New English Garden Bee Plant – Buddleia “Lo And Behold ©” Ice Chip

The White Flower Farm Catalog has arrived!!

I’ve settled myself down in front of the fire with The Noble Bayard at my feet for many happy hours of browsing. After all, I’ve promised to give you my opinion on what’s the Best of the Best for the Bees this year!

The WFF catalog has some lovely new offerings. I was especially excited about a new Buddleia, “Lo and Behold©” Ice Chip.

ice chip pw

It is different from the standard Buddleia in that it is low growing, a groundcover really.

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I know that a number of you have all-white gardens. This would be a charming addition!!

Buddleia is one of the bees’ favorite flowers, and white is one of their favorite colors (along with blue and yellow.) It has a heavenly scent that attracts all kinds of pollinators.

Buddleia is at its best in full sun and moist but well-drained soil. Plants flower on the current season’s growth, and bloom more profusely if stems are pruned back to 12-24 inches as new shoots emerge in spring. In cold-winter climates plants often die back almost to the ground; simply remove the deadwood in spring. Plants regrow vigorously and produce a spectacular show in summer, even from such a seemingly unpromising start.

Fertilize once a year, in early spring, with a good organic fertilizer. Plants are generally untroubled by pests or diseases.

Amendments To The (Soil) Constitution

Did you know that fall is the most important season of the year for improving your soil?

You should be adding three things:  finished compost, raw organic matter, and organic nutrients.

Whether you are using your own homemade compost, or are purchasing compost in bags or by the truckload, stock up early with as much as you can afford. I use up a couple of yards of compost each fall (besides what I make in my own bins).

As you remove dead organic matter from your garden, apply at least a 3″ to 4″ layer of compost. While soil temperatures are still warm, the nutrients and organic matter in the compost will stimulate microbes and other beneficial organisms. Tired, end-of-season soil will be refreshed and renewed when spring comes around

Planting new shrubs, trees or other landscape plants?  Mix a few shovels of compost with the soil that goes back into the planting hole.

Raw Organic Matter

The soil in your vegetable garden will probably be laying fallow over the winter months (unless you’re lucky enough to garden year-round). To boost the amount of organic matter in your soil— beyond what you can get from finished compost— consider incorporating raw organic matter directly into the soil.

There’s just one thing to keep in mind when you’re adding raw organic matter to your soil. The beneficial soil organisms that will help decompose this material, require nitrogen to do their work. This means that if you don’t add some additional nitrogen along with the organic matter, the microbes will start using up the nitrogen in your soil. To avoid this, you can either add some nitrogen-rich manure along with the raw organic matter, or sprinkle on some granular organic fertilizer.

Shredded leaves are my top choice for raw organic matter. Use a leaf shredder if you have one. If not, just mow over the leaves several times with your lawnmower.

Animal manures (but not from dogs or cats) are great for the soil. You can gather it in buckets, plastic trash bags, feed bags, or in the back of a pickup truck. A good thing about adding animal manures in the fall, is that it doesn’t really matter if the manure is fresh or aged. Over the winter months, the caustic ammonia will dissipate, leaving behind valuable nutrients and organic matter.

Organic Soil Amendments

Most organic fertilizers release their nutrients slowly over many months, so applying them in the fall helps ensure they’ll be available to your plants next spring. If you can get your hands on some kelp meal,rock phosphate, or bone meal, do so. Because it’s the end of the season, your local garden center may even have some broken bags they’ll be willing to sell you at a discount. You can mix these organic materials right into your garden (or side dress around plants), along with the shredded leaves, manure and compost. Breaking down organic material requires some nitrogen.

If you suspect that your soil pH may need adjusting, autumn is the time to correct it. It’s best to raise or lower soil pH slowly, over a three- to six-month period. Add lime in the fall to raise the pH level of your soil. Add acidifiers like pine needles, peat moss and elemental sulfur if your soil is too alkaline. Remember that unless you already know that your soil is too acidic or too alkaline, you should always do a soil test to determine the pH level before taking corrective measures.

Better Soil — Better Garden

Improving the soil in your garden makes a huge difference in its ability to retain water, support healthy plant growth, and help your plants fend off diseases, pests and other stresses. Whether you’re new to gardening, or a seasoned pro, building better soil is the single most important thing you can do to improve your gardening success. And fall is the best time to do it!

More About Dahlias

On my recent dahlia post, fellow blogger and organic gardener Oceannah commented:

Dahlia’s never do very well here and I’ve stopped growing them. It may be the cool mountain nights, not sure.

Oceannah lives in the mountains of New York.  I live in the hot and humid Ohio valley.  Dahlias grow like weeds here, while I struggle to get a few blooms from my foxgloves and delphiniums.

That started me wondering about the history and origins of dahlias.  What I found was very interesting!

