Stop the Powdery Mildew Cycle this Fall

by Sandy Swegel

Powdery mildew had a grand time in my garden this year. I often have a nonchalant attitude to it growing on a few leaves and don’t mind a little bit. But it started early this year on roses, then showed up on the bee balms and finished out the season inundating the sweet peas and squashes. By the time I paid attention, it was out of control.

But now it’s Fall and my inner lazy gardener says…ah well this season is over. Next year it will be different. But if we want to make progress against disease in our gardens, now is the time to act.

 

Do you Want Less Disease in your garden next year? Then take these steps now:

In the Vegetable Garden
As your squash and cucumbers and pea plants are dying back, remove those leaves and put them in the trash. Not in the compost pile. Don’t let them overwinter and deal with it in the Spring. Fungus and disease spores are sitting passively on the backs of those leaves, just waiting for rebirth next Spring. They do not reliably die in home compost piles. Powdery mildew will survive the winter by forming minute fruiting bodies called cleistothecia And tomatoes? I put the whole plants in the trash after frost. There are just too many diseases on them to risk.

In the perennial beds, leaves infected with powdery mildew like rose or phlox or bee balm often drop before Fall. Before the big tree leaf fall, I use the blower to blow the diseased leaves out of the bed and PUT THEM IN THE TRASH.

This vigorous sanitation is a good idea for all pests too. If you had bean beetles…get rid of those leaves that might have next year’s eggs.

But don’t be too clean.
That’s the important lesson here. In the non-diseased parts of the garden, ladybugs and lacewings and lots of beneficial insects are going to lay eggs and overwinter. We want them. I learned last year especially to let willow leaves be…there were dozens of beneficial babies at the base of willow plants last spring.

 

And next year…be attentive to the powdery mildew. I now promise to treat early and often with something gentle but effective such as horticultural oil or a baking soda. I lost a lot of production in my vegetables this year because I let the powdery mildew have its way. And the roses and phlox really took a hit. I’ll do better next year. I promise.

Photos:
ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7406.html
startorganic.org/tips-for-treating-powdery-mildew/

 

Cover the Earth

by Sandy Swegel

Intense heat waves this summer have inspired gardeners to think more about their soil and how to protect it now and in winter. Just looking at hot dry cracked soil. We can compensate by watering more but with the heat stress, the plants can’t take up water faster than they are losing it to the air. Two things often happen during a heat wave that tax the soil. In the plains or the west, the humidity drops way down and the soil gets so dry that irrigation has a hard time even soaking into the soil. It just rolls right off. The other thing that happens is that the soil heats up killing off soil microbes and earthworms. That top exposed layer of soil becomes hard and crusty from lack of life.

So what can we do in a heat wave besides water? We’ve got to get that soil covered. “Cover the Earth” is the mantra I repeat to myself. “Cover the Earth.”

What are some good ways to Cover the Earth?

1. Plant Intensively so that plant leaves overlap with one another and shade the soil underneath.

 

2. Mulch. You know how important mulch is, but during a heat wave, it’s good to double up on mulch. Your mulch is not only keeping water from evaporating and adding organic matter and food for microbes, and it is also insulation to reduce the soil temperature. A plant will be healthier if “their feet” are cooler during a heat wave. You can check this out by putting your finger in the soil somewhere there this thick mulch. If you are out of grass clippings or leaves, use cardboard or newspaper in a pinch. Just get that soil covered.

3. Plant Cover Crops now. You may think of cover crops as something to plant at the end of the season, but it can also be a good idea to start them now. Plant in areas of the garden that might be fallow such as where early season crops grew but you never got around to replanting. Or start cover crops in the spaces or rows between large plants like tomatoes or corn.

DO BOTH: Mulch and Use Cover Crops.
Anytime you see bare soil, use grass clippings or last year’s left-over leaves to loosely and thinly cover the soil. Then seed in your cover crop. The combination of browns from leaves and greens from the cover crop will compost in place eventually.

One thing is for sure….all these steps to Cover the Earth and protect your soil now in the heat and this winter in the cold will help make your spring soil awesomely healthy!

 

Keep Your Sunflowers Blooming

by Sandy Swegel

Sunflowers inspire a primordial joy in us.  We may be rosarians, orchid specialists, rock plant lovers or even urban folk who barely see the outdoors, but sunflowers against a blue sky spark an inner gasp of delight.  Sunflowers often plant themselves on their own and can manage to grow without any attention from us, but if we have a nice little patch of sunflowers, we can nurture them so they last and last for weeks longer than their normal bloom.

