Green Speak Horticulture topics from gardens to lawns and then some. Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/eb285/rss.xml Extend Your Growing Season with Low Tunnels http://web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/eb285/entry_12966/ Mon, 06 Nov 2017 13:57:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/eb285/entry_12966/ One of my favorite times of year to garden is in the fall. Growing vegetables during autumn in Illinois as the weather cools and daylight dwindles, can be a bit of a challenge, but the reward is quite sweet.

The fall and winter garden is not a place for tomatoes, peppers, or many of our favorite summer veggies. Instead, what we grow are cool season crops. Adaptation to low temperatures allows most cool-season crops to survive light freezes, while others, such as kale, will tolerate 20 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. As the weather cools in autumn, plants convert carbohydrates into sugars to protect their cells from freezing temperatures. This sugary 'antifreeze' imparts a deliciously sweet flavor to many cool-season crops during the fall and winter months. Spinach and carrots harvested in the late fall and winter are especially a treat that one must experience!

Preparing a Fall & Winter Garden

Preparation is key to cold season growing. In fact, a majority of work for a fall and winter garden takes place in the summer. Most fall vegetables should be seeded in the ground by early August, but this can vary based on the crop and your location. The key is to get plants established when we still have ample daylight. In the fall as the days shorten, plant growth slows considerably. Once we hit late fall, plant growth has all but stopped. At that point, we are just maintaining plants until we get around to harvest.

As an example, late August I seeded carrots. By the time we got to late October, the plants virtually stopped growing due to shorter daylight and were ready for harvest. You could harvest them all at once and store them in the high humidity bin in the fridge for at least one month. However, I store my carrots where they are growing in the ground through the winter and harvest when I need some.

In our GIFT garden (Growing Illinois Food Together), we are currently growing carrots, spinach, turnips, cabbage, kale, bok choi, and various lettuces. The most reliable winter crops in my experience have been kale, carrots, and spinach. Contact your local Extension office for additional recommendations of cool season crops.

Holding Crops into Winter

Another critical part of the fall and winter garden is infrastructure to protect your plants. Yes, these cool-season crops are hardy, but protection is essential if you want to extend your season beyond winter's hard and long frost. The tool for this in the backyard garden is a low tunnel.

Low tunnels are high tunnels (AKA hoop house) in miniature. To make the low tunnel skeleton that will hold the covering, you may use wire or PVC pipe. However, I strongly recommend purchasing low tunnel materials from dealers who specialize in gardening or small farms supplies. Some even offer kits with everything you need. Low tunnels will need to be able to stand up to high winds and snow loads, often wire and PVC fail. I made my low tunnel frame using ½-inch electrical conduit (EMT) and a pipe bender. Space your hoops five to six feet apart. A rope is then weaved along the top of the hoops and then anchored at both ends to a wooden stake in the ground. The rope acts as the 'spine' and holds up the low tunnel frame when snow piles on top.

About mid-fall when we get our first light frost, I use row cover, a spun fabric similar to a bedsheet for a light protective covering that lets sun, water, and air through. Once we approach our first hard frost, I place greenhouse poly plastic covering directly over the row cover. Most homeowners will seek this poly plastic covering from local hardware stores, but plastic drop cloth is not made for use in the garden. Garden and farm suppliers sell low tunnel poly that is treated to protect from UV degradation and will give you a much longer lifespan of the material.

Tie the ends of the row cover or poly covering to the wooden stakes at either end. Use bags of rock, stone, or bricks to hold down the sides. Keep an eye on the temperature. Sunny, warm winter days can get hot in the low tunnel. Roll up the sides to vent, but don't forget to put them back down before night. Harvest vegetables on days when the temperature is above freezing.

