Attracting Beneficial Insects

>> Saturday, December 6, 2008

Found a very useful list of plants that attract beneficial insects. It was put together by Steve Zien of Living Resources Company.

While we are preparing our shopping list for our spring garden I thought now would be a great time to choose some plants to attract beneficials. Since my garden is still relatively young, next spring will start its third year, I really haven’t been bothered by many pests. But, I am pretty sure that could change. I don’t use chemical pesticides so choosing the right plants and scattering them strategically around the garden will go a long way to preventing major problems.

As anyone who has gardened for a few years can tell you, aphids, and other pests, have a way of getting out of control very quickly. First a few aphids appear on the cole crops or roses, but the number is so small that you think “what harm can just a few very tiny insects do?” A week later the aphids have doubled in number and it seems as each day passes their population explodes and your plants are showing signs of stress. Now, you start to get concerned. Do you reach for the insecticidal soap spray you’ve been hearing about or do you rely on nature to send some ladybugs your way. Just as it seems you can’t wait any longer those beautifully black-spotted orange ladybugs arrive and you emit a sigh of relief.

If waiting for the chance arrival of ladybugs causes you to loose sleep or makes you bite your nails then maybe it’s time to think about a safer, less stressful, backup plan. Aphids can do quite a bit of damage in a very short time so why not prevent that by providing a habitat that ensures ladybugs are already in your garden to prevent the aphid population from getting so large?

If you are growing a variety of plants you may find that some beneficials are already present. Checking out the list in the link above I discovered that I already have some good homes for beneficials, like yarrow, basket of gold, sweet alyssum, marigolds, carrots, etc. The list is long so the biggest problem is, as usual, finding space for them.

To attract more beneficials consider viewing your garden as an insectary, a habitat where beneficial insect friends will feel at home. Provide them with food, water, and shelter and keep the soil covered with organic matter. You already avoid putting any harmful chemicals into their habitat so you are well on your way to providing what they need most, a safe environment for them to feast to their hearts content.

Further Reading:

"Pests of the Garden and Small Farm" by UC Davis Entomologist Mary Louise Flint
"The Natural Enemies Handbook" by UC Davis Entomologist Mary Louise Flint

Websites and blogs:
Grinning Planet
Plants for Attracting Beneficial Insects
Gardens Ablaze


Starting a Thanksgiving Tradition

>> Friday, November 28, 2008

The way I see it, global warming is becoming a boon to those of us who don’t want to say goodbye to the growing season just yet. And I have never been one to turndown a gift. What with Winter being pushed back a little more each year it seems Mother Nature is giving us a bit of a treat: time to grow more cold-weather crops.

So, I planted some Sugar Snap Peas a few days ago. It was such a beautiful Fall day that I just had to do something in the garden. And besides, those seeds were left over from Spring planting and just lying there doing nothing. A bit of left over netting came in handy to help keep neighborhood cats from using the patch for something other than my pleasure. With the number of birds that come around I can’t keep the cats away but I can at least keep them out of this patch.

After planting all of the Fall bulbs, I planted some garlic under my rose bushes. Last Fall I did this and when Spring arrived the roses had a few aphids on them early in the year and then there were none after that, for the rest of the year! So, I am now a big believer in the power of garlic as an aphid deterrent.

One of the dangers of this gift of an extended season is that it has been warm enough to coax the Lilac buds to swell and to draw out the Iris shoots. Hopefully the cold snap that is sure to come won’t be too harsh on these confused plants.

As you can see, the Parsley doesn’t want to give up either.

Too bad all the Zinnias and Cosmos couldn’t hang around a bit longer to enjoy these warm days.

We have been eating fresh carrots for awhile now and they can stay in the ground over winter. As long as the ground doesn’t freeze too hard for me to pull them out when needed we should be alright. The Thyme and Basil are giving up though.
Photo: Carrot Danvers Half Long 08-11-21 BB7M

Also, as part of the Fall clean-up ritual, I rubbed Linseed oil on all wood handles of tools and the wheel barrow. So, I guess we are pretty well set for the snows to arrive.


Hydroponics in the City

>> Saturday, November 22, 2008

The frontier of agriculture is the urban setting. This trend is borne out of necessity for economic reasons and environmental reasons as well as for our health. Apartment buildings, rooftops, and vacant lots across the country are becoming important avenues of bringing fresh fruit and vegetables to those who otherwise have very limited access.

This photo is of an operation at the California State Polytechnic University, where the future of hydroponics – a method of cultivating plants in water instead of soil – is getting a second look as a viable option to bring farming into cities, where consumers are concentrated.

Most of the reasons for establishing urban hydroponic farms are already known to us:
to lessen the environmental cost of shipping produce from farms to cities (the routes some foods take to reach your table is extremely wasteful and downright ridiculous)
to slow down the loss of wilderness for farmland
help control the risk of bacteria along extensive, insecure food chains (we have all read horrific tales of recalled food due to contamination)
brings food closer to inner-city areas where fresh food is less available
to help feed an ever-growing world population

Hydroponics has benefited from nearly three decades of NASA research aimed at sustaining astronauts in places with even less green space than a typical U.S. city so we are gaining a lot of knowledge on the subject. Some cities are putting that knowledge into action.

In a New York City schools program run by Cornell University, students grow lettuce on a school roof and sell it for $1.50 a head to the Gristedes chain of supermarkets. Cornell agriculturist Philson Warner, who designed the program's hydroponics system, said his students harvest hundreds of heads of lettuce a week from an area smaller than five standard parking spaces by using a special nutrient-rich solution instead of water.

The numbers have some researchers imagining a future when enough produce to feed entire cities is grown in multistory buildings sandwiched between office towers and other structures.

Columbia University environmental health science professor Dickson Despommier, who champions the concept under the banner of his Vertical Farm Project, said he has been consulting with officials in China and the Middle East who are considering multistory indoor farms.

Hydroponics is universally recognized as a sustainable production method and it has a strong reputation for high quality, “clean, green” produce. Russia, France, Canada, South Africa, Holland, Japan, Australia, and Germany are among other countries where hydroponics is receiving attention.

However, the expense of setting up the high-tech farms on pricey city land and providing enough year-round heat and light could present some insurmountable obstacles. Also, the systems commonly in place today, such as HID lights (high intensity discharge), are extremely inefficient.

Currently, hydroponics is used for relatively few food crops, such as tomatoes, peppers, herbs, cucumbers and lettuce. Tree fruits do not lend themselves to hydroponics. Most vegetables are cheaper to grow in soil as are grains, beans and potatoes.

There are alternatives to hydroponics: ProMedica Health System network of Ohio, used a Toledo hospital roof to grow more than 200 pounds of vegetables in stacked buckets filled with a ground coconut shell potting medium. The tomatoes, peppers, green beans and leafy greens were served to patients and donated to a nearby food shelter. When the project resumes in the spring, the hospital plans to expand into at least two community centers in economically depressed central Toledo, where fresh produce is hard to come by.

As our population grows, and land and water become more scarce, and we reject the obscene expense of raising animals for food (along with all the associated health and environmental dangers), we are going to rely more on urban agriculture to help feed us. Whether hydroponics will become the most viable option remains to be seen. But there is no doubt that urban agriculture is a growing trend.

Further reading:
Urban Agriculture
Urban Agriculture and Community Gardening
Center for Urban Agriculture
Dangers of Meat Consumption
Meat Alternatives
Urban Gardening Help


Great Backyard Bird Count is Coming

>> Monday, November 17, 2008

Feb 13-16, 2009
Mark your calendars.
Read more about it in their news release.

It’s a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. This free event is an opportunity for families, students, and people of all ages to discover the wonders of nature in backyards, schoolyards, and local parks, and, at the same time, make an important contribution to conservation. Participants count birds and report their sightings online at

My wife and I have participated in this annual event for the past several years and I want to encourage others to do the same. Here in central Utah we see Coopers Hawk, Black-capped chickadee, Dark-eyed junco, Northern flicker, purple finches, goldfinch, house finch, Cedar waxwing, Mourning dove, Rock dove, Red-winged black bird, European starling. I didn’t realize what a long list it was until we started keeping track.

Ever wonder how scientists know what the migratory range is for a specific bird? Or how many birds of a particular species there is? Well, since no single scientist or team of scientists could hope to keep track of the complicated patterns of movement of so many species over an entire continent, the information taken from GBBC participants provides valuable information to scientists as they try to learn how birds are affected by environmental changes.

The information you send in can provide the first sign that individual species may be increasing or declining from year to year. It shows how a species’ range expands or shrinks over time. A big change, noted consistently over a period of years, is an indication that something is happening in the environment that is affecting the birds and that should be followed up on. GBBC information also allows us to look at what kinds of birds inhabit different areas, such as cities versus suburban.

This is very valuable information and can only be collected by dedicated scientists and concerned individuals. If you want to do something to help birds survive this is one of the best ways to participate.

I especially encourage those of you with good photography skills to document any birds you see and enter your photos in their photo contest.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual four-day event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent. Anyone can participate, from beginning bird watchers to experts. It takes as little as 15 minutes. It’s free, fun, and easy—and it helps the birds.

How to participate
1. Plan to count birds for at least 15 minutes during February 13–16, 2009.
Count birds at as many places and on as many days as you like—just keep a separate list of counts for each day and/or location.

2. Count the greatest number of individuals of each species that you see together at any one time, and write it down.
You can get regional bird checklists here.

3. Enter your results through GBBC web page.

They have a great photo gallery of birds from all over the U.S. along with names.

The reasoning behind why this is one in February is that it gives a snapshot of how birds are surviving the winter and where they are located just before spring migrations begin in March. Scientists at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the National Audubon Society, and elsewhere can combine this information with data from surveys conducted at different times of the year.

There are answers to all of your questions from the main page, just click on the FAQs link.

