Dandelions

by Elizabeth Waddington

Do you love sunflowers? Then you should embrace the pesky dandelions in your lawn since they are in the same family. Both are cheery yellow, can be used as accents in floral arrangements, especially if you have grandchildren picking the dandelions, and are

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artwork by Elizabeth Waddington

attractive to pollinators for your garden and fruit trees. The family is Asteraceae (Asters/Sunflowers) and the Species is Taraxacum officinale (Common dandelion). The name (recorded from late Middle English) comes from French dent-de-lion, translation of medieval Latin dens lionis ‘lion’s tooth’, because of the jagged shape of the leaves.

What is your tolerance level for these non-native plants, aka “weeds” in your yard? If you don’t mind them, leave your dandelions to attract the pollinators who help with our neighborhood fruit and vegetable crops. You may have a good reason to not have them blooming for special events; I will be nipping off the yellow blooms when my toddler grandchildren come to visit, but otherwise leaving them until they go to seed (no, I don’t want THAT many, thank you!)JAS 14

But what can you do if your tolerance level is zero dandelions in your prized putting green turf? You can use a commercial weed and feed granular mixture in a drop or broadcast spreader when they are actively growing which will cover your entire lawn. You can spot treat with a weed killer that only targets broadleaf plants and will not harm the lawn (usually in a spray container with a nozzle). Or you can manually extract them with devices designed to pry them up by the root. Note that you need the whole root in order to eradicate the plant and that is easiest after a heavy rain. The small blue and white JAS 15digger is simple to use but takes skill to get deep enough to remove all of the root. The large red and silver “jumper” is like using a pogo stick on the dandelion. Or, as my husband asked, “What ARE you doing?” It does take a hunk of sod out with the weed so consider it to also be an aerating tool. You can always hire a commercial yard care company to maintain your lawn, but does that give you satisfaction?

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Soil Testing

Soon, hopefully, it will be time to think about planting lawns, vegetables, flowers, shrubs and trees. Are you planning on a good harvest and growth? What are you doing to insure those results? Are you planting in good soil or just dirt? Does it have the capacity to hold water and nutrients or is it holding too much water and not enough nutrients? Do you know the PH of your soil/dirt? Checking in our area are two labs that can do soil tests for you. There is paper work to fill out, besides your name and location, like what do you want tested (N, P, K), pH etc.? What are you planning on growing, lawn or garden?

To gather your soil take a hand trowel and dig down to about 6” in about six different places in the lawn or garden and put it all in a pail mixing it together (discard the grass, thatch, rocks, worms and roots). From that amount, fill a 1 gallon zip lock bag with your name on it to half/two thirds full.

While working at the ACE greenhouse I met the true over achiever. He came in every couple days telling me how he had hauled buckets of sand, then manure, then compost. He had a very small vehicle which held two buckets in the rear, two buckets in the back seat and one bucket in the passenger seat. This was not a one trip for each of the above, but many trips. He was so proud of himself I could barely ask if he had ever had the soil tested for his garden. He hadn’t.

By mid-summer he came in quite deflated. His dream garden hadn’t produced anything. He did however have the soil tested and it was high to very high in N, P, and K. I felt so sorry for him all I could think to say was that maybe by next year it would be a better garden space.

In order to build anything you must have a good soil foundation. Thinking only about the end product is just dreaming. Local companies who provide soil testing for home gardeners:
B & C Ag Consulting – taking Soil Tests between 10 am and 2 pm on Mon., Wed.and Fri. 315 So. 26th St, Billings – 259-5779 http://bncag.com/ MG price $30.
Energy Laboratories 1120 So. 27th St, Billings – 252-6325
https://www.energylab.com/services/soil/ Lawn and garden analysis with recommendations $85.

Submitted by Sheri Kisch

Book Review: TEAMING WITH MICROBES—The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web

Book Review: TEAMING WITH MICROBES—The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web
By Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis

If you look closely at the title of this book, you will think there is a misspelling. But it is not by mistake that the authors use the word “teaming” rather
than “teeming.” The purpose of the book is to help gardeners understand the inhabitants and activities of the teeming microbes in the soil food web and to learn to team with these organisms to create the healthiest possible soil and plants in their gardens.

The soil is indeed teeming with microbes. The sheer number of each type is mind-blowing. “A mere teaspoon of good garden soil, as measured by microbial geneticists, contains a billion invisible bacteria, several yards of equally invisible fungal hyphae, several thousand protozoa, and a few dozen nematodes.” (p. 19) Bacteria are so small that a few hundred thousand can fit in a space the size of the period at the end of this sentence. The importance of these tiny soil microbes in supporting the health of plants cannot be underestimated. Yet many people (even some gardeners) have little understanding of the role and importance of these organisms and how to support their functioning.

The authors divide the book into two parts. The first part has a summary of soil science and a chapter devoted to each of the major participants in the soil food web: bacteria, archaea, fungi, algae and slime molds, protozoa, nematodes, arthropods, earthworms, gastropods, and larger animals. The role and functions of each group of organisms are described as well as their connection to gardening.

The second half of the book is devoted to explaining how to assess the health of the soil food web in your own soils and how to employ three major tools to build the health of that web: mulching, composting and making compost teas. The application of these tools for annuals and perennials is explained.

At the end of the book there is a gardening calendar and a summary of the authors’ 19 soil food web gardening rules. The information in this book is dense and concise and, as such, it is not an “easy” read. It resembles a textbook more than a gardening handbook. But it is worth wading all the way through to gain a better understanding of what should live in our soils, how these tiny organisms partner with and support our plants, and how not to interfere with their work and maybe even learn to support it.

