Saturday, December 31, 2011

Nature Apps

We have an abundance of information these days. The technology is evolving fast making it easy to get answers on your phone wherever you are. Here are some of my favorite nature apps.

Bird identification: iBird BackyardiBird Backyard Plus covers 234 birds, including all 149 common backyard feeder birds of North America, plus 86 common shorebirds and raptors.”

Tree identificationLeafsnap – " Leafsnap is the first in a series of electronic field guides being developed by researchers from Columbia University, the University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institution. This free mobile app uses visual recognition software to help identify tree species from photographs of their leaves.”

Plant databaseLandscaper’s Companion“Landscaper's Companion is your mobile plant reference guide. It fits in your pocket or in the palm of your hand. It's great for simple browsing, selecting plants for lands, gaining greater plant education, or just viewing beautiful high quality images of flora. Landscaper's Companion is perfect for casual gardeners, landscapers, or aspiring botanists.”

What are your favorite apps? Leave a comment and share them with the all of us.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Christmas Pickle

The myth: A very old Christmas tradition in Germany was to hide a pickle [ornament] deep in the branches of the family Christmas Tree. The parents hung the pickle last after all the other ornaments were in place. In the morning they knew the most observant child would receive an extra gift from St. Nicholas.
Good friends gave me this Garden Pickle Christmas Ornament. He’s too cute to hide.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year filled with bountiful gardens!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Chia Hussy

In October, while looking for something that might work as a quick project for kids, I tried making a Chia Pet.

I collected a knee high stocking, potting soil, some grass seed from the garage and various cups, funnels, spoons and markers. I stretched the stocking over a plastic cup and put in about two tablespoons of grass seed.

Then I filled the stocking with potting soil.
I tied a knot in the end of the stocking, cut off the excess and turned it over.

I drew a face with permanent markers, watered the chia head and stood it up in a plastic bathroom cup. I thought she looked a like a bald lady of the evening.

In about 7 days she started growing hair and here she is after her latest haircut –
a chia hussy with a spike.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Founding Gardeners

Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation by Andrea Wulf

This extensively researched book takes you into the minds and lives of Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Madison and Franklin.

Starting with the insistence of George Washington to plant native trees at Mount Vernon in the 1700's, continuing through the Revolutionary War and on through the Presidencies of Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison, this book contains an overwhelming amount of information.

A 128 page bibliography testifies to the thoroughness of documentation. It is an interesting tale of how much horticulture meant to the founders of our country.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

FREE Fertilizer

PSU Fact Sheet “Home Compost: a Guide for Home Gardenerscontains information on making compost.
Over the last 20 years I’ve put compost on the garden almost every year. The garden’s soil is rich and black. I rarely use other fertilizers. You can buy a bin or simply make a pile (heap composting). I used the heap method for many years. Plans for “ConstructingCompost Bins” from PSU Center County Extension.
I simplify the recipe: Three parts brown (leaves) to one part green (garden cuttings. weeds, vegetable scraps). Water if it looks dry, Mix it once in a while to aerate. If I don’t get the ratio exactly right, It’ll turn into compost anyway.

I try to avoid adding weeds that have gone to seed. My pile may not get hot enough to destroy the weed seeds. I also don’t use anything twiggy or woody because it takes too long to break down. Newspaper counts as brown, if I run out of leaves. Coffee grounds count as green. (We drink a lot of coffee.)

You can spend time making compost or spend money on fertilizer. I choose to make compost.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thinking of Spring

Not much time for garden cleanup this week. As I cleanup I dream of spring.
I managed to get some compost on the garden from my little compost bin – 3 wheelbarrows of wonderful black organic matter to be exact.
Leaf raking is in full swing. A pile of leaves, chopped and collected with the mower will help produce next year’s compost.

A few more plants need to be cleaned up.
The hostas are a mushy mess.

Some lilies need to be cut back.
The garden phlox is waiting to be lopped off.
There is more to do before the snow arrives but I’ve got a good start for spring.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Garden Cleanup

Since the Halloween snow and a hard frost most of the garden is looking sad. I’ve been working steadily on cleanup. I think I’m doing better this year than usual. I want to make sure I don’t have a lot of cleanup to do in spring when it’s time for mulch.
Canna tubers (above) have been dug up and stored.
Autumn Joy blooms have been cut back. I usually leave the seed heads for the birds but the snow smashed them to the ground. Iris and hibiscus have been cut in the background.
Most of the mums are cut.

The annuals are gone.

The pile awaits delivery to the city’s compost site.

More to do before the garden is ready for fall compost but I’ve got a good start.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Halloween Storm

Last Saturday, Mother Nature dumped 6 to 12 inches of heavy, wet snow on the Northeast US. Trees fell everywhere under the weight. Approximately 375,000 homes and businesses lost power. Almost 1,500 were still without power as of Friday morning.
Entire trees toppled pulling up sidewalks.

Some branches remain dangerously hung up.

Piles of trees and brush are everywhere.
Chain saws hum in the neighborhood. It seems everyone is working on cleanup.


The Morning Call Master Gardener Blog has some excellent advice in “Snow Storm Damage to Trees”.
This timely blog deals with if and when to hire an arborist. How to make cuts where branches are broken. It contains links to help assess the damage as well as advice when replacing trees. Good information even if you don't have fallen trees everywhere.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Planting a Tree

I am not a tree expert but even I can tell something is wrong here.
Several years ago I learned about a tree’s root flare – the slightly wider part of the trunk directly above the roots. The root flare should be visible just above the soil surface. It’s the level that allows the tree to grow best. 
If a tree is planted too deeply it can encourage girdling roots (roots that go around the tree instead of out or down). Girdling roots will eventually stop the flow of water and nutrients up the tree.

Tree with girdling root (lower right) at top of mulch volcano.