Also, check out eBird, a free, real-time, online checklist program that accepts bird counts at any time throughout the year. You can use eBird to store detailed lists of your own sightings, a list of your favorite birding spots, and checkout where birds are seen throughout the U.S.

A great online source for identifying birds is

Businesses, schools, nature clubs, Scout troops, and other community organizations interested in the GBBC can contact the Cornell Lab of Ornithology at (800) 843-2473 (outside the U.S., call (607) 254-2473), or Audubon at or (215) 355-9588, Ext 16.

Take the Healthy Yard Pledge
While you’re getting ready to feed and count birds this winter, make sure you’re maintaining healthy bird habitat in your yard by taking the Audubon Healthy Yard Pledge.

The Healthy Yard Pledge is part of Audubon At Home, which focuses on managing backyards and other natural areas to help birds and other wildlife. Visit the website to learn about 16 key elements that make up a healthy backyard habitat—how many can be found in your yard?

This is a great opportunity to help further understand the nature of birds and a wonderful way to introduce more people in your area to bird watching.


Bulbs for Under Trees

>> Sunday, November 16, 2008

One of the many projects on my growing ‘to do’ list is to remove the grass that is growing right up to the trunks of my trees. The trees are all mature so the grass itself does not create any problems for the trees, they have all learned to get along well when it comes to getting nutrients and water. So, it is actually just an aesthetic thing for me.

In the backyard, there is a peach tree, a pear tree, a cherry tree, and an apple tree. I also have a plum tree, but it is in a raised bed without any grass around it. However, I also plant vegetables there and am using that same bed as a nursery of sorts for a couple of Lilac bushes that will be transplanted in the near future.

In the front yard, there is a Dogwood tree, variety unknown since it was here when we moved here, and a Catalpa tree.

I am fortunate in that none of these trees have surface roots. You know, the ones you trip over whenever walking near them? Even with these underground roots, planting anything else near them will compete for water and food so I have decided to place some bulbs around them. A word of caution, bulbs will not do well under pines or evergreens, because bulbs just like other plants need sunlight. Another consideration is the higher up the limbs are on the tree trunk, the more light your bulbs will get.

I have discovered some spring-flowering bulbs, particularly those from woodland habitats, that thrive under mature trees. These types of bulbs differ from other more commonly known spring bulbs, such as Daffodil and Tulip, in that they are shorter and flower and set seed quickly at the first signs of spring, before the tree canopy robs them of light and water. Then they die back and sleep until the next year just as you expect a well-behaved bulb to do.

Spring-flowering bulbs to plant under trees include English bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), Camas lily (Camassia leichtlinii), winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) and snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis).

English bluebell, aka blue squill, grows in zones 4-9, member of the lily family (Liliaceae). It flowers from May to June and seeds ripen from July to August.

Camas lily grows in zones 5-9, late spring/early summer. The bulbs were collected for food by Native Americans. Best placed in areas where they can naturalize and won't be disturbed. They take well to summer dryness as they go dormant by early summer. This plant grows 3-4 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide, so I’m a little concerned about putting it under a tree.

Winter aconite grows in zones 3-7, blooms March to April, member of the Ranunculus family. Late winter bloomer, before crocus, they often send their shoots up through snow.

Snowdrops grows in zones 3-7, blooms in February, member of the Amaryllis family. Also pokes its head up through snow. Easily naturalizes in woodland areas or in lawns under large deciduous trees.

I already have some winter aconite and snowdrops scattered throughout a couple of beds, nowhere near any trees. Now that I have learned that these can go under the trees they will be moved next fall. It will be time for them to be dug up and divided anyway so that will be a perfect time to move them.

Bulbs that flower in fall can also do well under trees. They flower then produce leaves. By the time their foliage appears, the tree canopy has thinned, allowing light to hit the bulbs’ leaves, allowing the bulbs to rebuild their energy stores.

Fall-flowering bulbs to plant under trees include Cyclamen hederifolium and autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale).

Cyclamen can grow in zones 5/6 as long as a few rules are observed. Hederifolium puts out roots from the top and sides of the tuber, unlike Cyclamen coum and the like which have roots on the bottom surface only, so they need to be planted with the tops of the tubers a couple inches deep (place soil up to the top and then cover the top with a couple inches of coarse grit rather than garden soil). The best locations are on a north facing slope under a tree, or on the north side of the house that doesn’t get any direct sun in the winter. Sunlight makes the normal freeze/thaw cycles even worse. Note: if you see ants on these plants don’t worry, this is a good thing because they disperse the seed.

An interesting fact that I just learned is that the Cyclamen is a member of the Primrose family.

Cyclamen mirabile is a very cold-hardy species. Mature leaves will go limp after a frost but soon recover. Some forms have a reddish cast over the silver of the variably marbled, but always attractive, leaves.

Cyclamen graecum is one of several species that will pull themselves into the soil with contractile roots, thus setting their own planting depth. The leaf marbling is extremely variable. This species may prefer a more open site with good sun exposure in summer as long as the persistent roots can be in slightly moist soil.

