Monday, May 28, 2012

Garlic Mustard Invasion

Kind of pretty, you think! There are hundreds of square
feet of this stuff here. Where it grows, nothing else does.
       Both the leaves and root of this plant are edible, yet I spend hours, even days, every year trying to get rid of it. Why? Because garlic mustard is so vigorously invasive that it will crowd out every other growing thing if it isn't controlled. One plant sprouting in new territory will produce hundreds of seeds. Within a few years, the garlic mustard will have multiplied to carpet the earth, springing from the ground in March, before the native plants appear.
       This is a biennial. Actually, it's a attractive plant during its first year; the new leaves look something like violet leaves, but lighter green. The second year, though, the leaves darken and it bolts up to two feet high and looses the prettiness when its small white flowers go to seed. The seed pods look like needles ready to spike the existing flora. They are certain killers of biodiversity.
On the lower plant you can see how the root changes
       Pulling this stuff is an art. The root is long and stubborn, and if you don't pull just right, the stem will snap at the base. New growth will form there and produce flowers and seeds, but these may be so low to the ground (often six inches or less) that you'll miss them on future inspections. To get the entire root, I often loosen the soil with a shovel. Then I grasp the plant with one hand and follow the stem to its base with the other. At the base of the plant, the stem usually takes a right angle turn before going underground. This is where the "snap" occurs. I grip the root where it enters the ground and pull firmly straight upward. If it breaks, I go dirt diving with fingers or shovel. Because this menace is so out of control here, I do this for hours at a time. Then there;s next year's crop to deal with, that carpet from last year's plants that I didn't find the time to deal with last year.
Nearly all the green here is garlic
mustard. If I don't get rid of it, next
year it will look like the first photo above.
       Mowing does not eliminate the problem, because the plant may still flower. I've used (shudder) Roundup in a desperate effort to control the weed, but seeds are viable in the soil for five years, I've read, and the plant keeps reappearing. I don't want to use this poison on an annual basis! I tried vinegar as an herbicide for the first time this year with mixed success. I believe my main problem there was that I didn't saturate the leaves as well as required. Also I've read since that experiment that vinegar works better if you add one ounce of dishwashing soap per gallon of vinegar. I'll try a second spray. I would not recommend vinegar on second-year growth, unless it's applied soon after the plant pops up in March. From my limited experience, I'd say it would take so much spray that you'd be further ahead just pulling each plant. Also, to be effective,  vinegar needs to be applied on a warm, sunny day. In March? In Michigan? This could present a problem. Much of the new growth is in wooded areas, so there may not be enough sunlight. When I can find the time, I'll go after more of the first year plants with my trusty action hoe.
         Pulling, spraying and burning are the only ways to get rid of this stuff. Burning isn't recommended for the average homeowner, and spraying must be done repeatedly to be effective. Even that much vinegar isn't good for the environment! Besides, if the plant has already started to go to seed, you have to remove the seed heads or you've wasted your time, money and energy. Once pulled, what do you do with it? Bag it, label it "invasive weed" and put it in a landfill? This is conventional wisdom. I have a problem with putting biodegradables in landfills. Burying, I'm told, doesn't work. Nor does composting. Seems like composting should work if it's a hot compost. Burn after it dries? With its garlic taste, would you want to feed it to livestock, assuming they would eat it? Can you think of other options? Has garlic mustard invaded your neck of the woods? Are there any groups sponsoring cleanup parties? Are you participating in the fight against this invasion?

Note: A friend suggested this site:

Three Sisters - Beans and Borers

Beans in the Three Sisters
       After a lifetime of planting corn and beans in separate rows and pumpkin and squash in isolated hills, I’m enmeshed in my own preconceptions. Lame as it is, this is my excuse for not noting before that beans that are ready to harvest in 60 days will not be accessible in a Three Sisters planting. This is so obvious that I’m embarrassed to admit I fell into the trap, but this morning the light went on in my head when I read the planting directions on green beans. For the Three Sisters, dry beans are the sane choice.
       Have you tried to find dried beans where you buy your other garden seeds? My search turned up zilch. I do have dried kidney, navy and pinto beans in the house, but will they sprout? More to the point, are they bush or climbing? I’m guessing bush. So I went ahead and planted the green beans, figuring this is an experiment anyway. I’ll get seeds from the Three Sisters beans and I already have rows of green beans that I planted in case I ran into a snag with the Three Sisters project.
Note: Try Seed Savers for a selection of vining beans!  

Controlling Squash Vine Borers
       On a related subject, I’ve done more research into controlling squash vine borers. For the past two years I’ve lost most of my squash and pumpkins to these pests. One recommendation for saving the plants from the borers is to cover the vines with dirt at two feet intervals. Again, getting into the Three Sisters to do this will be awkward, and, I’ve found in the past, not particularly effective. A better solution, it seems to me, might come from learning about the life cycle of this menace.
       Naturally, I found a great Internet page with information about this, but when I went back later to link it to my page, I could not find it. It was a Minnesota extension site. I’ll recall as much as I can to share here.
       The squash vine borer is a wasp (or wasp-like) insect that is dark-colored except for its abdomen, which is red with black spots lined up on the top. It emerges from the soil (in Minnesota and probably here in Michigan too) in late June to early July, at the time squash and pumpkins start to vine. Look for it while you are in the garden. Since it flies during the day, you may spot it. It helps that it buzzes loudly during flight. Alternately, place some water-filled yellow containers around your garden. The yellow attracts borers; the water drowns them. If this happens, then you know you have a potential problem. I believe the article said that the wasps lay a single egg at the base of their favorite plants about a week after they themselves come out of the ground. Two weeks later, the egg will hatch and the little beast will enter the plant and start feeding. More than one may enter the same plant.
       Your first indication of trouble may be wilting leaves on a hot day. Look for entry holes into the plant near its base and for a sawdust-like substance. You could simply pull up and destroy any plants that react like this, assuming that not all your plants are wilting. To try to save the plant, slit it open the along the ribs and kill the interloper/s. Cover the cut area with damp dirt and keep it well watered while it recovers.
       You may be able to avoid all this hassle if you use floating row covers starting in late June and leaving them on until mid-July. Leaving them on permanently will mean the bees won't have access to the blossoms and you won't get a crop. The covers must be securely anchored to keep the wasps out.
       Another source suggested discing in the fall and tilling in the spring to disturb the new crop of wasps. Discing apparently exposes them to birds. Mmm! Lunch!
       The borers aren’t fond of Butternut squash, or melons, watermelon or cucumbers so if you are planting only these, you may not have a problem even if the borers are in residence.
       All this assumes you want to avoid using chemicals, which are, of course, available if you are so minded.
Note: I haven't tried this, but I've heard that wrapping the stem at the base with aluminum foil can, ah, foil the worm when it comes out of the ground looking for a home.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Drawing - Original Screen Print Cards - Closed

Purple Iris.  Three 4-1/4x5-1/2 inch screen prints.
       In celebration of reaching 600 likes and as a reward to my wonderful readers, I've come up, finally, with an idea for a contest. Inspiration came to me when I was watering the irises. They'd make a lovely subject for a painting, I thought. Then the light went on in my head. Years ago I made screen-printed greeting cards, including some with irises. I still have some and I'd like to offer them as prizes in a drawing.
       I'll offer the single winner of the drawing a choice of one set of cards out of three sets. Each 4-1/4 x 5-1/2 inch card is a numbered and signed print. I'll include envelopes, but you may want to frame them rather than mailing them.
Day Lily. Set of 3 prints
       To enter drawing, comment here or on any website post, NOT on my facebook status page. Drawing will be June 15. Winner will be selected by random drawing and will be announced here, not on facebook. Winner will have 24 hours to respond to tell me their choice and provide mailing information. My email is
Rose. Set of 3 prints.
       I haven't had a lot of success in selecting contest prizes that meet with reader approval. I'll be crushed if this idea doesn't get a positive response! So comment! Please! If there is interest, more cards will be offered in subsequent drawings. And, by the way, read and like my status and website. Good luck, and thanks for your support, even if you choose not to enter the drawing.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Went Out to Plant a Few Seeds....

       This morning's project was to plant a few rows of Early Contender, our favorite green bean. We ordered these bush bean seeds before I committed to planting the Three Sisters. But I'm not sure how that experiment will go and I'd like to ensure that we have beans we like. So, I went out at nine to start planting and came in at twelve-thirty after planting a grand total of (about) 150 beans.
       Where did the time go, you may ask. Go ahead, ask!
 Beans and cukes will be in upper left corner.
       Do you ever entertain fantasies about starting a project, finishing it without distractions and going on to the next project? I do this all the time, entertain the fantasy, that is. This morning, for example, there were the cucumbers. Cucumbers and beans are companion plants. I've never had a satisfactory cucumber crop, so I thought it would be a good idea to try them with the beans. Even better, I should build trellises for the cukes. But before I did that, I planted some on the hugelkultur's west side because, upon checking my Master Gardener's basic book, I learned that they like some shade, and the west side of the hugel is shaded all morning and maybe some of the afternoon, and the trailing vines, I'm thinking, will cover the very steep slope and provide living mulch. Then right on the other side of the fence, there's the path (alongside the barn) that I finished clearing a few days ago. It too needs mulch. Cucumbers are a deterrent to raccoons so I'm all for planting them here and there to see if that will help. Recall that I saw coon tracks in the garden a few days ago.
       Then I had to search up and collect posts I'd cut and not used for the tomato trellises. That process was interrupted by the happy news that one of the dogs had caught and killed a mole! This mole (I hope it's the one!) has been tearing up my yard for years. Not just the lawn, which, as you might guess, I don't care much about, the the gardens too. The darn thing was twice the size I thought moles are, about five inches long. Well, of course, I had to bury the darn thing--in one of the trenches for the water pipeline my dh is putting in. Naturally, while I was at it, I had to throw in more than the few shovelfuls it took to cover the body. Every few helps, you know.
       So back to the cucumber trellises. And the beans. I haven't actually planted any cukes with the beans yet, but the trellises are up, some more rocks are ready to move out of the garden, and more weeding is done. Come to think of it, radishes are supposed to "help" cukes so I should plant some of those too. Will the trellises support the cukes? Darned if I know. I've never built trellises before, except for the ones I finished a few days ago for the tomatoes. No pictures yet. Sorry, dh transfers photos for me as my computer doesn't have the software. What I constructed are a combination of ideas from photos I've seen, involving black locust posts and sisal (that's binder twine, for you non-farmers).
       If this post seems a bit disorganized, it's no wonder; my mind feels about as organized as my morning. I hope to get the rest of the Early Contenders and the cukes (and the radishes) in this afternoon, but the temp is supposed to reach 80 and that's really too hot for me. I may have to resort to working in the shade (sigh) pulling weeds.
       This business of counting seeds, I don't usually do this, but I counted the sweet corn seeds that went into the Three Sisters hills. That was 650. A lot, yes, but we've never harvested enough in the past because of the raccoons and deer. Even if we keep those critters out and the entire crop comes in, that wouldn't be too much. What doesn't go into the freezer for corn-on-the-cob flavor later, will be dried and used for cornmeal. But I digress. Knowing how many seeds I plant and what I harvest from that planting is useful knowledge, and sort of entertaining as well, so I'm going to try to keep track.
       Okay, enough said. Back to work.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Thanksgiving Challenge - NOW!

Acrylic Painting by yours truly.
       If you follow this blog, you already know about this, but for newcomers who believe November is the month for thinking about Thanksgiving, this may be news.
       The Challenge is to grow as much as you can of what you will put on your Thanksgiving menu. Now is the time to plant, at least here in Mid-Michigan, but wherever you are, and even if you don't accept the challenge, you may find these old posts interesting, even informative, especially if you are on the road to self-sufficiency.
       Thanksgiving - In the Beginning (1/19/12)  What was the first Thanksgiving like? What did the Pilgrims eat?
       Thanksgiving - Maize (or Hominy) (1/22/12)  Picturing an ear of yellow sweet corn? Not in 1621!
       Thanksgiving - Before the First (1/24/12)  Who were the Pilgrims? Where did they come from? What did Europeans eat before the discovery of the New World?
       Thanksgiving - Bread - The Staff of Life ( 1/30/12)  Did the Pilgrims have bread during their first year in the New World? Was bread even something most families would have baked in their own homes?
       Thanksgiving - Pumpkin (2/8/12)  Surely the Pilgrims ate pumpkin for the first Thanksgiving. How do you suppose they cooked it? Is there an easy way to prepare pumpkin pie filling?
       Thanksgiving - Sourdough (2/9/12)  Could you start your own starter without any commercial additives, using only flour and water? What about using sourdough to convert your favorite recipes? Can you do that?
       Thanksgiving - "As American as Apple Pie?" (2/19/12) Wait a minute! When the Pilgrims arrived, they would have found no apples but crab apples.
       Thanksgiving - Baked Beans (3/11/12)  I give a simple baked bean recipe. How many of the ingredients could you grow or make from scratch?
Related posts 
       Planting the Three Sisters (4/1/12)
       Sweet Potatoes - the Edible Ground Cover (7/24/11)
       Growing Your Own Wheat for Baking (8/24/11)
       Victorio Grain Mill - Product Trial (12/17/11)
       Sugar Beets to Molasses - Homestead Style (1/10/12)
       Sugar Beets to Molasses - Continued (1/28/12)
What will you grow for the Thanksgiving day feast?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Garden Expansion - Spring Project Completion

       It took a month, but the Spring Project is finished! At least, the 25x90 feet of new garden space is cleared of trees, roots, weeds, and junk..     

Spring Project as it looked fall of 2011.

 Another view of the project from the other end of the "garden" in 2011
This is now! Compare with the photo above! That dark line in the center is logs laid
to hold soil. I call it a terrace, but that sounds sort of presumptuous.
The dark shadow in the upper left is the hugelkultur, planted with potatoes, peas and greens.
Those rows of uneven dirt mark the trenches where more potatoes are planted.
That stump is one of several that will simply have to rot away on its own.
In the foreground are weeds that have since been pulled in preparation for more planting.
Beets, carrots, onions, and lettuce are all up already.
       Phew! I'm so relieved this is done! While working on it, filling wheel barrow after wheel barrow with my diggings, I looked back often to see that, yes, progress was being made. Sectioning the work and focusing on getting that particular area cleaned up helped make the task manageable. Now to keep the weeds from taking over again! That will be a fight since I could remove what was green, but all the seeds from years of "laying fallow" are still there.  

While I've been working on this project, I've also, among other things, been pulling garlic mustard. But that's another post.