Leafcutter Bees

by Sandy Swegel08.31.15 Leafcutter_Bees on aster

There’s a native bee (especially in the Western US) that you’ll rarely recognize flying around, but almost everyone can tell when the bee has been in their garden. Leaves, especially of roses, have perfect little half-moons cut on the edges. The cuts are better circles than most of us can draw. In most years there aren’t overwhelming numbers of cutter bees so they don’t really threaten the plants.

08.31.15 Leaf cutter bees leaf damage1

Leaf cutter bees don’t eat the leaves. They take them to make nests for their babies. Unlike honey bees which live in hives, leaf cutters are solitary bees, and the leaves are used to make long tubular cigar-looking nests. Each bee egg gets its own little room, complete with a gob of saliva, some pollen and some nectar for when the larvae grow in the Spring.08.31.15 leaf-cutter bee nest (2)

Some people think leaf cutter bees are pests and want to exterminate them. Others want to attract them to their gardens because they are excellent pollinators. I’m on the side of letting them happily live in my rose garden and cut 08.31.15 leaf-cutter-bee-larva-neil-bromhall-texttheir perfect little half moons. They are gentle bees and rarely sting. Cute and good for pollination.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Credit and Info:
http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/insect/05576.html
http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/gardens-gardening/your-garden/help-for-the-home-gardener/advice-tips-resources/pests-and-problems/insects/bees/leaf-cutter-bees.aspx
http://swampthings.blogspot.com/2012/05/leaf-cutter-bee-nest.html
http://rachel-the-gardener.blogspot.com/2011/08/leaf-cutter-bees.html

 

Feed the Tomatoes and Veggies

 

 

By Sandy Swegel08.24.15b

 

So more of them will feed you.  Last week we talked about being on the home stretch for the vegetable garden (at least here in Zone 5.)  Lots of plants are super stressed this year by early rains and now intense heat.  In Colorado, some farmers are only now getting their first tomatoes.  But unless your tomato plants already have too many tomatoes on them, this is a great time to boost their final production with a good liquid organic fertilizer…either a balanced nitrogen-phosphorus mix, a bloom, or a kelp.  There’s still time to get more tomatoes and bigger tomatoes, so give the plants a reward for making it so far. I even fertilized the zucchini…our delayed season means even the zucchini are slow.

 

We’ve had blistering heat that has sun-scalded our basil and some greens.  I’m doing a light feed to these plants too as compensation for all the suffering they’ve had to go through this year.  Some people throw some row cover over greens when the sun is intense to give a little protection.

 

But tomatoes don’t need any protection from the sun as long as they have consistent water.

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One other tomato season task:  Do a taste test while the tomatoes are at their peak.  It’s amazing how differently the same variety will taste from year to year….and sometimes you’re the one who has changed and you find you like some flavors more than others.  Organize a testing with friends who bring their varieties, and you’ll have a fine summer party.  So far Black Krim is still my favorite (in big tomatoes; Red Cherries are still my favorite eat off the vine taste.

 

Photo credit

https://goingtoseed.files.wordpress.com/

http://centerofthewebb.ecrater.com/

 

Stay the Course: End of Season Gardening Tips.

by Sandy Swegel08.18.15 summer-harvest-2009

It may still be blistering hot, but gardeners especially in Zone 5 are on the home stretch. Days are getting noticeably shorter. Much of the work of the year culminates in the next month as it’s time to bring the harvest home. You have to pay extra attention in the next few weeks so you get the best harvest possible.

Keep the water steady.
This is not the time to skip watering for several days. Here’s the bad cycle. You forget to water for a day or two. Then you go out and put the water on for hours to compensate. This is a sure recipe for split fruit, especially tomatoes, and reduced fruit production.

08.18.15 split-tomato

Stay after the powdery mildew.
The mildew can be crazy on the squash and melons this time of year. Don’t let the whole vine turn to mildew. At the least, pull of the badly diseased leaves to keep the disease from spreading to the whole plant. Those squash, pumpkins and melons can still put out a lot of good fruit if they have some healthy leaves to photosynthesize.powdery mildew July 8

Keep harvesting.
The more you harvest, the more your plants keep putting out new fruit. Don’t lose courage now just because your kitchen is overflowing with food to be processed or given away. Keep things in a cool area if needed till you get to it.

