The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

February 28, 2007

Butterfly's Favorite

Filed under: Uncategorized — bob @ 3:59 am

Today, the first of the Butterfly Weed seeds we sowed last week sprouted. This event was the culmination of a five week process that was needed in order for them to germinate.

Asclepias tuberosa gets the name Butterfly Weed from the fact that butterflies love these plants as much as people do. Monarch butterflies often visit this plant because it is in the milkweed family.
This hardy perennial produces dense clusters of blossoms ranging in color from yellow to orange to red that appear in June and July. They make a good cut flower.

As you might have guessed, there is a down-side to growing these garden favorites; that being the five week process I mentioned earlier.

It all starts with a four week process know as “stratification”. It is during this period we try to mimick winter and the early spring snow melt which is needed before the seed is able to geminate. This happens fairly often in the plant world and is needed by many hardy perennials.

We start out by placing the seed between two sheets of wet paper towels. The paper toweling gets placed into a Zip-Loc bag, then the whole thing goes into the crisper of the refrigerator. There the seeds are fooled into thinking the winter is ending and the warm spring will soon be here.

Last week, after four weeks, the seeds were removed from the crisper. We sowed the seeds on the surface of our planting mix without covering them because, in addtion to stratification, they also need sunlight to sprout. So, now, they have the 70 degree warmth they need to begin growing in the greenhouse.

Not all seed catalogs or nurseries for that matter offer Asclepias seed or plants. It may be due to the difficulty in the germination process. There is still time to order seeds if you want to try growing them yourself. We got ours from Stokes Seeds . Park’s Seeds offer them as well.

By starting the seeds this early we can be sure they will blossom this season instead of having to wait until next year. The seedlings will be planted in the garden in May along with the rest of our flowers.


February 25, 2007

A Cold Tree Walk

Filed under: Uncategorized — judy @ 8:30 am

Some folks were tired of being cooped up inside. They joined me on my walk in the woods identifying different trees at Matthaei Botanical Gardeens. It was a cold day on Saturday but over 20 people signed up for my class. We spent almost 2 hours walking the trails and identified over 20 trees, shrubs and vines.

One tree that we saw often on our walk was the Tulip Tree, also called Yellow Poplar. It’s an important lumber tree particularly down south. It grows a very straight trunk and if it’s surrouned by other trees, the lower branches die and fall off early , so it has few knot-holes , thus making smooth knot-hole free boards.

We also saw lots of White Ash. Unfortunately, most of them were dead from the Emerald Ash Borer. Washtenaw County, where the Gardens is, was one of the first counties to be quarantined because of the E.A.B.. So all of our big Ash trees are dead. At the Gardens many were cut down near the trails for safety reasons. On the downed trees we could easily see the tunnels left by the borer larvae. They chewed their way through the cambium layer right under the bark. The cambium is the essential vascular system that keeps the tree alive.

We also looked on the bark for the telltale “D” shaped holes where the borer entered the tree. I hadn’t realized we had so many Ash Trees at the Gardens until they stood out as dead trees.

The death of this magnificient tree is going to make a lot of botanists and tree lovers feel very negative about globilization. (The E.A.B. was brought into our country inside wood packing cases from a foreign country.)

The group was awed by the big Poison Ivy vines that we saw. Some were almost 3 inches thick and thirty feet high, growing up some tall trees. P.I. has rootlets all along the vine that attach to the trunk of the tree. It is not a parasite because it doesn’t steal any nutrients from the tree. The short rootlets just anchor the vine to the trees so it can grow upward to the sunlight. We saw branches of the vine sticking out, which differentiates the P.I. from the Virginia Creeper vine, which also has rootlets for clinging to the bark of a tree. Poison Ivy has 3 leaflets. Virginia Creeper has 5 leafllets and is not poisonous. Did you know that a person can get the rash from P.I. even in the winter time and even from the roots in the ground. The oils that irritate us are present even when the plant is dormant.

Once I get started in the woods, I tend to want to keep on going to see what is around the next bend. But we were cold after a hour and a half, so we started on back to the building.

