The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

September 19, 2017

Monitor grape ripening

Filed under: Fruit,Weather — bob @ 1:11 pm

According to my records, my grapes are about ten days ahead of last year at this date. Every growing season is different and any particular year doesn’t necessarily line up with seasonal average growing conditions.

Ten days is a long time when it comes to grapes. I covered the grapes with netting last week to keep the birds from robbing the grapevines. If I had followed the calendar and waited until last year’s date to cover them, the birds would have eaten them all by now.

I have a trick that I use to determine when to put on the netting. I have a vine of early grapes that ripen about a week earlier than my main crop. When the birds start eating the grapes from that vine, I know it’s time to get the netting on my main crop. It’s a quick and easy way for me to keep track of grape development since I have so many other things going on than just grapes. Serious grape growers have more sophisticated ways o monitoring their grapes but this method works for me.

Color is not a good indicator of ripeness.

Color is not a good indicator of ripeness.

How did my grapes get so far ahead from last year? Plants need a certain amount of heat during the growing season to grow and develop. Scientist have developed a thing called “growing degree days” to help farmers predict when crops reach a particular stage of development. I looked the the growing degree days for our area to see if how much warmer the growing season was, thinking that might account for the early timing of my grapes. The record shows that there are fewer growing degrees this year than last! How could that be?

Some time earlier during the growing season, we had a warm stretch of weather that pushed the grapes into further along in their development than they normally would be. That means the grapes would be that much further along. Raw degree days won’t tell us very much about plant development for specific crops. Plant scientists have come up with methods to apply that data that are unique to each individual crop. Had I been following those scientific parameters, I would have known even before the birds when the grape would be ready to cover.

Bob

August 31, 2017

Sycamore trees lost their leaves

Filed under: Trees,Weather — bob @ 5:34 am

The stretch of dry weather we had took its toll on some sycamore trees planted in a less than ideal spot this season. Although sycamores can grow in dry areas, they thrive in moist soils. That causes a bit of a problem since the best spot to build a structure is on a high and dry area — the exact opposite of the what is preferred by a sycamore tree.

People love sycamores because of their maple-like leaves and unique bark. A healthy, thriving sycamore is a wonderful sight and is makes fine shade tree, although they can be messy. However, unless a building site has a low, moist spot, a sycamore should not be your first choice. When these trees are planted on the wrong site, they never get a chance to live up to their full potential. A dry site can actually significantly shorten their lifespan.

Powdery mildew is a plant disease that can show up this time of year on sycamores. And that is exactly what happened on a trio of sycamores I was asked to look at last week. Usually powdery mildew shows up first on the newest leaves, but on those trees so many leaves were gone, I was only able to find the fuzzy fungus growth on the few older leaves still attached to the tree.

This sycamore has lost virtually all of its leaves. Compare that to the maples in the background that have nearly all of their leaves.

This sycamore has lost virtually all of its leaves. Compare that to the maples in the background that have nearly all of their leaves.

Normally mildew is not a serious problem on sycamores, it causes leaves to drop but the trees bounce right back the next season. I’m somewhat concerned about those three trees. The combination of the dry site and powdery mildew may leave the trees in a permanent weakened condition. Healthy sycamores are fast growing trees but these seem to be languishing in that spot. The prescription in this case is to irrigate the trees as soon as the start of a dry spell is expected — every year from here on out.

Since trees can live for decades or even centuries, take some time to survey your planting site and match the tree to the conditions.

Bob

December 15, 2016

Protect potted perennials from winter cold

Filed under: Potted Plants,Weather — bob @ 8:45 am

Just about every year, going into winter, I have perennials or other potted plants left over from the growing season that never got planted for one reason or another. I usually have plans for them so I like to keep them over winter.

It’s a good idea to keep plants out as long as possible in the fall. An occasional short cold snap doesn’t bother the plants at all. This year the mild fall weather lasted so long that I just now got most of them put away into their winter storage spots.

The most valuable plants I worry about are my bonsai.  They are several years old, my false sequoia is well over 20 years old. All the bonsai are hardy trees that require a cold dormant period to complete their annual life cycle so have to be kept outside during the winter.

There’s a spot under my mature pine trees where the bonsai spend the winter. There I dig a hole and place them in the hole on their sides. Placing them sideways keeps snow melt water (which we get sometimes) from accumulating in the pots. That reduces the chance that the terracotta pots will crack when the water re-freezes. Soil excavated from the hole gets banked up over the pots and the crown of the trees. I then rake plenty pine needles over the tops to insulate them from the cold winter temperature and wind. The entire storage area gets covered with a tarp or other kind of covering.

I put the rest of my perennials in various places around my property. I have a number of  left over grape cuttings that I rooted this spring. Those I tucked away in a well-drained spot in the vegetable garden. A few miscellaneous perennial flowers are mixed in there with the grapes.

