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.


Wal-Mart is Going to Stick It To Us Again

>> Tuesday, July 8, 2008

I grew up in a family that shopped regularly at local farmers markets. I married a woman whose family also shopped regularly at local farmers markets. Together we raised children who now shop at local farmers markets. So when I read recently about how Wal-Mart, of all places, announced they are going to begin selling produce raised by local farmers, I instantly grew suspicious.

Here’s what I am concerned about. If a business the size of Wal-Mart begins buying up all the local produce will there be any left for those of us who don’t want to buy from stores like Wal-Mart?

It seems to me that since they are in this to make money that I may soon have to start buying my local produce at Wal-Mart and paying more for it for the same produce I now get at the roadside stands.

This turn of events will probably be very attractive to the farmers because they can sell all of their stuff without having to maintain road side stands and they won’t have to pay someone to sit there every day selling their stuff. So once again Wal-Mart is disrupting another local tradition. This time instead of putting local businesses out of the market they are subjugating buyers in yet another way.

I am all for cutting down the number of miles my food has to travel for reasons involving both freshness and greenhouse gas emissions. And I applaud Wal-Mart in doing their part to cut down on fuel usage, but, let’s be honest, this latest endeavor will only benefit Wal-Mart, again. And ii is going to cost us more, again.

So, I guess it's time to begin expanding my raised beds and start growing more in my own yard.

Am I wrong about Wal-Mart? Does this sound like a good idea to anyone out there? What’s your opinion?


Garden Pests: Cabbage looper moth

>> Monday, July 7, 2008

This time of year we will start seeing these grayish brown moths around all brassica crops (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, collards, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, radishes, turnips, rutabagas, and kohlrabi). They also feed on tomato leaves, spinach, cucumber, potato, and Swiss chard. They have small silvery white markings on the edge of their front pair of wings.

Young larvae (caterpillar) chew on the surface of the leaf while older larvae eat irregular holes. They like to feed on the most tender part of the plant which is the growing tips and can get into the developing cabbage or broccoli head. Once inside the heads they are not easily washed out at harvest. You will need to look for these at night. They are 1 ¼” long (3.2 cm) with a smooth green body with a white stripe along each side.

This moth typically goes through up to five generations per year (two to three in Canada, five in North Carolina, five to seven in California). They do not overwinter, as they do not tolerate prolonged cold weather, so the adults migrate from southern states in spring.

There are three variations commonly referred to cabbage worm:

The imported cabbage worm is a caterpillar in the butterfly family. It has fine, short fuzz and is bright green in color. The adult is the small white, a common butterfly.

The cabbage looper is a member of the moth family. The caterpillar is smooth and green with white stripes.

The diamondback moth is a member of the moth family. The caterpillar is smooth and solid green in color. When disturbed, it thrashes and drops off the plant. The newly-emerged larva is a leaf miner, entering the tissues of the leaf and consuming the parenchyma between the two outer layers of the leaf. Larger larvae make holes through the leaf, consuming all the tissue. The adult of the species is a small, elongated gray moth with whitish spots on the forewings that form two diamond shapes when the moth is at rest. The diamondback moth is primarily a tropical species, but is migratory, reaching temperate zones in most years.

Non-chemical control:
Parasitic wasps, Bt, row covers, destruction of crop residues after harvest.

You can also use Spinosad (derived through the fermentation of a naturally occurring organism).


Please Ask For Help, First

>> Saturday, July 5, 2008

I listen to a three-hour radio garden show on Saturday mornings, Greenhouse Garden Show, on KSL FM 1o2.7. After listening to this guy for four years now and reading magazines, books, etc, it’s getting to the point where I can almost always answer the callers questions myself but am still surprised by some answers given by the expert. And I always defer to him because I don’t feel I am an expert yet.

Anyway, I am still blown away by the number of people who call in saying they have some problem or other and have already tried all sorts of chemical pest controls BEFORE asking for help. In some cases they have used two or even three different chemicals. Some of them learn that what they have been spraying for is not even a pest but a disease or vice versa. Very different treatment requirements.

I just want to toss out a quick reminder that there is nothing wrong with asking experts to identify a problem before applying what ever fix is called for. It is very important to not use chemicals just because of what you heard a chemical company advertises.

Especially at this time when we are seeing an increase in the number of new gardeners we don’t need to see an equal increase in the sales of chemicals. There are many very viable organic alternatives to common problems. But first the problem needs to be properly identified.

PLEASE, ask for help FIRST. We have got to keep these chemicals out of our food chain. This stuff gets washed into the road gutters and then into the sewer and finally into rivers and streams.

If you can start your garden on an organic path from the beginning everyone will be better off. Also, learn what you can about how to attract beneficial insects as well and you may not even need to resort to any other type of control. It requires a bit of knowledge on how to properly balance your crop diversity but it can be done. Also, attracting birds to your yard will go a long way to keeping down the insect population.

Okay, now that I have had my say on that subject, here are some great sources for learning about common problems, their causes and good organic methods of treatment.

Your area Cooperative Extension Office specializes in all manner of crops that grow in your state. They also offer services such as soil testing, insect & disease identification and their proper control and they will be happy to tell you what time of year to expect outbreaks in your area.

Natural Insect Pest Control for the household

Organic Pest Control Guide

Tips on how to get rid of pests the natural way

Tips on Organic Fertilizer plus

Organic Fertilizer and Soil Amendment Guide

Information on Organic Fertilizers

Beneficial Insects

Make Friends with your good bugs

Beneficial Insects & Biological Pest Control

Project Wildlife: Attracting birds to your backyard

Attracting birds to your feeders and Backyard

This should help you get started. Now go out and have fun. Oh, and start a blog so we can all share in your successes.


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