Autumn Crocus (Colchicum autumnale) – aka ‘meadow saffron’ or ‘naked lady’, grows in zones 4-8 (easily survives winter temperatures a little below 0ºF, -17ºC) and resembles true crocuses, but actually flowers in autumn. But, so do many other crocuses.

It is a member of the Iris family (iridaceae), grow from corms, are mainly hardy perennials, and are found in a wide range of habitats.

It should be noted that it's not a crocus, and it's not saffron, and should definitely not be used in place of saffron in cooking because eating any part of this plant can kill you. The spice saffron is collected from the stigmas of Crocus sativus not Colchicum autumnale.

Plant them in late summer or early fall. Position the tip of the corm 2-4” below the soil level. To protect flowers from soil that can be splashed up when it rains, plant corms under low-growing carpeting plants or in grass.

It is getting a bit late in the year to plant spring-flowering bulbs, but now I can amend my ‘to do’ list and finally move ‘clear grass from around tree trunks and plant something’ up the list for next year.

Further reading:
Cyclamen Society
Autumn crocus


Should we fertilize shrubs in the Fall?

>> Thursday, September 25, 2008

The one thing that is constantly on my mind, where gardening is concerned, is feeding. Am I feeding my plants enough, am I over-feeding? Plants can’t tell me when they need to be fed. Oh sure, there are the usual signs that they are not getting enough, such as, drooping, discolored leaves and lackluster flowering. But by the time plants are displaying these dismal cries of starvation they are already stressing.

I want to have a plan that will provide all the nourishment my garden needs without over feeding or waiting for these obvious signs, which also stress me.

While I ponder this seemingly unanswerable problem of achieving the proper balance, I see ads from nurseries promoting fall fertilization. I never considered that anything should be fed this late in the season. Apparently, I have been remiss in my shrubbery duties. Being the skeptic that I am, I can’t help being a little leery of this latest bit of advice from someone who sells things for a living, because I am sure they want to get rid of any overstock they may have before winter sets in. Secretly though, I do believe they don’t want to give out bad advice, it just wouldn’t be in their interest to do so. Skepticism dies hard.

So, after searching for a solution to this constant source of a headache, I have learned that, yes, you should feed woody plants, such as shrubs and trees. But, and there is always a but, right, timing is very important.

Keeping in mind that fertilizing produces new growth, and that tender growth spurting forth just as frost is about to hit us and would therefore threaten the very life of the plant, feeding has to take place at just the right time. Of course, this timing will vary by region, but application of a fertilizer specifically made for shrubs and trees should be applied when three conditions are met: all new growth has ceased, daytime temperatures have begun to moderate and the soil holds adequate moisture. In other words, when plants seem to have given up producing anything new and just want to take a vacation from providing us with their beautiful foliage and flowers, day/night temperatures are staying fairly constant each day and are low enough that you have switched from wearing shorts to wearing long pants and a sweater when out in the garden, and there is no longer competition with the hot sun to evaporate every drop of water you are painstakingly pouring onto your garden. As a rule of thumb, about two to three weeks before your average first frost date, which, in my case, is about four or five weeks into football season.

One of the old time, and still very valid, rules of gardening is that you feed the soil and the plants will fend for themselves. The kingpin in making this rule work is, of course, compost. You can use your favorite designer chemical fertilizer, but compost is the very best way to go. There are many wonderful websites and blogs covering how to make compost, and truly, all of us throw stuff out everyday that could go into making a compost pile, large or small. Once you get one going you will be absolutely surprised at how easy it is to maintain a compost pile.

There is no such thing as bad compost. Except, of course, for toxic or nuclear waste, or if it is really, really so smelly that your neighbors complain about being in the same neighborhood with it. But aside from those easily avoidable situations, compost is king.

In nature, shrubs and trees are constantly nourished by the natural cycle of falling leaves and the soil micro organism activity that this natural compost supports. If you just keep this in mind and try to duplicate it on the very small scale that is your garden, you should do just fine. Shred the leaves from your trees, or talk your neighbors into giving theirs to you by convincing them that using them will help keep the smell down from your compost, and sprinkle them over your garden or, better yet, add them to your compost and sprinkle that over your garden.

So, for one final time of the year, feed your woody shrubs to nourish the root growth that is taking place to store reserves for next years growth. Your shrubs will have better foliar color, larger leaf size, and superior growth next year.

As always, be part of the solution and remember the future.


Insect/Disease Update

>> Friday, September 19, 2008

With the change in the weather, there seems to be a decrease in the insect activity in my neck of the woods, except for the bees that is. I have several shrubs that they are going crazy over. Buddleia Black Knight and Caryopteris Dark Knight and Caryopteris Sunshine Blue.

In the latest Small Fruits and Vegetables IPM Advisory from Utah State University, trap counts of most insect pests in field monitoring sites were at zero this week except for beet armyworm.
Beet armyworm mainly attack cool-season crops like lettuce, spinach, broccoli, etc. They also attack peppers. So if you see fine strands of silk begin looking for this little pest because it can defoliate your plants.
Here's the adult. USDA Agricultural Research Service has a good description of its characteristics and life cycle here.

