Date and Time: Wednesday, April 8, 2020, 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Cost: $0-$30 / person self-determined sliding scale, pay what you can afford
You’ve learned how to make your vegetable garden bountiful…now make it beautiful too! Join Master Gardener, Teresa Craighead, as she covers: flowers for in and around the vegetable garden, things to consider when introducing vegetables into ornamental gardens, vegetables with ornamental qualities, potager gardens, elements of garden design, planting patterns that please the eye, structures and accessories. This class is designed for vegetable gardeners, ornamental gardeners and anyone who is striving to create a summer veggie patch that both pleases the palate and delights the eye by blending with an ornamental landscape.
If you happen to have a garden or have decided that this is the year to start one there are lots of things to keep you busy at this time of year!
Hopefully you waited until spring to clean up your garden to allow beneficial insects and other arthropods such as bees and butterflies to overwinter. Now that spring has sprung you should leave debris as long as you can to give these creatures a chance to emerge from their winter hiding places. You should start carefully removing debris from around blossoming plants. If you must cut back hollow stems, bundle them so any pollinators overwintering inside have a chance to emerge. As you are cleaning up be on the look out for praying mantis egg cases know as ootheca. This is one time when you should leave things till tomorrow!
Mulching is another spring time activity. There are many different types of organic mulch that will not only suppress weeds, but also add organic material to the soil as they break down. You don’t have to mulch everything, in fact many ground nesting bees such as bumble bees need a bit of bare earth to make their nests. And if you are mulching your trees make sure to keep the mulch at least 3 inches away from the base of the tree so that it is not touching the bark.
There are lots of places online where you can purchase seeds. If you still have seeds left over from last year and don’t know if they are still good, don’t throw them out, try this simple home germination test.
sterile potting mix
It is important to use sterile potting mix to avoid disease issues like damping off. Do not reuse potting mix and do not use garden compost.
You don’t need to buy a fancy container to start seeds. Just make sure the container has been sterilized and has drainage holes.
You want to keep the soil moist, but be careful not to over water or you may have a problem with damping off.
Some seeds need light to germinate, but all seeds need light after they germinate. Once your seeds sprout a light source will help prevent them from becoming leggy. You can purchase grow lights or just use a soft white fluorescent bulb. Here are directions on how to build a Low-Cost Grow-Light Frame.
Most seeds will germinate between the temperatures of 55°F and 75°F, but the optimal temperature for each type of seed varies. You can create a mini-green house to trap heat and moisture. You can also buy heating mats to warm the soil. Click here to see Soil Temperature Conditions for Vegetable Seed Germination.
Out in the Garden
Gardening is an activity for the whole family! Children love helping plant seeds! Right now you can be direct seeding cool season crops in your garden such as beets, carrots, lettuce, peas, radishes, spinach, and turnips. If you want to have a continual harvest, consider succession planting or seeding several smaller plantings of the same crop at timed intervals, rather than all at once.
While most people are busy seeding, some perennial plants are already coming up or even ready to harvest! Chives are a great example of a perennial that allows you add something fresh and green to your meals in the early spring. If you planted chives in your garden last year, they are probably already making their way to your table. This perennial of the onion family begins growing in early March and is able to be snipped with scissors and eaten soon after and throughout the growing season right up until the fall frost.
Another perennial making an appearance is rhubarb! Rhubarb is a great addition to any vegetable garden and as it is deer resistant and highly attractive it can also be used as part of your edible landscape. Although the leaves of rhubarb are considered poisonous, the stems of this spring crop that can be used to make the classic strawberry rhubarb pie as well as many other delicious snacks.
And as always, if you are having any issues in your garden, need help identifying the cause of a problem or figuring out a management strategy give us a call. Our Garden Helpline phones are staffed April – November, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, from 9:30 am – 12:30 pm. But you can always leave us a message or send us an e-mail.
Signs of spring abound! Bird songs fill the air. Buds on the trees are starting to unfurl. New shoots are breaking through the soil. And flowers are beginning to bloom!
Here are some of the flowers to look out for as you venture outside for a breath of fresh air.
When most people think of maple trees, flowers aren’t the first thing that comes to mind. Red maples are native to the eastern United States and happen to be one of the first trees to flower in the spring. Their bright pink to red flowers result in the production of thousands of winged fruits called samaras, colloquially referred to as helicopters. After ripening on the trees for several weeks they will fill the air and litter the ground.
