Monday, March 28, 2016

Fishing Line Fence Revisited

Sad to say, my fishing line deer fence  (7/1/10 and 3/14/14 posts) failed last July after 5 years of reliable service denying deer entrance to my food garden. Once the first few got in there seemed to be a continuous nightly assault in spite of efforts to patch the breaks with more fishing line.

Broken fishing line

Why did deer finally break through the fishing? I have not been able to identify and interview the culprits. We have more deer than ever in my area so there's a greater chance of deer running into and breaking the fence, and then walking into the garden. Perhaps the near invisibility of the fishing line worked against me. I was hoping the deer would spook if they walked into the fence. Hanging brightly colored streamers may have kept them away from the fence.

I appreciated the low cost of the fence and it did keep deer out for five years. However, I had to make repairs 2-3 times a year where friction, the elements, and maybe even deer, caused breakages. I went down this road to avoid buying and hanging the ubiquitous black polypropylene deer netting. And that's exactly what I'll be doing this week!
Deer netting

Garden gate with bamboo poles attached to the front

Thursday, March 17, 2016

More links for you!

Since the first day of spring looks like it's going to be the last gasp of winter, you may want something to read indoors. Here are a few more random edible-gardening-related links I've come across.

First, if you liked The Martian, here are two short write-ups on experiments about growing food in Mars-like conditions: Growing Potatoes on Mars and These Mock Martian Crops Show We Could Grow Food on Mars.

The question that keeps getting asked, addressed by The Garden Professors: Is a tomato a fruit? Or a vegetable? (Yes, and yes.)

What some foods looked like before domestication. Not terribly appealing. (A-peeling may be a pun.)

How the sweet potato is a natural GMO.

And some practical gardening links:

Adapting to a wet spring, using cold frames (Sustainable Market Farming, Pam Dawling).

The approach graft for tomatoes and relatives (Garden Professors).

Super Easy Newspaper Pots for Starting Seeds (Backyard Farming).

Or if you want to make pots from toilet paper rolls, Washington Gardener show you how.


Monday, March 14, 2016

Every Garden Season is a Learning Season

Every garden season is different and I learn something every season just by chance.  I also try to learn something on purpose.  So every garden season, I try something new – a new plant or a new technique.  Last year, it was water bottle seed starters, a trellis and onions. 

I wanted to use the water bottle seed starters because the weather was so wishy washy and wanted to give my squash, cucumber, pumpkin and watermelon seeds enough warmth and time to get a good harvest.  I had seen other gardeners use them on Pinterest or somewhere else.  They looked simple enough to do.  Simply cut a water bottle in half.  In the bottom half, cut a whole to get water and air in as you can see in the picture.  I’m sad to say it didn’t work well for me.  All the seeds started out beautifully except the watermelon seeds, which I think were from a bad pack because they didn’t come up when I tried starting them inside.  However, the water bottle seed starters were a disaster when it came time to remove them.  I tried as gently as I could to lift them up but too much soil came up along with the tender little plants.  I believe I disturbed the root system too much.  Perhaps I pushed the water bottles into the soil too deep.  Perhaps I was too early or late to take the water bottles out.  Perhaps I should have used 2 liter bottles.  There could have been a number of reasons why only a few plants survived.  Fortunately, some did so it wasn’t a complete loss.  I might try this technique again but not for all my seeds.  Just in case.

I had been dreaming of a trellis and admiring my fellow gardeners’ trellises for awhile.  I had mentioned it to my boyfriend and showed him a picture that I copied out of a garden book.  As a surprise, he built it in two short hours that I was at Easter church service.  It worked beautifully.  Although this year, I will put the plants more in the center and in “W” formations instead of straight lines on the edges.  It was difficult getting the weeds under the center.  I will also move it to the center of my plot so I can get to both sides instead of having it by the fence.

This was my first time planting onions.  I decided to give them I try since I buy a lot at the grocery store.  A fellow Master Gardener was ordering bunches and the more you buy the bigger the discount.  I got in on the deal and got more than I knew what to do with.  I still hadn’t learned my lesson from my 2011 tomato plant purchase of 10 varieties for a garden space big enough for four plants max.  As you can see from the photo, I planted most of them in straight rows with seed company suggested spacing.  They came up nicely but the spacing wasn’t ideal.  It kept them from growing larger.  This year, I will plant my onions in “W” formation also.