Over time we are learning not to disrupt the soils in our gardens, yards and fields and instead help the food web to live and thrive in incredible balance, resulting in healthier plants and better crop yields. Teaming with Microbes is an important addition to the literature of no-till, restoration gardening and agriculture.

Submitted by Ann Guthals

Got Hail Damage?

Wild summer storms can discourage home gardeners as well as farmers. The best defense is a good offense by using proper cultural practices – location, watering, fertilizing and pruning techniques – from the beginning of the season. When hail happens, trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals can successfully survive if the proper maintenance is done after damage.

Trees and Shrubs
Prune off any broken branches caused by hail. Use proper pruning cuts, taking care not to cut into the branch bark ridge. If trees or shrubs were split and large limbs were broken, clean the wounds with a sharp knife or pruning shears. Browned leaves will not turn green. To assess the ex-tent of damage, move up the plant and past the leaves to check how far back dead material extends. Dead twigs will snap. Moving further back on the branch, you can use a knife to scrape the top of the branch to look for live wood. Prune twigs and branches at the point where there is live, green wood. Do not apply paint or wound dressings, but let the wound close naturally. If damage is too great, consider removing the plant.

Continue to inspect branch wounds closely and monitor throughout the growing season. Many wounds will callous over with proper plant watering and maintenance. Be vigilant about spotting Fire Blight if humidity and temperatures (60°F to 85°F and relative humidity above 60%) are conducive to the bacterial growth. A preventative spray of horticultural oil in the spring or fall can reduce overwintering egg casings and spores.

Hail often destroys leaves, but trees may have enough reserves to re-leaf. Because this takes a lot of energy, be sure to give the tree adequate water throughout the summer (approximately one inch per week, depending on species). Applying two to three inches of mulch at the base of the trees but not touching the trunk and shrubs will also help moderate soil temperatures and maintain soil moisture.

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Annual flowers and edibles
Plants that are completely stripped of foliage and have broken stems should be replaced. If less than one-third of the plant remains, it is probably not worth trying to save. Other plants with less damage might be salvaged, but they will need time and care to recover.

  • Trim and remove severely damaged leaves so that the energy of the plant is directed to create new growth. After trimming, spray edibles with a copper-based product available at garden centers.
  • Apply fertilizer to promote growth. Pat Appleby of Canyon Creek Nursery suggests Soil Diva either to spray on foliage or as a soil drench. It will enhance microbial activity to stimulate the plants.
  • Water regularly without stressing plants with too much or too little water.
  • Place new plants between damaged ones to provide instant color in the case of annuals – and to help insure a harvest in the case of edibles.

After a very intense storm, the soil around plants tends to form a crust after it starts to dry out. Use a small hand rake to gently work around those plants and break up that crust so it doesn’t form a hard shell.

Perennials
Perennials often have secondary buds that will provide new growth following hail damage. Perennials also require optimal care following hail so that they not only survive the current season but gain the health to overwinter and bloom again next season. Trim perennials back as far as the extent of the damage is visible. This also applies to perennial grasses.

Apply fertilizer to provide nutrients that will generate growth.

Do not cut back damaged foliage on bulb flowers such as daffodils and allium. The leaves enable photosynthesis which feeds the bulbs though severe damage may cause less vigorous plants the following year.

Water adequately. Xeric plants may need more water than usual to help them recover more quickly.

Living with Hail
In areas more prone to hail, use a cloth designed to protect plants from hail (or sun). Pat suggests using a 30% block to allow moisture and light to reach plants while protecting them from hail. You can also look for finer-leafed plants such as cosmos which the hail often falls through rather than shreds.

Sources 
Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado https://www.alcc.com/dealing-with-weather-damaged-plants.
Ask an expert Cooperative Extension https://ask.extension.org/questions/395347.
Colorado public news http://www.cpr.org/news/story/after-hail-advice-resurrecting-your-garden.
Interview with Pat Appleby of Canyon Creek Nursery.

~Submitted by Elizabeth Waddington

Yellowstone Valley Food Hub Update

Efforts to launch the Yellowstone Valley Food Hub continue apace. A sold out Chef’s Dinner at the Moss Mansion featured local foods and local chefs. The Last Chance Pub & Cider Mill hosted a hugely popular kickoff for their fundraising project in early summer. Fundraising is expected to continue, but the successes of this summer means the project is on track for a soft launch of the Food Hub this fall.

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The Yellowstone Valley Citizen’s Council initiated the project to link consumers with fresh, local foods grown in South-Central and Eastern Montana. Now that it’s becoming a reality, local food producers are taking up the reins to run the Hub as a collective of family farmers and ranchers. The Hub is initially planning to supply local restaurants and offer seasonal CSA boxes. The Hub’s space for dry/cold storage of produce and meats will make it easier for local producers to get their products to our tables.

The Yellowstone Valley Food Hub is an exciting development for our area and is the first of its kind in Eastern Montana. We’ll have better access to healthier food that’s traveled fewer miles. A reliable supply of local food will bolster restaurants catering to the foodies among us. We will be able to meet our producers, understand how the food was raised, and support our community with our food purchases. Food Hub producers are frequently concerned about methods, promoting minimal use of pesticides and emphasizing ethical and humane care of animals. The Food Hub is a win all around and I’m looking forward to all that it will bring our community.

If you’d like to contribute to the Yellowstone Valley Food Hub, you can donate at https:// northernplains.org/yellowstone-valley-food-hub/. For more information, you can contact Annika Charter-Williams at 406-259-1103.

Submitted by Kris Glenn