To attain fresh produce in the fall and winter, vegetables have to start growing in mid to late summer. By mid-fall, most should be ready for harvest. By using a simple season extension low tunnel, you will be able to hold those vegetables throughout winter and enjoy sugary spinach and candied carrots even after New Years.
Check out my YouTube videos on Building a low tunnel at the McDonough County GIFT (Growing Illinois Food Together) Garden.
How to Build a Low Tunnel Part 1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nln3DVuwQXY
How to Build a Low Tunnel Part 2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LObvVX-BkMI
Crops Inside the Low Tunnel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1VSjmPk0M3E
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Raising Monarchs: Tips for Monarch Rearing Indoors http://web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/eb285/entry_12863/ Wed, 13 Sep 2017 16:22:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/eb285/entry_12863/ There is something about a butterfly that makes most smile. As I travel from speaking location to meeting to my garden in Central Illinois, I smile each time I see a monarch butterfly flit by in the distance. However, I also cringe at the handful of times a monarch butterfly strikes my car window. Mother Nature has designed for so much, but she could not have foreseen the implications of the automobile.

In addition to cars, monarchs face many hardships through their lives from egg, caterpillar, and adult butterfly. A few weeks ago this very column marveled at the destructive power a nest of yellowjackets and paper wasps had on the monarch caterpillars in my backyard. Nature deals monarchs another blow with disease. A terrible disease known as OE (Ophryocystis elektroscirrha) is a protozoan parasite that needs the monarch butterfly to proliferate, but in return, the one-celled organism can kill monarchs. Doesn't seem like a fair trade.

Monarch woes go beyond predators, parasites, disease, and my Honda CRV. Clean farming and landscaping practices limit milkweed (the only thing monarch caterpillars eat) and nectar sources for adult butterflies. Ninety percent of monarch habitat is now in agricultural production. The urban environment is not very hospitable either. Large expanses or concrete, asphalt, and turf provide little habitat unless you're a car or a golfer.

Do I dare even dive into climate change, which is also having an impact on monarch butterflies? I think not, as this column has made me depressed and we're only half-way finished. Let's give some hope to this reality.

It seems as though everything is at odds with the survival of the monarch butterfly. The survival rate for a monarch to make it from egg to breeding adult is only one percent! Whoops! Right, I'm supposed to be hopeful.

There is something we can do to turn that one percent survival rate into 90 to 99 percent. We can raise monarch caterpillars indoors.

Raising monarch caterpillars indoors is not a crazy notion. Chances are your kids or grandchildren are doing this already in their school. This year my son's kindergarten class raised several monarch caterpillars indoors and then waited in anticipation after the caterpillar went into its chrysalis to transform into a butterfly. Last weekend, the teacher called to let us know Ben's caterpillar emerged from the chrysalis and was ready to be released. It was an amazing experience. The next day the chrysalis we had at home opened to reveal a beautiful butterfly.

This generation of butterflies will be the ones to make the journey to Mexico, where they will overwinter until next spring and make their way back north. Monarch butterflies will migrate from as far north as Canada. No other insect makes such a journey and is what makes monarch butterflies a good symbol for our continent.

Following is Monarch Raising Made Simple by Roxanne Green with the Knox County Ag in the Classroom program.

Warning: All containers with lids will now look like caterpillar rearing equipment.

Be aware – Monarch caterpillars (cats) ONLY eat milkweed. There are many varieties, but the broad-leaved milkweed known as common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is easily found in our area. If you have not grown your own milkweed, you should wash it before feeding your caterpillars. Think of milkweed as lettuce. What leaves would you want to eat? Smaller and tender leaves are the leaves of choice to eat and lay eggs.