Pots in trench

A few years back I had some potted elderberry plants that I overwintered in the ground. I buried the pots as usual but put them in a new place, somewhere way out of the way. When spring arrived I was so busy that I forgot I even had elderberry plants. It wasn’t until late June that I saw a group of elderberries growing out of the soil that I remembered I stored them there the previous fall. I learned how a squirrel feels when it forgets where it buried its acorns.

Some weather forecasters are predicting another polar vortex may be taking shape again so it’s time to finish up getting those plants into the ground.

Bob

 

 

June 2, 2016

Use drip irrigation to maximize yields

Filed under: Water,Weather — bob @ 8:43 am

Weather conditions in the Pacific ocean always have an effect on our weather here in the Great Lakes area. Because of changing conditions in the Pacific, the  National Weather Service is predicting a warmer than normal summer with normal or slightly below normal rainfall.

That means as gardeners, we may have to irrigate our gardeners this year if we want to maximize our vegetable yields.

There are many ways to water a garden. Some are very inefficient uses of a gardener’s time and effort such as carrying watering cans. Other methods are inefficient by wasting water such as spraying water into the air with a sprinkling system. The most efficient way to irrigate is to use a trickle or drip irrigation system.

The simplest way to describe a drip system is to imagine a flat, thin-walled hose with tiny slits cut into it at regular intervals. Those tiny slits allow water to slowly drip out of the irrigation line rather than spray out into the air.

Unlike other types of irrigation that wet the entire soil surface and rest of the garden from top to bottom, drip irrigation places water only where it is needed, at the root zone of the garden plant.

As water drips out from the irrigation line, it travels straight down onto the soil for a short distance. It then begins to spread out providing moisture to the area of the soil profile where the plant roots are.

Install irrigation lines before or shortly after planting before the garden plants get too big and in the way.

Install irrigation lines before or shortly after planting before the garden plants get too big and in the way.

Looking at an area irrigated by a drip system, the soil may appear to be dry with just spots of moisture at the perforations. Underneath however, down in the root zone, moisture spreads out horizontally becoming available to the entire root zone. Soil texture affects the shape of the moist area somewhat. In sandy soil, water will travel further down into the soil before beginning to spread out compared to loamy or clay soils.

A dry soil surface also means fewer weeds since weed seeds need water in order to germinate.

Drip irrigation keeps the plant leaves dry giving plants some protection against diseases since many plant diseases can spread when leaves are wet. That’s why so many Golden Delicious apples come from the state of Washington. Out there very little rain falls and the air is dry — too dry to support plant disease. A drip irrigation system provides all the water the trees need. That is the perfect combination of growing conditions to minimize plant disease and maximize apples production. Here in Michigan our farmers grow wonderful apples but it is more difficult for them to do.

A battery-powered automatic timer coupled with  a valve system makes watering your garden a virtually hands-off process once it is installed. It also takes the worry out of leaving your garden to fend for itself while you are away on vacation during the hottest part of the growing season.

With care during installation, removal and storage, irrigation lines can be used over and over again year after year.

A warmer than normal growing season coupled with an efficient irrigation system will produce a bumper crop of garden vegetables this year.

Bob

February 23, 2016

Chickens help recover garden

Filed under: Chickens,Garden Preparation,Weather,Weeds — bob @ 10:24 am

Earlier this week I decided to move some of my chickens into the lower garden. That area is poorly drained and water sits there almost every spring.

Since the last couple of summers were so damp and rainy, that spot was waterlogged for much of the growing season. I couldn’t plant anything. I couldn’t even till the area, so I let it go fallow.

Right now the spot is dry. Since it has been so warm, the soil is not frozen and there is no snow cover so the chickens will be able to scratch to their hearts’ content.

There’s an old garden shed in that spot that I sometimes use as a temporary chicken coop. And I have the area fenced to keep out deer, woodchucks and those wascally wabbits. It also keeps chickens in.

The weeds in that low spot really took over after two years of non-use. Some weeds grew over three feet high last year. That will be a real challenge this spring. I’ll have to cut down all of that plant material and try to till it the best I can. The chickens can help quite a bit by tearing into those tough weeds ahead of time.

Chickens

Scratching in the weeds is a chicken’s favorite pastime.

So why even bother with that area? Why not turn into lawn or let it revert back to a wild area? Well, the National Weather Service is predicting a warmer than average spring and summer. They are also predicting below average precipitation, at least through spring and maybe well into summer.

If it turns out to be hot and dry,  my sandy-soil upper garden — which did very well last season– will probably be too dry to grow much of anything without a lot of irrigation. During past years when we’ve had droughts, my lower garden rarely needed irrigation until well into the summer.

So that’s where I’m placing my gardening bets this year. If things change, I can always move the chickens back to their normal spot.

Bob

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