Posts tagged soil

Time for city gardens

  I renewed my city garden lease yesterday and talked to a few other people who were doing the same. Cedar Rapids has leased garden plots – 20-by-50-feet of land each – at Ellis, Squaw Creek and Tuma parks. Cost is $20 annually. Renewals run through March 2, and after that, the plots can be leased to other people. Gardeners must go to the Ambroz Recreation Center, 2000 Mount Vernon Rd. SE, to reserve a garden. Ambroz is open 8-5, Monday through Friday.

Butterfly on milkweed at Cindy's city-leased garden in July 2008.

Butterfly on milkweed at Cindy's city-leased garden in July 2008.

 

  

   Last year wasn’t the best for gardening, with temperatures too cold to get the plants going in the spring, and then, of course, the rain. All of the gardeners at Ellis were completely washed out for the season due to the June flood (except for a couple of die-hards who returned after the water receded.) But soil tests conducted on the land have shown it’s not contaminated, according to the city, and gardeners are eager to try again.

 

   Chris Pliszka, who has leased a garden at Ellis for about five years, asked city workers about possible chemicals that were left behind by the floods.

Chris said he was comfortable going back after being told it wasn’t contaminated. Like other gardeners, he’s looking forward to growing fresh vegetables to eat from his garden. “The taste is amazing,” he said. Chris tries to get to his garden every day during the season, which brings up an important point about the leased gardens. The last two years, with gas prices high, I thought spending one solid day every week in my garden would be more practical than going a few times a week. The weeds proved too powerful and it became a constant battle between their overwhelming forces and my less-than-overwhelming hoe. Many people use tillers and some use chemical means to control their weeds. I’m going to try to be more aggressive with my mulching system and see if the weedy powers-that-be can be overcome this year.

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment »

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.

Leave a comment »

Flood advice

Landscape designer and author Janet Macunovich, who will be keynote speaker at the upcoming Winter Gardening Fair at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, wrote this advice in 2005 after she and her husband, garden photographer Steve Nikkila,  experienced flooding at their home in Michigan.  Janet passed this along as advice for Iowans who were flooded last year.  She writes: “Although it’s been a year since Cedar Rapids’ devastating flood, I am sure what’s in it is still applicable, as gardens can’t be the first thing we think about after such a disaster, and they take time.”


Special to those with flooded gardens.
I’m thinking this week about gardeners in the path of Hurricane Katrina who were fortunate enough to be spared flooding within their homes, or who cleaned up from minimal interior damage only to find that their yards were not similarly spared.

Three times in the last five years, my own yard has been under 18 inches to several feet of water that poured in from uphill areas when over-taxed storm drains failed. Luck the first time, and then fast sandbagging during subsequent floods, kept the water in our slab home to under a foot. Yet all the relief I felt after removing the interior mud disappeared when I realized how much debris, piled soil, displaced mulch and gullies had been deposited, plowed and cut by the force of so much water moving through my garden.

So my heart goes out to you who are recovering from flood or trying to help one of those gardeners reclaim their beds. I hope when you conquer the despair and the anger and start the reclamation that some of the following notes may make your work easier.

Use the triage approach of doctors working in disaster situations. Spend the time you have on the most important and permanent plants in your yard, even if it means losing some others. Rinse off evergreens so their needles and leaves can return to full photosynthetic power. Then they can produce enough energy to make internal repairs or grow roots to replace those lost to drowning. Pull soil away from the trunks of trees and shrubs. Banked soil traps moisture against the bark and can incite rot the plant will be unable to repair. Cut back water-battered shrubs, even if this means removing major limbs. Chances are such a plant will grow back much more quickly than you imagine but even if it revives slowly it will be at a better pace and to a better end than if you left it alone. That’s because a few clean cuts take less energy to seal over than dozens or hundreds of breaks.

If a large tree has shifted and is leaning, do not try to brace or straighten it. Call in an arborist and be prepared to hear you have to remove it. Submerged soil floats, removing the weight that was anchoring the tree’s surprisingly shallow pan of roots. Many trees topple in a hurricane not from wind but when water renders weightless the anchor that was counterbalancing the tree’s top. A tree that doesn’t fall but only leans may remain in that position once the water departs but it will never be as stable as it once was, and may be a serious hazard in the next storm. Nothing you can do to the trunk will change that.

Don’t scoop up and reuse mulch that floated and piled up wherever the water slowed in its path. That mulch is no longer an asset in weed control but a liability, since it is full of weed seeds that came with the water. Instead, gather and pile that mulch high enough (three feet or more) to make a hot compost. The heat of active composting will kill weed seeds.

