The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

May 3, 2019

Monitor soil temperatures often this spring

Soil temperatures have been cool enough during April that it has slowed down plant growth. My winter rye cover crop looks to be a week behind last year at this date and last year was later than normal as well. So that means we’re really behind. The apple tree buds have finally, slowly opened.

This may be the year to monitor soil temperatures more closely than usual if this cooling trend continues.

Some vegetable crop seeds can be sown into cold soil and do quite well under those conditions while others will not germinate or grow at all. There are certain minimum temperatures that seeds need in order to germinate. Seeds languishing in cold soil will be damaged or more likely, rot in place before they sprout.

For example, at 35 F you can expect spinach, onions, parsnips and lettuce to germinate. We’re well past that point by now.

.

Although not as durable, a kitchen thermometer makes an adequate replacement for a soil thermometer

Beets, cabbage, cauliflower, swiss chard, radishes, turnips, peas, and broccoli will all germinate at 40 F. Even though they are not technically seeds, seed potatoes will begin to grow at that temperature too.

Sweet corn requires the soil temperature to be at least 50 F. If they are pinched for time, some farmers will plant corn at lower soil temperatures but they always use seeds treated with fungicide to keep them from rotting in the soil.

A minimum soil temperature of 60 F is needed for warm weather crops like beans, cucumbers,melons,pumpkins and squash seeds to sprout.

Keep in mind that these are minimum required temperatures. Optimum germination temperatures may be five, ten or even twenty degrees higher in some cases.

You may have noticed that I didn’t include many common vegetables like peppers or tomatoes in these lists. That’s because in our growing area, those plants are generally grown as started transplants, not from seeds planted directly into the ground.

Bob

April 26, 2019

Natural nest building material for birds

The other day while I was relaxing on our front porch, I had a chance to watch a female robin work on building her nest. She was collecting mud and other muddy debris from the edge of a water puddle to use to cement her nest materials together. She’d look around for the right bit of mud and scoop up a big mouthful then fly off to her nest in a tree on the other side of of our yard. She’d work with the mud and when was done with it, she’d fly back to the puddle for more.

Watching that robin reminded me that nearly all songbirds are in the process of making their nests right now. Although they are perfectly fine on their own, we can help make it easier for them by providing natural nesting material.

Different species of birds use different materials for their nests. It’s usually a specific size of material that they are looking for. Some larger species may use primarily sticks and twigs, other birds may prefer pieces of grass. Many species line their nest with soft material.

Birds will collect all kinds material for their nest. The latest research however suggests that made-made materials such as cloth, string, or drier lint among other things, may cause harm to hatchlings or in some cases even adult birds. So what can we do to help?

The easiest the thing is to let a corner of your yard go wild.  Encourage helpful plants such as shrubs that provide small twigs; milkweed and thistle that produce down for nest lining; grapevines have stringy bark that birds remove in strips for their nests; pine needles are a favorite for many birds; lengths of fine grass are a very attractive building material.

Many bird species like to line their nests with moss.

Many bird species like to line their nests with moss.

Invertebrates such as spiders will set up shop in your wild area and begin to spin webs. Those webs in turn will be used by hummingbirds as nest building materials.

Consider leaving a bare patch of soil in your natural area that you can soak with water to make mud for birds to use.

As an alternative to having a natural wild area in your otherwise manicured lawn, you can collect the aforementioned material yourself and leave it in a spot where birds can easily get at it.

Many species of birds lay more that one clutch of eggs through the summer therefore need nest building material on and off during the summer.

Although birds will sometimes cause a gardener problems by damaging fruit, the good they do by eating harmful insects outweighs the bad. Plus, it’s a lot of fun watching birds as they work on building their nests.

Bob

April 17, 2019

Reproduce forest soil to help trees get off to a good start

Filed under: Shrubs,Soil,Trees — Tags: , , — bob @ 5:26 pm

Spring is the best time of year to plant trees. During the winter the dormant buds and roots are in a kind of holding pattern until the right growing conditions happen in the spring. Then they have the entire growing season to establish themselves before next winter.

No doubt you’re aware of the requirements for a proper sized planting hole and the need to water the young tree after planting. Proper planting depth is also very important. I’ve mentioned in previous posts how important it is to remove the wrapping from the root ball, even though it can be a hassle.

I always set aside any sod and never use it to back-fill the planting. Actually, I don’t use the topsoil to back-fill either. I just use the subsoil from the hole for back-fill and save the topsoil for the very top of the hole. That way the original soil profile is maintained.

After I’ve taken great pains to get the tree into the ground, there’s one more thing I like to do to and that is to create an artificial forest floor covering.  It’s something I’ve been doing for decades and I like the results.

It’s really a way of mulching that small trees seem to respond to. I first apply a thin layer of partially decomposed wood chips around the newly planted tree, over the topsoil,  maybe a couple of inches deep. Then I cover that with a layer of chopped leaves. Chopping the leaves prevents them from matting down which can slow down rain water penetration into the soil.

Here the mulch is applied  about four feet in diameter.

Here the mulch is applied about four feet in diameter.

