Stacking Functions Garden


And now, squash vine borers

Well, that’s it. I’m pretty much ready to throw in the towel on 2011’s garden. It’s been one thing after another around here — thank goodness I don’t have to actually sustain my family on this garden because we’d be facing one lean winter. Earlier this week I noticed my squash and pumpkin vines were looking a little wilty. Then today they seemed a LOT wilty:

I could see this little guy from several feet away:

squash vine borer

It’s a squash vine borer. This is my first experience with them. We ended up pulling out ALL of the squash and pumpkin plants. So depressing. They were full of these little worms. I didn’t dare compost them, so we bagged everything up and threw it in the garbage.

The good news: these borers do not attack cucumber plants, so hopefully my pickle crop is still safe.

U of M Extension has some really great info on preventing squash vine borers.  Among the ideas:

You can physically exclude adult borers by placing floating row covers over your vine crops when they start to vine (or for non-vining varieties, starting late June or early July) or when you first detect squash vine borer adults. Keep the barriers in place for about two weeks after the first adult borer has been seen. Be sure the row covers are securely anchored to prevent adults from moving underneath it.

Caution: Generally do not use floating row covers anytime crops are flowering. This prevents bees from pollinating your vegetables…

My favorite garden pest book suggested pulling out all the diseased parts, squashing every worm you find, then pushing the healthy part of the vine into the soil and piling some compost on top in hopes that it will send out roots and maybe (maybe) I’ll have a chance of still getting a pumpkin.  I tried it with one really healthy-looking vine, but I’ll be surprised if it works.

Well, there’s always next year I guess.  Here’s a picture of the adult, for future reference:

adult squash vine borer

I never saw these guys in late June, but they look a bit like boxelder bugs — which we had A LOT of, so they probably just blended right in.

First time I’ve tried to grow pumpkins and squash, and it was a fail. Really, maybe I’ll just plant my entire garden with garlic, chamomile, and mint next year. Fail-proof, right?

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Design with Nature

I just signed up for the Design with Nature conference later this month!  I’m super excited.  I’ve been wanting to learn more about landscaping.  Naturally, I’ll take copious notes and report back to you all what I learn.

The conference is February 26 at the St. Paul Campus of the University of Minnesota.  Read all about it.

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Growing woody fruit plants in the midwest

Being a Hennepin County Master Gardener is great.  Among other reasons, we have monthly meetings with an education component, and the speakers are usually pretty great.

I recently saw a presentation by Rebecca Koetter, who manages demonstration plots at the Urban Forestry & Horticulture Research Institute at the U of M.  She was kind enough to post her presentation (a powerpoint file) to her blog for anyone to download.  So have at it!  There were a couple slides that I found particularly helpful:

Slide 6: a breakdown of commitment levels and fruits to match.  Basically, she breaks fruits down into three levels of commitment:

Relatively low time commitment: elderberry, currant, gooseberry, juneberry, apricot
Medium time commitment: pear, plum, tart cherry, blueberry, kiwifruit
High commitment: apple, grape

Raspberry isn’t on this list but I’d put it somewhere between low and medium.  Standard strawberries are also low-medium, while alpine (wild) strawberries are low.

Slide 19: another great slide that shows the oxygen radical absorbance capacity (aka antioxidant power) of various berries.  The two highest berries (by far) just happen to be ones that we can grow right here in USDA hardiness zone 4: choke berries (aronia berries) and elderberries.  Sadly I have NEITHER of these in my yard.  This will have to be remedied.

Slide 45: a while back I saw a whole bunch of beautiful pictures of apple trees growing up the sides of walls; apparently training an apple (or other fruit) tree to do this is referred to as the art of espalier.  Traditionally it was done to achieve certain aesthetic goals; today it is very useful for growing fruit trees in really small spaces.  I am intrigued and a little intimidated by the concept.  Now that I know the name of what I’m looking for, I will search the library for a book on it.

