Monday, March 30, 2009

Friend or foe? Invasives.

Well, I must say that I'm disappointed. I decided to check out my latest plant acquisitions (see previous post) and found out that, in Ohio, the "Hawkeye" Honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) is an invasive plant species. I went to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources website and found my new plant on their 10-most-UNwanted-list. *sigh*

I was familiar with the invasives like Purple Loosestrife, and have often seen masses of Common Reed, especially along freeway drainage swales, and other low lying areas. But I had no idea that these pretty honeysuckles are flora-non-grata in my state. I remembered lots of honeysuckle shrubs around were I grew up in Lake County, Ohio. Dark green leaves and bright red berries. As kids we didn't know they were honeysuckles, we just called them 'bird bushes' because there were always a lot of birds eating the berries. Was the "Hawkeye" the only honeysuckle baddie? But no. Further search found another informative site, The Nature Conservancy in Ohio. Here the 4 invasive honeysuckle bushes (and suggested alternatives) are listed.

I did a few searches using the words "invasive plants" or "invasive species" and the name of a state and found state sites with invasives as well as "now what do I do?" advice. You might want to bookmark your state's list for reference. I'm finding that some of the seeds I've received in seed exchanges are invasives in my area so will not even sow them now that I know.

Since my honeysuckle was on sale, there is no taking it back. And honestly, I wouldn't want it to go back on the shelf to be sold to some other unwary customer. Instead I'll dispose of it in a way so as not to give it opportunity to root in compost or end up in a landfill. Alerting the store about the plant most likely would achieve nothing, it being a local quick-sell overstock type of store that it is. No, I'm sure that any comment to the management that they are selling invasive species would fall on deaf ears and the employees probably don't have any say on what they sell anyway. The real nub is that what they sell is not illegal. Still, that just doesn't make it right. (Note: had I purchased the honeysuckle from a nursery, you can bet your garden clogs I'd have made an issue out of it!)

As gardeners we take great pleasure from our gardens and in sharing our bounty. The flip side is we have a responsibility to not be part of a problem (introducing invasives), but be part of the solution. And it's a simple thing to do: check your state listings. (Honestly, they aren't all that long from what I've read). Then simply don't plant those troublemakers. Instead, opt for something native or non-invasive (that list is monster-huge!). :-D

So even though something is readily available, or cheap, or popularly accepted, as gardeners and growers we have to think of a different bottom line: the health of our native environments. In the end, this was, for me, a good lesson learned. From now on I will familiarize myself with invasive species in my area and be more aware of my gardening practices.

I mean, even though I'm pinching pennies like a lot of us these days, I sure don't want to sell out Mom Nature just to save a buck.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Paper or plastic? How about wood?

Ever have one of those experiences when everything seems to work in your favor? I was at the post office on Saturday and when I left, I decided to turn left instead of right to go back home. Right is normal. Left is a little out of my way, but I just took it for some reason. And the light was green. When I got to the turnoff toward my house, I decided, what the heck, go buy some veggies and, well, the light was green. In fact, all the way to the store the lights were green. That has never happened before. Tres spooky...

When I got out of the car I also did something I hadn't done before (and really should have, shame on me!) and that is take my shopping tote. Anyway yours truly got some nice veggies (all on sale - the planets were truly aligned!) and when I was leaving I turned a corner and *YAY* seed racks. I had meant to pick up some garden peas and larkspur to plant and there they were. *Grab* Then I looked up and practically gasped. There were all these cartons filled with trees and shrubs. Two to a carton. Less than $3.50 per carton. And right at eye level were Amur Maple trees. I couldn't believe my eyes. I've wanted some of these 'clump' maples ever since I moved into my current house, but at a nursery these babies are prohibitively expensive. And here were almost a dozen cartons! I went a little nuts (which, is kinda hard to tell from my regular behavior...*grin*). I took 5 cartons. Yes, 5. That's 10 trees!

After scarfing up the maples, I browsed through the selection of shrubbery and picked up 1 carton (2 plants each) of "Sweet Shrub", "Hawkeye Honeysuckle", "Western Sand Cherry" and "Pea Shrub". I stopped there, feeling I should really leave some for other folks. ;-D On my way to the checkout I passed some garden gloves. *Grab*. When I paid for my items I brought out my tote bag and (really, should I have been surprised at this point? ) it held exactly 9 cartons. Okay, not only were the traffic lights greening and the planets aligning but the garden spirits were obviously helping me along. Who knew they even shopped? And they must have also known that this store has only sporadic seasonal offerings and that had I not been there that day, the trees and shrubs would most like have been gone within a few days.

