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Square Peg Pollinator Garden: Part 2

So, for anyone in the area, you already know this was a pretty terrible growing season. It warmed up early this spring, but was rather dry. My carrots and onions took over a month to germinate, usually it takes about two weeks. And I was watering them! The Farmer’s Almanac is generally right-on with their regional predictions, they predicted a hot and dry summer. So we saved about 300 gallons of rain water. We have not yet touched it, because in early-May it rained, and rained and rained. Just now, in mid-August, we are getting some relief. We have had so much rain that combines harvesting wheat this week, are routinely getting stuck in wet spots in the fields. Near our farm, entire fields of potatoes are rotten in the ground. It’s been a rough season and progress on our Pollinator Garden (PG) shows. We are harvesting crops and many of the plants in the PG are looking good, but much is languishing.

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This was a regular sight in many gardens and fields, in the area, into July.

Because the PG has become a passion for me, I plugged along the best I could with planting. I have some big bare spots in the new garden set aside for pollinator plants, but ended up expanding my idea of a PG to the ornamental and herb garden near the house too! I’m actually very glad that I took the Master Gardener course, it gave me some direction of how to fill up my ornamental bed. In the past 5 years I’ve only planted a handful of species, because I didn’t really know what I wanted. I would pick up a plant I liked one at a time and put them in. I had no real plan, so this is great! So, my PG went from a few hundred square feet to about 700 square feet.

For more resources about Pollinator Gardens or native plants, see the resources listed at the end of this post!

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Side note: the mulch in this bed has truly made it low-maintenance. Besides a few places where a chicken wandered in and moved the mulch around, no annual weeds sprouted and I’ve only had to manage the few tree sprouts from flying seeds and the burdock and quack-grass that are prolific on this 5 acres. More on mulching in future posts!

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this post, the PG on farm is the second that I am involved in. The first is a garden in Leistikow Memorial Park in Grafton, ND that was funded by the MG program and planted, designed and cared for by Grafton-area Master Gardener Interns with some help from the Grafton Garden Club and the Parks and Rec staff. This cause has become such a focus for me, because with all the crazy and reckless things going on in the world today, this is something that I enjoy (growing plants) that can make a difference for other living things that can be so easily harmed without us realizing it.

Bees are responsible for about 75% of food crops around the world. Needless to say, pollinators are important. Many folks have heard of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) in honeybee hives and the plight of the Monarch butterflies. Less known is that our native pollinators, like bumblebees, mason bees and other butterfly species are also experiencing decline. There are many factors at play: diminishing habitat with the proliferation of lawns and wildflower-free spaces, increased use of insecticides that harm those that we don’t intend to harm and loss of native flowers that are more nutritious for the native pollinators that have evolved along side them. Many of our native pollinators, especially native bees, are much more effective at pollinating than managed honeybees so are a very important resource. And who wouldn’t love to see more butterflies around the garden, Monarch or otherwise? So here I am, sharing my PG and, hopefully, inspiring you to do what you can to support these wonderful creatures.

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Our gardens are a Master Gardener Certified Pollinator Garden. Through the MG program, gardens in the area that meet requirements can be certified. Here‘s a link to more info on certifying your garden! To be considered pollinator habitat by this program, a garden does need to meet some requirements. A certain number of plants must be chosen in each season, by bloom time. This ensures that pollinators will have a source of nectar and pollen all through the growing season. Early spring blooms and flowers that bloom in late fall are especially important for Bumblebee Queens as they come out of, or prepare for hibernation. A majority of the species planted should be native plants which often serve as host plants for butterfly larvae as well as providing good quality nectar. A water source must be provided: a nearby pond or stream, birdbath (water changed regularly to keep mosquitoes from breeding) or butterfly puddler. Bees and butterflies need safe places to overwinter: bee houses, leaving leaf litter, bare ground, waiting to cut back perennials and ornamental grasses till spring and leaving some dead-fall or standing dead wood are all options. A participant would also pledge to use pesticides wisely: not spraying blooming plants and using methods other than insecticides when possible. Many of these were easy to meet on the farm, we have a puddler (just a pie tin dug into the ground and filled with sand and rocks) when it isn’t raining I come by with a watering can, but haven’t seen anyone visiting yet. We have plenty of standing dead and dead-fall in the back woods and I will also be leaving my perennials up through winter for something interesting to look at and for the birds.

Here’s a list of the perennials I have added (so far) that provide pollinator services:

Spring blooming: Shooting Star, Prairie Smoke, Columbine, Wild Lupine

June flowering: Golden Alexanders, Butterfly Milkweed, False Indigo

Summer blooming: Rose Milkweed, Black-eyed Susan, Prairie Blazing Star, Purple Coneflower (Echinacea Purpurea), Bee Balm, White Swan Echinacea, Shasta Daisy

Fall flowering: Stiff Goldenrod, Autumn Joy Sedum, Emperor’s Wave Sedum, New England Aster

Annuals: Alyssum, Cosmos, Lantana, Marigold

Herbs: Basil, Borage, Chives, Lavender, Comfrey, Oregano, Calendula

Grasses: Little Bluestem, Sweetgrass (hierochloe odorata)

I really have had no love for ornamental grasses in landscaping in the past. However, the more I learn about prairies ( did you know that prairies are now considered the most endangered ecosystem? Over 80% of North Dakota’s native prairie grasslands are gone) the more I appreciate seeing some native grasses in a landscape design. I still don’t enjoy seeing them included as much as some designers use them, but I’ve come to appreciate the way that a few sporadic ornamental grasses can give a garden a sense of place here in the prairie lands.

