The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

August 20, 2015

Silky Dogwood

Filed under: Shrubs — bob @ 8:44 am

One of my earliest childhood memories in the garden is discovering a shrub  tucked away in a out of the way corner of my grandmother’s  garden. The shrub had the most striking metallic-blue berries I had ever seen. Years later I found out it was a silky dogwood.

Now decades later, I found another silky dogwood growing on our property which, by the way, is only a mile or so away from my grandparents old farm. It is a wild plant that came up in the area that we use for the chicken exercise area. It was carved out of a part of our yard that we left as a natural area to attract wildlife.

The memories came flooding back to me when I saw the familiar cool-blue berries. This is not the blue of a ripe blue berry or wild grape. It’s more like the blue paint job of of a customized Gran Torino from the 1970′s. It really looks out of place in in the natural habitat.

The silky dogwood berries grow in clusters and are about 1/4 to 3/8 inch in diameter.

The silky dogwood berries grow in clusters and are about 1/4 to 3/8 inch in diameter.

Silky dogwood prefers low lying areas along streams or ponds. However, ours is growing in one of the higher spots in the yard, which is why I chose that area for the chicken run, so that the hens would have a high and dry area to roam. I know we have a fairly high water table here, and that is probably why the bush is growing so well.

The dogwood has a beautiful natural shape and bright shiny leaves that make it a very attractive plant. I don’t see many of these around anymore. In some states, like Indiana, where it was once common is now considered a locally endangered species.

In some parts of the country it grows to a maximum height of around five feet while in others, it can get 10 feet high. Mine is at least eight feet tall. My guess is that it all depends on its location or local population genetics.

The berries contain high amounts of fat, compared to other berries, and that makes it a favorite for migratory birds that need fat to sustain them during their migration. Flocks of cedar waxwings have found our wild area and are eating the wild cherries. So far they haven’t touched the silky dogwood berries. Maybe they’re not quite ripe enough for them yet.

I’ve never been tempted to try to eat these berries, even as a young child. Something about that blue just didn’t look right to me. I don’t ever plan to eat them so I’m not going to tell you whether or not they are edible, you’ll have to do your own research. Let me know in the comments section what you find.

I recall that some groups of native Americans used the the bark as part of their tobacco mixture called kinnikinnick. I’m not sure if it was used as a flavoring ingredient or if it has some sort of medical or other value.

Even if you don’t to smoke it or eat the berries, silky dogwood is an attractive shrub to use in your landscape especially if you have a damp problem area where other shrubs fail to thrive.

Seeds, seeding and plants are available online and at nurseries.

Bob

July 23, 2015

Attractive looking insect is destructive to peach trees

Filed under: Insects — bob @ 12:40 pm

If you see a rather large, black wasp with an iridescent blue tinge and brilliant orange ring on its body. Kill it quick! Spray it, swat it, stomp on it. It is the adult female of the peach tree borer.

This insect is not really a wasp, it just looks like one when you first glance at it. If you look closer at it you will see it doesn’t have that distinctive pinched body shape like a wasp.

A peach tree borer moth zooms quickly when it flies, very similar to a wasp. Most moths we see sort of bounce around when they fly, much like a butterfly. None of that lazy zig-zagging around for them. So actually, it won’t be very easy to stomp on them.

I spotted both male and female adults separately. Then a day or two later, I witnessed a pair mating. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me either time to get a photo for you to see.

It is not the adult that directly harms peach trees, it is the larval stage that does the damage. The adult female lays its eggs on the bark of the tree near the soil line.

Once the egg hatches, the tiny larvae start chewing their way into the inner back. There they feed and grow, burrowing their through the lower trunk of the tree. You can imagine how destructive this can be to a tree. The tree is either weakened so much that it becomes susceptible to other pests or it may, more likely, die outright from the damage.

Since the adults are mating and laying eggs right now, you may want to try using a preventative insecticide spray. Drenching the truck and lower branches with an approved insecticide may kill the newly hatched larvae before they have a chance to bore into the tree.

Once the borers are inside the tree, they are protected from sprays. At that point the best thing you can do is look for holes in the lower trunk made by the borers. Scrape away the bark and feeding debris. Be gentle, you don’t want to cause even more damage. Check the spot in about a week. The active areas will have new frass and other debris. That’s where the borers are living.

Make a vertical cut through the borer hole then poke a piece of thin wire into the feeding tunnel. If you’re lucky you’ll kill the borer. It’s a lot of fussing around but you may be able to save your tree.

There is another similar insect called the lesser peach tree borer that feeds higher up on the trunk. The adults look somewhat different but are just as destructive.

Bob

 

July 21, 2015

Plenty of tree frogs in our garden this year

Filed under: Animals — bob @ 9:37 am

Our garden has become a haven for baby tree frogs. Standing in one spot without having to move, I could see three of them. I’ve also seen many others hopping around in the yard.

The bright green frogs stand out against the yellow petals.

The bright green frogs stand out against the yellow petals.

Tree frogs need water to reproduce, either permanent ponds or temporary pools of water. This wet summer with all of its rain has left a lot of standing water around. Some areas around here have had water standing for a couple of months, long enough for tree frogs to lay eggs, hatch into tadpoles and develop into frogs.