Now I have to figure out where to put them to best advantage in the property. So many of the neighbors have cut down so many trees lately, that the neighborhood is starting to feel a little naked. And last October Hurricane Ike made it's way all the way up here with 70mph winds and took out a wonderful shady Ash tree that would have overlooked the ring garden (hence the new 'stump garden' mentioned in the previous post). And while the Amurs won't top more than 18 feet, they will provide nesting for birds, shade for benches and some privacy. For starters I'll transplant them out of their cartons and into 2-gallon pots to let them develop some roots. That will give me time to envision them around the sanctuary and eventually plant them into the ground early in the fall. I can hardly wait! :-D

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Electric garden

UPDATE: Dateline: Friday 3/27/09:
It did rain and for 2 days (Wednesday and Thursday). Total was about 3/4" and we really needed every drop. Today was warmer and overcast, so late in the afternoon when the grass had dried, I went and turned the leaves into the last half of the ring bed. The soil, thankfully, is not clay! It was moist and had settled some from the rain pounding on it, but it forked over easily as I turned in the leaves. Having done that, I can come back into the house for at least a month while the worms enjoy their Spring feast. :-D

A bonus today. While tidying up the remaining leaf pile, a golfer ventured over and asked what was I making. I briefly explained about the ring bed, the bee sanctuary, the native plants, etc. I didn't get too involved or use a lot of hand gestures (well, actually, I was waving my garden fork around for effect). *sigh* Anyway, I think I came off sane because he wished me luck and walked away, not run. That's a good sign. Right? Right? ;-D


A break in the weather coincided with Spring break and I was able to get a couple days of quality time outside. When I looked at the Ring bed, I saw that every single leaf I'd forked in last November was completely gone. Yay! Go worms! Unfortunately, however, this winter's ever- present snowpack totally compressed all the dirt and it was flat as a pancake - and crusting over. Boo! The bed really needed to be tilled again. *sigh* Since my neighbor had used his big tiller on it last year and the ground had already been broken once, I said to myself, "Self," I pondered. "Maybe I could fluff it up using my handy-dandy electric Mantis cultivator. How hard could it be?"

How hard indeed! So this past Sunday, with the unbridled optimism of a first-day dieter, I rounded up as much extension cord as I could find (even begging from yet another neighbor - trying to spread around my enthusiasm for the project). When I finally had about half a mile of cord, I hooked up my cultivator and had at it. And at it. And at it. *pant* Gee, Craig's mondo tiller sure made it look easy. 4 hours later I needed a rest. And some ibuprofen. And maybe some therapy if not a cool glass of vino and a heating pad. (Getting eld is a...!)

Anyway I way overdid it. I got about half of the ring churned up and decided to call it a day, promising myself that I'd get back to it on Monday. Monday I couldn't move. (Oh, the pain, the pain.) Thankfully the temps had dropped overnight and brought in a sharp and bitter East wind, excuse enough to hide inside and nurse what was left of my joints, my muscles and my pride.

Tuesday was a little warmer and I was able to hold on to things again. 3 hours later all the churning was done. Although I, myself was still churning from the pulling on the Mantis for hours. If I could have raised my arm I would have given myself a pat on the back, instead I went in for some lunch and turned on the weather channel. Days of rain ahead. I wept bitter tears. If I let days of rain onto the ring now, it would just get beaten back down flat. *whimper* I had to woman up to the fact that I now had to fork in as much of the leaves I'd saved over winter for just this occasion.

So what's a gal to do? Grab a fork and start turning soil. And while I gave it the old college try, I only got as far as mixing leaves into half of the ring. Then I plumb gave up the ghost. I was encouraged to see that the daff bulbs that I'd planted last Fall were coming up and should make a nice display. And in a week or so when the weather turns a little dryer, I'll be out there again feeding those hungry little worms in that bed. Until then, however, I'm going to spend a little time in another bed I have in mind... *yawn*

Meanwhile, here's the "big picture" early in the season. The ring garden, the veggie garden, the arbor garden, the new stump garden. Not to mention those around the house, the driveway.

So many plans, so much to do, and only so much of me to go around. Gotta pace myself. Maybe a little snoooooooz z z z z z z z z z z z.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Vernal Equinox - 2009

An important annual event for us North Hemispherians! And for me, personally. Of all the cyclical events, this one always seems to hold more promise, even more so than the Winter Solstice. Anyway, the sun crossed the equator at 7:44 EDT and Spring officially arrived!! Tired of a long cold windy snowy season, I cheered the dawn. It was cloudy at that actual moment, so I had to envision the sun as I watched an unexpected handful of tiny snowflakes floated down (like a celebratory sparkle of icy confetti). But within 20 minutes the clouds where gone and the sun shone brightly through the pines.