Cucumber beetles continue to feed on cucumbers, melons and squashes. Since the day length shortens and nights are getting cooler, they will begin looking for places to overwinter, such as under plant debris (clean up the area), in cracks and crevices of wood, etc. Signs of their presence includes chewed leaves, stems and blossoms, and scars on fruit rind. Cucumber beetles can also spread squash mosaic virus. The virus is only spread by the feeding beetle, or by infected seed, not from plant to plant. Symptoms are distorted, blistered leaves with light green/dark green mosaic pattern. Fruit can be distorted and have a mottled pattern on the rind.

I recently began harvesting pumpkins, these are Orange Smoothie, to enjoy them as pie and other deserts. The only thing that really bothers them this time of year is powdery mildew. It won’t directly affect the fruit but a bad infestation can cause a stem to weaken. If you have more self control than I did and are not going to harvest for awhile, consider an application of powdery mildew control.

The best control I have found is a baking soda wash:

1t baking soda, 1 quart water, a few drops of mild liquid soap, not detergent, or light vegetable oil to help the baking soda stick. Optional: add 1t light horticultural oil.

It is also a pretty good treatment for black-spot on roses.

Also, if you feel up to it, you can remove a few leaves to improve air circulation. Overhead watering, especially late in the day, helps to spread this fungus so try to water early in the day and if at all possible water beneath the leaves. I know it isn’t always easy to do so, so just make up some baking soda wash next time you need it.

Hope you are all enjoying the cooler nights and getting the garden all cleaned up for next year. Even though we still have a lot of gardening left this year, time flits by before you know it.


Autumn already?

>> Friday, September 12, 2008

It seems like just yesterday….

I don’t know why summers seem to go by so quickly these days. They say that as you grow older time does seem to fly by faster. I am beginning to see the truth to that statement.

Since the night time temperatures here at nearly one mile above sea level in the Utah valley are dipping into the 40’s the call to dig out my Fall work list is getting stronger. It seems I cannot put it off any longer.

I finally relented and planted a Geranium, at my wife’s insistence, this year. Don’t get me wrong, I like their foliage and flowers but they seem to get leggy, although this one didn’t, and they need to be dug up every year (this is the true reason I resisted planting one). So, now the time has come to add this chore to my list. Oh, I complain but it isn’t really that big of a deal. The first step is to cut back the plant so it will be easier to dig up. Wait a few weeks for it to recover from the trimming before putting into a container. I am going to also take some cuttings for new geranium starts. Over the winter they will be grown in bright light with cool temperatures. We have a food storage space in the basement that would be just about right for this as the garage would tend to get too cold. There is an excellent post at Ventnor Permaculture that addresses how to take cuttings.

Now is a great time for bargain shopping at nurseries. Which is great because early fall is also an excellent time to set out new perennials to fill in those empty spots that are a constant reminder of past failed plants. Also, dividing and re-planting spring-blooming perennials should be done now so they can get rooted before the ground freezes. Use a spading fork to lift plants and divide them.

I have several Chrysanthemum Alaska that will be divided next year. They have grown in size since planting last year but have not yet begun to die out in the center, which is how you can tell they need to be divided.

The next three plants will all keep their heads this year to both feed the birds and hopefully drop some seed onto the ground in order to start new plants.
Bee Balm Monarda Blue Stocking

Echinacea Magnus

Echinacea Bravado

The Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia Goldstrum) has already started some new plants and I will leave them untouched, also for the birds. The Goldfinch especially loves picking seeds right off of the heads.

Earlier this year, I dug some daffodils up to divide them and to move them to a different location. September is perfect doing this so they can establish roots while the soil is still warm. They need to be planted deep, with at least 7-8” of soil above the nose of the bulbs. Deep planting assures they will last and multiply for many years to come. Hopefully, the spot I put them in will be their final location, but who knows, plans are always open for change.

September is also a great time for planting "hardy" pansies for both their late-season color and to get an early start next spring. This is one annual that will actually survive winter to return early in spring. They will grow and bloom well into December. This photo, Delta Violet Face, is from spring 2008 which was planted in winter 2007.

Herbaceous and tree peonies can be planted now in full sun where the soil has been enriched with compost and sphagnum peat moss. Don't plant too deeply because that can cause failure to bloom. I haven’t grown Peonies yet but the neighborhood I live in have had success with them.

Cooler temperatures mean a sort of mini re-birth of the perennial garden. Plants that were stifled during the heat of summer are beginning to respond and grow with cooler conditions. Aster’s are known for their fall bloom and are usually tall 24” up to 48”. This Aster, Snowdrift, was supposed to grow to a height of only 6” and 24” wide and makes a great groundcover.
The first photo shows one which gets all day full sun, and is now 8” tall and has spread to 40” across, has been developing small white buds for several days now and some are beginning to open. This plant will soon be covered with bright white star-like flowers.