Anyway, those were the slides I enjoyed most, but if you’re thinking about fruits you could try in your yard, there are a lot of options in the presentation.  Enjoy!  And if you have any questions about the content, feel free to ask in the comments and I can check my notes.

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No-mow grass

A few weeks ago, I took a mid-summer Master Gardener refresher course at the Minnesota Landscape ArboretumBob Mugaas, the awesome turf-grass guy from the U of M, gave a presentation about new no-mow landscape grasses that the university is developing.  Some are already available commercially.

The implications of this are incredible.  Imagine not having to mow your lawn.  Imagine all the oil and emissions that could be saved if people mowed their lawns only 2-3 times a summer at the most.  For us, our yard is so small, and we use a reel-type mower, so it wouldn’t be a huge savings in time or money.  But if I had a huge suburban yard, I’d be all over this.

The main no- and low-mow turfgrasses that are available commercially today are fine fescues, such as red fescue, chewings fescue, and hard fescue.  These can look a little floppy — because of their finer grain they don’t stand straight up like ye olde Kentucky bluegrass.  So adjust your expectations, yo.

Here’s an article from Extension with much more information as well as resources on where you can order low- and no-mow grass seed mixes.  Alas, I think you’d most likely not be able to find sod, because this is all still too new.

The Sustainable Urban Landscape Information Series also has some good information about maintaining a healthy lawn and when to plant, etc.  A couple notes, whether you have a low-maintenance lawn or whether you mow every week:

1) The best time to seed and the best time to fertilize are both in the early fall.
2) When watering, think deep & infrequent during the spring and fall, and more frequently but not so deeply in the summer.  This is because the root systems of grass plants typically die back quite a bit during hot, dry weather, but grow deeper during cool weather.
3) Setting your mower an inch or two higher will result in cooler, happier root systems and healthier grass.  If you are trying to achieve a putting green for a yard, your mower is set WAY too low.

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Community Gardening

This year, as part of the University of Minnesota Hennepin County Master Gardener Program (say that 10 times fast), I’ve been caring for a community garden plot at Sabathani community center here in south Minneapolis.  Here’s what our plot looks like (click to enlarge):

The Sabathani community garden is absolutely huge.  I think it might be one entire square block.  We planted our little section of it in May for a demo class on gardening, and now I’ve been maintaining it and donating the produce to the food shelf at Sabathani.

We consulted with the food shelf when we came up with the design for the garden back in April — we are trying to grow mostly vegetables that are in high demand there.  One cool thing is I get to learn how to grow some vegetables that I’ve never tried before, including collard greens, lacinato kale, and okra.  Collard greens and kale are neat because you can keep picking leaves off them and the plant just keeps coming back bigger and bushier than before.  A “continuous harvest” sort of plant is always nice when space is limited.

This is the weediest garden spot I’ve ever had, so we put down landscape fabric extensively to try and keep a handle on it.  It’s working quite well, I must say.

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This is turning out to be the summer of pests in my garden.  I had cabbage worms two weeks ago, and I’ve had LOTS of rabbit damage.  Just about every night, I go out and spray… oh, I don’t know… the ENTIRE YARD with garlic/pepper spray to try and stop them eating my plants.  It’s kinda tiresome.  We also added some more rabbit-proof fence to the garden, but we left the smallest of gaps and the varmint got back in:

This area used to be full of healthy, lovely peas.  Now it has a couple of peas and some stubs.  And now it has this lovely board (far right) blocking the small remaining gap we had left.  My favorite part was how the baby rabbit actually sat on the deck watching us block the hole, totally nonchalant.

Moving on, I lost several baby cucumber plants to slugs.  Not a huge loss, since I planted way too many of them, but… I tried the trick of putting a little container of beer to trap the slugs.  It worked pretty well!  I used these two little plastic lids, each with just a couple of tablespoons of beer.  I’ve caught 4-5 slugs each night for the past two nights, and then dumped them out on the sidewalk the next day and let the kids stomp on them.  Apparently, slugs really like Summit beer.  I’ll keep doing this for a few more days at least.

