Friday, January 31, 2014

Dayton "Dirt" - January 31, 2014

Another week of cold, windy weather has gone away with the delightful realization that with the first of February tomorrow, spring is only 7 weeks away. While California suffers from drought from little rain and snow in the mountains, normally rainy Oregon is dry with above normal temperatures. Alaska too is experiencing a mild winter maybe as the result of the polar air mass visiting the eastern half of North America. At the nursery work has all but stopped in the unheated greenhouses because of the bitter cold. Of course the structures could be heated to allow the work to continue but the natural gas meters are working overtime on the normally heated structures. The insulation of the six inches or more of snow was a very welcome relief although it may have come a little late to prevent damage to some plants what were almost wholly uncovered last week with temperatures dipping to near zero with that all but relentless wind. A hunter at the nursery reported that he had seen eight deer huddled together under the neighbor’s grove of white pine. When searching for scarce food, the deer have been traversing the rhododendron garden by evidence of their hoof prints but again have been repelled by the scent of the liquid fence product on the plants. While spring seems only like a dream, soon this winter will be in the rear view mirror with the warm weather ahead. Jim Chatfield of the Ohio State Extension wrote in the Akron Beacon Journal last Saturday that as soon as the temperatures warm up just a little in February, the Witch Hazel (Hamamelis) will be blooming. How strange that such a flower would be able to withstand cold freezing nights as compared to the azalea blossom that will shrivel at just the hint of frost! Tomorrow is our first in a series of 6 seminars lasting into early March. This Friday we’re diligently clearing the remaining snow from the parking lot and remaining walk ways to the Owl Barn to make the trek safe. This surely will be a true test of the small boiler with the heating pipes in the floor of the seminar room to keep the room comfortably warm after the long prolonged cold snap. See you at the seminar. Tom

Friday, January 24, 2014

Dayton "Dirt" - January 24, 2014

According to a recent radio report on WKSU, new regulations from the state and federal government are coming regulating the runoff water from farms and greenhouses that tend to be high in fertilizer nutrients and herbicides. The state will have its rules set to be released in March. The increase of algae blooms in lakes and streams is becoming more prevalent especially with problems showing up in Lake Erie. This “non-point” source of pollution is coming from a whole range of sources including farms, greenhouses and yes, home lawns. The end goal is that with the reduction of runoff water laden with nutrients such as forms of nitrogen and phosphorus, the algae blooms will be greatly reduced. A few years ago the Canadian Province of Quebec banned the use of lawn fertilizer for use in cosmetic purposes hoping to reduce fertilizer runoff from home lawns. The question is will the regulation proposed by the state include not only fertilizer application certification by farmers, will it also include audits of the farmers and greenhouse operators operations. At Dayton’s we should be out ahead of such regulations as the beginning of runoff water capture and the recycling of that water started in 1999. Through systems of vegetative channels, rain water capture, irrigation water being recycled and the self-watering greenhouse benches, little or no water now leaves the property. In addition, more self-watering benches are being installed this winter in the rear production greenhouse to recycle even more water. If there is an audit by the Ohio Dept. of Agriculture or EPA, I think they will be pleased at what they will find at the nursery, Tom

Friday, January 17, 2014

Dayton "Dirt" - January 17, 2014

While the severe cold no doubt has caused plant damage on many ornamental plants, harmful insects most likely have suffered a set back as well. One such insect that may have suffered a set back is the non-native Emerald Ash borer that has been killing native ash trees around the state. According to a recent radio report, the ash borer larvae within the ash trees have suffered a kill-off as much as one third of the established population. While such a set back for the insect will not end its reign, it will at least slow it down. A native insect that has been moving northward due to mild winters is the bag worm that attacks and kills a variety of tree and shrubs. After peeling open and examining some of the “bags” on a Bald Cypress tree at the nursery, I can almost conclude that the contents of the bag are not viable as they seemed dried and powdery. Late April and May will be a test of my hypothesis of the cold weather killing these nasty insects is correct or not. Natural cycles tend to check the population of many harmful native insects. The Rocky Mountain’s pines have been dying for years because of a borer that eats the phloem layer of the trees. Scientists believe the recent warm winter weakened trees from prolonged drought and the lack of natural fire cycles due to human fire suppression has caused the insects to multiply uncontrolled. On a bus tour on the Highway to the Sun in Glacier National Park, I noticed an insect attacking spruce trees along the roadway . After questioning the native American tour guide I found out that this insect was killing trees all around the park. When I asked the guide as to what the answer to control this insect was, he answered with one word: “Fire!” In less then 2 weeks is our first seminar at the nursery about common mistakes gardeners make. The final seminar in March is the “What’s New” subject in which there are no less then 91 new plant items for 2014. With so many new items, the question is how to present the seminar without making it a 3-4 hour affair! See you soon! Tom

