Posts tagged frost

Frost warning and Houby Days morel winners

Meteorologists might call it a frost advisory, but here’s my warning: if you’ve planted tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers or other plants that might be susceptible to frost, including annuals in planters, bring them inside (the ones in pots, that is) or use an old sheet or otherwise cover the others. Forecasts call for temps in Eastern Iowa to dip close to freezing both tonight (Sat., May 16) and tomorrow night (Sun., May 17.)

Now, on to more morels. Houby Days is taking place in Czech Village this weekend, a celebration of the mushroom (houby in Czech.) I heard mixed reviews about the morel crop this year, some saying they’re finding hundreds and others saying last summer’s flood messed up this season in Iowa.  Among the activities in Czech Village – on 16th Ave. SW in Cedar Rapids and some events across the river, including an egg and houby breakfast – was the annual houby contest, featuring morel mushrooms. Trophies were awarded for the largest, most unusual, smallest and best display. Here are the winners:

Largest morel (10 1/2 inches) from Mike McNeal, Cedar Rapids. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Largest morel (10 1/2 inches) from Mike McNeal, Cedar Rapids. (photos/Cindy Hadish)

Skylar Strawn, 11, of Cedar Rapids, with his award winning smallest mushroom, (in the plastic bag, attached to the larger one) which he estimated at 1/2-centimeter.

Skylar Strawn, 11, of Cedar Rapids, with his award winning smallest mushroom, (in the plastic bag, attached to the larger one) which he estimated at 1/2-centimeter.

Butch and Toni Velky of Swisher, with most unusual winner - 6 mushrooms growing together - which they dubbed "Bohemie Six-Pack"

Butch and Toni Velky of Swisher, with most unusual winner - 6 mushrooms growing together - which they dubbed "Bohemie Six-Pack"

Tom Slade, Solon, and Tyson Gosnell, Shellsburg, carry away their best display award winner, which included at least 250 morels. The two revealed where they found them: "In the woods."

Tom Slade, Solon, and Tyson Gosnell, Shellsburg, carry away their best display award winner, which included at least 250 morels. The two revealed where they found them: "In the woods."

There was no award for cutest display, but Debbie Eickstaedt and Theresa Shaver of Cedar Rapids undoubtedly would have won with this fawn.

There was no award for cutest display, but Debbie Eickstaedt and Theresa Shaver of Cedar Rapids undoubtedly would have won with this fawn.

Looks like the weather was right for these morels, which are actually carved out of pine wood by Ron Takes (in tan jacket) and Tom Brislawn of Troy Mills.

Looks like the weather was right for these morels, which are actually carved out of pine wood by Ron Takes (in tan jacket) and Tom Brislawn of Troy Mills.

Finally, if you want to know even more about morels, my brother, Gregg, passed along the following link to a paper by Lois Tiffany of Iowa State University and Donald Huffman of Central College:  http://amcbt.indstate.edu/volume_27/v27-4p3-11.pdf

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Warning of the Three Frozen Kings

    When it was sunny and 80 degrees for a brief day or two in April,  I heard from several people asking if they should go ahead and plant their gardens. In Iowa, that’s fine for many vegetables, such as cabbage, peas and potatoes, but I warned them to hold off on the tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and other tender plants. Those plants might actually have been OK during the past couple weeks, as it’s stayed fairly warm, so gardeners who took a gamble will be ahead of the game. But old-school gardeners often heed the warning of the Three Kings.     

   This is something that I ran last year on this blog,  but as it’s often asked, here’s what I’ve been told about the legend of the Three Kings:

    The Three Kings, or Three Frozen Kings, is a Czech legend that serves as a warning to protect tender plants against a possible late frost.  In one of various forms, the story says the three kings or saints (Pankrac on May 12, Servac on May 13 and Bonifac on May 14) were frozen when the temperature dropped while they were fishing at sea.

    On May 15, St. Zofie came along with a kettle of hot water to thaw out the three frozen kings.

    Since Czech immigrants found Iowa similar to their home country, those traditions carried over, and, whether or not the story makes sense,  it  seems sensible in many years to heed the Three Kings warning.

     Knowing the last average frost date for your area can also help. That date can vary, however, depending on the source. I’ve seen that in northeast Iowa, the last average frost date is May 10. East-central Iowa is April 30, and southeast Iowa is April 20. Those might seem early in some years, but look accurate for 2009.

    A U.S. Climatography report placed northern Iowa, around Decorah, with a last average frost date of May 26; central Iowa, around the Cedar Rapids area, at May 13 and southern Iowa, around Ottumwa, at May 3.