  1. Keep eggs and cats (caterpillars) in small containers with a wet paper towel. The towel keeps the milkweed leaf hydrated, and the small container makes it easy to keep track of the caterpillar.
  2. Everything is affected by temperature. The warmer the temperature, the faster the egg/caterpillar will become a butterfly.
  3. Check and clean containers daily. At first caterpillar poop (aka frass) will look like pepper. The larger they grow, the larger frass becomes!
  4. Every caterpillar will molt. This means they will become very still, put down a silk pad, and then split out of their skin. Their skin will be left behind, and they generally eat it. The kids often think the caterpillar is dead; it is just molting. The last time the caterpillar molts, it will form a green chrysalis.
  5. As the caterpillar gets ready for its last molt, it will do a walkabout. That means it will travel around for a place to 'hang' in a J. A tall container is best. The caterpillar will put its silk button down, put its feet into the button, and hang in a J. It can hang in this position for 18 hours or more!
  6. When the caterpillar straightens out, it will do a pupa dance! That means it will split open its skin one last time and wiggle out of it.
  7. The chrysalis will hang in the cage for 8-12 days. Once it turns black, that is a signal it will soon be an adult monarch.
  8. Once the adult emerges (ecloses), it will hang and dry its wings for several hours. Generally, an adult won't eat for 24 hours. Only release your adult on a rain free day, and temperatures above 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
  9. Some things happen that might result in a caterpillar death. Parasites may kill it; it might have had milkweed with pesticides, and other unexplained things. Avoid handling the caterpillar. When moving it, move it on the leaf. Remember it might have its silk pad down and trying to molt. Never rip it off where it is resting.

Want more information on raising monarch caterpillars indoors to give them the boost they need? Contact your local Extension office or check out the Monarch Watch website at www.monarchwatch.org for more resources.

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Raising Monarchs: Watch for Predators http://web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/eb285/entry_12814/ Wed, 23 Aug 2017 11:03:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/eb285/entry_12814/ This year I was so hopeful. My yard has been cultivated, or perhaps a better term is 'uncultivated,' in hopes of creating an oasis of beneficial insects. I neglected to reapply mulch, leaving a bare patch of soil in my planting bed. It soon became a delight to my kids to watch songbirds taking dust baths. I let the violets have their way, and they rewarded us with an outstanding flower show this spring and an excellent groundcover up until mid-summer when the heat and sun forced remaining violets into the shade.

A small birdbath placed on the ground became home to toads, frogs, and dragonflies. We kept mosquitoes at bay with Bti treatments. A family of paper wasps selected a spot under our eave to build their nest. Knowing their beneficial qualities, I decided to give the wasps a pass, watching closely should they become aggressive. Purple coneflower, Arkansas blue star (Amsonia hubrichtii), thyme, Ohio spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis) bloomed, bringing pollinators of all shapes and sizes. Finally, after two years my three patches of swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) were established.

We saw our first monarch around mid-June. She drank nectar from the milkweed bloom and then laid her eggs. She was soon followed by another butterfly and another. In total, I spotted four monarch butterfly females laying their eggs in my backyard before July. And boy did those monarch caterpillars eat!

My kids watched alongside me as the caterpillars munched and grew. We were not able to focus much on the caterpillars much after June 23 as that was the date we welcomed our third baby boy into the world. Let's just say we were a bit distracted. I would occasionally emerge from the house to check on the garden. Every time my inspection of milkweed yielded no monarch caterpillars. Odd I thought. The caterpillars should not all have transitioned to adult butterflies yet. In fact, the feeding of the leaves suggested the caterpillars had been absent for some time.

This mystery remained unsolved throughout July. Monarch butterflies were also scarce. Checking in at the Extension office's monarch waystation, it was a similar situation, no adults and no caterpillars.

About two weeks ago, we welcomed a monarch female butterfly into our backyard. I followed her from milkweed to milkweed and made a note of where she laid her eggs. Soon after, I found two baby monarch caterpillars, happily eating milkweed.

The next day, the caterpillars were nowhere to be found. Puzzled, I checked the other patch of milkweed where I knew the female had also laid eggs. Just in time, I spotted a yellowjacket wasp, grasping what appeared to be a tiny monarch caterpillar, take off from the milkweed. That is when the gears clicked into place. The monarch caterpillars are being hunted by the same beneficial insects I was encouraging to my yard!

All types of beneficial predators frequent my backyard, most being wasps and hornets. Ingesting the toxic compounds of the milkweed does make the monarch caterpillar poisonous or distasteful to many predators. However, some have adapted.

It seems the paper wasps, whose nest I spared, are a primary wasp predator of monarchs. Yellowjackets have also been observed feeding on monarch caterpillars, which also setup shop in my backyard. You can read more about them in my previous post on yellowjackets.

