Archive for June, 2011
Pickerel Weed (Pontederia cordata) is currently blooming in a pot sitting in my little front yard water garden. I love this native water-lover for its deep, true-blue flowers and its knack for attracting pollinators, including many species of butterflies. I’ve seen hummingbirds stop by for visits too.
Pickerel Weed is described as an “emergent aquatic” by botanists, which means its roots like to sit in shallow water, while its leaves and flowers grow up out of the water. A typical flower spike is between one and two feet tall. Its flowers open from the bottom up on the spike.
This common native (the entire eastern half of the United States) likes shallow, quiet water — slow stream edges and ponds. According to various sources, it can be weedy, even clogging up the edges of ponds or streams. If you are concerned about it spreading, the simple solution is to grow it in pots submerged in shallow water.
That’s what I do, but I did it because I wanted the flowers in my water garden. When my pots of Pickerel Weed become overgrown with rhizomes, I remove some of them. I’ve tried planting them in a small pond on my floodplain, but they never last long. The deer invariably eat them into nothingness during summer droughts when they can easily reach the plants.
I wish I could get some established along my quiet creek and pond. The seeds are supposed to be a favorite food of ducks, so I know the Wood Ducks that paddle my stream would appreciate the presence of Pickerel Weed. And the submerged parts of the plants are supposed to be favorite habitat for small fish, which do inhabit my little creek and could benefit from more cover.
Alas, unless I can figure out a way to protect the plants from deer without inhibiting their growth, I may never manage to grow any outside of pots in my water feature. That’s a shame, because my sources tell me that the dried seeds are edible and can be mixed in with granola; the very young shoots are supposed to make tasty salad greens. However, I’m not willing to eat the few plants growing in my water feature, so I may never know how tasty Pickerel Weed can be — unless I can persuade the deer to tell me.
I promised to try to report running tallies of my vegetable harvest, so here’s a recap.
- Sweet Treats cherry tomatoes — only 2 so far, but in a few days, it’ll be cherry bonanza time. The first two were eaten with great ceremony by me and Wonder Spouse (one per customer). They were wonderful. Can’t wait for more.
- Purple Russian tomatoes — had to pick two before they were fully ripe due to cracking. This despite my devotion to watering. They are an heirloom variety; these always seem to crack more easily.
- Ferline tomatoes — Picked one two days ago and two more today. These are smallish slicer types. I’d call the flavor good but not amazingly so.
- Raven zucchini — In the last two weeks, we’ve picked about 5, including one today. Productivity seems down; I’m blaming the heat wave and drought.
- Plato zucchini — In the last two weeks, we’ve picked about 4, including one today. The zukes just aren’t cranking this year.
- Summer Sunburst squash — Picked the first of this pattypan type today.
That’s it for harvestable veggies. The other tomatoes are beginning to show color. The pole and bush beans are full of flowers and beginning to sport tiny beans. The cucumbers, which I planted late, are growing wildly but are not yet flowering — any second, I’m thinking. And the Honey Bear winter acorn squash has some gorgeous melon-sized fruits in progress.
Considering the unrelenting heat and total absence of rainfall, I am cautiously optimistic that I’ll be up to my eyeballs in produce in a few weeks. Stay tuned for further veggie updates…
I showed you a few of my earlier blooming daylilies a few days ago here. For those who may not know, daylilies are so named because each day one flower bud on the bloom stalk (scape) opens to reveal itself for one day of glory. By day’s end, the flower withers; the next day, a new bud opens, until all the buds are gone. Most daylily flowers open at dawn, but a few varieties open in late afternoon, which is nice for gardeners who work away from home all day. For many years, I rarely saw my daylily flowers at their freshly open best, because most of mine open as soon as the sun tops the trees.
It is a true pleasure to catch them just opened for business. My daylilies are suffering from insufficient water. The drought deepens daily here; sparse, errant thunderstorms are routinely snubbing my garden, and my well can’t be risked on mere flowers. Consequently, bloom scapes are not as numerous as they would otherwise be, so the few flowers I’m seeing are coming and going in an eye’s blink.
I wanted to share a few more pictures with you before they’re all gone. The one above, Siloam Bo Peep, is a medium-height fancy ruffled beauty. Don’t ask me about its name. I’ve noticed that the folks who breed daylilies and hostas in particular seem to go for, well, rather creative names.
