What's the best way to store
a year's worth of harvested onions?
We like to use old citrus
bags and sort out the damaged ones to be used first.
folks will tell you to leave a grafted apple alone for its first year
of life. The goal is for it to grow straight and tall, into a
one-year-old whip that is hopefully four feet tall (for an apple on MM111).
That makes a lot of sense if you want a tree to achieve its full height potential, but what if you plan to use high-density methods to fit more apples into a smaller space? As our grafted trees
surpassed waist height, it occurred to me that if I want branching to
begin relatively close to the ground, I might as well break the apical
dominance now rather than waiting until this winter to begin
pruning. The photo to the left shows what happens a couple of
weeks after snipping the top off one of the whips --- new branches begin
to form in the leaf axils of the top three leaves or so.
What next? The
photos above show an apple on MM111 rootstock that is several years
older, and also several weeks further along in its top-snipping
adventure. As you can see, I've tied down all but one of the new
branches so the tree will once again enjoy apical dominance while
turning the horizontal twigs into scaffolds. On a vigorous tree
like this one, I've managed to snip the top off the tree twice this year
(if I recall correctly), building two whorls of scaffolds in one
I doubt our little
grafted trees will put out much more growth this summer, but hopefully
they'll sink at least a little energy into the new branches. If
all goes as planned, when I transplant them to their new homes this
winter, they'll be a bit further along than the typical one-year-old
We didn't get the snake
today, but now we're ready.
If you need to do a lot of
animal grabbing then maybe the deluxe
critter catcher for 140
dollars could be justified, but threading the right size rope through a
PVC pipe is a lot cheaper.
A few weeks ago, we noticed a drastic decline in the number of eggs coming out of our coop. As day length decreases, it's normal to notice fewer eggs,
but a hen's lay usually drops off gradually rather than all at
once. Added to the mystery, some days our egg haul was back to
normal, followed by a series of days with only one or two eggs in the
nest box. What was going on?
Mark solved the mystery
when he found a black rat snake sunning itself outside the coop in the
middle of August. For a while, we gathered eggs earlier in the
day, and the snake seemed to have moved on, but numbers once again
declined this past week. Sure enough, this time Mark caught the
snake in the act, its body swollen around an egg.
rat snakes are completely non-poisonous, and from my days as a
naturalist, I know most are actually pretty friendly too. But I
still didn't feel comfortable just picking up the snake (which I planned
to relocate to the other side of the hill).
Instead, I tried pushing the snake into a bucket, then I ended up
chasing it across the coop where the reptile kept trying to slither out
holes which no longer fit its body due to the addition of the egg
lump. Eventually, the snake regurgitated its egg and disappeared
into the weeds...just as Mark appeared with a homemade tool to make
snake handling easier. Stay tuned for Mark's post on that topic
later (and, maybe, a successful catch this afternoon?).
Thanks for the comments on using a
miter saw blade with a weed trimmer.
Most people are like my
neighbor and report problems with it binding up when cutting small
trees which could be a result of not keeping the blade exactly even
during a cut.
Maybe in the future Stihl
will invent some sort of LED indicator you could look at and know which
way to tilt the blade to make the most level cut.
While we refer to our
"lawn" only in parentheses since the grass is full of dandelions,
clover, and whatnot and never gets fertilized (except with the chicken tractor), I do occasionally feel guilty about the grassy areas. Granted, on our farm, grassy garden aisles make sense,
but most like-minded people think all lawns are evil. However, as
I mowed Thursday, I started wondering whether the carbon dioxide coming
from our mower might not be offset by the carbon being sequestered in
the soil as grass blades and roots turn into humus.
Sure enough, independent
scientists (in addition to the lawn-care "scientists" you might expect
to feel this way) report that lawns do act
as carbon sinks. A minimal input lawn like ours that only gets
mowed with no other treatment sequesters about 147 pounds of carbon per
lawn per year (after you subtract out the carbon released by the
mower). The abstract I read didn't mention lawn size, but I'm
assuming they're using the American average of a fifth of an acre, which
matches up with another study that reports each acre of lawn sequesters
a net of 760 pounds of carbon per year.
Of course, cover crops
will put the puny carbon sequestration powers of a lawn to shame.
Sorghum-sudangrass will pump a massive 10,565 pounds of carbon per acre
into the soil, and oilseed radishes don't do so bad either at 3,200
pounds of carbon per acre. In fact, a 120-year-old northeastern
woodland only clocks in around the carbon sequestration powers of
oilseed radishes, and you can still grow tomatoes in the oilseed-radish
ground during the summer.
Which is all a very long
way of saying --- if you're considering making a patio or leaving that
area as lawn, go for the lawn. But if you really want to sequester
carbon fast, plant some cover crops.
Our neighbor mentioned that
he uses a miter saw blade on his weed trimmer.
The arbor hole is the same
diameter as the Ninja
brush blade. Make sure the teeth point to the left to take
advantage of the cutting teeth.
I only tried it on some rag
weed and it was like a hot knife cutting through butter. Our neighbor reported
when he tried it the blade would bind up on even medium sized trees. I
think we don't need the little bit of extra cutting power for such a
huge leap in danger.
I appreciated all of the thoughtful comments on my scarlet runner bean post
last weekend! Several of you correctly pointed out that the
species is actually a perennial, although the distinction won't make
much of a difference for most of us since (like tomatoes) scarlet runner
beans are perennials that act like annuals in temperate climates.
On the other hand, that reminder did point out that not only the green
beans, shelled beans, and flowers, but also the tubers of scarlet runner
beans are edible.
what I wanted to share today is a downside I just discovered of my
beautiful bean planting. Unfortunately, scarlet runner beans seem
to make awesome nurseries for Mexican bean beetles,
as you can tell from the holey leaves in the photo above (and from the
larva that was hiding in a photo in my previous post, repeated to the
left). We use the ultra-simple bean-beetle control method of
succession planting bush beans (explained in more depth in The Naturally Bug-Free Garden),
but adding scarlet runner beans to the mix means that this year's
beetle population exploded and quickly colonized my bush bean
plants. Good thing I'd already frozen several gallons of the
staple crop because the plants will probably soon bite the
dust.... I might try scarlet runner beans again, but this piece of
data suggests I should keep my for-food beans far away from my
for-beauty beans in the future.
On a semi-related note, our experimental fava beans
have come up! The seedlings look more like peas than like beans,
which is probably because fava beans are really a vetch. We hope
to experiment with eating both the fava bean seeds and the scarlet
runner bean seeds at lima bean stage...even though I don't think I've
ever eaten lima beans before in my life. For those of you who are
more experienced --- what kind of introductory recipe would you
When is the best time to pick
We pick them once a week this
time of year after they turn black.
They make yummy sprouts for
greening up tuna salad during the Winter months.
week, the world seems to be chock full of soldier beetles.
Specifically, these goldenrod leatherwings are in a mating frenzy --- I
counted half a dozen on just a few echinacea flowers on Wednesday
With nearly 500 species
of soldier beetles in the U.S., gardeners aren't likely to learn them
all by name. But I'm pretty sure all of the soldier beetles are
either innocuous or beneficial (although some of their larvae are minor problems on fall fruits).
The beneficial species
are handy because the larvae eat slugs and snails while the adults
consume aphids. Other species (like the goldenrod leatherwing)
seem to fixate on nectar instead, but the world can't have too many
(Yes, this post is just an excuse to share pretty bug photos. What can I say --- they're cute!)
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