This experience drives home the statistic that only 10 percent of monarchs survive the egg and larval stage. While planting milkweed and nectar sources are a necessary strategy to promote monarch numbers, there is more that we can do.

Monarchs raised in captivity have a much higher survival rate of 90 to 99 percent. If you want to give your monarchs a leg up on the competition in the wild, consider bringing them inside and placing the caterpillars in a rearing cage. Cages can be purchased online or built out of a tomato cage wrapped in fine netting. You can even raise monarch caterpillars in plastic containers. (Just be sure to provide good airflow.)

If you want to learn more about monarch butterflies, join us for our annual Monarch Migration Festival on September 9, 2017, at the Lakeside Nature Center in Galesburg, Illinois. It is a fun-filled day starting at 10 AM with activities for the whole family.

  • You will see real live monarch butterflies and caterpillars
  • Explore the Ms. Mari Posa mobile classroom
  • Adopt a tagged monarch butterfly
  • Send your own symbolic butterfly to Mexico
  • Purchase native plants (The first 50 families will receive a free native plant!)
  • Learn about beekeeping
  • Talk to local conservation experts
  • Build monarch rearing cages
  • Enjoy vendors, music, food, crafts, talks, and of course butterflies!

Check out our event page on Facebook and web page!

Find more information on rearing monarch caterpillars indoors HERE.]]>
Dealing with Yellowjacket Wasps http://web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/eb285/entry_12803/ Thu, 17 Aug 2017 10:05:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/eb285/entry_12803/ Last Sunday night we arrived home in Macomb, tired from a short trip visiting family in Quincy. Moreover, hauling around an infant and two young boys full of boundless energy tend to produce weary parents. Upon opening the door into the house, we were greeted as usual by our dog Murphy. Excited as a puppy to see us though his years now approach eleven.

As is our routine I immediately let the dog out while preparing beds and fetch sleeping children from the car. Returning to let Murphy inside, he runs to his fresh bowl of food. Following his dinner Murphy grabs his favorite bone and leads the way upstairs to bed.

As I knelt beside him to give a goodnight scratch, I noticed his ear was swollen. Upon examination, I saw no evidence of a wound or bite. My wife and I assumed it was due to a sting or spider bite. Too tired to investigate further and knowing we still had a long night of nursing, burping, and diaper changing ahead of us, we fell asleep.

The next morning, I made my way to the backdoor to let out an eager Murphy. I began my coffee ritual of blindly searching for the filters and measuring cup. Suddenly, Murphy let out a flurry of barks. These were unlike his usual warnings to the woods or neighbor dogs. These were angry barks, which I could easily equate a dog's version of expletives. Opening the door, I called him inside. As he approaches, I notice he was under attack by yellowjacket wasps! I quickly swept off the offending wasps, rushed Murphy inside and closed the door.

The swollen ear mystery from the night before was solved, but now we have a problem. An angry nest of yellowjacket wasps in my backyard where the kids play. How do we get rid of a yellowjacket nest?

What is a yellowjacket?

First some clarifications. The Common Yellowjacket (Vespula vulgaris) is often mistaken for honey bees. Similar to honey bees, yellowjackets are about ½ inch long and live in social colonies with a single queen. They both have alternating bands of markings, however, yellowjackets markings are a distinct bright yellow and black, whereas a honey bee's colors are a dull yellow-orange. Honey bees are also covered in small hairs, whereas yellowjackets are mostly hairless. Finally, yellowjackets are wasps, whereas honey bees are bees.

Why Yellowjackets Attack

Yellowjackets have been present in my yard since spring along with several other species of bees and wasps. All of these species, yellowjackets included, are beneficial insects, eating other soft-bodied creatures like caterpillars and providing pollination services. I even saw a hornet dragging a slug back to its nest. It is no wonder my hostas have been untouched by slugs this summer. If these nests are out of the way and no one nearby is allergic to stings, these bee and wasp colonies are best left alone.