Here’s a name that puzzles me:
The flower is a bit blue-ish, but the eye isn’t. And why Prairie? I’ve no idea, but it is lovely.
Here’s one that actually makes sense to me:
This purply-red beauty grows on shorter scapes than some of the others, and the flowers are smaller, so you get a delicate petite ruffled effect that I enjoy. Plus, Little Grapette seems more resilient than the bigger daylilies, blooming longer and more abundantly than its bigger siblings most years.
Here’s a more subtle beauty:
I assume this is either named after the breeder or someone the breeder wanted to honor. Its pale peach color benefits from a bit of shade, so that the petals don’t bleach out as quickly during their day of bloom.
And finally, here’s an even more subtle beauty:
You can see its ruffles are not as dramatic as some of the others, but its rich pink petals and deep yellow-green eye are quite striking. It’s also a smaller daylily in height and width.
More are still blooming — some big spider daylilies are just getting going, and the Autumn Daffodil daylilies are only now sending up scapes. These yellow-flowered beauties don’t actually wait until autumn to bloom, but they do wait until much later than most of the others to open for business.
It’s easy to fall in love with these perennials, because of the diversity of flower colors, sizes, shapes, and even fragrances. But they’re not perfect. Their grass-like leaves are pretty boring when the flowers aren’t blooming, so you need to be sure to mix them in with perennials that can take over for the daylilies when they’re not showing off. There’s a fungal rust disease that can make the leaves look brown and ugly. And — the biggest issue — the flower buds are irresistible to deer. If they find your daylilies, you’ll only get flowers if you spray noxious repellents on the buds or fence them inside deer-proof enclosures.
When we planted our daylilies some fifteen years ago, the deer were not nearly as numerous. They didn’t start devouring the buds routinely until about seven years ago. Unless I sprayed repellent religiously on the buds, we lost every single flower. Now that we’ve added deer fencing to parts of our yard, the paths the antlered hogs follow through our property have changed. They no longer routinely pass the daylily beds, and we are once again enjoying flowers — without even spraying repellent! I doubt this change will last, but I’m enjoying the show of colors, ruffles, and shapes while I can. And now, through these photos, you can too.
Happy Summer Solstice, everyone! My region is welcoming in summer with a Code Red Air Quality Alert, thanks to a southerly wind that is blowing forest fire smoke directly on top of us. I am blessed with strong healthy lungs, but even I am coughing a bit indoors as the smoke saturates Summer’s arrival. Yuck.
I managed to get in two hours of gardening this morning just after sunrise before the smoke arrived, and I am delighted to report that I believe the first tomatoes from our garden will be fully ripe tomorrow — the first entire day of Summer. They will be our cherry tomato variety — Sweet Treats. Here’s one of the nearly ripe beauties that I photographed yesterday.
I expected the cherry tomatoes to ripen first. After all, they are smaller fruits, which gives them an advantage. However two other tomato varieties are showing signs of ripening: Ferline and Purple Russian. You may recall that I sowed the seeds of these two varieties in my greenhouse two weeks before the other varieties due to space limitations. I chose these two varieties because their catalog descriptions said they’d take the most number of days to produce ripe fruit. That two-week head start has allowed them to near ripeness first. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for the other varieties to catch up. Here’s a Ferline tomato starting to color up.
Ferline is my tomato experiment this year. I chose it based on its catalog description that touts its resistance to late fungal blights, which always destroy my tomatoes as the season progresses. The plants have been impressive from the moment they sprouted. Thick, almost burly vines stand so tall and straight that I’m mostly tying them to the trellis to support the weight of their abundant medium-sized fruits. They are gorgeous, profoundly robust plants.
However, all seven tomato varieties are performing spectacularly so far this season. Wonder Spouse built me two magnificent tomato trellises this year. He attached seven-foot-tall deer fencing to eight-foot tall posts. We thought this would be the year the tomatoes didn’t reach the top of the trellis and tumble over the other side. I’m thinking we were wrong about that. Here’s a shot of one end of one trellis that I took yesterday. See the white top of the metal post at the left top of the picture? See the fencing material coming off the top? Now note the height of the tomato vines. Have mercy!
This weekend I’ll be buying some kind of step stool that I can use in the garden to reach the top of the trellis. Even Wonder Spouse is having trouble reaching the top to tie these enthusiastic vegetables.
