- It all starts with soil. Healthy soil has always been the foundation for a successful garden. It may be possible to purchase good soil, but this is expensive and will quickly be spent within a few growing seasons, so learning how to nurture your own soil will save you both time and money in the long run. Never skimp on this step. Building your own soil from scratch can also be very satisfying. This means annual applications of organic matter and fertilizer. This is a step that is critical on an ongoing basis.
- Drainage cannot be overemphasized as it is the infrastructure of a good garden. Create ways to channel excess water and potentially store it for future use. This can be in ponds, berms, water and rain gardens or a bog feature planted with moisture loving vegetation.
- Don't be afraid to make changes. Not everything is going to work in your location and not everything will work in the next year which did in the previous. Some are changes made by nature - a year that has a distinctly different weather pattern from previous years. Some by new, invasive species moving into your area. Always be observant of these changes and modify your plant selections accordingly.
- Walk through your garden daily and look at what is going on. Plants will tell you if they are struggling long before they have reached the point of no return. Learn to recognize signs of stress and address them before it is too late.
- Visit other gardens, whether your neighbors', nurseries that specialize in localized plant species, and resources such as arboretums. This will allow you to observe some of the best horticultural designs and botanical collections in your area. Many local garden clubs have summer garden tours that will help you learn what is working and what isn't in your area.
- Never stop learning. Websites and books that are regionally appropriate are a great start. Other resources include universities, agricultural extension agents and online groups found on social media sties that will allow you to join and converse with master gardeners and others with a wealth of experience.
- Make it fun. Gardening should fuel both your body and your soul. It can sometimes be discouraging when things don't work out, but with some changes, they may work out next time. Or perhaps a different varietal of that particular plant - maybe one that works better in your specific garden - should be selected. There is definitely always an element of trial and error, so make it about the journey of learning as well as the end destination.
t lWhen compiling my blogs, the content always comes from personal experience and learnings - both good and bad. Two of the biggest challenges I've been facing over the last few years is unpredictabie weather and what seems to be an increasing number of pests. Both can be attributed to a number of reasons, but in the end, the reason doesn't matter, it's about how you deal with the blows. To help manage these variables, it is critical to focus on the basics. Many of these are covered in other entries in this blog, so you can check them out for more details, but here is a top level overview and/or reminder.
Easy Tomato Sauce
Tomatoes are often the "candy" of the garden. With a myriad of bright colors, ranging from yellow to orange to brownish purple and green and different sizes and shapes, there is literally a tomato for every purpose. Although most often thought of as a vegetable, they are actually fruit. Originally from South America and brought to Europe by discoverers, tomatoes were first thought to be poisonous and then later used as "peasant" food by people in Italy. Then the enthusiasm for tomatoes took off. Whether fresh in salads of sliced, or in soups, salsas, pastas, or processed to make concentrates, ketchups and juices, tomatoes are very healthy with only 32 calories in a chopped cup. Tomatoes provide vitamin C potassium, vitamin K and folate.
When selecting tomato types for your garden, you'll want to focus on each of the seven versatile types of tomatoes and match the ones that grow best in your climate as well as suit your personal culinary tastes. Tomatoes flavors are based on their ratio of sugar to acid as well as their aroma. Sweet tasting tomatoes, such as cherry tomatoes, contain more sugar and less acid - hence why so many of those little fruits are actually eaten in the garden while harvesting as opposed to making their way to the dinner table.
For ideas as to how to use all these, bite size cherry tomatoes are lovely in salads and on skewers and kababs. Grape tomatoes are excellent for snacking. Harvest larger tomatoes on the vine to preserve longevity and continues to provide nutrients, are perfect for slicing and eating as is, or perhaps with a pinch of salt and, sometimes, pepper. These are also great for sandwiches and burgers. Puree them and use them in sauces for pizzas, pastas, meat loafs, chicken and eggplants.
We discovered a simple way to start heirloom tomato plants for your next season by feeding them to chickens. After some time, clean out your coop and remove the debris to an area where the chickens do not have access, but has adequate light and moisture, it is not unusual for your next season's plants to germinate and grown on their own. You can then relocate the plants to your preferred sites.
Easy Basic Tomato Sauce
For a quick, versatile sauce that works well as a base for pizza or pasta, simple puree, or slice tomatoes and place into a sauté pan with olive oil, garlic, and a bit of salt. Use a non-reactive spoon for smashing the tomatoes. Once the tomatoes have reduced to a sauce, add in preferred seasons such as pepper, oregano, thyme, basil or whatever else you'd like your dish to reflect. Taste your sauce occasionally and correct the flavors as desired. Adding a pinch of sugar will help balance acidity.
Controlling Food Costs and Climate Change by Gardening
In prepartion for our garden next season we noticed a significant increase in supply prices. Some inputs have more than doubled in price from earlier in 2021. With costs on the rapid increase and climate change continuing to challenge growing and supply chain conditions, next year looks like it will bring even higher food price - and not unlikely food shortages as well. With that in mind, starting or improving your own garden and careful planning will allow you to help offset some of the negative impact.
This newest battle seems to logically call for the resurrection of entity originally known as the Victory Garden. Victory Gardens were used to offset food shortages and free up commercial food supplies for troops, as well as a means of offering patriotic solidarity. Today "Victory Gardens" serve to help address the concerns families are facing relative to food security and affordability. These gardens also serve as an excellent means for offseting the negative impacgts of big agriculture, reducing the degradation of water supplies via chemical runoffs, eliminating usage of chemicals and pesticides, and decreasing carbon footprint by eliminating the need to transport food.
No space is too small. Containers, window boxes, spaces between walkways, side yards or any space where you can build well-draining soil can work. Make sure your location will receive a sufficient number of sunlight hours for the plants you have selected. Also consider how you will water your garden when selecting your location. Locations near buildings will allow for easy rain water collection, drip irrigation and of course, rainfall, are all ideal. Sometimes nature is going to need help, so also have watering buckets and garden hoses at the ready.
Below are some ideas to help you stretch your food budget while helping the environment.
Rodent Control You Will Feel Good About
As seasons change, critters also get busy looking for homes to either stay warm or raise young. These times of the year are also when rodents begin to create havoc in structures, vehicles, feed stores and whatever else they can work their way into.
Mice and rodents can carry diseases, some serious to humans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mice and rats directly or indirectly transmit over 20 diseases worldwide. Several of these, such as leptospirosis and salmonellosis, are contagious to animals.
In fields and pastures moles, gophers and other burrowing rodents can just make a mess of things with their telltale piles of dirt and holes everywhere. In summer months can wreak havoc with irrigation and in the winter they will often gnaw on the roots of shurbs such as blueberries and kill the plants - often by chewing right through them.
Rodents are probably one of the toughest things to deal with on properties. They are small, stealthy, and primarily active after dark when we don’t see them. The challenge is can we go about reducing the populations of these persistent little things without lethal trapping or using poisonous chemicals which are deadly to other animals in the ecosystem—as well as to our pets and livestock?
The anwer lies in predators. Some people are concerned that encouraging predators will create risks for their livestock, but properly managed, there is minimal to no negative impact and the positive effect of fewer rodents and their respective damage will fall outweigh any downside.
An easy first step to encouraging natural rodent control is encouraging predatory birds to frequent your property - both a night and during the day. Day hunters, such as kestrels, will also help with rodents such as squirrels and rabbits, thereby helping protect your edibles. During the night, avian predators such as owls. One predatory particularly wide spread and well suited to the task is the barn owl. Barn owls are common on every continent in the world except for Antarctica. So, no matter where in the world you are, your property can benefit from having a barn owl working for you.
Barn owls have become very popular to attract for various reasons. Owners of vineyards, orchards, and farms have found that barn owls can significant reduce damage by crop-eating rodents. Property owners can benefit the same way with sometimes no more than one or two nest boxes. Conservationists are finding that erecting owl houses is the best way for bringing back numbers of barn owls in areas where they have declined. And bird lovers simply love having them around to enjoy the opportunity of watching these white-faced, golden winged raptors sail out over a field at dusk on the hunt.
Barn owls are perfectly suited to livestock properties as they hunt in open meadows and grasslands. These creatures of the night have excellent low-light vision, they fly silently, they have sharp beaks and powerful talons, and their hearing is extraordinary. All that makes them death on wings for rodents. A family of barn owls will consume about 2000 mice or other rodents in a couple of months!
One of the ways to help encourage barn owl habitation is by providing nesting boxes and the right habitat for their prey. This is a great project during moths with weather less conducive to outdoor chores.
Barn owls are secondary cavity dwellers. That means they live in the hole that somebody else has created, like a hole in an old tree made by a woodpecker or the dark rafters inside a quiet barn. Storage barns may be better suited than barns that get a lot of traffic. Regardless, humans can take advantage of their desire for secondary cavities because it means that barn owls adapt well to nest boxes which can be purchased or made.
Place a barn owl nest box in a quiet location, 10-20 feet high. Shade the opening from direct sun and prevailing winds. Boxes can be hung inside an unused barn, on the outside of farm buildings, on a pole or in a tree. If the box is mounted on a pole or post, consider a baffle to prevent cats, raccoons, and other predators from reaching it. Many barn owls will reuse the same nest box year after year. In North America it is best to hang them by January or February as barn owls begin nesting in late February. When selecting a tree location, you will also have the benefit of selecting the most advantageous sideof the tree.
It’s hard to find an easier method of rodent control. Once you install the barn owl box nature does the rest. Plus, barn owls are not aggressive to people, nor will they attack pets or livestock. Not only will owls help reduce your rodent population, but their tawny colors are beautiful to see at dusk and their bone-chilling, screechy cry is thrilling to hear at night.