    Climatologists say the average can vary,  even within the same county. The last frost date might be a week later in low-lying areas or a week earlier on hilltops.  Because the frost date is only an average, your safest bet might be to heed the Three Kings warning and wait until May 15 to set out those tender plants.

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More Winter Gardening

   Gardeners love to share their plants, knowledge and extra produce. If you were one of the 525 people at the Winter Gardening Fair, feel free to share something you learned in a comment below. With more than 50 sessions, no one could make it to all of them and there were numerous workshops I would have liked to have heard, if I could be in two places at once.

   I’ll share a couple of my favorite points that I learned in each session I attended and would love to hear from you.

   Of course, workshops with edibles are always a bonus and I was in two of those. Linn County Master Gardener Judy Bemer was as entertaining as she was informative in her session on using herbs.

Master Gardener Judy Bemer discusses edible flowers during herbs class.

Master Gardener Judy Bemer discusses edible flowers during herbs class.

   Judy’s herb biscuits were great. She noted that herbs have the most oil content before they bloom, so that is when you should pick them. Different varieties of mints – peppermint, chocolate mint, etc., should be planted at least 8-12 feet apart. Plant them too close together, and after a few years, the flavors will intermingle and, as Judy put it, will be “yuck.”

   Linn County Master Gardeners Sherri and Marty Baldonado spiced up their session with samples of salsa and chili. Sherri noted that peppers grow better in warmer weather. Even they had a miserable pepper crop last year, a nice consolation for me, since mine also did poorly last summer.

 

Sherri and Marty Baldonado demonstrate their salsa-making skills.

Sherri and Marty Baldonado demonstrate their salsa-making skills.

   Tomatoes love sunshine – the more the better. And once picked, they should not be refrigerated. Temperatures below 55 degrees tend to ruin their flavor – which is why homegrown and farmers market tomatoes taste decidedly different than the ones you buy at the grocery store. Marty prefers using canned tomatoes in his salsa, which was delicious. His five ingredients for salsa: peppers, tomatoes (don’t drain the can if using canned ones) garlic, onions and cilantro.

  Master Gardener Ellen Skripsky is also a master composter and an organic gardener. She emphasized growing your vegetables nearby – outside your kitchen door, if possible, in her session on kitchen gardens.

Ellen Skripsky shows foam peanuts and pinecones, two fillers that can be used at the bottom of pots for container gardening.

Ellen Skripsky shows foam peanuts and pinecones, two fillers that can be used at the bottom of pots for container gardening.

   Ellen said that garden soil shouldn’t be used is you’re making a new raised bed, which she called one of the hottest trends in gardening. Her “recipe” for the perfet soil for a 4x4x12 foot raised bed is: 6 cubic feet of peat moss; 4 cubic feet of coarse vermiculite; 3 cubic feet of sand and 3 cubic feet of compost. Mix well. Ellen is an expert on companion gardening. Onions and peas are not friends, so don’t plant the two near each other, she said. Tomatoes love carrots, so those are two that go well together. Peas like radishes and lettuce and green beans do well near onions, which, she noted, also repel rabbits. So plant onions at the end of your garden to keep the bunnies away.

   Master Gardener Bill Oliver amazed me in his session on extending the growing season, by saying that, with the right protection, vegetables can survive an Iowa winter.

Master Gardener Bill Oliver answers questions during his session on extending the growing season.

Master Gardener Bill Oliver answers questions during his session on extending the growing season.

   Spinach, for example, can survive temperatures of just 10 degrees. Root crops, such as beets, turnips and carrots, can be left in the ground and harvested during the winter, as long as 12 inches of loose mulch, such as straw, is kept on top. I’m not sure anything could have survived our record low temps this winter in Iowa, but Bill’s point was that the season can last longer than the last frost until the first frost. As for the spinach, Bill said that plants established in October can be covered with mulch. When the snow melts, pull the mulch back and you’ve got a jump on your growing season.

   The average first frost date for Linn County is October 10, plus or minus two weeks. And the average last frost for Linn County, he said, is April 29, again, plus or minus two weeks. So even though the Winter Gardening Fair inspired me to go out and buy seeds this weekend, we’ve got some time to plan before our actual outdoor planting begins.

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Worm poop challenge

It’s December and I still have a few homegrown tomatoes, picked just before the first frost when they were still green.

Tomato challenge

Tomato challenge

  

 

 

  Some of them came from test plants I grew with vermicompost from TerraCycle.  Last spring, the company’s James Artis had sent samples of TerraCycle products, including a liquid form of vermicompost, also known as worm poop.

   Worms create a rich fertilizer and I wanted to test out TerraCycle’s on my tomatoes.

