Posts tagged spring

Bugged by bugs?

  

Japanese beetles

Japanese beetles

 Spring in Iowa is too fleeting. Rare are those 70-degree days with cool nights before the air explodes with humidity and bugs begin their annual invasion. I can look at healthy green potato plants today and know that in a week or so the Colorado potato beetle will begin its defoliation quest. Same is true of the lush rose bushes that succomb ever earlier to the dreaded Japanese beetle, a copper-colored foreign invader.

   Because of the devastation they wreak on my plants, the Japanese beetle and potato beetle rank number one and two on my list of “bad bugs.” I was enjoying my backyard garden last night trying to think of others when a mosquito bit my leg. Mosquitoes= #3.

Colorado potato beetle

Colorado potato beetle

   Here are the others: 4) gnats or whatever those little black bugs are that bite behind the ears. 5) chiggers – not an insect, but larvae of a specific family of mites – the Trombiculidae. If you’ve ever suffered through chigger bites, you’ll know why these are on my list. 6) wasps – I try to leave them alone, but they seem ubiquitous this year and more aggressive – building wherever they take a liking, which includes my back porch and my sons’ club house.  7) ticks – again, not an insect, but my general worry over them keeps me from enjoying the outdoors at times. 8) Ants – luckily we don’t have  fire ants like they do in the south, but they’re just a pain when they decide to come in the house. 9) termites – again a general anxiety thing. 10) Emerald ash borer – not here in Iowa yet, but a preemptive disdain for a foreign invader that will someday devastate our ash trees. 

Emerald ash borer

Emerald ash borer

   What makes your list? I’m sure I’ll think of more, now that our perfect spring days are in the past.

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Iris open house

Iris grow beneath a statue in Wanda Lunn's gardens in 2008/ Cindy Hadish photo

Iris grow beneath a statue in Wanda Lunn's gardens in 2008/ Cindy Hadish photo

    I had the opportunity last year to visit the beautiful iris gardens of Wanda Lunn in Cedar Rapids. Wanda had 400 visitors in two days last spring and let me know that her gardens will again be open for viewing. If you get the chance, visit her home at 526 Bezdek Dr. NW from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 9, 2009, to see dwarf bearded iris, blooming shade perennials, blooming bushes and spring bulbs in bloom.

    The gardens will also be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both Saturday,  May 30, and Sunday, May 31, when 300 tall bearded iris should be in bloom. Wanda noted that instructions on planting, care and identification will be available each day.

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Finding the elusive morel mushroom

Blonde morels/ photo from Forest Mushrooms Inc.

Blonde morels/ photo from Forest Mushrooms Inc.

I can finally say I’ve found some morel mushrooms! Actually, I didn’t have to go on a mushroom hunt, as many Iowans do in the spring, though I’d love to find them that way. The ones I saw were spotted at a grocery store in Cedar Rapids. They were selling for $12.99 for a 3.5 ounce package and came from Forest Mushrooms Inc., of St. Joseph, Minn.

 Per their Web site: Established in 1985, Forest Mushrooms, Inc. is a Minnesota company engaged in the research, cultivation and distribution of edible specialty mushrooms. They particularly specialize in the production of oyster mushrooms, and more recently, in growing shiitake mushrooms.  Their production facilities are located in St. Joseph, MN, 90 miles northwest of Minneapolis. They distribute  mushroom products to wholesalers, supermarkets, restaurants and specialty shops. The majority of products are delivered to the Twin Cities area, but they also distribute locally and nationally. See: http://www.forestmushrooms.com/

