31 March, 2010

Keep Off The Grass

It has rained like the flood of Noah in some areas the last few days.  The next few days will have bright sunny days and temps in the 70s to 80s.  Cabin fever is certainly peeking right now. There will  be a great urge to get outside and play in the dirt and grow some grass.
BUT WAIT A MINUTE (or a few dry days). If you have clay soil or low spots in your yard stay off the lawns and gardens. The worst thing to do in spring is try to garden in wet soil. The end is result is a soil strata starved of oxygen, compacted platelets and a garden that will not drain or grow anything.
However you can start seeds this week. Peppers and egg plant need to get started now. Tomatoes can wait until tax day.  

26 March, 2010

Fwd: A Little Set Back in the Weather

I really would not call it a set back but it is going to be cold Friday. Some areas will even see some snowfall at daybreak. Don't be alarmed this will not affect the bulbs popping up nor anything else. In fact it may even prolong maple sugaring awhile longer. This weekend is the last weekend for open houses at maple sugar houses across the state. Depending on where you are sugaring operations are opening the door to the public to see how maple syrup is made. Click here for the details  Maple Syrup Weekend
The annual Capital District Flower show is this weekend at Hudson Valley Community College just south of Troy. $10 admission for adults but kids under 15 are free. Very large display of attractive gardens along with quite a large trade show with garden and outdoor related vendors. Very easy to get to as well. Just get off the 787 exit on the Thruway head north and get on I-90 East. Get off at Rt 4 exit and head North. From the east side of the river travel up the Taconic all the way to the end and look for Rt 9 then go to rt 4 North.
Lidia Bastianich wil be doing a book signing at Adams Poughkeepsie on Thursday March 31 from 6 to 8 PM. Plan on getting in line early as She sold over 200 books when she appeared at Adams  Newburgh recently.

16 March, 2010

Early Spring Chores to Do his Week in The Hudson Valley (or Anywhere the Weather is Warming)

First off get outside and turn that compost pile! After tossing debris on our pile all winter it is beginning to look like a landfill instead of a compost pile.  Turning and loosening up the unfrozen top sever al inches will bring some of the pile still experiencing winter to the top. Amazing how well insulated the center of the pile is from this weeks warm spell.
Second jump ahead of henbit. Henbit is that awful spreading weed that runs rampant in cooler weather. It has a pretty blue flower but invades lawn areas and loves to creep over and under my raised beds and try to eradicate my strawberry bed. In lawn areas henbit can be eradicated by spraying with Bonide Weed Beater Ultra. Weed Beater Ultra is a tremendous product in that it can be used in temps as low as 45*, the same temp that henbit starts growing at!
Start sowing pepper seeds over the next week. Peppers are slow to get going and benefit from getting started now. Hold off on tomatoes unless you have a great big grow room or humongous  south facing windows.
Mid March is an excellent time to take cuttings of herbs that survived indoors over the winter. Sage, Lavender, Tarragon and, Rosemary all are ripe for making new plants. Spreading herbs such as Thyme, Oregano Chamomile are also good items for DIVIDING into new plants.

14 March, 2010

Government Arresting Gardeners for Illegal Landscapes

One would think with all the cutbacks in funding and impending budget crises everywhere there would no be enough thyme for such nonsense as this in California:
This couple in Las Angeles is being sued for removing a water eating lawn. Now I love lawns and defend their place in the landscape. But who am I or you for that matter to force someone to spend money to water a lawn they don't want.
Anyway spring is just around the corner and it is seed starting thyme!

