Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Garden Fair & Plant Sale This Saturday!

There's a fun, free event coming up this Saturday that you shouldn't miss! It's the WSU/Spokane County Master Gardeners' annual Garden Fair & Plant Sale.

It will be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Extension Center at 222 N. Havana St. in Spokane. It's just south of the Indians ballpark and the Spokane Fair & Expo Center. Parking is free as well.

Here's what will be going on:

  • Plant sale (includes plants from Master Gardeners' own gardens, grafted tomatoes, native plants, perennials including hostas, and more plants from local nurseries)
  • Information booths on a wide variety of gardening topics
  • The new raised-bed demonstration garden to the south of the building (which I'll be working at)
  • Garden art
  • You'll learn about beekeeping, how to grow berries, and so much more
  • There will be excellent garden books for sale
  • Garden art
  • Tool sharpening
  • A silent auction and raffle
  • And the "3Rs to Garden Art" booth (Recycle, Reuse and Re-purpose)
All proceeds from sales of the above items will help support the WSU/Spokane County Master Gardener program.

For more details, visit the Master Gardener Foundation of Spokane County's website, which includes information on the Garden Fair raffle.

I hope you can make it -- it's always great fun and a wonderful way to celebrate the fact that Spring has sprung. Stop by the raised bed demo garden and say hi!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

April 20 column

Happy Easter! Here is a link to my column in today's edition of The Spokesman-Review: With proper care, winter squash thrive. It's all about growing winter squash and pumpkins. Last year, I really got ours off to a great start by starting them early indoors, then covering the soil in their bed with red plastic mulch to increase the soil temperature and then, once they were planted, I covered the bed with floating row cover to keep them toasty warm for the first couple of weeks. What a difference it made!

To learn more about all of this, check it out!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Interesting onion information

As you know, I grow a lot of long-day onions from plant starts purchased from Dixondale Farms. They grow great for me and I know other local gardeners who've had amazing results, too.

Their website has a lot of useful onion-growing information on it. I just discovered three items that I thought you would find helpful. I had no idea that you should harvest the onions that flower right away! Read on...

Item #1:
Q. My onions are growing flower stalks. Why are they doing this, and what should I do about it?

A. This process is known as "bolting," and it means that the onion bulb won't get any larger. You should immediately harvest it; otherwise, the continued growth of the flower stalk will make the bulb inedible.

So why is the plant bolting? It's been convinced by the weather that it's time to go to seed. Onions grow out a bulb the first season, and go to seed the second. We harvest and eat most onions before they start the second growth stage.
But cold weather, alternating with warmer weather, causes them to flower early -- especially if it rains more than normal. These conditions have prevailed over much of the country this year, so keep a close eye open for bolting. You may be able to enjoy bolted plants as green or salad onions if you harvest quickly enough.

Item #2: Onions and other commercially cultivated alliums are biennial plants, which means that it usually takes them two growing seasons to go from seed to seed. The first season is when we take it from a seed to a transplant. When you plant the plant, it begins its second season. Given a certain set of environmental conditions, onions can be tricked into believing they have gone through two growing cycles during their first year. Instead of finishing with a well-cured bulb, ready for the market, a seed stalk can develop prematurely, causing onions to be unmarketable. While it is impossible to control the weather, planting at the correct time for the variety in question is the most important factor to limit premature bolting. Over-fertilizing can also contribute to bolting - if onions are too vigorous, too early in their development, bolting can result.  Onions bolt as a reaction to cold weather stress. Temperatures under 45F may cause the onion to bolt when the plant has five or more leaves. Some onions are more or less susceptible to bolting than others and the process is not completely understood. Unfortunately once the onion does bolt, the quality of the onion bulb deteriorates rapidly and it should be harvested and eaten as quickly as possible.

Item #3: Because the onion is a biennial, it takes two years or seasons to go to seed.  However, this process can be altered by temperatures, transplanting or both.  An onion plant’s first life begins in the seed beds.  When transplanted, the onion begins its second life. When the plant has five to six leaves or more and experiences an extended period of cooling temperatures, it can go dormant a second time.  Once it attempts to start a growing again (its third life) and the temperatures rises, the plant believes that it is going to die, so it tries to reproduce and grows a flower.  Occasionally other factors, such as excessive stress, may cause bolting, which explains why only a few plants may bolt in the entire field.   Should this happen, the onion is perfectly edible, but the ring associated with this leaf will rot, so it is best to eat the onion right away.  Don’t bend or break the onion top; the leaf is hollow and is more than likely the center of your onion.

