Monday, January 30, 2012

Stink Bugs: New Research Findings

Stink bugs devastating two of our tomatoes

What have scientists learned during the last year in studies of the brown marmorated stink bug, the East Asian invader that is threatening many of our garden and field crops?

Last week I found on the Internet two new research papers, “Summary of Brown Marmorated Stink Bug Infestations of Maryland Crops” and “2011 Insecticide Trails to Evaluate Control of Brown Marmorated Stink Bug,” by three University of Maryland researchers, Galen Dively, Cerruti Hooks, and Terry Patton.

I’m going to tell you several of the research findings that I find fascinating, but I do not claim to be a scientist, so this posting is merely one gardener’s report about what he read in the two papers.  I assume the two reports will be two of many building blocks on which experts will build future research projects and from which they will draft, hopefully, recommendations for both commercial food growers and backyard gardeners for the 2012 growing season.

The first paper covers the impact of the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) on a variety of crops: small grains; field corn; soybeans; apples, grapes, and peaches; raspberries; pumpkins; tomatoes; peppers; summer squash; sweet corn; green beans; eggplant; okra; spring/fall cabbage, spring/fall broccoli, kale, bok choi, onion, beets, cantaloupe, cucumber, watermelon, sweet potato, and white potato.   Since most readers of this blog are backyard gardeners, I’ll focus on typical garden vegetables.  The second paper covers the effect of various insecticides on BMSBs.

Here are highpoints plus an occasional comment, which I will label as such:

Stink bugs on our young raspberries
Research methodology: “Field studies to investigate BMSB population dynamics and feeding injury in selected crops were conducted in 2011 at three UM research farms … where significant infestations were present.  Key field, fruit and vegetable crops were grown according to recommended commercial practices and not treated with insecticides, unless otherwise indicated.  All crops were in close proximity with each other and close to woodlots.  Whole fields, orchard blocks, or small plots, depending on the crop, were sampled weekly to assess population densities of BMSB adults, egg masses, and nymphs….  Vegetable crops were also harvested to measure and characterize cumulative fruit injury over the crop cycle.  To monitor BMSB activity, pheromone and blacklight traps were operated at five research farms from May to late September and serviced either daily or three times a week.”

Number of stink bugs:  Numbers were significantly less than in 2010 at the western Maryland site but 2.5 to 3 times more at other locations.  Comment: This confirms anecdotal reports from other gardeners, that there seemed to be “fewer stink bugs overall” in 2011, but perhaps just as many or more in our gardens.

Peak population:  “Peak captures at Beltsville and Upper Marlboro exceeded 400 per night during the 3rd week of July,” but peaks on some crops came in August.   Comment: Early July was when I surrendered and began using a pyrethroid spray in our vegetable and fruit gardens.

Pheromone traps:  “Both types of pheromone traps failed to capture stink bugs during the peak period.  Only a few adults and nymphs were captured later in the summer.”

Stink bugs on our lilac
Host plants:  “Clearly, this introduced tree [Paulownia], along with the Tree of Heaven, is a major reproductive host….”  Comment: Brown marmorated stink bugs are natives of China and other East Asia countries, as are Paulownia and Tree of Heaven.  Stink bugs probably are attracted by plants from “back home,” so to speak.  I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised to see hundreds of stink bugs on our lilacs, another East Asia native.

Proximity to woods and buildings:  Scattered through the papers are indications that stink bug numbers are higher on crops near woods or buildings and on crops at the edges of fields.  Comment: Backyard gardeners may have the worst exposure to stink bug damage because gardens often are close to buildings, trees, and shrubs.  Also, gardens often are not large enough to have “edges” and “centers” sufficiently distant to affect the level of stink bug damage.

Apples, grapes, and peaches: “Infestations were relatively low compared to the two previous years because these crops were treated with combinations of insecticides plus Surround on a 10-day schedule.”

Raspberries: “Adults colonized plants during mid-June and sustained high populations to early September….  Feeding caused severe fruit damage, rendering the crop unmarketable.  Raspberries were undoubtedly a favorable food source for adult BMSB, but relatively few nymphs were present….”

Pumpkins:  “No adults or nymphs were present.”  Another casual inspection “revealed no evidence of feeding injury or nymphal development.”