05 March, 2010

Thyme to Think About Tomato Blight and Prepare for it Again

The planting season is still a little ways away but with 50* temps in the offing there are some chores that can be started in the garden right now. Or at least begin to think about these projects. My garden is still frozen and the compost may not thaw out until May but I am determined to keep late blight out of my garden this year. Late blight, Phythoptera infestans, is the same blight that caused the Irish potato famine. In 2009 a perfect storm gathered on three fronts that brought about economic destruction for tomato growers and home gardeners alike. First front was the infected plants sold  to mass retailers across the eastern Seaboard. The infected plants were then planted in home gardens and the fungus spread like wildfire.  The fungus that causes late blight can travel forty miles.
The second front was the economy itself which brought record numbers of vegetables gardeners into the foray adding more launch sites for the fungus. The terrible economic conditions had people doing whatever they could come up with to save money. One way to save money is to grow your own food in the backyard. Spending a little money on seeds and plants goes a long way in returning dividends. My bet is that for every $100 one spends on seeds and plants yields several hundred dollars in food.
The third front is really two part. First organic gardening is huge. The trend is gardening is towards using fewer pesticides, natural fertilizers and plants from which seeds can saved and planted the following years .Organic gardening goes hand in hand with heirlooms, old fashioned varieties, that are supposedly better tasting and are not genetically modified (also known as GMO). Victory garden fever has returned, seed saving is a new trend that leads to perfect storm scenario. Heirloom tomatoes are more susceptible to late blight than some hybrid varieties.
There was also a tremendous amount of wrong information in the media about late blight last year. First off ,many newspapers and Internet sights,said that some farmers use copper sulphate on their tomato crops. This is true. copper sulphate, an organic fungicide, is used on tomato and other crops. However it is useless on blight. They may as well have said some farmers water their plants when dry. When this "sound bite" hit the gardening world the though was the answer to blight was copper sulphate because "that's what they said in the paper". And when it was learned that copper sulphate is organic that made the news sound even better. The only fungicide that is even close to being effective is chlorothalanol which goes by the trade name Daconil.  However if not caught when the very first leaf shows signs of the disease that control is of little value.
So what do 50* temps and late blight have in common. Think of your car parked in the sun on a 50* day. Inside the temps rises to over 100*. This is a greenhouse effect. A similar technique can be used in your garden rid it of blight fungus from leftover plant debris or tomato seeds that fell to the ground. This technique is called solarization. Solarization "cooks" the top several inches of soil sterilizing it and making it free of troublesome weed seeds and the fungus that causes blight.
To solarize a section of your garden make sure there is ample moisture in the ground. This should not be a problem this year after the recent snowfall. Cover the garden area with clear plastic sheeting. The clear plastic sheeting will act as a greenhouse roof and trap warm air underneath. Seal the edges of the garden by placing timber, logs, stones etc all around the edge of the garden to prevent heat from escaping. After several days of 50* plus weather, actually 60* is ideal, your soil will have heated to temps in excess of 140* killing off many unwanted weed seeds as well as the fungus causing late blight. The benefit of solarization is that is uses no chemicals whatsoever.
I do not think we have seen the last of late blight. Cold weather does not kill off the fungus. A study of potato farmers in Michigan's upper peninsula showed the fungus over wintered well on potato debris that was left in the fields. Many tomato infected plants were sent directly to landfills last year. This leaves a great storehouse of fungus to spread yet again. Other gardeners simply tossed their diseased plants in the woods or left them in brush piles. This too provides a  great breeding ground for the blight fungus. In addition the fungus can also pass on to future generations in the seed itself.
So there you have my forecast. I think it will be at least another two years before the blight is on it's way out. But one can take precautions to lessen the impact of late blight on this years' crop. Re-consider the varieties you grow this year. Radiator Charlie's, Mortgage Lifter and other old heirlooms carry on tradition, nostalgia, as well as taste into today's garden environment. However many old standby's are like a 1956 Chevy, nice to look at, but a lot of work. If you grow heirlooms this year be prepared to keep an extra eye out for yellowing leaves and prepare to act quickly.
The best word on tomato gardening I can give is know your source when buying plants. Locally grown plants are better for the local economy as well as the environment. There is much less energy used in transporting tomato seedlings from one part of the Hudson Valley to another as opposed to shipping them from Georgia. Also if there is a problem with local material the problem stays local.
Perhaps there is a silver lining to last tomato blight's devastation of 2009. Globilization now makes it easy to get exotic products quickly and cheaply. Globalization also makes it very easy to spread illness around the globe in a matter of hours. Think how quickly the SARS virus spread from Hong Kong to Toronto. If you have never gotten ill from a virus that traveled the world you may not think twice. But last year hardly a gardener I know had many tomatoes. All this from a fungus shipped from single greenhouse in Georgia. Blight hit home last year. Had those tomatoes never been shipped from Georgia the outbreak would have been much smaller or may not have occurred at all.
Buy local, eat local grow local. It's better for all of us.

03 March, 2010

Garden Police Now Targeting Hydroponic Shops Down Under

Police in Australia are requiring background checks on employees at hydroponic shops. They have not said if they are documenting employees at garden center which sell seed starting equipment and "regular" grow lights.......yet. This is something to keep an eye on. I can see in the future if you live at 420 High Street and have an herb garden in the basement Big Brother will have their eyes on you.
All this scrutiny comes under the guise of "you MAY be up to something". It is now becoming more common for one to prove their innocence instead of the plaintiff proving your guilt. This gives unfair advantage to the plaintiff which is the government with unlimited resources to harass the public.
This is especially concerning because this scrutiny is now being placed on gardeners through regulating water usage and what one can plant, must plant and may not grow in their homes.
New laws have taken effect in South Australia aimed at cracking down on hydroponic cannabis crops.
The legislation targets sellers of hydroponic equipment, with staff required to submit to character checks.
 Police Minister Michael Wright says people who cultivate cannabis are the target, including bike gang members.
"The new laws are an Australian first. From today, well there'll be a transitional period of three months but you'll need to apply to the Police Commissioner for a licence to operate," he said.
"In part it is certainly aimed at bike gangs because the evidence is there that they are involved in the hydroponic cultivation of large quantities of cannabis.