Friday, January 29, 2016

Is Btk Safe for Honeybees?


Education is learning what you didn't even know you didn't know.
Daniel J. Boorstin
 According to the Peninsula Daily News, “State agriculture officials will decide soon whether to propose spraying a biological pesticide over 10,500 acres across seven sites in Western Washington to kill leaf-eating gypsy moths. Washington and Oregon States will be doing a spray program this year (2016). The proposed Washington sites are Kent, N.E. Tacoma, Port of Tacoma, Fife, Milton, Vancouver, Port of Vancouver, Nisqually, Lacey, Gig Harbor and Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Washington would conduct three aerial sprayings, seven to 10 days apart, in April. In Oregon, state officials propose spraying in mid-April by helicopter over targeted areas of Forest Park, north Portland and Hayden Island with three treatments.“ 



There is much talk in my community about government aerial spraying for gypsy moth this year. And there’s a lot of fear about aerial spraying of any kind, especially in the beekeeping circles. We beekeepers have enough trouble with neighbors spraying insecticides, combatting known and unknown bee diseases, raising healthy bees with organic methods and winter die off. Now add the element of overhead spraying…aargh! ENOUGH CHEMICALS ALREADY!!
 But wait…we’re talking about Bt here. What is it really?
According to Rodale’s All New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening (1992) “Microbial insecticides such as Bt and it’s varieties are effective, slow acting pesticides with virtually no harmful side effects and considered non-toxic to mammals.”
In Garden Insects (2004) Whitney Cranshaw writes “Bt is the best known bacterium…and is commonly  used as a microbial insecticide. Several strains exist, each of which affects only certain types of insects that ingest the bacteria or the toxic protein crystal it produces”. 
On the subject of organic beekeeping, Ross Conrad is my go to guy for my beekeeping questions. He is an author and organic beekeeper. For cases of preventing wax moths in bee hive equipment, in his book “Natural Beekeeping” (2007) he touched on the use of Bt for control of wax moth, a highly destructive insect in bee hives.  He writes “Bt has been used safely by the organic farming community for decades… is a bacterium that, when ingested by certain insect larvae, will kill the host…it becomes toxic only when exposed to the unique digestive environment found within the wax worm’s gut. There are no harmful side effects like with chemical (synthetic) pesticides.  Bt is sprayed directly onto the plant’s leaf. The toxin is not produced until the pests eats a leaf upon which the Bt microbe rests, it is safe and non-toxic to animals, humans, and beneficial insects, and it may be used right up until harvest. Also used by organic beekeepers as a safe alternative to moth balls for preventing wax moth infestations in empty hive equipment.” In this case Bt can be sprayed on frames and hive bodies that will be stored for later use. The presence of the bacterium will kill any larvae that hatches and feeds on the wax.
Gypsy moth, today’s subject, is a major pest known to defoliate millions of acres of hardwood forests annually and perpetually defoliated trees means death. WSDA claims gypsy moth control is often necessary to prevent damage in backyards and many urban areas to help stop the spread into neighboring forested areas. Bacillus thuringiensis subspecies kurstaki (Btk) is the variety of insecticide of choice for this insect. Btk is a natural soil born bacteria which biodegrades in sunlight within about 10 days, hence the multiple applications and it will likely be done at night, minimizing exposure to people and animals and for sure honey bees who don’t fly at night or eat leaves. What about the leaf cutter bees, our native pollinators...they wrap their nests with leaves but they do not eat the leaves so this poses no harm to them either. And I don’t see their activity in my garden that early in the spring.
 mindfully.org writes “However, in their natural form, acute toxicity of commonly-used Bt varieties is limited to caterpillars, mosquito larvae, and beetle larvae. Bt var. kurstaki which cause disease in moth and butterfly caterpillars.”
 Yes, Btk would mean death to butterfly larvae too. However the spray applications will be in April. I don’t know if our native butterflies breed in temps that cold here in the Pacific Northwest, and those that migrate from warmer climates to our south don’t arrive till June. I did some research on temperatures necessary for butterfly breeding but couldn’t find a definitive answer. If you know, please drop a line in the comments section. The cooperative extension in Wisconsin suggests “If you are concerned about your butterfly garden plants being sprayed (with Btk), place a tarp over them the night before a spray is scheduled. Then, remove it after spraying is completed.”
 Part of the controversy also lies in the fact that caterpillars, larvae and even moths are a food source for birds. While the infected larvae won’t be harmful to birds, the lack of their populations could represent a decline in a food source for birds.
 The gypsy moths found in Washington and Oregon are two non-native species (European and Asian) of insects that have the potential to devastate our forested lands. They have been brought here inadvertently by international trade. In cases like this we must pick the lesser of two evils and I think a timely and occasional spray with an organic control as deemed necessary when populations show sustained increase is prudent. Yes, you will find extreme cases of human illness due to overexposure if you dig deep enough online but I think by and large it’s a safe choice considering the other alternatives. The cases I found were due to overexposure by splashing large quantities of the liquid on themselves as opposed to a focused spray or drift. Naturally if you are highly sensitive, it is suggested that you stay indoors during the spraying.  Maps of proposed spray areas are published online in states that I found using this method, but do keep in mind drift can enlarge targeted areas.
 My personal opinion? I am not a chemist or a scientist. I’m an organic gardener and beekeeper. I use integrated pest management (IPM) practices. I’m sick to death of all the synthetic chemicals in the world and I use natural, organic methods that include biological controls when I have an infestation that the birds and other predators are not controlling. Bt is one biological control that I have used many times. I’ve been using Bt to combat cabbage moth for years. And I think I’m safe to say, most if not all organic farmers have been using Bt to control leaf eating worms and larvae for eons. The way it works is topically. The bacteria adheres to the outside of the leaf and when the larvae eats the leaf it ingests the bacteria. Bt does not penetrate the leaf so will not be effective on leaf miners. Nor is it effective on adult moths. The larvae must be young. It does break down and does not stay of the leaf, so in the case of my cabbage moths, who lay eggs all summer on all brassicas, I spray weekly, in the evenings all summer.
 The method of Btk is proven effective and the least toxic available, so is prudent and organically approved.  After all, the goal of organic farming is to use the least toxic method to control pests and disease. Btk is far less toxic than the synthetic chemical choices out there.
 In Bloom In My Garden Today: crocus, Erysimum ‘Rysi Moon’, Heath (Erica carnea ‘springwood white’), Sarcococca confusa, Hellebore, Galanthus elwesii (snowdrops), viola, pansies
 Author’s photo of my bees