Tomatoes:  Stink bug activity seemed to begin when fruit began to ripen, though relatively few adults and nymphs were found.  “It is possible that stinkbug adults move in and out of tomatoes following a diurnal pattern, since numbers detected did not account for the fruit injury which ranged from 32 to 48% of the total number of fruit harvested.”

Peppers: Tests include a variety of peppers, including bell, banana, and hot jalapenos.  Depending on variety, damage ranged up to 86% of the crop.  “Two hot types … were less susceptible to fruit injury, and, unexpectedly, a black bell variety … showed no evidence over the entire crop cycle.”  Comment: The paper names all varieties tested.

Summer squash: “If more attractive crops are available, squash will likely not be a preferred host plant.”  Comment: Stink bugs destroyed all young fruit of my zucchini plants.

Sweet corn: On the Eastern Shore, stink bug populations haven’t reached damaging levels.  However, at other locations, significant “kernel injury (average range of 4 to 26 collapsed kernels per ear), and incomplete kernel fill were recorded on 95 to 100% of the mature ears….”

Green beans: “Green beans harbored the second highest population density of BMSB per unit area….  Later plantings of green beans and lima beans that developed pods in September and October experienced less BMSB activity and no pod damage.  Like late-planted sweet corn, these plantings possibly avoided injury because of the more attractive soybeans grown nearby.”

Eggplant: “Eggplant harbored the third highest population density of BMSB per unit area.”  “BMSB may have a minor impact on eggplant quality; however, feeding on stems and fruiting bodies could cause abnormal abortion of buds and young fruit, thus reducing yields.”

Okra: “BMSB seasonal activity and infestation levels were similar to that of eggplant.”

Cabbage, broccoli, kale, bok choi, onion, beets, cantaloupe, cucumber, watermelon, sweet potato, and white potato:  “Intensive sampling for other insect pests and periodic inspections produced no evidence of BMSB activity and feeding injury.  However, these crops may be more attractive and susceptible to stink bug feeding if isolated and not grown close to more preferred host plants.”

Here’s a typical conclusion from the second paper’s bell pepper section on the effectiveness of several insecticides on stink bugs: “All 12 insecticide treatments provided significant reductions (61-96%) of stink bug numbers,” though only some insecticides reduced the level of fruit injury significantly.  There were some suggestions of “the possibility that some adults may have recovered after certain treatments.”  Comment: Though insecticides are named in the paper, they should not be used until they have been approved by appropriate government review agencies. 

I’m happy to read that researchers are making progress in their stink-bug studies, and I look forward to future application of research findings from these researchers and others that will benefit those of us who grow crops, whether by hundreds of acres or in our backyard gardens.

If you want to review the research papers, CLICK HERE.  The two papers appear together at that link.  The first paper includes photos of damaged vegetables.  The second includes charts detailing effectiveness of insecticides used in the studies.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Frugal Gardener: Seed Catalog(s) Revelation!

The puzzle pieces fit

Does the Frugal Gardener in you get irritated when you see five packets of seeds you want to buy in one catalog but the sixth packet you want is in another catalog—and you aren’t about to pay a second shipping and handling fee to get that one extra packet?

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve discovered that several seed catalogs come from the same source and that you can place one order from several catalogs and pay just one shipping and handling fee, provided, of course, that you wish to purchase from the cooperating catalogs.

When I was reviewing catalogs earlier this month, I noticed in passing that the mailing addresses of two catalogs, Totally Tomatoes and Shumway’s, were in the same city.  Then, when I compiled my “must order” seed list recently, I jotted down catalog abbreviations, page numbers, SKU numbers (product identifiers), and prices and realized the SKU numbers were the same in the two catalogs.  For example, the SKU for Amish Paste tomato seeds in both catalogs is #00029.

When I finished my list, I went to the Totally Tomatoes website and entered my selections.  Before final check out, however, I had an idea.  Why not add a SKU number for the last packet on my list—rutabaga seed, which is listed in Shumway’s but not Totally Tomatoes, and see what happens?  I did and bong! —the site wouldn’t accept it.

