to lower 40s at night. Occasional rain. Mostly overcast.

I am keeping my fingers crossed and getting the irrigation system prepared because I think this Summer is going to be hotter and dryer than usual. Our snow pack in the Wasatch Mountains is below normal so water will definitely become a problem towards the end of Summer.

I love life, and gardening is such a wonderful expression of ‘love of life’. When we can spread hope in this way it shows that we are doing more than just taking up space on this planet.

So, I hope you join me in my journey deeper into gardening as I try to tame the clay and beautify our world one transplant at a time.


Freaky weather

>> Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Not totally unexpected but freaky just the same. Just after 12 noon, huge snowflakes began falling in 40 degree weather. Thirty minutes later the temperature dropped to 38F.
45 minutes later the temp went up to 39F then down one degree. all the while the snow was falling and not sticking. The flakes are smaller now and by 4:30 pm the temperature was 41F and the sun was shining brightly.

This is pretty typical of Utah Spring, for those of you who don't know.

By this evening there won't be any sign that it snowed today.

Temps are to be in the 60s for the next several days, just perfect for transplanting.


New plants arrived!

>> Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Received my starter garden from Bluestone Perennials! Talk about instant gratification. 55 plants in all.
They are all in good shape with one exception, a three pack of Arabis looks a bit weary.
Instructions say to unpack them immediately, and water them at least twice today.
Set them in shade for a couple of days and when ready to plant do it in the evening.
Now I need to work them into the perennial bed B3, according to my map, and put the excess wherever they will be out of the way until they can go in B3 after the bulbs are moved. I had too many bulbs last Fall and their final positions had not been worked over yet. I was planning on having them begin dying out so I could pull them for the summer and put them into their permanent location next Fall. My timing was a little bit off.

With the exception of the four shrubs, they are all planned into BB3.

I will send the packing peanuts back to Bluestone and receive free shipping on my next order, nice.


Roto tiller blues

>> Sunday, April 15, 2007

Yesterday, I borrowed my neighbors roto-tiller. Some people might think how lucky that he can borrow one. Or, how lucky that he got to roto-till instead of using a pitch fork. I'm here to tell you that I do not consider myself lucky at being able to use this particular roto-tiller.

This thing is a beast! It is big and clunky, there is no reverse, it literally beat me up trying to turn it around. The controls to put the tines into the ground actually fight back! My body is more beat up than the ground I was trying to till.

If all roto-tillers behave as this thing does I will never do it again!

What little bit of soil I was able to till (in a straight line) turned out to more closely match my dream soil than anything I could ever do with just a pitch fork. Two sides of the one bed I used this thing on is bordered by chain link fence. I got caught up against that fence more than once.

Please, somebody reassure me that not everyone goes through this kind of disgrace in trying to till their garden.

I guess I pictured something that would 'turn on a dime' for tight corners. And, something that would back up so I could erase the foot prints and holes I dug into the soil with my feet as I tried to maneuver this monster around.

I know I probably sound ungrateful, after all he did let me borrow it, but OMG I am a physical wreck right now. I need to take a day off to recuperate!

I sure hope my plants appreciate this torture I just went through.

Okay, now that I have gotten my whine out of the way, I found plans for a water tower to put in one of the perennial beds. I think I will make one and if it works well I'll build one for each of the other beds. Also, I found a plan for a Tower Trellis in an old issue of Birds & Bloom that looks pretty nice so I will make one of those as well for my cherry tomatoes.

I dumped some composted steer manure and top soil along north fence where the sunflowers will go.


Continuing soil improvement

>> Thursday, April 12, 2007

In my effort to combat the clay and improve drainage in my perennial beds I have tilled in: 7 cu ft of Clay buster (compost mix), 8 cu ft Composted Steer Manure, 2 cu ft, Supersoil Potting mix (potting soil with fertilizer).

To this, I have added 12 lbs (14 cups), All-purpose 10-10-10 fertilizer and 1 lb blood meal.

All of this went into two unplanted beds, total 400 sq feet.

I will need to add more but will let this 'break down' and 'work in' a little first. After adding all of this I water area really well and leave it sit.

I shouldn't have to feed anything once I have planted in for about 3-4 months.

I also prepared a long bed, about 70 feet long and 18" wide along my north fence to put sunflowers and a couple of vines in. I tilled the area with composted steer manure and clay buster.