There are a number of good Tree identification guides that you can use. The one we like best at the Gardens is “Michigan Trees” by Barnes and Wagner. Both were professors at University of Michigan. Dr. Wagner, sadly, died a few years ago. But Barnes is still giving classes with the Community Education Program at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

Bye for now, Judy

February 24, 2007

Kitty Greens

Filed under: Animals,Indoor Gardening — Tags: , — bob @ 3:49 pm

From what I gather, cats require a certain amount of “green food” in their diet to keep their digestive tract on track and their general health…umm…healthy.

Because our cat, Friskie, prefers to stay in the house most of the time, Judy suggested a while back that we grow some “greens” for her ( the cat I mean, Judy already gets lettuce from the greenhouse ).

So, several days ago I liberated one of our used greenhouse flats from the recycling pile and sowed a crop of “cat grass”.

I decided to use some left over grass seed we had saved from last year. I just filled the flat with our regular starting mix then, in half of the flat I planted a fescue variety and on the other, a bent-grass variety.

Now, about a week and a half later, the grass is about 2-3 inches high. It is very soft and tender and does look good enough to eat, especially the bent-grass. This afternoon, when we brought the flat into the house, it took Friskie all of 2 minutes to find that lucsious tray of “kitty salad” and start chowing down on it.

We plan to just leave it in the house in an out of the way spot so she can have some whenever she wants… her own fresh salad bar!!

Now, where did I put that bottle of Neuman’s Own……?


February 20, 2007

2008 Perennial of the Year

Filed under: Uncategorized — bob @ 6:50 am

It’s taken me this long to consistently write “2007″ on my checks and now we have to be concerned about 2008 ! :) A person has to keep up with the latest gardening news or it will pass you by. A good place to do that, my fellow gardeners, is right here on All Things Green.

The Perennial Plant Association has announced their annual ;) “Perennial Plant of the Year” for 2008. It is…drum roll please…. Geranium ‘ Rozanne ‘.

This wonderful plant grows in a mound shape about 2 feet high and has lavender-blue flowers that are relatively large for a Geranium. It is hardy in our area and should make a fine addition to anyone’s landscape.

I have always loved the blue-flowered Geranium varieties but am often a little disappointed about their short blossoming period . ‘Rozanne’ , however, begins blooming in June and keeps right on blooming until September, making it one of the longer blooming Geranium out there. It prefers well drained soil and full sun but will adapt to partial shade.

Keep in mind that ‘Rozanne’ is a true Geranium ( sometimes called “Cranesbill” ) and should not be confused with Pelargonium, the annual that most folks call “geranium”.

Now, before you even ask, the 2007 ” Perennial of the Year ” is a catmint ( Nepita ) called ‘Walker’s Low’….but that’s old news ;).


February 16, 2007

Growing Easter Lilies is Cool!

Filed under: Uncategorized — bob @ 3:38 pm

In one of my first posts on this blog, I mentioned something about growing Easter Lilies. At this point in time, we have about 200 Easter Lilies in the greenhouse.

As you are aware Easter Sunday occures differently on the calender every year. Some years we have an early Easter, some years a late Easter. The challenge in growing Easter Lilies is to get them to bloom on, or a day or two before Easter Sunday.

The last three weeks in the greenhouse have been pretty uncomfortable. Because the Lilies were ahead of schedule, the heat had to be turned down to 50 degrees ( plus or minus a couple of degrees ) to slow down their development. This is our seventh year of growing Easter Lilies and it is the first time I had to take such drastic measures.

On those clear sunny days we had recently, the solar gain would start to build and the temperature inside the greenhouse would rise above the prescibed levels. That caused our automatic vents to open and a blast of cold winter air would come rushing in. Anyone working inside transplanting seedlings or working on seed orders, would have to brace themselves against the cold. This opening and closing of the vents went on all day until sundown when the solar heat was no longer a factor and the temperatures stabilized.

We wore our winter coats for 3 weeks inside the greenhouse… until today. I took some measurements, made some quick calculations and decided that it was time to resume the normal Easter Lily growing temperature of 63 degrees. We were finally able to shed our coats. There was still some opening and closing of the vents but since the growing temperature was 13 degrees higher, they didn’t have to open up nearly so often.

At this point in their development our Easter Lillies range from 12 to14 inches in height. I’ll keep you posted on their progress as we make our way through Lent and on to Easter.

In the meantime Mardi Gras is on its way…laissez les bon ton roulette!!


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