Currently popular, mulch volcanos (mulch piled in a cone shape around tree) may damage tree bark and are places for insects and disease to enter. Mulch volcanoes cover the root flare.

According to Martha A. Smith, Extension Educator, Horticulture, University of Illinois Extension:
“A mountain of mulch, piled high against a tree trunk will not kill the tree immediately – it results in slow death. Homeowners don't associate their actions with tree decline several years after they over mulched a tree.”
Mulch volcanoes may also cause the roots to surface in search of oxygen as in the top picture.

Tree with bark damage at base on top of mulch volcano.

Mulch is useful to keep moisture in the soil and keep the weeds down. But mulch needs to be 2 to 4 inches thick kept an inch or two away from the tree bark. Trees are expensive to buy and plant. Why not give them the best chance possible.
It is a shame to see such beautiful trees may be doomed. With a lot of luck they may last a while. It would be nice if they would last 100 years.

Information on tree planting from Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences “Planting Ornamentals”. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Monkeyface Plant

Solanum mammosum
I was introduced to this strange looking plant as Monkeyface plant. It is a tropical plant native to South America. It can be grown as an annual here in zone 6 if started indoors.
The poisonous fruit is solid and about 2 to 3 inches long. The nasty thorns are at least ¼ long. The stem here is about ½ inch thick. It is grown for its ornamental value. Here it is used in a floral arrangement.

(Arrangement by Mary Jane Risch Associate Master of Ichiyo Ikebana School)
Solanum mammosum is also known as Nipple Fruit, Titi Fruit, Apple of Sodom, Cow’s Udder.  
I think I like the Monkeyface name best.

More information from Electronic Flora of South Australia.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Who is eating my Hosta?

Where once there were green and white leaves now there are none.
No foot prints. No droppings. No evidence. Just ripped off leaves. I suspect the local deer population.
A deer ran into my car several blocks away from home. A buck was hit by car in downtown Bethlehem and had to be put down.

Be careful out there. The deer are in love and on the move.
A list of deer resistant plants from Cornell University.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Riparian Buffer and Flood Control

(Flood damage from hurricane Irene followed by heavy rain along the Monocacy Creek in Bethlehem’s Colonial Industrial area)
Flooding along the Monocacy Creek made me wonder if a riparian buffer would help abate the effects of heavy rains. The Monacacy Creek runs through the Colonial Industrial Area in downtown Bethlehem. Historic buildings are periodically flooded.

The site was home to Musikfest’s popular Volksplatz stage and food vendors during the August Festival every year. After several years of flooding, I doubt that Volksplatz will be at this site again. The Celtic Classic stopped using the area several years ago.

From what I’ve read about establishing a riparian buffer, it is not as simple as letting the area go wild.

(The 1761 tannery and other historic buildings flood periodically)

The first obstacle in public areas is overcoming the loss of usable lawn. A riparian buffer isn’t the best place to throw a Frisbee or have a game of touch football. There may not be enough acreage on a golf course for a wide expanse of rough. Corporate centers may not like the look of a natural buffer at the edges of their manicured landscape. It may look messy or weedy. Farmers may not want to lose valuable farm acreage.
Runoff upstream affects the entire stream. It may cause flooding downstream when low lying areas go over capacity. Miles of buffer zones may be necessary to have an effect on flooding.

If you find a suitable area and the stakeholders are willing to give up large grassy location in exchange for a more natural and less accessible area, an organized effort can begin.

A municipal or ecological group would have to do the research and organize public discussion, wade through environmental and zoning red tape, develop a plan and find funding.

Then it is time to prepare the area, select plants and gather a crew to do the work. It takes three years for buffer plantings to be established and more to become truly naturalized. Some experts suggest start small with a no mow area.
Maintenance may be difficult, especially during the first three years. Weed control, elimination of invasive plants, watering new plants, seeding, reseeding and mowing need to be included in a maintenance plan.

(Damage along the Monocacy Creek)

So, as we pave over paradise, we may need to give up some of our old standards and install riparian buffers and rain gardens as well as making a concerted effort to preserve open space.

It’s not easy but it can (and is) being done. Check out the brochure by Bushkill Stream Conservancy, "Establishing Streamside Buffer Areas in Your Park or Community".

(Footbridge across the Monocacy Creek in the park)

PA Environment Digest “Flooding and the Value of Riparian Buffers – Conservation Tools for LandownersBy Brian J. Vadino, Wildlands Conservancy

More benefits from Maryland Cooperative Extension

Friday, September 30, 2011

Riparian Buffer

From Biology Online Dictionary

(noun) A strip of vegetation (trees, shrubs, grasses, etc) that grows along the edges of a bank or a waterway. Its major role is to provide shade and protect the nearby ecosystem from the impact of adjacent anthropogenic [caused by humans] land use.
Riparian buffers act as a cushion protecting the more sensitive ecosystem from the impact of anthropogenic land use. For instance, a riparian buffer near a roadway reduces traffic noise, air and water pollution, as well as provides a space for organisms to abound in the area.

These buffer zones serve as a natural filter. They improve water quality, reduce pollutants, reduce force and power of runoff, reduce erosion. If large enough, riparian buffers can play a role in flood control. They also discourage Canada Geese since the geese are not comfortable with taller vegetation and prefer open grass – a bonus for anyone who has tiptoed through goose droppings at their local park.
The size of the buffer depends on available land and the purpose of the buffer. At least 200’ of trees, shrubs and grasses is needed for flood control. Bank stabilization can be accomplished with about 50’.

With all these benefits it would seem that we should put riparian buffers along every stream in America. I’ll go into some of the difficulties next time.

A scholarly look at Riparian Buffers from Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, “Understanding the Science Behind RiparianForest Buffers: Effects on Water Quality”.