Friday, January 10, 2014

Dayton "Dirt" - January 10, 2014

What a blast of cold weather this past week! While we’re officially in climatic Zone 6 which indicates a maximum low temperature of 0ºF to -10ºF, temperatures, some areas dropped even more. At the nursery, the reading was at -12ºF just after midnight on January 7th. With the gusting winds and low temperatures it remains to be seen what damage or death of some ornamental plants may have occurred in early spring. Some more snow cover as was originally forecast would have helped greatly to seal off some of the cold and dry winds accompanied by this polar vortex. Our “official” climatic Zone 6 was determined by the Government to be that average of 30 years of weather data; however, occasionally temperatures can still drop us into climatic Zone 5. The 30 year average moving us up to Zone 6 is amazing because of the cold snaps of the late 1970’s, 1983, 1985 and the grand finale when the temperature dropped to a record -26ºF in 1994 to become the coldest temperature in Akron, Ohio since records were kept beginning in 1886. Before the “big freeze” I had been very busy at the nursery watering somewhat dry nursery storage huts as the root system on the plants would have been killed. Mr. John Ravenstein had told me about this phenomenon years ago when he worked at Klyn Nursery in Mentor, Ohio. In the 1960’s, Mr. Klyn was watering plants on the dry side in a winter storage hut and ran out of hose length so that he did not finish the job. In spring, Mr. Ravenstein observed that all the plants that were watered were fine in spring but those that Mr. Klyn left unwatered had all died after a severe cold snap. Other of my jobs around the nursery included the placement of an additional overwintering fabric on herbaceous perennials to protect the roots above ground in the storage huts as well as the placement of a product called microfoam over thousands of azaleas in storage. Azaleas have a tender root system that would be killed during a cold snap like this past week. The microfoam is a spongy polymer of a thickness of only ¼ inch. The insulating properties of this microfoam is amazing in that even after sustained cold weather in the single digits or lower only the top half of a plant root system ball will freeze as the ground heat is contained below the plants. I use the word ‘microfoam” to describe this overwintering blanket as the Dupont company used this trade name to differentiate it from other similar products. Although the much warmer weather is a great relief, too warm of sustained temperatures would not be a “good” thing either. A slow gradual warm up after mid-February would be ideal for farmers and gardeners. One wild ride of polar weather this winter is more than enough! Tom

Friday, January 3, 2014

Dayton "Dirt" - January 3, 2014

The new year of 2014 begins fresh with many having thoughts of improving health and fitness starting this New Year. In 2009, I remember reading an article in the Wall Street Journal about a number of men and women thrown out of work by the crash of 2008 beginning an earnest fitness program. A combination of a workout at the gym and later on gardening and yard work does take the boredom out of a regular repetitive work out. Another health issue to do with the vegetable garden is its bounty of fresh produce during the growing season to be followed by a freezer full of frozen beans, peas, corn, peppers and blueberries supplemented by canned produce such as pickles, mustard peppers, jams, jellies and beets. A root cellar comes in handy with a cache of potatoes setting along side tubers of dahlias, rhizomes of cannas and the corms of gladiolas just waiting for the time to irradiate those long summer days with dazzling displays of color. The beauty of the produce of one’s own garden is that the gardener is under control in his or her use (or lack thereof) of herbicides, pesticides and fungicides during the growing season. Many organic or nearly organic compounds are available today to control or eradicate a host of pests and diseases so that there is no residue of harmful chemicals. The health benefits of an abundance of fruits and vegetables and sparse servings of meat and poultry are now well known. Regular exercise and gardening is a good way to extend the quality of a long life. Plan to garden for health and for pleasure amongst other New Year resolutions. Tom