New growth is everywhere

>> Monday, April 2, 2007

Spring is really beginning to speed up. With the warmer temperatures, freaky as it may be, everything is beginning to green up. We can expect a few more frost days and I hope nothing gets killed by it but for now I'll take the welcome reprieve from winter's harshness.

The rose leaves are dark red and about an inch long,

the Hyacinth is open and fragrant,

Early Stardrift bulbs are open and bright white in their shady spot next to the front steps,

and the forsythia is a beautiful glowing yellow on long, graceful branches.

Today, I doused the few bindweed plants I could find with Round-up. Even though I know it won't make a dent in their numbers that will come next month, it is still satisfying to kill off a few when I can. There is about 10 plants sending up their first leaves. Some of the weeds have three and four sets of leaves already. Hopefully, the leaves will take the spray down to their roots and stop their growth. One can only hope.

Here’s what I know about Roundup, it's only present in the soil for 7-10 days (then you can replant the area), and you only need to worry about keeping your children and pets away while the foliage is still wet after application. The temps need to warm up, to at least 60F, and the plants need to be actively growing for it to be effective. It's only absorbed through the leaves (not the roots), so is safe to use at the base of trees, etc

I pulled the mulch away from the roses to allow the soil to warm up and to dry out a bit.

I trimmed a few low branches from the Dogwood tree and Catalpa tree so I don't get dinged any more when I cut the lawn.

The Starlings are watching me from afar because the suet feeder is in the Dogwood tree and they are usually all over it this time of day.

Next, I plan on putting fertilizer down in the brown spot in the back lawn and then sprinkle some grass seed over the area, and then sprinkle it good with water. I think I will cover the area with some newspaper to help it stay moist. New grass should be up in a few days and by the end of two weeks the area will be turning green.

I went to a bulletin board to see what was going on around the country as far as gardening and saw these problems/questions.
'Dirty fingers' in Northern California said they have aphids on their Iris in their pond. They have Iris already?
'Chryse' suggested using soapy water, away from the pond. That’s a good idea, on both counts.
'Jason T' of Houston wrote to say that large red boils are popping up on his oak tree.
Several people wrote to tell him that this is caused by scale. I never realized that scale would have this affect on trees. He included pictures and it really surprised me to see this. He actually chose to pick them off and squash them! This seems to me to leave open wounds in the tree that may not be very healthy.

'Joey MacDougall' of Florida wrote in to say that his/her Gardenias have a black sooty mold on them.
'AuntBee' wrote in with an article stating it is caused by scale. Here is the link:
'Dane79' of Washington says he/she has a problem with morning glory (bindweed) and tried everything to get rid of it. Everyone suggests Roundup repeatedly and lots of patience. Don't I know this to be true!)


Ducks and more

We are visited regularly by Mallards coming to eat the sunflower seeds that drop from the bird feeders I have them hanging from our Apple and Cherry trees.

During Winter months I also spread cracked corn to feed the Dark-eyed Juncos and Mourning Doves.

There is a canal about 1/2 mile from here where the ducks hang out and I guess the ducks don't find their regular food source in Winter so they come here. It's pretty funny to watch them waddle down the street out front visiting each yard.

I see them mostly in pairs of one female and one male. Occasionally, another male will get the idea that he wants the female and he begins chasing them around. Or maybe he is just protecting a pile of cracked corn I left for them.

One thing I find really funny is watching them land. They are so graceful on water, but on land they have their feet stretched out in front as usual and when they hit the ground they almost topple over onto their beaks. They quickly recover and then stand there looking around as if to see if anyone caught them looking silly.

When we have gone to the canal to feed them with our grandkids they all come running expecting some treat. But when they are in the back yard they keep a wary eye on me and stay to the other side of the yard. If I get too close they just take off.

They say that the ducks are migratory and every Fall I see a lot of them in the sky heading South along with the Canadian Geese. There is a group that elect to stay here and I can't understand why they wouldn't go to a warmer climate with all the others.

Haven't seen the Juncos or Flickers recently. They have all been here all winter, maybe they found their natural food source has returned. Now that I think about, I don't see Black-capped chickadees much either.

The Finches and Starlings are always here. The Finches are the ones that eat so much sunflower seed and make the mess under the feeders. As long as the Ducks eat up the seed mess I don't mind at all. There are purple finches, goldfinches and house finches and are definitely the most common of all the visitors. And boy are they noisy. When the Starlings are on the suet feeders they get pretty rowdy too. It's nice to hear their songs and voices all through Winter though.

