The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

May 28, 2015

Double your pepper yield (or more) this year

Filed under: Planting,Vegetables — bob @ 9:09 am

If you’ve never had much luck growing peppers, you can vastly improve your pepper yield by doing a bit of extra work now before the plants go into the garden. The secret is to use plastic mulch.

In the past I’ve experimented with several colors of plastic mulch: clear, black, red, blue and silver. All of them showed a huge improvement over organic mulch or no mulch at all.

Using plastic mulch is not a new concept, it’s been around for decades. Commercial farmers and researches have improved yields even more than double.

There are several reasons why plastic mulch works so well. The most obvious is reduced weed competition. Plastic mulch prevents nearly all weeds from growing by blocking sunlight to the soil. The only weeds that you have to contend with are those that sneak up through the hole made in the plastic for planting. The exception is clear plastic mulch. It lets sunlight through allowing weeds to thrive under the greenhouse-like conditions.

Whenever you hoe or till around plants, no matter how careful you are, valuable surface roots get cut. Since plastic mulch keeps weeds from growing, there is no need for hoeing or cultivating except in pathways between the rows of mulch.

Soil temperatures are warmer under plastic mulch which is important in a relatively cool environment like Michigan. Peppers are warm season crops that respond well to warm soil temperatures. Organic mulches on the other hand, tend to keep soil temperatures cool.

Oxygen is critical for plant roots. Garden soil under plastic stays loose, leaving space between soil particles so that air can move. This creates a better environment for plant roots and soil microbes to do their job.

Bare garden soil loses a lot of water through simple evaporation. Plastic mulch keeps the soil from drying out allowing more water for the plants to use when they need it.

Some plant diseases are spread by rain or irrigation water splashing soil up onto the plant. Plastic mulch keeps plants clean and less susceptible to disease infections.

Carbon dioxide is produced in the soil and is a normal part of the soil dynamic.  On bare soil it diffuses directly into the air. Since gases can’t pass through plastic mulch, carbon dioxide tends to collect in very high concentrations underneath the plastic sheet. It can only escape by moving through the planting holes resulting in very high levels of C02 right at plant level where the plant can efficiently use it for increased photosynthesis producing higher yields.

Black is the default color of plastic I use in my garden. Mainly because you can find it just about anywhere, although I’m seeing more red plastic around lately. Also, black plastic is available in heavier grades than the colors allowing you to use it for more than one season if you want. I never use clear because of the weed problem I mentioned earlier.

With some care, you can re-use plastic mulch another year.

With some care, you can re-use plastic mulch another year.

Lay your plastic before planting, it will be much easier to transplant through holes in the plastic. I had an assistant years ago that transplanted the plants first and then tried to install the plastic. He got it to work but it was a chore.

It’s important that the surface of the planting bed is smooth and flat, sloping slightly so rain water can run off.  Rake out all debris and don’t step in the prepared soil.

Farmers use special machines to lay plastic in their fields but we don’t need anything like that in a home garden. I just stretch a string where I want the edge of the bed to be and dig a trench. I unroll the plastic and bury one edge with soil. Then I measure the width I need for the second trench — allowing for covering the opposite edge — stretch the string again and dig my second trench. A 48 inch wide roll gives me a planting bed just over three feet wide.

I cut an “X” through the plastic where I want the plants to go and transplant through the cut.

It takes some time to properly prepare the bed and install the plastic but you will be amazed by the results.

Bob

 

 

 

 

 

May 20, 2015

Thoughts about tomato planting

Filed under: Transplants,Vegetables — bob @ 9:00 am

I’m sure someone somewhere has done a survey on what is the most popular vegetable grown in home gardens. My guess is that it would be tomatoes.

In virtually every vegetable garden I’ve been in and on every deck or patio with a planter, I’ve seen tomato plants.

Since we are past the average frost-free date in southeastern Michigan, it’s now safe to plant tomatoes outside without any frost protection. That’s not to say that a frost won’t happen this spring, but it is very unlikely. So now is the time to get those tomatoes planted.

Beginning gardeners should keep in mind that although tomato seeds are available, tomatoes are grown in the garden using young seedlings called transplants — plants that were raised to plantable size in a greenhouse or under grow lights. Tomato seeds sown directly into the garden at this point may not have enough time to produce tomatoes before the growing season ends.

If you are buying transplants, the best ones are those that are short, compact and leafy. This early in the spring most transplants fit that description but later on as they grow older, they will eventually become spindly and leggy. However, even leggy plants are usable, if that’s all that is available.

Over time, through natural selection, tomato plants have developed the ability to grow roots anywhere along their stems. These types of roots are called “adventitious roots”.  Adventitious roots help tomato plants survive during times of stress when their main roots would be damaged, such as during a wet spring when soil becomes water logged or flooded. The adventitious roots in that case would form and replace the damaged roots allowing the plant to continue to grow.

By setting tomato transplants deep into the soil, we can use adventitious roots to our advantage. Roots will quickly form all along the buried part of a tomato stem.

A leggy transplant, instead of sticking up above the soil surface, should be set on an angle into the garden soil so that its stem is covered with soil up to the first set of leaves.

Even well-shaped tomato transplants can be placed in the soil lower than the level they were growing in their pot or flat container.

Tomato plants are tougher than you think. Often plants purchased on-line or from a catalog will be shipped without a pot or even soil, they’re just tied together in a bundle and shipped in a box or envelop. These plants recover nicely if you take them out of their mailing container and transplant them soon after they arrive.

We still have time to plant tomatoes. Memorial Day weekend is traditionally the date when many gardeners plant tomatoes. Depending on the season, many times those later tomatoes end up producing fruit almost as soon as those planted earlier.

