The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

August 22, 2017

Monet Garden of Muskegon

Filed under: Events,Flowers — bob @ 4:37 pm

A couple of weeks ago while traveling in the west side of the state, we had some extra time on our hands so we decided to turn off the highway and do a little bit of site seeing. We turned on Google maps and it made a suggestion for us based on our location. All it said was “corner of 5th and Clay” and displayed an unflattering photo of a utility pole with some plants behind it. We decided to “bite” and made the detour to 5th and Clay. There we discovered the Monet Garden of Muskegon. It’s a wonderful urban oasis designed, planted and maintained by the Lakeshore Garden Masters an independent garden club based in Muskegon County. According to their website, the garden was planted in 2001. It’s heartening to know that an independent group of volunteers can keep a project like this going for 16 years.

View of the garden  from the middle of the intersection.

View of the garden from the middle of the intersection.

After driving through the city streets it was a bit surprising to see the garden for the first time from my car since we didn’t do a online search for it.

The gardeners have install a bridge reminiscent of the one in Monet famous painting.

The gardeners have install a bridge reminiscent of the one in Monet famous painting.

I’ve never been to Giverny to see Monet’s house and gardens so the paintings and published photos are all I have as a reference.

Moving water adds another dimension of interest.

Moving water adds another dimension of interest.

It’s pretty neat to see the designers’ interpretation of Monet’s original. I’m thinking they must have visited Giverny, France.

Vertical feature's like this arch over the pathway gives the illusion that the garden is larger than it actually is.

Vertical feature’s like this arch over the pathway gives the illusion that the garden is larger than it actually is.

We spent an hour or so at the garden in the afternoon on a week day and with no other visitors there, we had the whole garden to ourselves. It’s a relatively quiet spot with little car or truck traffic. There’s no cost for admission, you just park in the street and walk through.

Bob

August 15, 2017

Sunflowers can cause problems in the garden

Plants have developed an number of different survival techniques that can give them advantages over other plants competing for the same growing space. For example, some plants have roots that produce chemicals that inhibit the growth of other nearby plants of other species. It’s a process known as allelopathy.

Black walnut trees are probably the most recognized allelopathic plants. Homeowners find that it’s impossible to grow many kinds of plants in the root zone of a black walnut tree. Although they work differently than black walnuts, many farm crops such as alfalfa, buckwheat, winter rye and others are alleopathic plants.

Sunflowers provide a wonderful backdrop in the garden as they tower over a space making them a favorite of many gardeners. What gardeners might not know is sunflowers are also alleopathic plants. Because they have the ability to suppress the growth of weeds, sunflowers and other plants are the subject of on-going research to develop organic herbicides for use in sustainable agriculture. Unfortunately, along with weeds, many kinds of garden plants are affected by sunflowers as well.

These tomatoes are struggling to grow near sunflowers.

These tomatoes are struggling to grow near sunflowers.

 

I’ve noticed tomatoes in particular have difficulty growing near sunflowers. Tomatoes are sensitive to some man-made herbicides too, especially certain broadleaf herbicides such as the common lawn weed killer 2,4-D. That makes the tomato plant a great indicator plant for the presence of herbicides and naturally occurring alleopathic substances, sort of like the canary in the coal mine.

Until you know which of your plants can tolerate growing near sunflowers, the best thing is to grow them in a separate bed away from other garden plants.

Bob

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August 3, 2017

Beneficial insects in our garden

As mentioned in an earlier post on this blog, I planted a fairly large plot of buckwheat adjacent to our vegetable garden this spring. The main idea behind planting buckwheat was to provide forage primarily for honeybees and for any other pollinators that might be around to take advantage of it.

As it turns out honeybees are in the minority. When surveying the buckwheat plot, I noticed for every one honeybee I saw there were ten or twenty other pollinators. They included butterflies, small wild bees, small wasps, many kinds of beetles, flies and hoverflies.

Hoverflies are especially good to have in the garden. The adult hoverfly is a very agile flyer able to hover in one spot then zoom away, stop on a dime and hover in place again — they can even fly backwards.  They don’t have teeth or mandibles so they can’t chew or tear into things. Their mouth parts are spongy and are designed to soak up nectar and other liquids as well as picking up small particles such as pollen. That is why they’re so attracted to the buckwheat flowers.

Hoverflies have a superficial resemblance to bees.

Hoverflies have a superficial resemblance to bees.

Hoverfly larvae on the other hand are insectivores that eat small soft-bodied insects. In the garden that means mostly aphids, thrips, leafhoppers and scale. All four of these common garden pests have a stage in their lifecycle when they are soft-bodied.