Although many people equate the yellow blossoms of the forsythia with the beginning of spring, the forsythia is not native to New York; it actually native to eastern Asia. This fast growing shrub is a favorite among homeowners, because it is tolerant to deer, resistant to Japanese beetles, and rarely has disease problems. If you are looking for a native alternative to forsythia, try spicebush (Lindera benzoin). This medium sized multi-stemmed shrub has fragrant yellow-green flowers in early spring and supports 12 species of butterflies and provides berries for the birds.
One of the many joys of spring is the emergence of all the spring flowering bulbs. Some of them are already blooming: snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils (my favorite flower!). Despite its sometime unsightly appearance, make sure you leave the foliage alone until it turns yellow and dies back. This allows the leaves of the plant to produce food through photosynthesis. This food is stored in the bulb and will be used to produce even more beautiful flowers next spring!
Hellebores are also flowering! This evergreen herbaceous perennial is native to Turkey, but does well here in Orange County. It grows well in full or partial shade and has beautiful white to pink to purple flowers that bloom in late winter into early spring. Hellebores are rarely damaged by deer and as they are evergreen, after their flowers fade, they make an attractive ground cover
As you are out enjoying the sunshine, what other signs of spring do see or hear or smell?
Thanks to all of the Master Gardener Volunteers who provided their thoughts and photos for this post!
Although it seems like no one really knows what is going on right now or how long this situation is going to last, one thing that I am sure of is that there is no time like the present to start your own vegetable garden!
Whether you’ve been growing vegetables for 30+ years or this will be you first year, here is a list of resources that should help you along the way.
Vegetable Growing Guides From artichoke to zucchini, find information about site characteristics and plant traits as well as growing information and special considerations.
Vegetable Planting Guide This resource includes a chart that shows when you should seed things inside, when you should seed things outside and when it is time to transplant. (Note: Although written for Rockland County, it works Orange County as well.)
Average Last Frost Date Although the last frost date is important, keep in mind that even after the last frost, cool temperatures will stress warm season crops like peppers and tomatoes. These crops like nighttime temperatures consistently above 45°F and soil temperatures at about 70°F.
Soil Amendments and Fertilizers This guide includes fertilizer guidelines by plant group as well as information about pH adjusters, growth stimulants and potting mixes
Before starting a garden, it is always a good idea to get a soil test. As our office is closed, we are no longer accepting soil samples at this time. Fortunately, if you need your soil tested, you can mail it directly to the soil testing lab, Dairy One.
We recommend either a PrePlant Test or a Maintenance Test.
If you need help filling out this form, please give us a call.
Once you have your results, we would be more than happy to answer any questions you may have.
Vegetable Garden Problems
Vegetable PestsFrom cucumber beetles and aphids to spider mites and slugs, this guide will help you identify your pest and give you tips on how to manage it.
Vegetable Diseases Choose your vegetable and then look through Fact Sheets and Information Bulletins to help identify the disease and learn the best way to manage it.
Vegetable Cultural and Environmental Problems Sometimes you might think your plant has a disease when in fact the problem is not caused by a pathogen but environmental conditions or a cultural practice. This resource will help you diagnose your problem and teach you what you can do about it.
If you need help identifying the cause of a problem or figuring out a management strategy give us a call. Our Garden Helpline phones are staffed April – November, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, from 9:30 am – 12:30 pm. But you can always leave us a message or send us an e-mail.
Date and Time: Saturday, March 28, 2020, 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Cost: $10-$30 / person self-determined sliding scale, pay what you can afford
This class will help the beginning vegetable gardener learn how to choose a site for their vegetable garden, prepare the soil, start and transplant seeds, how to choose and use compost and mulch, how to care for your plants throughout the season, and when to harvest. Get the basics so you can have a great garden no matter how much experience you have.
Date and Time: Wednesday, April 1, 2020, 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Cost: $10-$30 / person self-determined sliding scale, pay what you can afford
Grow everything from artichokes to zucchini from seed at home. Save money and enjoy the miraculous process of seed germination and plant growth in your home to get you through these last weeks of winter and get your garden started early. We’ll cover techniques such as cold stratification and scarification as well as simple recipes for making your own potting and fertilizer mixes to save even more money. We’ll talk about tools such as grow lights and heat mats and soil blocks.
So in the time of uncertainty, I encourage you to grow some food.
The Great Backyard Bird count has begun! Starting today, February 14th until Monday, February 17th you are invited to join this citizen science project in which people all over the world spend at least 15 minutes simply counting the numbers and kinds of birds that they see.
The data collected from the Great Backyard Bird Count helps scientist learn more about bird populations including population fluctuation, migration timing, effects of climate change, etc. This is extremely important as birds are great indicator species and in North America we have seen significant decline in bird population in the past 50 years!
