The Farmers Almanac

My first article in the FA this month!! Kinda nice because the lecture requests are coming faster this year, and more… Already October thru March bookings and I’ve had a few who didn’t realize, now they do!

http://farmersalmanac.com/home-garden/2014/08/25/putting-beds-bed/

It’s Time.

January…                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  It’s time to get ready. We all are ready. But for what? How did we do last year? How will I do this year? We are all sort of ready.

  Lets start by looking at last years notes. Oh, no notes? We need notes. Mother nature keeps notes, why don’t you? No pics either? I bet you do. Look at outdoor gatherings like cook outs, birthdays, etc. Pic backgrounds can tell a lot of stories. Receipts of when you bought certain plants or seed packets. Were you early or late last year? See where this is going? You NEED notes. Start a journal this year using notes and pics.

   Things to note. Weather, dates, temps, whats blooming at the present, whats not, what worked, what didn’t.  Add climate actions as well as daylight hrs. available. NOAA has great “length of day” charts narrowed down to your zip code. What and when bugs and funguses emerge. Prolific growth spurts, first buds or blooms. What went good with what, and what didn’t. Start noting phenological events such as when Forsythia bloomed, Oak tree leaves start, Roses shoot out, Caterpillars arrive, heavy Mole activity, Gnat storms, etc. This will actually help you stay involved with your gardening and help keep your application rates and timing of certain products to get the maximum results, instead of maximum doses. It will also reduce the labor involved, thus making projects a joy, not a groaning task.  Don’t forget your Frost Zone Data. Here in Richmond, Va. we are Zone 7a. Last average frost is around Apr 15th, first frost is around Oct 15th. Plan accordingly.

   Seed starting can be a yearly ritual to enjoy…Or loath.. We all get the “fever” about now. We are gaining daylight hours, we were extremely busy with the Holidays since about Nov 1st. We have nothing to do now but….look out the window and think of fresh green beans and squash. It’s easy to get involved too early, or is it? Keep in mind that the box stores always are a season ahead. Patio furniture is in, gas logs are clearance items now, and its still snowing. That doesn’t mean you can start your seeds indoors now. Look at the germination rates on what you are going to grow. Now add about one month for the transplant date. Most will put you well before mid April, and the poor little guys will be getting root bound and start ailing in the starter sets. Now your confidence is shot, and you vow never to do this again. Stupid seeds! Timing is the best thing to shoot for, and, the best thing to put in that notebook we talked of earlier. Everything is out there on the market to make you successful. Grow lights, terrariums, seed starting mixes, moisture meters, and Garden Coaches. You can have a great salad this summer, with that fresh corn and watermelon.

   Garden sizing has been the hub of great debates from many a people. My take is this. “I have never seen Mother Nature shop at a box store”. She can drop a seed in the crack of a sidewalk, and grow the most delicious tomato there, no human tending it, no added chemicals. Why can’t you? I have seen plentiful container gardens growing on patios, small plots 5ft x 10ft next to a crowded deck, and great herbs in hanging baskets on a balcony. I have seen Cantaloupes growing throughout an Azalea bed. There is no excuse anymore not to at least try, and keep notes. Mother Nature keeps notes in the form of Phenology. Forsythia blooms when the soil temp is 58 degrees at 4 inches deep for at least 5 days straight. Crabgrass needs that same scenario for 7 days to germinate. Therefore, you would put down your Pre-emergent at that time to get the most out of it you could. See? Record keeping… Nothing happens until something else happens, so do something. Get dirty!

Trial Thingy with Seeds

OK, you may think I am jumping the gun on timing here, but I have been saving Dryer Lint the whole Winter. I didn’t know why, but it hit me today, of, why… I started some Tomato seeds in my garage, some in regular starting mix, and a few in, well, Dryer Lint…  I used to put it out for the birds, and they haven’t been that active in the ball of lint this year, I think they were smarter than me, and went South.. WAY south! But the Crows! Oh man I have never seen so many here.. Quick! What Phenological reason is there for Crows massing up?