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Gifts for the Gardener

"For gardeners, this is the season of lists and callow hopefulness; hundreds of thousands of bewitched readers are poring over their catalogs, making lists ..., and dreaming their dreams." ~Katharine White, "A Romp in the Catalogues," The New Yorker, 1958 (collected in Onward and Upward in the Garden) 

Gift giving is a year round opportunity to bring joy to those we love, is it not? This time of year it is of course ramped up as we celebrate this season of Christ’s birth with the giving of gifts following in the tradition of the wise-men that lavished gifts upon the child Jesus (Matthew 2:10-12).

As we consider which gift would bring the most meaning to those in our lives, I have a few ideas to share for the gardeners in your life. Here is my top 10, not necessarily in order of preference, but as ideas came to mind like a shuffling of a Rubik’s Cube, these kept recirculating to the top.

1. Number one and the most obvious of course is a Gift Card from a favorite nursery. If you are unsure what to get, your gardener friend will no doubt already have a list in their head of needs and wants. If however, you’d rather give items not money, read on.

2. Feed the birds – because bird song feeds the soul. If your gardener friend loves birds, and I don’t believe that I’ve met one that doesn’t, anything that will bring birds to the garden year round will be applauded. Bird houses, bird seed, seed cakes and the proper holders for each, suet cakes in winter as well as a heater for the birdbath, there are so many birdy gifts that will delight your gardener friend. Books to help identify the birds that come for a visit are invaluable. And don’t forget about the butterflies and bats, as both are extremely beneficial to the planet. There are identification books galore and specially designed houses for each you can buy that will entice them to the garden too.


 A side note about bird feed. Beware of the ingredients listing on the compressed ‘cake’ style blocks of seed…most contain gelatin to hold the seed together in addition to dextrose and salts. Personally I would not buy any with added salts and sugars, but a contact at NWF says “It (gelatin) is the standard for all molded bird seed products that are available in the market. The gelatin is safe. There isn’t any salt in the gelatin. All similar bird seed products (bells, logs, wreaths, ornaments, seed covered houses, seed cakes, seed blocks etc) have been made this way for the last 30+ years. The birds do not eat the gelatin, they eat the seeds inside the shell.” If you like to make your own gifts, there are many recipes on the internet, some may contain harmful ingredients like salts and corn syrup which is a GMO. Look for recipes from reputable birding sites like National Wildlife Federation (NWF.org), Audubon Society (audubon.org) and birdwatchersdigest.com. If you use peanut butter, it is recommended to use unsalted.