Bob

 

 

 

 

 

May 9, 2015

Start a new tradition, throw a daffodil party!

Filed under: Flowers — bob @ 1:36 pm

Are booming daffodils a good excuse for throwing a party? It is if you are Dick Deionne of Ann Arbor.

Each spring he throws a daffodil party where he treats his friends to the spectacle of thousands of daffodils that includes dozens of different varieties.

Beginning gardeners should note that daffodils are planted in the fall.

Beginning gardeners should note that daffodils are planted in the fall.

 

Most of his plantings are under trees or around the edges of the wooded areas.

Daffodils thrive in the rich woodland soil.

Daffodils thrive in rich woodland soil.

Dick doesn’t fertilize or deadhead his daffodils because they thrive in the rich woodland soil.

A few daffodils in the yard are nice, but a large plantinng like this makes a bold statement.

A few daffodils in the yard are nice, but a large planting like this makes a bold statement.

 

 

 

Daffodils grow well around black walnut trees.

Daffodils happily grow under walnut trees.

Normally black walnut trees are troublesome for flowers because of a poisonous chemical that walnut roots release into the soil. This makes the area in the tree’s root zone unsuitable for most plants. Daffodils are resistant to the chemical and do well under black walnut trees.

If you want to start your own version of an annual daffodil party, keep in mind that daffodils are planted in the fall. Flower bulb sellers start taking orders for daffodil bulbs in mid-summer for fall delivery.

Bob

 

April 29, 2015

Mulching around trees

Filed under: Trees — bob @ 8:59 am

As the days get warmer, more and and more people are out sprucing up their lawns.

After cleaning up winter debris, one of the first tasks people like to do is refresh the mulch around their trees and shrubs. Garden centers and hardware stores know this and stock up on piles and piles of bagged mulch.

Mulch serves many purposes but the two most common reasons for mulching lawn trees are the decorative appeal and protecting trees from mower damage.

One of the most common ailments of yard trees is “lawn mower disease”. This happens most often when someone mowing the lawn gets in a hurry and tries to get too close to a tree. The mowing machine then makes contact with the trunk of a tree and scrapes away part of the bark.

The wound leaves an entry point for insects and disease organisms to enter an otherwise healthy tree. Many times the owner is not even aware that his machine caused the damage.

When a tree is surrounded by mulch, you’re less tempted to mow close to the tree trunk.

Well-place mulch can give your lawn a crisp, manicured look.

Unfortunately, many people see commercial landscapes with trees poorly mulched by unskilled workers and try to copy that look at home.

The look I’m referring to is “volcano mulching”. I think you know what I’m talking about. That’s where mulch is piled up against a tree trunk in a volcano shape. They assume that is the proper way to mulch since professionals are doing the work.

Many homeowners have come to prefer that volcano look. I have had people actually get angry with me when I suggested they change their mulching technique.

Over time, volcano mulching damages the bark and the tree eventually struggles to stay healthy or slowly dies.

The proper way to mulch is to apply and maintain no more than two to four inches of mulch in a four to five foot diameter around the tree.

Do your tree a huge favor and say “no!” to volcano mulching.

Bob

 

April 22, 2015

Pruning apple trees: five cuts you can make even if you’ve never pruned before

Filed under: Fruit,Trees — bob @ 9:26 am

Although you can prune apple trees just about any time of the year, most apple growers agree spring is the best time to do it. You may have seen professional orchardists out pruning trees as early as February but that is only because they have so many trees that they need the extra time to get them all pruned before the growing season starts.

Pruning and shaping apples trees takes some knowledge and experience to get it right but there are a few cuts you can be sure of even if you’ve never pruned an apple tree before.

Before pruning remember to make the cuts near the junction of the twig or branch and the main branch or trunk. Don’t leave a long stub. Conversely, don’t cut into the trunk or main branch, that makes it difficult for the tree to heal. Try to leave just a small “collar” to allow for proper healing.

You’ll need two basic tools. Use a sharp pair of pruning shears for twigs and small branches. Loppers resemble over-sized pruning shears. They are much more sturdy than shears, have longer handles and are used for for cutting larger branches.

 

By-pass type pruners (left) make the cleanest cuts. Anvil type pruners are cheaper to buy but don't cut as well.

By-pass type pruners (left) make the cleanest cuts. Anvil type pruners are cheaper to buy but don’t cut as well.

Here’s five basic cuts to make when pruning apple trees:

1) Cut off all dead twigs and branches. The spot where they attach to the tree provides a entry point for disease and other pests. Once a branch dies, the tree will try to heal around the dead branch. Unless the branch is cut off or falls off naturally, healing will never be complete.

2) Prune away “suckers”. They are those thin shoots that grow up around the base of the tree. They don’t contribute anything to the tree and make their growth at the expense of the rest of the tree.

3) Help increase light penetration and improve air circulation through the tree by removing all “water-sprouts”. Those are thin shoots that grow straight up from the main branches. They don’t produce fruit and will grow larger each year eventually distorting the tree.

4) If two branches are rubbing against one another, remove the weakest one. Rubbing damages bark leaving a wound for disease organisms to enter the tree.

5) This one will take a little more thought. Prune away weak branches that are shaded by more vigorous branches. Even though they may produce fruit, it won’t be the quality and volume produced by stronger branches. If you are fortunate enough to have inherited a mature apple that has been properly pruned through the years, it’s easier to tell which are the weaker branches.

There is much more to proper apple tree pruning but these five cuts will go a long way to improving the health of your tree and building your confidence for more sophisticated pruning.

Bob

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