So I have this supply of clothes mulch leftovers, from the dryer.. So I’m thinkin’, veggies….  A few pots, I used it as mulch, a few, I used as the media, a few, I used straight soil…  Whats next, the stuff I get off the top of the ceiling fan? There’s some good stuff there too.. Somehow, I like to think the matter is a part of me.. John Travolta in the “Phenomenon”? The apple bite? Take it with you through eternity? I need to go check the vacuum cleaner. There may be gold in there too, plus a marble and a green Army Man or two, thanks, Jake.. I mean, You aren’t eating the floor debris, although the ten second rule may need a re-config here on growing from the root.. I dunno. I’ll let NASA figure that one out.

OK, Hell, they’re just Tomatoes and Egg Plant.. We’ll see who does best or the same or fails… I will let you all know.. But make NO mistake about it, I will eat it if it grows out of my shoe, as long as I know, it was my shoe…. I will keep them separate, for those who know me. When I bring you veggies, I will give you the ones from dirt and cow manure, like that makes it tastier…  I will enjoy the ones in the lint.

Merry Christmas

My Gentle Snowflakes, I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas. I will.. See, this is the shortest hours of daylight this week. On Christmas Day, we gain one minute back of daylight, and that in itself, is a gift to me. We get one more per day until like the 21st of January, when it starts skipping to 2 minutes a day. On that day, it is the same as November 21st. Same hours of daylight/darkness. We are at 9hrs 34min now of daylight, the last part of June, we are at 14hrs 45mins of wonderful daylight. There are a lot of minutes in the 24 hr day, I just hate when they are mostly “dark” minutes”.

Now, there is a lot to start thinking about soon. We need to start planning when to lime our lawns in January, prune back roses and ornamental grasses in February, Put down preventers in March as well as solarize vegetable gardens. Seed starting indoors, well what else can you do? It will get busy here in my home again very soon. Yeah, I love when the days get longer. I can only clean my house but so much. I want outside!

What else is there.. Ah yes, pruning Crape Myrtles in March, forgot that. Oh, planting Bare Root Roses in February, and B&B trees and shrubs. Get that compost turned in late Winter will speed things up a bit. Seeing steam in the mornings in that pile? Congrats, you are making “dirt”. Ma Nature will be proud. When April 15th gets here, we will be off the leash in our landscapes again. Start toning up your gardening muscles before hand. Get that logbook out and review last years pics, remember the heat last year, just think in your mind, it could happen again, so plan out your irrigation early, get those soaker hoses in place before the onset of growth happens. Drip irrigation systems? A wonderful thing to have.

Yeah, it’s coming. Thanks Laurie, for making me get that mental visualization of picking a ripe Tomato the other day. I could smell it, see it, taste it. I felt the warm soil under my bare feet. I saw other yellow blooms on the vine. I got mad, because I mentally, forgot the salt shaker…. It needs to get here soon.

So, Merry Christmas folks, I hope you and yours get everything you want in the coming year.

Richmond, Va. White Christmas?

Ok, here we go. Defining a “White Christmas”. If you search for info on White Christmas anywhere, you will see a reduction in instances and your memory (and old Christmas pics). A white Christmas only counts if it actually snows on Christmas day. Snow on the ground on the 23rd say, extending thru Christmas, does not count as a White Christmas in the record books….. Last year, 2009, we had snow on the ground, but is not actually acclaimed as a White Christmas. This year….. Hate to say it, but I think we will have one. The low teens to mid 30’s weekly, and the weekly precip, will catch up with each other next weekend (12/18-19) like the dusting last weekend (which I also called on the 4th) and then for the next 3 weekends… I DID NOT want to say that… But it’s what I see, what my numbers say.. I also think it will warm up earlier this late winter/early spring… We’ll see. We can only hope.