 Here is more that Kevin Doyle, president of Forest Mushrooms, Inc., sent to me about his company and his insight into morels:  All morel mushrooms are wild-harvested, not cultivated.  There have been many attempts to grow morels, and some occasional successes but nobody has been able to repeat their successes, and thus there are no farms that currently grow morels, to the best of my knowledge.  This is because there is a very complicated and interesting relationship between the morel mushroom mycelium (which are the vegetative strands of the fungus that grow underground), and the root hairs of the trees that are host to them.  We think that the strands of morel mycelium help the tree to absorb nutrients from the soil, especially minerals, by carrying the minerals through the mycelium and then inserting the mycelium and the nutrients in to the tiny root hairs of the tree roots.  The mycelium is much much smaller than the root hairs, and wrap themselves around the root hairs and then penetrate into the root. In turn, the morels likely absorb some carbohydrate (sugars) from the vascular tissue of the tree roots, so they relationship is helpful to both organisms.  

 However, there are conditions, including but not limited to damage to the tree from fire, Dutch elm disease, wind damage, etc., that cause the morel mushroom mycelium to send strands of mycelium to the fungus where they then produce the specialized reproductive organ that we know as a mushroom.  That mushroom then produces spores which are dispersed by the wind and are carried away to start a new colony in another area of the forest, thus propagating the life of the morel fungus.  This is an adaptive response that has developed through evolution to help the fungus survive adverse situations or events.  The mushroom is just a specialized part of the fungus’ life cycle, but the main act occurs way underground for decades and helps to sustain the trees themselves, thus morel mushrooms and also many other types of mushroom fungus are essential to the health of a sustainableforest ecosystem.

 The morels in North America are widespread, though we in the Midwest often think of them as a local phenomenon.  In fact, the morel season begins much earlier in almost every other area of the country than it does in the upper Midwest, due to the milder climates and earlier onset of Spring in other regions.  In the Pacific Northwest the morel season begins in late March, and can actually continue right on into early August in the higher elevations of the Rocky Mountains.  In Minnesota, where our business is located, we are used to seeing morels during the second half of May, typically.  I would imagine in your region it is the beginning of May most commonly.

During the milder and earlier Springs we were having a few years ago, the season began a bit earlier.  The season is triggered by the combination of adequate soil moisture and enough sunny days and warm temperatures to warm up the soil adequately to spur the growth of the mushrooms.  There have been years when the moisture is there, but the temperatures are too chilly, and by the time the mushrooms come up as temperatures warm up, the grass and small plants in the forest have already sprung up and obscure the mushrooms from view, so people think there is no mushroom season, when actually we just can’t find them under the forest floor cover!

 The morels you saw are blonde-colored morels from the western slope of

Packaged mushrooms from Forest Mushrooms, Inc.

Packaged mushrooms from Forest Mushrooms, Inc.

the Rocky Mountains in Oregon.  These are the best  morels in the country at this time, for flavor, appearance, and shelf life.  They are also similar in appearance to the mushrooms that we commonly see in the Midwest.  Later in the Spring there are several other varieties that grow in abundance in the Pacific Northwest, including “fire morels” (also called “burns”), which grow in huge numbers on the sites of last season’s forest fires.  These burn morels are smaller, not as thick, and have a conical shape.  Another morel commonly harvested commercially in the mountains is simply called a “natural” and is shaped more like a golf-ball, without the conical shape and more rounded, with a thicker shell.  (All true morels are hollow inside.)  The latest morelspecies to fruit in the Rockies is called the “grey morel” and can also grow on fire sites.  It is the largest morel in the country, grey in color, thick walled, and has a great shelf life for transport to market.  All of these morels are also dried, often on-site, or in large gas-fired driers, for preservation and enjoyment in the off-months.

 Forest Mushrooms flies in morels, as well as many other wild-harvested mushrooms, every few days all year around.  We inspect and sort them, and then market them to both the foodservice and grocery store markets.  We are licensed as “Wild Mushroom Experts” by the State of Minnesota, which is required for the commercial handling and sale of wild-harvested mushrooms.  Any establishment  in Minnesota that sells wild-harvested mushrooms of any type, including morels, to the public, needs to be able to show that they were obtained through a state-licensed Wild Mushroom Expert.

