Sunday, April 22, 2012

Who's that pupating in the garden?

A Pupa found in the garden April 22, 2012
I found this pupa (pupae?) in the garden while planting a row of green onions.
So what is it?
I think its a moth over wintering.
While I was taking the above picture some other criters starting running around.
I think its a clover mite above the pupa. There are a bunch of them. Officially Bryobia praetiosa if I am correct. Here's a close-up.

And here are the onions. 

They are grocery store green onions that I cut down to about 1.5 inches of the roots and re-sprouted in a glass with just enough water in it to keep the roots wet. I changed the water almost daily after I smelled it getting icky early in the process. They are pretty long, about a foot long, after about two weeks since taco night. I loosened the soil with my trusty hoe, that's how I found the pupae. plopped in the onions, took these pictures and then water them in.
The row had turnips over wintering, I didn't cover the turnips (Amber globe) and all but one expired over the winter. The beets (beet root / Detroit dark red) in the foreground, to the left of the bucket, fared about the same. Two survived. I suppose this means that I should cover them with mulch in future plantings.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Amaranth harvest

I like to grow a new plant in the garden each season. Last year it was Hartman's Giant Amaranth. I got the seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and felt a bit jipped with the small volume of seeds I got in the package. The seeds are tiny, like poppy seeds. I planted them in a row about 6 ft long. I'm still a big Baker Creek fan. The package did grow from a few grams to over a pound of seeds.
You can eat the amaranth greens, like spinach, or wait for the seeds. The bugs, I suspect earwigs, and sparrows were relentless on the early greens, but the plants did amazingly well. These plants seemed slow to take off, but when they did they grew about 7 ft tall with very showy flower heads. The wind and weight of the seeds bent the plants over and staking may be required to keep the plants upright should that be desired. The mix of red flower heads and sunflowers (foreground) made a display that generated accolades from the  neighbors.
Early amaranth seed heads
The taller amaranth in the above picture are about 7 ft tall. They only got slightly higher due to the additional seed head weight bending the plants over. Several of the seed heads coupled with some wind grew heavy enough to break the stalks. I harvested all the seed heads that didn't bite the dust. And placed them in the garage until I could get to them to process the seeds.
As it turns out they just sat in the garage until spring when I needed the plastic tray some of them were in for germinating my current year's seeds. Here is picture of one of the dried seed heads.
Dried amaranth seed head
I used leather gloves and rubbed the seed heads between my hands to separate the seeds from the rest of the plant material.
Since these seeds are known to get weedy growing all over. I just threw away the stalks rather than compost them.
 Here is what I got separated from the seed heads / stalks with leather gloves. There wasn't enough wind to winnow the seeds so I used the box fan to blow away the red flower pedals and remaining twigs. To do this I turned on the fan and repeatedly grabbed and dropped hand fulls in front of the fan.
This was kind of a pain in the you know what. I'm not sure how many thousands of  these tiny seeds are in the lawn. What I found was that getting the last bit of red (flower pedals) out was the hardest. After closely inspecting the red parts still in the container, it turns out that they still contain seeds and are therefore almost the same weight as the black seeds. By rubbing what remains through gloved hands once again I was able to separate (thresh) most of the flower pedals off the seeds.

Here is a close up of what you are dealing with. The plastic container also generated some static which didn't help me out much.
I crushed up some of the what I winnowed out to seed how much seed was being lost in the process. Its hard to see in this picture but there are some seeds that you lose in the process. Lets just say that the bird's share. The rubbermade container show the seeds I kept. I did get a little more of the red bits out by pinching out by hand and shaking the container in front of the fan.
George the french bulldog 7 mos
See, the chickens like it.
This took a couple of hours to get done. I don't see how one could do any serious amount of this by hand to make it worth while. Maybe if you had chickens or hogs you could feed the entire seed head to them without the need to clean the grain off the plants prior to feeding it to them.
I check with Google and found a small scale grain separator: Grain cleaner Maybe that will be a project for the future.

Separating and Planting Dahlia Tubers

This weekend I took my dahlia out of the crawlspace to plant it for the season. Last year I waited until frost killed the plant. This took a couple of actual freezing nights. I waited until it was good and gone for the year. I dug it up, cut off the dead stocks with a hand pruner, then hosed it off with the garden hose to wash off the soil. I then wrapped it in a retired t-shirt and placed the large mass (tuber and t-shirt) in a plastic grocery bag tied it closed and put it into the crawl space for the winter. I did lightly spray it with water once in late January when I got out the last jar of canned salsa for the Superbowl.
I got the dahlia at Lowe's and haven't divided it since I got it, so it has two years of growth on it. I was quite surprised with all the tubers and will probably divide every year from now.
For those that don't know dahlias come with many different color flowers and the tubers can survive in the ground in places where it doesn't get cold enough to freeze the ground solid. Here in Colorado you have to dig up the below ground tubers and replant them in the spring to keep them alive.
First dahlia flower of 2011

My dahlia seems to grow very well in my garden. I planted it into a hole with some garden compost. The early growth was attacked by earwigs. I flicked them off whenever I remembered to look. Hidden in the picture is a short ~ 12" high support ring to hold up the plant. The above picture was taken in early August and you can see that some of the leaves are drooping due to heat. This one plant produced about 20 flowers right up until the nights started to freeze.
April 2012

Here is what I pulled out of the crawlspace in early April. the sprouts have already started growing.

I tried to cut tubers off with an attached sprout. I used a buck knife to cut apart the tuber. It was just too difficult to get each tuber off because of the "tangle". Here is what I ended up with.
The green things are silver maple seed pods (aka cottonwood caterpillars) while they are annoying they are immensely more desirable than the zillions of seeds that come off individually and blow and fill the yard in a couple of weeks.