Building the Nesting Box
The popularity of attracting barn owls has resulted in a wide range of barn owls box designs, both do-it-yourself and those that are sold commercially. It is important to take into account the biology and daily needs of these large owls. With so many versions of nest box to choose from, some excellent, some not so good, it is important to make wise decisions about which elements are ideal for successfully attracting and housing these beautiful raptors.
1. Appropriate Size: Make sure your box is big enough. Many barn owl box designs create a nest box only 18” deep. Although this size can attract a breeding pair, barn owls produce an extraordinary number of young—seven is quite common. The entire brood of owls must reach adult size inside that nest box before fledging, each of them 12 to 14 inches high, and flapping their wings in preparation for flight. In small boxes, flight feathers are damaged, smaller birds will not receive food, and young birds are pushed accidentally from their nest boxes - weaker ones may be intentionally pushed out. In short, fewer birds survive from such owl houses.Takeaway: Select designs that are at least 24” deep, 18” high, and 18” wide.
2. Size of Entrance Hole: Conversely, many designs err on making the size of the entrance hole too large. All cavity nesting birds, including barn owls, prefer an entrance hole that is just large enough for them to squeeze through, but too small for larger animals that might prey on the eggs or chicks. Barn owls vary in size. Like all predatory birds, femails are typically 30% larger than males and American barn owls larger than those in Europe. Takeaway: Takeaway: The box should have a 5” to 5 ½” entrance hole.
3. Location of Entrance Hole: Holes too close to the floor are a problem because the ever curious and rambunctious chicks tend to crowd toward the entrance hole as they get older. A hole too close to the floor allows for them to fall out way too early. Takeaway: The entrance hole at least six inches off the floor.
4. The perch: Don't forget the owls will like some sort of "front porch". This can be as simples as a dowl or a full ledge where the owl can rest and feed.
5. Color: Many wooden boxes are left natural to blend into the environment. The problem is that most wooden boxes are heat traps. As the sun beats down on dark wood, the interior can become excessively hot. Biologists have found young owls, too young to leave the nest, on the ground where they took refuge from the stifling heat inside wooden boxes. Also, consider your location selection - again, away from direct sun, wind and rain. Takeaway: If you do buy or make a wooden box, be sure to paint the entire outside with bright white paint to reduce heat absorption and plan to repaint every year or two.
6. Material: Most commercially made boxes and available plans use half-inch plywood. The problem with such thin wood is that, after the expense and labor of construction and installation, half inch plywood deteriorates rapidly in sun and rain. The alternate choice, ¾ to 1” plywood will last somewhat longer, but it is heavy, expensive and difficult to install. So, when it comes to plywood owl houses, the choice is between longer life and ease of installation. Takeaway: If you are buying a wooden box, ask the builder the thickness of the wood.
The Final Summary
Published in the Journal of Pest Management, Newport Beach, California: From 2011 through 2013, researcher Mark Browning and a team of students from U.C. Davis and Columnes River College saturated a 100-acre vineyard south of Sacramento, California with 25 barn owl nest boxes, eventually resulting in a population of 36 adult owls that fledged 66 young. This produced a population of 102 barn owls hunting the vineyard and surrounding area. Using data gleaned from nest box cams, the research was able to conclude that this rather incredible density of owls consumed 30,000+ rodents over a 3 year period. Statistical analysis showed a strong correlation of number of owls to a decline in rodent activity. This study is the first of its kind to accurately record the number of rodent deliveries to growing barn owl chicks, and the first to establish the economic value of barn owls to farmers and property owners. Cost comparison data showed that the average cost of trapping per rodent was $8.11 while the nest box program resulted in a cost of .27 per rodent taken by barn owls. This provides very valuable and useful information for farmers to use in assessing the effectiveness and results of barn owl nest box programs.
How to Attract Pollinators for a Better Garden
Without pollinators our gardens and orchards would not be able to produce the foods that we need and love so much. Even if you don't have an edible garden, it is still important to help pollinators when ever and where ever you can. This can be as simple as placing a beneficial pot of flowers in a pot - or even a week such as the milkweed that migrating monarchs depend upon for food supplies - and watch the magic happen.
1. Select a location:
The Link Between Insects and Successfully Growing Food
As gardeners we talk a lot about how to sustainably control pests in our garden. Of course some pests are more harmful than others. Those pests that are indigenous to an area have evolved in a system where both their food sources, as well as natural predators have evolved. Birds and insects trend together, plants and pollinators trend together. The health of one is a solid indicator of the health or another. As humans migrated around the world, they either knowingly took with them or imported perceived desirable plants, such as introduced "exoctics". They also unknowingly transported accidentally in cargo and crops, such as the Lantern Fly in North American. We have disrupted ecosystems to the point where some are being decimated. Invasive insects, plants and animals can have devestating consequences and should be dealt with in sustainable ways, but indigenous insects are vital to the health of the food web.
Insects are at the heart of the food web, the primary way that nature converts plant protoplasm into animal life. Overall, plants can tolerate a wide range of environmental conditions. However, insects tend to be specialists, feeding and pollinating a narrow spectrum of plant life, often times just a single species. In fact, 90% of plant eatting insects can develop and reproduce only on the plants with which they share an evolutionary history. This is why when you see the decline of one species; it's not uncommon to see the decline of another. One of the best examples of this is the Monarch butterfly and milkweed.
As a result, plants have developed defense mechanisms specific to these threats such as chemical and morphological defenses, including toxins, sticky sap, rough bark, and waxy cuticles. However, these defenses don't typically work well with species they have never encountered, including very closely related species.The unfortunately downside of human's trying to control pests has resulted in an estimated decine of arthropids, chiefly insects, has decined by 45% from preindustrial times. Without insects, lizards, frogs, toads, birds and many mammals would lose all or part of their diet. This is an ecological crisis.
Another concern, is as land is continuously converted from "wild" to "farmed" and then "farmed" to "subdivision" or "apartment complex", there is not enough "wild" land to support that important ecosystem. As such, it's imperative to look at every open space available and think about how to return that land to a "wild" state. Because much of the earth's available land is either used for farming, or in wealthy nations, for areas like lawns, sterile, unproductive landscapes are created.
Because most people own little to no land, one way to help is to create habitats that are sustainable and can act as a networked ecosystem. Tbe idea is to reduce the distance that creatures must travel for food. This land can be created from any area such a lawn, manicured park areas, golf courses and other rereational areas. Douglas Tallamy, an entomologist at the University of Delware, offers some suggestions to help return manicured spaces back to the wild.
Using the Change of Seasons to Prepare for Harsh Weather
During this time of year, most of the planet is shifting from either warm weather to cold weather, currently fall here in the northern hemisphere, or spring in the southern. The last few years, we've noticed the high temperatures are coming much earlier in the season, but also much later. The same seems to be true of colder weather. Earlier and later freezes are challenging what crops can be grown and how crops may need to be grown.
Because of this, proactive preparation is more important than ever. This means you will want to have plenty of supplies on hand at least a couple of months before you may need them. With weather changes occur more rapidly severely and supply chain challenges still creating shortages, you don't want to be caught on your heels. There are always plenty of things to do, but here a few top things that you may want to check:
Carefully monitor weather for first and last frosts to determine when produce will need to be harvested or it may be time for indoor germinated seeds to begin their move to the outdoors. Quickly changing conditions are particularly tough on young, tender plants or those plants that have set buds. Additionally excessive heat discourages pollinators. Use moisture such as dampening the soil and shade cloths to help reduce damagingly high temperatures that cause plants and animals to go outside their tolerable temperature zones. Sometimes the extremes only last for short periods of time and simple precautions will be sufficient. For multi- hour and -day extremes, more comprehensive measures will need to be taken.
Clover: The Solution for Many Gardening Challenges
When thinking about how to use outdoor spaces, sometimes the choices are limited by the physical space including the size, the amount of sun, the amount of accessible water for ourselves and animals and most importantly, how we need to use that space.
Many enjoy growing some of their own food as well as a flower garden, but often space is also needed for kids and/or animals to play. An excellent alternative to a turfgrass lawn is clover, but in recent decades it has been perceived as a weed, along with dandelions, another hugely beneficial plant.
Before the 1950’s, grass seed mixes always included over. Clover is a legume, rather than a grass. It is rather drought tolerant, green year-round, except in exceptionally dry periods, is resistant to trampling, and isn’t picky about soil quality or sun exposure. Clover flower nectar is a delight for pollinators and beneficial insects such as butterflies, bees and bumble bees. Plant it near vegetable garden or orchard to attract pollinators. Clover flower tea is a nice drink and the leaves may be eaten in salads or co cooked. Clover tea is recommended during a cough and cold.
Legumes benefit soil quality by increasing soil organic matter, improving soil porosity, recycling nutrients, improving soil structure, decreasing soil pH, diversifying the microscopic life in the soil, and breaking disease build-up and weed problems of grass-type crops.
Legumes possess the ability to convert the pure form of nitrogen to its ammonia form which is extremely helpful in fixing the nitrogen in the soil. Legumes are used as nitrogen fixers in agriculture and clover is one of the best nitrogen fixing plants available. Clovers have the ability to obtain nitrogen from the atmosphere and “fix” it in nodules on its roots; this is called nitrogen fixation. The amount of nitrogen fixed varies depending on species, stand density, fertility, weather, and the extent to which the clover has been defoliated.
As a part of the bigger picture, legumes play a supporting role in converting the nitrogen to its ammonia form. For the conversion of nitrogen, a particular type of soil bacteria known as Rhizobium plays the major role. Rhizobium enters to the roots of legumes and then start to multiply at a rapid rate and starts converting nitrogen to its ammonia form in this process.