So please take 15 minutes of you time today, tomorrow, Sunday and/or Monday and participate in this amazing opportunity to contribute to scientific research!
Hemp may not be a familiar crop to you, but it has had a long history in this country and is poised to make a comeback in the Hudson Valley and throughout New York State. In the last five years, changes to federal and state laws have allowed for the growing of hemp. As a result, hemp has the potential to create an incredible economic boom for our region.
As demand for dairy and other traditional crops has declined, farmers are looking for alternative crops to provide a long-term base for staying in agriculture. Hemp may also be a means to keep younger farmers interested and involved in family farms. Some estimates for the return on investment in growing hemp for cannabidiol (CBD) are as high as 40%. This high return on investment is unheard of in agriculture, but as we are still in the earlier days of growing hemp in our region, it could turn out to be much less. Research is ongoing and there are many facets of hemp where little is known or where conflicting information exists.
Hemp can be grown for use as fiber, grain, oil and CBD. In the Hudson Valley most hemp in 2019 is being grown for CBD not for fiber, grain, or oil. CBD is a compound that is extracted from the female hemp flower and can be used for medicinal purposes. Unlike its cousin marijuana, CBD do not produce a “high” when ingested. There is a lot to learn about hemp and its potential impact on the agricultural economy of our region, but before we explore all the options lets answer some basic questions and introduce the crop.
What is hemp?
Both hemp and marijuana are varieties of Canabis sativa. Each is produced through selective breeding. Hemp is bred to produce fiber, grain, oil and/or CBD, while marijuana is bred to produce delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which is a psychoactive compound.
Genetically the two plants are very similar. Research shows that even though different genes produce CBD and THC, these genes are linked. This link between the genes creates a ratio of CBD to THC that influences the total amount of each compound in a particular plant.
Hemp can be useful in many ways that may surprise you. Historically hemp was grown to produce fiber for use in rope and textiles. Today hemp fiber is used for insulation, animal bedding, particle board, hempcrete (a mixture of hemp and lime used in construction), and some plastics. When synthetic fibers became more common in the mid-twentieth century, hemp and other natural fibers fell out of favor. Now as we look at the impact of plastic products in all forms, a renewed interest in natural fiber production, including hemp, has taken hold.
Hemp seeds are a good source of protein and can used like other seed to enhance a large variety of foods. They can also be pressed to produce a food grade oil that is high in omegas, vitamins, and minerals. As hemp oil has a low smoking temperature, the oil is best used for low temperature cooking. Hemp oil can also be used in cosmetics.
The medical side of hemp comes from using CBD extracts from the female flowers. (More about this will be in another article.)
Is it legal to grow hemp?
Yes, with the proper approval from the state it is now legal to grow hemp. Following the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, which legitimized industrial hemp research, New York State created an Industrial Hemp Agricultural Research Project Pilot Program to encourage hemp research. In 2017, the state expanded the program from a few educational institutions to farmers and businesses. The 2018 Farm Bill went as far as removing industrial hemp from the controlled substances list. Today hemp growers in New York are partners with the Industrial Hemp Pilot Program and supervised by the Department of Agriculture and Markets.
Is all hemp the same?
The simple answer is no. There is still much to be learned about the genetics of hemp plants and what is important for developing plants that will thrive in our soil and climate. Plant researchers are looking at both modern hemp plants as well as feral plants they find growing along ditches and hidden in fields. Some of these feral plants date back to the colonial period of cultivation. Others are from the pre-WWII era when hemp was a huge source of fiber. These plants may well hold the key to developing modern cultivars which are well adapted to the soil and temperature in New York State and still produce a high rate of CBD and a low rate of THC.
Do the plants all look the same?
All the hemp plants currently grown have similar looking leaves, but there is quite a variety of height, width, and flower development. And even though the leaf shape is similar, it too can vary in size. Plant breeders continue to select for plants that are both easy to cultivate and easy to harvest, but still produce good quality fiber, grain, oil, or CBD depending on the desired end product.
Do all plants produce the same products?
There are many of different hemp cultivars, each bred to produce either good quality fiber, grain, oil or CBD. Growers choose the specific cultivar that matches the intended use. Most growers in our region are growing for CBD production, not for fiber, grain or oil production. In the future plants may be developed to allow for multiple products to be economically processed from the same plant.
We live in a colorful world filled with plants, animals, and objects that are brightly colored or, in some cases, patterned, or even singular in color. As humans we often think that the rest of the world sees itself and its surroundings in the same way that we do. But nothing could be further than the truth.