3. ARS HS/KR 1000 pruning shears – I spent 3 days trimming the topiaries at work this fall and after that I expected to have some repetitive motion fatigue in my hands and wrists. I would have been in trouble had I used my own heavy, wooden handled pair but not with these. From Japan, the hard-chrome plated carbon steel blades keep a sharp edge and the tool is so light weight. I couldn’t believe the difference this pair of shears made when there’s a lot of trimming to be done. There are other ARS models but replacement blades are available for this one. Even if you don’t have topiaries or hedges to shear, these make easy work of trimming the heathers, lavenders and thyme after flowering is finished.

 4. Felco hand pruners/secateurs – THE best pruners in my opinion and most professionals in the industry use these. They are built to last and the red handles make it easy to find when you forget where you put or dropped them in the garden or shed. There are several sizes and handle shapes available for a comfortable, personal fit in your hand. They also make a left handers pair. All the working parts are available for spare parts purchase so you can replace any as needed without having to buy a new pair. And don’t forget the leather holster. Having a place to put the pruners attached to my hip means I misplace it much less.

 5. Pocket blade sharpener –iSTOR and Corona make a nice pocket size sharpener. The more you use pruners of course the more you have to sharpen them. iSTOR’s website also has a short video that shows exactly how to use this style of sharpener. Dull blades translate to poor cuts and tired, sore possibly inflamed hands and wrists. I keep one of these in my pocket while at work to sharpen as I need. Save the grinder and rasps for the shovels and hoes, this is better for those more delicate blade edges.

 6. Magazine Subscription. A one year paid subscription to their favorite gardening magazine would no doubt delight your gardener friend. A couple of my favorites have been ‘The English Garden’ and ‘Fine Gardening’. If they already have enough instructive magazines coming to the house they may enjoy ‘GreenPrints - The Weeder’s Digest’ which is comprised of real-life stories written by gardeners rather than the how-to. And if you’re lucky, you may even find an article by yours truly in this year’s line-up!

 7. Memberships to various gardening organizations or foundations. A one year membership may give your gardener a new way to hone their skills in something they are specifically interested in. If you like to “buy local” there may be several clubs and foundations close within your gardener’s community. A few years ago I was given a one year membership to Seed Savers which is national. This year I’d like to join the Hardy Fern Foundation which is local to me.

8. If your gardener is like me and likes antiques, these gifts are awesome! My friend has delighted me twice with antique watering attachments. Made from brass they will likely outlive my gardening days. First was a really cool spray nozzle to add to my collection. I’ve never seen anything like it.
















Then more recently this wonderful fan sprayer….


9. In recent years I’ve discovered the absolute need for stretching my body to keep it happy. Stopping my work to do some meaningful deep stretches makes all the difference by the end of my day. I’ve found yoga stretching to be an outstanding exercise practice. There are many books and DVDs specifically for gardeners.

10. If you want to help them expand their library, visit my ‘library’ tab located under the banner at the top of the page for a list of my favorite books on gardening.

Well, there you have it my friends…but wait! A BONUS IDEA!

11. Conservatory or greenhouse. Who wouldn’t love to have this in their backyard?









 A REAL greenhouse is on my bucket list but if your budget is like mine…this may be a more realistic option.















In Bloom In My Garden Today: Erysimum ‘Rysi Moon’, Pachysandra ‘Windcliff’, pansies, Geum’ Lady Stratheden’ 

Author’s photos 
ARS 1000 photo from manufacturer’s stock photos 

Please Note: I am not endorsing any particular seller, nor will I receive any compensation for endorsing these products. They are simply products I have personally used and enjoyed. My only goal in writing about them is to pass on my positive experiences with these products to you.







Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Winter Beauty


Every gardener knows under the cloak of winter lies a miracle -- a seed waiting to sprout, a bulb opening to light, a bud straining to unfurl. And the anticipation nurtures our dream.
-- Barbara Winkler, American writer and editor

Never underestimate the power of a microclimate. Here in the temperate USDA zone 7 it’s not unusual to have some blooms in November and even a rose may send out a single bloom in December. We can get quite cold by our standards, the last couple of nights have dipped down into the 20’s F (-6C) but still I garden in what one friend calls “the place of magical gardens because we seem to be able to grow anything”.  Yes, being only a mile or less from the waters of Commencement Bay does have its advantages as bodies of water mellow temperature extremes.

Micro-climates can be small spaces of protection from the open air and winds just outside of them, those little warm pockets that are created by fencing and closely built houses. Hills and valleys create them too. Some can be warm and protective, others can be cold and ravaging. My back yard is a warm and protective micro clime. The photos below were taken just hours ago. Even though we are in the freezing temperatures of winter, for many of us there is still beauty to be found in our gardens, be it berries, blooms or beautiful leaves.