The second photo shows another one, in a different location, that is overshadowed by dozen or so Zinnia California Giant opened its blooms about a week ago.

As a side note, if you are experiencing problems with powdery mildew, now is a good time to get a handle on this fungus. You can control the spread and kill off a bunch of spores to lessen the problem next year by spraying a baking soda wash on the plants. Prepare a the wash by mixing 1 tablespoon baking soda and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (canola oil or dish washing soap works too, it helps the mixture stick to the plants) into 1 gallon of water. Pour the mixture into a tank sprayer and apply to upper and lower surfaces of leaves. Doing so will inhibit the germination of the fungus spores.

This is just the beginning of Fall clean up, and if you take it one step at a time so you don’t overwhelm yourself at the last minute, it shouldn’t be viewed so much as a job as a preparation for next year. Remember, the garden is for your enjoyment so have fun.


Total Bee Magnet and Orange Smoothies

>> Thursday, August 21, 2008

I have several plants that are advertised as attracting bees, but this Caryopteris Dark Knight must be the holy grail for bees. When this shrub is in full bloom it gets all the attention.

Every morning there are dozens of honey bees, bumble bees and very tiny bees that unfortunately I don’t know the name of dancing around in a drunken stupor.

Also, we picked our first pumpkins a couple days ago. These are Orange Smoothies. The largest one measures 21” around and they all matured at exactly the 90 day point, as advertised. There are several others that are going to go to my granddaughters for Halloween. Their smooth skin makes them perfect for painting on.


Permaculture: A Revolution in Food Security

>> Sunday, August 10, 2008

This is a topic I posted on one of my other blogs at “Are We Green Yet?”. I feel the subject is topical enough to post here as well. I was going to rewrite it to take out some of the political aspects of it but reconsidered when I realized that a little politicizing is good for gardeners now and then. And after all many of us are part of the new food revolution, so here goes.

A new term has entered our lexicon, peak oil. What the everyday consumer is supposed to envision upon hearing this term is that the world has already extracted half of the planet’s natural oil resources and from this moment on the rate of production has entered a terminal decline. What this means to us of course is that the price of oil will only go higher due to its increasing scarcity and our ever increasing population size and our continued dependence on fossil-fuel-burning industry. British Petroleum (BP) claims we have not reached this ‘peak’ point while other oil companies say we have. And the debate continues without any clear way of knowing if we have reached peak oil because no one knows exactly how much oil is available under the planets surface.

Personally, I don’t know who to believe because I am not an expert, so I, like the rest of us, am at the mercy of those who are, or claim to be, experts. I do, however, believe we should aggressively research alternative energy sources no matter how much oil remains to be extracted. The longer we wait to actually adopt an alternative energy source(s) the more money we are throwing at big oil who clearly have no real interest in pursuing an alternative to using their product and the more environmental damage we are doing to the planets surface, air and water.

In the meantime, while we watch our government drag its feet in setting token and ineffective attempts at environmental policy while agribusiness and oil executives suck every dollar out of our pockets, there is a movement underway that has, unwittingly, been developing for years by individuals covering a wide spectrum of people who call themselves home gardeners, urban farmers, weekend garden ‘hobbyists’, and lately, locavores.

Permaculture and the increasing desire to become self-sufficient and sustainable is a lifestyle whose time has returned. Farming communities survived quite well for many, many years before we became industrialized and traded our independence for the convenience of having such things as: out-of-season fruits and vegetables every day of the year, and someone else to grow and can our foods.

With the emergence of recent issues concerning food safety, food and gas prices, genetically modified food, greenhouse gas emissions, transportation of food over great distances, and food freshness and quality, more and more people are becoming painfully aware of the dangerously vulnerable position we are being forced into. The continued reliance on agribusiness, government, big oil and even financial organizations to provide for our daily necessities is in jeopardy.

I am convinced that communities everywhere need to create local, sustainable, community gardens to supplement each individuals home gardens for the purpose of creating community food surplus in case of national emergency. I realize I may sound alarmist, but our nations cupboard is bare.

I recently discovered a group based in Nevada City, California, called Alliance for a Post-Petroleum Local Economy. APPLE is a grassroots group striving for a more self-reliant, sustainable local economy (as opposed to global economy that the world’s money changers are pushing for). They produce locally what they consume locally, as much as possible. It is an intuitive idea that I believe many people have been craving as an answer to our need for food safety and community activism. It is a means of re-establishing our own control over what we eat and how it is grown.

They have produced over 100 videos, they call them conversations, featuring everyday individuals who adopted permaculture and have taken the step towards sustainability in their own yards. Be sure to watch #51 “An Experiment in Back Yard Sustainability” and #100 “Suburban Permaculture with Janet Barocco and Richard Heinberg”.

One such video, entitled “How Much Food Can You Grow in Your Yard?”, shows an urban lot, measuring 75’ by 125’, in Port Townsend, Washington. The home owner, Judy Alexander, takes us through her self-sustained property re-educating us on how it is possible to grow enough food to sustain your family and have excess for neighbors, friends, or community storage.