You can see the size of the deer fencing mesh in the Ferline picture. It’s working pretty well. We’ve only had to liberate a few fruits that grew stuck into the squares. The plastic mesh is easier to manipulate than the wire trellises we had been using previously. I think the tomatoes prefer this trellis. They seem to weave themselves through it without any prompting from me. As I said, I’m mostly tying the increasingly heavy fruiting branches to try to prevent the weight of the fruits from breaking the tomato vines.
I’m going to try to keep a running count this year of how many of each variety I pick. However, as all sixteen (yes, I know I’m overenthusiastic) plants begin producing, my ambitions may be cast aside in the name of efficiency. They aren’t the only vegetables I’m growing, you know. The beans — pole and bush — are flowering now, as are the cucumbers, and I’ve been picking zucchinis for a week; they’re just approaching serious production mode.
As long as the shallow well we use to water the garden holds out, I’ll continue to water. However, with temperatures approaching 100 degrees Farenheit predicted for the next few days, I’m worried that my garden may shrivel and die just as it begins to produce significantly.
Here’s hoping that Summer’s searing start will soon be softened by abundant, frequent rain.
It’s the last full day of Spring, if you measure that season’s departure by the arrival of the Summer Solstice. Of course, it hasn’t felt like Spring for a month now. My area is on track for another record high number of 90+ degree days, and the moderate drought is visibly taking its toll on the vegetation, tall and small.
All Spring, we’ve been watching the cottontail rabbits grow. Here’s one of the teenager bunnies. I call her Betty, but she may be a he, in which case I’ll call him Benny.
The bunnies are fenced out of the vegetable garden. They are free to hop about the yard dining on clover and plantains, which seem to be their favorite food groups. They follow me to the vegetable garden in the morning, watching with what I imagine to be longing as I slam the gate tight behind me, their noses wiggling at the smell of well-watered vegetables. I have no sympathy. They seem to be growing quite fat on the greens I have ceded to them. Why the hawks and owls haven’t found them, I cannot say. These bold bunnies dine openly on the hillside, often accompanied by the calls of Red-Shouldered Hawks.
My neighbor’s pond has yielded a bumper crop of newly emerged toads — both American Toads and Fowlers Toads. For two days, you couldn’t walk in parts of our yard without nearly stepping on a frantically hopping tiny toad. For reasons known only to toad minds, they loitered in our driveway. To avoid a squished toad disaster, I spent a morning scooping them into a bucket and carting them into the vegetable garden. I moved over two dozen, and I think most of them are enjoying their new digs. I spot them resting under squash leaves and beneath basil when I conduct my daily vegetable inspections.
Our little ornamental pond up front is also yielding newly metamorphosed amphibians. The Copes Gray Tree Frogs have been emerging in small groups every few days. Early this final Spring morning I spotted this newly emerged amphibian getting its bearings atop one of our daylilies — Brocaded Gown.
And here’s another froglet — apologies for the fuzzy picture — that shows it still has a bit of its tadpole tail. That’s not unusual on these newly emerged frogs; about a third of them often sport at least a bit of tail when they first leave their birth ponds.
The new life that surrounds me — be it bunnies, amphibians, or acorns — salutes Spring’s boundless enthusiasms. As searing Summer settles upon us, that enthusiasm will become endurance — if we’re lucky. If Summer’s dry grip is too tight, death counts will rise, and we will all be left panting in the dust, begging clouds for raindrops.
NOTE: If you arrived here via a link from a site run by The Garden Seeds, know that I had never heard of them until they linked to this article without my permission. Because they sell seeds, the link to my site makes it appear as if I’m endorsing them as a seed source. I AM NOT ENDORSING THEM. I DON’T KNOW THEM. But, apparently, I can’t stop them from misappropriating my words (they include a huge quote). Sometimes the Blogosphere shows its seedy underbelly, and this was one of those days for me.
We now return you to our regular blog entry:
I’ve only mentioned herbs in passing so far in this blog, but that’s not because I don’t grow them. I love herbs, whether they are traditional culinary plants like Basil, or medicinal/household ones like Soapwort. I find them all endlessly fascinating and diversely gorgeous. I grow as many as I can find room for.
One of my favorites is Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum). This perennial wildflower is a native of midwestern US prairies, but it grows quite enthusiastically in my southeastern US Piedmont garden. In fact, this plant self-sows so readily that it is approaching weed status in some parts of my yard.