Still later, after I had checked out of the Totally Tomatoes site, I had another idea.  I sent an email to Customer Service at Totally Tomato and said I’d noticed that the addresses are the same and would they please add a packet of Shumway rutabaga seed to my order.

After we had exchanged several emails, Customer Service said for business and accounting reasons they could not mix orders from the two companies but that there is a website, egardenersplace, where you can order from “all our catalogs.”

I hastened to the website and found eight catalogs listed.  Four contain vegetable seeds: Totally Tomatoes, Shumway’s, Jung, and Vermont Bean.  Four sell flower seeds, roots, and/or plants: McClure & Zimmerman, Roots & Rhizomes, Edmund’s Roses, and Seymour’s.  I haven’t ordered from egardenersplace because I’ve already made my 2012 seed purchases, but I have checked the veggie-seed catalogs, and the SKU for Amish Paste tomato is the same in all.

The egardenersplace homepage shows the covers of the eight catalogs and says readers can order from all catalogs and just pay one shipping and handling fee, which appears to be $6.00 for orders under $60.00.  At the site, you click on a catalog, search or leaf through, select packets, and then go to another catalog, if you wish, to make more selections.  Check-out procedure is like that at most websites.

This Frugal Gardener likes the idea of buying from several catalogs and paying just one shipping and handling fee.  Now I wonder whether I should recommend that Vermont Bean change its name to Wisconsin Bean.

And a final finding that made Frugal Gardener smile: Though packets for the same seed variety have the same SKU numbers, prices occasionally differ.  In the two catalogs that I used to make my buy list, I found 5¢ and 10¢ differences in two packet prices.  Frugal Gardener, though, doesn’t see such massive savings reason sufficient to buy from one catalog and not the other.  If he did, though, perhaps he should start calling himself Pinchpenny Gardener.

If you’d like to take a look at the eight catalogs on the egardenersplace website, CLICK HERE.

Notes:  (1) You can order all eight print catalogs through the egardenersplace website.  (2) Mention of specific products, brands, or companies is not intended as an endorsement by the University of Maryland.  (3) I do not receive consideration of any kind for mentioning products, brands, or companies in my postings.  The seed catalogs I review are those from sellers from which I have previously bought seeds.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Wintertime Garden Cleanup

In less than an hour...
The last of the weekend’s ice-coated inch of snow melted last night, and after the sun came out this morning and the temperature gradually rose to 54°, I grabbed a pair of gloves, a bucket, and in 45 minutes finished the last of the cleanup of our backyard gardens.  Here are four reasons why I give two thumbs-up to cleaning up the gardens now rather than in the spring.

First, wintertime garden work gets me out of the house and, obviously, into the fresh, invigorating air.  Inhale deeply, Bob.  Smile.  Enjoy life on the cool side of the windows for an hour or so.  Bend a little.  Lift a little.  Get what Ancient Gardeners call “a little exercise.”

Second, working when the temperature is in the 50s takes a lot less energy and causes a lot less sweat than when the temperature is in the 60s or even 70s. 

Debris of dormant daylilies is easy to clean up
Third, cleaning up the garden during the winter takes less time than during spring.  Our many perennials for the most part are dormant, and I can pull off last fall’s seed stalks and dead leaves quickly because I don’t have to be careful of fragile springtime growth.

Fourth, cleaning up the garden for only an hour at a time means fewer aches and pains in joints and muscles of this Ancient Gardener.  I don’t think I’ll have any painful reminders tomorrow that I worked in the yard today, but if I had worked four or five hours, tomorrow I would be creaking and moaning about the house.

Bottom line:  45 minutes, 10 large buckets of dead perennial leaves and seed stalks, and one heaping wheelbarrow of last year’s dead plant matter to deposit on our recycling pile at the bottom of our hill at the edge of our woods.

And as I pushed the empty wheelbarrow back up the hill, a couple of questions flitted through my brain: Why do empty wheelbarrows seem to get harder to push every year?  Why does the same hill seem to get just a bit steeper every winter?

If you are an Ancient Gardener, you know the answers.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Frugal Gardener: Free Coffee-Shop Garden Kits

Free garden kits begin at your favorite coffee shop

Hey, Frugal Gardeners, when you next shell out a buck or two for a morning coffee at your favorite coffee shop, drink your coffee but save the cup, the top, the cardboard insulator, and the wooden stirrer to help start your Garden 2012.