Late in the season, yellowjackets will begin to aggressively pursue food. As flowers fade in the late summer into fall, nectar sources dwindle, making food scarce for the colony. Uncovered trashcans, picnic-goers, concession stands are all fair game and is where most encounter yellowjackets.

By late summer the population of yellowjackets in the nest is at its maximum, offering many troops to help defend the colony. Perhaps the most dreadful of tactics, the yellowjacket can sting multiple times. Unlike bees, a hornets stinger does not have a barb that lodges into its victim. A yellowjacket's stinger is smooth and can be used repeatedly injecting a dose of venom each time. An attacking or smashed yellowjacket also gives off a chemical signal to fellow nest-mates drawing them to battle. This is why you should never swat a yellowjacket. Instead, wait for the yellowjacket to depart. Often they are simply investigating you and will leave momentarily. If you cannot wait, push them off with a piece of paper, or slow deliberate motions. Avoid flailing your arms and hitting them, as you will then be perceived as a threat.

Methods for Controlling Yellowjackets

Controlling a yellowjacket colony brings its own share of risk. If a homeowner is not comfortable eliminating a yellowjacket nest or is allergic to stings, hire a professional.

If you do not have a yellowjacket nest in your yard, but are frequented by their foragers, traps can be setup to draw them away from gathering areas. Traps can be purchased or made at home. Keep garbage can lids on tight and food cleaned up is enough to keep roving yellowjackets away.

Yellowjackets often will not sting a person unless the nest is agitated. If a yellowjacket colony is identified near a home or where it may come in contact with people (or nosy dogs), make sure to keep children out of that part of the yard and warn adults and neighbors.

Tips for controlling a yellowjacket nest:

  • Treat the nest during the late evening or early morning when yellowjackets are less active.
  • Avoid using a flashlight as this will draw them to you at night. If you need light, place a piece of red cellophane over the flashlight.
  • Wear protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirt and pants. Tie sleeve and pants legs shut or pull socks over your pant legs.
  • Most treatments will take at least one day. If after a day there is still activity (yellowjackets still flying back and forth) repeat the treatment.

Exposed nests are those that are constructed above ground and may be hanging in a tree or attached the eaves. These are often out of reach and best treated with an aerosol spray labeled for wasps and hornets. Typically these contain the active ingredients tetramethrin or prallethrin. Spray directly on the entrance of the nest.

Ground nests can be controlled by placing an insecticide dust typically containing permethrin or carbaryl in and around the nest entrance at night. Yellowjackets will adhere to the insects as they enter and leave. Control is often achieved after a few days.

Concealed nests are those found inside wall voids of homes or attic spaces. These are often much more difficult to control and a pest management professional is recommended. Never close an opening to a concealed yellowjacket nest as the colony may chew through the drywall and enter the house!

It is unfortunate Murphy had to take the brunt of the stings before we found out what was the cause Though we are grateful it wasn't our children, as they have much less body hair to protect from stinging insects. Luckily, the dog is doing just fine the yellowjackets could only penetrate the fur on his ears and only got in two stings. I'd wager Murphy is feeling proud that he once again did his duty in protecting his family by acting as a pincushion for yellowjackets.

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Ohio Spiderwort in the Garden http://web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/eb285/entry_12677/ Thu, 22 Jun 2017 14:05:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/eb285/entry_12677/ Observation is part of the fun of gardening. Waking up in the morning, I let out my dog Murphy, and walk through my yard studying the intricacies and habits of the plants in my landscape. A morning dew is helpful to spot spider webbing or allow the tiny hairs on a flower petal to shine in the rising sun.

Walking through the garden in the early morning is just as good as drinking a cup coffee, although coffee certainly makes the experience better. If a neighbor were to peek over the fence, they would see both dog and human with our faces buried deep in plants.

One of my favorite plants to visit in the morning is Ohio spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis). The long, linear leaves offset the texture of the adjacent massing of purple coneflower, creating a nice focal point in the garden. Ohio spiderwort will only reward morning gardeners with blooms, as the flowers tend to close by noon. On cool, cloudy days, the flowers remain open a bit longer.