In any healthy soil, you will find immense amounts of Rhizobium bacteria. This is because without fixed nitrogen plants are unable to grow.
For unhealthy soils or those who are in the middle range, it is often recommended to add a good amount of Rhizobium in the soil. This soil bacteria is easily available in the market in packets.
Rhizobium is a must for maintaining the fertility of the soil and ensure a healthy sprout. They add a lot of benefits to the soil and do not hurt the plants even a bit while performing the conversion of nitrogen into its ammonia form, which plants require for their growth.
White clover is generally the most used clover, is the easiest seed to find and is better for grazing animals than red clover. Clover is a herbaceous perennial plant. Its leaves are long-stalked, composed of three leaflets. Flowering occurs in April-May to September. Its flowers attract bees and bumblebees. The flowers are grouped in spherical flower heads, white in color, sometimes slightly pinkish white.
So, growing a clover lawn may be just the environmentally friendly solution for your green space as well as easier on you and your pocketbook. It’s low growing, so you never need to mow it. You can also use it as “living mulch” to fill in the spaces between your perennials and garden to keep the weeds out. If you aren’t ready to make a full change, try out a small clover patch and all its potential habitat.
Now that you’re familiar with the benefits, here are some planting and growing guidelines:
Propagation and Planting Clover
It is mainly propagated by seeds. Clover seeds are sown directly on the ground but can also be broadcast over the top of existing grasses and weeds. Prepare the soil well before planting seeds and be prepared to broadcast a couple of times. Clover seeds are a favorite of birds – good and bad news. Keep some seed in reserve and broadcast more than once to help successful establishment.
Regions where Clover Grows
Clovers live in temperate and subtropical parts of North and South America and the Old World. Three geographic regions have the most clover diversity: the Mediterranean basin, western North America and the highlands of eastern Africa.
When to Plant Clover Seeds
Spring is the best time though late-summer sowing is a practical alternative provided there are adequate soil moisture and sufficient time for the clover seedlings to develop well before winter.
The standard seeding rate is two pounds per acre. The optimum sowing depth is 10-12 mm with a light but firm soil cover. An easy way of planting is to broadcast it and then walk over the area.
Requirements for Growing Clover
Maximizing Your Garden with Containers
Helpful Hints for Preparing your Garden for Warm Weather
Getting the exterior of your home ready for warm weather can be a big job, especially if you have children or pets. You’ll want to ensure that the front and backyards are safe and present practical spaces to use for gardening, playtime, and areas for your pets to safely get in some exercise; all this requires a good plan. Take into account how big the spaces are and how best to use them for your needs. For instance, creating a sustainable plot of land that can be used for growing food or herbs is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint and live a little greener (and it can save you money in the long run), but you’ll need to come up with a strategy to keep it healthy and out of the paths of children and pets.
Making everything safer is, of course, a priority, especially if you have kids who love the outdoors. Taking steps now to get things ready for warm weather will give you peace of mind and will cut back on your workload when the summer heat rolls in.
Here are a few tips on how to get started.
Plot out your lawn
If your goal is to grow food or raise animals, you’ll need to plan for getting the land ready. Not all soil is good for growing fruits and veggies, so it may take some work to prepare everything. Animals need bedding, a place to eat and drink, and safe places to rest, along with some shade away from the harsh sun. Plotting out your lawn for your needs will help you create the best place to raise food or animals and make it a success.
Start a budget
No matter what you want your lawn to look like, you’ll need to start with a budget. Raising animals can be expensive if you aren’t prepared, and while growing your own food is a cost-effective and sustainable way of living, you’ll need the right tools for the job. Creating a budget will help you stay focused and will help prevent any issues down the road.
Trim the greenery
A big part of preparing your lawn for summer is trimming up bushes and trees. This will help your kids stay safe when they’re playing outdoors as well as provide an uncluttered view of everything that’s happening. Not only that, it will keep loose limbs and detritus from becoming dangerous during summer storms. Depending on the size of your trees, it might be necessary to call in a pro. The average cost for tree and shrub maintenance is $416; click here for more information on choosing the right business to help you.
Prepare any water-based areas
If your yard includes a pool, pond, or even a birdbath, it’s important to make sure everything is clean, up-to-date, and ready for warm weather. Fall and winter can wreak havoc on water spaces, and animals can do some damage during cold weather months when looking for someplace warm to burrow down. Before filling any space with water, have it thoroughly cleaned and make any necessary repairs.
Use natural pesticides
Once spring rolls around and all the bugs make an appearance, it’s tempting to use pesticides to keep them away from your freshly-planted garden. However, your children and pets need a safe place to play, so using natural pesticides is a better way to go. Soap and water or vinegar-based solvents will take care of the job quite nicely.
Preparing your yard for warm weather is essential if you and your family enjoy spending time outdoors. With a good plan in place, you can get everything taken care of now so that you and your loved ones can relax and have fun once the days begin to heat up.
Note: This blog post was provided courtesy of Clara Beaufort at Gardenergigs.com.
How to Help Bees and your Plants
Spring is coming to the northern hemisphere and that means it's time to think about gardening. Many plants are dependent upon pollinators, specifically bees, so keep these busy little critters healthy by helping them out.
1. Don't use chemical pesticides in your garden, orchards, pastures and lawns. When buying plants for your flower beds, do not buy any plants tagged as "treated with neonicotinoids". Neonicotinoids are poisoning and killing bees, causing severe declines in the bee populations. Neonicotinoids are taken up through the plant's vascular system as it grows, as a result, the chemical is expressed in the pollen and nectar of the plant. Bess, butterflies and other pollinators ingest it and die. Some beekeepers frequently lose 75% of more of their bees annually because of this insidious chemical.
2. Put water out for the insects. Typically the pollinators will drink from puddles on the leaves and petals of the plants, but extended drought and drip water systems sometimes results in a lack of water. Bees use lots of water when foraging for pollen and food.
3. Plant bee-attracting plants. Native plants are always high on the list. Also herbs like basil, Echinacea, mints, sage, rosemary, lavender and fennel are always enjoyed. Flowering plants include sunflowers, poppies, yucca, aloes, lantana, and many fruit bearing trees. In short, they will find almost any fragrant flower attractive and many of these plants result in fabulous tasting honey.
4. If you have unwanted bees leaving in a structure or tree, please do not kill them. Contact a bee removal and relocation service and have them relocate the bees to a more suitable location.
Helping Garden and Landscape Soils with Climate Change
No one doubts that our climate is changing. Extensive research and modeling of climate patterns has done by many organizations around the world and they have been compiling predictions for what our climate will look like in the coming decades.
What is Resilient Soil?
Healthy soil is a living substance teaming with a wide diversity of life, from arthropods to fungi to protozoa to small mammals. Soil is the living interface between the geology and the biology of the earth. It serves as a transformative layer converting stone into the biodiversity that the earth sustains.
Some basic characteristics of healthy soil are:
Building Healthy, Resilient Soil
There are many ways to nurture health and resiliency in our soils. One of the best models is to manage our soils in the same way that nature manages soils. Undisturbed soils tend to be more resilient to changes in climate than soils that have been cultivated or managed in yards and recreational areas.
In observing the environment, you may notice nature manages soils in the following ways:
The following are ways we can manage our soils for increased soil tilth and productivity:
How to Improve Farms, Pastures, and Lawns
Soil health techniques can be practiced at any scale. Whether you are a large-scale crop producer or you're trying to maintain a healthy lawn, you can incorporate all of the above techniques into your land-use activities.
Lawns can be diversified with many different grass species as well as legumes and forbs. Cropping systems can be diversified through crop rotations, companion plantings and cover cropping.
Focusing on health and resilience of our soils will not only create a healthier system overall, but will prepare all our landscapes for changing weather patterns in the future.
Tips to Prevent Weeds in Fields and Gardens
The additional moisture and more moderate temperatures offered by spring and fall make them the optimal seasons for seeding your pastures. In addition, be conscientious about weed management to maximize your fields' productivity.
Easy and Effective Organic Gardening Solutions
The first step in gardening is to ensure you have healthy soil. This involves feeding the soil and then allowing the soil to feed the plants. Soil health is paramount. If your soil is alive with earthworms and microbes, everything else will fall into place. Plants will be healthy and resist diseases and pest attacks.
Any use of chemical, synthetic fertilizers, disease and pest solutions will harm naturally occurring microbes and insects. Therefore anything you add or use in your garden must be organic. Clickhere to learn more about building soil.
Healthy soil is full of life. It has humus, earthworms, beneficial bacteria and beneficial fungus in the soil that helps plant roots uptake necessary nutrients. Many garden soils will need help to reach this optimal state. Modern organic amendments and fertilizers contain the necessary ingredients to help develop this environment.
Soil amendments are not fertilizers. Amendments are designed to improve the soil texture. This will help your soil retain moisture and nutrients, increasing their availability to your plants. Composted amendments are important additions to both sandy and clay soils. Lean how to compost here.
Give the Garden Time to Adjust
It will take a while for things to adjust, so be patient. There will likely be some bugs and fungicides that appear, especially early in the growing season when the ground is still moist. However, try not to become inpatient and intervene with conventional, non-organic solutions. At the same time these bad things are happening, good insects and beneficial fungi will be setting up home. Give them time to get situation and do their job.
Occasionally you may need to help out your garden's environment. That may mean adding more good insects like ladybugs, nenmtodes, green lacewings or praying mantises. In some instances it may also include spraying with a natural pesticide. Don't think that natural pesticides are harmless to everything but what you are trying to eliminate. Follow the directions so you don't harm your good bugs or your plants. To learn more about natural pesticides, click here.