The coffee, of course, will cost you something.  But after you’ve enjoyed the hot java recycle make a coffee-shop garden kit out of your “trash.”  Here’s how this Frugal Gardener recycles these throwaways, but you may be even more creative:

Cup: Punch two holes in the bottom with a Phillips screwdriver and use as a starter cup for vegetable, herb, or flower seeds.  I prefer cardboard cups because they decompose over time—in a landfill after I’ve used them to start plants.  I prefer standard 12-ounce cups to the Starbucks “tall” cup—which is taller by comparison but narrower too—because I think the slightly shorter but wider cups accommodate multiple plants better.

Recycle your "trash"
Top:  I cut a pie-slice wedge out of a plastic top and use it as a divider to make two starter cells as I add sterile starting soil to a cup.  When it’s time to transplant into the garden, the plastic wedges make it easy for me to gently pull the two plants apart with minimal root damage.  Sometimes I make the wedges from plastic clamshell containers supermarket berries come in.

Stirrer:  I mark an abbreviation on a stirrer and use it in a cup to indicate the seed variety in the cup.  For example, CELE means Celebrity tomato and RS means Red Sails lettuce.  I could use stirrers to mark the ends of rows in the garden if I didn’t use branches cut from our forsythia bushes.

Insulator:  Most cardboard insulators have a row of perforations that make it easy to divide each insulator into two equal pieces.  I wrap each piece around the stem of a tomato transplant, with half the insulator above ground, half below, to keep cutworms from chainsawing the young plants just above soil level.

Those four “gardening kit” parts come with your order at most coffee shops, but one shop has a policy of doing more.  That shop is Starbucks, which requires its baristas to prepare bags of free coffee grounds for gardeners to use to amend their soil.

Look for the brown barrel
with the silver packages
The baristas at the Starbucks in our local Giant Foods store said bagging grounds is part of their job description—and they do it when their other work assignments permit.  If there’s a line of customers, for example, grounds don’t get bagged.  That Starbucks kiosk has a short, brown “barrel” near the pick-up counter where the baristas put the silver-colored bags labeled, “Grounds for Your Garden.”  The heavy-gauge plastic bags of grounds each originally held five pounds of beans.

I’d had gardeners mention they’ve never been able to get a bag of Starbucks grounds.  The baristas advised that a disappointed gardener should stop and ask about the best time to find bags available.  They also said sometimes a gardener takes every available bag.  Yes, sometimes I find the barrel empty.

One barista gave me a valuable tip: Take a bag that seems full but relatively light.  The grounds in that bag probably are from the espresso machine and are “dry” compared to the “wet” ones from the regular brewing machines, so the bag contains more grounds, less moisture.  And I’ve noticed that sometimes the bags are only a quarter full, which may indicate that perhaps some baristas aren’t exactly excited about bagging grounds.

Even though your local coffee shop doesn’t have a comprehensive recycling program like Starbuck’s, perhaps staffers there would save you a bucket of grounds.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained, so smile and inquire about possibilities.

Over the last couple of months I’ve been saving parts of  coffee shop “garden kits” for springtime use—and I’ve added a dozen bags or more of Starbucks “Grounds for Your Garden” to our garden soil—all for free—well, free if you don’t count the cost of the coffee you’ve enjoyed.

Please post a Comment telling how you recycle everyday throwaways by using them in your garden.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Deer Country: They’re Back!

They're back!

I have seen so few deer here at Meadow Glenn during the last month that I’ve had an increasingly good feeling that I won’t have anything to write in my Deer Country postings in 2012.  That good feeling vanished when I looked out on our western hillside yesterday afternoon and counted 17 deer, all does and nearly grown fawns.

Perhaps hunters kept enough pressure on neighborhood deer that they avoided all humans as potential predators during daytime hours for the last six weeks.  But suddenly the deer are back in numbers sufficient for me to guess that after the does give birth in the spring we’ll have our regular crop of 25 or more deer browsing through our landscape and stopping to chow down on whatever greenery meets their fancy.

Alas, it must be time to run down my deer management checklist. 

