Garden Gleanings

Gathered by Pat Patterson
Adaptive Garden Tips
Dona Clarke, MG, AGS

It’s not called Adaptive Gardening for nothing – we need to ADAPT our minds as well as our gardens! Tips to keep you gardening no matter what your age and abilities are...

* Put all the tools you'll need in a bucket or container and use a kneeling pad or kneeler with arms to work from. The arms are good for leverage if you have trouble getting up afterwards. Plus many of them turn over tobecome a bench for a rest afterwards or to vary your position.

* Use long handled tools that allow you to work sitting or standing. A weeder on a stick can save your back from hours of being bent over in the garden.

* Try a reaching tool for picking up litter. This saves your back the constant up and down movement when cleaning the garden.

* A garbage pail on wheels can be rolled around with you to save steps or try a hand-held bag on a pole to prevent bending.

* Use raised beds or pots so that you never have to get down on your knees.

A garden gives a body the dignity of working in its own support.- Wendell Berry
Biodynamic Composting

Various methods of biodynamic agriculture, as originally specified by Rudolf Steiner, have received abundant criticism from scientifically oriented agricultural researchers and reporters as unsupported by convincing evidence (mainly because most research on the methods has been done by biodynamic supporters who failed to include appropriate controls). But the nay-sayers won’t be able to dismiss so easily the results of U.S. Department of Agriculture and Washington State University scientists showing consistent differences between composting with and without biodynamic preparations.

Dairy barn manure mixed with pine shavings was composted outdoors in paired piles. One pile in each pair was treated with biodynamic compost preparations obtained from the Josephine Porter Institute for Applied Bio-Dynamics, Inc., Woolwine, Virginia, according to instructions provided by the JPI.

Preparations 502 through 507 were used; their principal ingredients are as follows: 502, yarrow (Achillea millefolium);

503, chamomile (Matricaria recucitata) blossoms; 504, stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) shoots; 505, oak (Quercus robur); 506, dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) flowers; 507, valerian (Valeriana officinalis) extract. Very small amounts (4.7 grams or less) of each preparation were added to each treated pile (approximate dimensions: 80" × 100" × 60")—so the dosage must certainly be deemed miniscule, if not homeopathic. Control piles received no preparations. The piles were sampled and their internal temperatures were measured on a regular basis.

Temperatures of preparation-treated piles were consistently higher than temperatures of non-treated piles, by up to about 10°F, throughout the composting process (50 days). On average, nitrate concentration in treated piles was about 65% higher than that in non-treated piles. And additional chemical analyses suggested that the population ratios of bacteria to fungi in the finished compost were different for treated and nontreated piles. The researchers conclude that treatments with biodynamic preparations might speed the composting process, might provide better control of weed seeds and disease-causing microorganisms, and might result in higher-quality finished compost.

But how can adding such a small amount of anything lead to consistently measurable changes in a comparatively large compost pile? The researchers argue that there are various well documented biologically active chemicals that are capable of causing major effects when applied in very small doses. An example is the plant growth regulator triacontanol. How Steiner came up with such potent materials for aiding composting is another question, of course—a question not addressed by the researchers.

Additional research results on the effects of using biodynamic preparations are scheduled for publication by the same researchers.

Reference: L. Carpenter-Boggs (Dept. of Crop and Soil Sciences, 201 Johnson Hall, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164), J.P. Reganold, and A.C. Kennedy, “Effects of Biodynamic Preparations on Compost Development,” Biological Agriculture and Horticulture 17(4), 2000, 313-328. (AB Academic Publishers, P.O. Box 42, Bicester, Oxon OX6 7NW, ENGLAND.)

A Sentiment from the Past   

Introduced in 1629, the Tussie-Mussie was a tight bouquet of fragrant flowers and aromatic herbs fashioned into a nosegay: its purpose, according to John Parkinson, the renowned herbalist who named it, was "both for sight and smell."   

     Our ancestors of those Medieval days believed that fresh air was dangerous to one's health; hence, they relied on the clean, fresh fragrance of herbs to mask the odors of everyday living.   

     It became fashionable to surround the nosegay with lace, and then tie with a ribbon.  The Tussie-Mussie was carried in the hand or tucked into the lady's bodice; in either case, the warmth of the body released the aroma of its floral/herbal contents.   