I do not know whether Iowa has any such requirement, since this varies from state to state.  But it does provide a measure of food safety and confidence for chains when they chose to carry these products.

 FYI, Forest Mushrooms, Inc. has been in operation since 1985, and we specialize in growing oyster and shiitake mushrooms (about 3000 lbs/wk,  all year aound) and in distributing all other specialty mushrooms, fresh, dried and frozen, both cultivated and wild-harvested.  We also have a full line of organic fresh mushrooms for both foodservice and grocery customers.  We do NOT sell to the public directly, but are strictly growers and wholesale suppliers.

Back to Cindy:

The annual Czech Village Houby Days celebrates the mushroom (houby is the Czech word for mushroom) and I’ve heard they might go back to using morels in their breakfast!! About half of the businesses in Czech Village have returned since the flood and more are hoping to come back in time for the celebration on May 15-17. Below is a photo of Jan Stoffer, of the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, giving a tour of Czech Village to students from McKinley Middle School last month.

Jan Stoffer leads tour of Czech Village for McKinley students.

Jan Stoffer leads tour of Czech Village for McKinley students.

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When to transplant

The following is from Linn County Master Gardener Claire Smith:

 

    I was so ready to start my ditch project.  That’s the area I wrote about in an earlier blog that due to last summer’s over abundance of rain is now inaccessible by lawn mower.  The weather seemed to be cooperating and the ground temperature is almost warm enough.   Commencing with a hoe and a good pair of gloves, I’m tackling the winter debris of branches and weeds.  As some coaches will tell you, the best defense is a good offense:  removing any pest and disease infestation creates a healthier plant bed.  I do have some weed spray for the tough stuff.  There’s enough left over ground cloth to cover the area.  Garden centers have mulch just waiting for me to pick up.  The fall perennials are peeking about 3-4 inches out of the ground and are begging to be moved. (Rule of thumb:  transplant spring flowering plants in the fall and fall flowering plants in the spring.)  Hurrah! The growing and planting season has begun.  However, when I picked up a handful of dirt, it balled up in my hand.  So, time out!  That ground is definitely not dry enough.   “Mudding in” transplants will result in a hardened clumpy soil that will be very difficult to work going forward.  So, instead of transplanting right now, I’ll amend the soil by adding that wonderful stuff weathered horse droppings are made of.  Several inches of home grown compost and/or organic matter means I don’t have to fork out funds for commercial fertilizers.   In a few days, baring additional downpours, I will plant the transplants, remembering to water in the plants then gently tamping the soil down around them to remove air pockets. 

    Once the plants are in place, the ongoing project involves seasoning the seeder wagon, moving it to the middle of the area and planning how flowers will cascade out of it.  My son will bring a load of rock for the erosion control.  I can hardly contain my enthusiasm for how I perceive my new garden will evolve.

 

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All about lawns

   It’s spring and attention is turning to lawns. Two things today about lawn care. The first is from Linn County Master Gardener Claire Smith and the second came to me from Dustin Vande Hoef, communications director for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey sent the message to remind homeowners that spring is an ideal time to improve soil quality in our yards and that restoration of the soil can help retain water, prevent erosion and protect water quality.

 

This is from Claire Smith:

 

   Are you ready for some mowing?  Depending on the weather, your summer lawn mowing and maintenance can begin anytime in April.

Did you service the mower last fall?  If you didn’t have time then, you should take time now.  Beg or bribe your favorite spouse or relative to change the oil, kick the tires, replace the spark plug and air filter, and be certain the blades are sharp and not bent. 

If the ground temperature is 55-60’ you can commence any necessary re-seeding and repairs. Lawn repair kits that will contain seed and mulch can be purchased.  But remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is so do not succumb to terrific sounding no maintenance grasses and groundcover.   Apply the patch after you have removed the dead turf and loosened and amended the soil.

