Extension Educator, Local Food Systems and Small Farms
Extension Educator, Horticulture
July 26, 2012
We are going to have trouble getting that new grass seed established with little moisture available, and the hot temperatures. Normal fall seeding times would begin in about two weeks, but I would recommend saving time and dollars if rain doesn't come. If you're in an area that hasn't received moisture for about a month or more, you might want to consider watering with a quarter of an inch or so to keep existing grass roots and crowns alive. This should be done on a weekly basis. This won't green up the grass, but will allow it to green up when it does start raining. The idea is to keep the roots and crowns of the plants from completely drying out. Once this happens, recovery isn't even an option. Then we are looking at reseeding into horrible conditions – unless Mother Nature begins smiling on us.
Perennials are also suffering during this extended dry period. It is a good idea to water perennials (flowers, shrubs, trees, etc.) with an inch of water a week. You can use a sprinkler and catch water in a can to tell how much an inch is. As for using the deep root feeders/waterers, most roots that take up water and nutrients are in the upper foot of soil, so broadcast applications
with a sprinkler are probably most effective and easier to apply. A couple inches of mulch will also help retain moisture and keep the roots cooler.
The only things actively growing in many lawns at this time are called weeds. One of the traditional weeds during dry periods is plantain. There are two common types of plantain in our area. Buckhorn plantain has narrow leaves and a spiked seed head. Broadleaf plantain has the same type of seed head, but as the name suggests, it has broad leaves. As the only green areas in some lawns, control with 2,4-D may be beneficial. That's assuming you don't want the weeds and the unsightly green spots.
Dry weather doesn't bode well for early tomatoes either. There is a perennial problem termed blossom end rot which causes a leathery rot on the bottom of the fruits. This is caused by a calcium imbalance in the plant. The calcium imbalance, in turn, is usually caused by uneven moisture supply to the plant. A thorough watering and a deep layer of mulch will usually help to prevent this problem. This year, I wouldn't bet on it solving things – but it will improve your odds of getting whole tomatoes.
On the plus side, the warm nighttime temperatures have halted the progression of anthracnose and other leaf spot fungi on our shade trees. As mentioned, the watering of perennials will go a long way in assisting them through the dry times, as well as help them to recover from disease and insect problems.
July 26, 2012
Insects continue to develop well ahead of schedule. We are running at least three weeks ahead in most cases. This means bagworm control is something for next year's schedule. Japanese beetles will begin winding down about now. Remember, these are emerging eggs laid last summer and fall. Unless something drastic happens, beetle number should be greatly reduced next year. This is due to poor egg and larvae survival in powder dry soils. It's to the point no self-respecting beetle would even want to lay eggs in most of the turf areas which haven't received rain or water.
One insect of note the past week or so is the green June bug. These are large, iridescent, green beetles that also come from a grub stage. Most often, these beetles lay their eggs in high organic matter areas such as compost piles or mulched flower beds. They really aren't much of a pest, but do sound like bumble bees flying.
July 13, 2012
The most exciting garden event of the summer is picking the first red, juicy ripe tomatoes. This passion is shared with many gardeners as tomatoes are one of the most popular vegetables grown in the home garden.
I commonly get the question, "what is the best tomato to grow"? The answer to this question will be different for everyone. This time of year we have a great opportunity to taste test garden fresh tomatoes. This can be done by visiting a Farmers Market or having a garden taste testing party with your friends, asking everyone to bring a different kind of tomato.
So how do you begin to pick the perfect tomato variety? There are more than 7,500 tomato varieties ranging in size, shape and color. Tomatoes come in several colors, red, pink, yellow, orange, deep purple (black), white, green and striped. Fruit size ranges from a 1/2 inch cherry tomato to a 4 inch beefsteak tomato. Most importantly each variety of tomato has its own flavor.
Understanding tomato terminology can help narrow down the selection for finding the perfect plant.
Slicing/ beefsteak/ globe tomatoes are large and round and commonly used for fresh eating.
Cherry and grape tomatoes are small in size and tend to be sweeter than slicing tomatoes. They are commonly used whole in salads.
Plum/ paste/ Roma tomatoes have a low water content and are used for making sauce, paste and ketchup.
Determinate tomato plants grow to a certain point and stop growing. Plants tend to be more compact, taking up less space, and all the fruit ripens within a short period of time.
Indeterminate tomato plants continue to grow and fruit until frost. They produce higher yields.
Hybrid tomato means that the seed is a cross between to different varieties. It is usually breed for a certain set of characteristics such as disease resistant. Hybrid tomatoes tend to be the most popular.
Open-pollinated variety has the same characteristics generation after generation.
Heirloom tomatoes refer to tomatoes passed down from generation to generation. Commercial heirloom refers to open pollinated varieties more than 50 years in circulation. Because of their great taste, there is increasing demand for heirloom tomatoes. Some common varieties include Green Zebra, Brandywine, Mortgage Lifter, Red Pear, Yellow Pear, Amish Paste and Cherokee Purple.
Unfortunately tomato plants are not without their problems, susceptible to several diseases, insect and physiological disorders.