Dahlias are warm weather plants, occurring naturally in Mexico and South America, where the Spaniards first “discovered” them. They are the national flower of Mexico.

The earliest reference to them occurred in 1615, but were then considered as an edible tuber rather than an ornamental flowering plant. At first, they didn’t attract much notice in Europe and weren’t recorded again until the late 18th century when the first tubers were sent back to Europe.

The dahlia was considered primarily an edible plant until 1815 when the first double flowered varieties were bred in Belgium and they quickly became a popular garden plant. They hybridize very easily and by the late 19th Century more than a hundred different varieties were listed.

 
They were common in the Victorian gardens, and persist as a popular cottage garden plant. They are easy to grow in fertile, well-drained soil. They favor sunny locations, and thrive in heat and humidity.

 
Today there are over 50,000 different dahlias in cultivation, and to try to bring a degree of order to the bewildering array of shapes, sizes and colors of dahlia flowers they are classified in ten different groups, ranging from Single and Anemone Flowered types to Pompoms, Large Decorative and Cactus flowered dahlias. At this point the classifying committee seems to have given up, and the tenth group is named simply “Miscellaneous”.

Dahlias love heat, humidity and sun, all present in abundance in southern Ohio. South America’s gift is much appreciated in my garden!!
Related articles

The Nitrogen Cycle

All Life depends upon the chemical element nitrogen.

An atom of nitrogen lies at the heart of all amino acids, which are not only the building blocks of protein of which muscles and many other of the body’s parts are made, but also the basic constituent of DNA, which carries the genetic code for all living things.

Nitrogen atoms are also present in the molecules which enable energy transfer during photosynthesis. Without nitrogen, life as we know it would not exist.

Though about 78% of the Earth’s atmosphere is nitrogen, plants and animals don’t necessarily have an easy time getting all the nitrogen they need. Green plants can’t use the nitrogen that’s free in the atmosphere. Nitrogen must be “fixed” before it is usable by most living things.

NITROGEN FIXATION

The process of chemically altering unusable, free atmospheric nitrogen into a form usable by organisms is referred to as nitrogen fixation. In nature, there are two main ways of “fixing” nitrogen:

FIRST WAY: Lightning. If you’ve ever been close to a lightning flash and right afterwards smelled an ammonia-like odor, that was lightning-fixed nitrogen you smelled. Only a relatively small percentage of nitrogen gets fixed in this way, however. Nature’s main nitrogen fixers are…

SECOND WAY: Special microorganisms living mostly in soil and water.

Nitrogen-fixing microorganisms, existing abundantly but practically invisibly nearly everywhere, include a few forms of bacteria, the blue-green algae, and some fungi. Some nitrogen-fixing bacteria live in nodules, or small, bag-like growths on the roots of certain plants, especially members of the Bean Family.

NITROGEN-FIXING NODULES ON BACKYARD CLOVER

In many backyards, nodules can be seen on the fine, wiry roots of clover, a member of the Bean Family, and considered a weed by those who don’t know its importance.

The image below is a much-magnified section of the roots of the clover in the above photo. The brown, baglike things hanging on the larger roots are nitrogen-fixing nodules.

USABLE NITROGEN, STEP BY STEP

Typically, nitrogen-fixing microorganisms do not fix free atmospheric nitrogen to a usable form in one step. Usually one set of organisms converts free nitrogen(N2) to ammonia (NH3). This ammonia is accompanied by its ammonium ion (NH4+), which some plants can use. However, most flowering plants need nitrogen in yet another form, which microorganisms provide by converting the ammonia to usable nitrate (NO3-).

Already you see that various organisms must work together to accomplish this profoundly important job. However, it’s even more complex than what’s described above! The process of converting ammonia to nitrate, callednitrification, is usually accomplished by two different sets of bacteria working one after the other.

POINT TO PONDER

The point of all this is not to convince you that nitrogen is wonderful stuff, although it is. The point is that nature is composed of a huge number of interrelated parts, and nitrogen with all of its jobs is just one tiny, usually ignored part.

When we dump toxic chemicals (insecticides and oil pollution,for instance) into the Earth’s air, water, and soil, we are upsetting vital life-enabling processes by killing organisms that are profoundly important to the continuance of Life on Earth.


Semi-Raised Bed English Cottage Gardening

The Enchanted Garden

I’ve applied a LOT of compost to my beds this spring.

The mild weather may have had something to do with it…

Who am I kidding?

The major reason for my Festival of Compost was my audacity in writing a blog about my English Cottage garden. Now I have to put my compost where my hubris is!

I’ve put down so much compost I started wondering whether I’ve branched out into raised bed gardening. That compelled me to look up the subject in everyone’s favorite resource, Wikipedia.

