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


© 2007 -2011 - Utah Valley Gardens - All photos and content copyrighted by Utah Valley Gardens unless otherwise attributed. The use of photographs posted on this site without permission is forbidden and is protected by copyright law, as is all original text.

Blogger templates made by

Back to TOP