Blooms of Pachysandra 'Windcliff'

 Cyclamen hederifolium

Pyracantha Victory
 

 Fuchsia 'June Bride'
 

Hyssopus officinalis

Mustard Red Dragon Tongue
 

Fuchsia 'Aurea'
 

Salvia microphylla 'Heatwave Glow'
 

Geranium Lily Lovell

Heucherella 'Sweet Tea'
 

  Dryopteris erythrosora 'Radiance'

Geum 'Lady Stratheden'
 

On this eve of Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the beauty that surrounds us in the garden, the sunny day and the blessing of friends and family.

Happy Thanksgiving!

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Erysimum, Fuchsia, Geum, Geranium, hyssop, Pachysandra, Pansies, Salvia

Author’s photos

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Save The Tomatoes!!!

How fair is a garden amid the trials and passions of existence.
~Benjamin Disraeli

Tomatoes.


This time of summer they are in full swing, producing like crazy. Paired with freshly harvested basil and garlic from the garden, I think tonight’s dinner will be a fresh tomato sauce over capellini and a salad of dark red “Merlot” lettuce.

Well, anyone who has grown tomatoes knows that even the lightest of summer rains can split all of the tomatoes on the vine. They are of course harvest-able once split if you get them immediately after but leave them on a day or so and they will start to mold at the tear. Oh misery! Oh groan! What’s a gardener to do?

Break out the umbrella, of course!



In Bloom In My Garden Today: Agastache, Alyssum, Aster, Astilbe, Borage, Canna, Catanache caerulea, Coreopsis ‘moonbeam’, Crocosmia ‘george davidson’, Daisy(white double), Daphne caucasica, Echinacea, Fuchsia, Geum, Gladiolus ‘Boone’ (heirloom 1920’s),Green Beans, Hardy Geranium, Heuchera,Hosta, Hyssop, Kniphofia (torch flower or red hot poker), Lavender, Lily, Lysimachia ephemerum (non-invasive loosestrife), Nandina, Mullen chaixii ‘Album’, Nepeta, Oregano, Penstemon barbatus ‘delft blue riding hood’, Phygelius, Rose, Salvia, Sedum, Star Jasmine (trachelospermum jasminoides), Thalictrum rochebrunianum (meadow rue), Tigridia (Mexican Shell Flower), Tomato, Zucchini, Veronica ‘royal candles’

Author’s photos

Friday, May 15, 2015

Book Review - A Picture Cyclopedia of Flowers

Garden writing is often very tame, a real waste when you think how opinionated, inquisitive, irreverent and lascivious gardeners themselves tend to be.  Nobody talks much about the muscular limbs, dark, swollen buds, strip-tease trees and unholy beauty that have made us all slaves of the Goddess Flora.  ~Ketzel Levine

Do you collect gardening books?

I don’t collect them per say, but I do keep a small library of my most favorite go-to books when I need extra info on a perennial or a particular veggie’s habit. Now and then I find garden writing books at used book stores, read them then sell them back if they are good but not keepers. I do check out some from the library too, by fun to read authors like Beverley Nichols and Ann Lovejoy. I wish Mike McGrath would write more books…his humor never disappoints and always produces belly-laughs from deep within my own experiences. Maybe one day some genius will compile his newspaper columns into a book. I’d buy it for sure. I have Christopher Lloyd’s cyclopedia with pages and pages of his opinionated thoughts on plants. I love it. It is great for information and a chuckle or two as he shares his experiences in the garden.



So the other day was a beautiful day in May.  We went on a walk and found the first of the summer’s yard sales were set up. As usual we scrutinized the goods as we ever so slowly walked by. We certainly don’t need more stuff but I can never resist a look-see. One in particular had a bunch of books out for sale. Lo and behold I found a gardening book so I picked it up and started leafing through. Written in 1933 (how cool is that?) it had beautiful hand colored photographs and some illustrations for every flower and plant detailed within its pages.

Reading old gardening books is a little like old science books….things change. New discoveries are made and botanical nomenclature changes as plants are reclassified by who-knows-who, rendering them inaccurate, but I thought one can always learn new things, even if they are outdated, right? So…well, it was just a dollar after all…so…I bought it. It would be nice to have for the gorgeous old time photos alone.

It is titled Garden Flowers in Color. A Picture Cyclopedia of Flowers by G. A. Stevens.

Once home again and comfortably flopped down on my chaise lounge, I read the introduction. The author states, and I quote “The text has been prepared with as much fidelity to the floral facts as that provided in the illustrations. It has been written, for the most part, from actual garden acquaintance with the wide range of subjects covered in these pages and it is believed that a book of definite educational value as well as a convenient adjunct has resulted” end quote.

