Rose Gertrude Jekyll

Gertrude is a complex lady
Gertrude is a complex lady

While not the first to open, she is the first to put out a display in my garden.

Gertrude relaxing in the Columbines
Gertrude relaxing in the Columbines

When I was checking the spelling, I noticed her descrbed as a climber.  I don’t think so.  Like many Austin roses, she puts out long canes and does best with support.  But she’s growing into seven sisters, the rose over the arbor with still tight buds and that’s a true climber.

Gertrude Jekyll in the Arbor
Gertrude Jekyll in the Arbor


I MissToads


no spray signs
no spray signs

(Dear State of Massachusetts, If I had to post these cheesy paper plate signs in order to avoid getting sprayed, you really didn’t think that I’d stop at just “no spray”, did you?)

I miss toads.  When I moved here, and for years afterwards, they were so plentiful that when I mowed the lawn, I had to mow slowly and carefully, looking for the small brown flick of a toad moving out of the way at the last minute.  I was always worried about the ones that I didn’t see and worried that I might have reduced the population just by mowing.

By midsummer, they would have matured and staked out their territory in one flower bed or the other.  As I worked, I’d learn which beds were their homes for the season.  I’d keep a sheltered place and a source of water handy to encourage them.

But something has happened and it happened in the same timeframe that the town joined the mosquito spraying program that Massachusetts sponsors.  As soon as I heard about it, I put myself on the no-spray list because people who have asthma are at some risk when they are spraying.  But I also did some web searches on the pesticides that they use and found they will kill bees, birds and amphibians, among others.  The logic seems to be that the risk to human lives from mosquito born diseases is worth the cost.  And they try to minimize the benefit/cost ratio by spraying right at sundown, when mosquitos are most active and maybe those victim species are not.

While maybe sound in theory, the practice is not so simple to apply.  First, the trucks run for several hours a night and sundown is a very short window.  Bees maybe inactive but I’ve got shots of them spending the night in flowers; any in flowers or shrubs by the road are goners?  And then there are the cardinal nests in the multiflora rose that grows up along the street.

And what are the risks to humans, really?  Ted Williams, writing for Audubon magazine, compares West Nile Virus to the flu, both can kill, but he goes on to talk about evaluating the program in Grafton, MA, and finding that the incidence of the problem was nill, zip, nothing.  No one had evidenced the disease in the spraying area.  His excellent article can be read here.

In Information Security we measure risk as impact times probability.  The impact that someone could die from a mosquito bite if the mosquito were carrying one of the target diseases may be a fair assertion but if the probability is zero, or even very low, it’s still low risk.

In our community, a further issue is our wetlands.  The rules say don’t spray in lakes but wetlands are evidently fair game.  At least I’ve seen them spraying along the road in mine. However, the spraying programs only reach a strip along roadways, or people’s yards, if they are invited to spray there.  If a person is concerned about the risk of a mosquito bite, this near to the wetlands, they should take other precautions, anyway.    Spraying program or no, if you don’t dress right or spray your body, you’re gonna get a mosquito bite if you hang about in my yard, early morning, late at night or some times of year, just in the shade.  So it doesn’t even substantially reduce the risk for some of us.

And one can argue how much, but it absolutely does reduce the predators of mosquitos, most of whom cannot repopulate as quickly as the mosquito.  If we MUST do this, there should be before and after counts taken of non-target species that we know are sensitive to the pesticides when these programs are implemented so that we have real data about what we are doing to the natural controls in our environment.

toad in the hole 2005
toad in the hole 2005

There is strong anecdotal evidence, including my observations, that it upsets the balance that I rely upon to keep my use of chemical controls at a minimum.  Mosquitos are not my only pests and I rely on the same predators to keep down ticks, aphids, flea beetles, japanese beetles, slugs and many other pests that would destroy my ornamentals and food garden.  I have never had to treat for slugs before this year; while they are always about, they’ve never had the numbers to completely destroy crops before.  As I was trying to figure what changed, I realized that it was probably the little brown friends of mine that kept the populations down.  I haven’t seen a single toad this year.

I miss toads.

Dahlia Emergency

dahlia tubers that should have been planted

I was evidently wrong when I opined that the dahlias wouldn’t take any harm if they waited for another week.  I skipped out of the office on Friday night saying, “the dahlias are calling to me”; but when I got home and opened the box of tuber from Swan Dahlias, I saw a problem.  The tubers were bagged together and had started growing.  Many of them had long, ropey roots looping around the outside of the plastic bag.  And the general rule is that dahlia roots don’t like to be disturbed.

I had planned on helping out at the Lancaster Garden Club Plant Sale Saturday (sorry friends) and maybe doing a little prep work, but most of the planting on Sunday.  However, this was something that needed immediate attention.

dahlias placed
dahlias placed

Up at five, I quickly worked in another barrow of composted wood chips and placed the tubers and plants on top of the beds before the sun hit them.  Then worked as fast as I could digging in the tubers and then the plants.

The plants are from Corralitos Gardens and I had missed the fact that I was actually buying plants.  They’d looked pretty ratty when I took them out of their shipping package.  Probably my fault because I hadn’t opened them the day they arrived.  I was able to nurse almost all of them back to health, losing only one Harvey Koop and one of the bonus plants.  Sad about Harvey as he was one of the biggest reasons for that order.  It was named by/for the father of the woman who owns Hamilton Dahlia Farm that I visited in Michigan last year.  I’d ordered two and the second one is still alive, although the weakest of the remaining plants.  Fingers crossed for Harvey.

It was a little awkward to work with the mix of tubers and plants.  They had different requirements for planting.  But it will be interesting to compare performance in my garden.  Some things I did differently this year:

  • Didn’t start tubers in pots.  There were just too many and the tubers I direct planted last year were only a week or two behind when they blossomed.
  • Didn’t water in– the tubers, anyway.  Plants I treated like tomatoes.  I’ve come to respect how little water they need as evidenced by the way they sprout vigorously, wrapped in newspaper; or plastic for that matter.
  • The holes for the tubers are deeper than last year, 4-5″ and I’ve filled them in only part way.  I’ll add dirt as I see the sprouts peek through.

One thing that made the task go quickly was the uncharacteristic planning work that I had done.  With this many colors and sizes, I needed to be organized.  All of my orders were documented in a spreadsheet where I captured key characteristics:  height, bloom type, color and more.  Then I used Visio to create a rough map of where I would put the dahlias, using cut-and-pasted pictures from the sellers.  I had to make a few adjustments while planting because of bonus plants and plants from last year that I wanted to use, but having this Visio made the job go much faster.  And it’s sorta pretty.

Visio-dahlia bed
Visio-dahlia bed

10 Reasons to Plant the Tomatoes

Although it’s two weeks earlier than I would like due to risk of cold weather.

  1. They are too big and top heavy to carry in and out without damage.
  2. Every time I try, something flops and threatens to break.
  3. The peat pots wick water unevenly, especially under the influence of sun and wind and I go to work thinking they are well watered and come home to a badly wilted plant or two.  Wondering why only one or two?
  4. They are probably not getting the food they need for this stage of their growth.  Resulting in yellowing of bottom leaves.  Fertilizer delivery mechanisms rely on the uptake of water; see # 3.
  5. When I leave them out at night and temps drop, the small amount of soil in their pots probably gets cold, too.  This morning it was 41 deg F.  The earth has been consistently over 50 deg F for a month or so.
  6. Forecasters are saying days in or near 70s and nights in or near 50s for the next 10 days.
  7. I have remay and know how to use it if they are wrong.
  8. The dahlia tubers that I was planning on working with this weekend won’t come to harm if it takes me another week to plant.
  9. The tomato plants woke me up at 5:00 am saying plant me, plant me.
  10. The formerly floppy SuperSweet 100 that I planted over a week ago looks like this!
happy if cold tomato

LED Lights and Seed Starting

tomato trees
tomato trees

All of the articles that I could find talked about growing things under LED lights were for just that purpose, growing things to maturity.  There were also some cautions about how they could hurt seedlings.  So I dithered about whether to use my old setup with shop lights or try the LED lights that I’d purchased for winter growing.  I think the things that decided me are first, the shop lights are getting old and the recommendation is to use new bulbs.  And second, the LED lights are cheap. My electric bills don’t show the use enough for me to know how much this lighting costs

I did hedge my bets and keep some of the seedlings under a single cool light fixture, but the ones that I put almost immediately under the LEDs did better.  I did keep the LEDs a couple of feet away.  I started lettuces and Piracicaba in the guest room under one light.  When these cool weather plants were ready to go out, I moved the light down to the basement to enlarge the warm planting area where I can provide bottom heat, giving the tomatoes, basil and eggplants more time while the outside temps warm up.

The area over floweth.  In addition to my seed starts, one of the dahlia companies sent me plants, not tubers, so I’m babying them on the heat mats that are no longer needed by the bigger seedlings.

My remaining worry is that the plants are so comfortable in the basement that they will sulk outside.  I’ve been removing suckers and even blossoms, which tells me that they are too happy.  Next year I move back the start date by at least two weeks (the seed went into the cubes on 3/25/2012.)  It’s also a clue that I should probably be using a more limited spectrum of lights for seedlings.  In addition, Supersweet 100 is the plant that wants to blossom so that also suggests a tomato I should try inside this winter, if I want to.  Here’s a shot under normal light for those of us who can’t see through the lurid LED colors.

more tomato trees
more tomato trees