   I planted containers with Snoberry, cherry and Tomatoberry varieties – two of each kind. On one of each variety I used Terracycle weekly, along with regular watering. On the other, just regular watering, but no fertilizer of any kind.

   It wasn’t the most scientific experiment, but worked well until the containers, on my back porch, were beset with problems. Two were taken out when a screen fell during a windstorm. The others survived, but were neglected to an extent after Iowa’s catastrophic floods in June. The floods didn’t reach my house, but kept my attention diverted elsewhere.

   So I was surprised when doing fall cleanup to find some of the plants had actually produced tomatoes. I believe they were the Terracycle plants, but didn’t have much to compare them with at that point in time.

   Hopefully in the future I’ll be able to conduct a more thorough test, or maybe some of you have used TerraCycle or other vermicompost and could describe your results.

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Assessing the beds

The following is by Linn County Master Gardener, Claire Smith:

 

Euoooooooo!  I sure don’t like little four legged critters running unexpectedly across my feet!   Now I ‘m not afraid of little four legged critters.   I just don’t like them not giving me any warning.

               A chipmunk apparently had plans to create a winter habitat in a pile of leaves under my peony bushes.  The little fellow and I had to come to an agreement that he and I are not sharing that space at the same time.   I’m raking the leaves out of the way to eliminate the unwanted habitat and potential damage to flowers and shrubs in the bed.  Removing diseased leaves and branches at the same time will help reduce diseases next season. 

My peonies are going to stay all together this year.   They seem to be doing fine.  I am going to move the Iris though.  They’re located in a rather out of the way bed and will be much too beautiful in the spring to not be enjoyed.  Iris can be dug and divided right now and do not need to be planted deeply in the soil but do need to be kept moist after transplanting. 

But then the decision must come, where do  I transplant them.  Now is a perfect time to pour a cup of coffee, wander through the gardens and assess the beds. Examine each bed from several angles.   Be critical. Keeping a seasonal pictorial journal using a digital camera is such a great idea.  Pictures don’t lie:  do you need more height, more color, more  diversity?  Several Master Gardeners routinely keep a garden log.  Now, you may not want to be as involved in your gardens as a Master Gardener, but even placing some markers next to your plants and keeping your purchasing receipts provides a record of what you bought when and from whom in case the plant(s) is performing fantastically or not so much and you want to add or eliminate that species. 

Trees and shrubs can be transplanted now, too.  If a “honey do” on your list involves moving a large tree or shrub, a word of advice is to telephone One Call and determine where your underground utility lines are located.  Safety first is always a great motto.
Did you know that weeds often set their seeds in the fall for the coming year?  Continue weeding until Jack Frost arrives and plan next spring to plant a ground cover where weeds now reside. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

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Legend of the Three Kings

      As back and forth as our weather has been – is it spring, is it winter, is it summer? – it can be tempting on Iowa’s warmest spring days to jump the gun on gardening. While it’s safe to plant perennials and many hardy plants by now, it might be wise to hold off on tomatoes, peppers and other tender plants until May 15 in this area.

    The Three Kings, or Three Frozen Kings, is a Czech legend that serves as a warning to protect those tender plants against a possible late frost.

    In one of various forms, the story says the three kings or saints (Pankrac on May 12, Servac on May 13 and Bonifac on May 14) were

frozen when the temperature dropped while they were fishing at sea.

    On May 15, St. Zofie came along with a kettle of hot water to thaw out the three frozen kings.

    Since Czech immigrants found Iowa similar to their home country, those traditions carried over, and, whether or not the story makes sense,  it  seems sensible this year, at least, to heed the Three Kings warning.

     Knowing the last average frost date for your area can also help. That date can vary, however, depending on the source. I’ve seen that in northeast Iowa, the last average frost date is May 10. East-central Iowa is April 30, and southeast Iowa is April 20. Those seem early, especially for this year.

    A U.S. Climatography report looked more reliable. That placed northern Iowa, around Decorah, with a last average frost date of May 26; central Iowa, around the Cedar Rapids area, at May 13 and southern Iowa, around Ottumwa, at May 3.

    Climatologists say the average can vary,  even within the same county. The last frost date might be a week later in low-lying areas or a week earlier on hilltops.  Because the frost date is only an average, your safest bet might be to heed the Three Kings warning and wait until May 15 to set out those tender plants.

 

 

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Luck of an Irish lass

bells-of-ireland.jpgYou can never predict what might survive the winter indoors. Before the first frost last fall, I rescued a few tiny Bells of Ireland plants that had self-seeded in my garden, along with several other plants. The Bells of Ireland survived, and even bloomed in my window at home. Though not as tall and stately as the typical flowers, it’s still nice seeing a bit o’ the green indoors.

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