From mid-May to late August, these flowers produce spikes of tiny lavender flowers that attract every pollinator that lives around here. I have some growing among my vegetables to ensure excellent fruit production. Today while I was tying up the tomatoes (some of which are now seven feet tall), I noticed honey bees, bumblebees, mason bees, and at least three other tiny bee species, plus an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly all jockeying for a taste of Anise Hyssop nectar. It must be very tasty stuff.
In winter, the low basal rosettes of softly scalloped leaves are tinged a bit purple by the cold. At all times of the year, the leaves are strongly anise-scented and flavored. If you like licorice, you’ll love the taste and smell of these leaves. They add interesting nuances to teas and desserts.
I love Anise Hyssop for its obliviousness to heat and drought, prolonged bloom time, and imperviousness to deer predation. I guess deer don’t like licorice-flavored leaves.
All the pollinators help the plants produce abundant seeds, which are as irresistible to goldfinches and chipping sparrows as the flowers are to pollinators. The bright goldfinches are especially enthusiastic, often breaking seed-laden spikes as they struggle to find every tiny black seed. The feeding frenzy of pollinators and birds animates my landscape, providing movement even on windless days.
These perennials self-sow freely, and I have given away probably hundreds of seedlings to gardening friends over the years. Even so, every spring I find myself pulling up and composting quite a number of shallow-rooted seedlings. I hate doing this to such a lovely plant, but I figure they’re still contributing to the garden when they become compost.
The other nice thing about these flowers is their form. Their flower spikes blend aesthetically with the other flowers in my garden beds, mingling well with Echinaceas, Daylilies, and Rudbeckias.
Anise Hyssop is easy to grow from seed; you can also find fancier named cultivars and related Agastache species in different colors at nurseries and in catalogs. If you’re a Piedmont gardener with a sunny spot in need of prolonged color, give Anise Hyssop a try. I think you’ll be pleased with this lovely lavender pollinator — and native bird — magnet.
I know the Summer Solstice is close when my Plumleaf Azalea (Rhododendron prunifolium) blooms. Like other deciduous azaleas, this shrub drops its leaves every winter. But unlike the earlier-blooming deciduous azaleas, this one blooms after the leaves have emerged. Although this makes for a slightly less dramatic display, I like the more subtle impact of Plumleaf Azalea. The orangy-red flower clusters nestled among the bright green leaves always makes me think of Christmas colors. Here’s a shot of more of my shrub to give you a sense of how it looks:
I planted my shrub about six years ago; it’s now about four feet tall and equally wide. My references tell me that in the wild, they’ll grow about twelve feet high and wide. The Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds that visit my yard every summer already love the flowers of this shrub. Imagine how ecstatic they’ll be when it attains its mature size.
This azalea is native to a small region of southwest Georgia and eastern Alabama, where it occurs naturally on low, moist sites in Beech-Maple-Magnolia forests. The species is endangered in the wild because of habitat destruction. I figure that’s all the more reason to grow it in my yard, and I’ve sited it inside the deer fence on my north-facing slope near the bottom of the hill close to the creek. The soil is loamy, so the shrub’s roots don’t sit in water, but being at the bottom of the hill near the creek keeps that soil a bit more moist. Judging from its growth and flower production, I think I chose its site wisely.
One other deciduous azalea surprised me with a few blossoms this week. It’s a naturally occurring hybrid between R. prunifolium and R. arborescens called Plum-Sweet. Rhododendron arborescens is called Sweet Azalea, because its white-to-pinkish flowers are knock-your-socks-off fragrant. It likes moist sites and blooms this time of year too, and its natural distribution is much wider. I have one, but it’s outside the deer fence closer to the creek, which means it’s enclosed in a wire cage, and that has made it less enthusiastic about growing, much less blooming.
When I saw this hybrid at my favorite local nursery last fall, I couldn’t resist buying it. I planted it inside the deer fence at the bottom of the hill, not far from the Plumleaf Azalea. It’s a small shrub, of course, and I certainly didn’t expect it to bloom this year. But it surprised me with two very fragrant clusters of pink flowers. It is quite lovely. When it attains its mature size — about the same as Plumleaf Azalea — the two specimens will be breathtaking. My hummingbirds will be equally delighted, I suspect. Here’s a close-up of one of the flower clusters:
This fourth entry on my obsession with deciduous azaleas will be my last for this year. But when the bloom cycle starts again next spring, I expect you might see a mention or two about them again. Plus, there’s always the possibility that I’ll stumble across a new species or cultivar that I can’t live without. And a few of my current specimens still haven’t bloomed yet for me. Meanwhile, I’ll content myself with enjoying the red and pink blossoms of these late-bloomers.
