Wednesday, September 14, 2016

webworms

It's fall, and the insects are gearing up for survival of the next generation, laying eggs, and planning their winter homes.  Fall webworms are showing up everywhere.  They hang out together, spinning webs around leafy branches, so they can much on the leaves with the sticky web to protect them from predators.  Also inside the webs are eggs, waiting to hatch.

One way to deal with them is spraying with a combination of lime sulphur and horticultural oil in the spring before the leaves appear.  That covers and kills any overwintering insects or eggs.  But my crab apple tree is about 20 feet tall, and there is no way I can spray it anymore.

By the time it looks like the picture above, the only thing to do is to cut off the branch and dispose of the caterpillars.  You can douse the web with gasoline and set fire to it, but that seems like overkill.
I put water in a bucket (or in this case, a wheelbarrow), squirt dish soap in, and then soak the web-covered branches, making sure they go under the water.  The soap will cover the bugs' air-holes, and kill them dead.

The crabapple branch was incredibly hard to cut (the wood is tough) and I was very proud of myself when finishing that job, only to find a new nest high up in the tree a few days later.  I am admitting defeat.

holey kale

When I planted kale for the first time this year, I had great hopes of harvesting healthy veg all season long.  After all, kale is cold tolerant, and will happily keep on growing and looking good even after heavy frosts.  Except in my garden.  In early June, I made a few stir-fries with kale, but now the leaves are so full of holes, and there are so many bugs, it's just not something I want to eat.

Kale is part of the cabbage family, which includes brussels sprouts and kohlrabi.  All of which are delicious to flea beetles and cabbage worms.

If I was really serious, I would have covered the plants right after planting with floating row cover to keep the critters at bay.  That's about the only way to get hole-less kale.

moonpennies

This spring, my gardens were full of a small plant with bright purple flowers.  I thought it was phlox gone wild, and it took a while to realize it was Lunaria, commonly known as "silver dollar plant" or "moonpennies" because of their circular white seed pods. They had been growing in only one flowerbed, but the new plants germinated in unexpected places everywhere.  It's a biennial (small plant first year, flowers the second year, sets seed, and dies).
(picture from Wikipedia)


Now that they have dried, I pick great bunches, peel off the grey outer layers of the seed pod, and use the branches in dried flower arrangements.  They last so long in the house, that my two-year old dried plants look just like new!
In this picture, the white pods have been peeled, and the gray ones are waiting to be done.




It's a painstaking job peeling off first one side, then the other, of each pod to reveal the bright white shiny interior.  
Each pod contains at least 3 seeds on each side. 

This plant has developed a brilliant method of seed disbursal.  When the seeds mature, the outer layer on each side of the pod drop off, and are so light that they fly with the wind.  The seeds lightly adhere to the outer layers, and drop off after they blow to a new spot. 

dill seeds are forever

When I first started my garden 22 years ago, I planted a row of dill.  The plants have faithfully reseeded every fall and regrown every spring.  But they produce so much seed, that they pop up all over the garden.  I need to direct them a bit.  So I've been doing some harvesting.
It's easy to pull the seeds off the heads, one small bunch at a time.

I ended up with lots of dill seeds that I will store inside for the winter.  
Next spring, I'll plant them exactly where I want them, in rows!


a naked dill head, after the seeds have been stripped.

carrot strategies

I have never had such a huge crop of carrots as this year.  Many were 10 inches long!  The varieties I planted were White Satin and Purple Haze.  The white carrots are very sweet and tender, but tend to get green shoulders because the top of the roots tend to pop out of the ground.  And they get badly chewed by wire worms.

The purple carrots are a little stronger tasting, are more hairy and forked, and the colour bleeds into the cooking water.  When I used the purple carrots, I ended up with an unapetizing violet coloured cream chowder.  But they are not bothered by wire worms.
My theory:  the insects can easily see the bright white carrots underground, and so are attracted to them.  The dark purple carrots blend into the soil colour, and are not as noticeable.