Remember last year? Every week, we got it on the same days just about for like 5 weeks, then it started spreading out. The FA is saying milder this year, I say they got their pig spleens mixed up. I think they got Hawaii’s and Va.’s pigs confused.. La Nina has been getting bigger in the South Pacific all Summer, pushing that great heat we had around to us.. Now as the days get shorter, and the angle of the Sun gets less, that heat turns cold, the weekly Jet Stream stays constant, but dipping further south, the Arctic Dome has no confrontation, and it bursts like a balloon, dumping those nice teens into the lower South. As the Tropical Waves are still pushing off Africa, the precipitation coming out of the Western Gulf, traveling up through the Tennessee Valley, all it takes is for the Jet Stream to push down 400 miles more, and the storms are to the East of the Appalachians, and that, my friends, spells I.C.E for us………

Get to the grocery store NOW, get that snow shovel and ice melt NOW, get those limbs pruned away from the power lines NOW… 

I’m sorry, but I do love the heat. I was lovin’ the 90’s and 104 deg days last summer…. I can always get cooled off, but cold? You can have it. We need this frigid cold here. Some things that were bothersome in our gardens, won’t be back anymore. Some bugs, weeds that came here as “volunteers” from southern nurseries, won’t be back, lessening our usage in chemicals. Next week is the shortest daylight hrs.. We start gaining again around the 24th like a minute a day. Starts taking off to 2 min’s around Jan 8th, I think…. I can’t wait!!! Seed starting time is right around the corner!!

Overseeding in Richmond

OK. Its October. The sky is losing that nice deep blue color, and waning towards the greys of Winter. Soon, I will be shoveling snow… Again. As most of you got your distraught lawn rehab done on time starting in August, planting in September, and are now into your second feeding, you are well on your way to a healthy sod bed. As the leaves start falling, don’t forget to mulch them in place, right in the lawn, makes good stuff and helps to garden the soil. As they start falling heavier, then take them up and re-use as mulch in your beds, or get them composting for next Spring. Leave the weeds alone for now, except those of you who have cut your new grass at least 3 times. You all can now spot treat for weeds with a selective herbicide. Thin out the competition in the lawn, and get in competition with the neighbors. As the feedings continue, make sure your NPK’s are not promoting root, no Phosphorous, just Nitrogen and Potassium ( 29-0-14). Remember, “up, down, all around”.

For those who got started late, and either have barely any germination happening, or still in the seed stage, IF we go to frost here soon, make sure to water your lawn good in the evening the night of the frost. Wet soil, and freezing is better that dry and frost, like freezer burn, see? Those dry seeds will split open and be done, and those very young seedlings will burn. Wet is better than dry, and this is the ONLY time you will ever hear me say water at night, ever… Next year get started in early September, and have your seed down the week before the Va. State Fair gets here. Pretty much guaranteed rain for 2 weeks.

Side note. For those who argued about the heat through Sept, too hot to seed folks, remember this. We start losing daylight on the first day of SUMMER. By the time Sept gets here, we are down like 2 hrs. or more of actual light. The angle of the sun is greatly down towards the South. As you may be hot on a 90 degree day, the soil bed it cooling. Far from 90 something in July. The quicker you get that fescue lawn started, fed properly and on time, and healthy, the less of you will be throwing a lot of wasted fertilizer down in the Spring and Summer. News flash, your tall fescue lawn is not feeding then, but Bermuda is. 

Something I noticed this year. First day of Summer is what, June 21st or so? I see people putting down 29-3-4 on their lawns around July, and in about 2 weeks their lawn starts to green up some. Then, of course, the fungus sets in… Aren’t the days getting shorter already? Those folks that didn’t put down Nitrogen, had the same green-up, but had no fungus… The folks who got in the three feedings in the Fall, their lawn browned out some, left it alone, and when a nice toad choking rain came, it greened up again. Those who went out and threw down the Nitrogen, lost the lawn, but gained a new friend, Bermuda (wire grass), cause that’s when it likes to be fed.. See, Tall Fescue will lose the leaf (blade) to STOP feeding in extreme heat, turn brown, play dead. Here comes a nice thunderstorm, and poof, its growing again and you are back to cutting grass…  Come on, stop killing my beloved crabs in the bay, fescue does not feed in the heat, the food is un-consumed, and washes off into the watershed that we depend on. Won’t be long before that precious bottled water that most people have to have for some reason, will have a large N-P-K on the label… Get it? 