Daylily season has arrived at my house. These non-native perennials have many attractive assets. In my Piedmont garden, they thrive on neglect. In fact, my biggest issue with them most of the time is their propensity to multiply. Their fleshy tubers like our sandy loam soils, and without fertilizer or even — most years — supplementary water, the tubers multiply. If I were on top of things, I’d be dividing them every three years. I don’t do that, because, well, I’m not on top of things (infinite to-do list), and because I’ve run out of places to put them.
Oh sure, on five acres, I still have sunny spots that could be enhanced with a few daylilies, but if I can’t provide at least a bit of deer protection, the flowers will never see the light of day. Deer love daylily flower buds. As soon as the buds grow to finger size, they are gobbled.
Some years are worse than others for daylily devouring by deer. This year so far (knock wood) has not been too bad. In fact, I’m not even seeing as many deer tracks on the floodplain as I usually do. I don’t know where they’ve gone, and I don’t care. But I’m pretty sure they’ll be back, so I’m not going to plant daylilies in places I know will invite deer dining.
I grow many different cultivars. I think there may be at least a zillion Hemerocallis cultivars. Many breeders hybridize them. Daylily collectors can be quite avid. Some cultivars sell for hundreds of dollars. I think obsession is not too strong a word for those afflicted with daylily dementia.
About fifteen years ago, Wonder Spouse was briefly afflicted with this condition. A nearby local daylily grower holds open houses during blooming season, so that you can see what you’re buying. Daylilies come in all sizes and colors and shapes. Bloom stalks are called scapes, and scape height is one of the variables that impacts the overall look of the flowers. Some are early bloomers, some late, and reblooming cultivars are increasingly popular and in demand.
The leaves of daylilies look like a wide-bladed grass — they’re lilies, after all. But when the scapes shoot up and the flowers open, the colors and shapes dance like butterflies in a mixed perennial bed.
Here’s a relatively short-scaped spider form that Wonder Spouse bought:
That one really glows in evening twilight.
Here’s another spider — much taller:
See how the color of the stamens varies? And the interior area color changes too, as does the amount of ruffling on the petals. Variations are nearly infinite, which explains the number of available cultivars.
Here’s one last, more subtle beauty that is blooming with my Spanish Lavender. This one is a rebloomer, which is why Wonder Spouse chose it. He had big plans for becoming a hybridizer, so he wanted variable stock to work with.
This is just the beginning of daylily season in our yard. I’ll show you more as they open for business. They are fantastically photogenic, as I think you must agree. Give them light, loamy soil, and a bit of water — keep the deer away — and you will be rewarded with summer-long blooms — if you pick the right cultivars.
Here in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, summer temperatures have been keeping me sweating in the garden for about a month now. Because I had the best spring garden I’ve had in years, I rapidly fell behind on preparing the summer vegetable beds, which is why my squash plants are only just now ready to yield their first fruits. However, we’re still pulling onions, carrots, and even a little spinach from the spring garden, so I’m not too upset about the slower start to the summer vegetables.
As fast as the summer vegetables grow, you can barely tell I got behind at this point. The tomatoes are all now taller than me (I’m 5’4″), and I’m going to need a step stool to stand on to harvest the ‘maters, since they’re clearly heading straight for the moon this year. But tomato talk is for another day. Today, I want to write about squash.
Two Categories of Squash: Summer and Winter
This veggie is divided into two broad categories: summer squash and winter squash. Summer squashes include zucchinis, crooknecks, and pattypans. You pick them when they reach a size you like, and you eat them right away. They’ll keep in the refrigerator for a week or two, but not much longer.
Winter squash include acorn, butternut, delicata, and hubbard types, among others. These squash take longer to mature, and when stored in a cool, dark place (not the refrigerator) after proper curing, will keep for months.
In my Piedmont NC garden, I have great success with the summer squashes — at least for a while — long enough for us to grow tired of eating squash every day. However, I’ve never had much success with winter squashes, mostly because I don’t seem to be able to keep them alive long enough to mature. It’s the bugs. Squash varmints are tough.