The flower is one of my favorites and is often the subject of my camera. In person, the flowers are a fashionable light-violet to bluish-purple offset by six bright yellow anthers. It is challenging to capture the actual color of the flowers with a camera. Many of my photos of Ohio spiderwort show the flowers to be bright blue to sky blue. I have found on very sunny days the exposure yields bright blues in my photographs. On cloudy days, pictures tend to keep to the true colors of the flower. However, I do enjoy the photos of the striking blue the camera lens picks up.

In my yard, Ohio spiderwort is in full sun, but the plant can also tolerate partial shade. The plant is very adaptable to soil conditions. The flowers will yield seed, which after four years in of having this plant in my garden, have not been a problem. In my observation, the primary way for this plant to spread is an occasional side-shoot from its thick fleshy root system.

In addition to the plant itself, the other delightful observations come from the insects that visit the flowers in the morning. I very commonly see bumblebees visiting Ohio spiderwort, as the plant's primary pollinators. Syrphid flies are also often found on Ohio spiderwort, though they feed on stray pollen grains and are not considered viable pollinators.

Ohio spiderwort makes for a great morning pick-me-up. Consider including this beautiful native in your landscape.]]>
Nutrient Deficiency in Cascade Hops http://web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/eb285/entry_12614/ Thu, 01 Jun 2017 12:02:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/eb285/entry_12614/ Year three of growing cascade hops and I finally invested time to install poles for the bines to properly train. Lacking money, to buy actual poles, the overgrown wooded area behind the McDonough County Extension office yielded several dead snags. Ideally, when harvesting poles for hops, select trees that are naturally rot resistant such as Eastern red cedar, black locust, or larch. Because my venture into hops is purely experimental, I used mostly dead oak snags for poles (and they were closer).

Satisfied with my handiwork, the hops were ready for the growing season. Or so I thought. As the new growth of the hops emerged this spring, two of the six plants were showing discoloration of the leaves. Fearing disease, my inspection of the plants did not identify any fungal fruiting bodies, viral patterns, or pest insects. The observed leaf chlorosis may be indicative of a nutrient deficiency. The best way to determine what nutrient(s) could be lacking is leaf tissue analysis. Fortunately, our local soil lab accepts vegetative samples, and they advised me on what to collect for a hops analysis. (If you are interested in submitting a leaf tissue analysis, check with the lab first to know what type of sample size is required.)

It was not long before the results returned, which led to the next hurdle- tissue standards do not exist for hops. More research uncovered a table from Colorado State University that gave minimum recommended nutrient values for Cascade hops. I could at least check to determine if any of my levels were below the recommended levels.

Comparing my test results to the CSU table, the only deficient nutrient was boron by 6 ppm. More research and communication with hop growers confirmed this hypothesis. An online PDF on the topic of hops nutrient management from Michigan State University helped establish that this was indeed boron deficiency. Click on the previous link and scroll to slide 31 for comparison.

Hops exhibiting symptoms of boron deficiency

For the past two years, most of my attention was on management of nitrogen for the hop plants. While nitrogen is still a critical component, don't forget about the other micronutrients. Following an application of a mixture of worm castings, blood meal, and boron fertilizer, the hops have grown out of the discoloration and are training nicely on the new trellis system. Though it should be noted the plants identified with the boron deficiency, are slightly behind the other hops.]]>
Photo of the Week - March 13, 2017 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/eb285/entry_12361/ Mon, 13 Mar 2017 16:01:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/eb285/entry_12361/
In an effort to capture what may be the final accumulative snow of the 2016-2017 winter, here are some snapshots of the winter scenes.

Snowflakes rest in the indentations of my emerging purple lilac flowers.


The emerging leaves of my white-blooming lilac hold a pinch of snow.


A hyacinth given as a gift last year and planted in the garden. The blooms covered in snow, seem to be asking - Where did everyone go?


The color yellow is barely contained in these daffodil flower buds.


Often snow cannot gain purchase on the high tunnel plastic. This was a wet snow and weighs heavy on the plastic covering my cool season crops.


A view north across the Discovery Garden at the McDonough County Extension office.
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