Gardening Advice or Myth (GAoM): Weeding out Fact from Fiction

Gardening Advice or Myth (GAoM): Weeding out Fact from Fiction

Submitted by ~ Suri Lunde

Below are a few gardening advice/myths that we often hear but may or may not be solidly rooted in science or actually work.

GAoM 1: Compost adds lots of nutrients to soil.
It is true that adding sufficient compost into gardens makes plants grow well, which somehow implies that compost must be adding nutrients to our soil. In reality, compost has dismal nutrient levels: an N-P-K analysis of 1-1-1 or less. What compost actually does is help plants grow better in low nutrient environments by increasing the population of bacteria and fungi in the soil. These bacteria and fungi take the not-fully decomposed matter in the compost and convert them into specific nutrients the plants need to grow. So go ahead and apply lots of slow-made well-aged compost regularly and create a perfect habitat for the bacteria and fungi so that they do your fertilizing.

GAoM 2: Gravel in the bottom of containers helps drainage.myths 1
It is standard practice when filling a container to place gravel stones or pieces of pot at the bottom ‘for drainage’. This actually restricts plant growth because it has less space, and also results in roots sitting in water. Water clings to soil particles until it is completely saturated, then drains away. A layer of gravel at the pot’s base only collects that water and shifts the pool of water higher up the pot, making the roots sit in it and causing root rot. As long as there is a hole at the bottom of the container, water will find its way out without the need of gravel.

GAoM 3: Always plant marigold in the garden.
Many gardeners plant rows of marigold along their vegetable patch or as a companion plant because marigold repel many garden pests and insects. Marigold helps reduce, not eliminate, nematodes (microscopic worms) in the garden. Although many nematodes are beneficial (e.g. they help kill June bugs in lawns), some nematodes invade plant roots and cause deformities in root crops like beets and carrots. Marigold acts as a repellant for nematodes: its natural nematicides kill the nematodes, and chemicals released by its roots prevent nematode eggs from hatching, thereby decreasing the nematode population. The marigold’s fragrance does not play any part in attracting or repelling nematodes or any other pest – that is a myth.

GAoM 4: Watering plants in the afternoon sunlight burns leaves.
The belief is that water acts as a magnifying glass, focusing the sun’s rays as they hit the water, causing ‘leaf burn’. If this is true, farmers would suffer massive losses after each daytime rainstorm! Using computer modeling and live tests, scientists have proven that water is not powerful enough to magnify the sun’s rays to the required heat needed to burn the leaves on plants. Generally, the best time to water most outdoor plants is early in the morning but if watering in afternoon sunlight is the only option, it will not harm plants.

Conclusion: Let’s promote truthful gardening wisdom and debunk gardening myths. By letting unequivocal gardening myths die, we all gain a better way to grow showy perennials, overflowing hanging baskets, and bountiful vegetables.

The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener—How to Grow Food in Harmony with Nature

The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener—How to Grow Food in Harmony with Nature

By Tammi Hartung

Submitted by ~ Ann Guthals

Tammi Hartung and her husband started Desert Canyon Farm in Colorado in 1996 to grow herbs and raise food for themselves. They are now a certified wildlife and botanical sanctuary and they often have field trips for students at their farm. Their goal is to co-exist with wildlife — meeting the needs of wildlife as well as their own needs. They attempt to provide protection, food, water and homesites for wildlife.
They now have over 20 years experience trying to meet these goals. Some solutions have worked, like growing parsley for rabbits and deer to avoid losing lettuce and other crops. Some solutions have not worked, but have taught them much about nature. They have found that being wildlife-friendly can actually increase garden yields through better soil, more pollinators, and more beneficial predators helping with pest management.
book review 2
This book lays out the steps one can follow to develop a garden that is supportive of wildlife. The first activity is the get to know the site — the land, its inhabitants, water sources, light and wind patterns. Tammi believes the most important first step to beginning the garden itself is to make sure there is healthy soil. She describes how to minimally disturb the soil, provide organic matter including by growing green manure, ensure a water source, and incorporate the use of mulch. Then she explains the importance of deciding where to position perennials to provide a structure to the garden and not, for example, overshadow vegetable crops. She suggests one research the site carefully because once in, the perennials are more difficult to move than annuals. Next she wants us to get to know pollinators (bees and other insects and animals) and beneficial predators (ladybugs, praying mantises, lacewings, spiders, wasps, etc.) on our land and to research how to encourage and support them to work in partnership with the gardener. Tammi actually
creates mini-habitats for wild animals to meet the goals outlined above and also to keep them from the main garden.

One of the most useful chapters is how to repel pests without using poisons — ironic in a book about encouraging wildlife. Strategies described include sharing crops, planting crops that distract animals from other crops, hand-picking pests, repelling them with aromatics, hosing the pests off plants, using hot pepper, mint, cinnamon, and wood ash to repel pests, trapping, scare tactics (like the Scaredy-Cat, a motion-activated spray device) and blocking access with netting, screens, fences, hoop-houses, and greenhouses.

The illustrations are delightful and the book is applicable to our growing conditions because the farm is in Colorado. The sidebars are very useful and I plan to use several suggestions going forward. There is also a quick reference chart for remedies at the end of the book.

The only disappointments were the plans in the last chapter for different kinds of gardens did not provide specific information about the plants in the plans and it seemed to me you would need quite a lot of property to implement all of Tammi’s ideas, though one could still learn much from the book even for a smaller garden.
It took me a little while to catch the rhythm of this book, but once I did I began to realize what a plethora of information the author was presenting. And I have many ideas to try in the garden this year after finishing the book.

(Also available as an ebook from Amazon)

Never Home Alone: from microbes to millipedes…

Never Home Alone: from Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets and Honeybees, the Natural History of Where We Live

by Rob Dunn, Basic Books, 2018

Submitted by ~ Jerry Dalton

As Homo indoorus, we aspire to have clean homes that minimize our contact with microbes, insects, and tiny creatures. Through the ages, humans had much more exposure to microbes and tiny organisms. The overwhelming number of these are beneficial. The author, an ecologist, suggests we should spend more time outdoors in contact with microbes for our own well-being. No problem, we are gardeners. Our dogs and cats may be helpful too, for the organisms they bring into our homes. And maybe those bugs in the basement aren’t so bad after all.

Learn more about the 200,000 microscopic species found coexisting with humans in our homes, and how they contribute to our health and well-being. During the corona virus pandemic, this could be a therapeutic read because it celebrates microbes from a research ecologist’s point of view.

You can borrow from the Billings Public Library when it is open again (call number, 570 DUNN).

(Also available as an audio book or ebook from Amazon.)

Level Up To Three!

Level Up To Three!
by Elizabeth Waddington

Every other summer, you have a chance to level up from two to three by spending an August weekend in Bozeman with fellow Master Gardners. While the dates have not been set for 2020, according to Dara Palmer, the Montana Master Gardener Coordinator, the basics will include Integrated Pest Management sessions, Real Colors training, and tours/demonstrations.

From the state website: The Level 3 Master Gardener course is an intensive training offered on the campus of Montana State University – Bozeman. There will be approximately 30 hours of class time and a minimum 40 hour volunteer commitment. The Level 3 Master Gardener course will emphasize a hands-on curriculum focusing on volunteer management training, plant diagnosis and insect identification. To be eligible for Level 3 Master Gardener, students must be a certified Level 2 Master Gardener and be nominated by their county or reservation Extension agent or Master Gardener Coordinator. Space for this class is limited to 24, please be aware there may be a waiting list.

To entice you to consider this extra training, several folks who have recently been through the training shared their “top 5 reasons”. Here are a few of them:

  • Access to the insect collection at MSU, once in a lifetime opportunity.
  • Real colors, Personality test – understand yourself and others.
  • Another level of information from individual presentations.
  • Gallatin Valley Farmers Market visit.
  • Hands on practical training.
  • Exposure to gardeners from other parts of the state and their problems and solutions.
  • Learn to research topics.
  • Learn more to contribute more to the community and Master Gardner program.
  • Working knowledge of Schutter Diagnostic lab.
  • Network with like-minded individuals.
  • Awesome food.
  • And, drumroll please… a Cool Purple Shirt.

A huge benefit is “expanding your knowledge base” to the point that others (especially outside the master gardener group) feel comfortable approaching you for input into their gardening practices or directing them to information that they may not know is readily available.

More details and dates to come but don’t delay, when you hear it is open, register right away!

The Garden Jungle – BOOK REVIEW by Ann Guthals

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The Garden Jungle
or Gardening to Save the Planet
by Dave Goulson

I just finished reading what may be my favorite nature book ever and thought I’d recommend it. It’s called The Garden Jungle or Gardening to Save the Planet by Dave Goulson. I can’t say enough good things about it.

The author is a biology professor in Great Britain. This book is about plants and insects in our yards and gardens and fascinating facts about them, as well as the effects of climate change that are endangering them, and how we can manage our gardens (that’s British for yard) to support them. It’s a rare nonfiction book that reads as quickly and grippingly as a good novel. And the author is irreverent and really funny as well.

The “saving the planet” part of the title is integrated throughout the book as well as fleshed out in the last chapter. Dr. Goulson incorporates plenty of statistics on topics such as the precipitous decline in species and the large drop in the number of garden allotments in Britain compared to during World War II. He also explains how gardening can in so many ways ameliorate the effects of climate change, e.g. by helping to sequester carbon in the soil more effectively than industrial farming.

In Dr. Goulson’s own words: “When it comes to doing our bit to combat climate change, we gardeners face a win-win situation. The more carbon we can store, by adding home-made compost, mulches or charcoal to our soils, the deeper, darker and healthier our soils will become, the more our worms will thrive, the better drained the soil will be, and the faster our plants will grow… Gardening can be truly green, and I think it might just contain the key to saving the planet.”

Here are the topics covered in the twelve chapters of the book: Plants in Profusion, the Garden Meadow, Earwigs in my Orchard, the Toxic Cocktail, the Buzzing of Bees, Moth Mayhem, Dive into the Pond, Ants in my Plants, the Wriggling Worms, Garden Invaders, the Cycle of Life, and Gardening to Save the Planet. You can see that a wide range of topics important to gardeners is explored. And I’ll never underappreciate earwigs and silverfish again after reading Chapter Three.

Dr. Goulson’s area of specialty is bees and the chapter on bees is fascinating. For example, mason bees lay eggs in tubes, complete with food and padding for each egg. They complete the home for one egg, then start again until the tube is full. But the really incredible thing is that they are capable of determining the sex of the egg and they lay females first, then fill in the last of the tube with males. This way if a wasp manages to invade the front part of the tube, there will still be female bees in the back to hatch and carry on the species. Amazing.

This is a book written about Great Britain so the recommended plants are somewhat different than what we grow here. One can take the principles from the book and do research on applying them to our location. But it is also quite interesting to read of the challenges to the environment in a different country and compare Britain’s experience with our situation here.

I just wish I could take a class from this author! Luckily he has two other books which I’ve obtained (A Sting in the Tale and A Buzz in the Meadow) so I can read more by him now that I’ve finished this one. Happy garden reading!

Leafcutter Bee (Megachile rotundata) Tour

July 19, 2019 — Hosted by John Wold, Ashlawn Farms, Laurel, MT

Attendees: Sheri Fredericksen, Gordon Clark, Mary Davis, Kyle and Pat Neary, Nan Grant, Carolyn Jones, Sue and Marvin Carter

Ashlawn Farms was established in 1909 and homesteaded by John Wold’s grandfather who moved west from Northwestern Minnesota. The name of the farm comes from the many ash trees located on the property. The family farms several crops, including some on dryland acres located south of Laurel. Leafcutter Bees (Bees) play an important role in the family’s alfalfa seed business which started in 1986.

In early years, a harrow was used to try and open the alfalfa flowers to allow pollination to occur, however, it was a practice that was destructive to the plant. During the 1970’s, farmers realized that bees worked extremely well to pollinate the alfalfa.

The alfalfa seed business is extremely weather dependent. Once the alfalfa plants begin budding, the Leafcutter Bee larvae, which have been stored in tubs during the winter, are placed into screened boxes. 19 Leafcutter 2The temperature in the incubation room is gradually increased to about 85 degrees for the larvae to mature into swarming Bees. Once the Bees begin swarming, they are hungry and ready to go to work. Ideally, if the weather can maintain about 80-85 degrees, the Bees are released to begin pollination of the alfalfa.20 Leafcutter 3

The Bees have no typical “queen;” however, the females do all of the work. The boxes containing the nesting holes are put into trailers and towed to locations where they are spaced out appropriately to pollinate the alfalfa. (The placement of the nesting boxes is 23 Leafcutter 6due to the Bees nesting range of 300 feet.) In total there are approximately 3,000 nesting holes per box. The trays of mature Bees are transported to the field by pickup (in the evening or morning) when the temperature is cool, and placed into the top of the trailers which can house 18, 24 or 28 nesting boxes. The screens are then removed. Once the temperature begins to rise, the Bees begin to swarm as they leave the boxes. The Bees are very weak and the first thing they do is learn to fly and begin to feed to gain strength. Once they build up strength, the females then choose a nesting hole.24 Leafcutter 7

Once a female Bee claims a nesting hole, it is hers and will not be used by another female while the eggs are being laid in the hole. The female Bee lines the hole with “cuts” of leaf material from nearby plants creating a sort of cocoon for depositing the pollen and nectar and laying the egg. The female Bee opens the alfalfa blooms and sucks the nectar and gathers the pollen from several 21 Leafcutter 4flowers on her belly and carries the pollen back to her nesting hole. (Since the females carry the pollen on their dry bellies, each flower they enter to gather more pollen is pollinated by the pollen that has been carried from the previous bloom.) The female Bee scrapes the pollen off inside the nesting hole, then spits the nectar into the pollen creating a paste-like food source for the larvae to feed on prior to diapause.1  When enough pollen and nectar has been collected, she then lays the egg and seals it with cuts of leaf material to protect the egg from predators. Female Bees literally wear their wings off flying into and out of the nesting holes and have a life span of about 5-6 weeks; the males live only about 2 weeks once they fertilize the females.

Approximately 6 gallons of Bees2 per acre are required to adequately pollinate the 22 Leafcutter 5alfalfa blooms. Great care is taken to ensure the alfalfa is not over-pollinated as it can have a detrimental effect to the alfalfa seed yield.

Once pollination is complete, the boxes containing the larvae are retrieved from the field and placed into the incubation room (at a temperature of 50-55 degrees) for the following year.3 The alfalfa plant is sprayed with a chemical defoliator causing the plant to dehydrate so that it is ready to harvest. One pound of alfalfa seeds equals approximately 250,000 seeds. Depending on the amount of alfalfa acres, the family’s total yield can vary year to year.

Leafcutter Bees have a gentle nature and although they have a stinger, would only sting if threatened. A sting is comparable to a mosquito bite. The Bee is renowned for their superior capability with pollinating alfalfa.

I “bee-lieve” a good time was had by all and the tour was very informative.

~ Submitted by Sheri Fredericksen

 

Footnotes

  1. Diapause is a predetermined period of dormancy, meaning it’s genetically programmed and involved adaptive physiological changes, i.e., from the time the larvae are placed into a cool temperature to the time the incubation room temperature is increased to make the larvae mature.
  2. Approximately 10,000 bees equals one pound.
  3. The larvae will remain in diapause until the incubation room temperature is increased the following summer to begin the metamorphosis cycle into mature Leafcutter Bees.