     A "language of flowers" evolved from the practice of attaching certain meanings to specific flowers and herbs when a Tussie-Mussie was presented to another as a gift.  But, by a slow transition, the flowers changed their symbolism to suit the legend of the Saints.  Very few of the original meanings remain undisputed today.  It is now the general custom to attach whatever sentiments to the nosegay's contents as suits the occasion.   

     Queen Elizabeth II was presented with a Tussie-Mussie as part of her coronation ceremony, and it is still the practice in many of the courtrooms in her Empire that immediately preceding the judge's entrance, the bailiff carries a Tussie-Mussie into the chambers and places it on the bench.   

     Whatever its beliefs and customs, mankind has kept alive an inherent love of floral decoration as an expression of the strongest emotions. Replete with charm, the Tussie-Mussie is an ancient symbol with modern appeal ~ a nostalgic return to the days when gifts were hand-crafted and given from the heart. 

Controlling Phytophthora root rot   

University of Minnesota plant pathologist Linda Kinkel reports “significant ”control of Phytophthora root rot of alfalfa following a single planting of buckwheat,oats,or sorghum-sudangrass.Other green manure crops (10 in all)that she tested did not provide as much disease suppression;in fact,some of the green manures apparently did “nothing to enhance soil antagonists ”to plant diseases.Her current goal is to design crop

rotation systems for potatoes,corn,and green beans that utilize green manures to suppress diseases. Reference:Anonymous,“New Research Shows Green Manure Crops Enhance Natural Disease Control in Soils,”Sustainable Agriculture 8 (12),December 2000,1.(University of Minnesota Extension Service,405 Coffey Hall,1420 Eckles Ave.,University of Minnesota,St.Paul,MN 55108.)

Bring on the Deleterious Rhizobacteria —with Compost!

U.S.Department of Agriculture researchers in Missouri have been looking for ways to increase soil populations of deleterious rhizobacteria (DRB),which weaken weed —but not crop —seedlings,putting weeds at a competitive disadvantage.DRB live on or close to weed roots,producing toxic substances and

plant growth hormones “that put weed seedlings into overdrive ...This overdrive weakens weeds as the fast-growing root cells rupture and leak.”  The researchers report that,based on laboratory and field trials utilizing several different cropping systems,DRB populations are generally highest in plots with crop rotations,mini-

mal tillage and chemical applications,and abundant organic matter.In particular,DRB “fared best in a corn-soybean-wheat-cover crop rotation.An organic strawberry system with compost was a close second .”Weed control:one more reason to use compost !


Reference:Anonymous,“Boosting Organic Matter in Soil May Create Ideal Soil Conditions for Weed-Suppressing Microbes,”Quarterly Report of Selected Research Projects ,July 1-September 30,2000,14.(ARS Information,5601 Sunnyside Ave.,Beltsville,MD 20705.)

Help a Lawn Survive Drought Conditions
... here are some highly practical suggestions from The Turfgrass Center

1. Reduce or eliminate nitrogen fertilizer because at this time of the year [summer] it overly promotes leaf growth at the cost of rooting activity. Plan on fertilizing in the fall when top growth slows down and root growth increases.

2. Avoid all herbicides because most can also lessen the vigor of grass roots, the last thing you want prior to or during a drought.

3. Reduce thatch and compaction as early in the year as possible so that moisture and air can reach the roots as easily as possible. Thatch can act like a sponge, capturing water before it reaches the roots, while compaction will increase rapid run-off at the cost of deep saturation.

4. Sharpen the mower blade several times during the turfgrowing season, because dull blades shred rather than cleanly cut grass, and shredded turf can greatly increase water losses.

5. Mow less or when it’s cooler because, no matter how you cut it, grass loses moisture after every mowing. Less plant moisture will be lost when mowing takes place at cooler times of the day.

6. Mow as high as possible to promote deep rooting and maximize soil shading. Although studies have shown that taller grasses can use more water, there is greater benefit to deep roots and reduced soil moisture loss from evaporation.

7. Leave clippings, not clumps, to add moisture, nutrients, and a mulching effect; however, remove clumps, because they will block the sun and heat up as they decay, killing the underlying grass.

8. Water Right

a. Water late at in the early morning to take advantage of cooler temperatures and less evaporative losses to the afternoon winds and hot sun.

b. Water infrequently and deeply to encourage roots to go deeper, where moisture remains available for longer periods of time.

c. Let the grass go dormant naturally by withholding water, except for a quarter inch every four to six weeks to keep the vital grass crowns hydrated and capable of greening up when temperatures cool and moisture is again available.