I saw a Coopers Hawk this morning sitting in the Apple tree, about three feet from the bird feeder on the same branch. And I didn't see one finch anywhere.

The hawk sat stone still in the Apple tree for about 30 minutes keeping an eye on the feeders in the Cherry tree about 60 feet away. Slowly finches were coming to the feeders in the Cherry tree and when there were about 10 or 12, the hawk shot out of the Apple tree towards the Cherry tree and snagged a finch from one of the lower branches.

The hawk then landed on a fence post about 10 feet past the Cherry tree and began plucking the feathers off of it and ate it. It was pretty thrilling to see the hawk in action, not many people get to see that. Unfortunately for the finch he didn't enjoy it as much as I did. But, it is part of the circle of life.


Clematis is leafing out

>> Sunday, April 1, 2007

I love Clematis, it is one of my all-time favorites. I have not been able to grow it and have killed more than one plant. This year looked to be no exception.

The first time we lived in Utah we were in a apartment building and there was a little plot of land that was available to us to grow what we wanted. No one else in the building was interested so I had the place to myself. I planted tomatoes, peas, clematis, Jacob's Ladder, columbine as well as a few others. The clematis is the only plant that did not survive the first winter.

After moving to California I thought I should try again. You would think that with weather as nice as it gets in San Diego that I should be able to grow anything. But that is not the case. By the second year I had managed to kill yet another clematis.

We moved into the current house three years ago and I was determined to not fail again. I was in the process of building up several perennial beds with compost to combat our clay soil, and thought I would plant a Clematis 'Hania' (pictured above) right in the full sun, just as they like it. I watered it carefully, I mulched it carefully. I fed it carefully. It struggled. Perhaps the clay was too much.

The next Spring, 2006, came and I kept a close watch to see if it would come back. It looked like it would by the fact that I saw a couple of green leaves sprouting from the bottom. Within a couple of weeks it too had succumbed to my ineptitude. It seemed I was doomed to never grow the one plant that I wanted so much to grow.

Then I saw a Clematis Jackmanii' in a Bluestone Perennials catalog. The phrase that stood out most was 'it is the easiest clematis to grow'. That is pretty powerful bait to someone who wants so desperately to have a Clematis. Then I thought that statement was made without me in mind. It looked too inviting to pass up with its big blue flowers. I fell for it again and ordered one.

This time I was going to try something a bit different. I know they like their 'feet in the shade and their head in the sun' so I decided to take care to create a space just for this plant. I put it on the other side of my raspberry plants where not only its feet are in the shade but about half of its height would be in shade. I also placed a couple of rocks around its base to provide extra coolness. Then I placed one of those pre-made trellis (the kind with the criss-cross wooden slats that you see everywhere) against the shed and stapled some garden netting on it for the vine to attach to.

The first year there was one lonely, but beautiful, five inch, deep dark blue flower. It looked all the more beautiful because it was the only bloom. But, I could not consider this a success because I have been here before. The real test (the scary part) was yet to come.

I read from someone's blog that they used Tomato Plant food every couple of weeks throughout the growing season and so I gave that a try. I had also read about other more complicated feeding formulas but thought that I probably wouldn't stick to such a stringent schedule and opted for the Tomato food plan.

I mulched about 4" deep around the base of the plant and waited through the winter.

Spring came and when I looked at the plant my heart sank. It appeared that my legacy was continuing. The stems were all brown, brittle and generally dead-looking. Should I give up hope now? This plant is a 'schedule 3' pruner which means it needs to pruned to about 18"-24" in the Spring. I wasn't sure if it was worth it but I cut it back to 24", pulled back the mulch and sprinkled a handful of bone meal around the base and replaced the mulch. Now here it is April and much to my amazement there is new growth from the base. I'm trying to temper my hopes, because, again, I have been here before. But it sure lightened my heart when I saw that new growth.

They say that it is supposed to produce more and more flowers each year so I have visions of many more flowers than last year. There I go again getting my hopes up. Maybe this year will finally be the year that a Clematis, under my care, will make it. You see, I am tragically optimistic. But it just has to be this year.


Seed starting

Sowed some seeds into raised beds.
Peas 'Little Marvel'
Carrot 'Danvers half-long'
Radish 'Cherry Belle'
Lettuce 'Black-seeded Simpson'
Lettuce 'Salad Bowl'
Spinach 'Bloomsdale Long Standing'


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