Conserving water has been a conscious act since I was young. We grew up in a home whose water source was an inground cistern dependent on rainfall. I recall my Mother reminding us not to waste water. She would occasionally have us check the depth of the water in the cistern when there had been a longer dry spell. Baths were limited to once a week and the water in the tub was to be shallow.
When I married and we moved to the southwest, I became even more aware of lack of rainwater. I was astounded to see pools, fountains, irrigation for the yards so they could be mowed. I wondered what kind of bubble these folks lived in. Were they not aware of how vital water is to our existance.
After four years in that climate we relocated to a more verdant area of the south where the average annual rainfall is in excess of 50 inches a year. In spite of this, I was still finding myself cautious with water use. When freshening the pet water containers, I would pour the old water on my plants. During the drier months of summer I would do as my Mom did, taking the dishwater out to water plants as well. My husband couldn't understand, asking what was wrong with the drain. I set up barrels and pails to catch rainwater from the runoff to supplement the plants. We had a well and using it is actually better for it but I was still nervous about depleting the water source.
After watching me harvest rainwater, my husband purchased three large containers and positioned them to catch rainwater runoff from the gutter on the greenhouse and carport. Each container holds 225 gallons.
In this area, we have seen windstorms, hurricanes, tornadoes and ice storms. At these times, the power may be out for an extended time. This water storage has supplemented washing up, flushing and pet water during the power outages. I haven't drank it but would do so when filtered.
One would think 675 gallons of harvested water should be adequate but no!
I currently have seven raised beds that I garden in. I am guilty of not watering adequately and decided it was time to correct that. This spring I acquired 30 gallon rain barrels. I installed faucets and placed them on raised platforms at the head of the beds. This will allow me to water the beds as needed. I had hoped to use soaker hoses but was not happy with the ones I tried so I am using short hoses and hands on watering. I have also been guilty of not fertilizing after the first planting but with these barrels, I am able to add a diluted water soluble fertilizer to the rainwater in the barrel. I have a small ac/dc pump that transfers the water from the 225 gallon containers to these rain barrels with ease.
I chose to leave the lids on these barrels as a means of mosquito control. The barrels that are sealed with the tops still on will also prevent evaporation. I also have two open top barrels that I have used over the years. To prevent mosquito larvae I use Mosquito Bits (or Dunks) https://summitchemical.com/pro... and fiberglass screening on the tops to keep critters out as well. I have found that an open container of water will attract thirsty birds, toads and frogs looking for bugs, etc. They cannot get out of the water once in so I add a means for them to exit the water.
I will be curious to see how well this means of watering will work on my vegetable beds and if successful, I will add barrels for the tropical plants and flower beds as well. Somehow I feel that I am doing some part (albeit little) to conserve water and use it more efficiently.
Lacto-fermented Chard Stems
January 9, 2019
I really must thank my friend and colleague, Abra Pappa of Abra's Kitchen for the idea of pickling chard stems. This recipe is inspired by her, and modified by my desire for fun flavors in my pickled veg.
Save your chard stems and give this a try – given that 2 large bunches of collards cooks down to about 6 cups of greens, this can be a great use for leftover stems after Sunday batch cooking.
16 oz. canning jar, leftover pickle jar or fermentation vessel
Stems from 2 bunches of Chard
1 clove garlic
1/2 tsp peppercorns
1-2 shakes of red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf
1 grape leaf (optional – the tannins in the grape leaf keep the stems crunchy)
4 cups water
3 tbsp. sea salt
Trim off the tips of the stems and cut stems 3-5 inches long, so that they can be stacked in the jar yet are short enough to be covered with the brine.
Crush the garlic to allow the juices to ooze out. Place peppercorns, bay leaf, and red pepper in the jar. Stack chard stems upright into the jar and then wedge the garlic in between the stems. If using a grape leaf, lay it atop the chard.
Fill the jar with brine until the chard and grape leaf are fully submerged.
Leftover brine can be stored in the fridge for 7-10 days – if you are unable to use it to pickle another vegetable (radish, cabbage, carrots, green beans) incorporate it into a brine for chicken or pork.
Close the jar tightly, and set aside on a plate in a cool, dark place to ferment for 5-9 days. If you are using a canning or pickle jar, you'll need to check on it daily to release mounting pressure as it ferments. Top off the jar with brine, if needed.
When ready, these can be stored in the fridge for up to a year. Top them off with brine before storing to ensure freshness.
Retraining a Frozen Tree-Form Crape Myrtle
In last week's e-gardens I showed you examples of crape myrtles that were struggling to come back from the freeze.
I also showed you plants that froze completely to the ground. Dead tops with no signs of life.
If you missed that story, here is a link back to it to catch everyone up to speed. It will help you know if you're going to need to follow the guidelines I'm about to describe.
These are the steps you should follow if you have a crape myrtle that was weakened severely by the cold or that was actually frozen completely back to the ground.
When a crape myrtle has died to the ground it usually comes back strongly from its roots. Each of these shoots could be trained to be a new trunk.
That plant will still be alive in its root system. Your task is simply to retrain the sprouts to form a new tree. And I use the word "simply" because, with crape myrtles, it really isn't a difficult job. I'll give you the step-by-step process so you can see for yourself.
Note: These are the same steps you would follow to retrain a tree-form crape myrtle that had formerly been mangled by topping. It's exactly the same process, except that with topping you would do this severe pruning back in late winter. The cold did it for you this year.
To retrain a tree-form crape myrtle…
Follow these guidelines to get your tree back.
This is what we mean by "cutting flush" with the ground.
• Step 1: (May 2021) Cut all the old trunks back to ground level. Use a hand pruning saw if possible. Don't let a chain saw's blade make contact with soil. Soil will dull its blade immediately.
• Step 2: (May through Summer 2021) Allow all new shoots to develop around the old stumps. There may be as many as 25-30. Let them all grow.
• Step 3: (Sept. 2021) Remove unwanted shoots to reduce numbers down to the best 12 or 15, Goal is to select those that are strong and straight. At that same time, surround your new shoots with an enclosure of 24-inch wooden stakes to keep them from being broken during the winter.
• Step 4: (May 2022) Prune to remove all but 5 to 7 best stems. That will allow all water and nutrients to be focused to them. Leave stakes in place.
Retraining crape myrtle that has been topped or frozen, as illustrated by great work of Beverly C. of Lubbock. This plant is in its second year. You can see the cut stump at ground line.
The same crape myrtle in its third summer has taken on a great form. Well done!
• Step 5: (Spring 2023 – just two years from now!) Remove final unwanted stems leaving only the permanent trunks. If stems are sturdy enough to support themselves, including their bloom clusters, remove stakes. Otherwise, use plastic plant ties to hold them in place one more year.
High-nitrogen fertilizers applied in early spring, early summer and early fall will help all this happen most rapidly, as will frequent watering.
Added note about crape myrtle bark scale and aphids.
While I have your attention, this is the time to remind you to apply a soil drench of Imidacloprid systemic insecticide around the drip line of any crape myrtle that has suffered from these two summertime pests. This application should be a one-time treatment, and it should prevent the insects, therefore their sticky honeydew residue, therefore the black sooty mold that develops in the honeydew substrate. May 15 is the prime time for making that drench application to the soil.
From Terrior Grow Your Lettuce Longer in Warm Weather
You can grow lettuce throughout the summer without bolting with a little knowledge and a tiny bit of preparation. Imagine serving your own fresh-harvested, garden-grown lettuce throughout the summer!
First, some knowledge:
Lettuce is a cool season vegetable, meaning it grows best in temperatures around 60 – 65°F. Once temperatures rise above 80°F, lettuce will normally start to "bolt" or stop leaf production and send up a stalk to flower and produce seed. The leaves become bitter at this stage.
The mainstay of our beloved salads is not a North American native, but an ancient part of our dinner table. Belonging to the daisy family, lettuce was first grown by ancient Egyptians around 4,700 years ago. They cultivated it from a weed used only for its oil-rich seeds to a valued food with succulent leaves that nourished both the mind and libido. Images in tombs of lettuce being used in religious ceremonies shows its prominent place in Egyptian culture.
The earliest domesticated form resembled a large head of Romaine lettuce, which was passed to the Greeks and then the Romans. Around 50 AD, Roman agriculturalist Columella described several lettuce cultivars, some of which are recognizable as ancestors to our current favorites. Even today, Romaine types and loose leaf lettuces tolerate heat better than tighter heading lettuces like Iceberg.
Two factors cause lettuce to bolt and become bitter – temperature and sun exposure.
The temperatures you are concerned about are both air and soil, as a lettuce plant (or any garden plant for that matter) tolerates a higher air temperature if the soil around its roots are cool and moist. Ensuring a cool and damp soil gives you more air temperature leeway. Because lettuce has wide and shallow roots, a drip system on a timer teamed up with a thick mulch keeps it happier in warm weather.
Shade is the third part to keeping lettuce growing vigorously later into warm weather. Reducing sun exposure lowers the heat to the leaves, but also to the soil and roots – creating a combined benefit. Deep shade isn't good, but a system allowing sun during the morning while sheltering the plants in the afternoon keeps your salad machines going much longer than you thought possible.
One last bit of knowledge. Most lettuce seeds become dormant (won't germinate) as temperatures rise above 80°F, a condition called "thermo-inhibition". This trait is a carryover from wild lettuce in the Mediterranean Middle East, where summers are hot with little moisture. If the lettuce seeds sprouted under these conditions, they would soon die out and the species would go extinct.
When lettuce is mentioned, many think of the standard iceberg lettuce found in supermarkets and restaurant salads. That is changing with the growth in popularity of the different types of lettuces from Romaine to head and leaf-type lettuces, mainly due to the flavors and colors that they offer from deep red to almost white and noticeably sweet to tangy and slightly bitter. Iceberg lettuce, originally bred as a hybrid, is now offered as an open pollinated variety and has been around long enough to be considered by some as an "heirloom"!
We have come to expect lettuce year round, mainly due to being educated by the supermarkets as to what our vegetables should look like, taste like and when they should be available. Many are surprised to find that lettuce is a cool season crop and will bolt or go to seed readily during late spring and summer months. It is best planted early in spring and then again in late summer or early fall when the temperatures start to cool off.
Ideal Conditions for Lettuce Seed Germination
Red Oak Leaf Lettuce
Lettuce seeds won't sprout when soil temperatures are above 80°F but they will start to germinate as low as 40°F, making it ideal for early and late season planting. A plant hormone is produced under warm conditions that stop the germination process, called "thermo-inhibition". This is a carryover from wild lettuce that originated in the Mediterranean Middle East, where summers are hot with little moisture. If the lettuce seeds were to sprout under these conditions, they would soon die out and the species would go extinct.
Thanks to traditional plant breeding and selection of heat tolerant characteristics over a number of years, there are several varieties of lettuce that are more heat tolerant and are open pollinated- meaning you can save seeds from year to year. Some examples are Saint Anne's Slow Bolting, Summertime, Black Seeded Simpson and Jericho. Just because these are heat tolerant doesn't mean that they will grow through the summer, only that they won't bolt or turn bitter quite as quickly.
Thanks to ongoing research on lettuce traits, there are some techniques to extend the sprouting for lettuce seeds into the warmer months that home gardeners can use. The optimum soil temperature for most lettuce seeds is 68°F, with some varieties sprouting in the 40 – 75°F range. The temperature of the soil must be taken, not just the air temperature which can be several degrees different.
Sprouting Lettuce Seed in Warm Weather
Green Oak Leaf Lettuce
In warmer temperatures, imbibing or soaking the seeds in water for at least 16 hours before planting in a well-lit area will increase the germination percentages greatly. Red light has been found to be the best color, but many home gardeners won't have access to a non-heating red light and sunlight or full spectrum light was found to be almost as good. Soaking the seeds in the dark in warmer conditions decreased their germination rates. Another technique that has shown to be successful is to soak the seeds in cool water in a well-lit area for 16 – 24 hours. This approach has increased the germination rate up to 97% when planted in warmer conditions. Soaking for less than 16 hours has little to no positive effect on germination. For a closer look at what happens when a seed goes through germination, read our article "Starting Seeds at Home – a Deeper Look".
Other successful methods of extending the season for lettuce in the garden include laying a thick mulch of straw or wood chips on the ground of at least 1 1/2 to 2 inches. This insulates the soil from becoming too hot and drying out too fast and helps to preserve moisture in the soil. Shading the lettuce plants can give enough of a temperature drop to keep them from bolting, sometimes up to 3 – 5 weeks. Shade can be from a shade cloth on a row cover or hoop type structure or companion planting of tall wide leafed plants such as some types of pumpkin.
The traditional rule of thumb of "plant early and plant often" for lettuce can also be said as "plant late and plant often", but some of the more heat tolerant varieties, along with soaking in light and providing some mulch and shade can greatly extend your lettuce season in the garden this year.
After reading a post of Haworthias, I was out looking at my collection. I had forgotten how many I had and how many I really love. They are forgiving when ignored. Willing to propagate with no encouragement. Pleasing to the eye.