Pairing Plants to Control the Insect Balance in Your Garden
Companion planting is an age old gardening technique of pairing two or more plants to gain some type of benefit: vigorous growth, higher yield, repelling pests or attracting predators of common pests. Some companion plantings work, others disappoint. But the idea of strength in diversity is never truer than in the garden and that’s what companion planting provides. Learn more about companion planting here.
Day to Day
Successful organic gardening is best enabled by observation - and it's also enjoyable. Watch carefully to what is happening and resist the urge to step in too quickly in an attempt to help. Continue to add organic soil amendments and starter fertilizer whenever you plant. Remember, it's impossible to have too much humus in your soil. Vegetable gardens especially take a lot of nutrients out of the soil, so you must replenish it.
Composting is often part of organic gardening, but it is not a requirement. You can have a fully organic garden without composting, but it is very helpful (and healthful) and satisfying to do so. If you have room for a compost pile or bin, consider composting as both a way to benefit your garden and the environment by making productive use of many waste products.
How to Grow Lavender
Lavender (Lavandula) is such a romantic flower that every gardener sooner or later succumbs to the urge to grow it. It makes an excellent companion plant for almost anything from roses to cabbage. It is one of those aromatic, gray herbs that deer avoid making it a great choice as a decoy in your Hosta or daylily beds. Lavender also attracts pollinators and other insects that are beneficial for your garden.
Lavender is a wonderful, fragrant flowers that keep their fragrance when dried and offer with many uses. Besides being beautiful and aromatic, lavender flowers are also edible. They can be used raw in salads, added to soups and stews, used as a seasoning, baked into cookies, made into oil and brewed into tea. You can use lavender to make potpourri, sachets and much more.
Undeterred by the fact that it is a native of the Mediterranean and a lover of dry, sunny, rocky habitats, we give it a try anyway, hoping it will adapt. After all, England can hardly be considered dry or particularly sunny, yet English gardeners are renowned for growing lavender plants. Think of ‘Hidcote’ and ‘Munstead’, two of the hardiest and best loved lavender varieties.
There are many varieties of lavender; so look for the variety best suited to your area:
As with most plants, your success in growing this coveted plant will depend both on what kind of growing conditions you can provide and which varieties you select to grow. Lavender plants will tolerate many growing conditions, but they thrive in warm, well-drained soil and full sun. Add organic matter to improve heavy soils.
Do not be fooled, even though lavender is a Mediterranean plant, without the right species, it will die in places like Texas which experience extended high heat and humidity without the cool nights many varieties of lavender require. It is dampness, more than cold, that is responsible for killing lavender plants. Dampness can come in the form of wet roots during the winter months or high humidity in the summer. If humidity is a problem, make sure you have plenty of space between your plants for air flow and always plant in a sunny location.
Like many plants grown for their essential oils, a lean soil will encourage a higher concentration of oils. An alkaline, or especially chalky soil, whill enhance lavenders’ fragrance. Soil should be sandy, loamy, or gravelly. If you live in an area with pour drainage, planting in a raised container with good drainage is a must.
Soil should have low fertility. Lavender prefers alkaline soil with a pH of 6.5 or higher. This can be easily measured with a soil test. Add lime to your soil to boost and retain and increase pH level.
Areas where the ground routinely freezes and thaws throughout the winter will benefit from a layer of mulch applied after the ground initially freezes. Also protect your lavender plants from harsh winter winds. Planting next to a stone or brick wall will provide additional heat and protection.
Create an12-18 inch mound with well cultivates soil and two heaving shovelfuls of 1 inch stone worked into the mound. Using a trowel, dig a hole that is deep enough for the plant. Blend together a mix or organic matter that will add nutrients to your soil. You can blend together equal parts of bone meal, lime, and well composted manure. Add 1/2 cup in the bottom of the hole and mix together well. The stone will allow the soil to drain, the lime will improve the pH, and the bone meal and compost will make for a healthy start. Lavender prefers arid conditions both beneath and above the soil. If you live in a humid climate, your plant will benefit from light colored, reflective mulch, or very small bits of pebbles and/or gravel.
Water lavender deeply but infrequently, waiting until the soil is almost dry. Be on the lookout for wet soil. If you have a mild, but wet winter, check your lavender plants to make sure the tops are not holding excess water, which can cause the crowns to rot. You never want your lavender to be sitting in wet soil, which will rot the roots. Make sure it is growing in a well-draining site to begin with.
Growing Lavender in Containers
You can always grow your lavender in portable containers or pots and move it to follow the sun or even bring it indoors for the winter. Although lavender has a large, spreading root system, it prefers growing in a tight space. In addition, lavender is shallow rooted, meaning the pot does not need to be very large. Be sure to know the mature diameter of the lavender you are planting so that you can choose an appropriate container. The average depth and spread of the root system is 8-10 inches. A pot that can accommodate the root ball with a couple of inches to spare would be a good choice. Too large a pot will only encourage excessive dampness. Be sure that there is enough drainage for your potted lavender. Root rot is one of the few problems experienced by lavender plants.
Lavender plants need 3 years to hit maturity. They will grow healthier, bloom more profusely and live longer if you do a little annual pruning. Don’t be afraid of this tough love. Lavender plants left to their own devices will become woody and flowering will diminish. Start your plants off right.
Although lavender plants get regularly pruned simply by harvesting the flowers, to keep them well shaped and to encourage new growth, a bit of spring pruning is in order. The taller varieties can be cut back by approximately one-third their height. If you have low-growing varieties, trim back foliage 1 to 2 inches. Once your plant is in its second year and if it is 3 to 4 feet tall, you should trim it back to about a third of its height to keep the plant from getting overly woody. If you plant has become woody, remove a few of its older branches and trim back more as new growth begins.
When to Prune:
In frost free areas, your lavender plants may remain evergreen. You can prune at harvesting time and prune to shape in early spring. If you live in an area where lavender suffers some winter die-back, don't even think about pruning your plants until you see some new green growth at the base of the plant. The top growth will serve as insulation, keeping the crown, and roots of the plant protected from repeated freezing and thawing. However, don’t wait too long either. You should see the new growth by mid-spring. If you wait longer, you risk cutting of the flower buds that are forming. If you disturb the plants too soon in the season, they give up trying.
There will probably be some winter die back, but if you wait until the new growth starts, you will be able to see which stems are dead and can be pruned out. If you get a second flush of blooms in the fall, you can cut them back. This will remove some of the top growth, but you don’t all these flower stalks weighing the plants down.
First Year Pruning
The important thing to remember about first year plants is not to prune down into the woody part of the stems. If you prune too drastically, they might not regrow. Look for where the woody section turns to soft green growth and then prune about 2 - 3 inches above that. It can seem severe, but pruning off all that top growth strengthens the roots and gives you a bushier, more compact plant.
Second Year Pruning
Your plant should be quite a bit larger this year, with more blooms. While the plant is in bloom, usually in mid-summer, gather up the flower stalks and once again prune the plant back to 2 - 3 inches above where the soft, green growth begins on the lower part of the plant. Don’t shear straight across. Follow the contours of the plant. You should wind up with a rounded mound. Don’t forget to clean up the sides, too.
Third Year Pruning
By year 3, your plant should be quite large and blooming with abandon. The best time to prune is just as the flowers are starting to open. The flowers will continue to open after you harvest them and you will be able to enjoy both their beauty and their fragrance in bouquets or however you plant to make use of them.
By creating a mounded shape in years 1 and 2, the plant is so full by year 3 that using your pruners is not the most efficient way to prune any longer. A small scythe or curved harvesting knife is a much better tool for this. Grab the flower stalks by the handful and slice them off at the base. Don’t try to do the whole plant at once, just grab what you can hold.
Gather a long-stemmed variety of lavender if you can, or otherwise remove the excess leaves from each stem.
It is best to pick your lavender before it is in full bloom, i.e. before the little florets are completely open and the blooms are showing color. For sachets and potpourri by cutting flower spikes or stripping flowers from stems just as the blossoms begin to show color. This ensures that the dried buds will retain their fragrance for longer, and it also means that they won’t fall apart as they dry.
As with most herbs, the best time to pick is in the mid-morning after the dew has evaporated.
Buds and Petals: If you want only dry lavender buds or petals and have limited hanging space, remove the lavender stalks from the fresh lavender, keeping the lavender heads. Place your lavender heads in a layer at the bottom of a box lined with newspaper. Store this box in a warm, dry place, and gently shake each day to aerate. Once dried, rub the lavender heads to separate off the individual buds.
Bunches: If you would like to dry lavender bunches, make sure you cut nice long stems of lavender. You can hang each stem individually to dry (time-consuming!), or gather together small bunches (so that your hand can wrap around the base of the bunch). Secure the stems of lavender together with a rubber band, because the lavender will shrink as it dries. Once dried, you can replace the rubber band with a decorative ribbon or piece of raffia. Hang your bunch of lavender upside-down to dry in a well ventilated area of your house (in your garage, from a curtain rail, etc). You can also place a blanket, sheet, tray or paper under the lavender to catch any of the petals that might fall off during the drying process (these are good to use for making lavender sachets!). Remember, humidity is your enemy.
The lavender drying time will depend upon the level of humidity and temperature, so check on your bundles periodically to assess their dryness. It can be anywhere from 1 week upwards (usually taking between 2-4 weeks).
Check that the buds and stalks are completely dry (they should feel dry and a bit brittle or crunchy to touch) before you use them, otherwise they might grow mold, fungus, or rot.Once dried, remove the rubber band from around the stems, and use the dried lavender to make fragrant flower arrangements.
Put your bunch of dried lavender in a vase, or lay on a shelf or table. These bunches will add a beautiful fragrance and look to any room. Alternatively, collect the lavender buds and use them in potpourri and lavender sachets. The remaining lavender stalks can be used as fragrant fire-starters during winter.