   Pizza or ice cream treats may create some enthusiasm to have the kids or grandkids help you rake and remove clumps of leaves and other debris left over from winter ice and snow. Initiate a game of pickup sticks (branches). Tamp down runways created by winter vole activity and fill in holes. 

  Hose off lawn areas along walks, drives and roadways that have been exposed to deicing compounds or your grass may not reappear.  Keep newly seeded and sodded areas moist to reduce stress on young and developing root systems.   Watering an established lawn is not necessary now.  Wait until May to fertilize.  Over watering and over fertilizing does more harm than good on your lawn:  strike a happy medium.  Excessive use of insecticides may reduce nature’s aerating machines, the earthworm. Monitor your lawn for any insect damage prior to spraying. 

   Proper mowing is a real key to a healthy lawn.  The suggested mowing height is 3-3 ½” Taller grass forms a deeper root system.  Stronger plants are more likely to fend off insects, disease and weeds.  Remove only 1/3 of the total height of the grass and leave the clippings on the lawn to decompose. Clippings add nitrogen, moisture and organic matter to the soil.  Varying the direction and pattern of mowing will reduce the wear and tear on the lawn.

   So, are you ready for some mowing?  Grab a bottle of lemonade and your hat and sunscreen. Hop on the mower and enjoy the spring weather and the start of a beautiful lawn.

 

From Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship:

 

    Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey today encouraged homeowners to consider incorporating soil quality restoration efforts into their annual spring yard work.

   Often in urban areas, especially new developments, the topsoil has been removed and what is left is compacted.  Restoring soil quality helps yards and green spaces absorb and infiltrate rainfall, which reduces the homeowners need to water their yard while protecting water quality and preventing runoff.

   “Iowa is known for it’s great soil, and rightfully so, but we need to make sure we are taking care of that soil so that it is healthy,” Northey said.  “What made our soil so productive was the high organic matter content and porosity that absorbed rain and allowed roots to grow deep.  Soil quality restoration helps recreate those conditions that allow plants to thrive.”

   If you are establishing a new lawn, perform deep tillage (8-12 inches deep) before seeding or sodding to breaks up compacted soils.  Add compost to increase organic matter.  It is recommended that soils have 5 percent or more organic matter before sodding or seeding, which can be achieved by incorporating 1 to 3 inches of compost.

   If you have an existing lawn, consider aerating the soil and then apply a blanket of compost in the spring or fall.  An application of one-quarter to three-quarters of an inch of compost following aeration will help fill the holes with organic matter to amend the soil and allow existing turf to grow through the compost amendment. If your turf is patchy, add seed to the compost application to thicken up the vegetation.

   “Improving the soil quality in your yard will make your lawn healthier, require less water and reduce the need for fertilizer and pesticide applications,” Northey added.  “A better looking lawn and improved water quality in the state are possible when we better manage runoff through soil quality restoration and other measures that allow water to infiltrate.”

   There are a number of other lawn care tips to help care for your soil and promote infiltration of water and prevent runoff.

  • Begin mowing after the first of May and end near Labor Day.
  • Set the mower at three inches high. The higher the grass shoots the deeper the grass roots, making it better able to survive dry periods.
  • Use the mulch setting on your mower to leave the grass clippings on the yard. Don’t lower organic matter content by removing clippings.
  • Consider using native plants for accent in planting beds or in rain gardens to minimize the amount of turf grass.
  • Seed your lawn to a native turf mixture that has deep roots and thrives in Iowa’s weather conditions without extra care.