Ok, so that said I commence perusal. Wow, lots of varieties back then that just aren’t seen these days. Educational and fun but not particularly helpful for researching today’s cultivars.

Hmmm, Funkia…the apparently old fashioned term for Hosta. Cool…I do have elderly customers at work asking for plants in terms we don’t use these days…this may be really helpful! Matter of fact one of our customers is 100 years old!! Scouts honor! I’ll have to ask her if she knows the term Funkia.

On and on I read, mostly it is indeed factual stuff…till I get to page 225. Rose Acacia. "Professionally known as Robinia hispida or Pink Locust." We sell Purple Robe Locust where I work and it is truly a beautiful flowering tree, but I’ve never grown one myself. Reading the description…”Robinia hispida is the botanical name of the Pink Locust, which gardeners for some reason or other have decided to call Rose Acacia. It is a clammy shrub, usually grafted on the top of a tall waking stick and stuck in the most conspicuous place in the garden. The flowers are obese and ugly, and they hang in sticky profusion from the foliage. It is a most unattractive thing without beauty or merit as a garden plant.”


Wait…what? But G. A., on page 7 you said your writing was prepared…”with as much fidelity to the floral facts…” Hmmm. Apparently this excerpt is more closely associated with the “actual garden acquaintance” you mention later. Ok, really, I have to ask…what in the world does “a clammy shrub” describe?

Well the rancor fun doesn't stop there. Weigelas don’t escape the author’s verbal lashing either…oh no my friends, read on...


“Among the commoner shrubs for ordinary purposes are the humble Weigelas. Great, rank bushes they are, with coarse foliage and still coarser and uglier flowers….But one of the most dreadful shrubs which have ever been foisted upon a defenseless nation is the supremely ugly variety called Eva Rathke. No one can imagine how hideous a flower can be until one of these monstrosities is brought to his attention. In fact the blight of Eva Rathke rests upon all Weigelas and no garden would suffer if all the Weigelas in the world were piled high and dry and burned to ashes.”

Oh dear, oh dear. A tad harsh? I've had Weigela. Mine was a lovely graceful variegated shrub with soft pink blooms much enjoyed by hummingbirds. Quite nice actually, er…in my humble opinion.

And who said gardeners were opinionated?

In Bloom in My Garden Today: Alyssum, Bergenia ‘winter glow’, Blueberry, Brunnera, chive, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’, Dianthus deltoides ‘Flashing Lights’,Exbury azalea, Fuchsia, Geranium phaeum ‘lily lovell’ (mourning widow), Geum, Heuchera, Iris, Kniphofia ‘little maid’, Nepeta ‘six hills giant’ (catmint), Oxalis oregana ‘wintergreen’, Peony, Phygelius, Pyracantha koidzumii ‘victory’, Rose, Rhododendron, Sage, Saxifraga andrewsii (irish saxifrage), Schisandra rubriflora (strawberry vine), Tellima grandiflora (fringecup), Trillium,Vancouveria hexandra (inside out flower), Tomato

Authors photos

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Euphoric Over Euphorbia


All through the long winter I dream of my garden. On the first warm day of spring I dig my fingers deep into the soft earth. I can feel its energy, and my spirit soars.
~Helen Hayes, American actress, 1900-1993


Euphorbias (ew-for-bee-a) are native to the Mediterranean’s sandy, hot regions but hybrids have brought hardy varieties to our cooler northern gardens. Grow them in full sun in USDA zones 5-8. They are quite adaptable so don’t be afraid to try them in your garden even if it’s not so Mediterranean-esque. They have a long spring flowering season, and those planted in the more sunny sites often produce the deeper foliage colors. Give them good drainage as heavy soils will kill them quickly and they reportedly don’t like windy sites.

I have three Euphorbia ‘Blackbird’.  Two are in my street side parking strip, notably windier than the one in my back yard. The two that get the wind, flowered just like the one in the back but they are lacking any leaves at this point. They were full and leafy all summer but the cold winter winds have left them bare stemmed. The new growth is coming out leafy so my guess is they will leaf out again with the warmer weather. This is their first year so their performance is yet to be seen over a succession of seasons so I can compare those in the wind to the more protected one.

They are known for their drought tolerance and most have chartreuse inflorescences as seen above on my E. Redwing. An exception being E. ‘Blackbird’ (below) whose flower is more of a rust color aging to apricot with some peachy tones throughout.


Euphorbias comprise a large group of plants ranging from annuals, perennials and succulents enjoying a surge in hybridization which is delighting Euphorbia lovers and collectors with an amazing array of foliage colors and a multitude of plant sizes for both big and small gardens.