All information above was graciously provided by Dixondale Farms.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Winter injury

I realize this isn't a very pretty picture but it illustrates today's topic well.

What you're looking at is a Japanese Andromeda (Pieris japonica) that has winter injury. I just love this plant because it has evergreen foliage and beautiful bell-shaped flowers. The new foliage starts out a coppery-red in the spring, then turns a lovely bright green. The plant loves acidic soil, which makes it a perfect bed-mate for the rhododendrons, astilbes and yews growing nearby.

Unfortunately, Japanese Andromeda isn't reliably hardy for USDA zone 5 which is the zone I live in. It will grow beautifully for years and years, then we'll have a winter where we get bitterly cold temperatures -- usually with little insulating snow to protect the plants -- and they suffer terribly.

It's always important to provide plants with plenty of moisture in the fall as we approach the winter months. This keeps the plant from drying out, which can also cause winter injury. However, in this case, I think I was bending the rules a bit by choosing a plant that isn't necessarily cold-hardy enough for my garden.

Fortunately, it has survived the winter -- it just doesn't look so great! I've since trimmed off the burned-looking leaves and was happy to see a lot of new growth plus these flowers (see photo at right), so perhaps it will recover just fine. If, however, it dies in the next year or so, I'm definitely going to replace it with something hardier.

If you have any plants that are looking similar to this, they are most likely dealing with winter injury as well. Just trim off the dead foliage and hopefully they will start perking up. And be sure to water them well going into next winter, just to be safe!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Drip irrigation project, part two

Photo #1
Continuing our discussion (see previous post) of the new drip tape system we recently installed in our garden, I wanted to show you what we did on one of our 3' x 8' raised beds.

Photo #1 shows the supplies we needed: 1/2" tubing to make the manifold, 1/2" figure-8 ends to seal off each end of the tubing, Miracle Punch,  (3) tape x 1/4" barb fittings, roll of Aqua Traxx drip tape, (3) grip sleeve ends to seal off the far end of each drip tape line, and metal pins to hold the drip tape in place. Already attached to the bed (on the left) is a PVC riser and valve, and a 1/2" T compression fitting.

Photo #2
Photo #2: Cutting the 1/2" tubing for the manifold.

Photo #3
Photo #3:  Using the Miracle Punch for punching holes into manifold. Each hole will accommodate a connector (which are called tape x 1/4" barb fittings).

Photo #4

Photo #4: Attaching the tape x 1/4" barb fittings to the manifold. The next step (not shown) was installing the Aqua Traxx onto each barb fitting and tightening it to hold it in place.

Photo #5
Photo #5: Folding the far end of each Aqua Traxx drip tape line to seal them, using the grip sleeve ends.

Photo #6: The finished product!
Photo #6: Tada! The new set-up is ready to use. The process was very simple.

Drip irrigation project, part one

Photo #1: Getting ready to swap out the old T Tape for Aqua Traxx
Last year, my husband and I installed a new irrigation system on our raised beds. We've used soaker hoses on each bed for years but they frequently clogged with minerals, which reduced the amount of water coming out of them. We felt it was time to try something new.

We chose a drip tape product called T Tape, which we purchased from Dripworks. It worked really well all season long last year. Each bed has a PVC riser with a valve and hose attachment. On top of the bed is a manifold (a cross-piece made of flexible sprinkler pipe to which the drip tape connects) that 3 or 4 runs of drip tape attach to, depending on the width of the bed.

I've since learned of a new drip tape product they carry called Aqua Traxx; it's made by Toro and one of the owners was telling me they are really pleased with it. I was curious about how it compares to T Tape so the folks at Dripworks kindly sent me some to try. We decided to replace the T Tape on a 4' x 16' bed and a 3' x 8' bed.

The process of swapping out the T Tape was very simple. On the larger bed, we disconnected the T tape from the manifold and connected the new Aqua Traxx drip tape. On the smaller bed, we decided to make a complete manifold which only took a couple of minutes (see next post for details).

We took some photos to show the process we went through with the larger raised bed set-up:

Photo #1. The photo at the top of this post shows that we cut 4 lengths of Aqua Traxx to replace the pre-existing T Tape. It's sturdy but easy to cut with utility scissors or other cutting tools. Notice that the blue stripes face upward; there is a seam on the top from which the water weeps.
Photo #2: Adding grip sleeve end onto end of drip tape.

Photo #2. At the far end of the bed, I folded the Aqua Traxx tape twice, then slipped a "grip sleeve end" onto it, to keep water from leaking out of the end.

Photo #3. The finished Aqua Traxx set-up on the bed to the right. Very simple! Remember that you can click on any of the photos to view a larger image.

