February 26, 2013 - Kim’s Weekly Garden Newsletter
These weekly garden notes are written by Kim Willis, unless another author is noted, and the opinions expressed in these notes are her opinions and do not represent any other individual, group or organizations opinions.
|Spring will come! (Iris reticula)|
The full Snow moon was beautiful last night. When I was younger I would often go out in the magic of such nights and just walk. It’s amazing how different the environment seems at night and here in the country it’s so quiet and peaceful. Now I just get up and look out the window, there were lots of rabbits out last night doing their mating dances.
Speaking of weather March 1 is Friday. Supposedly whatever the weather is on that day is what determines how the weather will be at the end of the month, you know, in like a lion out like a lamb? It’s supposed to be partly sunny, quiet and cold on Friday so March 31st should bring wild weather.
I am so glad February is almost over; it’s my least favorite month or maybe tied with December. Only 22 days to spring. I don’t want the weather to get as warm as it did last year in March but it sure would be nice to get some sun and temps in the 40’s. I do have those pretty daffodils still in bloom and a beautiful lavender ivy geranium is blooming its head off on my kitchen window sill so I have some signs of spring to look at.
I have a bit of a plant mystery. I found an odd shaped lump that I suspected was a bulb of some kind, last fall when I was cleaning up some old pots. I couldn’t identify it and didn’t even know for sure it was a bulb but I stuck it in a small pot with some soil and brought it on my porch. I had forgotten about it pretty much; the pot was stuck down between my two large pots of rosemary. When watering out on the porch yesterday I noticed the pot was sending up a fat shoot. It must be something cold hardy but I’m not sure what yet. That’s a fun mystery I hope to solve in a week or two.
I was also cleaning off the top of the refrigerator in preparation of painting the kitchen and found a cottage cheese carton with a bunch of poppy seed heads that had leaked about a cup of poppy seeds and some of those tiny dried peppers that look like little pumpkins inside. I can’t remember how old they are, more than a year I know, but I think I will try to sprout some of the seeds as an experiment. That shows you how bored and ready for gardening season I am.
Check those houseplants
I’ve noticed that my houseplants are starting to grow again and they need water about twice as often as they did earlier in the season. Even though it’s not been terribly sunny this month the days are getting longer and the sun stronger and the plants sense it. Combined with longer days of photosynthesis, growth and the dry air in our homes from the furnace houseplants will need to be watched carefully so they don’t dry out too much. You can begin to fertilize them if you want to promote growth or blooming.
This is also the time to watch for pests on houseplants. Scale insects in particular will become active and go into reproductive crawler stage as it gets warmer. Spider mite problems also increase. You may want to move some houseplants further from the window as March progresses so they don’t get leaf burn.
Things you can do outside now
If you are like me, you are getting anxious to get outside and garden again. There are a few things you can do outside, weather permitting. It is time to get those fruit trees pruned. Examine trees for black knot and other cankers and prune them out. You can prune oaks now and other trees and shrubs. Just don’t prune anything that blooms in the spring if you want spring blooms. Hold off on rose bushes, there may still be some winter kill of stems and dead wood on the plants helps protect still living wood further down the stem. You can cut back your ornamental grasses if you are tired of looking at the bleached brown color and if you haven’t removed corn stalks, sunflower stems and other garden debris its fine to do so.
It’s a good time to walk around the yard and do some planning and dreaming and maybe measuring. And if you ever thought of tapping some maples for maple syrup get your supplies ready. Anytime there’s a day that’s sunny and above freezing is a good time to tap maples for a while. And you can always take the Christmas lights down.
Flowers and bees create electricity
A fascinating study I read about this week was the discovery that at least some flowers produce a negative electrical charge and bees flying through the air build up a positive electrical charge. When a bee lands on a flower he can sense something like static electricity. Far from being upset by this the bee has learned that a stronger pulse means more of a pollen or nectar reward, because as each bee visits a flower the static electricity gets weaker. No electric pulse and the bee might as well just take off instead of wasting its time with a plundered flower. It’s amazing how plants communicate with and train their pollinators.
Bumblebees in the news
Bumblebee on catnip
Honeybees do a dance to tell other members of a tribe where the food can be found. Bumblebees don’t dance but they do spy on honeybees and they can interpret their dancing and find the hidden food. When bumblebees do find food they want to let their hive members know about they bring back a scent on their bodies, and the other bees smell their way to the food, following a scent trail through the air.
And here’s what those research dollars are spent on. Researchers built an artificial meadow with a variety of artificial flowers that held food rewards for bees. Next they built tiny robotic spiders that mimicked flower spiders, those tiny spiders often found on garden flowers that have the ability to change their color to match the flower. Flower spiders wait in flowers to catch bees, their preferred food. The robot spiders had tiny arms that could catch a bee when it landed on a flower. The robot spiders were put on some of the fake flowers, some were colored to match the flowers and others were not. Real bumble bees were released into the artificial meadow to visit the artificial flowers. When they landed on a flower with a robot spider the robot spiders would catch them and release them.