Unfortunately even if you do everything right and your lavender plants appear happy, the genus is generally not long lived and most lavender plants begin to decline after about 10 years. Therefore, plan to refresh your lavenders with new plants on a fairly regular basis.
Additionally, there are many other beautiful and beneficial herbs in additional to lavender which can yield great enjoyment
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1. Grow what your family loves
It's important to consider what will grow well in your area, but don't grow a particular produce just because everyone else is, especially if they aren't one of your favorites. Remember that with a successful garden, you'll be reaping an abundant harvest that can be consumed both fresh and preserved for later. Make a list of what your family truly loves to eat and plan your kitchen garden accordingly.
2. Grow for flavor
Grow Crops with long (or repeat) harvest
Certain crops are one-hit wonders, like cabbage or corn, while others keep giving. Tomatoes, beans, peas, okra and peppers will bear for weeks. Carrots, turnips and beets can be harvested over a long time as they mature. Remove the larger ones to allow the smaller ones to mature.
4. Grow vertically
Many vegetables can be grown on tripods or trellises saving a lot of space. In addition, using cages for plants like tomatoes not only helps conserve space, but ensures a better crop through reduce breakage and potentially fruit rotting when touching the ground. Cucumbers, peas and winter squash can be grown on trellises. Pole beans can be more productive than bush beans in the same amount of space and we've even used beans as a summer privacy screen. This also works well with berries such as raspberries.
6. Grow espaliers
Espaileriing means training fruit trees on a flat plane, usually against a wall or fence, but they can be free standing as well. This saves a lot of garden space.In addition, by growing the tree flat against a wall or fence, can create a favorable microclimate in which the wall radiated heat and provided shelter. Growers typically keep trees dwarfed for ease of management.
This doesn't affect fruit production as training fruit tree branches to grow horizontally increases fruit production. The technique was developed in the 16th century, out of the practical need for growing fruit in such marginal climates as northern France and southern England. It was discovered that if the branches were bent horizontally, they could direct energy away from vigorous vertical growth and into producing spurs (those lateral branches that eventually flower and produce fruit). Learn more about fruit production here.
7. Use succession planting
Some crops like leaf lettuces will grow quickly and be harvested. Replace them with new plants if the season will still support, or move to the next season's crops, depending upon the weather.
8. Mix edibles with ornamentals
We have been experimenting for a number of years with different ways of preparing the earth for our crops. Historically, tillage was performed to prepare a seedbed and control weeds. In conventional tillage, the earth is turned to a depth of 8 to 12 inches with a plow and then disked twice. No-till farming, on the other hand, is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. The first three steps in conventional cultivation are eliminated and the crop residue is left undisturbed after harvest and the next round of seeds are pushed through it, followed by placing the seeds and closing the trenches or holes. Since 1989, it has become the dominant form of soil management on conventional operations, covering more than 65 percent of cropland. However, no-till planters and herbicides are available to commercially accomplish these tasks and the results have been mixed. In addition, there are large amounts of herbicides that are applied in conjunction with "conventional" no-till. With commitment and experience, no-till can work, but our focus was how to minimize tilling while also minimizing - or altogether eliminating herbicides and pesticides.
Pros and Cons of Each Approach
First, let's revisit why it is desirable to move the soil at all. Conventional wisdom was soil is tilled is to loosen it so oxygen and water can reach the area where roots will grow. However, many passes over a field with equipment and even heavy animals such as oxen or horses, much less heavy equipment, further compacts the layer of soil just beneath that of which was tilled. Additionally, the broken-up soil is very prone to being compacted by rainfall. its ability to create a more natural soil that retains nutrients and water, prevents soil erosion, and compacts less.
Plowing, it is claimed, incorporates fertilizers and crop residues into the soil, making nutrients readily available to the roots of the plants. Turning organic matter under also has the benefit of preventing planters from becoming fouled with surface trash. In no-till farming, crop residues are left on the surface, where the nutrients that result from their decay can leach into the soil. This leaching process is far more thorough than you might imagine. Fertilizers—including anhydrous ammonia, phosphorus, and potassium—are at least as effective on the no-till fields where they've been dispersed as on the plowed plots. These ingredients can be placed directly into the planting trench, where they're most needed, during seeding. As for the potential problem of the planter fouling with residues, it is recommended to cut a slot through surface trash.
Though the soil does stay cooler until a little later in the spring because of the insulating layer of residue, the day/night soil temperature fluctuations are smaller. A no-till field rapidly makes up its deficit in growth rate as the weather turns warm. And if the summer should be really hot and dry, no-till yields will nearly always exceed those of plowed ground. Since soil moisture levels can be more than 10% higher in late July in an unplowed piece of ground, it's not surprising that plants are happier in a field covered with mulch.
One of the significant downsides of plowing is it tills the entire area, where doing so by hand will only create the trench needed for seeding. Both plowing and tilling can be done in a way to help minimize the amount or water runoff, but a big benefit is that no-till soils stay more moist than those in tilled fields. The surface residues trap water and protect the earth below from the evaporative effect of the wind. In areas, where adequate spring moisture depends largely on spring rains and/or snowmelt, the vegetative cover helps keep the snow from blowing away and water runoff. (For more on permaculture practice click here). The advantages don't end there, though. If you grimaced when you read "anhydrous ammonia", consider this: One of the main problems with conventional agriculture's heavy use of nitrogen fertilizers is the leaching of these compounds into surface water during runoff. By retaining rainfall, the untilled field also better holds the chemicals that have been applied to it, thereby decreasing their pollution potential.
Our Findings in the Backyard Garden
When the climate is drier, we strongly prefer a minimal till approach as described on the Building Soil page. This might involve taking a spade and lifting up the soil where the plant will go and perhaps 12 inches of space on all sides. Then as the plant grows, we will hand pick the weeds that grow up around it. This is very desirable and doable during periods of low rain fall because a minimal amount of soil is turned over to release carbon and dust in the to atmosphere, the bacteria and beneficial creatures in the slow are minimally disturbed and the weeds - with some regular diligence, and especially when a drip irrigation system are used - are easily kept under control.
However, we've also found that in optimally rainy conditions, no till seemed like a futile attempt to do the right thing for the environment. Weeds quickly out-paced our ability to pull and pests arrived in droves, often taking advantage of the long stems and leaves of the weeds around the crops to hide themselves and gain advantageous access. Our attempt at minimal tillage in a year like this left us breathless, exhausted and with a minimal yield of crops. One of our take-aways was we needed to over-turn more of the soil around the plants and we needed to weed more often. Unfortunately, tiime is not in endless supply, so here are some other things we learned:
Happy Valentine's Day from our family to yours and peace to everyone!
Our farm family contains a menagerie of animals, but nothing helps make it possible more so than our dogs. For our farm, we currently use two Livestock Guardian Dogs, also known as LGDs, and a herding dog.
When we first started our farm, we battled little critters eatting our garden produce and rodents trying to get access to our feed. These were nuisances, but managable to some extent with more fencing, netting and other passive preventative measures. However, as our litte flocks and herds began to grow as a result of our successful breeding programs, another problem introduced itself, larger and more persistent predators that were creating losses that more significantly impacted our financial bottom line.
First Came the Guineafowl
Some of our largest losses came from predatory birds, with hawks and owls presenting the largest problems, but the occasional eagle would also make an appearance looking for an easy meal. Our free ranging chickens took the first few hits, so we introduced guineafowl to help keep a watch on the skies. The guineas are excellent watchdogs, but they had one problem - the hawks would learn to attack them from in the trees and shadows where the birds didn't see them in time. The first couple of times, my position was, "This is nature and everything needs to eat." However, it soon became apparent that the predatory birds didn't always kill because they needed a meal, but often seemed to be killing for fun or sport. Unfortunately it became somwhat common at times to see the predatory birds attack, snapping off the heads of guineas and then leaving the remainder of the body behind. In addition, it all happens so fast, that even if you are in the field with the birds, there is little you can do.
Return the Birds to the Coops and Reinforced Fencing
Our short term remedy for this was to keep all the birds inside their coops for a couple of weeks to train the predatory birds that the easy meal plan had been terminated, but this made our birds extremely unhappy, so we needed another solution. In addition, it was also nearing the time for our goat does to begin kidding and a newborn baby goat can easily be carried away by a large predatory bird. In addition, coyotes, feral hogs, skunks, foxes and other hungry, larger non-flying predators were also looking to feed themselves and their families. We employed goat panels with two more sets of wire fences with electric wire at the top surronding the kid pens, but if you've ever seen coyotes climb fences, you know this is far from a fool proof solution.
Electric tensil wire does work well with predators in the cat family as they are more sensitive to the shock and will respect it. Sitting up all night watching for predatories is not really a viable option for most people and using poisons should be avoided at all costs - not only is it a risk to animals you do want, it's a horrible death and can also negatively impact other wildlife. So, what to do? This is when we decided to give LGDs a try.
However, I always prefer to rescue dogs if at all possible, so our first find was an Anatolian Shepard/Pyrenees cross. When we first got her, she was covered in fleas, flea bites and mange. She was courageous, but almost too aggressive for my comfort level, so we began to socialize her. The "experts" will often say with a LGD that you want to work in the field, leave them in the field at all times with the once a year exception of going to the vet. This is so the dogs will bond solely with the flock instead of attacking the livestock. For LGDs that you want to keep as pets, take them with you everywhere and socialize them intensely. After working with the first LGD, I'm a little confused on this point. Perhaps our dogs are unique, but they are superb as pets and with protecting the livestock - typically barking and chasing the predator is enough to prevent any problems, but they will attack if required. I believe that this is likey because centuries of breeding for that purpose are going to instill behaviors that run very deep.