Squash Insect Troublemakers: Borers and Bugs
The two insects that eventually kill my squash every year are Squash Vine Borers and Squash Bugs. All the gory details you need to know are here, but I’ll give you a few highlights.
I usually see the Squash Bugs first. In fact, this year, I caught one loitering on a basil plant waiting for me to uncover my young squashes, which were sealed away safely under a spun lightweight garden fabric designed to thwart the bugs. This fabric lets in light and water, but the bugs can’t get through it. When I transplant my squash seedlings into the vegetable beds, I immediately cover them with this garden cloth. They stay under it until they begin blooming.
Protecting with barriers
I an forced to uncover the plants when they begin to bloom so that pollinators can do their work. But until then, the plants are able to grow strong and unmolested, which I think makes them better able to withstand the bugs and borers after I remove the covers. Here’s what my little plants looked like right after I transplanted them out and covered them on May 16:
Note that I didn’t plant them all together. In between them are peppers, basils, marigolds, and even some bush beans. By increasing diversity, I make it harder for the squash bugs and borers to find their targets, and I think the strong smell of the basils and marigolds may help disguise the squash scent a bit too — that’s my hope anyway.
Transplants work better than direct-sowing
I stopped direct-sowing squash in favor of greenhouse sowing some years ago. I have better control. Seed packets tell you to sow squash in hills containing several seeds. I’ve found this just creates a big mess as the plants grow and become entangled, and it’s much easier for the bad bugs to hide from you. Now I plant individual plants, mulch them, and keep them covered until they begin blooming. We are all happier with this arrangement — not counting the squash predators, of course.
Here’s what the plants looked like just before I removed their covers:
This year’s squash varieties
This year, I’m growing three summer squash varieties and one winter squash. I am weak when I peruse the seed catalogs in January, and the description of Honey Bear — an acorn type — sounded too good to pass up. That’s it with its first bloom in the photo at the top of this entry. I grow two plants of each type — that’s eight squash plants, for those doing the math. I know — that’s a lot of squash.
But when we’ve got more than we can handle, I generally give my excess away to friends and the local food bank. All the fruits find appreciative stomachs somewhere.
Summer varieties this year are Raven zucchini — a deep green fruit producer we really liked last year, Plato zucchini — a new variety that produces over a longer period than Raven, which tends to produce all its fruits at once, and Summer Sunburst — a pattypan type with lovely flavor and color that we’ve enjoyed for years.
My insect-management strategies
As for the bugs, I don’t use poisons. You’ll just kill the pollinators trying to get to your squash blossoms if you use them anyway. Instead, I patrol my plants almost every morning before the sun gets too hot. If you water the base of the plants, any hiding Squash Bugs will hightail it out of the mulch and onto the stems and leaves, where you can grab them and dispose of them. I keep a jar full of soapy water handy for the disposal part. I also inspect the leaves for the metallic bronze eggs of the Squash Bug; they’re quite distinctive. If I am diligent, I can usually keep my squash plants free of serious Squash Bug damage for at least six weeks after they begin producing.
Squash Vine Borers are tougher. Borers are the larval form of a clear-winged, inconspicuous moth that lays its eggs on the stems. The eggs hatch, and the larvae burrow inside and start eating. Goopy sawdust-looking yucky stuff along the stems is usually the first sign that the borers have moved in. Your options from there are all difficult, and after trying every one of them, I’ve settled on burying the affected part of the stem in hopes that the stem will grow new roots and keep going. Sometimes this works, sometimes not. But I’m usually pretty tired of eating squash by the time the borers kill the plants anyway.
At the same time borers begin to impact the squash plants, I’m usually dealing with unrelenting drought. Often my garden well has gone dry by then, and when squash plants don’t get enough water, the bugs cannot be stopped. It’s all downhill from there.
Some folks have issues with powdery mildew on their squash. I suspect I rarely see this because of the way I space out my squash plants and interplant them with other veggies, herbs, and flowers, but that’s just a theory.
Don’t forget to feed and water them
One more thing — feeding. I add a good organic vegetable fertilizer to the soil when I transplant my squashes. Then about every two weeks, I foliar feed all the vegetables, including the squash, with a dilute mix of fish emulsion and sea weed extract. I use a sprayer to spray the mixture onto the leaves of the plants, coating both sides as best as I can. You must do this early in the morning before the sun is strong, or you will boil your plants. And you don’t want to do it in the evening, because the moisture will linger and encourage mold growth. Foliar feeding has been shown in many studies to strengthen plants against predators and diseases, and the nutrients are absorbed directly into the leaves. And until the solution dries, your garden has a nice ocean smell — just don’t let your cats lick the leaves before they’re dry.