Right now and for the next couple of seasons, be extra vigilant about applying and maintaining a mulch layer. Mulch over the mulch you already have, even if you would have waited until next spring to renew it. If you normally go without mulch during the growing season, it will be better to make a temporary change. Over years, your attention to your garden had reduced the number of weed seeds in the top layer of the soil, so weeding had become less of a chore. The flooded garden, however, has been loaded with seeds from other places. Some may be weed species brand new to your experience. Be ready for them — suppress them before they can start.

Don’t hesitate – cut down all herbaceous plants that were battered. It will simplify removing debris and shifting flood-piled soil. The cutback is unlikely to kill them when it comes this late in the season.

Before you start digging and raking, determine just how much soil was deposited over your perennials. Most can emerge successfully through about an inch of extra soil. Bulb plants can manage even when buried 3 or 4 inches deeper than before. Where a heavier layer of soil covered an area, consider keeping it as a raised bed. Dig up a few perennials, divide them and replant the area with those starts at the new level.

Resist the urge to use collected debris to fill gullies that were gouged by fast moving water. Where the water moved fast enough to scour and cut this time, it will move quickly if it comes again. Such areas need to be filled and tamped down using uniform, dense material such as sand and gravel that will make a smooth, heavy, low-friction surface. Water will slide past. In contrast, junk makes a loose fill that presents a myriad of edges to rushing water. That water will pluck things loose, quickly making depressions that will then become a new wash-out.

Include damage to paved surfaces in your damage report to FEMA. You may find some help in resurfacing not just the driveway, but walks or patios that crumbled and washed away when their bases flushed away.

Expect your reclamation to take years. Higher expectations can sap your soul. Accept that some things will die or need replacement, even though they survived the flood itself. Try to think in terms of opportunity to try new things, rather than dwelling on the losses.

Give yourself a view that will fuel your heart rather than your depression. Start your clean-up in an area close to your window or door, even if this makes no logistical sense. A sitting area is ideal. Bring that space back up to your old standard, even if that means letting chaos reign elsewhere a little longer. Each time you see that spot or sit with some comfort in it, you’ll feel better, and be better able to keep moving outward from that refuge.

 

Janet publishes a free weekly gardening newsletter based on questions people ask. She offered to answer anyone from this area who might want to know more after reading her flooded-garden advice.
You can reach Janet by email at:
JMaxGarden@aol.com

Leave a comment »

Attracting birds and other wintertime tips

The following Q&A is from Iowa State University Extension’s garden experts:

I recently purchased a Norfolk Island pine.  How do I care for it? 

 

The Norfolk Island pine is a popular houseplant. During the holiday season, many individuals turn their plants into living Christmas trees by decorating them with miniature lights, ribbons and ornaments. The Norfolk Island pine thrives indoors when given good, consistent care. Place the Norfolk Island pine in a brightly lit location near an east, west or south window. Rotate the plant weekly to prevent the plant from growing toward the light and becoming lopsided. 

 

Thoroughly water the Norfolk Island pine when the soil surface becomes dry to the touch. Discard the excess water, which drains out the bottom of the pot. From spring to early fall, fertilize the plant with a dilute fertilizer solution every 2 to 4 weeks. A temperature of 55 to 70  degrees F is suitable for the Norfolk Island pine. Winter is often a difficult time because of low relative humidity levels in most homes. Raise the humidity level around the Norfolk Island pine with a humidifier or place the plant on a pebble tray. Low relative humidity levels, insufficient light, or infrequent watering may induce browning of branch tips and lead to the loss of the lower branches. 

 

Which trees and shrubs provide food for birds during the winter months? 

 

When attempting to attract birds to the landscape, trees and shrubs that provide food during the winter months are extremely important as natural foods are most limited at this time of year. Trees that provide food for birds in winter include hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), hawthorn (Crataegus species), eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) and crabapple (Malus species). Shrubs that provide food for birds include red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia), northern bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica), sumac (Rhus species), roses (native species and Rosa rugosa), snowberry (Symphoricarpos species), nannyberry (Viburnum lentago) and American cranberrybush viburnum (Viburnum trilobum). 

 

Can I dispose of my wood ashes in the garden? 

 

Wood ashes contain small amounts of several plant nutrients. The nutrient content of wood ashes depends on the type of wood burned, the thoroughness of its burning, and other factors.  Generally, wood ashes contain 5 to 7 percent potash, 1 percent phosphate, and small amounts of other elements. However, the largest component of wood ashes is calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate is a liming material. Liming materials raise the soil pH. 

 

The soil pH is important because it affects the availability of essential nutrients. The pH scale runs from 0 to 14. Any pH below 7.0 is acidic and any pH above 7.0 is alkaline. A pH of 7.0 is neutral. Most vegetables and perennials grow best in slightly acidic soils with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. Plants may not perform as well in soils with a pH above 7.0 because of the reduced availability of some essential nutrients. 