It's always fun to spot one of these little guys.

It’s always fun to spot one of these little guys.

Like other frogs, they eat all sorts of insects which makes them helpful in the garden.

They’re so much fun to watch too. Tree frogs blend in so well with their surroundings that it is hard to find them in their natural habitat up in the trees. They can surprise you by showing up in the most unusual places.

Many of us have seen them resting on windows or stuck on the side of a building. One time I was happily surprised by one sitting on an apple I was about to pick.

Adult tree frogs are about two inches long, ours are a little over half an inch right now. They range in color from gray, brown or green depending on their circumstances.

This tree frog is about the same width as the daylily leaf.

This tree frog is about the same width as the daylily leaf.

It seems like tree frogs are loudest frogs we have around here. Their call is distinctive and carries quite a distance. Like bird songs, you can learn to identify them by their call even if you can’t see them.

Bob

July 15, 2015

Potential for more distorted tomatoes this season

Filed under: Vegetables — bob @ 12:03 pm

I don’t have to tell you we’ve had more rain than usual this gardening season in southeastern Michigan. Some locations, like my garden, have had significantly more rain than the official reporting stations because of localized heavy down pours. Don’t be surprised if you see a higher proportion of misshapen tomatoes in your garden this year be cause of this.

If you’ve grown tomatoes for any length of time, I’m sure you’ve picked your share of distorted tomatoes.

You may remember from your high school biology class that a tomato develops from the female parts of  a flower — the ovary and ovule. Under good weather conditions the tiny, newly formed tomato grows and matures normally. But when the weather doesn’t cooperate, tomatoes can develop a number of different problems.

Tomato flowers on 'Stupice' heirloom variety.

Tomato flowers on ‘Stupice’ heirloom variety.

Tomatoes that have distorted areas with rough, brown edges are called “catfaced”. Although they are safe to eat, they don’t look very attractive. Catfacing is most often caused by flower petals sticking to the ovary just as the tomato begins to form. Rainy, damp weather keeps the petals from drying completely and separating from the rest of the flower.

“Zippering” is another related condition caused by damp weather. The symptom is, a long, rough, thin brown scar running longitudinally — north pole to south pole — on the skin of a tomato. It’s caused by the anther, the male part of the flower, adhering to the young fruit as it grows.

Sometimes an open locule forms along with zippering. A locule is a chamber inside the ovule that produces the fruit part of the tomato. An open locule is also called an “open hole”. It shows up as a dry, brown hole or depression on surface of the tomato.

Those over-sized, distorted tomatoes that look like two or more tomatoes merged into one, are also caused by poor weather during flower development.

Some varieties are more prone to these disorders than others — the “Beefsteak” varieties being one common example.

I should stop here and mention “blossom end rot”. It is not related in any way to these disorders but is caused by inefficient movement of calcium inside the tomato. That is a discussion for another blog.

Distorted tomatoes can also be caused by high soil nitrogen, excessive plant pruning, exposure to herbicides and tomatoes rubbing against one another.

As the weather straightens out, tomatoes forming later in the season will have fewer catfacing and zippering symptoms at maturity.

Bob

 

 

 

 

June 30, 2015

Waterlogged soil causing plant problems

Filed under: Weather — bob @ 8:21 am

Gardeners in our area are having to deal with unusual amounts of water in their gardens. The amount of water in the soil is more like what we would see in early spring after the snow melt rather than late June or early July.

Driving around I see standing water all over our area with no place to go. Soils in many places are waterlogged which means big trouble for plants.

Most plants are able to cope with a day or two of flooding but after that, complications start to set in. The biggest problem is a lack of oxygen in the soil. Plant roots need oxygen to function.

All types of soil contain air spaces between soil particles. Fine textured soils with a lot of clay, have very small air spaces while sandy soils have large air spaces. This is very important because plant roots need access to soil air, they can’t efficiently use the oxygen dissolved in water.  When we have too much rain, these air spaces fill with water. Once that happens, the plant roots begin to drown and eventually die.

A water damaged plant, curiously enough, shows symptoms exactly like a plant that has been growing in a drought. In the case of a drought, there is not enough water for the roots to absorb so the upper part of the plant wilts. With a waterlogged plant, the upper part of the plant also wilts because can’t the roots have stopped working so no water gets moved into the upper parts of the plant.

My raised bed has helped keep the plants up out of the water. I haven't even been able to weed this bed because of the high water.

My raised bed has helped keep the plants up out of the water. I haven’t even been able to weed this bed because of the high water.

After a the soil returns to normal, plants need to be watered more often because they have fewer roots. Often, if the damage is not too bad, the plant will recover by growing more roots to replace the ones lost by drowning. If it the damage is too great, the plant will be stunted and never be able to live up to its potential.

Another problem, especially with a vegetable garden, is the potential for contamination. In urban or suburban neighborhoods where all sorts of properties are nearby, there is the potential for flood waters to carry contaminants like bacteria or chemicals. Think of that dog kennel down the street or that parking lot with runoff water carrying motor oil and other debris.

You may want to think twice about eating vegetables exposed to contaminated flood water.

Bob

 

 

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