And in case you’re wondering what I learned by chance, I have a list.  Here are just a few.
  • I will never use the circle tomato cages again.
  • Pick that beetle off your collard greens when you see it.  Don’t say “Oh, I’ll get it tomorrow.”
  • Keep a mason jar with lid nearby so you can scoop up those beetles fast.
  • Stock up on pumpkin recipes.  You only need 3 cups of pumpkin puree to make 2 pies and you get at least 8 cups from one pumpkin.
  • My boyfriend’s 3-year old granddaughter helped more in the garden than my 11-year old twins combined.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Reminder: deal with those winter weeds!

Since we're having a nice stretch of real spring weather, even if you are not quite ready to plant yet it's a great time to get out and hoe up the weeds that have loved our mostly-warm winter.

If you need a visual reminder, I humbly offer this bed in the Derwood Demo Garden:

And, for a little more contrast:

The front bed we covered with newspaper and leaf mulch in the fall. The back bed with the labels is our (now partially-weeded) garlic patch, not covered. Is it nice to see a little green in the garden at this time of year? Not always.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Hummingbirds and spiders: Nature's peanut butter and jelly

Guest author Susie Hill, Frederick County Master Gardener
This post originally appeared in the Frederick News-Post

“Ahhhhh!” The sound waves of a bloodcurdling scream bent corners and penetrated the chestnut logs of my house. Up two flights of stairs and many rooms away, I heard the call. “A tarantula!!!”
Seriously? I have spent a great deal of time with my shrieking friend, so I take ownership of the fact that I have not yet desensitized her to one of our greatest allies in the battle against unwanted six-legged pests. Not only do spiders capture and feed on insects in the house and garden, but the common house spider performs a job that is little-known but truly miraculous: Spiders spin the silk that ruby-throated hummingbirds use to make their nests.
This spring, when redbuds and sassafras come into bloom, hummingbirds will start to arrive. Let’s call them Joe and Sally. Joe will arrive first to stake out territory and identify nectar sources. Sally will arrive about one week later, and once she is wooed, nest-building will begin. The nest will be built on a horizontal branch, close to a water source. Joe will search for pieces of lichen as building blocks, just as the three little pigs used mud, straw, and bricks. Then, assuming that all the spiders in town haven’t suffered sudden death by vacuum cleaner or shoe bottom, Sally will retrieve spider silk to weave a nest for her young.
Close-up view of hummingbird nest hanging from small tree branches; photo by Dave Powell, USDA Forest Service,

Spider silk is vitally important to hummingbird baby survival, and it is both strong and flexible. Eggs are only the size of jelly beans, laid in a tiny cup-like nest. As the babies grow, the nest expands but still holds them snugly because of the spider silk. As a kid, I put nesting materials out for the birds. I’d put strings in onion bags in the hopes that some migrating songbird, exhausted from its journey, would find these nesting materials and have a head start on setting up camp. That may work for some birds, but not for hummingbirds.
Lobelia cardinalis and hummingbird by Sara Tangren
There are, of course, other ways to support hummingbirds. Use native plants in your landscape. Aim to provide a succession of bloom throughout the season. Some native plants that are good nectar sources for hummingbirds and are easy to find include columbine, monarda, coralbells, cardinal flower, blue lobelia, trumpet creeper and our native honeysuckle. Jewelweed, which grows naturally, is a great late-season nectar source. Not only do these plants provide nectar sources, but Joe and Sally can catch small insects on the flowers too. These insects provide a crucial protein source for them and their young. There is a synchronicity in this cycle. The hummingbirds and spiders team up to feed on insects, and the birds use the spider silk to provide a safe nest for their babies. They go together like peanut butter and jelly.
As I sit here, a jumping spider has serendipitously fallen into my water glass. I’ll call her Charlotte. My friend is upstairs sleeping, so she didn’t have a chance to scream. I quietly emptied my glass into a houseplant and encouraged Charlotte to go find something to eat. I’ll take a spider over a stinkbug any day. This spring, as I do my spring cleaning, I will leave the cobwebs behind. You will never find a spider in my vacuum bag or on the bottom of my shoe — not only do they eat lots of insect pests, but Joe and Sally might be needing their silk soon to make a safe nest for their little ones. If spiders and their webs go together with hummingbirds like peanut butter and jelly, who am I to interfere?