Whether you agree or disagree with the narrators assessment that we have reached a peak of human innovation, information, wealth and health, check out the videos for some very educational insight to what it can be like to regain our independence and get back the satisfaction that being in touch with land brings.

There are of course many other groups out there creating their own sustainable eden. One of my personal favorite experiments in permaculture is taking place at the “Little Homestead in the City”. They call themselves eco-pioneers living a homegrown revolution on a sustainable, real-life original urban homestead. They have set an excellent example of how anyone can create an environment that reaches out to the community at large and can therefore inspire others fulfill their own need for independence. It truly is a revolution.

Our dependence on oil is becoming more and more expensive in terms of cost of extraction and production which gets passed on to the consumer, and in the cost of damage to the environment in terms of exploration, extraction and burning of oil which is felt by everyone. We are being forced to accept higher food prices as the result of short-sighted use of food crops for the production of bio-fuels instead of using non-food crops. In our rush to sever ties to foreign oil we are made to believe that the only immediate answer is to damage the environment further by increasing the number of offshore oil wells.

Through the use of the internet and our increased access to each others gardens and skills, through blogs and websites as educational tools, we are all becoming more empowered to take the course of our future into our own hands, to grow our own food, and share the excess with neighbors in an attempt to get this food revolution off the ground.

Further reading:
Instant permaculture for the suburbs

Are we running out of oil?

Why peak oil is probably about now

Permaculture Institute

Homesteading Today


Fall is Getting Closer

>> Friday, August 8, 2008

Maybe I feel this way because the skies are heavily overcast today. Start of our 'monsoon season'. Ha. We got a little rain this morning and more predicted for later this afternoon. To the north of us, it is raining pretty good but we are always just at the south end of it and sometimes, if we are lucky we get some rain.

Tomatoes, Juliet Grape. Check out the size of these babies. They are only supposed to get maybe 2" long. There must be some extra grow power in the fish emulsion I have been giving them.

Zinnia California Giant
This is the first time I have ever grown Zinnia’s. I started them from seed May 23rd and they are beautiful! Adding color just when the garden is beginning to fade.

Even bees love them.

Black-Eyed Susan Rudbeckia Goldstrum is loving the heat of summer. Plus it keeps getting water when I overfill the bird bath and the birds are splashing around.

Sunflower is developing seeds. I need to be careful with these because the seeds inhibit anything growing around them. See earlier post.

Geranium is coming along nicely.

The pumpkin Orange Smoothie is coming along nicely. I started them a little early this year so we can make some pies. They are good keepers so we’ll have small 6-11 pound pumpkins for Halloween and Thanksgiving. The smooth skin is idea for kids to paint faces on them.


Sunflower, devil in disguise

>> Sunday, July 27, 2008

Isn’t this a beauty? This is what is known as a devil with an angels face. Why am I so disparaging of such a beautiful plant that brings forth visions of bright, happy, sunny times? Because its seed husks will kill any plant that tries to grow around it. It’s one of the ninja-like assassins of the plant world.

I had heard rumors about how nothing will grow under my bird feeders that are filled daily with black-oil sunflower seeds but I ignored these rumors because I wanted to keep birds coming into my yard. Hanna, at This Garden is Illegal, even presented a very compelling argument as to how these bully’s-in-disguise will try to take over. Well, after four years of feeding every bird that would land here, mainly finches and doves, I now have absolute proof.

Here is one of the feeders I have placed in three locations around my yard. This one is under an apple tree.

And here is what the ground underneath looks like after four years. I don’t bother removing any of the debris except for what the lawn mower sucks up as it passes and as you can see, nothing is growing.

Last Fall, when I still scoffed at the idea of a secret society of plant kingdom hit squads, I placed three very young Weigela My Monet under the dogwood tree in my front yard (directly under one of the now infamous plant-killing sunflower-seed-filled birdfeeders). They didn’t make it. My stubbornness caused the death of three defenseless shrubs and, trust me when I say, I am remorseful. Am I a believer now? You betcha. My only hope now is that these ne’er do wells never get organized.

I decided to research this fascinating world of cutthroat techniques to survive in the plant world and I found this list of unsociable plants:
Sugar Maple
Black Walnut
Balsam Poplar

Granted, some of these plants are a bit exotic to most gardeners yards which is why it seems so odd that sunflower would be counted among this dastardly bunch.

I also learned that some people are considering allelopathy, (the inhibition of growth of a plant due to biomolecules released by another), as a nonchemical alternative to weed control. What they found was that some plant-made chemicals are a more potent photosynthetic inhibitor than the majority of synthetic herbicides. They are even talking about using native species and decorative ornamentals to be placed in strategic locations to eliminate the backbreaking job of weeding without resorting to chemicals. Now, this I could go for.