What to do to get the most of your sunflowers?

Keep them deadheaded until the end of the season.

If you deadhead your sunflowers, they will keep pumping out new blossoms in their will to create seeds and more sunflowers.  Don’t cut the stalk way back, the next sunflower often forms just inches from the place you deadheaded.

Leave the very last batch of spent flowers for the birds and for next year’s flowers.

When it seems like the sunflowers are slowing down, do leave the last set on flower heads on the plant for the birds.  Even if its a little ugly going into Fall, birds like the seed heads right on the plant.  Little finches especially like to sit on top of the old brown seed head and bend over and pluck seeds out.

 

Give the sunflowers a splash of water

If your sunflowers have self-seeded into a dry back alley or someplace in hot sun, throw them a bucket of water once in a while during hot spells.  They’ll survive without the extra water, but thrive with it…and make more sunflowers just for you.

Photos:

www.pinterest.com/dreamwild/birds-bugs-butterflies-flowers-to-paint/

https://kanesonbikes.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/p9020895.jpg

http://www.lovethispic.com/uploaded_images/33858-Sunflower-Farm.jpg

 

Tomatoes in the Heat

by Sandy Swegel

My neighbor is panicking and frantically watering all her plants and trees that have droopy wilting leaves. The leaves weren’t getting any better and she feared there was some horrid disease killing everything. But there isn’t some disease…the plants are just stressed by our heat wave with temperatures in the 90s and above. One way plants cope with heat is to let their leaves droop or fold so that they aren’t losing so much water from the leaf surface.

 

Still, plants coping or not, a heat wave means you are getting few tomatoes. Plants quit setting fruit when the temps are above 92 or so no matter how many pollinators you have. So what can you do? When temperatures are a little lower, July is the time when I usually recommend a good fertilizing to keep the tomatoes at production. But in the heat, tomatoes are just struggling to live and fertilizing may just add to the stress.

What can you do for your heat-stressed plants?

Make sure you keep your watering consistent. You don’t need to drown the plants. No amount of water is going to compensate for temperature.

Mulch any exposed soil exposed to direct sun. Some tomato plants have already shaded the entire surface with leaves, but if there is garden soil getting hit by full sun, put some mulch or grass clippings or old leaves over the soil to keep it from baking in the sun.

If it looks like the heat wave will last quite a while, try to shade your tomatoes. The most effective shading blocks the hot afternoon sun. You can try hoops with shade cloth or throw some row cover over the plants. One frugal local farmer stretches old bedsheets on T-posts on the western side of the plants. Any protection helps until the temperatures lower again. The shade also will help protect the fruit from sunburn.

Photos and information:
http://reaganite71.blogspot.com/2013/07/helping-your-tomatoes-survive-brutal.html
http://www.organicswgardening.com/article4.html
http://squarefoot.creatingforum.com/t3224-watering-during-a-heat-wave

 

Vegetables That Grow In The Shade

Vegetables for Shade

by Sandy Swegel

OMG, Can you believe how hot it is? That’s the refrain from everybody I talk to. I’ll work in the garden when it’s below freezing or when there’s light rain, but I draw the line at working in the sun when the temperature is above 90. Unfortunately, temps around Denver area are in the upper 90’s. Poor Phoenix was 118. As one of the weather services said, “millions of people in the US are experiencing temperatures 10 – 20 degrees above normal this weekend.

So as I stood under a big tree and looked across the yard at my lettuce wilting under the hot sun, I started rethinking what my vegetable garden should look like. All those leafy vegetables don’t need full sun….and they’d deeply appreciate some relief on hot afternoons.

So, note to self: next year make some new beds in the shade. Dappled shade is best and dark shade won’t work, but the only vegetables that need lots of sun are those fruit producing vegetables like tomatoes and peppers.

There are lots of lists on what to grow in shade, but blogger Empress of Dirt has the most thorough, showing the gradient of shade tolerance. Your area will vary. Shade in Denver is different from shade in Seattle, so experiment. You know you have too much shade when the plants are barely growing. But I’ve watched arugula thrive under a big apple tree where it barely got any direct sun.

 

What to do about those poor greens out in the hot sun now? Give them some temporary shade. A shade cloth structure is ideal. I’m going to pull out the winter frost cloth and drape it over the garden till these extreme temperatures subside.