Here they are all planted ready to get watered. The sticks poked into the dirt show the location of each of the seven tuber pieces I planted. The soil is pretty good in these beds having been used as garden beds for several years, so my only prep was to add some fresh compost. This bed had a couple of tomato plants and I try to rotate what I have planted to keep disease at bay. I placed them deep enough so that the tips of the sprouts were just poking out. When they start to show some green I'll water them with some high nitrogen plant food and add some more compost and grass clippings to shade the soil. Then after they have a good amount of green growth, I'll switch to a high phosphorus food (that's the middle number in the N-P-K).

This should make for a colorful bed with 7 tubers. They get full sun all day long. I'll be sure to post some pictures this fall when they are in bloom!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Bees and Insects in the garden

In this posting I’ll write about the different bees and insects in my garden and how and why I attract them.
The three categories of insects in my garden that I am interested in are: pollinators, beneficial predators, and composters. I use food to lure these insects into my garden. The type of food each insect is attracted to is different in many cases and in some cases I use a particular plant to attract “bad” insects as food source for good insects.
Many of the fruits and vegetables that I grow are pollinated by insects, therefore the more of these insects that I can get into my garden the more my plants will be pollinated and the greater my harvests. Fruit and vegetable plants have different types and shapes of flowers. Flowers have been shaped by evolution to attract different insects so I theorize the larger the variety of pollinators the better the chances of those pollinators pollinating my diverse garden vegetables.
Since I’ve been looking, I have found two beekeepers (hives) within a ¼ mile of our house and I have seen many more in the 2 mile radius that honey bees are known to forage. In addition to European honey bees, we get many different types of bees, flies, wasps, butterflies, and birds. I am afflicted by allergies and am told that local honey is one of the best remedies. Since the European honeybees create honey, I’ll be building a hive soon and see if I can’t get a colony to move in.
In some of the earlier posting I’ve shown cover crops, such as buckwheat, crimson clover, and hairy vetch. These and other plants have been planted to help build the soil, but I have noticed that they attract insects. My overall favorite is buckwheat. It is a warm season plant which grows and flowers fast, about 5 weeks after planting. The flowers last for several weeks and seem to attract many different types of insects and lots of them.
Another successful plant to attract a variety of pollinators is carrots. Carrots are a biannual and therefore produce flowers (and seeds) in their second season. Each carrot left in the ground for a second season will produce multiple seed heads.
 Buckwheat and carrot flowers are both white which reflect UV light and help attract bees, but more traditional garden flowers do a good job too. Its interesting that some colors get more bees than others.Here are a few more flower shots showing feeding polinators.

I have found that larger groups of flowers attracts more insects than lone flowers. They also make a more visual impact when planted in groups. Here's is a picture of the zinnia bed its about 2 ft x 8 ft. There is a similar sized buckwheat bed further back in the picture with vegetables in between and on both ends
Beneficial Predators
I've had entire plants destroyed by pest insects such as aphids, spider mites, or cabbage moths. One year I had two 7 foot tall brandywine tomato plants almost destroyed by gobloads of aphids. It took three weeks of daily spraying with the garden hose and homemade garlic pepper spray to get the aphids under control.
One successful organic technique to manage pests is trap cropping. Trap cropping is accomplished by planting a plant (or plants) that the pest insects are more interested in than the food crop.
Another technique is to attract predators to the garden to eat the pests. Ladybugs eat aphids. Each year I leave a few unharvested turnips in the garden. These bi-annual roots regrow early in the spring. This early growth attracts aphids, the aphids in turn attract ladybugs. With little else to eat, the aphids stay on the turnips and help build ladybug populations. The ladybugs tend to wander around the garden, when I can no longer stand the aphids and want to plant another plant in where the aphid infested turnips are I yank out the turnips and bury them in the compost pile hoping to suffocate the aphids. This seems to kill the bulk of the aphids while leaving a good population of ladybugs to patrol the garden looking for those aphids that escaped.
These turnips are infested with aphids which attract the ladybugs

After being stung by a yellow jacket, they moved down in popularity, but I do see them enjoying nectar from many flowers. I've heard that they sting and collect insects for their young, but it wasn't until I actually saw a yellow-jacket flying away with a monster cabbage moth caterpillar that I started to believe in them. Every cole plant I grow seems to be covered with cabbage moths maybe because I still have several yellow-jacket traps.
Purple kohlrabi with cabbage moth caterpillars

These bugs are a key link in speeding decomposition of waste. Mostly I consider the compost pile the home of these “bugs”. While many of these bugs exist all over the garden. Its my hope to keep them away from the house and highly concentrated in the “compost area” this helps keep my wife happy! My technique is simply keeping the compost pile stocked with yummy bug food and ample moisture. Their job is to chew large chunks of food into smaller chunks allowing the bacteria and fungi more surface area to do their work faster.
A colony of carpenter ants moved into this silver maple log. The chewed tunnels leaving a pile of sawdust. The ants moved out after one season and mason bees moved into the burrows the next spring filling them with eggs.
I chainsawed this 2ft diameter log into 8" disks and used a 5/16" drill to add many more burrow for the bees. I rolled the log disks to a back area of the yard and left them standing up, many of the holes were filled with mason bee nests.

There are lots of different types of “bugs” in the compost pile: centipedes, millipedes, earwigs, ants, spiders, squirrels, birds, mice, I've seen honeybees eating used coffee grounds during warm winter days while ignoring honey I leave for them.
When the bugs get done with the compost the bacteria and fungi move in to take it to the next step. Once in a while some seeds will find there way into the compost and seem to take off.
The bugs have done a good job to make this compost

And here is what I'm looking bees pollinating food in my garden. 
This a spaghetti squash flower getting a visit.