Though I've been very active gardening in the basement (yet another new post today on "propagation page") and with outside Winter Sowing lately, the arrival of Spring is sanction to really get a little garden crazy! I still have my annuals to WS (starting this weekend), and then there are the bee houses that must be put up to entice the natives to procreate in the sanctuary, and the hunt is on for fruitful shrubs and trees (for the wildlife) at the local nurseries and box stores, and I need to do more research on pollinators.... *whew*

And then I have to start watching for news from the White House as our first lady plants an 1100 sq/ft organic kitchen garden on the south lawn. Now, how cool is that! Maybe we'll get lucky and she'll BLOG about it!

Hmmm, maybe we should suggest that. And while we're at it, let's send her an email with a link to the GardenWeb Organic Gardening forum. Can't hurt, no? ;-D


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Green for St. Pat's day

Okay, this post is a day late, but not dollar short! :-D

And while there are no shamrocks in the pics, there's GREEN in abundance! Here's what's been started under the lights in the basement and now big enough to come out onto to the deck. A nice lettuce mix and 3 kinds of onions: Red Mars, Yellow Candy and White Bunching. There's green stuff on the deck so YAY it must be spring (well, officially on Friday, but today the weather is better than Friday's will, according to the forecast).

Either way, these hardy spring veggies can take the cold and will now stay outside.

Meanwhile, in case you haven't noticed, I've been posting a lot on my "Plant Propagation" page recently. That's because there's so much to do with my GUL (growing under lights) starts that I haven't had much time to do a proper post for the main page here.

As for my WS containers, I'm expecting sprouts today (how's that for optimism?). It's going into the 60s, sunshine, and other WS on the forum in my zone have posted about sprouts. My stuff should be catching the 'green wave' coming up from zone 6 to my zone 5 deck any minute! I'm going to take my cup of coffee outside and wait for it. :-D

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Once upon a time...

I know that there will be lots of new and interesting stuff to post when Spring shows up and I get back outside to work in the gardens. But right now we're having another 'rain event' in NE Ohio and it might be a good time to curl up with a nice hot beverage and enjoy a tale from LAST year's garden adventures - before I was blogging. Everybody comfy? Okay, let's go.

Once upon a time there was a gardener who, having decided to turn her place into a pollinator sanctuary, just couldn't get enough of things buzzing and humming around the place. "Welcome, bees!" she sang. "Welcome butterflies and moths. Welcome hover flie
s and humming birds. Welcome. Welcome." (Oh, puh-leeeze! Act your age for gosh sakes! ) But I, uh, she didn't and eventually the whole insect community got wind of this new venture and before you know it -- surprise!

In a previous tale I've related how this gardener mows her own grass/meadow. By doing so, every inch of the lawn gets inspected on a regular basis and when something new shows up, well, she's all over it (sometimes literally). In the very back of the yard she has to step carefully due to many chipmunk holes. (They are a hazard and wicked nasty to fragile ankles!) Filling them is futile, but sometimes gives a fleeting satisfaction. (Take that, and that, and *thump thump* that...) Anywho, one day she saw a cute little bee fly into one of those chipmunk holes. And look, another! Oh, she thought. This must be a digger bee or some other native bee that uses rodent holes. I've read about them! Yay! she thought again. Her gardens will be a bee sanctuary in no time.

Let us pause our story here, dear readers, to remind ourselves that when our gardener mow
s her lawn/meadow, she does not wear her reading/close-work glasses. Now, let's continue.

She just couldn't wait to investigate these solitary and docile native bees. She ran got the camera. Before snapping pics, she knelt down and gently laid her ear against the soil, hoping to hear the happy hum beneath, but no. Ah well. Pics were taken and filed away for her bee collection. While walking away, she spied yet another chipmunk hole about 20' feet away with the same kind of bees entering and leaving. She was blessed indeed.

That very night (and readers, these are true facts, not embellished for literary effect), she was awakened by the odd infant-like crying that is the voice of a red fox. Not just a bee sanctuary, she thought excitedly, but a wildlife refuge! She could hardly go back to sleep.

The next day she wandered back toward the chipmunk holes and (oh her poor heart!) found nothing but carnage and devastation everywhere! Oh, the bee-manity!

*sob* Luckily she had her camera and started snapping flash pics left and right. BOTH nests had been dug into and what she naively thought was honeycomb strewn about.
*snap* *snap* *ouch* *OUCH* HEY! HEY! YOW!