   More information about urban conservation, rain gardens and a soil quality brochure are available on the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship’s website at www.IowaAgriculture.gov

 

 

               

               

 

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Another snowstorm? Look here for spring

As Iowa braces for what could be another spring snowstorm this weekend, Deb Engmark, head gardener at Brucemore in Cedar Rapids, sent the following observations and photos from the historic Brucemore estate:

From the Brucemore Gardens

 

It would have been a glorious first snow fall of the season had the snow fallen sometime between November 27th and December 30th. With four to six

 inches on the ground, my week of vacation coming to an end, and not nearly enough yard work finished, it sure made Sunday hard to take. On the bright side, on Monday morning the little bit of green that was evident in the landscape at the end of last week was much more abundant and vibrant. I also noticed the swelling of the buds on many of the shrubs and some of the trees here at Brucemore have expanded close to the point of explosion. Many buds have popped and the leaves are extended toward the sun.

 

 The honeysuckle bushes along Linden Drive opened sometime between 8:00 a.m. and 12:30p.m.on Monday, as did the first scillas on the property, revealing the sweet essence of  spring along with the reliable blues many visitors associate with older neighborhoods. The snowdrops are always an early sign of winters waning. Shining in the woods for a few weeks already and now many of the white nodding heads have opened to reveal the upside down v-shape of green marking the inside bell and if you are able to get close enough, it too carries a fresh scent of spring.   

 

Out in the formal garden the crocus are blooming and other bulbs are making their presence known as are some of the undesirables dandelions, violas and the creeping charlie seem to have survived the winter just fine, lucky us.

 

Now, before spring has totally sprung, is a great time to take notice of that which is often overlooked – trees. We are fortunate here at Brucemore to have a few grand specimens to appreciate. Across the road from the formal garden, west of the old greenhouse is a mature red maple and a stately old red oak.  Roger Johnson, our building and grounds superintendent, believes they are some of the oldest trees on the property. He estimates that they are well over 100 years old due to their height, trunk diameter, and the texture of the bark.  Oaks are slow growing, long-lived, and require a century to mature, and will often live undisturbed for two to three centuries or more. The red maple upon maturity develops a unique bark texture. Flat gray ridges like fins begin to wave and flake while spiraling up to the multitude of branches. A bit of the oaks’ structural supremacy and the mature maples textured bark is softened after the emergence of the leaf canopy in spring.

 

As I finish this typing Tuesday afternoon, the landscape has changed once again adding more colors, hues and tones in every passing moment.

 

I would love to hear what you are doing also!  Please feel free to send me any suggestions, ideas, or tips from your own gardens and explorations.

 

 

Deb Engmark                            

Brucemore Head Gardener                     

2160 Linden Dr. SE

Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52403

deb@brucemore.org

www.brucemore.org

 

 

Blue scilla

Blue scilla

 

Snowdrops at Brucemore

Snowdrops at Brucemore

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Spring tree care

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

 

    March marked the start of our transition from winter to spring.  Now that the snow has melted  (we hope,)  it’s a good time to examine your trees for winter damage.  We often expect our trees to be self sufficient and  tend to neglect their well-being.  

     After the frost is gone, thoroughly water trees that have been subjected to de-icing compounds.  This will move the chemicals through the soil and away from the tree roots.   Watering before the ground thaws will create runoff and pollute soil and ground water. 

     If your trees need to be fertilized, wait until the ground has completely thawed.  Fertilizer run off wastes money and also contributes to groundwater pollution.

     If, and only if, an insect problem exists, dormant oil sprays can be used once the temperature reaches a constant 40 degrees.  Dormant oils are used to control some scale insects and overwintering insects. 

    Rabbits and voles girdle trunks at the base.  Damage will appear as a lighter area on the trunk, primarily as teeth marks.   The damage interrupts the flow of water and nutrients to the roots.   While you have no recourse for the damage, it is wise to monitor the health of the tree as severe damage can kill a tree.

    Tree wraps should be removed in the spring as the temperature warms.

    Complete pruning prior to trees leafing out.  Storm damaged branches should be removed as they occur. 

    If you’re planning on adding trees to your landscape, now is a good time to visit our local nurseries and greenhouses for suggestions and recommendations.        Personally, I’m going to find the shadiest spot under the big walnut to plant my chair and enjoy my favorite summer beverage.

 

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