9. Reduce traffic on the lawn at all times if possible, but especially during the heat of the day, when foot traffic and even lawn mowers can injure the grass roots and cause almost immediate dehydration.

When cooler, wetter weather returns, you can help your lawn recover from a drought by watering deeply. This will wash dust off the leaves, rehydrate the dormant crowns, and initiate root growth. Heavy traffic should be avoided on recently watered lawns, as this greatly increases compaction.

Particle Films to Foil Insects and Diseases: -Update

Particle film technology is coating plant surfaces with materials that act as physical barriers to both insect pests and diseases. Clay presumably has negligible impact on health or the environment, making it a desirable alternative to conventional synthetic pesticides. And it appears that its main practical drawback, namely the need for special spraying equipment, is being addressed. Here’s a summary of the latest findings by U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers and representatives of the Englehard Corporation in New Jersey, the manufacturer of the clays being used in development work.

More recently, hydrophilic (“water-loving”) clay films, can be sprayed without methanol, and also have been shown to suppress insect pests and diseases. The use of hydrophilic rather than hydrophobic films is considered by the researchers to be an important advance in particle film technology, because it is hard to mix hydrophobic clays with water for spraying, and because the methanol used to make such mixing easier could pose health risks. Hydrophilic clay particle film technology could be poised to revolutionize pest control for commercial and backyard growers.

Reference: Gary J. Puterka (U.S.D.A.-Agricultural Research Service, Appalachian Fruit Research Station, 45 Wiltshire Rd., Kearneysville, WV 25443), D. Michael Glenn, Dennis G.

Sekutowki (Engelhard Corporation, Pigments and Additives Group, 101 Wood Ave., Iselin, NJ 08830), Tom R. Unruh, and Sharon K. Jones, “Progress Toward Liquid Formulations of Particle Films for Insect and Disease Control in Pear,” Environmental Entomology 29(2), April 2000, 329-339.

(Entomological Society of America, 9301 Annapolis Rd., Lanham, MD 20706.)

Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum)

Imagine a prickly cow parsnip on steroids. Giant hogweed is a perennial weed that is spreading through the Pacific Northwest, according to Jed Colquhoun, a weed specialist with OSU Extension Service, and Tim Butler, manager of the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Weed Control Program in Salem.

First detected in Oregon in 2001 in Eugene by the ODA, this weed is very invasive. By the end of 2002 63 sites had been detected, said Butler. It was introduced as an ornamental in the United Kingdom, Canada and New York.

Giant Hogweed is a member of the carrot family. It causes extreme and painful dermatitis in humans and animals. It exudes a watery sap that sensitizes human skin to UV. Severe blistering and painful dermatitis are often associated with contact.

Hogweed has dark purple spots on stems and leaf stalks and stiff, bristly hairs. It is tall and may reach 15-20 feet. It has raised bumps on the stems, unlike its look-alikes. Stems are 2-4 inches in diameter and support huge compound leaves up to five feet in width. The leaves are more jagged than those of cow parsnip. Its white lacey flowers are flat-topped umbels, up to two feet in diameter. The weed can form a dense canopy that displaces native plants. Because of its shallow roots, it may increase soil erosion risk along waterways.

It is adaptable to many habitats and is most found along roadsides, vacant lots, home landscapes and stream banks. Plants may not flower for several years. It reproduces by seed and by spreading roots. Plants die after setting seed. The seed reains viable in the soil for about seven years.

If you detect giant hogweed or have further questions, Please contact 1-866-INVADER. Photos at
Friendly Fungus Could Help Sugar Beet Fields Go "Green"
By Erin Peabody September 19, 2006

Scientists with the Agricultural Research Service in Sidney, Mont., may have found a natural alternative to the copious pesticides that sugar beet growers must spray on fields to fend off their biggest enemy: the sugar beet root maggot.

Stefan Jaronski, an insect pathologist who works at the ARS Northern Plains Agricultural Research Laboratory in Sidney, has discovered that a strain of the biocontrol fungus Metarhizium anisopliae is not only effective at killing the maggot, but is also a vigorous colonizer that can adapt quickly to its new environment. Jaronski's research builds on initial biocontrol efforts by ARS scientists at Fargo, N.D., during the 1990s. Even though the fungus is a newcomer to sugar beet soils, it's quite capable of holding its own among the hundreds of other microbes already established there.