Have I fixed all the deer-damaged cages?
Do I have enough Deer Out spray concentrate to get me through the summer?  Have I ordered a bottle of the new Repellex Systemic Animal Repellent Tablets so I can experiment to see if they repel deer here at Meadow Glenn? Have I fixed all the cages around trees and shrubs that deer damaged last year while they were browsing or rubbing?  Is it time to set some of our older tree transplants free by removing their protective cages? Should I research deer-resistant perennials or shrubs to find one that I want to add to our landscape—and then monitor it to see what our deer think?

With nearly 20 deer settling in for Gardening Year 2012, I think I’ll have more than enough to write about in Deer Country postings.

To read my previous posting about my Deer Out spray experiment, CLICK HERE.
To read my previous posting about the new Repellex Systemic Animal Repellent Tablets, CLICK HERE.   

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

January Supermarket Surprise

Surprise!  Just beyond the stacks of bags of potatoes and onions and next to tropical houseplants and the “balloon center”—a Burpee seed rack—at our local Giant Foods store on January 6.

I don’t know what magician controls the timing of wintertime appearance of retail seed racks at our local stores, but last year seed racks appeared the first week of February.

Not quite in numbed shock, I hustled right over to the Burpee display to take a look.  Hmm—a panel of standard vegetable seeds—a panel of organic vegetable seeds.  I needed look no farther.

One packet caught my eye: Marketmore 76 cucumber seeds, $1.79, 3 g.  Just a few days earlier I had searched the Cornell University vegetable site in an effort to find a cuke variety that is resistant to various mildew diseases and other leaf diseases too and had zeroed in on Marketmore 76 as a likely candidate.  I picked a packet off the rack and turned it over: “Resistant to scab, cucumber mosaic and mildews.” 

Who can resist?
Two years ago, powdery mildew wiped out my whole cuke bed.  In 2011 I planted Diva, a mildew-resistant variety, but leaf-spot diseases wiped out that planting.  Will the third time, with Marketmore 76, be the charm?  I hope so, so I put the packet into my shopping cart.

As I walked toward the dairy section to pick up some provolone and a dozen eggs, I wondered whether Burpee or Giant has “inside information” that spring will come a month early this year.  Punxsutawney Phil, shadow or not, you’re fired!  Groundhogs get no respect here at Meadow Glenn, especially those that climb our hill and fence and chow down on springtime veggies.

Today (Jan. 17) I went to Home Depot in Columbia to pick up a 10-foot PVC pipe that I’ll cut into 3 1/2-foot lengths to make “underpasses” for hoses under our front and back sidewalks.  Those projects have been on my to-do list for 10 years, and, hold your breath, I installed the front one—the easier one—in less than an hour before lunch.

While at Home Depot I glanced into the garden-supply room and—yes, you guessed it—two staffers were setting up seed racks.  I temporarily abandoned my push-cart with the PVC pipe and took a look at the seed racks—Burpee, Ferry-Morse, and Martha.  I suppressed the question of whether there’s horticultural significance that the two seed companies established by men go by their surnames while the one established by a woman goes by her given name.

Not only veggies
Since I already had looked over the Burpee rack at Giant, I looked at the Burpee racks at Home Depot first.  At Home Depot, there must have been three or four times the number of vegetable and flower varieties and packets.  The packets looked the same, but there were differences.

The first difference I noticed was price.  Most of the veggie packets at Giant were $1.79.  At Home Depot, most were $1.00 or $1.49.  The second difference was that Burpee racks at Home Depot had more varieties of each vegetable—about a half dozen varieties of cuke seeds—but not Marketmore 76.  Don’t assume the Burpee seed rack at Store A contains the same varieties at the same price as the Burpee seed rack at Store B.

I went to Home Depot this morning to buy PVC pipe, but I added seven packets of seeds.  Herb and veggies: Lemon basil, $1.00, 200 mg.; Roma tomato, $1.00, 500 mg.; Detroit Dark Red, Medium Top beet, $1.00, 5.5 g.; Short ‘n Sweet carrot, $1.49, 2 g.; and Pic-N-Pic summer squash, $1.49, 2 g.  Annual flowers: Red Velvet celosia, $1.49, 160 mg. and Exquisite zinnia, $1.49, 500 mg.  This Frugal Gardener remembers that the price of most similar packets in the Burpee catalog is $3.95.