Thanks for the pics sent btw, love the Wrigley Field striping some of you are doing. I do not post pics from readers, not my lawn, not my work. Bing or Google lawn pics if you want to see others lawns.

OK. Its Time Now

   Now that we have lost better than 2 1/2 hrs of daylight, Its time to start thinking in reverse of Spring. How is tour lawn? Did it do OK in the heat and lack of rain this summer? Should you re-seed? How did your veggies do? What shape are your other landscape plants in? Should I just stay in the house……

    Yeah, time to do some serious re-thinking of your dirt. First let me say this. The Sky is not falling. We have been slammed back and forth by the media about Global blah blah blah, and a lot of folks are confused, if not disheartened by lack of success. Ma Nature is just checking to see if we are paying attention.

Your Lawn. Go ahead, core aerate, kill off, re-seed, feed, and garden your soil this Fall.

Your Veggie Garden. Go ahead, pull out anything that looks dwindling, and plant a Fall crop of Spinach, Lettuce, Collards, brocoli, maybe even some Fall Squash. Get food on the table, and spend time till Winter enjoying them.

Your landscape. Yeah, there are dead looking leaves everywhere, but remember, that tree, or shrub, has taken upon itself to selectively delete those certain amount of leaves to stop the feeding process to its roots. Remember HS Biology? No? Google plant requirement nutrients… It will all come back to you.

Who sees great dieback on Evergreens? Prune selectively, and feed with something like Ironite or an NPK of about 16-4-8, then mulch. This has been a crazy year for all, and I really believe we will see the same Winter this year, historically, even the heat again next year, but wetter, providing you with more fungus than you want, so make sure to solarize your veggie gardens in March.

 Its time to re-plant those shrubs now, and re-seed. The angle of the Sun is way down, so the 85 plus days make you hot, but the soil is actually cooled off. We will see that trend happen until Forsythia reblooms in the Spring. Yeah, it’s a long time coming, but at least you will have the time to start planning for your mistakes between now and then. Keeping that journal and pics we talked about last year? Now is the time to find them again..

Don’t give up.

Ma Nature’s Watch Broken?

So here it is, middle of May, and we are repeating last Spring.. Only in a more dramatic fashion. In my gardens, I have Tomatoes blooming, Blueberries, Blackberries, and Raspberries on the bush. Cherries are reddening, and Peaches are about 1/3 the way to done…. And everything is in great abundance, better than before. I am a little worried, again. You see, I also have Mums budding and blooming, and my Lenten Rose won’t go down for the count. Our weather pattern is getting a little daunting. Typically, in the last 4 to 5 years, (except for last year), it was already hot. I saw pools open up early, before Memorial Day, and I was already tan. Last year was way cooler than those previous years, I don’t care what the oomphs say, we only had 2 or 3 different weeks that it got to the 90’s, not in a row, just random times. I’m worried about those Mums and what are they telling me….

I shoveled way too much snow this year. I ended up making a pusher blade for my JD tractor.. Genius it was. El Nino and La Nina switched last year. I think it will be worse this Winter. Who just got snow the other day out in the Mid-West and in the Great Lakes? Snow, then Tornadoes. Ouch… My back can’t take another Winter like this year. Statistically, every 30 years or so, we get this weather, but there have also been at least a 25″ single snow dumping here in Richmond during those times… Something to think about. And here’s the kicker, most folks here ain’t from here. Some came from the lower South and think we are protected from harm. If I heard once, “It doesn’t snow in Richmond”, I heard it a thousand times. Well, yes it does. Yeah, my Mums are scaring me a little. Two years ago we had the 15 year early bloom, then we had a 10″ dumping of snow in March last year. The Tropics were kinda quiet on the East Coast, now the next season is worrying me some. Will the Atlantic heat up enough to support a cyclone? Or does it just need the difference in air to sea temps with the Tropical pushes off the African Coast? I need to check the Coral Bleaching sites so I can plan my Summer. Last night we had our first really big blow. When the National Weather Service interrupts the TV, everything here stops, and my 9-year-old son and I head for the porch and watch the whole show, start to finish, it’s just a thing we do.

