The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

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

January 26, 2016

Fall planted plants off to a good start

Filed under: Planting,Weather — bob @ 7:50 am

Now that normal cold weather is here, it’s easy to forget about the mild fall and early winter we had. That mild autumn and early-winter will probably turn out to be a real bonus for gardeners especially for those who did any kind of fall planting.

The roots of most fall planted plants continue to grow as long as the soil is not deeply frozen. A long, moderate fall and early winter like the one we had this past season, was ideal for fall root growth. That means the plants are now well established and will be raring to go this spring.

Garlic is one crop that is normally planted in the fall. I’m going to predict that this year your garlic crop will be better than normal. We should see larger than normal bulbs with larger and more cloves per bulb at harvest time. That’s assuming all other factors such as weed control, fertilizer and soil moisture are the same as usual.

Our tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and crocus should produce great flowers this spring too.

The same hold true for trees and shrubs. Any woody plants planted this past fall should be in great shape to make excellent growth in the spring. Anyone who planted fruit trees this fall will have effectively  gained nearly an entire growing season — as far as root growth goes.

If we have one of those springs where we quickly jump from winter right into hot weather (which sometimes happen around here) those fall planted tress will be able to shrug off the stress. On the other hand, spring planted trees under hot, dry conditions will not fare as well.

Keep in mind that spring is still the best time of the year to plant tree and shrubs. This year however,  el nino helped us out by allowing a moderate fall and early winter.

The US Department of Agriculture has developed digital tools that farmers can use to track developments like those of el nino and others, allowing farmers to make better planting, harvesting, storage and marketing decisions. As gardeners we can piggy back on that research and apply it in our own little corner of the world.

I plan to make a note in my garden journal to keep an eye for the next developing el nino and plan accordingly.

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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