Here’s one I find a little more distressing.  My currant bush (new this year) has little globby nodules on its leaves.  I’d say they’re affecting around 25% of the leaves right now.  They are only on the top, and I can’t see any insects around.  Any ideas what this might be?  (UPDATE: I think this might be the currant blister aphid, though I did not see any aphids hanging around on or near the plants.  Apparently they are not fatal.)

I also have these random wild sunflowers in my yard.  I don’t know exactly what they are called, but they are now also covered with tiny red insects.  The insects are not on any other plants but these.  Here’s a close-up:

I don’t know what these are.  I’m going to do some research.  (UPDATE: U of M Extension to the rescue on this one.  Looks like these aphids, yes?)

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Cabbage worm

Uh-oh.  I’ve heard about these, and this morning I found two of them on one of my baby cabbage plants:

I was pretty sure it was a cabbage worm, and a quick diagnosis through the U of M “What insect is this?” tool confirmed my guess.  The Extension service has a great info sheet on cabbage worms.  I carefully checked each of my cabbage plants and this was the only one with worms on it.  Nevertheless, I did a little searching about some organic controls for these things, and it seems a garlic spray is fairly effective.

It’s sorta rainy so I didn’t spray any on tonight.  I think I will in the morning.  If I can’t find any more of the little critters, does this mean it was isolated to one plant?  Could they be hiding somewhere else?  I’m going to keep very close eye on my cabbages over the next few days.

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Sod and blueberries

I got two new blueberry plants this week (one was a birthday gift and one was a replacement that Stark Brothers sent out for one that died last year).  I know I said we wouldn’t rip out any more sod this year, but… well, we didn’t have anyplace else to put those blueberries.  Plus we had some wide open spots in the backyard that needed some grass — and the U of M advises against seeding in the spring.  So we ripped sod out of the front yard and put it in the back!

Adam’s dad was here, so he kindly helped us.  The kids also kindly helped us by taking a two hour nap.

It seemed like it worked pretty well — the main mud pit in the back yard is now sodded.  It sure was nice of us to move all those dandelions, quackgrass, creeping charlie, and a couple of grass plants from the front to the back, yes?

Here’s the new area all dug up.  I haven’t drawn out an actual diagram of it, but it’s roughly going to be: two blueberries in the back by those other plants, and then along the sidewalk will be some alpine strawberries, and then a perennial flower or two near the front.  I don’t want to plant anything edible within 2-3 feet of the boulevard because so many dogs walk past.  I’m also going to edge with some lingonberries in various places.

The blueberries are already in, but you can’t see them because they are so tiny right now.  I also got a catawba grape plant for a gift, so we’ll find a place for that this week (it’s a vine).

One final picture for you:

Who said cilantro/coriander was an annual?  I let a bunch of it go to seed last fall and now it’s coming up pretty thickly in one area.  That’s my garlic in the background.  And I’ve got a bunch of dill coming up too.  Excellent.

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Using up old seeds

Got some old, unplanted seeds lying around in envelopes from last year, or even the year before?  Wondering whether they’re viable?  University of Minnesota Extension Service to the rescue!  Here are some general guidelines from my “Vegetables” textbook:

Seeds that last 5 years:
Brussels sprouts
Chinese cabbage
Cress, water

Seeds that last 4 years:

Seeds that last 3 years:

Seeds that last 2 years:

Seeds that last 1 year:
Sweet corn

I should put a giant * here, and say that these averages are based on storing your seeds in nice conditions — that would be room temperature, with low humidity.  If they smell rotten or funny they are probably no good.  If you kept them in your garage, the temperature swings probably did them in.

I would also still sow seeds just a little more thickly if they’re older.  You can always thin out the seedlings later.  But this should save you some money if you have some old seeds lying around that you can use up.