The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

October 25, 2019

Evergreen needles turning yellow

Our 2019 growing season is over. The Detroit/Pontiac National Weather Service office made the official announcement declaring October 18th as the date, so no more frost/freeze advisories until next spring.

So now we are into the third week of October and the leaves on the trees are all turning color except for the evergreens. “What? Wait!, the needles on my pine trees are turning yellow. What’s wrong?”

Even though pines, spruces, arborvitaes, firs, hemlocks and others are called evergreens, that doesn’t necessarily mean all of the needles are always green all of the time, forever.

A certain amount of color change on evergreens is a normal event this time of the year. Some years it is more pronounced than in other years. This year many of my white pines are turning a vibrant yellow that can be seen from quite a distance away. The yellow-colored needles next to the fresh green are very attractive but could be a cause of concern for those not aware of this natural occurrence.

This particular white pine tree has a large number of yellowing needles. The needles on the ends of the branches are all green indicating a healthy tree.

This particular white pine tree has a large number of yellowing needles. The needles on the ends of the branches are all green indicating a healthy tree.

Later on in the season, all of the yellow needles will drop from the trees and add to the pine needles collected at the base of the trees contributing to a healthy mulched layer. It’s nature’s way of making sure pine trees have a healthy soil environment. Very few, if any, other plants will grow in this mulched area eliminating competition for growing space and nutrients.

All of that mulch started out as green needles that eventually turned yellow and fell. Because needles are thin they are not blown around as far by the wind like the leaves from deciduous trees. Once they land, they tend to stay put.

My cedar trees, on the other hand, are not turning color this year. During some years, some of their leaves will turn a tan color.  Virtually all evergreens go through this process in one form or another.

Don’t confuse this with pest problems. Things like bud worms will cause symptoms of yellowing or die back from the very tips of the trees where the leaf buds are located. The natural seasonal yellowing takes place on needles located away from the tip of the branches. I’ve also seen evergreens damaged by lawn weed killers. Trees poisoned by an overdose of lawn chemicals will drop needles too.


October 18, 2019

An unusual way to keep deer out of your garden

Of all the complaints I hear about problems in the garden, damage done by feeding deer ranks near the top.

Deer hunter numbers across the state continue to decline. As a result, the overall size of the deer population is getting harder to manage. It’s not just the rural areas that are seeing more deer either. Every year we hear about deer in cities causing so many problems that sometimes they resort to special hunts to thin the herd.

In the meantime, gardeners are trying all kinds of things to minimize deer damage to their gardens. They can all be effective to varying degrees depending on the circumstances. The more common methods include: hanging scented bars of soap; hanging bags of human hair; applying hot pepper sauce or other assorted repellent sprays; motion detector activated devices; and others.

Fencing is really the best way to keep them out, but effective deer fencing can be cost prohibitive and usually doesn’t look all that attractive..

This summer, a friend of mine stumbled across a low-cost alternative to fencing that has kept the deer out of his vegetable garden all season. He used moderately heavy monofilament fishing line to create a barrier around his garden.

Although the thin line is hard to see, it’s high tensile strength makes it quite sturdy.

Although the thin line is hard to see, it’s high tensile strength makes it quite sturdy.

When deer approach the line, they stop and seem confused. Apparently, they just don’t know what to make of it. Even the smallest deer could easily snap the line by just walking through it but for some reason they don’t.

This was for a vegetable garden and there were other gardens nearby. It could be the deer just moved on to easier pickings. I’m not sure how well this would work for a single garden alone by itself.

To make a monofilament barrier, just set some fence posts around the perimeter of your garden. Attach the line to the posts stretching it fairly tight so it doesn’t sag. Run four strands of line about a foot apart with the first one a foot above the ground. Of course, you’ll need to have some way of getting in, I’ll let you figure out how you want to build a gate.

Deer are smart in their own way. I’m wondering if after a season or two the deer will figure out what’s going on and ignore the line, but for now it’s working.




October 10, 2019

Flavorful celery seasoning from your garden

Everyone is familiar with the long, perfectly shaped, crunchy stalks of celery found in the produce department. Celery can be fairly easy to grow but getting it to look and taste like store bought is another matter. I’ve tried many times and came close but never really got it to where I thought it was up to snuff.

There is another type of celery that is a good alternative for gardeners. Chinese celery or cutting celery is the same species as the more familiar grocery store Pascal-type celery but grows differently. It doesn’t produce large stalks instead, people grow it for its flavorful leaves. When growing, it looks just like you would think celery should. Even the stalks look like celery stalks except they are much smaller.

Cutting celery is grown for its leaves rather than celery stalks.

Cutting celery is grown for its leaves rather than celery stalks.

Cutting celery has a passing resemblance to some types of flat-leafed parsley so there could be some confusion between the two. Celery has that tell-tale celery stalk that sets it apart at the produce stand.

The leaves are stronger tasting than other kinds of celery, so the flavor is more complex and holds up much better after drying.

My celery grew very well in the lower end of my garden. With the regular rains we had during the summer, the soil in that spot stayed pretty damp the entire season. It’s not too surprising they liked it there when you consider places like swamps and lowlands are where wild celery grows in its original. habitat

I’ll be cutting my Chinese celery this week and plan to dry it in my dehydrator. When it’s dry, I’ll seal it up in air-tight jars and use it in the winter for seasoning soup and other recipes that call for celery flakes. When put into a small decorative container, it makes a nice gift for someone to keep in their kitchen.

Growing fresh celery stalks might be lots of fun but having a jar of your own celery flakes in the spice rack is very satisfying too.



October 3, 2019

Native calico asters are the stars of fall

A fall favorite of mine is our native calico aster. It is found in all eastern US states and Canadian provinces.

Around our local area, I’m seeing more of these plants than usual. The relatively rainy growing season may have something to do with it since they prefer semi-damp environments. More frequent rain means that it will be more likely they will be able to establish themselves in spots where they wouldn’t be found in drier years.

In late summer and early fall, these asters produce a display of 5/8-inch diameter, white flowers with pale yellow centers. You often find them along hiking trails, roadsides and the edge of fields. In my yard they’re popping up around my wood chip pile, an old compost heap and other places that don’t get touched by the mower that often. They range in height from about a foot to over five feet tall depending on their location and how long they have been growing there. They are perennials.

Even though they are not known for their scent, I sometimes can detect a faint sweet smell from mine if I put my nose right up against the flowers.

Calico asters are a good source of late season nectar for pollinators. I’ve noticed many honeybees and other small pollinating insects on mine. As the season progresses, the flower centers change colors as they age adding hues of pink, blue or maroon here and there, giving it a “calico” appearance.


The flowers are just starting to change colors.

The flowers are just starting to change colors.

Calico asters can be confused with other similar-looking species. However, if you look closely, you’ll notice the plant has another distinguishing characteristic, its flowers grow from only one side of the stems.

Mammals such as deer and rabbits sometimes browse on the foliage. Some species of butterflies and moths do too.

The stems are strong enough to stay standing through much of the winter adding interesting contrast to otherwise empty expanses of white snow.

These likable flowers make a great addition to a wildflower garden. Plant breeders have worked with them and have come up with improved varieties that are more tame and will look at home in your main flower garden.



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