So far this Spring, I think we have had almost as many 90 degree days as last July, but then it goes to the upper 30’s, and does not get out of the 60’s. Like yesterday, upper 80’s, now, today, mid to upper 60’s. Tomorrow. 90’s. We had frost the other day just West of here and hard freeze up into the Great Lakes. No wonder my Mums don’t know what time it is, they actually think it’s late October except for the amount of actual daylight. Spurge, Henbit, and Chickweed won’t stop, and Dandelions are afraid.. For the first time in 6 years, I had to cover my vegetable garden, twice, due to late April and early May frost warnings… But I gladly did it, because I will be the first to eat from my garden. In my satellite compost place, my old Collards and Broccoli are re-growing in abundance. Best of both worlds.

Something else, all my Spring blooming trees and shrubs bloomed on time, but went out very quick, hardly any time to enjoy. Yep, I will re-equip my JD again in the Winter. How long will the effect of the Volcano eruptions of late make us crave Global Warming? I hate the cold, would much rather sweat, but I do enjoy the seasonal changes here in Richmond. Not too long ago, lakes and reservoirs were drying up, people were watering their lawns in the wee hours so as not to get caught during water restrictions, and now, we are back in the Nuclear Winter of the Reagan era. I like how the weather people like to say things like the temps and snowfalls are the largest and coldest since about 30 years ago. Ya gotta love the cycles, because if you do some checking, about 60 years ago, it was the same. It’s not just us doing us in, Ma Nature likes to do us too, we just need to learn to compensate for the time frames, and either save our watering for a long hot, dry Summer, or start spraying a lot of aerosol into the atmosphere and slow the long Winters. Or, just deal with it.

Spring Mums

I Know It’s Cold, But….

The time is right to start thinking about that vegetable garden, now… Instead of drudging through the cold part of the year, and getting “house madness”, I opt to start my garden in my head. What went wrong last year, went right, wanted more of, some of… Yeah. All that is buzzin’ around in my head. So, the first thing I will do is figure out how much more space I can conjure up on my property. I will even make use of growing food in large pots that almost made it to the dump. I have already amended the old part, as well as composted a newer part I will till in March. Yeah, I will have more this year.

But when do I?…… Start the seeds, start saving milk jugs, solarize, etc…. First things first. The seed racks are out already, and I have some dried out from last year. The proper timing in my experience is this, and its streamlined, you betcha…. On every pack of seeds, there are some important bits of info for you, after all, those folks have been selling seeds a long time, and it’s their job to keep us straight. There is a growing zone chart on when to plant outdoors, height, width, depth, spread, row length, etc. But the one piece that  most people ignore, is the “emergence” time.  That is the time to expect the seedling to pop up and say hello. Here in Zone 7a, my last average killing frost is around April 15th. Sooo, I will take the timeframe they say for each individual crop, add 3 weeks, do the math and subtract that many days from April 15th, and thats the day I start that particular plant, indoors…. Too soon, and I will have to repot because of root mass, and who has time to do that over and over, plus the space it will take, and too late and my neighbors are eating fresh veggies before me. Nah. not me.