Tomato plants are heat loving and need a long growing season. They are a relatively easy vegetable crop to grow but sometimes it is a challenge to produce the picture perfect fruit. They are more than 40 recoded diseases of tomatoes. In addition there are a number of physiological (environmental) disorders that relate to growth conditions. (These disorders don't spread from one plant to another.) It is not uncommon to find a few problems with your crop during a normal growing season. Maintain good health of plants by proper care such as providing 1 inch of water per week, maintaining even soil moisture, mulching plants, provide proper plant nutrition, caging plants, rotate the location of the plants each year, and selecting disease resistant varieties.Whether growing your own or buying local, it's time to start your summer fresh tomato adventure.
July 11, 2012
And so we went with pail and can
Across the fields behind the house
To seek the brook if still it ran;
From the poem, Going for Water by Robert Frost
As you are all aware, our brooks are not running. You also know that in your vegetable garden there is a direct correlation between an adequate water supply and the quality and yield of your harvest. As it doesn't seem likely that we will have a reprieve from the drought anytime soon, I wanted to share some tips for watering your garden, as well as water saving conservation measures.
Vegetables need about 1 inch of water per week, which is equivalent to about 63 gallons of water per 100 square feet per week during the growing season. With concerns about water conservation, it is critical that any method you choose to use applies water around the root zone of the plant. This method will result in reduced water usage by about 50%.
Several types of drip or trickle equipment are available. The soaker hose is probably the easiest to use, as it requires no installation. A soaker hose is a fibrous hose that allows water to slowly seep out all along its length. It is simply laid at the base of the plants and moved around the garden as needed. There are also complete kits containing attachments and PVC hose with holes to allow gradual water release. Lastly, there is the emitter-type system in which short tubes, or emitters, come off a main water supply hose and go right to the roots of the individual plants.
Using a timer with your drip hose can provide additional water conservation. A timer directs the frequency, time of day, and duration of each application of water to ensure that water is not wasted. Timers may be simple, requiring the gardener to set the length of time the water will flow, or more complex timers can be set to turn on and off the water based on number of hours or days between watering.
Irrigate in the morning when temperatures are cool but rising. When morning watering is not possible, water your garden in the late afternoon or very early evening--after the day's heat has passed. Water early enough that the leaves will dry before nighttime.
Mulching minimizes evaporation of water from the soil surface, reducing irrigation needed by around 50%. Use an organic mulch to a depth of 1-3 inches, depending upon the particle size of the mulching material (the larger the particle, the deeper the mulch that should be applied).
According to the University of Illinois publication, Watering Techniques for Home Vegetable Gardens, most vegetables require adequate moisture from the time they are seeded or transplanted into the garden, but there are critical times when they definitely require water. Here are some of the commonly grown vegetables and the developmental stages when the need for adequate soil moisture is most critical:
- Beans (including Lima and snap) - pollination, pod development and pod enlargement
- Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower - head development
-Tomato, eggplant, pepper - from flowering to harvest
- Dry onions - bulb enlargement
- Cucumbers, muskmelons, watermelons - flowering, fruit development
- Carrots, radish, turnips - root enlargement
- Potato - tuber set and when the tuber is enlarging
- Sweet corn - during silking, tasseling and ear development
July 10, 2012
When you think of food safety, what comes to mind? Practices for ensuring safe food such as hand washing or soil and water testing or thoughts of foodborne disease outbreaks ("pink slime," listeria in cantaloupe, norovirus outbreak closing a national chain restaurant in California)? As you may be aware, foodborne illness outbreaks have been traced to all types of fruits and vegetables. These outbreaks are caused by pathogenic (disease causing) bacteria, viruses, molds and parasites.
These foodborne outbreaks may seem far removed from your own garden, but according to a recently released publication from the Illinois Department of Public Health, Food Safety Tips for Safe Produce, practicing good gardening and harvesting is important for home gardens too.
Recommendations include food safety tips in five areas: (1) preparing the garden for planting; (2) maintaining the garden; (3) harvesting garden produce; (4) storing garden produce; and (5) preparing and serving fresh garden produce.
In preparing your garden, make sure that you test your soil for contaminants. The University of Illinois Extension has a list of available soil testing labs at http://urbanext.illinois.edu/soiltest. This may seem like common sense, but make sure to locate your garden away from manure piles, septic systems and areas where wildlife, farm animals and pets roam. Use compost safely. Extension has some excellent information and resources at the Composting Central website at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/compostingcentral/.
In maintaining your garden, an important consideration is the quality of your water. Water from municipal or public water systems is safe, but if you want to use well water, it is suggested that you check your water annually. Check with your local health department for assistance.
When harvesting your garden produce, it is really important that you wash your hands before and after harvest. If you use gloves, make sure to use those that have not been used to stir compost or pull weeds. It is also suggested that you use clean and sanitized food-grade containers when harvesting your vegetables and fruits.