The layering combination of subsoil in the hole, with topsoil over that then covered with the chips and leaves mimics the soil conditions of a forest. I don’t mix the layers, I let the soil microbes do their thing. Eventually as the mulch decomposes, humic acid and related compounds are formed providing an environment for a wide variety of beneficial soil microbes. All of that allows the tree to adapt to its new home and grow to its full potential.

Not everyone will want to fuss with their trees like this and some will say it’s overkill and I certainly wouldn’t expect a landscaper to do it. but it’s something I’ve found to work for me.

Bob

No garden space? Try a community garden

Filed under: Garden Preparation,Related topics — Tags: , — bob @ 5:04 pm

Just because you are living in an apartment or in a house with no suitable gardening space, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re out of luck.

All around Michigan groups, work to provide community gardening space for folks who couldn’t otherwise garden due to a lack of space.

There’s a wide spread on the amenities community gardens provide. The most rustic community gardens provide nothing more than a sunny place to garden. At those you’ll have to do your own tilling in the spring. Also, you’ll have to haul your own water from home. Water is critical especially during the first couple of weeks until young plants become established. After that, mulches applied around the plants will drastically reduce the amount of water required compared to bare soil.

The next tier of gardens will have water on site with one or more hose bibs from which to draw water. Sometimes hoses are allowed, sometimes not. But at the very least you won’t have haul jugs of water from home.

Some community gardens loan out tools for the gardeners to use if they don’t have their own. That usually happens in the more permanent gardens where tool sheds or other storage facilities are located right on site.

A community garden plot.

A community garden plot.

Permanent raised beds are available at some garden sites. Their configuration can be anything from slightly raised beds to growing tables raised to table top height.

The rarest of community gardens are those that provide all the previously mentioned amenities plus garden irrigation. These will often have a garden expert or manager who monitors the irrigation system and is around to help gardeners with problems and to answer questions. Some even provide people to help to those who need it.

Costs ranges from free or a token amount to hundreds of dollars per season in the most desired location. Often organizations use garden fee income to improve the garden or help fund other work. In lieu of a fee, you may be asked to contribute a number of work hours helping around the garden.

If you do decide to join a community garden, be a good member. Always be mindful of the rules. For example: don’t trudge through other people’s garden; never pick produce from other plots unless given permission, even if it appears to be in danger of becoming over-ripe; park in designated areas; keep the garden a peaceful place, don’t act out personal problems at the garden such as shouting arguments. The best policy is try to be a good neighbor.

It’s fairly easy to find garden space these days. Start by contacting city recreation departments, schools, colleges, churches and other civic organizations. Private land owners or farmers may rent out plots as well.

This time of the year, just before planting season kicks off, organizations make a big push to get people to sign up. That means sign-up for garden space is going full speed ahead so don’t wait too long because space often runs out fast in some of the more popular gardens. Before committing to a garden plot, it might be a good idea to visit first so there are no surprises.

Bob

 

April 13, 2019

Florescent lights for starting plants

We’re growing many of our transplants under artificial light using primarily fluorescent tubes and they are doing quite well. It’s not as good as growing them in a greenhouse under natural sunlight of course.

When you stop and think about it, it’s really a wonder that florescent bulbs work as well as they do considering they have to produce those little packets of energy called photos in sufficient numbers to grow a plant. The plant uses that photon energy and builds itself right out of thin air using carbon dioxide with help from water and minerals in the soil.

Plants can gather enough photons only when the bulbs are close enough to the plant. Some beginning gardeners make the mistake of trying to grow seedlings under what looks to them to be bright light but is not for the plant. As a result the seedling start to show symptoms of light deprivation such as stretching toward the light source, abnormal color and general overall weakness.

We have our florescent tubes set up so that they are around three or four inches from the top of the plants, not more than six inches for sure. Since florescent bulbs give off so little heat, setting them that close is no problem. You wouldn’t want to do that with incandescent bulbs.

It’s  very important to start out with clean bulbs. Just a little dust collecting on them will reduce the amount light of light reaching the plants enough to weaken them. So make sure you clean your tubes, and the reflector of your tube fixture, for optimum results.

I keep my light bulbs no further than 4 or 5 inches from the seedlings. The gray on the bulbs in this photo is just a glitch from the camera.

I keep my light bulbs no further than 4 or 5 inches from the seedlings. The gray on the bulbs in this photo is just a glitch from the camera.

After a few seasons of growing seedlings under florescent bulbs you may notice you just can’t seem to grow them as well as you used to. It’s nothing that you are doing differently, it’s the bulbs themselves that are at fault. Florescent bulbs have a limited lifespan usually rated by the number of hours in use and that can be in the tens of thousands of hours. In reality however, bulbs will begin fading well before their rated life span, maybe even after just a few thousand hours. You won’t see it with your bare eyes but your plants will sure know the difference. Florescent tubes are on their way out long before the familiar gray deposits show up inside the glass.

A good policy under typical growing conditions would be to change out bulbs every three years. That way you’ll be sure your plants are getting off to a good start.

Bob

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress