Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Recent temperature extremes support global drying


The Oregonian prints summaries of Earthweek every Friday.  Last week, the headline was "Quickening Extremes:" "The number of outbreaks of extreme heat and cold around the world during the past three decades increased more rapidly than the rate of global warming, which scientists say is fueling the trend."

One suspects that the scientists involved are all climate scientists who have long bought into trace-gas warming alarmism.  Weathermen and physicists know that dryness brings on extremes of temperature, as Arizona's desert illustrates: cold nights and hot days in summer; colder nights and days in winter; and cooler days and warmer nights during the humid summer monsoon season.

One cannot find any article on Oregonlive.com unless it is written by their writer.  So I looked it up on Earthweek: http://www.earthweek.com/2014/ew141212/ew141212a.html.  It has a lot more information than the Oregonian brief.  But their page does not allow one to copy and paste.

It continues, "Researchers at the UK's University of East Anglia looked at temperature records from 1883 to 2013 before coming to the conclusion.

"They found that the occurrence of unusually cold periods had been increasing at a faster rate than heat waves until 30 years ago."

"But the trend reversed in 1983, when extreme heat events became more frequent."

"Temperatures were also found to be more variable in the Northern Hemisphere than the Southern Hemisphere, mainly because there is less landmass south of the Equator to make weather systems more complex."

This fits with the increase in modern irrigation from 1883 to 1983, which was about the time the water-saving no-lawn movement began, followed by water price hikes in cities to save water, regardless of local supplies and conditions.  In Grants Pass, overpricing has been too successful, with seemingly half the town going dry in summer.  

I was part of the anti-lawn movement until a few years ago, simply because I hate mowing.  But as a professional gardener for the last 14 years, I have come to realize that replacing lawn with ground covers, shrubs, flowers, especially edibles does not save any water over lawn, as most plants and all vegetables need an inch of water per week, just like lawn.  

Lawns and hedges are also easier for most people to maintain, as it takes little knowledge to water deep, give everything a haircut, and to weed out everything but lawn grasses.  But with high water prices, many have simply stopped watering and weeding.  They can't afford to water, and no one likes to maintain ugly, so they ignore the yard and its weeds and play indoors.  

Since they can't garden without water, the poor are not learning how to garden, and paid gardeners are scarce.  Our Food Bank rents farmland from the City to supply the poor, and gets middle class volunteers to weed it.  The poor used to supply the Food Bank with excess vegetables and enter their best produce in the Fair.  Produce entries in the Fair are pitifully few these days, spread out thinly through a huge building.

A bit over a year ago, after reading this article in Science News on irrigation from Central California farms increasing monsoon rains in the Four Corners area and water in the Colorado River, I did a study of weather in Grants Pass from 1983 to 2013, and wrote this blog post.  

It shows that midsummer monthly high temps dropped slightly from 1993 to 2003, and then rose a lot from 2003-2013.  In the same two decades, midsummer rainfall dropped by 0.9 inches per decade, and July and August high rainfall events were lower than those in June and September.  In the first decade, when we were nearly all watering, July and August rainstorms were bigger than in June and September, which fit with my memories of frequent wet summer thunderstorms when I lived here between 1985 and 1987.  

When this area was first settled by white people, it was called the Agate Desert.  It takes a lot of irrigation to grow food here.

Sprinkler irrigation cools, humidifies, and reduces weather extremes.  Less irrigation can only do the reverse, especially with high temperatures.  Drip contributes some humidity through transpiration from plants, but not like throwing water in the air and all over the plants.  The effects are seen the most in the interior of the continents, far from the moderating humidity of the ocean.


 at the U.K.’s University of East Anglia looked at temperature records from 1881 to 2013 before coming to the conclusion.
They found that the occurrence of unusually cold periods had been increasing at a faster rate than heat waves until 30 years ago.
But the trend reversed beginning in 1983, with extreme heat events becoming more frequent.hers at the U.K.’s University of East Anglia looked at temperature records from 1881 to 2013 before coming to the conclusion.
They found that the occurrence of unusually cold periods had been increasing at a faster rate than heat waves until 30 years ago.
But the trend reversed beginning in 1983, with extreme heat events becoming more frequent.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Leave leaves on your lawn

Just enough leaves on a lawn to stop weeds but not good grass

People are way too afraid of leaves on lawns.  Perennial grass is stronger than you might think.  A pile of leaves will leave a hole in a lawn.  Two inches or more will allow grass to grow through only here and there.  But a few layers will not stop perennial grasses from jumping right up in the spring.  They have enough food in their roots to push through light layers of leaves.  Leaves keep the soil warmer than no leaves and make it more fertile as the worms eat them through the winter, so grasses grow stronger in the spring.