Let me tell you, my friends, even with her bad ankle that gal hopped/ran like someone had yelled "free money!" Back safe inside her impenetrable fortress of solicitude, she grabbed her glasses and took a closer look at her digital pics. Hmmm. Then did a little web search. More hmmm. In retrospect, our clueless gardener got off pretty lightly with only a few stings from the ENRAGED YELLOW JACKETS that were LUSTING FOR VENGEANCE that their two underground football-sized nests had been dug up and their lovely plump and juicy larvae had been eaten by foxes!!

Later that same day, our calamine-dappled gardener wondered what to do with those two dangerous half-exposed half-eaten yellow jacket nests? Worriedly she researched about boiling water, cool nights, darkness (they hate bright lights like - flash cameras), etc. But there was little need to worry. The very next night the laughing foxes came back, dug up the rest of the nests and ate everything, even the nest material.

All our gardener had to do was fill in the holes, walk away -- and live happily ever after.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Planting ahead

This winter has been the coldest, longest, snowiest, blowiest that I can remember. Oh, 2002-2003 winter had a lot of snow, especially in February but 2008-2009 has it beat hands down! (Heavily gloved hands, I might add! ) Sure, we had a little mild break a couple of days ago when it flirted with 50. But temps plummeted again and it's 8F right now and only going up to 18. And at this moment a bitter wind is driving from the North at 20-30 mph with higher gusts. So what' a garden gal to do?

Plot and plan. Dream and scheme. And, believe it or not, plant seeds outside - right now!

Remember how late last Fall I stumbled into the GardenWeb forums? My first foray landed me in a real pile of crap - figuratively speaking that is. The Soil Forum is all about compost and never have I met such a nice bunch of wackos (as they affectionately refer to themselves). Near the end of the year you may remember that I next found the Cottage Garden forum. Well, as winter deepened, both forums slowed a bit, so I did some stepping out, checking out other forums. One day I found the Winter Sowing forum. Whazzat?

Come to find out Winter Sowing is a planting method that got its start at the turn of the century. (Kinda weird that 2000 could be referred to like that...all my life 'turn of the century' had always meant the year 1900). But I digress.

I spent a little time reading the wonderfully informative FAQ page on the WS forum (written by Trudi Davidoff of WinterSown.Org) and I was off (even more so than usual *heh*). What IS Winter Sowing? To quote Trudi:

Winter Sowing is an easy germination method that starts many seedlings for just pennies. During Winter seeds are sown into mini-greenhouses that you make yourself from recyclables. After sowing, the mini-greenhouse is placed outside to wait for the end of Winter. The seeds will begin to germinate at their own right time when weather warms. "

Translation: You make a bunch of mini-greenhouses out of recycled material: milk jugs, water containers, 2-liter soda bottles, lasagna pans. If a container can hold at least 4" of potting mix and you can poke holes in the bottom and put a clear or opaque cover over the top, you're in business. (Be warned - some of us do not seem to have recyclable items at hand, so surprising forays into dumpsters are not unheard of.)

Well, what's not to like? It's got all the elements of a good time: easy, pennies, recyclables. And some real gardening to do in the dead of winter!! Woohoo. And you meet the nicest people - the WS forum gang! Thanks to these kind and generous people, through exchanges and outright gifting, I received a plethora of flower seeds (perennials and annuals), the familiar as well as the unknown to entice me into trying Winter Sowing. Ohboyhowdy!

The result is this nice collection (above) of WS containers now frozen solid on my deck. FROZEN SOLID. And yet, that's the way it's got to be. Lots of seeds need to be winter stratified (freeze, thaw, refreeze, etc.) So how is WS any different than just casting seeds right into the garden in Fall and walking away? By sowing seeds into containers the seeds are protected from critters/bugs that might eat the seed; preventing rain/snow melt from washing away the seeds, bypassing hostile garden conditions (winter traffic, etc), competition from other seeds, stuff like that.

But with bit of WS protection, a high percentage of seeds will sprout. A great bonus is that these seedlings develop into hardier plants than, say, those sprouted in a basement under grow lights then have to be 'hardened' off before going into gardens. WS babies are ready to hit the ground running!

Right now all these containers are sown with hardy perennials - tough stuff that can take winter. In a couple of weeks I'll be sowing tender perennials and hardy annuals. Then the 'regular' annuals...and..uh oh. I think I'm going to need more empty containers.

Dumpster diving - don't leave home if you can't make bail! ;-)

For more WS adventures, visit the "Plant Propagation" link on the sidebar. (Post dates are listed on the link.)