 

Avoid applying wood ashes to garden areas with a pH above 7.0. Applying wood ashes to alkaline soils may raise the soil pH and reduce the availability of some plant nutrients. An application of 10 to 20 pounds of wood ashes per 1,000 square feet should be safe if the soil pH is below 7.0. If the soil pH in your garden is unknown, conduct a soil test to determine the pH of your soil before applying wood ashes to flower or vegetable gardens. 

Leave a comment »

Salt, de-icers and trees

The following is from the International Society of Arboriculture. The group’s Public and Industry Relations Manager, Sonia Garth, encouraged readers to also check out their Web site at www.treesaregood.org for more information.

 

     When winter snow and ice begin to fall, so does the salt, on driveways, sidewalks, and streets to aid in melting away potential hazards. Keeping our surroundings safe during the winter months is important, but salt can be a serious threat to our trees, when used without caution.

     “Excessive exposure to salt can cause widespread damage to your trees, leading to permanent decline and sometimes death,” said Jim Skiera, Executive Director of the ISA. “The problem with salt damage is that it might not show up on your trees until summer, when deicing salt is the last culprit you would suspect.” 

     To minimize the damage done to trees by deicing salts, Certified Arborists at ISA offer the following tips:

1. Use less salt. Mix deicing salt with abrasives such as sand, cinders, and ash, or use alternatives such as calcium magnesium acetate and calcium chloride.

2. Protect your trees from salt trucks on the street. If possible, set up barriers between the street and your trees to keep salt spray from hitting tree trunks.

3. Plant salt-resistant trees. Trees such as the sycamore maple, white spruce, willow, and birch tend to be more salt-resistant than other species. How well they fare varies from climate to climate across the country.

4. Improve soil drainage. Add organic matter to your soil to help filter salt deposits.

You can also keep your trees healthy by taking care of their basic needs. Other tips that will help combat the damage done by deicing salt include:

·        Irrigate to flush the salts from the soils in spring

·        Mulch sufficiently to reduce water loss.

·        Control pest infestations and destructive tree diseases.

     If you feel your trees may be susceptible to salt damage, contact a local ISA Certified Arborist in your area.

The International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), headquartered in Champaign, Ill., is a nonprofit organization supporting tree care research and education around the world. As part of ISA’s dedication to the care and preservation of shade and ornamental trees, it offers the only internationally-recognized certification program in the industry. For more information on ISA and Certified Arborists, visit www.isa-arbor.com.

 

Comments (1) »

Forcing daffodils

The following is from the Iowa State University Extension gardening experts:

To successfully force daffodils indoors, you’ll need high quality bulbs, a well-drained commercial potting mix and suitable containers. Containers for forcing can be plastic, clay, ceramic or metal. Almost any container can be used as long as it has drainage holes in the bottom.

Begin by partially filling the container with potting soil. Then place the daffodil bulbs on the soil surface. Adjust the soil level until the tops of the bulbs are even or slightly below the rim of the container. The number of bulbs to plant per pot depends on the size of the bulb and container. Typically, three to five bulbs are appropriate for a 6-inch-diameter pot. A 6-inch pot also will usually accommodate five to seven bulbs of miniature varieties.

Once properly positioned, place additional potting soil around the bulbs, but do not completely cover the bulbs. Allow the bulb tops (noses) to stick above the potting soil. For ease of watering, the level of the soil mix should be 1/2 to 1 inch below the rim of the container. Label each container as it is planted. Include the name of the variety and the planting date. After potting, water each container thoroughly.

In order to bloom, daffodils and other spring-flowering bulbs must be exposed to temperatures of 40 to 45 F for 12 to 16 weeks. Possible storage sites include the refrigerator, root cellar, or an outdoor trench. During cold storage, water the bulbs regularly and keep them in complete darkness.

Begin to remove the potted daffodil bulbs from cold storage once the cold requirement has been met. At this time, yellow shoots should have begun to emerge from the bulbs. Place the daffodils in a cool (50 to 60 F) location that receives low to medium light. Leave them in this area until the shoots turn green, usually four or five days. Then move them to a brightly lit, 60 to 70 F location.

Keep the plants well watered. Turn the containers regularly to promote straight, upright growth. On average, flowering should occur three to four weeks after the bulbs have been removed from cold storage. For a succession of bloom indoors, remove pots from cold storage every two weeks.

Leave a comment »

Indoor spring

  Beverly Whitmore of Cedar Rapids, winner of our composting contest, told of a great way to get tulips to bloom indoors.

 

   Beverly fills a pot about two-thirds full with potting soil, inserts the bulbs so they don’t touch and covers them with potting soil.

She waters once, lets it drain and covers the pot with aluminum foil.

   The next part is key – keeping the pots in a cold, dark place. Beverly has a part of her basement that stays dark and gets cold enough – it needs to freeze –  but an unheated garage might also work. In the spring, plants will pop through the foil.  Carefully remove the foil, water again and keep indoors until they bloom.

 

 

Leave a comment »