Leaves not only feed soil and keep it warmer to grow grass better, but they stop small seeds like crabgrass; annual rye; Bermuda grass, nut sedge; dandelions; wild lettuce; and groundsel, the first of the wind-blown weeds to bloom in the spring, by keeping sun off the soil.  They also stop mosses, which like these weeds, need sun on bare soil to germinate.  Large annual grass seeds, like cheat and foxtails, can push through a few layers of leaves and need to be pulled.  You can tell them from perennial grass sprouts by their color, which is a lighter green with wider blades than perennial grass, or by their seed stalks later in the spring.  Crab grass, which sprouts in late spring, are very fat even when very short, and are best pulled small.

The weakest perennial grass is probably perennial rye sod, which most lawns on new construction are built with.  It is not a true sod grass; it is a clumping grass held together by plastic net.  Its roots are short for cutting off its clay soil base and transplanting, so it only lasts about 5 years before being invaded by stronger grasses.  Clumping grasses don’t spread by rhizomes, underground stems, but depend on reseeding to refill bare spots that form when clumps die, so it pays to reseed it in the fall before allowing leaves to cover, or rake it into the leaves in spring.  Its seeds are large enough to push through a few layers of leaves when they are ready to grow.  Perennial rye seed grows deeper roots than rye sod, and can create a stronger lawn as the sod grass dies out if it is reseeded yearly. 

Perennial grasses prefer to grow longer north of California, as the sun is lower and they need to be taller to catch the sunlight.  Two inches tall is good in summer, but 3-4 inches is better in winter.  Not cutting grass too short in summer or winter also helps keep sun off soil to prevent weeds and moss. 

A mulching mower can break up the leaves and help them to lie heavy enough between the grasses to keep small weed seeds from sprouting, but whole leaves will not stop the good grass from growing from roots or seed if they are not too thick.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Use leaves to stop weeds

Oak leaves covered with pine needles to keep them in place

Leaves are starting to fall, and they are way too useful to just rake up and put on the curb for pickup.  It’s also a lot of work to rake them out of your shrubbery and flower beds.  Leaves are natural mulch that feed soil and stop weeds, and the thicker they lie, the better they do it.  A foot of mixed leaves can grow great vegetables. They belong on bare soil and mulched beds. 

Leaves laid thick for growing vegetables

Leaves need to be removed from buildings, pavements and paths.   They should not lie too thick on lawns, where they can smother grass, but even there, they can suppress crab grass and other small seeds, while stronger perennial grasses like fine and tall fescues, can grow right through several inches as the soil warms in the spring; they are encouraged by the fertility.  Larger annual grasses, like cheat and fox tails, need a good two inches to stop them.
Most small seeds need a touch of sunlight to allow them to germinate, lest they sprout too deep and are unable to grow out from under their cover.  The larger the seed, the more food it has to grow through soil or leaf cover.  But the smaller the seeds, the more there are to sprout.  Once larger seeds have sprouted, it can be easier to smother them with mulch, if they are covered before they put a lot of food in their roots.
Naturally fallen Red Maple leaves stopping bitter cress and annual rye

Leaves vary in their ability to stop weeds from sprouting.  Very soft light leaves, like box elder, can be eaten by worms, pill bugs, earwigs, and other detritus eaters before fall is even over, and are good for feeding soil, but are fairly useless for stopping weeds in the spring.  Not-so-soft leaves, like red maple, will make it through the winter and stop early spring weeds like groundsel and bitter cress.  Tougher leaves, like oak, sweet gum, and magnolia, stick around all summer, and prevent the germination of later-flying wild lettuce and dandelions and tracked-in crab grass.
Non-broadleaf evergreens also vary in their ability to stop weeds.  Pine needles and needle-type true cedars are tough and take a long time to decompose, but their shape allows seeds to grow through unless they are over an inch thick.  Flatter evergreens, like fir and local cedars, decompose more quickly, but seem to stop weeds fairly well anyways.
One kind of soft leaf can stop weed seeds smaller than a maple nut all summer, even after they are gone: black walnut.  They have juglone, a natural pre-emergent herbicide.  They are not a problem for established perennials, but they stop smaller seeds even after the soil is bare.  Spread under a tree where birds perch, they can stop blackberries and other berry seeds from sprouting where they are laid at least an inch deep.
Use leaves; don’t lose them.  They can save you a lot of work.

October issue, online at GardenGrantsPass.blogspot.com, sold at the Mail Center, 305 NE 6th St. 
Gardening is easy if you do it naturally.  Litter is tagging, marking the territory of the disorderly.