As a teenager I had a wonderful friend, John, who was the first person I knew who was colorblind. Not just color insensitive, as many are, but truly and completely unable to perceive any color at all. His experience of the world was totally opposite to mine, as I am one of the lucky or in some ways unlucky people who perceive way more color than most people do. His daily view of things was more like that of a rabbit, who see in shades of darkness and light and contrast.
Learning more about how he saw the world and experienced paintings, gardens and simple things like traffic lights began my interest in color and how we can manipulate our surroundings based on adding or subtracting colors from a situation.
The animals who live among us and in our gardens perceive color in many different ways, and they interact with the plants we grow depending on what they see and how they see and interpret light.
All eyes use reflected light to create images that are the basis of sight. As humans, we have sight that can determine the shape, size and special relationship of objects, and we have sight that is color-based.
The same is true for animals. Birds have keen color sight that helps them with foraging for food, identifying prey and recognizing others of their species. Many scientists have been astonished to discover that some birds may not be able to see all the colors of their own plumage, while other birds can see more than enough colors to find and attract a mate.
Birds see more colors than humans as they are able to use ultraviolet (UV) light due to having four types of cones in their retinas – in contrast to humans who have three types of cones. Different species of birds have more or fewer cone cells in their retinas and thus different ability to see colors. The ability to determine subtle differences in shades of colors is an evolving ability in birds and thought to be something that aids in adapting to change in environment and availability of food sources.
Marine mammals, owl monkey, Australian sea lion, achromat primates
Most terrestrial non-primate mammals, color blind primates
Most primates, especially great apes (such as humans), marsupials, some insects (such as honeybees)
Most reptiles, amphibians, birds and insects, rarely humans
Some insects (specific species of butterflies), some birds (pigeons for instance)
The UV reflection from the waxy surface of fruits and berries makes them stand out from the green of foliage – and birds are better able to find them. Red berries are seen best and will be eaten first, so also growing some plants that produce orange or yellow fruit will extend the feeding season.
Many insects also reflect UV light, making them more attractive to birds as a food source. Certain bird eggs reflect UV light and help birds to identify their own eggs and reject those put in the nest by other birds. Many flowers have nectar guides that reflect UV light. These marking are visible to bees and butterflies allowing them to easily find the nectar at the center of the flower.
Deer have poor color vision limited to short (blue) and middle (green) wave lengths of color. They may have some UV sensitivity but not much compared to birds. Foxes do not see green and have little ability to see blue, red or yellow. So, these animals are not using color in the garden to find or choose what they eat!
Understanding which animals use color to find and choose food can help us in identifying plants to put into our gardens, and plants to leave out. It also can put to rest myths like deer choosing red tulips over yellow daffodils -because they are making a choice based on taste and smell, not sight.
Have you ever noticed one of these structures hanging on a Colorado blue spruce or an arborvitae? They kind of look like pine cones, but not exactly. Well, they aren’t pine cones, but silken bags spun and decorated by bagworms (Thyridopteryx ephemeraeform).
Bagworms are moths whose larvae feed on evergreens such as spruce, juniper, pine and arborvitae. The larvae can also feed on deciduous trees such as maple, elm, birch and sycamore. Bagworms defoliate the trees and shrubs they infest. In large numbers, bagworms can cause significant defoliation, which can lead to the death of the plant.
In late spring, bagworm eggs, which overwinter in their mother’s silken bag, hatch and caterpillars emerge. These caterpillars begin to form new silk bags, and as they eat, they cover it with bits of leaves. As the caterpillar grows, it expand its bags. Then in late summer the caterpillar firmly attaches its bag to the plant and pupates.
Complete metamorphosis from caterpillar to moth takes about four weeks. Adult male bagworms emerge from their bags as clear winged moths and begin to search for a mate. Adult female bagworms are wingless moths and never leave their bags. After mating females produce 500-1000 eggs before dying. Their eggs overwinter inside their mother’s silken bag and the whole cycle begins again.
Because bagworms are protected by their silken bag, management can be tricky. For smaller trees and shrubs the best tactic is to remove and destroy the bags by hand. Unfortunately, this is not possible in all instances, especially on larger trees and shrubs. Insecticides are most effective right after bagworm eggs hatch, when the caterpillars are small.
But how does one know when the eggs are going to hatch? Well, it turns out that there is a “Bagworm Forecast” that you can check in the spring to determine the best time to apply insecticide. The maps provided by this forecast are updated daily and available six days in the future, so you can plan ahead.
For recommendations on pesticides, check out the resources below. And as always, make sure you read and follow all the instructions on the pesticide label including the use of personal protective equipment. The label is the law!
