Wednesday, June 29, 2011

I'm a Daddy! - Guineas part 3

Happy Birthday!  First two keets were born Tuesday afternoon - June 28th.   

Their former homes.

Two more starting.

More progress.

Number three!

Happy little things, doing well.

Number 4.  Not doing so well.  Doesn't walk, legs wobbly.  Karen and Barbara inform me that's a very bad sign.  If not improved and doing well by Friday, may have to euthanize, since its brothers and sisters will notice its infirmity and destroy it otherwise.  Will keep you up to date.  Sad.  Keep your fingers crossed.

Number five born Wednesday morning - no pictures, yet.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Liliums--The True Lilies

Did you know that many plants that have “lily” as part of their common name (daylilies) are not “true” lilies?  True lilies belong to the genus Lilium.  Cultivated for more than 5,000 years, liliums are one of the most treasured species among all perennial flowers.  Cultivated lilies are classified into eight divisions based upon the number of blooms per stem, shape and presentation, of the individual flowers, and a separate class exists for species lilies.

Asiatic and Oriental lilies are the two most popular types of lilies for northern gardens. As the names suggest, Asiatic lilies have their origins in several areas in Asia, while the Oriental lilies started from a few species native to Japan.  So how can you easily distinquish what type of lilium you have?  Many Oriental lilies have raised papillae (whiskers)  in the petal nectaries (small pockets at interior base) of flower. The liliums shown here are Asiatic.

Asiatic lilies are among the easiest to grow. They're very hardy, need no staking, and are not particu- larly fussy about soil, as long as it drains well.  If you like flowers which multiply prolifically, bloom early, and has bright powerful colors, then Asiatics may be for you.  On the other hand, if you like heavenly scented flowers, Oriental lilies may be for you.  Oriental lilies tend to be more aromatic,  but are a bit trickier to grow and tend to spread much more slowly.

Understanding the difference between Asiatic and Oriental liliums will help you make the right choice.  Asiatics tend to bloom earlier with flowers of 4 to 6 inches in size.    Orientals bloom tend to bloom later in the season with fragrant flowers of  5 to 10 inches in full bloom. Regarding the height of the plants, the Asiatic lilies may be 2 to 4 feet tall, while the Oriental lilies tend to be taller.  Asiatics have the greatest range of colors and more variance in flower shape and bloomtime, but they usually have little or no frangrance.  Planting both can extend your lilium season.

Where, When and How to Plant Your Lilium

Lily bulbs may be planted in spring or in the fall, usually from mid-September through mid-October. If you find hardy lilies growing in containers, you may add them to your garden throughout the growing season. When buying locally, select firm, plump bulbs with roots attached. Plant them as soon as possible. Bulbs never go completely dormant so they must not dry out before planting.
Both Asiatic and Oriental lilies need five to six hours of sunlight every day. Oriental varieties, however, prefer afternoon shade too.

For best effect, plant lilies in groups of three or five identical bulbs. Space them eight to twelve inches apart, keeping groups three to five feet apart, depending on the vigor and size of the lilies. Plant small lily bulbs two to four inches deep and large bulbs four to six inches deep, measuring from the top of the bulb. Divide and replant large clusters of bulbs when the number of flowers start to diminish.

Never plant lilies where standing water collects after heavy rainfall. Well-drained soil is an absolute must. Add lots of organic matter to clay soil to create a raised area with improved drainage. Incorporate organic matter into light, sandy soil also, to help hold onto nutrients and prevent it from drying too rapidly.

Before winter, mulch over newly planted bulbs with four to six inches of loose, weed-free compost, leaves, or wood chips. This delays soil freezing and allows roots to continue growing longer. Mulch also insulates the soil against fluctuating temperatures, delaying the emergence of frost-tender shoots in spring.

Tiger Lilies (Lilium lancifolium) should be kept apart from other lilies since they can be carriers of viruses.

Caring for Your Lilies

In spring, leave mulch in place until the danger of hard frost has passed. If lily shoots grow through the mulch, start to remove it gradually – but leave it nearby so you can cover them again if another hard frost is predicted.

Fertilize the soil each spring with a phosphorus-rich formula such as 5–10–10. Slow-release fertilizers work well. Always follow label instructions when applying fertilizer.