Consider a light fertilizing.
Some plants have really been putting out and spending themselves for you. I sometimes do a light foliar feed of kelp or other liquid organic fertilizers to keep the plants’ spirits up on these stressful long work days. I think the kelp helps with resisting disease too.

The season may have a long way to go…don’t get distracted by school startups and thoughts of Fall. Your garden’s glory days are here.

08.18.15Tomatoes-Lynda Lorenz

 

Photocredit:
www.rosalindcreasy.com/edible-garden-how-to/
smallimperfectgarden.wordpress.com/2014/09/15/picking-tomatoes-shouldnt-be-this-challenging/

Bowl of Tomatoes:  Lynda Lorenz

 

When are your tomatoes ready to pick?

by Sandy Swegel08.14.15 Heirloom-tomato-salad1

You might think this is a completely obvious question. You pick tomatoes when they are red and falling off the vine ready to eat. But I asked a few gardening friends how they decided when to harvest tomatoes and as always, with gardeners, there are more opinions than people.

The basics:
Tomatoes ripen from the inside out, so if they look ripe they are. General characteristics of a ripe tomato are good bright even color, firm with a little give (not too hard and not soft and mushy.) Several people claim the tomato pulls easily off the vine when it’s ready and doesn’t need to be cut.

If you’re going to make a mistake in picking, pick when the tomatoes are slightly under ripe. They do not have to be on the vine to finish ripening. You might pick early because you won’t have time to harvest tomorrow, or because it’s about to rain and excess moisture often makes tomatoes split open. Hot temperatures in 90s are a good reason to pick a little early…the tomato will ripen more evenly on your counter than in blistering sun.

08.14.15

To finish ripening tomatoes inside, you know the rule. Never put tomatoes in the refrigerator. Makes them mushy. They also don’t need light as much as they need warmth. So skip the hot sunny window sill and put them on a kitchen counter.

Heirlooms. Tomatoes used to be red and it was kinda easy to tell when the red was the right color. But now tomatoes are pink and green and yellow, or green on the neck or mostly black. The “firm but not squishy rule works”. Also there’s an esoteric description of the color: the color just “brightens up” and you can tell it’s ready.

 

I recommend lots of sampling and fine-tuning your picking strategy.

I also recommend eating at least one tomato completely ripe in the hot afternoon sun. Take a big mouthful and let all the juices and seeds run down your face and shirt as you savor the awesome tomatoey flavor of summer. My neighbor used to take a salt shaker with him out to the garden and salt after each bite!

 

 

Photocredit:
http://www.heirloomtomatoplants.com
http://awaytogarden.com/theres-more-than-one-way-to-ripen-a-tomato/

 

Wildflower Mixes

Grass Mixes

Organic Heirloom Vegetables

 

Why Won’t my Garden do What I Say?

by Sandy Swegel

That’s the kind of questions I’m hearing these days.  Why won’t my plant bloom?  Why aren’t my tomatoes red? Why does my garden look so bad? Why is my tree dying?  Let’s tackle a few of these questions so you can figure out why it seems your garden is disobedient?

Why won’t my pineapple sage bloom?  It’s so beautiful in the magazines. Salvia elegans or pineapple sage smells deliciously of pineapple and hummingbirds flock to it.  Alas, what I discovered after a season of coaxing and fertilizing is that it will never look so beautiful in Colorado as it does in the Sunset magazine pictures of California.  It’s one of those plants that bloom according to day length and short days to stimulate blooming.  So no matter what we do, it simply is not going to put out blooms till late August.  Since our first frost can be in September, this is a very unsatisfying plant to grow in a northern area with long summer days.

The second part of this question is “Why did all the other fancy hybrid flowers I bought in Spring quit blooming?”  Some may be day length sensitive like the pineapple sage.  Most have issues with our hot dry summer heat.  If you keep deadheading as soon as the weather starts to cool, the blooms will restart.  And there’s no changing Nature’s mind with more fertilizer or water.