 

Keep your garden well watered but don’t drown it. No amount of water can compensate for extreme heat.

In the meantime, we’re grateful to all the firefighters out battling wildfires erupting throughout the Southwest in this record-breaking heat wave. They are true heroes.

 

Photos and information:

 

Keep Your Lettuce Sweet

by Sandy SwegelRows of Lettuce

It’s only the beginning of June, but hot days can already cause your lettuce to begin to turn bitter or bolt. But an attentive gardener can keep her lettuce sweet and tasty with a few easy tricks.

Lettuce generally turns bitter when it begins to mature or bolt. The most obvious environmental factors that cause bitterness are high heat and water stress. There are some studies that suggest long day length also speeds bolting. It’s a bit too much trouble to test this and create darkness for your lettuce but there’s a lot you can do to sweeten your lettuce.

Keep it cool.
Light row cover over the lettuce in the easiest way to cool it down. Just keep the sun from baking it. Alternatively next year you can plant the lettuce somewhere it gets shade in the hottest parts of the day.

Keep it well watered.
Sometimes we don’t notice how hot it is becoming and we don’t increase our watering to compensate. Make sure your lettuce is consistently well watered and doesn’t go through stressful too wet/too dry cycles.

Thin your lettuce.
Loose leaf lettuce can get bitter from being planted too densely and not thinned. This is probably just water and nutrient stress from overcrowding, but give those plants a little more room. By thinning as lettuce grows.

Pick it in the morning.
A cool night is often enough to sweeten lettuce so pick the lettuce in the cool of morning, not just before dinner. Bring a bucket of water with you to harvest and put the lettuce directly into the water after picking.

 

And if your lettuce is already bitter?

No need to eat it bitter or toss it into the compost pile. Wash and dry the lettuce and put it in a crisper in the refrigerator for at least a few hours and up to a couple of days. Lettuce is one of those plants that keeps growing even after it is cut so it will often respond to its new cool humid environment by “sweetening up.”

If your lettuce is still bitter? Send it to compost or toss it in with other vegetables when juicing. You’ll get the vitamins but not notice the bitterness amid the other strong vegetable tastes.

Photo credit:
http://phys.org/news/2015-11-lettuce-quality-conditions.html

 

Weeds Are Our Friends

by Sandy Swegel 

Say what? Well, Spring weeds ARE my friends. August weeds not so much. But Spring is finally overcoming winter and the big leafy weeds are the proof.

So what’s to love about Spring Weeds? The most important thing is they are an abundant source of food for pollinators. They are also delightfully pretty if you don’t think of them as weeds. I especially love the wild mustards. Invasive in lawns and on bare garden soils, blue mustards’ very tiny blue flowers are everywhere and are an excellent food source for awakening bees. Bees can’t live on dandelions alone you know.

To a gardener, the best part about spring weeds is WEED TEA and COMPOST.

Weeds, especially the perennial ones like dock and thistle, are an excellent source of nutrients because of their deep tap roots. To capture these nutrients in a usable form, you have to break down the plant tissue. The easiest thing to do is just keep throwing the leaves on the compost pile. This time of year your compost bin has too many “browns” anyway with all the dead winter material. The “greens” of spring coupled with warm weather jump-starts your pile.

But if you want to really get all those nutrients available to your plants and soil, you’ll want to make some Weed Tea.

Weed Tea Recipe

Get a big container.  A Rubbermaid garbage can will work, or make a small batch in a 5-gallon bucket. Put in all the weeds you can gather. I throw in cut leaves and whole plants. Put this container someway far away from your back door where you can’t smell it!

Here’s what’s going in my bucket:
Yellow dock leaves…these are everywhere.
Pulled or dug thistles.
Comfrey if you have it….these are especially full of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
Nettles. Wear gloves.
Crabgrass with clumps of dirt still attached.
Dandelions, salsify, prickly lettuce, even bindweed if it’s up already. Nothing’s going to survive this stew.
Pond scum.

 

Now fill your container with water at least 12 inches over the plant material. And let stand until it is a disgusting gooey stew of fermented and stinking rotted material. Stir weekly. That smell is anaerobic decomposition. If the weather is warm, this takes maybe 10 days or as long as 4 weeks if it’s cooler. That’s it. You’ve made the best fertilizer you will ever use. Capture the liquid to use to pour directly (I dilute about 1 part weed tea to 4 parts water) on your garden beds. Strain some and put it in a sprayer for foliar feeding. Hold your breath and throw the stinking mess of weed material on your compost pile.

