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

August 22, 2017

Monet Garden of Muskegon

Filed under: Events,Flowers — bob @ 4:37 pm

A couple of weeks ago while traveling in the west side of the state, we had some extra time on our hands so we decided to turn off the highway and do a little bit of site seeing. We turned on Google maps and it made a suggestion for us based on our location. All it said was “corner of 5th and Clay” and displayed an unflattering photo of a utility pole with some plants behind it. We decided to “bite” and made the detour to 5th and Clay. There we discovered the Monet Garden of Muskegon. It’s a wonderful urban oasis designed, planted and maintained by the Lakeshore Garden Masters an independent garden club based in Muskegon County. According to their website, the garden was planted in 2001. It’s heartening to know that an independent group of volunteers can keep a project like this going for 16 years.

View of the garden  from the middle of the intersection.

View of the garden from the middle of the intersection.

After driving through the city streets it was a bit surprising to see the garden for the first time from my car since we didn’t do a online search for it.

The gardeners have install a bridge reminiscent of the one in Monet famous painting.

The gardeners have install a bridge reminiscent of the one in Monet famous painting.

I’ve never been to Giverny to see Monet’s house and gardens so the paintings and published photos are all I have as a reference.

Moving water adds another dimension of interest.

Moving water adds another dimension of interest.

It’s pretty neat to see the designers’ interpretation of Monet’s original. I’m thinking they must have visited Giverny, France.

Vertical feature's like this arch over the pathway gives the illusion that the garden is larger than it actually is.

Vertical feature’s like this arch over the pathway gives the illusion that the garden is larger than it actually is.

We spent an hour or so at the garden in the afternoon on a week day and with no other visitors there, we had the whole garden to ourselves. It’s a relatively quiet spot with little car or truck traffic. There’s no cost for admission, you just park in the street and walk through.

Bob

August 15, 2017

Sunflowers can cause problems in the garden

Plants have developed an number of different survival techniques that can give them advantages over other plants competing for the same growing space. For example, some plants have roots that produce chemicals that inhibit the growth of other nearby plants of other species. It’s a process known as allelopathy.

Black walnut trees are probably the most recognized allelopathic plants. Homeowners find that it’s impossible to grow many kinds of plants in the root zone of a black walnut tree. Although they work differently than black walnuts, many farm crops such as alfalfa, buckwheat, winter rye and others are alleopathic plants.

Sunflowers provide a wonderful backdrop in the garden as they tower over a space making them a favorite of many gardeners. What gardeners might not know is sunflowers are also alleopathic plants. Because they have the ability to suppress the growth of weeds, sunflowers and other plants are the subject of on-going research to develop organic herbicides for use in sustainable agriculture. Unfortunately, along with weeds, many kinds of garden plants are affected by sunflowers as well.

These tomatoes are struggling to grow near sunflowers.

These tomatoes are struggling to grow near sunflowers.

 

I’ve noticed tomatoes in particular have difficulty growing near sunflowers. Tomatoes are sensitive to some man-made herbicides too, especially certain broadleaf herbicides such as the common lawn weed killer 2,4-D. That makes the tomato plant a great indicator plant for the presence of herbicides and naturally occurring alleopathic substances, sort of like the canary in the coal mine.

Until you know which of your plants can tolerate growing near sunflowers, the best thing is to grow them in a separate bed away from other garden plants.

Bob

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August 3, 2017

Beneficial insects in our garden

As mentioned in an earlier post on this blog, I planted a fairly large plot of buckwheat adjacent to our vegetable garden this spring. The main idea behind planting buckwheat was to provide forage primarily for honeybees and for any other pollinators that might be around to take advantage of it.

As it turns out honeybees are in the minority. When surveying the buckwheat plot, I noticed for every one honeybee I saw there were ten or twenty other pollinators. They included butterflies, small wild bees, small wasps, many kinds of beetles, flies and hoverflies.

Hoverflies are especially good to have in the garden. The adult hoverfly is a very agile flyer able to hover in one spot then zoom away, stop on a dime and hover in place again — they can even fly backwards.  They don’t have teeth or mandibles so they can’t chew or tear into things. Their mouth parts are spongy and are designed to soak up nectar and other liquids as well as picking up small particles such as pollen. That is why they’re so attracted to the buckwheat flowers.

Hoverflies have a superficial resemblance to bees.

Hoverflies have a superficial resemblance to bees.

Hoverfly larvae on the other hand are insectivores that eat small soft-bodied insects. In the garden that means mostly aphids, thrips, leafhoppers and scale. All four of these common garden pests have a stage in their lifecycle when they are soft-bodied.

After mating the adult female hoverfly buzzes around looking for a likely spot to lay her eggs, someplace where her young will have easy access to food. How does she know where the best spot is? Aphids and those other insects get all their nutrition from plant juices. They can only use part of the sugar in plant sap so they excrete the unneeded sugar as a syrupy liquid called “honeydew”. It’s the honeydew that attracts the female hoverfly: where there’s honeydew, there are insects for her young to feed on.

During the larval stage, each individual hoverfly will eat up to 400 aphids and other insects giving it the needed protein to go on to further development.

Since they are such good flyers, it’s very easy for female hoverflies to fly from the buckwheat to our vegetable garden and back again. The habitat that buckwheat provides enables the hoverfly population to grow much larger than it would otherwise. That is a good lesson about the advantages of encouraging beneficial insects instead of trying to maintain a garden in the middle of a sterile environment like a mowed lawn.

Bob

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