Lilies usually have few pests, but rabbits and slugs can be a menace to emerging shoots. Aphids – small sucking insects – can also cause problems for flower buds. Carefully wash the affected plants with water sprayed forcefully from your garden hose to remove aphids.

Botrytis blight, a fungal disease, causes reddish-brown leaf spots and is often the result of damp weather or evening watering. When you water at night, the leaves often stay wet until the sun comes out and dries them the following morning, encouraging foliar diseases) Whenever possible, water early in the day, or water at the base of the plant rather than over head. Adequate spacing between clusters of lilies also promotes good air circulation and may help prevent disease.

Deadhead flowers as they fade, by breaking them off carefully. That way, none of the plant's energy is “wasted” on seed production. Do not remove stems or foliage, though. They'll continue to put energy into the bulb as long as they remain green. Remove old foliage in late fall or early spring by cutting down the dead stalks.  Lilies need well-drained soil in an area that receives sun or part shade. Lilies, like clematises, prefer their flowers and leaves in the sun while their roots prefer shade. They need to be kept moist. Lilies can be planted either in the fall or spring, whenever the bulbs are available.

Handle the bulbs carefully because the scales can be easily broken off. Space them 6 to 10 inches apart. Plant lilies with 4 to 6 inches of soil covering the bulb. This allows them to form roots along their stems. Tall lilies should be staked and protected from high winds. Mulch well to keep lily roots cool. Remove blooms when they die to prevent seedpod formation. Cut stems off at ground level after they turn brown, but never cut them down while the leaves are still green.

Dividing Bulbs

Lily bulbs do not need to be divided every year. Generally, every two to three years is sufficient. If you notice that your garden is overcrowded and the lilies are blooming less than they were in previous years, then it's time to divide your bulbs. They are all using a limited amount of nutrients and water in a limited amount of space and need more room to thrive.

Asiatic Lennox Lilium
When it's time to divide your bulbs, they are best divided in the fall, just after the foliage has turned yellowish-brown. This way, the plant has had a sufficient amount of time to absorb lots of sunlight and convert it to sugar (plant food) through the process of photosynthesis before you cut off the foliage and dig up the bulbs for division. You can also divide your bulbs during other times of the year--early spring is the second best time of year--however, your bulbs may experience stress, especially if you divide the bulbs in the middle of their growing season. Divide lily bulbs with your hands by pulling off attached bulbs. Do not use a knife. Throw out any bulbs that are rotted or damaged.

After you have dug up your bulbs and divided them, it is essential that you replant them within a few days.  Plant lily bulbs about 4 to 8 inches deep with the tips facing up. Space multiple plants 10 to 12 inches apart.


Monday, June 27, 2011

Preserving the Harvest - 2011

                                        Click on Picture to Print and Fill Out
We've expanded the offering for Preserving the Harvest Series to three classes this year and added a segment on drying methods.

These are all hands workshops that allow you to try various techniques for preserving what you grow, whether it's by water bath canning for acidic fruits and vegetables, pickling, pressure canning for low acid fruits and vegetables, and freezing and drying, including recipes and methodologies for making your own jerky.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Gardening with Guineas - Part 2

UC Davis Egg Breakout Poster
 It's been 22 days since putting the eggs in the incubator (Today is Sunday, June 26th). Their incubation period is 28 days, so now is the time to stop turning the eggs, put cheesecloth down to cover the wire floor of the incubator, increase the humidity, and increase air circulation.  The cheesecloth is used to help keep the incubator clean, and to protect the hatchlings from getting their feet caught in the wire floor.  I added more water to the trays in the bottom, and opened the red plug at the top to increase the fresh air supply.  All this is from the 4-H instructions that Barbara gave me that she uses with her Embryology classes.

The picture at the top is a candled chicken egg showing the developing embryo. Candling is the process of holding the egg up to a bright light that is focused on and behind the egg shell to see what's happening inside.

The University of Nebraska, Lincoln, has an excellent set of fact sheets, pictures, and video documenting the 4-H embryology program.  Start here and follow the links.