The seed racks I visited were good reminders that I’ve got to get out my seed catalogs, make selections, and order the rest of my 2012 vegetable seeds.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Beets, Carrots, Turnips: One Last Supper

Last harvest from Garden 2011
When I heard the temperature was going to drop into the low 20s just after New Year’s, I took a bucket to our vegetable garden and pulled the last of our late-season root crops: a half dozen or so Cylindra beets, three Short ‘n Sweet carrots, and a dozen Golden Globe turnips.  On one of those April-like days last week, I washed the veggies and that evening we savored roasted vegetables—one last supper from Veggie Garden 2011.

As I washed and pared them, the two-thirds bucket of roots, to which we added some garlic, two large onions, and five potatoes, tossed with some olive oil and sprinkled with some crushed rosemary, slimmed down considerably to two cookie sheets of chopped veggies ready for a 425°F oven for about an hour.

Last supper from Garden 2011
Ah, what a dish—so simple to put together that I can name and pronounce all the ingredients—so fragrant while the veggies are roasting—so mouth watering with earthy chunks of beets, sweet carrots, and tongue-assaulting turnips.  What a soul-satisfying dish to set before a veggie gardener. 
Even the potatoes that had nestled with beets blushed a bit in delight.

This feast reminded me that many root vegetables store well in place in the garden until the temperature sinks into the teens and the soil freezes deep enough to freeze the veggies.  It also reminded me that I should plant more rutabagas next summer and forget about the strong-flavored turnips that are prone to slug damage, though I did get three solid turnips out of two short rows.

The only edibles left in our garden now are the three Red Sails lettuce plants in my experimental mini-greenhouse, and they may be damaged tonight (Jan. 15) if the forecast of “temperatures in the teens” is accurate.

If you missed my posting about slugs damaging my turnips, CLICK HERE.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Winter Solace in Our Raspberry Bed

Raspberry bed before cutting & weeding

Yes, I did mean “solace,” not “solstice.”  Solstice was last month.  Solace was two hours this afternoon.

Just after noon when I looked out our kitchen window, the sunny scene beckoned me to come outside and enjoy a beautiful winter afternoon.  As I looked at the scene, I noted some green in our small raspberry patch—green as in winter weeds.

Why not go out and cut back the raspberry canes and weed that bed, I thought?  The sun is brilliant, the temperature 42°F and slowly rising.  The brick wall of the detached garage protects the bed from the light afternoon breeze from the northwest.  I can sit with my loppers and short-handled weeder in the comfort—the solace—of the January sunshine.  In an hour the job will be done.

The January sunshine was comforting, even relaxing, good for a gardener’s impatient wintertime soul that already thinks about spring plantings.  I filled the wheelbarrow with cut canes.  As I loosened and pulled winter weeds, the six or seven I had estimated turned into 16 or 17 and then 60 or 70, and then I lost count.  I filled one five-gallon bucket with weeds and leaves, then a second bucket, and then a third.

Raspberry bed after cutting & weeding
The cool breeze stiffened, and the wind-chill factor dropped slowly as the sun moved lower in the western sky.  A drop of sweat formed on the tip of my nose.  Hmm, that wasn’t sweat.  My nose was getting cold.  I soon finished and wheeled the “harvest” downhill to a crude compost pile at the edge of our woods.

But the job was done.  The canes were cut to the ground.  The winter weeds were history—hopefully, but I know there must be hundreds, if not thousands, of dormant weed seeds just waiting to sprout during the next warm spell.  The raspberry bed looked relatively neat, even ready for spring.  I’ll add a thin layer of composed leaves/horse manure when I buy a load at the composting facility at our county landfill in February or March.

Have you ever thought you’d like to grow raspberries?

Our patch is seven years old now.  I bought six plants by mail order.  I suppose I had beginner’s luck when I chose Heritage, a red primocane-bearing variety.  I really hadn’t “read up” on raspberries before I got started, but I had learned that there are two basic kinds of red raspberries—summer-bearing and primocane-bearing (sometimes called everbearing).   Primocane-bearing varieties fruit in late summer until frost on canes that grew that year.  Summer-bearing varieties fruit earlier in the summer on canes that grew the previous year.