In the meantime, I will not stop feeding birds what they love most because I enjoy hearing the birds singing and squawking just outside my window. I probably won’t stop growing sunflowers because, well, you know, they are beautiful. I just need to get my timing down so I can enjoy them as long as possible before cutting off their heads. Gardening can be so cruel.


First Tomato

>> Thursday, July 24, 2008

Actually two. They are Lemon Boy and boy were they sweet tasting. They lack the acid of red tomatoes so they went down real smooth.

There are quite a few more too. This the first year I ever planted these. I think they are supposed to be a little more yellow from pictures I have seen but as long as they taste good, I don’t care what color they are.

I realize now I should have put something to show size. They are about the size of tennis balls.


GBBD: Better Late Than Never

>> Monday, July 21, 2008

It’s been pretty hot here lately in north central Utah and working out in the garden has been limited to before 9 AM and after 8 PM so I haven’t gotten much done. However, weeds are apparently loving this heat.

Sunday was blessedly overcast so I did manage to get a few photos.

The Hosta Piedmont Gold is blooming. I was totally surprised by this. They have been rumored to bloom but flowers are not a major selling point for Hosta in general. This one (left) was started in May 2007 as a transplant and has steadily increased in size, as a good little plant should.
By September it was looking pretty healthy. However, this spring I thought for certain I had lost it to the ravages of winter. But by May it was showing it was not giving up. And finally today, just two short months later, TA DA! Blooms!

Another Hosta, Golden Tiara, was planted at the same time in May 2007 and by July it had flowers too.

Campanula Glomerata. I started six of these in October 2007 and only five made it over winter.

Veronica Red Fox. Also started in October 2007, two out of three survived.

Clematis Jackmanii is one of my favorite flowers. By June it was full of dark blue flowers and it looked like it would go on forever, but now all the blooms are gone.

Raspberry Heritage is full and lush but with very few berries. Last year by this time we had picked a couple pints full.

Cosmos Sonata Mix are really blooming well. They seem to like this heat, and as long as I keep them deadheaded they just keep on giving.

Chrysanthemum Shasta Daisy Alaska is a surprise to me. I thought this plant would bloom later in the year, but I have already deadheaded it once and it is still going strong.

All of my Dianthus: Agatha (below), Desmond, Maiden Pink and Zing Rose (left) are looking a bit haggard. They were blooming like crazy one month ago and they will again once the weather cools off a bit.

Nepeta Walkers Low (left) and Salvia East Friesland (below) definitely need to be cut back. But the butterflies love them both so much I hate to do it.

Echinacea are very easy to please. Magnus, pictured here and Bravado (below) are living up to their reputation as a low-maintenance plant. I’m going to have to try some the newer more exotic varieties.

Geranium Clorinda has a nice shade of pink and an unexpected scent of cedar, of all things. This one loves the heat too.

Achillea (Yarrow) Coronation Gold. What can I say, this plant is very easy to grow and the butterflies love it.

Rudbeckia Goldstrum is about to open up.

Nasturtium Jewel Mix growing around my pumpkins and tomatoes.

Pumpkin Orange Smoothie. I love these big, beautiful blossoms. And here’s what becomes of those flowers after they fall away (below).

Hollyhock Brilliant Miniature. This is my feeble attempt to grow something to cover up a 35 foot section of ugly-ass chain link fence. Am I asking too much of this little guy? I think so too. I envision lots of Clematis helping out here, if I can only get a handle on growing it.

Here is a better view of the offending fence. I think I'll also add some bulbs and more Hollyhocks. In about a month I’m going to start some peas to help fix some nitrogen here. For now though I have started Sunflower Teddy Bear just to till up the soil for me. Nothing but weeds has ever grown here previously.

Phlox Blue Paradise and Lavender Devon Camp.

Monarda Blue Stocking aka Bee Balm has bloomed into a wonderful flower. I haven’t seen the rush of bees this plant is supposed to attract but it looks good anyway.

Here’s a couple of plants that I don’t expect to see any flowers on but they look good just the same: Mugo Pine Slowmound (left) and Sedum (Stonecrop) Red Carpet (below).

Spirea Neon Flash

Primrose Fireworks

Lobelia Cascade of Color lives up to its name.

Verbena Quartz Mix

I have started almost all of my plants from very small transplants. Cheaper, yes, but I’m beginning to think this may not be the way to go. They are pretty small and I have lost quite a few of them because their root system did not develop well enough to survive winter. I bought most of them from mail order nurseries but I think that I am going to begin buying them from local garden centers. For three reasons.

One-I feel I should spend my money where I live, in order to help the local economy. Garden Centers don’t usually make much profit and I would like to do my part to help keep them around. It may sound selfish by there it is. Plus, I would like to do my part in discouraging long distance delivery of what can usually be purchased locally anyway.
Two-these plants are already acclimated to my climate and I see proof that they will grow here.
Three-I hate paying exorbitant postage rates. Occasionally, I can find deals with free postage but not always when I am ready to purchase.

I missed Garden Blogger Bloom Day on the 15th but maybe I will be forgiven.


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