Jaronski, who's been studying biocontrol microbes for more than 25 years, puts a lot of stock in Metarhizium. He considers them the fatal "athlete's foot" of insects, since the fungus first penetrates a vulnerable insect's cuticle, or "skin," using just a few spores. After that, it grows steadily inside the insect until finally overwhelming the host's entire body. Jaronski's next step is to develop an optimal delivery system for the fungus.

Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus)

Cardoon naturally produces an enzyme (Cardosine A) which will coagulate milk. This is a true vegetable coagulant and is used by most Artisan cheesemakers in Portugal. It is a member of the artichoke/thistle family. The flowers are plucked and dried and infused in warm water into a tea which is then used in the same way as one would use rennet: I usually use around 25 grams of dried flowers, twisted into a bag of cheesecloth, to a large cup-full of water to make up mine. I am not sure that it would be suitable for a cheddar-type cheese as it produces a more delicate set and, in my experience, seems to be rather more proteolitic than rennet. It has a quiet different life about it and it needs a perceptive person to work with it. { The amount you use will vary for many reasons... try 5 ml. of the mixture per litre of milk as a jumping in spot}. It grows fine in the U.S. and is perennial.

Cotton Gauze Row Covers Offer Alternative to Synthetics

Elmer-plantex cotton row covers, which have been used in Europe for several years to protect plants from frosts and pests, are now available in the U.S. According to Kerstin Tengeler, the U.S. distributor of the row covers, the cheesecloth-like covers, made from 100% unbleached cotton (completely biodegradable; can be composted), allow about 85% light penetration and are comparable to synthetic row covers in weight. The mesh construction allows good air circulation, preventing fungal diseases. The edges of the covers (available in rolls ranging from 5' to 27' wide) are pre-soaked in sunflower oil to retard breakdown when in contact with the soil. The manufacturer utilizes only hand-picked cotton to avoid defoliating herbicide residues; spinning is done in Germany, and weaving is done in the Czech Republic.

Clay Coating on Plants Keeps Insects and Diseases at Bay

“Revolutionary” is undeniably an overused word in media blurbs on new horticultural products and methods (especially pesticides!), but it appears to us that the word genuinely applies to particle film technology, which is quite different from previous pest control methods —whether “conventional” or “alternative”—and has the potential to completely alter the quest for new pest control techniques. From an emphasis on chemicals toxic to pests and diseases to an emphasis on physical barriers to pests and diseases: now, that would be a huge paradigm shift! In its present stage of development, particle film technology utilizes water-repellent kaolin clay powder sprayed on crops to prevent precipitation from wetting plant surfaces. This coating prevents damage by various (but not all) insect pests and some diseases by blocking access to the plants. Its toxicity is said to be “low,” but lung protection is required when spraying. The clay film forms a whitish coating on plants, but it does not reduce photosynthesis; in fact, photosynthesis can be boosted, sometimes resulting in better performance than that of noncoated plants. The coating gradually disappears, and a single downpour might carry it all away, necessitating re-spraying.

Besides the need for frequent sprays in areas with frequent rain, the biggest disadvantage of clay particle film technology seems to be its appearance. Growers of ornamentals will not want to look at white-coated plants! Most vegetable and fruit growers, especially commercial growers, probably won’t mind the appearance, though they will need to remove the particles from produce after harvest.

To date, most of the research on particle film technology has involved fruit trees. U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers at the Appalachian Fruit Research Station, Kearneysville, West Virginia, report that the clay coating provides good control of mites and leaf-rollers, early generations of codling moth, Japanese beetles (on blackberries), and pear psylla. The coating actually increases aphid populations, but the aphids tend to move far out on twigs, to be devoured by lady bugs. And the coating prevents symptoms of sooty blotch and flyspeck, but not apple scab. Commercial orchardists who tested the coating last year received permission to market fruit from clay-coated trees.

The U.S.D.A. researchers are working with the Englehard Corporation, a manufacturer of clay-based products. According to a spokesperson for Englehard, even after several years of research, more work is needed, including various modifications to the clay particles themselves (one possibility is to make the particles take up, rather than repel, water; coatings consisting of such particles probably would discourage insect pests, if not disease organisms, and might be more easily sprayed than water-repelling particles). In the longer term, substances other than clay might be developed into pest and disease barriers; there is even the possibility that transparent (or nearly so) barriers could be developed for use on ornamental plants.

Reference: Lee Dean, “Feature Film: New Technology Creates Barrier,” Great Lakes Fruit Growers News 37(3), March 1998, 1, 68. (Great American Publishing Inc., 343 S. Union St., Sparta, MI 49345.)


Share this