The difference was attractive to this rooky raspberry grower.  With primo-cane bearing plants I would have simply cut all the canes to the ground, and, presto, the plants would grow new canes and fruit the next year.  If I had bought a summer-bearing variety, I would have to keep track of which canes grew which year and remove only the “old” canes and not the “new.”  Now which cane is “old” and which is “new”?  Actually, it’s not too hard to tell, but, as I said, I knew less about raspberries then.

August 5, 2011, picking from our small raspberry bed
The Heritage raspberries have done us well.  We pick quarts each summer from their small, 10’x10’ bed.  Early on we eat them out of hand as we pick then.  Then we use them on summertime cereal and in fruit salads.  Some go into freezer jam.  We share some with friends.  Ellen spreads the “extras” on cookie sheets, freezes them for a couple of hours, and bags them for wintertime use.

When fresh raspberries sometimes cost $10 to $12 a pound at the grocery store, we just smile and wonder when other gardeners are going to start planting raspberry patches.  I certainly encourage you to grow this mouth-watering, easy-to-grow fruit.

But if you decide to start a raspberry patch, I highly recommend that you to learn as much as you can about growing raspberries before you begin.  A great place to spend an hour getting an unaccredited B.S.R.G. (Bachelor of Science in Raspberry Growing) is the 40-page Chapter 8, “Brambles,” in The Mid-Atlantic Berry Guide for Commercial Growers.  You can access the Guide online by CLICKING HERE.

You can cross-check the Guide’s list of recommended cultivars with the much shorter University of Maryland Extension’s “Bramble Cultivar Recommendations” by CLICKING HERE.

And I add one note that most publications haven’t yet added to their text: Raspberries are a favorite food of brown marmorated stink bugs.  If you have concerns about using pesticides, you should do additional investigation into what researchers are recommending to control this destructive insect.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Jim’s Row Cover Protects Kale into January

Jim pulls back row cover that protects kale

After Irene M. of Columbia noticed a mention of row covers in my recent posting about my mini-greenhouse, she sent me an email note: “Jim has had a row cover on kale and it is going strong.”

Irene, a Howard County Master Gardener, wrote that note several days before temperatures dipped into the teens here in Central Maryland.  Temperature was 13.3°F here at Meadow Glenn at dawn Wednesday, the day I had arranged for Ellen and me to visit Irene and Jim to check out his row cover –and to see her pesebre.

“I’ve never grown kale before, but in October I saw some plants at Frank’s Produce and Greenhouse,” Jim said.  “I thought I’d buy them and see what happens.  Most fell over after I planted them, but soon their leaves turned up and resumed growing.  When the weather got colder, I thought I’d extend their growing season by giving them some protection with a row cover.”

Jim said the temperature Wednesday morning at their home was 17°F.  He hadn’t yet checked to see how his kale had weathered the cold, but when he pulled back some of the row cover from its PVC support hoops, the kale appeared in perfect condition—ready to cut and take into the kitchen.

Jim's kale thrives under row cover even
when temperatures drop into teens
“I use the row cover in the spring also,” Jim said, “to protect my early vegetables from late frosts.”

A row cover is a very light synthetic fabric, often described as “gauze-like,” that gardeners drape over plants.  The ultra-thin fabric lets in sunlight, air, and water but, when properly installed, excludes insects and other pests.  In cooler weather it can create a warmer micro-climate that helps protect plants from the cold.  The fabric comes in various lengths and widths and can be used in a variety of ways.  Jim’s row cover forms a protective tent over his raised bed of kale and onions.

Here are two sources where you can learn more about row covers.  To view the first, a short (<4 min.) University of Maryland Extension Home & Garden Information Center video, “How to Use a Row Cover in Your Vegetable Garden, CLICK HERE.  For the second, a print article with more than 20 explanatory photographs, “Stink Bug Barrier for Tomato & Pepper,” in a Maryland Home & Garden newsletter, CLICK HERE.