The guinea egg shells are thicker and don't show much (at least the pictures of the ones I tried to take don't). I've been assured that as long as there is space at the top, wide part of the egg, something is growing there. The top of the wide end is where the air bubble formed. The baby guinea will use what's called a beak tooth, or egg tooth, to peck out from there.

The process is called pipping.

From the book, Gardening with Guineas:
At first a very tiny pinhole will be noticed, sometimes on the center of what appears to be a light colored circular thin spot on the shell. Then a tiny piece of the shell will fall off. Soon the beak tooth will be seen pipping at the shell. Eventually, a somewhat jagged yet nearly straight line will lbe pipped around the shell, always toward the large end of the egg. Sometimes chirping can be heard from within the egg even before pipping is seen.
I'm getting kinda anxious and excited all at the same time. I haven't heard any chirping, yet. If all goes well, we'll have baby guineas by Wednesday or Thursday this week.

Brooder box ready to go. It's just a large cardboard box lined with newspaper and paper towels with a 60 watt light bulb for heat.  I still need to get their high protein starter feed, and appropriate watering and feeding trays. After hatching and drying off, the baby guineas will be moved here - their temporary home for a few weeks. The lamp is used to keep temperatures at 95 degrees or so for their first few weeks.

Baby guineas are not called chicks, they're called keets. To my mischievous mind, that opens up tons of naming possibilities riffing on the works of the poet John Keats. So far, I've come up with the obvious Truth and Beauty, and I've reserved Urn-y for the first male I can identify (not an easy thing to do, apparently, having to wait until they vocalize to tell the sexes apart). Indulge your English Lit fancies and suggest some others in the comments box.

For inspiration, here's Keats' famous work: Ode on a Grecian Urn.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What's That Bee Eating?

Laurie sends these pictures that her friend, Tim Herr from Georgia, took of what appears to be a bumblebee sucking the juices from a beetle.  This would be very un-bee-like behavior from our friendly pollinator.  Bees are vegetarians, not carnivores, so what's going on?

Turns out it's not a bee, but a carnivorous Robber Fly, Laphria spp.  The large compound eyes are a clue, and there is only one pair of wings, which makes it definitive, belonging to the insect order Diptera (two winged), not Hymenoptera (membrane winged).  
After injecting the hapless meal with saliva that paralyzes and digests the prey’s bodily contents, the robber fly retires back to its perch and slurps up its insect smoothie. Although humans are never on its menu, a robber fly can inflict a painful bite if mishandled.
Creepy.  But, they are considered beneficial in the same way that spiders are considered beneficial, in that they eat other insects, and like spiders, do so indiscriminately:
Robber flies are not picky. The down side to their eclectic appetites is that they will dine indiscriminately on those insects we gardeners consider beneficial. The upside is that they eat harmful pests just as enthusiastically. Overall, robber flies are considered to play an important role in maintaining a healthy balance in our gardens.
Lots more information, and some way cool pictures about these insects here, here, and here.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Gardening with Guineas - Part 1

About a year ago, as I was researching information on ticks and Lyme disease for the 2010 Farm Safety Day (blog post here), I came across a site that talked about the use of guinea fowl to manage tick populations. That site is here. That site, in turn, led me to another site and this book that expands the concept to bug and weed management in your garden with the help of guineas. I didn’t go into much depth, but I did make mental note for off-season reading and potential follow-up.

The thought became reinforced with all the hoopla we experienced last year (continuing into this year) about stink bugs.
Guniea Fowl are African game birds, related to chickens, whose diet consists of insects, bugs and weed seeds. What’s more, unlike chickens, they don’t scratch the dirt and ruin flower beds and gardens. They’re also still a little more wild than chickens, and so can be better at protecting themselves from predators, than their domesticated cousins, who seem to have had a lot of the smarts bred out of them.

So, I bought the book. Researched some more. Consulted with Barbara Aldrich, our 4-H Extension Educator who conducts a series of embryology classes with the local elementary schools, and ordered two dozen eggs from a farm in Iowa.
They arrived last week.

So, in the coming weeks, I’ll be taking pictures and documenting the progress of the hatch, their brooding period, imprinting and taming, and then the eventual controlled release and free range onto the property as allies to reduce populations of Japanese beetles, stinkbugs, ticks, weed seeds, etc.