Rycke Brown, Natural Gardener                 541-955-9040                 rycke@gardener.com

Friday, August 29, 2014

Keep food and drink cool with water

You can keep food and drinks cool on a camping trip or in an emergency without ice or a refrigerator, using the powerful cooling ability of water, which evaporates at 41 degrees, and therefore can cool stuff to 41 degrees, regardless of air temperature, as long as relative humidity is not 100%.
Take a jug of water.  Put it in a shallow pan.  Cover it with a towel, and let the ends of the towel lie in the pan.  Pour water over the towel and fill the pan.  The water evaporates from the towel, which wicks more water from the pan, cooling the towel and the mass of water beneath it eventually to 41 degrees F, the point below which water stops evaporating.   Theoretically, one could cool a box of food by setting it in a bigger box and covering it with a wet towel that lies in water in the larger box.  I cool and keep grapes and melon slices fresh, moist and free of flies by covering their bowl with a wet towel set in a shallow pan of water.
One might think that standing water would likewise cool off to 41 degrees, because it evaporates.  But it has a smooth surface with surface tension, allowing relatively little evaporation compared to a towel, which has a rough surface with lots of surface area to evaporate from, and no surface tension.  Towels are made to suck up and evaporate water efficiently. 
Standing or flowing water also sucks up heat from the mass that it is sitting in or flowing over and holds it in its mass, so a low-running creek or river or standing water can get warm, because it does not evaporate faster than it soaks up heat. 
The water cycle that makes summer thunderstorms depends on evaporation and condensation.  We used to water most of our in-town properties and most of our farmland back in the '80s with sprinklers, and we had frequent wet storms in midsummer, more frequent and stronger uphill and upstream in Jackson  and Klamath Counties, keeping our creeks running. 
In the ‘90s many cities started raising water prices to save water, regardless of local supply or costs.  Drip irrigation and letting lawns dry came into fashion.  Watering plants with drip saves water at the price of losing the evaporative cooling effect of wet plants and soil, and thereby reducing the water cycle that makes summer rain.  Letting land go dry stops most transpiration from plants, and makes no rain.  Half or more of our town and farms are dry.
Now we get more dry storms and forest fires, and creeks going dry that used to run year-round. We have lost nearly a tenth of an inch of midsummer rainfall per decade for the last two decades.  Our July and August storms used to be larger than those in June or September.

September issue, published in GardenGrantsPass.blogspot.com, sold at the Mail Center, 305 NE 6th Street
Gardening is easy if you do it naturally.  Water is not precious; it overpriced.

Rycke Brown, Natural Gardener            541-955-9040                 rycke@gardener.com

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Good mulch brings good bugs

Leaves under butternut squash and tomatoes

A gentleman of my acquaintance asked me what to do about squash bugs.  I said that I never really have a problem with squash bugs.  Turns out that the people he is helping with their farm are using plastic mulch to control weeds and row covers to try to control insect pests. 
I pointed out that what controls bad bugs are good bugs, predators that eat the plant eaters, and the most effective ones require good mulch like leaves to live under.  When you have plastic mulch or bare soil, you lose all the spiders, centipedes, ground beetles, and soldier beetles, to name a few of the most effective predators in the garden.

Warming rocks under peppers.  They warm the soil at night, cool it during the day.

Almost all of these predators live exclusively under loose mulch and rocks.  Soldier beetles spend the spring month of their adult lives flying, eating aphids, mating, and laying their eggs under mulch, where their larvae live under the mulch the remaining 11 months of the year, eating anything they can catch and kill.  If you have no loose organic mulch, you will have no soldier beetles laying eggs, and few or none of the others.
He said that the plastic mulch is needed to keep weeds down.  I said that leaves do that.  Not only do they keep sun off the seeds that need light to sprout, but they are a poor sprouting surface, as they dry out quickly, so seeds that land on top cannot sprout either.  Only larger seeds can get through 2 inches of leaves, and they are easily pulled; it is the tiny seeds that need sunlight on soil that are hardest to control without mulch.

4x8 sand and rocks under peppers and melons.  Insects are not under sand, only under rocks.  Sand is too hot.  Walk-on fir bark is beyond.

Plastic mulch cannot feed soil, while leaves are the natural food of worms and other detritus eaters, who turn them into soil.  One eater of detritus is the earwig, which many think of as a pest.  They are rather creepy in their habit of hiding in flowers and foliage during the day and coming out when they are brought into the house, but they don’t generally eat live plants; they eat the fungus out of dead or living leaves and can actually eat fungus, like rust on hollyhocks, out of your plants. 
Wikipedia considers earwigs omnivorous and says that they eat insects and plants.  Scientists seem to have missed that they love the fungus-infected parts of leaves.  They are said to eat corn silks as well, but I always have many earwigs and no corn silk damage.  Without fungus-ridden rotting leaves to eat, earwigs have only the softer parts of live plants to eat.
Two inches of leaves is great for stopping weeds and feeding soil.  12 inches or more can make wonderful soil and grow huge plants as they decompose.  Start next year’s garden by gathering your leaves this fall, rather than giving them to the trash company for compost.  They will make wonderful compost in your garden if you just let them lie there, and add to them.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Control Cobweb Spiders with Mist

The "cellar spider," family Pholcidae, is our most common local cobweb builder and the one referred to in this article.  They grow up to an inch or so across.  Black widows and their relatives are more commonly considered cobweb spiders, going by the Internet.  

Cobweb spiders have hatched, and are dirtying houses with their dirty little webs.  Unlike other web builders, a cobweb spider doesn’t clean and repair its web; it camps until the web gets dirty and then moves on to another spot, the homeless vagrant of the web-spider world.  A dirty, visible web is useless to the spider, except to steer flies into its new, invisible web.  But they sure mess up a house, inside and out, and shrubbery as well.  Cobwebs scream neglect to thieves and encourage other disorderly conduct, like littering and breaking windows.
Last summer’s fires were very hard on cobweb spiders and other web builders, showing up their webs with ash.  Cobwebbers starved except under cover; they could not build new webs fast enough, though they sure tried, covering shrubs all over town.   There have been relatively few cobwebs this spring until now.  

Daddy Long Legs, AKA harvestmen, family Opiliones, are not spiders, having one body section, not two.
Daddy long-legs have become common where they were rare, as they don’t build webs, but just walk around.  Cobwebs certainly mess up their hunting range, and could be a hazard to them.
Rain is also hard on cobweb spiders, because they are delicate, and too much water can stick their legs together.  Rain also shows their webs, so they build webs under cover until the weather is dry, when they spread into the shrubbery.  This is another good reason to use sprinklers rather than drip or soaker hoses, besides making rain.
A customer’s neighbor in her duplex has rough siding covered with tiny, dirty spider webs, with larger webs under the eve on his front porch, but she had few on her portion of the duplex, and she has needed little web cleaning thus far this year. 

This standing mister usually sells around $10.

Last year, during the fires, she started using misters to keep her plants happy, settle the smoke and breathe easier, and she has loved the results.   When they are on, it takes only a few minutes for them to show all the webs within 8 feet, allowing this gardener to clean them off with a web duster. 

There are many brands of this tool available on the web.

A web duster, a pom-pom shaped broom head that can be attached to an extendable pole, is also needed for cobweb spider control, since as soon as the misters are turned off and the webs dry out, they are good for catching food again, and the mist doesn’t reach to the high eves.  Using a duster alone, it is an endless battle to keep the cobwebs down.  The two together can do wonders.

If you don’t have misters, cobwebs in shrubs are better controlled with hoses and spray nozzles that adjust from spray to jet than with a web duster.  Or you can use a sprinkler and web duster.  But the jet reaches inside the shrubs where you can’t see.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Kill crab grass, goat heads, and star thistle

Crab grass didn’t used to grow in Grants Pass when I lived here in the 80’s.  Neither did goat head, known locally as puncture vine for what it does to bike tires.  Star thistle was out in the country on neglected farms.  Now we have all three all over town, the last two mostly on business, government, and vacant lots; people mostly don’t tolerate them around residences.

          All three can be hard to pull, but are easy to kill with a good pair of gardening scissors.  Kengyu pruning scissors are the best.  They are super-hard Japanese steel.  They can cut through dirt and gravel and still cut branches; they slowly wear down, but they don’t knick.  They may lie outside and get surface rust, but it wears right off with use.  They can not only cut weeds out of gravel; they can cut weed crowns out of cracks in pavement.  They can be found online.
          Any annual weed can be killed by cutting it off under the crown when it is blooming.  You don’t have to get the root; it has no food in it at that point.  Once it flowers, it has put all of its energy into its crown and above.

Green crab grass with dry foxtails and cheat

Young crab grass, spreading variety.  Some stand tall.

          Crab grass (Digitaria) likes water, but it can live on dust and dew.  It is related to Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon), with the same fingered seed head, but no underground rhizomes.  Where it has not been watered well, it has just enough root to hold it in the ground and pulls easily.  Where it has had good water, it roots deep and hard, and roots along stem nodes as well, the opposite of most annual grasses, but crab grass acts more like a tender perennial, and doesn’t die until frost.  Its roots are thin, tough and wiry, and don’t pull when mature and rooted deep.  Cut them off though, and the plant is gone; they have no food storage.

Goathead leaves and bloom 

Goat heads in bloom

          Goat head, Terrestris tribulus, literally “ground trouble,” crawls along the ground in a spreading mat with inch-long divided leaves and ¼” five-petal yellow flowers that open with full sunlight.  It laughs at mowers, spreading its tack-shaped seeds on their tires.  Also called tack vine, puncture vine, caltrops, and other names not suitable for print, its seeds can puncture bike, wheelbarrow, and some trailer tires.   It grows well in wet or dry ground, in bare soil or thick grass, spreading up to 3 feet across.  But its crown can be cut off its root, and the root will die.

            Yellow star thistle, Centaurea solstitialis, can be seen taking over vacant lots around the newer parts of town, its bluish foliage standing out among the drying grasses.  Its spines are only on its flower buds and fold down when they go to seed, but they are enough to declare it a noxious weed.  It doesn’t spread its seed on the breeze like other thistles, but on animals, lawn mowers and landscape maintenance workers; they cling to the plant all through the winter, long after the spines are gone.  It loves dry ground, but contrary to rumor, it can take heavy watering and come up through considerable mulch.  Mowing just makes it eventually seed out beneath the blades.  But its crown is often several inches above the soil bent sideways, handy for cutting off its root.

Cool off and Make Rain with Misters

Our snowpack is low but Lost Creek reservoir is full and Applegate is at 90% of capacity.  Nonetheless, Josephine County has been declared to be in a drought emergency, though the Rogue River, from which Grants Pass gets its water, is unaffected because our reservoir is full.  The hot, dry heat of a Southern Oregon summer will soon be upon us, and if we don’t get rain with our thunder and lightning, we will have forest fires and fish could be dying in the Applegate by fall.
So those of us who take our water from the Rogue should use it to keep our plants green and make rain.  It’s not like we could save it and send it to the people who are in the drought areas.  The only way we can share our water is by using it for irrigation, helping the water cycle to make rain by throwing it in the air, on the plants and the ground, and sending water vapor uphill and upstream on the prevailing wind to condense in the top of our water shed, or right on our heads when thunderstorm conditions are upon us.  Drip cannot do this, wash dust off your plants, nor water your plants half as well as sprinklers.
But one should use sprinklers only as much as necessary to keep one’s yard watered:  deeply and weekly.  It wouldn’t do to keep it running all day every day, though some did just that to keep the smoke at bay last summer.  But that gets expensive, breeds crane flies that eat grass roots, and makes a swamp that can be hard on plants.
Misters, however, can be run all day, every day and even all night, adding water directly to the air without greatly wetting the ground.  In our hot dry summers, plants, animals and people breathe easier with a little added coolness and humidity.  When smoke was choking us last summer, misters made a big difference in breathability, grabbing the smoke and taking it to the ground.  I could smell and feel the difference when I got home.
You can set up a mister system to air condition your yard with $10 misters that are often in stock at Diamond, the Grange, and Grovers; cheap ½” garden hoses; ½” male and female hose repairs; and hose Y’s, running them in a line around your front and back yards.  You want a hose running along with Y’s in it, and 15-20 foot hose lengths running to each mister from the Y’s.  1/2” hose is best because it has a smaller cross section than 5/8” but is the same strength of hose, so it doesn’t blow up and sometimes blow out under the pressure needed for misting.
Blueberries, which like their roots cool but their heads in full sun, do particularly well under the influence of mist.  Spider mites, which like dry and hot, do not love mist, so it’s good to use one in your greenhouse as well.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Use Water Wisely

A Pound O Rain sprinkler in use.

         Proper watering has become a matter of controversy, as many people think that watering is optional and wasteful of water that someone somewhere else can use.  You cannot waste water in Grants Pass by irrigating properly, which means all over the ground and plants.  The water either evaporates from plants and soil, is sucked up by plants and transpires, or sinks into the water table and recharges wells and the river.  That which goes into the air humidifies the air, cools it, and contributes to rain.  The only real way to share it with people in other places is to use it and send it downwind to make rain.

Some think that if they don’t water, they won’t have to mow.  But weeds don’t care about watering, even thrive on dryness, and once they have taken over a lawn, one must mow more often to keep their flowers from seeding the neighborhood and making the yard uglier yet. 

Some say to use plastic mulch and drip irrigation.  Plastic mulch is ugly.  Drip is unreliable and incomplete.  You can’t really tell how well drip is working if it is covered, and it’s delicate.  You can have a leak and not know it; voles chew holes in it; shovels break it; tree roots and rocks pinch it.   You lose the benefit of evaporation from wet plants and soil and don’t wash the dust off your plants, causing fungus on leaves.  People think that it is bad to water paths, but trees, shrubs, and even large annuals like tomatoes send their roots under paths and suffer when they are not watered.  And it’s not cheap or easy to build a drip system. 

The best watering is also cheapest and easiest: sprinklers.  Automatic sprinklers are the most expensive system to build, though most reliable.  But poor people can get by best with hoses, sprinklers, and mechanical faucet timers.   Watering by hand sprayer rarely works well; one must hold a hose too long.

The best sprinklers are also cheap: Pound of Rain, a pound of metal with a big hole in the middle, which blows out a nice, even circle of water and can pass BBs.

Water an inch per week for good growth and beauty of lawns, vegetables, most ornamentals and fruits, and it’s best to water any one spot only once a week, twice at most.  One can move a sprinkler or two around a yard to hit everything once a week.  For even watering, one must set the sprinkler on the edge of the previous wet spot, as no sprinkler sprays completely even.  Automatic sprinklers are set up to water to the next sprinkler to cover an area completely; even watering is double watering, so you only need ½ inch at a time on each spot.

Last, but not least, do not skip watering because it is going to rain.  When it rains half an inch or more, skip watering for a few days.   It may sound superstitious, but if you don’t water, it won’t rain enough to matter.  Call it insurance.

Please Don’t Save Water

The rain that put out last summers fires.  It fell much more heavily in the Douglas Complex area.

          Grants Pass is beautiful this spring.  The new growth on our trees and shrubbery is bright and abundant, thanks to last summer’s forest fires.  While miserable for people and animals, the smoke from those fires was full of CO2 and water vapor, plus ash, which was watered in by the fall rains that came early and put out the fires.  Indeed, the water vapor produced by the burning of all that wood must have contributed to the rainstorm that put them out, probably quite heavily.
          We have just had a warning of the summer heat to come, which will blast all those nice, tender new leaves unless we give our plants the water they need to keep them green. 
We didn’t have much snow in the mountains this winter, so the snowpack that our rivers and irrigators rely on is low.  On the other hand, spring rains have filled the reservoirs.  We are being told that we have to save water to make it last through the summer. 
One has to ask what we are supposed to be saving it for.  If we don’t use it, it will only run to the sea.  If we use it to water our yards and feed the water cycle, we can make rain that will continue to fill our creeks, rivers, and reservoirs, and help make it last all summer by re-circulating it upstream.  We are dependent on rain this summer, so we’d better do our best to make it rain.
We on the West Coast are blessed to take our water from rivers that run west into the prevailing wind.  Any water that evaporates or transpires blows upstream and uphill and can make rain in the top of our watershed.  It can even make rain right on our heads, if we get thunderheads.
Thunderheads we will have, no doubt about it.  But watering our cities and farms makes the difference between wet thunderstorms and dry lightning that makes forest fires.  We make rain when we water enough.  In the two last decades, we haven’t been watering enough.
A computer simulation by University of California researchers showed, last January, that farmers in California make rain in the desert Southwest. This inspired a study of summer rainfall in the Grants Pass 97526 zip code from 1983-2012 that showed that we had larger rainstorms in July and August than in June and September through the first decade, and the reverse in the last two decades.  Over those last two decades, our average monthly summer rainfall, June-September, fell by nearly a tenth of an inch per decade.
In the 80’s, we had reasonable water rates, and nearly everyone watered, mowed, and took care of their yards; this was a very neat town, reminiscent of Goshen, Indiana.  It seemed like we had thunderstorms nearly every week in the summer.  Now we have tiered rates that charge us through the nose for watering our yards, and dry, dusty, sometimes smoky summers.
If Grants Pass based our water charges on what it costs to provide the service, the rate tiers would be reversed, with most of the charge on our basic winter water use.  The vast majority of the cost of clean, delivered water is overhead in plant and employees, which must be covered regardless of use.  Talk to the city about changing its water rate structure, and water like the quality of your life depends on it, regardless of the rates.  It does.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

How to Grow Great Tomatoes, peppers, melons, corn, and other heat-loving annuals

 4" tomato planted among gabion rocks, in compost covered with pine needles
          If you want to grow a tomato plant that makes a lot of great fruit, start with a plant that isn’t blooming yet, not even showing a sign of buds.  Buds are a sure sign that the plant is getting root bound and is trying to make seed before it dies.  The plant has switched from vegetative growth to blooming and won’t grow much after you plant it.  If the buds are still very small, you can pinch them and it might switch back.  If it is blooming, don’t buy it or plant it.
          It can be hard to find plants that are not blooming in the markets.  Gallon plants always have flowers, and fruits abound.  Even 4-inch pots are often budding or blooming.   Your best bet is to buy 4- or 6-paks, and check them carefully for buds.  Don’t despise seed.  I’ve seen many a volunteer out-produce starts.
          Tomatoes need warm soil, good soil, and regular water.  Don’t plant them before the soil warms up a bit.  Trying to beat the last frost is a losing game, because the plants won’t grow until the soil is warm, and pests will eat them.   A good sign that it is time to plant is sprouting of volunteer tomatoes or other warmth lovers where they were grown the year before.
          Spend some time preparing the ground first.  If your soil is poor and grows small weeds, cover it with about 6 inches of compost and enough pine needles or coarse bark to cover, or a foot of mixed leaves from the fall.  If it grows big, leafy weeds, two inches of compost may be sufficient to smother most weeds seeds and small plants.  Pull whatever comes through the mulch.

The corn and tomatoes in the center were planted in a foot of leaves, no compost on top.  The foreground bed to the left was planted too thick with peppers and tomatoes, but with gabion rock on top.

Plant your starts into the compost or leaves if they are thick enough.  If not thick enough, pull the mulch aside and dig in the soil a bit, and then pull the compost and top mulch back around the roots.  Do not plant it deeper than it was in the pot; that will just make it easier for pill bugs to eat the leaves.  A plant that is not root bound doesn’t need to grow roots from its stem.
Last, but not at all least, surround the plant with rocks, to soak up heat during the day and release it at night.  Night warmth is critical to growth.  A few big flat rocks are good; even better is a solid 2 to 3-foot circle of cheap river rock, called gabion rock at Copeland.  Covering a bed with them produces the best results, but removing them each year for mulching can be a chore. 
4" Peppers planted among gabion rock and Dog Creek glacier till

All of the above goes for peppers, with emphasis on warmth at planting time and starting small.  They are even more likely to be blooming in 4-inch pots; look for 6-paks.
Squash, melons, cucumbers, corn and beans are all better off bought as seed and planted when the soil is warm.  They hate any sort of root disturbance; seeds will beat anything started in a pot.  Melons and cukes benefit from warming rocks; squash, corn and beans don’t need them.  If your seeds don’t grow, the soil was too cold; replant.
 Support litter cleanup in Grants Pass at GPgardener.com.  Like us on Facebook.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The litter business is picking up

This gardener has gotten a bit old for the stoop work of gardening and is really tired of the litter in parts of this town and so has been moving on to cleaning litter from areas of public access and asking for donations and sponsors to continue and expand this much-needed work.  Starting litter pickup two days a week in early December, I made a bright green advertising tunic; started a website, GPgardener.com; got a payment vendor; made a better tunic; started The Litter Cleaner Blog to document my work; made a sign for my truck; and recently started getting sponsors, including one Super Sponsor. 
Carl Wilson of KAJO/KLDR has pulled me away from Redwood Avenue and is paying me to clean his portion of the Miracle Mile, as he calls the Rogue River Hwy.  Logan Design has donated small and large bright green stickers for advertising.  The City of Grants Pass sponsors me with bright yellow litter bags, which they allow me to drop in our parks next to trash cans for easy pickup by their crew. 
You or your business can Super Sponsor weekly litter cleanup of a particular landmark, like the Caveman Bridge, the area beneath it, a stretch of road, or an alley, for $500 a year, less than $10 a week.  It need not be in a single payment; $250 is enough to get started cleaning.  Recognition on the GP Gardener Super Sponsor page, which includes your logo and business motto, must wait until you’ve paid $500 within a year.  Some areas may take more than one Super Sponsor to cover, but one is enough to get the work started.
It takes only $100 of donations in a year to be listed as a Sponsor, for which you can sponsor cleanup of either one day of an event (before, during and after) or weekly cleanup of your frontage if you are near a sponsored site and it is not too large.   Donations of any amount are greatly appreciated and any amount donated by website or mail will get you at least a thank-you note and a small and large sticker.  You will know that you are supporting cleaning of Super Sponsor sites ($10 a week doesn’t go far) or any other place I feel the need to clean. 
Donations for my litter-cleaning business are not tax deductible as a charitable donation, and will be reported as income for tax purposes.  Business sponsorships can be reported as advertising expense, since one is listed on the website and I tell people who is sponsoring a place as I clean it.
I can only cover so much ground, so I will be able to offer Super Sponsorships of new areas only until my work week is filled, so it pays to buy in early.
Please visit GPgardener.com, read The Litter Cleaner Blog and donate today.  You can also like GP Gardener on Facebook.

Read The Litter Cleaner Blog and support litter cleanup in Grants Pass at GPgardener.com.
Rycke Brown, Natural Gardener        541-955-9040      rycke@gardener.com

Gardening is easy, if you do it naturally.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Foxtails are already blooming

       Blooming foxtails in Greenwood Dog Park, suffering from a fungus that yellows its leaves

        This morning I stopped with my dog at Greenwood Dog Park to throw some balls, and noticed that foxtails were already putting up seed stalks under the locust trees, shocking in early March.  It’s more normal to see them starting to bloom in April.  I pulled a plant with a seed stalk; it pulled easily.  It’s officially weeding time at the dog park, though I expected to go after heron’s bill there before foxtails. 
Heron’s bill is just starting to bloom.  It’s normally among the earliest of annual weed flowers, but bitter cress is in full bloom and groundsel is already going to seed along the trail.  It’s going to be a heck of a weeding season, with the warm weather bringing out some weed flowers early, while others that are daylight-dependent bloom on their regular schedule.