There are several hundred ways, creative, and marketable gadgets, to start seeds in. It’s a great feeling to see the little guys pop up, but here’s the thing. From the time they emerge, they are hungry, so now feeding is going to be a priority. They don’t get food in the soil while germinating, or it will make them leggy most times. I want my little fellas to come up, and sprout leaves soon. Then I will start a little balanced feeding. When that happens, they start to root out more, which is a good thing. From root, you get bloom, from bloom, fruit. So less leggy leafing, gets me more root mass, see? If I have to repot, then the feeder roots keep getting disturbed, and start producing more leaf, which takes away from my precious root mass. So one transplant time is good enough for me. Matter of fact, when I transplant to the garden bed, I place bottomless one liter bottles on them, then feed so the food isn’t right at the root. My guys have to work for their food by spreading their roots to get to it. After all, I have to work on picking it later. It’s kind of a thing we have, me and the plants that is.  Wow. I’m picking Green Beans and Squash in my mind already. Yeah. I’m ready. But there is a little more to do yet.

Later we will discuss the art of solarizing a garden bed and setting up the irrigation, etc. But for now we need to remember High School Biology a little. It takes seed to soil contact, moisture, and light to get your seeds off right. I will add some pics (hopefully) on a cheap, easy seed starting contraption and even a easier way to transplant to the bed, without even touching the plants. Time to get creative a little on your garden sense. After all, I do know those folks out there who did this stuff last year for the first time, and you are wanting to go, now… Timing people, timing and planning will get you off to a better start with memorable times next Winter, when you are still eating veggies from your own garden, instead of buying them. The time is coming. Start planning. If you need to get something going now, and just can’t stand it, go out and get some cuttings from a bunch of your Spring blooming trees and shrubs, bring them in the house and put them in a vase with water in a well-lit room. They will explode waaay sooner than outside, and maybe give you a little hope that it will be warm soon… Just a little.

Watch the Critters. I Am, and They’re Scaring Me!

Anyone paying attention to the critters and out-of-season blooming plants? Whaddya think about Phenology? I kinda think we are in for it this Winter in Richmond, and all points north. Squirrels are wrecking the trees already. ALL my peaches are gone, as well as Elderberries, and now they are stripping my Red Twig Dogwoods. My Asters are blooming, and my Fire Power Nandinas are turning Copper already. Uh-oh, remember last February? Squirrels were literally ripping into houses, and weeds were kinda behind schedule. Then, 10 inches of snow in early March. We are on the cusp of the 25 to 30 yr bad winter scale. I’m getting my firewood very soon. Nope, not waiting. What about Atlantic temps? Still below last 15 yr average, no tropical weather so far, OK, one depression in what, late April? All the bugs came about at the same time frame. They know, come out, mate, lay eggs, die. Woohoo! Kinda like failing 4th grade… Ya got rooked… The Farmers Almanac has been famous forever on their predictions. I mostly rely on anyone over 70, to let me know. They know the year, month, date, what day it was, and the most believable ones, know what time the big storms hit. (That’s the ones you take care of). Pay attention folks, I think it will be a quick, early Fall, followed by long, cold and to some (mostly parents of school age kids), miserable winter. This doesn’t mean not to study for Winter Exams, but, well you startwatching Mother Nature yourself. Kinda has me nervous so far. My employer usually listens to me on these things. We get the bust on everyone because the local weather folks will miss certain things. March 2nd was a “dusting” with maybe 2-3 inches. We got down all winter gear and products on Feb 28th, all gone by the 4th. Ya kinda have to respect Mother Nature. She’s talking to us, and some ain’t listening. Maybe I’ll look at a Generac for my home… No, have two fireplaces, and parents have the generator. We will survive. Freezing a lot of garden veggies, which I will have to use for bartering to the parents. Collecting pinecones , twigs, and fatwood. Warmth, food, company, something good to read, and collecting 2 Buck Chuck for emergency use, also a bartering tool. Next few years the whoohoos will be crying Nuclear Winter to us because of the temps….Maybe the sky IS falling. Maybe its the Southern Oscillation, you know, El Nino and La Nina misbehaving. I dunno, you watch. Make your own opinion.

Again, congrats to Boondoogle, Australia for not allowing the sale of or transportation of bottled water in or through their township. First place in the world to say no… Who’s next?