Photo #3: The completed drip tape system.
A nice feature of our new drip system is that it includes a pre-filter and pressure-reducing valve to provide even watering throughout the garden.

I should also mention that it's very easy to unscrew the set-up from each bed and put it out of the way while we prepare the soil each spring.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Plant a Row for the Hungry

Are you familiar with the Plant a Row for the Hungry program? That's where you plant an extra row of veggies in your garden to donate to your local food bank.

What you might not know is that the PAR program was initially created nearly 20 years ago by the Garden Writers Association, of which I'm a member. To date, more than 20 million (yes, million!) pounds of food have been donated nationally, to help folks in our communities.

It's easy to participate. Just reserve a row in your garden (or more than one row if you have the room) for planting some veggies. When you harvest them, take them to your local food bank or food pantry. It's as easy as that. When your turn in your harvest, please let them know it's part of the Plant A Row program so we can continue our tally of just how many veggies are being donated.

Examples of vegetables that have a decent shelf life for food banks to store and give away include crops like carrots, potatoes, squash, onions, parsnips, peas, beans and tomatoes. They certainly appreciate donations of salad greens and herbs but they will of course have a shorter shelf life. Food banks will also accept fruits like apples, pears, peaches and apricots.

If you would like to know more about the Plant A Row program, please visit the information page on the Garden Writers Association's web site. There is also a brochure on the program available on the site.

If you'd like to know where your local food bank or pantry is, go to any of these links:

With your help, we can make a difference within our communities!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

April 13 column

This young Chickadee mugged for the camera in my garden last summer.
Here is a link to my column in today's edition of The Spokesman-Review: Bringing in the birds. It's about one of my favorite subjects, which is attracting birds to the garden. If you regularly follow this blog and/or my Facebook page, you know that I'm an avid birdwatcher.

Today's article covers the important needs birds have in order to be drawn to, and remain in, a garden. Birds do so much for our gardens: they eat a bunch of insects, they are great fun to watch, and we get to see them rear their young. It's definitely worth the trouble to make our landscapes appealing to them.

Happy reading!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Wasp control

I'm one of those live-and-let-live kind of folks. I love animals and I do my best to embrace both the good and bad critters because I know they all play an important role in our environment.

However, there are some critters that cross the line with me. One that immediately comes to mind is the paper wasp.

I have a small greenhouse that I primarily use for growing and hardening-off the veggies and flowers that I grow from seed each year. Unfortunately, during the course of the summer, wasps build nests under the two planting benches. In early spring -- and throughout the summer -- they love to terrorize me while I'm in the confined spaces of this small greenhouse. It's not fun, let me tell you!

Now it looks like the Rescue! folks -- who are famous for those yellow jacket traps -- have, well, come to the rescue for me. As a member of the Garden Writers Association, I occasionally receive new products to test.

I just received a new TrapStik for dealing with wasps. According to the literature, they have been designed to "catch queen wasps in spring before they have time to build nests, and works from summer through fall to catch aggressive worker wasps." Sounds good so far.

What I like is that it doesn't contain any pesticides and there aren't any nasty odors. It is designed using their "VisiLure" technology, which involves colors and patterns that the Rescue! research team has discovered will lure wasps to it. It has a sticky surface, which is how the wasps meet their end.

Moving right along... I decided to hang the TrapStik from the peak of my greenhouse for a few weeks to see if I will get some relief from my wasp problem. I hung it late in the day yesterday. This morning, low and behold, there was a wasp stuck to it. Halleluia! (click on the above photo to view a larger image)

Update: As of Friday afternoon, the trap has caught 3 wasps and 1 fly. This is great!

If you would like to know more, here is information about the TrapStik on their website.

I intend to post again on how it's working for me but I wanted to let you know that these traps will be available in garden centers this spring so keep an eye out for them. And let me know how they work for you, too, OK? Thanks.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Raised bed garden brackets, part two

All photos courtesy of Art in the Garden
I just wanted to do a follow-up to my earlier post about the M Brace raised bed garden brackets.

In it, I mentioned how it would be helpful if there were screw holes in the brackets so you could better secure the boards to the brackets. I just had pleasant conservation with the owner and designer of the M Brace brackets, Jill Plumb, and it turns out the brackets have screw holes on the inside for that very purpose. Cool!

I also thought I'd tempt you with photos of some of their bracket designs. You can check them out, as well as many more photos, by going to the Gallery page on Art of the Garden's website.

How about bumblebee brackets?

Sunflower brackets
Dragonfly brackets