E. wulfenii (above) is the tallest I’ve seen, at easily 5 ft (1.5m) tall but E. mellifera reportedly reaches 8 ft (2.4m).  There are others but the shortest I’ve seen is E. myrsinites ‘Donkey Tail Spurge’ reaching less than 6”(15cm) tall and looks quite like a succulent ground cover.

Some Euphorbias are reportedly short lived plants but can easily be propagated by cutting off stems, stripping the leaves off the bottom half of the stem and inserting it into soft soil. This is also a great way to increase the presence of your Euphorbias in the garden. Repetition of plants and or color can make your garden look ‘put together’ and professionally designed.  Some Euphorbias will seed themselves around your garden too. Some may come true to seed but others will not. You may like that habit of self-seeding as a way to fill a garden space.  Nope, not me.  I once had E. dulcis Chameleon that made such a nuisance of itself that I ripped it all out and continued to remove seedlings for a few years to come.  My little postage stamp sized garden doesn't have room for such joyful self-seeding abandon. Either that or I’m too type A to allow it. Hmmm. I think not.

Pruning is easy. When the flower is finished it will begin to turn to seed. That’s when you cut down the old stems to 3-6” (8-15cm) from the ground.  New growth will appear from the base or low on the old stems. Those will be this year’s leafy stems and next year’s flower. Now that you’ve removed the seed heads, the plant’s energy will stop forming seed and be redirected into producing the new leafy stems. When cut or wounded all exude a white milky sap which can irritate the skin and eyes so be careful when working around them.

Lastly a note on using common names. Euphorbias are also known as Spurge and are related to the Poinsettia. However this Spurge must not be confused with the ‘other’ spurge, Pachysandra, which is an evergreen ground cover with white flowers for the shade garden.  They are completely different plants, needing different exposures but sharing a common name. I know relying on common names is easier but as I've said many times on this blog, knowing the Latin botanical counterpart is so helpful to find the plant you are looking for in the nursery because many totally different plants can share a common name, especially if you travel to different parts of the world or even just within the US. 

In Bloom In My Garden: Alyssum, Anemone nemerosa robinsoniana’, Bergenia, Blueberry, Clematis alpina ‘frankie’, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’, Euphorbia, Geum, Hellebore, Heuchera, Hyacinths, Iris,
 Tulipa, Trillium,Tiarella, 

Authors photos

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Spring Bulb Fertilizing

Growing tips break ground
A hint of green on gray branches
Spring unfolding
~ Marie B. Rice, 1932-2011, Haiku

Spring has sprung here in the Pacific Northwest, er… well, actually a couple of weeks ago if you consider all the bulbs that have come up and the number of early daffodils blooming today. So for us this post is timely for the tulips, muscari and other later bulbs just emerging, not yet blooming. As for the rest of the U.S., this post will give you the info you need for the upcoming thaw, it's coming...be strong a little while longer, and be ready to fertilize your bulbs when they emerge in the warming days to come.

When organically fertilizing flowering bulbs the nutrient of choice is usually fish bone meal, but rock phosphate is an alternative choice for the vegan/vegetarian gardeners reading today.

Both are great sources of phosphate for encouraging blooms and root development but the success lies in the application. If you are accustomed to applying synthetic chemical fertilizers, you are used to just scattering the granules on the ground and leaving them to dissolve. Easy yes, but if you want to do more to better the earth, soil health and your own health you will consider transitioning your gardening to organic practices whenever possible.

This brings me to today's topic. Fertilizing your spring flowering bulbs organically. A recent walk through the neighborhood brought this post to mind. This gardener sprinkled bone meal around their bulbs and flowering plants.




  

The bone meal is a good thing, but leaving it in big blobs like that isn't. They left out one important step...working the fertilizer into the soil.

Organic fertilizers need to be broken down by the naturally occurring microbes in the soil. So as you sprinkle your bone meal or rock phosphate you will need to lightly scratch it in with a rake, lightly working it into the soil surface so most of it comes into contact with the soil and its billions and billions of microbes. Easy enough to do but it takes a few minutes more of your time.

Now the granules are surrounded by microbes so those little treasures can do their very important work of breaking down the bulb food and making it available to the roots.

The time to apply the bone meal for spring flowering bulbs is when the leaf tips are breaking ground. If you can see where the bulbs are, you can work around the tender green tips and not damage them.