Considerations for cleaning and storage include making sure that you that if you wash your fruits and vegetables before storing that you dry them thoroughly with a clean paper towel (never wash your berries until you are ready to eat them). If you choose to store without washing, shake, rub or brush off any garden dirt with a paper towel or soft brush while still outside. When washing produce fresh from outside, make sure that your rinse water is no more than 10 degrees colder than the produce. When washing refrigerated produce, use cold water.
Many of the items from your garden will be eaten raw, so it is important to prepare raw produce with food safety in mind. As with harvesting, it is important to wash your hands as well as your knives and cutting surfaces. Rinse your fruits and vegetables under cool, running and potable water. It is not recommended that you use soap, detergent, or bleach as these can affect flavor and may be dangerous if ingested.
This article is not meant to scare you or to suggest that you not eat fresh fruits and vegetables. Most of the fruits and vegetables consumed in the United States are wholesome and free of pathogens (microbes that cause foodborne illness). However, contamination of fruits and vegetables can occur any time from planting through food preparation. Most pathogens can be killed by cooking, but they are difficult to remove by washing from fruits and vegetables that are eaten raw. Therefore, prevention of microbial contamination is the most effective way to maximize the safety of fruits and vegetables.
The home garden is not free from pathogens. The best approach to maintaining the wholesome nature of your home garden's harvest is to be aware of potential risks and establish commonsense practices that will minimize the chance of contamination.
July 10, 2012
Shopping at the farmers' markets can provide you with the opportunity to get exposed to new vegetables and new ways of cooking. Are you ready to take the challenge?
When buying at the farmers' market you can get great tasting vegetables that are in season. As you know, when a vegetable isn't in season locally, it may be coming from hundreds or thousands of miles away, trucked or flown in. That adds significant transportation and fuel expense to the cost of vegetables – which aren't as fresh as in-season produce. So buying in-season can be cheaper, and you get fresher, tastier vegetables. To learn what is in season, check out the handout from the Illinois Department of Agriculture at http://www.agr.state.il.us/markets/WhatsInSeason.pdf
If you find a vegetable that's new to you at the farmers' market and want to give it a try, ask the farmer how to prepare it. For the best tips specifically ask how they like to eat it. Many farmers have recipes available. My two favorite cookbooks for ideas about how to eat seasonally and to cook local foods (and those that are familiar) include: From Asparagus to Zucchini A Guide to Cooking Farm-Fresh Seasonal Produce and Local Flavors Cooking and Eating From America's Farmers' Markets by Deborah Madison. Both books have delicious recipes and are interesting reads.
Using local foods does not have to be complicated or expensive – it isn't just a luxury for people with lots of time and money! The University of Illinois Extension has developed a list of suggestions as to how you can incorporate local foods into your everyday meals. The following are tips for easy ways to enjoy local foods every day:
July 2, 2012
Hollyhocks are one of the traditional, old-fashioned flowers often grown in our area. This year, they are definitely interesting. Even before the flowers open. Most area hollyhocks are again infected with rust. Rust is usually a spring and fall disease problem, when it occurs. This year it has been ferocious.
Rust first shows up on the bottom of the lower leaves, and the top side of the leaves has some rather striking bright yellow to orange spots develop. Rust can attack all plant parts including leaves, stems, and leaf petioles. The rust disease spends the winter in old plant parts on the ground. Removal of the plant material will help reduce infection possibilities, so remove dried infected leaves now. Increasing air flow and reducing humidity will also help. Control is best accomplished by removing infected leaves at the first sign of the rust (on the bottom of the leaves). Chemical control may needed, and sprays containing sulfur are effective.
July 2, 2012
July 2, 2012
This is the time of year to wrap up pruning chores on evergreens. This includes both needle-type and broadleaf evergreens. If you're wondering what a broadleaf evergreen is, that includes holly, rhododendron, and azalea. The logic behind pruning your yews at this time is to allow sufficient time for regrowth to become hardened off before winter, and to keep new growth from becoming too rank before the winter months.
Pruning evergreens is part art and part science, but mostly art. A few simple rules to follow make the job results much more pleasing. Upright growing evergreens, such as pines and spruces, should not have the main leader cut off. This will destroy the natural shape, and will make the resulting growth more susceptible to breaking off. If individual branches are being cut off, they should be cut back to a bud. This will allow the bud to become the new main branch. You can also control growth direction of branches in this way. If you are growing trees for cut Christmas trees, all bets are off, as you are only dealing with trees through the first seven years of their life or so.
Make sure you use the proper equipment. Individual pruning cuts are best done with bypass loppers or pruning shears. These make clean cuts without much damage to the remaining wood. The old anvil type shears and loppers cut to a point, then crush the remaining wood. For yews, junipers, and arborvitae that are trained to a certain size of shape, you will want to use hedge shears (electric or manual) that are sharp and properly tightened. Most of these types of shears can cut up to about a quarter of an inch in size.
When pruning evergreens, remember the dead zone. This is the area toward the center of the plant that doesn't receive much light. It also has few needles or active buds. Cutting into the dead zone will cause many years (or forever) of little green growth. Also remember to prune so that the base of plants is wider that the top. This allows sunlight to hit the bottom area as well, and keeps plants from browning from the bottom up.