As females don’t fly, you may wonder how bagworms spread. Bagworm caterpillars can balloon, or use their silk threads to catch the wind and travel long distances.
Despite relatively little protection for overwintering bagworm eggs, research at Purdue University found that it takes a 24 hr period at -0.6 ° F or below to kill the eggs. So if you live in Orange County New York don’t expect a cold winter to kill off your bagworms.
This article profiles an urban lot that was transformed into an oasis for body, mind and soul as well as for wildlife. This lot belongs to a local Master Gardener and illustrates how much privacy, beauty and biodiversity can be created with thoughtful design and considered plant choices. We’ll review the design principles employed in this yard and then take a look at the ecological needs fulfilled through the design and its implementation.
First and foremost, this design provides privacy and the sense that the space is an outdoor room. The lot is 50′ wide and faces southeast. The edges of the property are bordered by deciduous and evergreen trees. The tall Norway Spruce provides a strong anchor for the southern border and creates a shade garden for almost half of the yard, while the mature deciduous trees provide both frame and boundary for the property. Given that this garden is in shade much of the time, plant textures are emphasized in throughout the space. Since the plants are in groups instead of individual plants, the various textures become harmonious and interesting rather than chaotic to the eye. The repetition of plants by massing gives the design a simplicity that helps quiet the mind and gives one an opportunity to linger in areas and simply enjoy the beauty of a plant’s texture and color.
The central planter provides the main focal point of the yard and is the only place where we find a traditional lawn. The repetition of red in the plants helps to unify the yard and gives the focal point additional structure. The use of evergreen boxwoods around the base of the container ensures that the focal point will be held even in winter when the planter is moved indoors and allowed to go dormant.
The lawn around the focal point draws the eye to the back of the circle where a stone path peeks between the low shrubs and groundcovers. The curving shape of the path gives the landscape a sense of movement and entices one into the farther spaces. The copper birdbath provides another focal point that draws the viewer’s eye and invites the viewer to another part of the garden that is more private. The red pole, which supports an unseen, yet occupied birdhouse, gives us a hint that there is more to that part of the garden than we can see and provides a touch of mystery.
The yard evokes a feeling of balance with the shrubs softening the borders of the property and the understory trees filling the gaps between the shrub layer and the canopy of the deciduous trees. The varying heights of the plants provide visual interest and contribute to the feeling of privacy that is created in such a small space. The repetition of color throughout the garden contributes to the sense of balance, with the yellow-greens contrasting with the darker greens, yet not competing with them.
Seasonal interest was also a major consideration in the design of this space. There is year-round interest provided by many elements of the garden. The plants were chosen not only for their texture, but for their bloom times and flower colors as well. There is a continuous supply of flowers in the garden throughout the spring and summer and into fall. The changing color of the leaves of the trees and shrubs during the autumn supplies the visual interest that flowers provided the rest of the season. In the winter, the evergreens take center stage, furnishing a stark contrast to the more delicate structures of the deciduous plants.
Overall this garden creation has a feeling of unity, where all of the parts work together to create a coherent whole. The massing provides a rhythm that is relaxing and the multiple textures provide interest within that rhythm. The reiteration of certain colors also unifies the space by visually connecting different areas of the property.
Looking at the yard from an ecological point of view, the property provides all the layers of a forest garden: tall tree layer, low tree layer, shrub layer, herbaceous layer, ground cover layer and, of course, the root layer. The tall tree layer consists of both deciduous and evergreen trees. These trees provide food in the form of seeds and shelter within their branches to birds and squirrels. The leaves of the deciduous trees also supply an important habitat for insects, including butterflies and moths, providing spaces to lay eggs and food for growing larvae.
Since the garden was designed to be in continuous bloom for more than half the year, it can be considered an insectary. There are various flower shapes throughout the garden, providing food for many different types of insects. Some insects prefer umbelliferous flowers, while others prefer flowers with central florets like asters. The diversity of flower shapes and bloom times helps ensure that beneficial insects will have a continuous food supply and will help keep invasive and/or problem insects at manageable populations.
As we have spent much of this issue discussing soil and the soil food web, we need to look at our garden through that lens. In addition to providing mulch and habitat for overwintering insects, fallen leaves contribute to the soil structure and organic matter content in the soil. These photos were taken in spring and we can see how full and lush the vegetation is early in the season. This verdure is due not only to the care of the gardener, but more so to the health of the soil where these plants are growing. The soil food web is very dynamic in an environment like this and the result is the beauty that we see in these photos. May you be inspired to use these design principles and nourish your ecosystem to build a beautiful garden of your own.