At the moment, the insect damage is only on the surface.  But if the carrots are not pulled by the third week in September, the damage is extensive, with black trails all through the roots.

I will continue to plant the white carrots for their delicate flavour, but make sure to get them out of the ground by early September.  The slices of purple carrot reveal the inner structure of the root, and they are really pretty on a plate:

To store the carrots, I take off the tops, soak them in water and scrub off the soil, and then pack them into double plastic bags, seal them tight and store them in the refrigerator.  They take up a lot of room in the fridge, but they keep fresh for a long time.  Last year, we ate home grown carrots until March!

bad maple good maple

What's that white stuff all over these leaves?  It looks like powdery mildew to me.  This is just another reason to hate Norway Maples. These trees have been planted everywhere on PEI. They put out a lot of seeds that spread these trees into native habitat, and their dense shade prevents other plants from growing under them.
These particular seedlings grew from seeds that blew in from my neighbour's place, 150 feet away.  I can always tell Norway maples from any other species of maple, because the Norway is always getting sick.
Here is a Norway Maple with black tar disease, a fungal problem they have been inflicted with here on PEI for many years.
Below is a pic of a Norway Maple leaf with both disesases!




Within a few feet of the sick Norway Maples are two tall, scraggly but very healthy Sugar Maples.

Sugar maples are a native PEI species, but Norways come from - duh - Norway, and are very susceptable to North American disease problems.  They are still sold at PEI garden centres, but are obviously not a good choice.  Other types of Maples are hard to find - you need to go to a native plant nursery such as Sir Andrew MacPhail in Orwell.

Below is a shot of Sugar Maple leaves with no signs of disease.
So how do you tell the two varieties apart?
In the fall, the Norways are usually full of fungal disease.
During the rest of the year, check the leaves.
Norway Maple leaves are wider than they are tall
Other types of maples are longer than they are wide.

Monday, August 8, 2016

making my bed

It's hot, I don't like to sweat, but I feel a burst of energy.  I suddenly want a new bed in my front yard.
I bought this adorable smoke bush, you see, and I need a spot to put it.  After my husband getting mad at me for wanting to put a shrub that grows really big on top of the weeping bed, I decided to plant it elsewhere, but I still wanted that new bed.

So  here is the least strenuous way to make a new bed:

First, decide where the bed should go:  notice how much light the location gets, and that will determine what type of plants you can use.  Don't put sun lovers in a shady spot, or they won't grow to their full potential.


Then, decide on the shape of the bed.  Use rope, hose, or a long electrical cord like I did to rough out the shape.


Then, cut out the sod around the outside of the new bed.  

Instead of the back breaking work of taking off all the sod, just plot out where you want the plants.  With a bed that can be seen from all sides, but the tall plants in the centre, and shorter ones on the outside.  Keep in mind the mature height of the plants, not what they look like right now.


Dig holes for each plant, augmenting some of the soil with well-rotted manure.  Water really well, especially if you are foolish enough to try this in the long hot days of summer.

I was going to buy new plants for this bed, but I had so much growing in my current beds that was getting very crowded.  The purple coneflower and the daylily were growing in the shade, the three hardy hybiscus were hidden by other plants, and the ornamental grasses were divided from current clumps.  The grasses have very small root balls, and were really easy to dig up.


When all the plants are in, cover the area with newspapers to prevent light from reaching the grass. Do this in small sections on a day with no wind, or you will be papering the neighbourhood.  Wet the paper to keep it from blowing away.

I went to the beach (I have a secret spot) with lots of eelgrass drying on the shore, which is a perfect mulch - it adds nutrients to the soil as it slowly breaks down, and it's FREE.

It takes a surprizingly huge amount of seaweed to mulch this bed, but after piling it on top of the newspapers, it looks great, and the bed is done. The mulch will flatten down in time.  The new plantings should be watered every few days to keep them thriving.