In Bloom in My Garden Today: Corylopsis veitchiana (winterhazel), Cyclamen coum (spring), Daffodils,Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’, Heath (Erica carnea ‘springwood white’), Hellebore, Hyacinth ‘blue jacket’, Primrose (double English)

Author's photos



Saturday, January 31, 2015

Winter Fragrance


Give me odorous at sunrise a garden of beautiful flowers where I can walk undisturbed.  ~Walt Whitman

 

It’s January, and winter is in full swing up here in the northern hemisphere. Which means every time I step out my back door I am greeted, nay assailed by the heady fragrance of my Sarcoccoa confusa bush. This evergreen delight is planted near my front door, but the scent wafts completely around the house on the air currents to perfume my back yard too. Follow this link to my previously published work for its particulars.

As I walk around my city’s neighborhoods I find it everywhere by following the fragrance as it ebbs and flows across my path. It is in full bloom now and will soon be followed by Daphne odora (Winter Daphne), then after that Skimmia japonica, all of which will keep you in a sweet-scented state of enchantment through March.

So here’s a heads up…if you live in the Pacific Northwest, get to your local nursery now. Sarcoccoa will be blooming and for sale, ready and waiting to be added to your garden.

Oh, and a BONUS! Hummingbirds sip of it's nectar daily and honey bees take full advantage of its pollen and nectar offerings when the temperatures are mild. I see both on mine.

In bloom in my garden today: Cyclamen coum (spring), Galanthus elwesii (snow drops), crocus, primrose, Sarcococca confusa, Heath (Erica carnea ‘springwood white’), hellebore

Author’s photo

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Power of the Garden


Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.
~Rachel Carson

 
 
Gardens are places of refuge. Of inspiration. Of peace. Where dreams unfold. They are places where tears can be shed in safe privacy. They are places of solitude where one can be swept away to another world through a good book. Where restorative naps can be taken. They are places where one can simply be in the moment, not giving concern to past or future.

Gardeners are a people of hope. We sow the seed or plant the seedling fully expecting it to grow, bloom in some cases and always to thrive. Even those with a black thumb, you’ve met them…their gardens just seem to be more like plant cemeteries…even they surely didn’t expect the plant to die when they planted it or else they would be knowingly wasting their time. We plant with expectations for the garden’s future, our future and the good of its presence to come.

In my work this summer at the nursery I met so many people who came to make their part of the earth a better place; each with different reasons for wanting to garden.

Some came to create gardens of healing for themselves, either physical or emotional recovery. They gardened to keep their eyes on the good things to come, choosing not to focus on their current infirmities. More than one came following surgery, leaning on canes or using walkers, determined to plant, nurture and enjoy just as they’d always done before. Undeterred, even though their physical condition staunchly cried out “no”, still they came because they knew the healing that would take place in their minds, souls and bodies as they spent time in their garden.

Many elderly, now in wheelchairs, came having already spent decades creating gardens. With them came friends or relatives who would be doing the much of the work now, giving them the gift of their time, the benefit of their strength and the outcome of beauty and joy.

Some came to plant memory gardens for loved ones who had passed away. Many came to plant gardens for weddings planned just months ahead and one came to plant a faith garden in preparation for the wedding she prayed would one day take place for her daughter.

I coached people on what to use in bee friendly gardens, butterfly gardens, hummingbird gardens, songbird gardens, container gardens, water gardens, dry gardens, shade gardens, gardens for tranquility, moon gardens, gardens for aromatherapy and gardens for food.

A garden reflects the gardener. That which drives you, is often indicative of the kind of garden you eventually create. Whether it’s the theme of the garden; those who wish to feed hummingbirds or honey bees show their compassionate heart for the creature, or the color scheme you create; colors you are drawn to that gives you away. Do you love the hot colors, those that excite like the reds and oranges of the tropical gardens? Or did your garden end up full of the purples, blues and soft buttery yellows of tranquility like mine did. I didn’t plan it, I’m just drawn to plants with blooms of those colors. They are restful, and today they fill my garden.

Gardens everywhere provide well-being in one way or another, whether by therapy for the soul or nourishing food for the body.

Why do you garden?

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Agastache foeniculum (anise hyssop), Alyssum, Cyclamen hederifolium (fall),Daisy(white double,) Daphne caucasica, Echinacea, Eupatorium rugosum ‘chocolate’ (joe pye weed), Fuchsia, Heath (Erica carnea ‘springwood white’), Kirengeshoma palmata, Nepeta, Rose, old English ‘reine des violettes’, Salvia

Author's photo of the Japanese Garden at the Washington Arboretum

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Collards - A New Favorite


The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, not to worry about the future, not to anticipate troubles, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.” ~Siddhartha Gautamav


First and foremost I want to thank all of you who still have my blog feed coming to you. I’ve been absent for many months and so appreciate you for hanging in there, waiting for me to get my stuff together and resume writing. Thank you so much.