“Why won’t my watermelon plants get big?” a friend asked over afternoon tea.  The answer to most questions is to put my finger in the soil. It was dry, dry, dry.  There was one drip tube on the plant but that’s not nearly enough for a watermelon which needs lots of water.  I looked up. The garden was right next to a big spruce tree. The tree was on the north side so the plant had lots of sun, but the sneaky tree roots ran all through the garden sucking up irrigation water. If you’re going to grow a plant with a name like “water”melon…you have to put a lot of water in the system.

The second most-asked question is “Why do I have so many weeds?” The answer is alas, because you didn’t spend enough time in July keeping after them.  Who wants to weed in the heat of summer?  And summer weeds grow really fast and tall.  You can’t even blink.

The most-asked question of course is “Why won’t my tomatoes turn red?”  This year everybody has lots of green tomatoes but not nearly enough red tomatoes. The truthful answer is “D***d if I know. I wish mine would turn red.”  A Google search shows thousands of people ask this question.  People who answer have all kinds of pet theories about leaves and fertilizer and pruning the plant etc. I’m just learning to wait and making a note to grow more early tomatoes next year.

Nature just doesn’t work the way we want sometimes.

Photo Credit: http://eugenebirds.blogspot.com/2010_11_01_archive.html

 

Straw in the Garden: Be Careful!

by Sandy Swegel

Straw bales are one of my favorite garden tools.  They are useful to the gardener in so many ways.  All nicely tied up, straw bales are like giant Lego blocks that can be stacked to make so many things. I’m using the term “straw” bale, but old “hay” bales have the same great features.  Three bales make a great compost bin.  A row of bales makes excellent walls that double as sitting places.  Open the bales up and you have the perfect mulch to keep strawberries or squash off the ground or to make a path protected from mud.  Give the chickens one bale and an hour later they have spread it evenly over the coop floor in their pursuit of worms or food in the bale.  A square of bales with some plastic thrown over is an excellent cold frame.  And I haven’t even begun to touch on the usefulness of bales as a fort.

So it was distressing this week to be reminded that we can no longer just trust the wonderful bales that we scavenged in the past because modern agriculture has rendered hay, straw, and even the gardener’s best friend, manure, unsafe for growing food.

This conversation came up because tomatoes are very sensitive to herbicide damage.  The most common cause of herbicide damage extension agents used to see, was from “herbicide drift” where chemicals sprayed nearby go airborne and are spread by wind onto your garden.  But my experience this week was with tomato plants, a very susceptible plant – sort of the canary in the mine.  After considering dozens of diseases from virus and fungus and bacteria that might be stunting a friend’s tomatoes and keeping them from setting fruit, we had to face the likelihood that the culprit was last year’s straw that was liberally mulched throughout the garden.

08.03.15 tomato herbicde damage2

Hay and straw become hidden poison bombs in the garden when farmers use the new generation of weed killers (that are very effective on weeds) like Milestone or Forefront or Curtail.  Milestone is aminopyralid it is a very persistent killer of broad-leaf plants.  Farmers like it because it kills weeds and because unlike other weedkillers, they can feed treated pasture to their animals without any waiting time.  The label says clearly that while animals can still feed on the pasture, the herbicide survives being eaten by the animals, and it survives composting.  So even year old hay that you’ve composted or nice old manure from free range animals on pasture still has enough herbicide in it to kill your tomato crop.

The bottom line is you can’t just get straw at the feed store or old hay or manure from a neighbor’s barn to use in your garden, unless you know how the original pasture was treated this year and last year.  It’s another sad but true example of the destructive environmental impact even small actions such as applying some weedkiller can have. And it’s not even just the farmer who has to take care.  Grass clippings are a gardener’s favorite mulch…and some of the new weed killers or weed and feed products contain these long lasting poison time bombs.  It’s easy to want to kill some thistle…but you have to read the very tiny small print to see if you are destroying your own garden by using the organic practices of mulching with grass or hay or straw that generations of gardeners have sworn by.  It’s not your father’s straw bale anymore.

http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/fletcher/programs/ncorganic/special-pubs/herbicide_carryover.pdf
http://www.motherearthnews.com/Grow-It/Milestone-Herbicide-Contamination-Creates-Dangerous-Toxic-Compost.aspx