This posting is about row covers, but I did mention Irene’s pesebre.  A pesebre is a traditional Nativity Scene with roots in Spain.  Irene continues a family tradition started by her father 60 years ago.  To see the 2010 setup of her pesebre, CLICK HERE.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Frugal Gardener: Greenhouseperhaps Becomes Mini-Greenhouse

Frosted greenhouseperhaps after
December 29 flurries

We’ve had temperatures as low as 22°F and snow flurries in late October and December.  So how’s my $13.67 greenhouseperhaps doing?

My inexpensive—ok, cheap—greenhouseperhaps is a plastic storage container from which I cut the bottom.  I then installed the box in our garden as an experimental greenhouse.  As I wrote in a September blog, “Why not ‘build’ a very small greenhouse to see how long I can get lettuce to grow in our garden as winter approaches.  I’ll call it my greenhouseperhaps until I see if it really works.”

My experiment in frugality has lasted longer than I imagined because of our extra-warm fall and early winter.  Yes, we’ve had a few flurries and quite a few nights with sub-freezing temperatures.  The warm weather caused my September lettuce plantings to grow rapidly.  I harvested that planting and then moved the greenhouseperhaps to a more protected location and planted a second crop of three Red Sails lettuce plants that I had started in yoghurt cups inside our house.

So how are the three lettuce plants doing?  Fine, thank you.

Unprotected Simpsons Curled lettuce
after December 29 flurries
When I unlatched the two click handles today and lifted the top off the box, a sheet of thin ice slipped off the top and shattered on the garden soil.  Inside the box, the three Red Sails lettuce plants are growing slowly and showing no signs of freeze damage.  Outside the box just 40 feet away two Simpsons Curled lettuce plants stand as slushy evidence of what sub-freezing temperatures can do to lettuce.

Why has my greenhouseperhaps worked so far?  I think there are several reasons.

First, Red Sails lettuce seems slightly more cold-hardy than other lettuces, such as the Simpsons Curled.

Second, I’ve positioned the box about three feet from the south side of a brick wall, where it will benefit from winter sun and have some protection from cold north winds.

Third, the plastic container creates a slightly warmer microclimate for the three plants.  The soil there is dark brown because I’ve added plenty of compost over the years, so the dark soil absorbs warmth from the sun’s radiation.  The lidded box itself helps keep heat in and cold out and helps protects the plants from chilling winter breezes.  Even though a sheet of ice slid off the top of the lid this morning, the inside of the lid and the walls of the box were covered with drops of condensation.

How long will the greenhouseperhaps keep the Red Sails lettuce from freezing?

Red Sails lettuce January 2
inside greenhouseperhaps
I’m a realist.  I have no illusion that the lettuce will grow until spring.  At some point, an Arctic blast will burn the leaf edges and then turn the Red Sails into green mush.  That could be tomorrow night, when the local forecast calls for a low of 19°F.  I’ll keep you informed.

At this point I’m surrendering on one point, my use of “greenhouseperhaps” as the name for my winter lettuce box.  It works.  From now on it’s my “mini-greenhouse.”

What has my experiment taught me?

Creating a microclimate that lets cool-weather plants grow longer through the fall and into early winter doesn’t have to be expensive or complex.  A $13.64 plastic box in a semi-protected location works quite nicely, thank you.  The box works on the same temperature-moderating principle as do cold frames and row covers.

I think I’ll try my mini-greenhouse again as spring approaches—perhaps as soon as there are hints in February that spring is getting ready to, well, spring.  I’ll start two or three lettuce plants—perhaps Red Sail or an even shorter variety—inside our warm house and transplant them when they’re about two weeks young.

I’ve enjoyed this simple experiment.  Jeanine S. of Harford County (Maryland) read my original blog and experimented too—with an even simpler mini-greenhouse.  She didn’t cut out the bottom.  She just turned the lidless container upside down and positioned it over young lettuce plants.  In her Christmas Eve greetings, she wrote:  “I will be picking lettuce from under my plastic storage tub for tonight’s dinner with the boys and their families.  No, there will not be enough for a whole salad, but enough to add a touch of special flavor and color.  That was such a great idea!”

Perhaps the mini-greenhouse idea is somewhat less than “great,” but it works.

Shouldn’t you try it next spring or fall?
If you want to read details of how I created the mini-greenhouse, CLICK HERE.