One note though is that with working LGDs, it is best to have at least two, if not more. There are many instances where a single LGD has been killed and eatten by a mountain lion and an aggresive pack of coyotes intent on getting to their target can be quite a bit to handle for a single dog. Therefore we started seeking a second rescue. It took a little while to find a fit, but eventually I received an email notifiying me of a rescue needing a home that sounded like it would be a good match for our family.
One day when selling some of our kids, a lady came to our house and enthusiastically exclaimed, "Oh my goodness, you have a Maremma! Where in the world did you get her?" We had no clue what she was talking about, so we asked a few questions and did some research on the internet and then verified that we did indeed have a Maremma Sheepdog, a breed hailing from central Italy and used for centuries to guard sheep from wolves. She's an incredibly wonderful dog and we feel very lucky that she found her way to us. She's superb with livestock job, loyal and benevolent. She watches over all the animals including the smaller herding dogs as well as cattle and horses. She's fine with heat, snow, wind and rain. Whatever the world hands to her, she's fine with the situation and just grateful to have a home - which she never leaves unless you've asked her to go with you. We couldn't have asked for a better fit.
The benefits offered by the LGDs were amazing. No more birds or larger livestock were lost again to predators. Even poisonous snakes were addressed, but somehow the benign ones are left alone - I have no clue how they understand the difference. They aren't herders and they aren't extremely active dogs. Mostly they nap or doze, but having an amazing hearing capability that allows them to hear things that other dogs never seem to notice. With the predatory birds, they also watch the skies as well as the ground and are amazing at making sure the birds move on the next easier target.
I have some great photos somewhere of the dogs work with the livestock. Once I find them, I'll post a follow-up.
Onions are one of the simplest of all crops to grow and offer amazingly diverse options. You can select from heirloom organic onions, harvest wild onions, or even grow onions from the leftover bottoms that you would normally discard as compost or trash. Onions can be grown from transplants, sets or seeds. Onions grown from seeds are a little tricker, so if you can start with onion bulbs or left over "used" onions, that's likely your best bet.
The size of the onion bulb is dependent upon the number and size of the green leaves or tops at the time of bulb maturity. For each leaf there will be a ring of onion; the larger the leaf, the larger the ring will be. The onion will first form a top and then, depending on the onion variety and length of daylight, start to form the bulb. Onions are characterized by day length; "long-day" onion varieties will quit forming tops and begin to form bulbs when the day length reaches 14 to 16 hours while "short-day" onions will start making bulbs much earlier in the year when there are only 10 to 12 hours of daylight. A general rule of thumb is that "long-day" onions do better in northern states (north of 36th parallel) while "short-day" onions do better in states south of that line.
Growing from "left-overs"
If you want to be sustainable, trim off the bottom (flatter side) of the onion leaving approximately 1.5 to 2 inches of onion attached to the roots. Allow them to dry in a cool, well-ventilated space for a few hours to a couple of days. What you are looking for is an onion that is dry to the touch and slightly shriveled. If the onion becomes moist, it will rot. Make an indention in your garden soil, place the bowl of the root into the indention and cover with 1-2 inches of soil. Keep the onions evenly moist, but not wet, so they do not rot. Onions needs enough water to grow, but too much is another problem. Be sure to reduce watering prior to your desired harvest date so the onions are harvested in dry soil and therefore do not contain any excess moisture. If you live in an area with a rainy fall season, you'll want to be sure to get your onions out of the ground before the fall rains start.
How to Plant
Fertilization of onion plants is vital to success. Traditional planting advice says onion growth and yield can be greatly enhanced by banding phosphorus 2-3 inches below the seed at planting time. This phosphorus acts as a starter solution which invigorates the growth of young seedlings (see Preparing the Soil below). Once established, onion plants should receive additional amounts of fertilizer (21-0-0 - Ammonium sulfate or Ammonium nitrate) as a side-dress application every month (see Fertilization and Growing Tips).
However, I opt to avoid conventional fertizilers. Instead I clean out my chicken coop a couple of times a year and mix in "the yield" well with my compost pile (you can learn more about composting on our composting page). After the compost is well-cured, I apply it to my garden a couple of months before I intend to plant. I will go out and very gently fold in the compost into the soil between the time of application and planting to ensure the compost is well-integrated with the soil
If planted thickly, plants can be pulled and utilized as green onions or scallions for salads or fresh eating in 8-10 weeks. However, most gardeners want to grow an onion bulb as large as possible. To do this, the onion plants must be thinned until they are at least 2-3 inches apart to insure adequate bulb expansion. The removed plants can be used for scallions or for transplanting into another area of the garden so that these too will have adequate space in which to enlarge into large bulbs.
Gardeners who tend to procrastinate should be warned that planting when there is the onset of impending frost and/or freezing temperatures could mean failure. Failure in onion production comes in two forms: complete annihilation of the young seedlings during a cold winter; or an abundance of spring onion flowers which decrease bulb size, weight and storage ability. Onion plants which are small and rapidly growing when the cold temperatures of winter arrive will probably not survive. Yet, if you plant earlier and the stem of onion plants are larger than a pencil when exposed to cold temperatures, the onion will initiate and produce a flower during the following spring. This flowering is termed bolting. Bolting requires low temperatures. Most rapid bolting is caused by temperatures of 40-45 degrees F or below.
Fall seeded crops are susceptible to bolting the following spring if warm fall temperatures, allowing excessive growth, are followed by low winter temperatures and slowed growth. Many gardeners believe that early removal of the onion flower stalk will cause onion bulb enlargement but this has not proven to be the case. Flowering causes a decrease in bulb size as well as a central flower stalk which enhances decay during storage. This is exactly what will happen to those who are planting onion transplants or sets in October or November with the hope of large onions next spring. The onion bulbs which produce a flower stalk may be large but they will be light-weight (one-half the weight of a comparable size, non-flowered onion bulb) and prone to decay.
Care Of Transplant Instructions
If you order live plants, they should be planted as soon as possible. Should conditions exist that make you unable to plant these plants right away, remove the onion plants from the box and spread them out in a cool, dry area. The roots and tops may begin to dry out but do not be alarmed, the onion is a member of the lily family and as such will live for approximately three weeks off the bulb. The first thing that the onion will do after planting will be to shoot new roots.
Preparing the Soil
Onions are best grown on raised beds at least four inches high and 20 inches wide. Banding a fertilizer rich in phosphorous (10-20-10) or a super phosphate (0-20-0) 2 to 3 inches below transplants or seeds at planting time. Banding phosphorus involves making a trench 3 inches deep, distributing one-half cup of super phosphate per 10 row feet and covering the phosphate with soil. If sowing seeds, cover lightly with one-half inch or less of soil. If using transplants, cover the fertilizer with two inches of soil and plant the transplants.
Set plants out approximately one inch deep with a four inch spacing. On the raised bed, set two rows on each bed, four inches in from the side of the row. Should you want to harvest some of the onions during the growing season as green onions, you may plant the plants as close as two inches apart. Pull every other one, prior to them beginning to bulb, leaving some for larger onions. Transplants should be set out 4 to 6 weeks prior to the date of the last average spring freeze.
Fertilization and Growing Tips
Onions require a high source of nitrogen. For organic gardeners a rich compost high in nitrogen should be incorporated into the soil. If you grow onion plants with a low nitrogen supply, the harvest date will be postponed The onions will be smaller, but they will not be as prone to sprouting.
Unfortunately, there is not any product available to assist in weed control so the only method will be cultivation. While cultivating be careful not to damage the onion bulb. As the onion begins to bulb the soil around the bulb should be loose so the onion is free to expand. Do not move dirt on top of the onion since this will prevent the onion from forming its natural bulb. Start early with cultivation practices.
Once the neck starts feeling soft do not apply any more fertilizer. This should occur approximately 4 weeks prior to harvest. Always water immediately after feeding and maintain moisture during the growing season. The closer to harvest the more water the onion will require. Weed control requires dilgence - handpulling is prefered.
Disease and Insect Control
The two major diseases that will affect onions are blight and purple blotch. Should the leaves turn pale-green, then yellow, blight has probably affected the plant. Purple blotch causes purple lesions on the leaves. Heavy dew and foggy weather favor their rapid spread, and when prolonged rainy spells occur in warm weather, these diseases can be very destructive. The best cure is prevention: use only well-drained soil, run the rows in the same direction as prevailing wind and avoid windbreaks or other protection. Should conditions persist, a spray with a multipurpose fungicide such as daconil can be applied on a 7 to 10 day schedule.
The insect that causes the most damage is the onion thrip. They feed by rasping the surface of the leaves and sucking the juices. They are light-brown in color and are approximately 1mm long. Insecticidal soap or biological insecticide may be used. Do not apply any insecticide within seven days of harvest and always follow label instructions.
Flowering -- Abnormal For Onions; Normal For Garlic
Flowering of onions can be caused by several things but usually the most prevalent is temperature fluctuation. An onion is classed as a biennial which means it normally takes 2 years to go from seed to seed. Temperature is the controlling or triggering factor in this process. If an onion plant is exposed to alternating cold and warm temperatures resulting in the onion plant going dormant, resuming growth, going dormant and then resuming growth again, the onion bulbs prematurely flower or bolt. The onion is deceived into believing it has completed two growth cycles or years of growth in its biennial life cycle so it finalizes the cycle by blooming. Flowering can be controlled by planting the right variety at the right time.
