Friday, July 27, 2007

Gardens On The Rise - or Vertical Response to a Small Space

Gardens on the rise — the vertical rise that is.

Have you ever thought of gardening vertically? I hadn’t given it much thought this year when I planted gourds in one of my swans that swim around the concrete fisher boy gingerly perched on a stump. He fishes there year round, though there is no pond.

The gourds started their meandering search for where the sun they liked best was available. I watched daily as they started out toward the lawn area – and then detoured back up a side table by the park bench, and turned abruptly to check out the potted petunias on that small table. Sure enough this morning when I checked they liked the moist soil in the pot and had quickly set a tendril into the soil and the rest of the plant continued on toward the back of the park bench. There is a small tree (broken off in one of our wind storms) that affords shade to the park bench – some of the branches are precariously low to the arm of the bench. I’m waiting to see what direction the gourd will take next.

But it did give me pause. I have only a small vegetable garden area. I do make use of vertical growing most years. This year I planted bush squash so I don’t need to contend with the vines. I planted the pumpkins over in the flower bed around the windmill instead of flowers – they make a beautiful flower bed. I grow cucumbers up trellis or corn, I grow whatever I can on fences and plant smaller crops like leaf lettuce at the base to help conserve the evaporation of soil moisture and to give me more yield in a smaller area. I find that companion planting lengthens my season – even in the hot weather peas will continue to grow when roses and onions shade them on one side and beets and bush squash shade them from the other.

If you haven’t tried vertical gardening you owe to yourself to try. The plants stay cleaner, are easier to harvest, and more disease resistant because most harmful plant pests do not climb. The humming birds, butterflies, and bees are delighted with the advantage you afford them with vertical plantings. Try it next year.

Happy Gardening.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Lord of the Flies or Pollinators?

By Billie A Williams
“Time’s fun when you’re having flies,”
Lynn Havsall, Environmental Educator at the College of the Atlantic

For most of us, bees or butterflies are the only insects we think of when we think pollinators. Would you believe a much more prolific pollinator, the ordinary Diptera (fly) is really a contender? Some of them resemble bees so of course we attribute even that to the bee.

In a recent article in (July –August 2007) issue of Audubon Magazine an article on flies caught my attention. Apparently “… scientists recognize flies as key players in ecosystems, recycling carcasses, dung, and plant debris while themselves serving as vital food in the life cycles of many kinds of birds, bats, and fish. Some rival bees as pollinators of domestic crops. Other flies are powerful tools for helping geneticists unravel the nature of life, the police in solving violent crimes, or pollution control specialists in assessing the quality of our waterways.”

A tall order for such tiny creatures you say. Me too! Ogden Nash is credited with saying “God in His wisdom made the fly/And then forgot to tell us why.”

Reading the in-depth wonderful article by Frank Graham Jr. really gave me pause to think about flies in a whole new light. The family names boggle my mind and classing mosquitoes, dragonflies, damselflies in the same group as black fly, horse fly or blow fly boggles my mind. To tell them apart the four winged Dragonfly from the two winged bottle fly is simple when you read the names — those four winged critters have the fly attached to the name – the two winged have the fly separate from the name. J I feel so very clever knowing that.

The first four-winged insects appear in the fossil records dating back more than 350 million years. “The two-winded flies show up 215 million years ago, having evolved the tiny, clublike hind wings called halteres to make flight with the front pair more efficient.”

Another distinction is made regarding the type of antennae the insects have. The long variety such as the mosquito has or the short-horned flies like the house fly. While the mosquito has serious and lethal names to describe their various disease bearing qualities there are only a few flies with lethal characteristics. Contrary to folk entomology, the common house fly does not bite. His mouthparts are designed as sponge-like usurpers of liquefied meals. If you believe you were bitten by a house fly the perpetrator was probably the dreaded, but similar stable fly. The tiny midges (Chironomid midges) not the biting kind, are always present around water and thus become one of the most reliable barometers of the water’s quality.

I may have to enlist the blow files (sometimes called blue bottles, green bottles etc.) in my next mystery as they are the star witnesses when it comes to presenting evidence in court about the time of death of a victim. They are attracted to the corpse shortly after death. They lay their eggs in various body openings. The maggots hatch in a matter of 24 hours and feed internally, hastening decomposition. Entomologists are able to identify maggots that are present on a body and can gauge their stage of development in the contents of environmental conditions — establishing the time, place and successive whereabouts in the time before the body was discovered. Perhaps it was killed in one place and transported to another – the flies in one place (say shoreline) may not be consistent with the flies that would be found elsewhere (say a city dump).

There is some fascinating reading in this issue of Audubon and I may have to revisit it in the next article perhaps looking at the methane gas emitted by cows by burping, creating 18 percent of the greenhouse-gas emissions that contribute to global warming.

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Sunday, July 1, 2007

What can you do with hay bales?

After reading an article in The Daily Dirt, gardening news, I was struck by the beauty of this idea. Planting your garden in hay bales. I'm sure you could buy last years bales cheaply from any number of farmers. The thought of a strawberry pyramid built of hay bales is the best thing I could think of...fertilizer, the necessary control of where the vines will re-attach themselves and all that. It could be a real boost to the weeding and care process.

"Hay bale vegetable gardening is a technique that was developed by a vegetable crop specialist at the University of Florida. It may sound odd but vegetable gardening in hay bales really works. Wheat straw bales are better than hay because they tend to have fewer weed seeds than hay bales and alfalfa and mixed grass bales also work well." Heleigh Bostwick, of The Daily Dirt says.

The author of the article recommends if you must use new bales that you soak them for three days in a row, then layer fertilizer over them for 3 or 4 days and let them sit for three more days, then dig a hole in them to put your plants. She says any plant could grow this way with the exception of root crops and tall ones like corn (because they would become top heavy and tip over). Can you see the posibilities - Step gardens where there is not enough horizontal may have to tend them with a step ladder - but at least you could grow produce. I'm seeing pictures of a tower of vegetables...What an amazing idea.

I see a circle of bales with poles in the center where you plant pole beans and train them toward the poles - wouldn't that be a spectacular center for other vegetables such as pumpkins or cucumbers growing below them?

I hope you will try it out. I intend to as my strawberries are out of control in my flower and vegetable garden areas.

Happy Gardening.