After mating the adult female hoverfly buzzes around looking for a likely spot to lay her eggs, someplace where her young will have easy access to food. How does she know where the best spot is? Aphids and those other insects get all their nutrition from plant juices. They can only use part of the sugar in plant sap so they excrete the unneeded sugar as a syrupy liquid called “honeydew”. It’s the honeydew that attracts the female hoverfly: where there’s honeydew, there are insects for her young to feed on.

During the larval stage, each individual hoverfly will eat up to 400 aphids and other insects giving it the needed protein to go on to further development.

Since they are such good flyers, it’s very easy for female hoverflies to fly from the buckwheat to our vegetable garden and back again. The habitat that buckwheat provides enables the hoverfly population to grow much larger than it would otherwise. That is a good lesson about the advantages of encouraging beneficial insects instead of trying to maintain a garden in the middle of a sterile environment like a mowed lawn.

Bob

July 19, 2017

Tomato disease scores

This is the time of the season when tomato plants start showing signs of disease infections, usually as different shapes and colors of spots depending on which particular disease has infected the plant.

Last week I took an informal survey of several varieties of tomatoes to see how each variety is holding up under early disease pressure. My MO was to look for leaf spots on the plants. I made no attempt to identify which disease was causing  what spots. Then I ranked them on a scale of zero to ten depending how bad the plants looked. Zero meaning no spots were visible, ten meaning severe symptoms. No plants were bad enough to score what I imagined to be ten.

I didn’t count how many leaves were infected; or measure how many square centimeters were discolored; or brix levels of leaves; or levels of ethylene gas; or any other scientific criteria. Heck, I didn’t even alphabetize the list of varieties. I ignored any cultural differences such as mulch, staked or caged plants, planting history, etc. .Over half were heirloom varieties, some of those looked quite good compared to the modern ones.

I surveyed about fifteen gardens in two different locations about 20 miles apart. I made a point to look at them all the same day because twenty four or even twelve hours could mean the difference between no spots and spots. Here’s a chart of what I came up with:

Tomato variety Plant score
Brandywine 3-6
Belarus 0-1
Cherokee 1
Juliet 0-1
Sheboygan 0
Pruden’s Purple 0
Granny Crantrell 1-2
Super Sweet 3
Belstar 3
Pink Honey Drip 3
Roma 4-6
Yellow Cherry 5
Large Red Cherry 6
Early Girl 3-5
Rainbow Blend 3
Roma Type 7
Beefsteak type 6-7
Brandywine Pink 6
Moon Glow 3-4
San Marzano 3
Bobby’s Girl 0
Chadwick Cherry 0-1
Unknown varieties 5-6

Pruden’s Purple, by far looked the best it has no spots and  very vigorous leaves. Chadwick Cherry came in a close second. There were a few different beefsteak-type tomatoes that were not specifically tagged by variety but all of them had more advanced disease progression.

Keep in mind this is only a snapshot of conditions for one day. That could all change later on as the plants begin to get stressed by fruit production.

Bob

 

 

July 12, 2017

Rose sawfly emergence

If you ever grew roses you probably have seen those ugly, slug-like rose sawfly larvae eating leaves on your roses, or at least the damage they do. That’s the way we usually see them, as larvae. Rarely are the adult insects ever seen by gardeners.

Rose slugs feed on one side or the other of the leaves, usually it’s the underside. When they first hatch from the eggs and while they’re growing, the slugs are very small so they have very small mouth parts. That means they can’t take very big bites and only able to eat the softer leaf parts leaving the tough veins of the leaf.  And they only eat one surface of a leaf leaving the other side intact. This results in a characteristic “windowpane” feeding pattern. Later as the leaf parts dry, the windowpanes turn brown and fall out. It’s not unusual for an entire rose bush to be defoliated like this.

Last week, on some ‘Knock Out’ roses, I witnessed a surprising phenomenon, a swarm of rose sawfly adults. It was a frenzy of activity, hundreds of them flying in and out the the rose branches stopping only briefly to mate. They would swam all over one bush then move on to the next until they visited all nine rose bushes. The way they were flying really looked a swarm of bees or wasps. That should not be too surprising since they are are members of the insect order Hymenoptera which includes bees, ants and wasps among others.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to capture a video for you but I got a few photos.

The adult sawflies do not chew on buds.

The adult sawflies do not chew on buds.

 

 

Sawflies were on every part of the plant.

Sawflies were on every part of the plant.

Closeup of adult sawfly.Closeup of adult sawfly.

The entire event lasted about two hours, then they were gone, with just a few stragglers left behind. I assume they laid eggs on the rose plants during all that activity. I’m expecting a huge outbreak of rose slug larvae from them.

When all that was going on, I was thinking that I had two choices: I could spray all of those sawfly adults as they were buzzing around and destroy them right then and there; or just leave them alone to see what eventually happens. Actually, since I didn’t have any insecticide or sprayer at the time, the decision was already made.

This will be an unintended but interesting experiment. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Bob

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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