Bulb formation in garlic occurs in response to the lengthening days of spring, and bulbing and maturity are considerably hastened if temperatures are high. In addition to these requirements, the dormant cloves (divisions of the large bulb) or young growing plants must be exposed to cold temperatures between 32 and 50 degrees F. for one or two months in order to initiate bulbing. Plants that are never exposed to temperatures below 65 degrees F. may fail to form bulbs. With fall plantings, the cold treatment is accomplished quite naturally throughout the winter, but a spring planting spells disaster in many zones.
What To Do About Flowering?
Once the onion plant has bolted, or sent up a flower stalk, there is nothing you can do. The onion bulbs will be edible but smaller. Use these onions as soon as possible because the green flower stalk which emerges through the center of the bulb will make storage almost impossible. Seedstalk formation (bolting) of garlic is not induced by exposure to fluctuating temperatures, as is the case with onions, which means that a wide range of fall planting dates is permissible for this crop. Seedstalk formation is also not damaging to garlic since the cloves are arranged around the seedstalk and will be removed from the dried seedstalk. Conversely, the edible onion bulb is penetrated by the seedstalk which is hard when the bulb is harvested, but prematurely decays causing loss of the entire bulb in storage. When the tops become yellowish and partly dry, garlic is ready for harvest.
Harvesting and Storage
Onions are fully mature when their tops have fallen over. Onions that are carefully stored will stay fresher and avoid sprouting.
It is critical to cure (or dry) onions before storing them. This is a critical step to make sure your onions don't contain excess moisture. They are properly cured when the necks are tight and the outer scales are dried when they rustle. If not properly cured, the onions are likely to decay in the form of gray mold (neck rot) which occurs at the top of the bulb.
After pulling from the ground allow the onion to dry, clip the roots and cut the tops back to one inch. The key to preserving onions and to prevent bruising is to keep them cool, dry and separated. After the onions are cured, the ideal storage condition is 33 degrees F, at 65-70% relative humdity. When temperatures and humdity levels get too high, the onions are more inclined to sprout. The humdity factor is what I've historically found to be one of the trickier parts of onion storage.
When I was researching onion storage, I came across the following: "If you have the space, onions may be preserved In a refrigerator for as long as one year. Wrap the onions separately in foil." Well, I don't have that much space in a refrigerator and then doesn't seem like a very environmentally friendly way of storing them - using energy and aluminium foil.
To me, if you are growing onions, the more practical way of storing onions is in a mesh bag, nylon stocking (can't make it too heavy) or even a well ventilated burlap sack will often work. If you want to try a stocking, place an onion in the bag and tie a knot or put a plastic tie between the onions and continue until the stocking is full. Loop the stocking over a rafter or nail in a cool dry building and when an onion is desired, simply clip off the bottom onion with a pair of scissors or remove the plastic tie.
Another suggestion is to spread the onions out on a screen which will allow adequate ventilation, but remember to keep them from touching each other. As a general rule, the sweeter the onion, the higher the water content, and therefore the less shelf life. When I was a kid, the older folks just used to store them well spaced apart in their root cellars - or simply under the raised floors of houses and most of the onions seemed to store pretty well.
One other thing to keep in mind is a pungent onion will store longer so eat the sweet varieties first and save the more pungent onions for storage.
Ideally everyone wants to reduce the amount of chemicals ingested through our daily diet, but there are so many factors to consider:
So, what is the best course of action for a consumer?
If possible, grow your own fruits and vegetables. Fruits are sometimes a bit more complicated because they may require more space - trees or larger plots of land for melons to crawl across or up. Also, fruits can be very thirsty. Unless you have no concerns of water usage, it may be preferably for you to purchase organic products in the store. However, if you would like to try growing your own orchard or melon patch, it's very gratifying.
Vegetables and herbs are often easier. Crops such as beans, smaller hot peppers like jalapeno and serrano, tomatillos and okra are typically low water consumers and can tolerate hotter temperatures. Cucumbers need a lot of water and cooler temperatures. Plan your diet around your climate as well as what you like to eat. Although there are seeds and plants available that are resistant to disease, they often don't taste very good. Your best bet is to go with heirloom varietals that will grow well in your. The seeds may cost a little more, but you can collect and save the seeds from your mature crops and then plant them again the following season. Step and repeat and you will save a lot of money in the long run on seeds. Proper soil preparation and organically feeding the plans will save you a lot in effort, time and additional money that you would otherwise spend on pesticides and herbicides. A healthy plant is much more capable of fending for itself than a weak one.
In our household, tomatoes and tomatillos are frequently in recipes used and tomatoes are generally one of the higher ranked produce when it comes to residual pesticides, so we always prefer to grow our own. Tomatoes provide a great base for a salad caprese, stuffed tomatoes, pizza sauce or sauces for pastas among a myriad of other dishes.
If you are fortunate enough to be able to grow tomatoes in abundance, can them. Not only will you have tomatoes for a future time, but you can save money by having to buy fresh or canned tomatoes at the store, skip the potential BPA exposure from canned products and help preserve the environment by purchasing fewer pre-packaged products. There is an abundance of sites that offer instructions on canning tomatoes, so you can either start with this this link or search on your own till you find one that strikes your fancy.
With the onset of June many areas begin to experience the stress of summer heat. The heat stresses gardens and animals, so a few preparations now will save panicking later in the summer.
1. Ensure animals have an abundant and consistent supply of water.
Allowing your animals to go for even short periods of time without access to water not only causes them to stress as a least worst case scenario, it will impact egg production, milk productions and growth rates.
Automatic waterers/drinkers are a huge help, but be sure to check them frequently. Small ones, such as those used for poultry, can be easily bumped and accidentally turned off. In addition, malfunctions do occur. Be sure to dump out and clean the drinking fountains frequently, as the heat of summer promotes algae growth as well as minimize mosquito larvae. A scrub brush kept at various water stations will help ease the task. Check pipes, hoses, connections and floats to ensure proper operation.
Larger waterers such as those for goats should be dumped and scrubbed frequently. Toilet bowl brushes work great for this.
The use of barley straw in burlap bags works well to control algae. Commercially known as Stock Tank Secret, they are safe for livestock and fish and you can either make your own or they can be purchased at local feed stores for about $5. It lasts about 2 months. If you start with a dirty trough, it looks worse before it starts to clear, but eventually the algae is gone. One bag can process up to a 200 gal trough. However, other problems such as mosquito larva and tadpoles will still need to be addressed, so it's almost impossible to eliminate changing the water altogether.
2. Electrolytes and minerals are always important, but even more so during hotter months.
As the temperatures rise, so does an animal's susceptibility to heat exhaustion. Livestock that is trembling, breathing rapidly and shallowly and has a rising body temperature, it is likely the victim of heat exhaustion. Provide plenty of clean, cool, clear water; shade, minerals and electrolytes.
3. Chickens are particularly susceptible to heat stress.
Make sure in addition to water, birds have plenty of covered areas out of the soon with good air ventilation. Birds standing with their wings raised and panting are trying to dissipate heat. This is the first sign of heat stress. Humidity is also a large contributing factor to heat stress. Mounting fans outside the cage and using water misters will help to keep birds cool.
4. Use shade cloths to shield the garden during peak summer months.
If your garden is in a sunny area with no shade during multiple hours of the day with direct sun, a UV filter shade cloth hung over the garden will help alleviate plants' heat stress as well as prevent soil moisture from evaporating as rapidly. Be sure to check irrigation systems frequently along the lines and at drip and sprinkler locations. One fault in the line can result in multiple plants being damaged.
A veterinarian recently distributed a reminder that now that spring has arrived, parasite season is also upon us. Included in the reminder was a reference to a 2006 study noting that 15% of all commercial potting soils contain roundworm eggs; therefore, even pets that are kept 100% indoors are not immune to contracting worms. Roundworm eggs can live for years in the soil and because gardening gloves aren't always worn religiously by all gardeners, there is the possibility of contamination. Roundworms are transmittable to humans and in severe cases can cause blindness.
Gardeners will either buy gardening soils as needed and/or make their own soil via composting. Other than using the precautionary measure of wearing gloves and washing all plants thoroughly before consuming them, it likely doesn't make economical sense for gardeners to allow their purchased soils additional time for curing.
However, when composting to make your own soil, it's important to practice proper composting to prevent the transfer of parasites from our gardens to our bodies. When manure decays it turns into compost just like any other organic matter. The compost decays further into humus. After two years of decay, the manure compost has lost all of its very bad elements such as parasitic worms, and if you use common sense hygiene, it is no different from handling compost made from decaying leaves except that it is a lot richer in nutrients.
Hazards Found in Soil
Bacteria and Fungus
Soil naturally contains many type of bacteria and fungi which can cause diseases such as tetanus, botulism and histoplasmosis. It is extremely critical to avoid contact of soil with any wounds and to prevent soil from making contact with your mouth or nose to prevent entry of parasites. That may sound obvious, but be sure to wash all your produce well and be careful about brushing away pests from your facial area while working in the garden.
Using Animal Waste in Compost
This includes both wild and domesticated animals and include either feces or carcasses. Often pathogens from domesticated animals such as cattle, are often deliberately introduced to a site in raw or improperly composted manure. This could potentially contaminate soil and ground water with both bacterial and/or protozoan pathogens.
Cattle manure is basically made up of digested grass and grain. Cattle dung is high in organic materials and rich in nutrients. It contains about 3 percent nitrogen, 2 percent phosphorous, and 1 percent potassium (3-2-1 npk). However, cattle manure also contains high levels of ammonia and potentially dangerous pathogens. For this reason, it’s usually recommended that it be aged or composted prior to its use as cow manure fertilizer.