All vegetables need an inch of water a week. If it doesn’t rain, you must add the water. This is especially important for members of the squash family (includes pumpkins and cucumbers), because so much of their fruits consists of water. Without adequate water, fruits will develop slowly, strangely, or not at all. When I slip my finger beneath the mulch around my squashes and I feel only dry soil, I know they are overdue for water. I try to keep the dirt beneath the mulch around my squash plants moist at all times.
Now you know everything I know about growing squash in the Southeast Piedmont of the United States. So get out there and get growing!
If I bummed you out with yesterday’s post, you may be interested in today’s suggestions for combatting what seems to be an exponential loss of species diversity in the southeastern United States, and especially in North Carolina, where the pace of “progress” has exacerbated the damage.
Southeastern gardeners and lovers of native flora and fauna haven’t been sitting idly by. A number of nonprofit groups are out in our wild and not-so-wild places, attempting to preserve and protect them, and to educate the public about their value.
A few NC conservation groups
Groups like the NC Audubon Society, and the North Carolina chapter of The Nature Conservancy are pretty well known. More regional conservation groups in North Carolina include the Triangle Land Conservancy, which is not only working to preserve the area’s shrinking number of high-quality natural areas, but is also using some of its properties to work with a local food bank to grow food that’s helping to feed the poor in the counties of the region.
The North Carolina Native Plant Society
The North Carolina Native Plant Society is another worthwhile nonprofit dedicated to “promoting enjoyment and conservation of North Carolina’s native plants and their habitats through education, protection, and propagation.” Their membership fees are quite low, they have great, fun field trips and picnics, they give scholarships to worthy students, and they even go on plant rescue missions, during which they dig up and relocate plants before the bulldozers erase them. Folks who participate in plant rescues can keep what they save to plant in their own gardens.
The North Carolina Botanical Garden
I’ve told you more than once why I think the NC Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill, NC is worth supporting. They are the only botanical garden in the region with the explicit mission “to inspire understanding, appreciation, and conservation of plants in gardens and natural areas and to advance a sustainable relationship between people and nature.”
All of these nonprofits are doing important work in North Carolina, despite the extremely challenging financial climate we find ourselves in these days. Check out the links and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
North Carolina Friends of Plant Conservation
But I have one more nonprofit organization in North Carolina that I want to tell you about. It has only been around a few years, and it was created to support the NC government program called The North Carolina Plant Conservation Program. This program has always had one — and only one — full-time state-funded employee, and he has a mighty big mission in a state our size: “to conserve the native plant species of North Carolina in their natural habitats, now and for future generations.”
The challenges facing this lone state employee were obvious to anyone in NC paying attention to the threats to our native flora. In 2004, a nonprofit group — North Carolina Friends of Plant Conservation – was formed with this as its mission: “The Friends of Plant Conservation Foundation supports North Carolina Plant Conservation Program (NCPCP) efforts to conserve and protect North Carolina’s imperiled native plants in their habitats.”
Members of the NCPCP are volunteers trying to support the NC Plant Conservation Program with funding assistance and with a lot of “boots on the ground” help. State preserves that harbor rare and threatened species are scattered all across the state. The NCPCP is slowly recruiting preserve stewards for each of these special, unique places. Preserves with stewards are much more carefully monitored and protected, and already the attention of such dedicated volunteers has resulted in habitat and rare species improvement at several sites.
The NCPCP is very inexpensive to join. Student memberships are $5.00/year, individuals can join for $15.00/year, and families can join for $25.00/year. In addition to knowing you’re helping an important cause, members are invited to the annual meeting — a day-long event filled with knowledgeable speakers, who provide the latest status on preserves, species, and plans for the state. Volunteers also have the opportunity to help with conservation activities on the preserves, which provide opportunities to visit rare, special spots that most folks never see.
I hope you’ll visit the link I provided above and, if you’re a North Carolinian, give serious consideration to joining this important nonprofit group. The next annual meeting will be November 2, 2011 at the NC Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill. I hope to see you there. We’ve got work to do!