Follow along with me.

Packed in granular sand
After carefully opening the box, we have our 2 dozen eggs, packed for protection during the mailing process.

Marked with an X in pencil
 In nature, on a nest with a broody mother hen, the eggs are naturally turned.  This is important to keep the growing embryo from becoming physically stuck to the inside of the shell, which increases mortality.  So, in an artificial environment like an incubator, you have to manually turn the eggs (some more expensive incubators have a mechanical egg turner built into them to make the process automatic).  Eggs should be turned a minimum of 3 times throughout a 24 hour day (more is better).  The X is a means to tell which side is up, so you can keep track of the turning process.  A pencil should be used, since other marking materials may give off fumes that may be poisonous to the sensitive embryos.

Placed in the incubator
 The incubator maintains a constant temperature and humidity level ideally suited for hatching.  Temperature should be at, or just under 100 degrees F.

Another Angle
Next week we should be able to candle the growing embryo and show the progress of development.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Bloom Day--Part 1, June 4, 2011

June means the start of summer and finally an end to the frantic spring cleanup and mulching. Long gone are the spring bulbs and the beautiful blooming shrubs and trees. Spring perennials are also winding down with their blooms. But most importantly to me, June means the long procession of summer perennials. In the Bloom Day Series I will share with you my favorite perennials throughout the season with the hope you may find something that piques your interest. The hard part will be limiting my choices as I tend to love whatever is in bloom.

Before I get to current blooms, I would like to share some spring blooms. Melittis melissophyllum is absolutely one of my most favorite spring bloomers. Relatively unknown to North American gardens, this 12" mounding perennial has downy, honey-scented foliage. Small orchid-like flowers are clustered near the stem tips, white with a wine-red lip and very attractive to butterflies. In my garden, melittis is planted in full sun with plenty of moisture and flowers in late spring.

Have you ever wondered how common plant names are derived? Well, this one certainly makes me scratch my head, and I take no credit whatsoever with bestowing the name "bastard balm."

Melittis melissophyllum, Myosotis, Alamo Fire Lupine

Phlox divaricata 'Blue Moon' is another spring favorite. The wonderful fragrance of Blue Moon is only outdone by the beautifully intense blue-violet color. Phlox divaricata, woodland phlox, prefers semi-shade with moist fertile soil and reaches 12". I have not been fortunate enough to have mine self sow.

Phlox divaricata 'Blue Moon'
If you like Centaurea montana, mountain bluet, then perhaps you will also like Centaurea montana ‘Amethyst in Snow’. I have always loved centaurea and because I have so many, I do not deadhead. Instead, when they get to the point of looking raggedy, I simply cut to the ground. They put out fresh growth and will rebloom. Amethyst in Snow has the same growing characteristics as mountain bluet. Both are prolific spreaders, so remember to deadhead or shear back if you don't want it to reseed...and believe me, it will reseed.

Centaurea montana ‘Amethyst in Snow’
Sweet William, Dianthus barbatus, won my heart by the simple fact it grows into beautiful bouquets. This is a short-lived perennial that is perhaps best grown as a biennial. Sweet William grows best in fertile, moist, well-drained soil in full sun, but will bloom longer with some afternoon shade. Sweet William has reseeded for me each year and I love finding it in unexpected places. I have read prompt deadheading of spent flowers (shear back large plantings) promotes perennial tendencies. Seed may be planted directly in the garden in late spring for bloom the following year.

Folklore has it that this flower honored William, Duke of Cumberland, on his return from victory over the Scots at the Battle of Culloden in 1745. Unimpressed, the Scots retaliated by naming one of their worst weeds Stinking Billy.

Dianthus barbatus

I discovered Kalimeris incisa 'Blue Star' about 3 years ago and boy and I glad I did. A long-blooming perennial that doesn't ask for much in return except well-drained soil...maybe some oohs and ahhs wouldn't hurt either. ‘Blue Star’ is a clump-forming perennial the will grow to about 18". When the plant finally starts to slow down in flowering, shear back a little and watch for blooms once again.

Kalimeris incisa 'Blue Star'
Bloom Day 2