Horse manure may be available in some areas. It produces poorer quality compost, but is generally regarded as presenting a lower health risk. However, manure that has been gathered from stalls is often very high in ammonia. Either avoid manure sourced from stalls altogether or be sure it has aged for a minimum of two years or it will burn plants to the point of death. As for hazards in horse manure, a soil bacterium, Rhodococcus equi, found in horse manure, has become of increasing concern as the cause of a severe form of pneumonia in persons having a compromised immune system through AIDS, immuno-suppressive therapy, and other similiar situations. Infection can also occur through inhaling dust contaminated with dried manure.
Recent research also raises concerns about Giardia which occurs in horses. Only certain genetic subgroups of this protozoan parasite have been associated with human disease, and the presence of one of these has been identified in samples of horse manure. Giardia causes bloating, diarrhea and nausea, which can be especially protracted and debilitating in susceptible individuals.
It is generally not recommended to put the feces of meat consuming animals into composting piles because of the additional complexities of potential disease as well as it is quite difficult to decompose for the average backyard composter. Dogs and cats are also among other potential animal sources of human infection with Giardia. Nationally there are approximately 2 million cases of Giardia annually most of which involve contaminated water, but CDC estimates 10% to be food borne.
Other potential sources of contamination include waste from wild animals and birds, especially pigeons and gulls. Reptiles such as lizards, snakes and turtles are a well known source of Salmonella. Just handing the surface of an object these animals have been in contact with is enough to potentially cause contamination.
What can be done to reduce bio-hazards in soil?
One simple precaution relative to manure is that should never be used raw – apart from health concerns, it can burn plant roots. When composted, manure has to reach temperatures above 140ºF for at least 5 days to ensure destruction of bacteria such as the potentially deadlly strain of Escherichia coli (E-coli) which causes severe disease, especially in children and is principally found in cattle manure.
It is imperative that at-home compost piles reach the minimum 140 degree temperature for 5 days to destroy the pathogens found in animal manure. Many other bacterial/protozoan pathogens are present in animal manure. In residential areas composting should be limited to plant and none-meat kitchen waste. Heavy manures, like that of cows and horses, should be mixed with lighter materials such as straw or hay (this is where the manure from around the goat manager works great) in addition to the usual organic substances from kitchen vegetable matter, garden debris, and other plant based sources. Small amounts of lime or ash may also be added.
An important consideration when composting materials is the size of your bin or pile. If it's too small, it won't provide enough heat, which as stated above, is critical to safe composting. Too big of a pile will be difficult to turn and therefore the material may not get enough area. Regardless, frequent turning is a requirement.
Learn more about proper at-home composting on the Life Slice website in the gardening section.
Here in central Texas the weather is already in the 90's and the April Check List already reflects this increased in temperatures. However, the entire North American continent experienced an unusually mild winter and spring is on its way - if not already firmly in place - in most areas. Here our April Checklist:
- Make sure irrigation systems are installed and working properly. Young plants do not have well-developed root systems yet and need consistent and through watering with good drainage.
- Review your plants to determine which ones are still thriving relative to your local temperature and which ones are getting stressed as temperatures rise. Some plants such as lettuces will begin to turn bitter as temperatures increase. If you have non-hybrid plants, and especially heirloom plants, be sure to allow a few of the plants to seed out and collect their seed or allow them to disburse naturally on the wind for the next cool season cycle.
- It's time to get warm weather plants into the ground. In warmer areas, it's best to get tomatoes into the ground by mid-month. For other plants such as eggplant, beans, peppers, summer squash and tomatillos have a few more weeks before they need to be in the ground. As a rule, most warm season plants require a minimum of 50 degree soil temperatures for best germination. You can find a companion planting guide here.
- Okra should be planted by seed when the ground temperatures at or above 60 degrees.
- The opportunity to plant fruit trees has just about expired. If you need to plant or replace fruit trees, do so ASAP.
- Fertilize established trees with an organic fertilizer.
- This is an excellent time of the year to plant herbs that enjoy warm weather. Herbs to plant include anise, basil, bay, catnip, chives, comfrey, coneflower (echinacea), costmary, fennel, fenugreek, scented geranium, germander, horehound, horseradish, lamb's ear, lavender, lemon grass, lemon verbena, Mexican mint marigold, oregano, perilla, rosemary, sage, santolina, summer savory, winter savory, sesame, sorrel, southernwood, tansy, tarragon, thyme, wormwood. Both basil and lemon grass do not care for temperatures of less than 50 degrees F, so you may need to initially plant them in pots in a warm location and transplant them when night time temperatures stay above 50 degrees. On the other hand, cilantro and dill prefer cooler temperatures and as the days climb into the upper 70 degree temperature ranges you are likely to see them bolt.
- As the weather warms, chickens tolerate fewer carbohydrates in their diet. Be sure to make sure birds are getting enough protein and avoid with offering nutrient poor snacks, such as corn in the summer months.
- Baby chicks are hatching with good success. However, not all chicks make it to maturity. If you are allowing chicks to hatch under hens, check under the hens at least twice a day for broken egg shells. The chicks won't always be obvious because sometimes the hens tuck them way up into their feathers. Removing the shells will also inhibit the adult birds for getting a taste for eggs.
- Do not try to help a hatching chick out of its shell or touch it while it is still wet. Allow nature to take its course. Seldom does a distressed chick having difficulty hatching survive, whether assisted or not.
- Sometimes a hen will abandon a chick for no apparent reason. You can try to move it to a heat lamp. Sometimes you will find another broody hen that will accept the chick, but this isn't typical.
- Make sure the remaining unoccupied nesting boxes have good liners and cushion in them as the remaining hens will make them high-use areas.
- Older hens may already be getting stressed by the heat to which they have not become accustomed. It's important to make sure waterers are in good repair and offering an abundance of fresh, clean water and there is good air circulation in the coop.
- If you are hatching and raising your own birds, keep a close eye on your poultry headcount to ensure overcrowding isn't occurring. Overcrowding leads to stress which can result in bullying, disease, decreased egg production and a myriad of other problems.
- With the increasing heat, it's a good idea to do a thorough cleaning of the chicken coop now. Chick poop becomes more fragrant as heat increases. Add in some humidity and it exponentially increases further. Add chicken excrement to the compost pile.
- Make repairs, enhancement and repairs to the coop while the weather is pleasant. Working in the coop in extreme temperatures - whether cold or hot - is stressful for both you and the birds.
- It's a good time of the year to spring clean everything and the milk room, feed rooms and barns are no exception. Scrub down all the floors, walls and other surfaces with a green cleanser and hot water. Be sure to rinse well.
- This is an excellent time of year to make any expansions or improvements to your barns.
- Observe your rainwater collection systems and evaluate if there are any ways to improve your systems to further maximize capture.
- If the goats are moving onto green pasture, be sure to watch for signs of bloat. Bloat is an excessive accumulation of gas in the rumen and reticulum that results in distension. It is caused by gas trapped in numerous tiny bubbles, making it impossible to burp. Treatment for bloat can be found here.
- Check your supplies for organic dewormers, fly control supplies, minerals, baking soda and other needs that may have spoiled or expired over the winter months.
- Check goats' hooves to see if they need trimming. The increased number of daylight hours and spring rains often cause hooves to grow fastest at this time of year and you will need to trim them more frequently.
- Clean areas around mangers to eliminate any rotting feed sources which helps keep the ground fresh and rodents and pests at bay. Contribute trampled feed to the compost pile.
From what we understand from the Texas State Agricultural Commissioner, there is a serious new threat to livestock that is being called a Rasberry Crazy Ant. Originally from Jamaica, the ant was brought into the United States via the Port of Houston. First appearances were cited in 2002 around the Houston, Texas area. This the ant is now being discovered in many other Texas counties including areas around San Antonio. These ants have not yet been identified as a species, but are reportedly more bothersome than the infamous Fire Ants. They are killing many forms of wildlife and causing them to move out of areas, while often making it impossible for many homeowners and their companion pets to spend time outdoors.
These ants kill songbirds and poultry, small mammals including house pets, squirrels and even larger mammals such as deer, cattle and horses.The ants kill chickens via asphyxia by crawling into their nasal passages. In addition to the physical danger posed by the ants, they have a large affinity for climbing onto and into electronics and shorting lines causing extensive financial damage.
Humans are playing a key role in assisting with the migration of these pests. These ants show likelihood of being transported through movement of almost any infested container or material. The movement of garbage, yard debris,bags or loads of compost, potted plants, and bales of hay, can transport these ant colonies by truck, railroad, and airplane. Several very large name home improvement chains that sell plants have reportedly had problems.
Rasberry crazy ants eat almost anything; they are omnivorous. They have multiple queens and are outsmarting attempts to eradicate them. There are no effective products readily available to the consumer to manage the ants, so you should identify the ants; and, if rasberry ants, immediately treated by a professional.
Currently, the ants have been identified in south and central Texas. However, the ant has the potential to spread well beyond the current range in coastal Texas. However, because this is a semi-tropical ant, it is anticipated potential northern distribution will be limited by cooler weather conditions.
Texas A&M University has more information on their Agriculture Extension site at http://urbanentomology.tamu.edu/ants/rasberry.html
An abnormally mild winter in most of North America has resulted in an early outbreak of summer. In Central Texas, flowers and trees are blooming and insects are out. With only a limited amount of time between the last frost and summer heat for some areas, it's important to get your garden into the ground as quickly as possible after the last freeze date for your area - which of course should include a check on your 10 day weather forecast before you actually proceed. If you have not already started your vegetable garden from seed, you may want to consider purchasing seedlings and transplanting them into the ground. If you aren't sure what to look for when purchasing seedlings, get more information here.
With all the work that needs to happen in the garden, plus the arrival of baby chicks and baby goats, March is a busy month indeed. Find out what else is on our checklist.
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