It has been an interesting year since my last post; filled with sorrow and emotional soul searching while settling dad’s estate and clearing my parents’ house to prepare it for sale. However, peppered amongst all that was much joy and new beginnings for me.


I went back to work, this time at a nursery, doing what I love most…working with plants, helping people with their gardens and spending lots of time with people who love gardening like me. Thus far it’s the most rewarding job I think I’ve ever had.


In late August, one of my customers came in specifically to buy collard seeds. I remembered her as I’d helped her a few times throughout the summer but hadn’t really got to know who she is as a gardener. Turns out she is a weight trainer, and we got to talking about growing greens for a healthy diet. I’d sold lots of collard plant starts in the spring and knew it was very popular in Southern USA cooking. Now, I love greens… kale, beets, mustards, chard, etc but many greens contain oxalic acid which is fine for some folks but not for those concerned with calcium issues. I had never eaten collard greens nor paid much attention to them. So as she was extolling all the virtues of collard greens I asked her if she knew if it was high or low in oxalic acid. She didn’t know so I made a mental note to do research on it when I got home. Then she gave me one tidbit that sold me on growing collards myself. That it grows all winter in our climate, which means you can have fresh greens all winter and even snowfall doesn’t faze it. She said you simply knock off the snow, pick the leaves and cook them up. Wow, I want to grow some of that! I did some research and found them to be low in oxalic acid. Then I bought a bunch from my green grocer to try them. Yum! So I bought some seeds and got a few starts going. Today I have about 8 plants in various sunny places around the perennial garden to see which locations are best. 


Collards are cool weather plants. They are best grown in spring and fall, like spinach and some kales. I say some kales because I grew a new (new to me) variety of kale this year that wasn’t fazed by hot days in the 90’s F (32+C). But that’s fodder for another post. Today we’re talking collards. Collards can grow between 40-75F (5-23C) with optimum growing temps of 60-65F (16-19C) degrees, and as with many fall weather crops they taste sweeter after a frost. They are packed full of vitamins and minerals and rich in carotenoids. Naturally, as with many greens, they are high in vitamin K so if you have blood disorders they may not be right for you.




Collards are from the Brassica family therefore the cabbage moth is something to guard against. The minute mine were in the ground that little white rascal of a moth was flitting around laying her eggs on the undersides of the leaves. We still had warm, sunny days at planting time and the moths were persistent, so I mixed up some BT (Bacillus Thuringiensis) in my 1 gallon sprayer. BT is an organic pesticide that is used to kill leaf eating larvae and caterpillars. It degrades in the sunlight so spray it in the evening hours and re-apply every few days or once weekly, depending on your level of pest control needed. That’s why I mix it up in a gallon sprayer. I just keep it mixed and use the gallon over a period of several weeks. It makes it easy to do a quick spray when I get home from work or after dinner. Frankly the cabbage moths were making a mess of my kale too so every few days I’d spray the whole lot, concentrating on the underneath of the leaves.  And I’ll say this about the collards…the cabbage moths seemed to like the kale more than the collards. Way more egg laying going on with the kale. Now that the weather has turned cold and wet, the moths are gone, so the spray isn’t needed any more.


Fertilize with a high nitrogen fertilizer like seaweed extract organic liquid or a fish fertilizer since it’s the leaves you want and not flowers. I’m excited to see the plants getting bigger. And it is interesting to see which locations are growing bigger plants. Do you ever do that? Plant veggies in more than one location throughout your perennial garden areas? I’ve often done that when my veggie space fills up and am surprised to see some grow better where I least expected them to.


As far as cooking collards, I’ve seen many recipes and only a few ways to cook them. Thus far I have only chopped the de-stemmed leaves and sautéed them in olive oil and spices, just like I do kale greens. Quite delicious I must say. The flavor is hard to describe but for sure nothing like kale. Collard greens have an earthy flavor to me.


Our winter is forecasted to be warmer and drier than normal so I may not get the fun of knocking off the snow before I harvest them but I can’t wait to cook my fresh winter harvest.

Since I’m new to this beautiful green I’d love any and all thoughts on cooking and even your favorite recipe if you care to share.


Thanks ever so much for reading!


In Bloom In My Garden Today: Agastache foeniculum (anise hyssop),
Alyssum, Cyclamen hederifolium (fall),Daisy(white double,) Daphne caucasica, Echinacea, Eupatorium rugosum ‘chocolate’ (joe pye weed),
Fuchsia, Heath (Erica carnea ‘springwood white’), Kirengeshoma palmata, Nepeta, Rose, old English ‘reine des violettes’, Salvia

 
Author’s photo