My favorite use of weed tea is to use it as a foliar feed and watch the treated plants green up overnight. This is especially good on tomatoes.  Spring Weeds really are a gardener’s friend!

Photo credits

http://wildfoodgirl.com/2013/denver-mustard-mania/

http://permaculturenews.org/2013/12/06/simple-recipe-fertilizer-tea/

 

 

Growing Tulips

Three Myths about Growing Tulips04.22.16

by Sandy Swegel
We are having a beautiful tulip year despite heavy snows. Trees broke in half, but the tulip stems were just short enough when it snowed that they didn’t break. Walking around the neighborhood in wonder at tulips under broken trees, I thought about how sturdy tulips really are. There are some false myths about how you have to coddle tulips, but they are easier than you think.

The Myths:
Myth One: Tulips don’t bloom in the shade.

Once again my neighbor who loves flowers but isn’t all that interested in working in the garden has an amazing garden bed even though she didn’t follow the rules. She planted tulips along the concrete foundation of the north side of her house. These tulips never get a single ray of sun winter or summer because of the high roof. They are never fed. They are now putting on their third year of beautiful bloom because they don’t know the rules!

Now I’m not advising you to plant in full shade, but I do regularly plant in areas that seems marginal. Tulips don’t need a full day of sun. Nor do they need sun during bloom time. I’ve seen beautiful tulips under shady deciduous trees because there’s plenty of sun for the growing tulip foliage before the tree leafs out.

04.22.16a

Myth Two. You have to leave the leaves on them until they turn brown.

I’ve tested this myth for years now and it is indeed not true. You can cut off the foliage much sooner than you think. All those people who tie the dying foliage in cute knots could just cut the foliage off. An elderly neighbor who had the most beautiful tulips each year said that as soon as the foliage looks a little limp (but still green) it is no longer photosynthesizing enough to make food for the bulb and you can cut it down.

Myth Three: Tulips are perennials. Plant them once and have years of beauty.04.22.16b

Some tulips are perennials. The original species bulbs are perennial. But the fancier the flower, the less likely the tulip will come back. This is especially true of multicolored tulips. The tulip color “break” is cause by a virus. So the tulip is awesomely beautiful but is weakened by the virus and often dies that year. You need to plant those every year.

Some single color tulips are perennial in perfect conditions. But tulip varieties that thrive in one garden won’t return in other gardens. This is especially true if you have heavy clay soil that doesn’t drain well. My lucky neighbor with tulips in the shade lost all of the tulips that she planted in the hard-pan lawn in the full sun. The soil was horrible after 20 years of a neglected lawn and the root competition was too much. But they were beautiful the first year so she’s happy.

Tulips are such a delight of the Spring garden. Make a note in your calendar right now for next September: Plant more tulips!

 

http://us.hellomagazine.com/travel/gallery/201103255154/tulip/fields/holland/10/

 

How To Deal with Troublesome Pests In Container Gardens

by Angela Thomas04.20.16a

Many gardeners choose to grow plants in containers for the ease of planting and for the convenience of placing the containers anywhere they want. Maintaining healthy plants in a container garden is no different from plants in a garden.

However, container plants need more care. Taking care of them slightly differs from regular plants. They have limited soil volume and are subject to more stress than garden plants which requires constant monitoring for pests. If you’re looking to save time and the stress of having to find the pests that may of intruded into your garden. It could it be worth checking out the best home security camera deals on the market to make finding the pests and what they’ve left behind easier for you.

You must regularly inspect the foliage, bloom, and fruits to find out signs of infestation. You must also examine the underside of the leaves and stems as some insects hide in those places.
If the plants have any infected or dead leaves, you must immediately remove them. If you find few yellow leaves are on the bottom of the stem, do not worry as they naturally occur when the plants grow.

Mix a few drops of mild detergent in water and wash the foliage. Container plants will benefit from this if you repeat it every month.

If the infestation does not respond to soapy water, you may have to use commercial pesticides that are designed to control specific pests. These days manufacturers offer alternatives to chemical pesticides so visit the local store and buy the products if infestation continues. While using such products, you must always follow the instructions, and they must be kept out of reach of children.

