New transplants, even those hardened off in a cold frame, may need protection from strong winds when set out. Wooden shingles placed to block the wind used to be recommended but are now difficult to find. Try a plastic milk jug or a 2-liter soda bottle with both the bottomand top cut off. Push the jug or bottle into the soil far enough so it won’t blow away. In windy conditions, it may need to be stabilized with a wooden dowel or metal rod. (Ward Upham)
There has been growing interest in straw bale gardening. What better place to try this than in Kansas where straw is so abundant. First, some pointers.
∙ These are the “small” straw bales that are about 2 feet high and 3 feet long.
∙ Place the bale on edge so the twine doesn’t rot.
∙ Bales can be placed anywhere including concrete or asphalt. Just make sure there is plenty of sun and watering is convenient
∙ Water the bales and keep them wet for 3 days. The bale will start to heat up as it breaks down.
∙ On days 4, 5 and 6, sprinkle fertilizer on the top of each bale with 1 cup of ammonium sulfate (21-0-0) or ½ cup of urea (46-0-0). Water the fertilizer in. This speeds the decomposition process.
∙ On days 7, 8 and 9, continue to sprinkle fertilizer on each bale but cut the amount in half.
∙ Stop fertilizing on day 10 but keep the bale moist.
∙ Check for heat on the top of each bale for each day after day 10. When the temperature drops to below 100, the bale can be planted.
∙ Pocket Method: Make a hole for each plant several inches deep and fill with growing medium.
∙ Flat Bed Method: Cover the top of the bale with 3 to 4 inches of growing medium.
∙ The growing medium can be well-aged manure, compost or potting soil.
Number of Plants per Bale
∙ Cantaloupe: 2
∙ Cucumber: 3-4
∙ Peppers: 3-5
∙ Squash (winter) 2
∙ Squash (summer) 2-3
∙ Tomatoes 2-3
Watering will be the most challenging aspect of management. The straw will dry quickly. A drip irrigation system on a timer can work well but may take some time to set up. Gardeners may also use soda bottles or milk jugs to water by poking drip holes in the lid, filling with water and then turning upside down next to the target plant.
This information was taken from an excellent publication from Washington State University that includes much more detail as well as images. (Ward Upham)
We are entering storm season and various areas of the state will likely have high winds, excessive rainfall and hail. This column deals with what can be done to help our gardens recover.
Heavy rain: The force of rainfall pounding on the soil can result in a thick crust that prevents seed emergence and partially blocks oxygen from reaching roots. A light scraping after the soil surface has dried is all that is needed to correct these problems. Be careful of deep tilling as it may damage young, tender roots.
Standing water: Standing water cuts off oxygen to the roots, which can result in plant damage if it doesn’t drain quickly enough. Most plants can withstand 24 hours of standing water without harm. Hot, sunny weather can make a bad situation worse by the water becoming hot enough to “cook” the plants. There isn’t much that can be done about this unless a channel can be cut to allow the water to drain.
Hail damage: Plants should recover quickly as long as the leaves only were damaged by the hail as leaves regenerate quickly. The situation becomes much more serious if the stems and fruit were damaged. The plant can recover from a few bruises but if it looks like the plants were mowed down by a weed whip, replanting is in order.
Leaning plants: Either wind or water can cause plants to lean. They should start to straighten after a few days. Don’t try to bend them back as they often break easily. (Ward Upham)
If you had cucumbers or muskmelons that suddenly turned brown and died last year, you may have had a disease known as bacterial wilt. The cucumber beetle carries this disease. Once a plant is infected, there is no cure, so prevention is the key. Because cucumber beetles overwinter as adults, early control measures are essential.
There are two types of cucumber beetles: striped and spotted. The striped cucumber beetle is the most common but both can carry this disease. The 1/4-inch-long beetles are conspicuously colored: black head and antennae, straw-yellow thorax, and yellowish wing covers with three distinct parallel and longitudinal black stripes. Young plants can be protected with row covers, cones, or other types of mechanical barriers. Edges must be sealed to ensure that the beetles do not find a place to enter.
Plants will eventually outgrow these barriers, or they will need to be removed to allow insect pollination of the flowers. Apply insecticides before beetles are noticed in the planting. Continue to spray weekly throughout the season.
Homeowners can use permethrin (Bonide Eight Vegetable, Fruit & Flower Concentrate and Hi Yield Garden and Farm Insect Control ). Once plants have started flowering, spray in the evening after bees have returned to the hive and the flowers are closed. (Ward Upham)
This time of year we often receive questions about ants crawling on peony buds. The ants are feeding on an exudate from the bud; they do not feed on the flowers themselves. The exudates is high in sugar and therefore a good energy source for the ants. The ants also seem to help protect the buds from other insects that would like to feed on the buds. This is a symbiotic relationship one in which a relationship between two organisms works to the benefit of both. The ant gains a high value food source, and the peony receives flower-bud protection. So if you see ants on your peonies, leave them be. They are not harming the peonies. (Ward Upham)
Both the adults and the larvae of the ladybird beetle are beneficial and do not feed on plants but rather on other insects including aphids, mealybugs, whiteflies, scale insects and the eggs of various other insects. So if you see these insects, do not spray.
A common larval form looks like a very small alligator-shaped insect. Larvae are covered with spines, about 3/8-inch long, and black with orange markings. (Ward Upham)
Most people enjoy the wide variety of wildlife found in Kansas until that wildlife becomes a nuisance or damages property. K-State has a web site on wildlife management that is helpful. Species covered include everything from bats to woodrats. Each species page also incorporates quick links for more in-depth information. One of our most common pest species, moles, includes videos on tracking an active tunnel and setting a mole trap.
This site is an excellent resource for the various options of dealing with our interactions with wildlife in a safe and effective manner. (Ward Upham)
May is an excellent time to fertilize cool-season lawns such as tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass if they will be irrigated throughout the summer. Non-irrigated lawns often go through a period of summer dormancy because of drought and do not need this fertilization.
May is a good time to fertilize because the springtime flush of growth characteristic of these grasses has tapered off, so the fertilizer you apply will be less likely to cause excessive shoot growth than if you fertilized at a full rate in April. Slow-release nitrogen sources are ideal. These nitrogen sources promote controlled growth, which is desirable as the stressful summer weather approaches. Relatively few fertilizers available to the homeowner supply ALL of the nitrogen in the slowly available form. But one such product that is widely available is Milorganite. Other such products available in the retail market include cottonseed meal, alfalfa-based fertilizers, and any other products derived from plants or animals. (Bloodmeal is an exception, and contrary to popular belief, the nitrogen it supplies is quickly available.) These products are all examples of natural organic fertilizers. They typically contain less than 10 percent nitrogen by weight, so compared to most synthetic fertilizers, more product must be applied to get the same amount of nitrogen. Translation: they are more expensive! Apply enough to give the lawn one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. For example, if the fertilizer is 6 percent nitrogen by weight, you will need to apply almost 17 pounds of fertilizer product per 1,000 square feet.
Summer lawn fertilizers that contain at least a portion of the nitrogen as slow-release are fine to use as well. Be sure to follow label directions. If cost is prohibitive, you can use the less expensive quick-release (i.e., soluble) sources, but split the application into two doses as follows: apply enough to give the lawn 0.5 lb nitrogen per 1,000 square feet in May and again in early June. (Ward Upham)
Ward Upham runs the Horticulture Response Center in the Department of Horticulture and Natural Resources at Kansas State University. Other contributors include K-State Extension Specialists.