The W-Meister’s definition is as follows:

Raised bed gardening is a form of gardening in which the soil is formed in 3 – 4 foot (1.0–1.2 m) wide beds, which can be of any length or shape. The soil is raised above the surrounding soil (approximately 6 inches to waist high), is sometimes enclosed by a frame generally made of wood, rock, or concrete blocks, and may be enriched with compost. The  plants are spaced in geometric patterns, much closer together than conventional row gardening. The spacing is such that when the plants are fully grown, their leaves just barely touch each other, creating a microclimate in which weed growth is suppressed and moisture is conserved. Raised beds produce a variety of benefits: they extend the planting season, they can reduce weeds if designed and planted properly and reduce the need to use poor native soil. Since the gardener does not walk on the raised beds, the soil is not compacted and the roots have an easier time growing.

Okay, my compost layer is only about 4 inches, but everything else is the same. I think I’ve stumbled upon the “semi-raised bed” form of English cottage gardening.  And YES, I will provide pictures later in the season!!

Another Reason To Love Starbucks

Look what I got yesterday for free at Starbucks!  The whole bag went directly into my compost pile, soon to be applied to my garden.

In compost jargon, coffee grounds are a “green,” meaning an item that is rich in nitrogen.  They’re like grass clippings, not leaves or biochar.

Coffee grounds are approximately 1.45% nitrogen. They also contain magnesium, calcium, potassium, and other trace minerals.

There are several ways you can put used coffee grounds to work in your garden:

  • Put coffee grounds in your compost bin. As noted above, they are a valuable source of nitrogen.
  • Add grounds directly to the soil in your garden. You can scratch it into the top couple inches of soil, or just sprinkle the grounds on top and leave it alone.
  • Create a slug and snail barrier. Coffee grounds are both abrasive and acidic, so a barrier of grounds placed near slug-prone plants may just save them from these garden pests.
  • Make coffee ground “tea.” Add two cups of used coffee grounds to a five-gallon bucket of water. Let the “tea” steep for a few hours or overnight. You can use this concoction as a liquid fertilizer for garden and container plants. It also makes a great foliar feed.
  • Add coffee grounds to your worm bin. Worms love coffee grounds! Add some to your worm bin every week or so. Just don’t add too many at once, because the acidity could bother your worms. A cup or so of grounds per week for a small worm bin is perfect.

I’m going back to Starbucks tomorrow for more free grounds.  I drink tea…

Making Biochar For My Garden

What’s biochar? Basically, it’s organic matter that is burned slowly, with a restricted flow of oxygen, and then the fire is stopped when the material reaches the charcoal stage. Unlike tiny tidbits of ash, coarse lumps of charcoal are full of crevices and holes, which help them serve as life rafts to soil microorganisms. The carbon compounds in charcoal form loose chemical bonds with soluble plant nutrients so they are not as readily washed away by rain and irrigation. Biochar alone added to poor soil has little benefit to plants, but when used in combination with compost and organic fertilizers, it can dramatically improve plant growth while helping retain nutrients in the soil.

The idea of biochar comes from the Amazonian rain forests of Brazil, where a civilization thrived for 2,000 years, from about 500 B.C. until Spanish and Portuguese explorers introduced devastating European diseases in the mid-1500s. Using only their hands, sticks and stone axes, Amazonian tribes grew cassava, corn and numerous tree fruits in soil made rich with compost, mulch and smoldered plant matter.

Amazingly, these “dark earths” persist today as a testament to an ancient soil-building method you can use in your garden. Scientists disagree on whether the soils were created on purpose, in order to grow more food, or if they were an accidental byproduct of the biochar and compost generated in day-to-day village life along the banks of the Earth’s biggest river. However they came to be, there is no doubt that Amazonian dark earths (often called terra preta) hold plant nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorous, calcium and magnesium, much more efficiently than unimproved soil. Even after 500 years of tropical temperatures and rainfall that averages 80 inches a year, the dark earths remain remarkably fertile.

Scientists around the world are working in labs and field trial plots to better understand how biochar works, and to unravel the many mysteries of terra preta. At Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., microbiologists have discovered bacteria in terra preta soils that are similar to strains that are active in hot compost piles. Overall populations of fungi and bacteria are high in terra preta soils, too, but the presence of abundant carbon makes the microorganisms live and reproduce at a slowed pace. The result is a reduction in the turnover rate of organic matter in the soil, so composts and other soil-enriching forms of organic matter last longer.

I’m making my biochar by taking hard-to-compost materials like pruned rose canes and woody materials and burning them in my fire pit.

The recipe is simple. Pile up woody debris in the fire pit. Burn the brush until the smoke thins.  Then damp-down the fire by covering it with about an inch of soil. Let it smolder until the brush is charred, then put the fire out.

Dig the nuggets into your amended soil or add them to your compost pile to cure. Continued application will improve your soil and make it more fertile.