To avoid pest infestations, do not reuse the soil especially if the plants were affected by bacteria. Even though the soil looks fine, it might be contaminated or have insect eggs which are hard to see. This infographic on natural pest control methods can give you the ideas to get it done on your own. However, if you would prefer to get some professional help, rather then do it by yourself, then you could always check out someone like pest control Des Moines.

04.20.16b

Clean containers will be helpful to prevent problems. When you are going to start a new planting, scrub the pots and containers using liquid detergent and water. To reuse an infested pot, soak it in a solution of one part household bleach to ten parts water for about an hour. Rinse all the pots thoroughly and dry them in sunlight before planting. Keep in mind that the area around the containers should also be clean as dirty surroundings is a way through which pests attack plants. After using the tools to treat the infested plant, thoroughly wash them, before you use it on other plants.

Healthy plants can fight off pests that attack them. So make sure you give the plants adequate sunlight, organic fertilizers, and water. There must be proper space between plants so that there will be enough air circulation. If pests infest a plant, keep them away from the rest of the plants because they will infest the healthy ones too.Many pests infect container grown plants especially spider mites. Stressed plants are most likely to be attacked by pests than healthy ones. So regularly monitor plants so that you will be able to detect problems in the early stages.

[http://i.imgur.com/RXdrB4W.jpg] (Plants in containers)

[http://i.imgur.com/QjYu9XV.jpg] (Cleaning container)

 

Two Ways to Guarantee Your Outdoor Seeds Grow

by Sandy SwegelPre-sprouting seeds

The next few weeks are crucial for new gardeners. Every year in Spring, first-time gardeners buy some seeds and dig up a garden on the first really warm weekend and sprinkle the seeds out. Then they wait. For some, within the month, weather conditions will be good and they’ll have their first garden seedlings and they will be totally hooked on the magic of gardening.

For others, something bad happens that the newbies don’t know about. They don’t realize they have to water. Or a couple of hot days come and burn the new seedlings to a crisp. Maybe the neighborhood crows watch you plant and come to eat every last pea. Sometimes the soil is cold and it’s just too early to germinate seeds. These newbie gardeners lose hope and say they just have a black thumb and give up gardening.

If you’ve had failures but are still willing to give a garden from seed a try, I have two techniques that virtually guarantee your seeds will germinate outdoors. These are especially good ideas if you’ve given up trying to grow some things because they never work for you. For years I just thought I was broccoli-impaired until I tried these hints.

First of course, you have to start your garden bed.

HOW TO START A GARDEN BED.

You can till and/or turn the soil by hand but you don’t have too if the soil is not solid concrete.
Dig out the weeds. Get the roots if you can.
Take a rake and make the soil level and a bit smoothed out.
Water soil with a soft sprayer if the soil is dry.
Sprinkle seed over the soil. How much seed and how far apart is written in the little print on the packet.
Pat the seed lightly with your hands so there is contact between the seed and the soil. Bury the seed slightly if the packet says so.

If you live in someplace humid and warm, that’s enough. Your seeds should come up.

If you live someplace dry or with fluctuating temperature or you’ve had failures in the past, try these two success techniques:

Sprouts

#1 ROW COVER

Lay a sheet of row cover loosely over the seeded bed. You want it nice and loose so the plants can grow and the row cover lifts with them. I use some heavy rocks to hold down the row cover so it doesn’t blow away. The row cover helps the seeds stay moist enough to germinate and raises the soil temperature a few degrees so the seeds germinate faster.

Water with the soft sprayer. Note….I water right on top of the row cover. You don’t have to lift it to water underneath often causing the seeds to float away. It’s permeable so the water makes its way through.

#2 PRE-SOAK AND PRE-GERMINATE the difficult seeds.

Pea sproutsSeeds like peas or carrots respond well if soak them in warm water in a bowl overnight, drain them, then plant. The soaking activates the enzymes that break the seed coat and speeds up germination. If it’s a seed you really have trouble with, you can put the seeds on a wet paper towel in a baggie and wait a few days until you see the sprouts.

These two shortcuts…pre-germination and row cover…work for me all the time. And I get better germination which means I get more plants per packet of seeds and save even more money.

Now go out and grow some food and flowers!

 

Photo credits:
http://daphnesdandelions.blogspot.com/2010_09_01_archive.html
http://learningandyearning.com/tag/pre-sprouting/