Light colored foxtails show up well against dark green lawn grass

Blooming is the signal for weeding because that is the easiest time to kill any annual plant.  It is also the express trigger for enforcement of our weed nuisance code, which forbids allowing weeds to “mature or go to seed.”  Maturity is blooming; seeding is the next step. 
Stop the plant when it blooms, and it cannot spread seed to your neighbors, becoming a nuisance first simply by spreading.  Weeds are also ugly when gone to seed; “seedy” is a synonym for neglected.  The seeds of heron’s bill, foxtails, and cheat grass stick in clothing and fur and can downright dangerous to pets; heron’s bill drills itself in when the dry seed gets wet, and all three are barbed.  Last, but not at all least, tall, bushy annual weeds dry out and can burn.
Annual plants are easiest to kill when blooming because they put all their energy and much of the mass of their roots into top growth to produce stalks, flowers and seed, while their roots shrink and loosen in the soil. The stalks are tough and have a good hold on the crown, where all the new growth comes from.  The roots pull easily from moist soil compared to earlier in the season, when the roots are large and the top is soft. 

Seeded foxtails in Bermuda grass, showing why it pays to pull it green.

But you don’t have to pull the roots of blooming annual weeds, as there is no food in the roots.  The crown, where the growth comes from, is the key.  Cut them under the crown with scissors, and they are gone, even big tap-rooted annuals like thistles.
Preventing weeds is better than weeding.  It takes work, but it isn’t stoop work, the hardest kind of work to do.  You can mulch bare soil with leaves, compost, wood chips, or coarse bark to stop smaller seeds from sprouting and growing.  An inch of compost just before crab grass sprouts can stop crab grass and feed good grass in a lawn.   It’s time; it’s been warm and grass is growing.
For rough areas, leaves are cheapest, most effective, and encourage perennial grasses, which are good for holding ground and not becoming a huge fire hazard.  I used to dislike perennial grass, but it’s much better than annual grasses like foxtails and cheat.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Stop crab grass before it starts

          Spring has sprung with a vengeance.  Foxtails are already putting up seeds stalks.  Sprouting crab grass cannot be far behind.  It’s time to mulch your lawn.

 Sprouting crab grass in bare soil.  The leaves are not only fat, but fuzzy.

          Last year, I started mulching crab grass in Dad’s lawn when it started sprouting, which was a bit late for the amount of mulch I was using, an inch of compost.  Sprouting crab grass is very small, and can be hard to see before it gets big enough to grow out of the mulch.  Not that the effort was wasted; the compost still stopped a lot of crab grass, and the lawn is looking much healthier and greener than last spring, without moss under the tree.

The fuzziness of young crab grass leaves shows better in this young plant.

          Even though it is early March, lawns are growing and being mowed.  Lawn grasses can readily grow through an inch of compost and will be much happier for it.  If your grass is perennial rye, a clumping grass, it’s a good time to seed it into the compost where it is patchy.  Dad’s lawn is mainly fine fescue, a rhizomatous grass, and white Dutch clover, both of which fill in when given sufficient organic matter, nutrients and neutral soil.  I also spread blood meal and ashes, bringing up the nitrogen, iron, and Ph to help kill the moss and feed the grass.

This young mature crab grass is growing in what looks like well-mowed Bermuda grass before its bloom.

          Crab grass is a clumping relative of Bermuda grass that also roots along its stems, but it’s tender, and dies with the first frost.  It is a tender perennial, as it does not die from making seed, but only spreads and makes more seed until it freezes.  It roots deeply where it is well watered, and hardly roots at all where it is not watered well, living on dust and dew collected on its hairy leaves. 
Bermuda grows rhizomes that can travel under sidewalks and go 18” deep and goes dormant about 6 months of the year in Oregon, making it a lawn weed, not good grass.   Bermuda and crab grass show their family relationship in the shape of their seed stalks, and the size of their seed, which is, thankfully, small and easily smothered with mulch.  So the same mulching that stops crab grass can also prevent Bermuda from germinating.
Ironically, in Arizona, where they use Bermuda as lawn grass, they mulch their lawns with steer manure every spring, which keeps them thick and green in the summer heat, and crab grass is rare.  Here in southern Oregon, I don’t recall seeing anyone else using steer manure or other compost on their lawns, and crab grass has spread all over town and down our country roads in the last 20 years.  Chemical fertilizers don’t smother weed seeds.

Green, mature crab grass with dry, seeded foxtails and cheat in dry ground.  Crab grass, being a perennial, is not a fire hazard like the other two as it stays green and growing until frost.

Even if you mulch, it is unlikely that you will stop all the crab grass in your lawn, since the seed is everywhere.  Unlike annual grasses, the roots of crab grass are tough and wiry, and where they go deep, it is nearly impossible to pull after it flowers.  But it can be cut off its roots with Kengyu garden scissors, and it won’t grow back, as it has no food in those wiry roots.
It doesn't pay to spray crab grass with Roundup (glyphosate salts).  It kills the plant, but fertilizes the seed in the soil; it comes back greener every time until you spray so much, so frequently that you over-fertilize.