What were the scientists trying to find out? Whether being caught by a spider and getting away taught the bee to be more cautious and whether a camouflaged spider was more successful than one that was not camouflaged. (Who dreams up these studies?) Guess what, bees do learn to be more cautious when they escape from a spider about approaching other flowers. And camouflaged spiders were only slightly more successful catching bees.
What does this teach you and me? All those stories about tiny government cameras watching you could be true. When you see a flower spider on a flower this season is it for real or is it a government sending tiny robots in to watch you? And are you in a real garden or one the government built to experiment with you? Are the hummingbirds buzzing around your head real or tiny drones? Something to think about, huh?
Monarchs headed north
As we sit in our homes waiting for a winter storm the monarch butterflies are waking from their winter hibernation in central Mexico, stretching their wings and mating. Soon they will begin flying north, following the greening of the country from south to north, laying eggs along the way, and then dying.
|Monarch on milkweed.|
Each fall a young group of monarchs leave the US and fly to the forested areas of central Mexico, most to a Mexican state called Michoacan. There they hang in huge fluttery orange and black clumps in fir trees for much of the winter. In February, they wake, eat and mate to begin the journey of some 2,000 miles north. There will be 4-5 generations of summer monarchs, each only living a few weeks. But the butterflies that fly south in the fall will live 4-5 months so that they can renew the species.
Every year thousands of people brave the area of drug cartel hideouts to see the beginning of the monarch migration. A whole tourist industry revolves around it. Former president Jimmy Carter and his wife made the journey this year to see the monarchs. Nature has the ability to draw us to its wonders no matter what danger we might face.
Ypsilanti allows gardening on vacant lots, says no to hoop houses
The Ypsilanti, Michigan city council voted to allow gardening as a sole use of vacant land in residential areas. (Before that you could have gardens as an axillary use, such as in your back yard.) That means that residents can farm a whole vacant lot or more if they like. The council wasn’t so sure that they should allow greenhouses or hoop houses on vacant land though. They decided to say no to that part of the proposed zoning amendment. The top size proposed for greenhouses and hoop houses was 720 square feet, that’s maybe 24 x 30 feet if I do the math right, but that scared some garden haters.
“We need to keep our residential areas for residents” said one protestor. (Maybe he was afraid plants would crowd out humans? ) The new ordinances also stipulate that motorized equipment can only be used between 8 am and 8 pm on gardens and that gardeners must use IPM and “best practices” on their gardens. That should be a hoot trying to enforce.
What makes city people so afraid of gardens or even farming? I have seen some messy gardens but they haven’t hurt anyone. An overgrown lot, which most vacant land in a city turns into, will attract just as many pests as a garden and it also attracts dumping and crime. Even spreading manure on a garden doesn’t smell worse than a lot of dumpsters, factory emissions and the mingled smell of too many humans in too small of a space. Ok- end of rant.
Try this plant this year
Saskatoon’s (Amelanchier alnifolia), have blue fruit that looks and tastes somewhat like blueberries, however they are less fussy about soil conditions. They need well drained soil in full sun and should be mulched or kept weed free when young.
Saskatoons are very cold hardy and MSU is working to develop them as a market crop in Central Northern Michigan. There is currently more demand than supply for the berries. They are a favored berry in Canada and Native Americans used them for both food and medicine. They are self- fertile so you only need one plant and a mature plant is very productive. They form a 15-20 foot bush, have pretty white flowers in spring and the fruit ripens just ahead of blueberries in July.
Other names the plants are sold under are June berry, serviceberry, shadberry and prairie berry. There are many species of Amelanchier, so look for ones called Saskatoons for fruit production. Several varieties are offered commercially for fruit production. I ordered mine from Gurney’s nursery but several nurseries now offer them.
Saskatoons are very high in antioxidants and the health benefits are similar to blueberries. They don’t taste exactly like blueberries but are sweet and flavorful. They are cooked or eaten like blueberries and are said to make excellent jam. Fancy, high end restaurants are featuring them in season on the menu so it could be a good cash crop too.
|Garden at Suncrest-pond lilies|
Get out the good books and prepare to hunker down, its snow time.
You may want to read my article on examiner this week because some of you will recognize the ponds from the pictures in the article. It’s a new format that allows me to put several pictures with text-( so they can spread it over more pages) but the formatting is a bit tricky. I gave it a try – see if you like it.
Water and greenery go together and there are few things more soothing than sitting in a beautiful garden with the sound of water bubbling in the background. Gardeners often long to add a water feature to their gardens but many are afraid to give it a try. Even the smallest patio garden can benefit from a tiny splashing fountain and with a little planning almost any garden can have the pleasure of a water feature. Read more at: