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.

Black Walnuts – Do Black Walnut trees really poison other plants?

Submitted by ~ Corry Mordeaux

Do Black Walnut trees really poison other plants?DR. Bob

Yes. Many plants are killed when grown within the root spread of the black walnut tree. Butternut and Persian walnut trees grafted onto black walnut rootstocks give the same effect.

Black walnut trees contain a phytotoxin, juglone, which remains in the roots and is not secreted into the soil. For injury to occur the roots of the walnut must contact the roots of other plants growing nearby. Plants closest to the walnut tree are usually injured first but plants up to 80 feet away can be injured because that is the average root spread of a mature black walnut tree. Even after the walnut tree is removed, juglone may remain in the dead roots until they decay.

The wilting caused by a plant’s contact with juglone cannot be reversed or reduced by watering. Stunting, death, or wilting of the whole plant or only a part of it may occur. The side nearest to the walnut tree usually wilts first. Although most plants are affected, even other walnut trees, the problem is most severe on tomatoes, potatoes, and evergreens.

Note: I have a 30 foot Pinus sylvestris (Scots Pine) that is very dead. It was planted about 15 feet from a Black walnut. (Not too smart, Corry.)

Dr. Bob is gone but his wisdom lives on.

The Suburban Micro-Farm: Modern Solutions for Busy People

The Suburban Micro-Farm: Modern Solutions for Busy People

by Amy Stross

Submitted by ~ Elizabeth Waddington
Illustrated liberally with photographs, the book includes chapters on developing healthy soil, landscaping with edibles, and even permaculture. I’m pretty taken with the herb spiral project. Stross includes Life Hacks such as #1: Spend 15 minutes a day (to keep from being overwhelmed). While the author lives in Ohio, the information is applicable to our Montana growing conditions. She includes a variety of extenders for both shoulders of our short summer growing season and gives advice about no-till gardening techniques. Loaded with practical info!

(available from Amazon)

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)

What is Square Foot Gardening (SFG)?

Submitted by ~ Suri Lunde

Square foot gardening (SFG) is a method of creating small, orderly, and highly productive kitchen gardens. Developed by gardener, engineer, and efficiency expert Mel Bartholomew as a better way to grow more vegetables in less space, the idea was popularized in his books Square Foot Gardening (1981) and All New Square Foot Gardening (2006).

The basic system: a 6-inch-deep frame or raised bed is created, filled with a mixture of vermiculite, peat moss, and com-post, and divided into a grid of 1-foot squares, which are masquarefoot 2naged individually. Each of the squares is planted with a different crop depending on the size and requirement of the crop. When a square is harvested, just add compost and plant a different crop within it, allowing for continual harvest. Since there are no paths between the squares, there is no wasted space, and the soil in the bed stays loose because you never step on it.

It is an almost fail-safe system for new gardeners, the elderly or disabled (SFG beds can be built at a raised height to make them more accessible), children, and people with limited yard space or little time, or who want a highly organized method to follow. Additionally, SFG can also be included in a garden plan that uses traditional planting methods.

Pros of SFG

  • High yields: Intensive planting means plentiful and continuous harvest from a small space.
  • Fast set-up: SFG is a quick way to start a new garden. Raised garden bed kits and raised garden soils can be purchased if you prefer not to create them from scratch.
  • Place the raised bed anywhere (even over grass or pavement), fill, and start planting in just a few hours.
  • Ease of maintenance: Since the garden is small, regular tasks like planting, maintaining, and harvesting take less time, and watering can be done by hand.
  • Less weeding: An SFG bed filled with good soil-less mix should not have seeds which means no weeds to pull in the first season. Closely planted crops also minimize weeds in the beds.
  • Increases biodiversity: Growing a variety of different crops close together is a form of companion planting which increases biodiversity and helps reduce pests and diseases.

Cons of SFG

  • High initial cost: The expense of building or buying even a small raised bed and filling it with soil-less mix can be costly.
  • Cramped beds: SFG beds are not ideal for crops that take up a lot of space such as pumpkin, squash, or a big planting of sweet corn. Therefore, grow compact vegetables such as carrots and radishes in SFG beds and plant large crops in traditional rowed vegetable gardens.
  • Insufficient depth: The 6-inch-deep beds recommended in SFG might be too shallow for some plants. The solution: make your frame at least 12 inches deep to accommodate plants like carrots and potatoes.
  • Watering: Consider installing soaker hoses or a drip irrigation system since the soil in raised beds tends to dry out faster.

SFG Bottom Line
Many gardeners find vegetable gardening a relaxing activity, and there is satisfaction in eating something grown in your own backyard. SFG can be that successful backyard gardening method but before you decide if SFG is right for you, know your gardening style, needs, and preferences. Happy gardening!

Noteworthy: YCMGA has square foot demonstration gardens at the Metra. Check these links for information.

The Winter Wildlife Garden

The Winter Wildlife Garden
by Ann McKean

Here in Montana most of us withdraw from the garden for the winter and dream impatiently about the return of summer, but there is a whole season of beauty and benefit that you can tap into by adding some wildlife friendly plants to provide late season food and cover. 014However, before you even plant a thing, think about changing your gardening habits.

First, switch your garden cleanup season to spring instead of autumn. Nature doesn’t do fall cleanup so why do we?! Besides returning some lost nutrients back to the soil and adding winter interest with structure and texture, the plants you don’t cut down and the leaves you don’t rake up provide critical winter shelter for birds, small mammals and even hibernating insects. They also help protect the crowns and roots of your plants. If you have a specific concern about disease and need to rake under or cut 015down certain plants in the fall, try creating a winter brush pile in another area to preserve hollow stems and create a place to hibernate and hide. Remember to wait to compost or toss what’s left until critters have had a chance to wake up.

Second, try not to use pesticides. Reducing or eliminating pesticide use not only spares the caterpillars birds need to raise their young, but also preserves the beneficial predatory insects which help keep things in balance. If you practice good cultural maintenance with proper plant selection, spacing, pruning, watering and judicious feeding,016 nature will usually be able to keep pest populations below the threshold of chemical intervention. As Master Gardeners, we must lead the way to a paradigm shift about how we view our gardens and the wildlife they support.

There are many plants we can include in a winter garden to benefit wildlife and add beauty. Native plants are always a good choice because they have evolved with the insects, animals and conditions in our region. Some of these plants offer vital late season nectar and pollen, including rabbitbrush, asters, coneflowers, goldenrod and perennial sunflowers. Many also provide nutrient and calorie packed seeds through the winter. There are also a host of native and non-native shrubs and trees which offer a bounty of 017nuts, berries and sometimes even twigs to nibble. Chokeberries and chokecherries, snowberries, sumacs, viburnum, red-twig dogwood, roses, mountain ash, crabapples, oaks and cone bearing evergreens are a few examples. I’ve even watched in amazement as wild turkeys deftly strip grass seeds from their stalks. All of these plants also add rich texture, structure and subtle color to our winter landscapes.

As you plan next season’s garden additions and head out to the nurseries this spring, think about how fortunate we are to enjoy such a wide variety of wildlife so close to home, and remember to include some plants for your winter garden to support those treasures. 018You, your garden and your community will be enriched.

Source: Wildlife/2012/DecJan/Gardening/Winter- Table-for-Wildlife