I’ve had a great time watching these plants grow and watch all the different pollinators that are visiting the garden. Some of the plants, just as those in the vegetable garden, are turning yellow from too much rain. The roots are suffocating. Luckily I started many of these from seeds, so, if I loose them I will try again next season. The ones who have fared worst are the False Indigo (Baptista) and the Lupine (not one I expected to make it in our heavy clay.) Some, like the smallest Coneflower seedlings and my Calendula were eaten. I expect the culprit was a gopher, but a live trap baited with Calendula resulted in no catch, so I will never be sure. Next year, when many of these plants have filled out, I will be sure to post more photos.

There are too many pollinator friendly annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees for me to list here. Please check the resource list below for more information.

As part of my MG commitment, I do intend to spread the word about Pollinator Gardens through classes and informational booths in the area. If you have interest in a guided tour of our Master Gardener Model Pollinator Garden here in Walsh County, please let me know!

UPDATE: Though I do have some regional nurseries listed here, please check your local greenhouses and garden centers. Native plants and pollinator friendly plants are a trend that is catching on around the country. We found a good portion of our native plants at garden centers in Grafton and Grand Forks. The more unusual selections, or plant cultivars we selected specifically for our Model Pollinator Garden were sourced from the nurseries listed below.

Certified Pollinator Garden Resources from NDSU Extension

Heather Holm: Providing sustainable residential landscape designs utilizing regional native plants. Specializing in pollinator gardens. I was able to hear her speak at the MG conference this summer, she’s written a great book on Native Pollinators.

Prairie Moon Nursery Native plant nursery and information

Prairie Nursery Native plant nursery and pre-planned gardens.

Morning Sky Greenery Native plant nursery and information

If you are on Pinterest and want some ideas for pollinator and other wildlife-friendly garden ideas, follow my Pollinator board.

 

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Square Peg’s Pollinator Garden-Part 1

This is a two-part post on the development of our pollinator garden here on the farm. Much prep work has been done and now we just wait for plants and ‘proper’ planting time here in Zone 4a.

Like any good pollinator-conscious farmer or gardener, I make it a point to have a variety of flowers around that will feed the bees and butterflies. This year I’m going to take it to the next level and start a pollinator garden. It includes many native plants that are very nutritious for pollinators along with annuals, herbs and a few fun accents.

This winter a friend and I took the Master Gardener course offered through NDSU Extension. What a great program! I would highly recommend it for anyone with a love of plants. To be called a Master Gardener, one must complete the course and 48 hours of volunteer work over a 2 year period. There is an option to just take the course but it is pricier. This course really got me motivated for new projects around the farm, this pollinator garden being one.

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This spring, when the snow melted off, I picked a site for the new garden that was previously very shady so nothing much had been growing there last season. Dave had taken out some existing shrubs and trees and it should be a great mix of sun and shade-there’s another first, this will be my first foray into gardening in a shady area. This area was dry enough in March to be tilled, so the ground was worked and tarps used to cover to suppress weeds.

This area will get a thorough mulching, maybe bordering on Lasagna Garden style. The last thing I need is more space that needs to be weeded! The first layer I put down was partially composted chicken manure/bedding. We use ‘deep bedding’ in our winter coop, adding fall leaves, straw and wood chips throughout the winter to absorb the nitrogen from the manure and give the chickens something to peck through to find seeds and bugs. This mixture of high-carbon material and manure starts to compost right under the chickens providing a bit of heat from the floor of the coop. Coming straight from the coop, this partially composted mixture will serve as an initial mulch layer and a soil amendment and will be topped with clean straw, hay or other clean mulch. This was put down in early April and continued composting on the garden site, under tarps.

Please note: this is NOT the way we add compost to a garden which will produce edibles. In that case the manure would be put into the compost pile to breakdown fully. This garden will have a few herb plants, but it is not meant to produce food crops.

As it’s a bit early calendar-wise, in our neck of the woods, I’m waiting to see many of the plants on my pollinator plan. Some are still growing in the hoop house on farm and some just haven’t shown up from the native plant nursery where I placed my order or in the local greenhouses. I ordered quite a few seeds for natives from Prairie Moon Nursery in Winona, MN and had a great experience with them. I have some native plants coming from Morning Sky Greenery in Morris, MN and just haven’t received them yet. But it’s May, in North Dakota. I need not be in such a hurry.

Here’s a short list of some of the plants that will inhabit this garden, many are native to our area and so provide good nutrition for our native pollinators.

  • Wild lupine
  • Rudbeckia (Black Eyed Susan)
  • Echinacea (Purple Coneflower)
  • Prairie Smoke
  • New England Aster
  • Royal Catchfly
  • Goldenrod
  • Golden Alexanders
  • False Indigo (Baptista)
  • Autumn Joy Sedum
  • Wild Columbine
  • Chives
  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Trout Lily
  • Dutchman’s Breeches

This is a partial list, Part 2 of our pollinator project will contain a full list and photos of some of these great plants! Happy Spring!

 

 

Our favorite ways to beat the weeds

Our veggies are finally taking off with the wet, then hot, weather we’ve been having. So have the weeds. Generally, I take the attitude of ‘do your best with weeds early, then let the crops fend for themselves.’ No more! I have vowed to get them early and often, and may employ some cover crops to help eliminate the problem as much as possible.

We can easily get caught up defining our practices by what we don’t do. When we are dealing with weeds, we don’t use herbicides. That leaves a question, what DO we do about weeds? Since this is our major weed battling season, I feel like it’s a good time to tell you what we do, rather than what we don’t! So, what are the favorite weed control methods, here at Square Peg?

Stirrup hoe

Of course there are different methods that depend on what weeds you are battling and what size they are. For the teeny-tiny weed seedlings that crop up between plants or in walkways, our favorite tool is the stirrup hoe. It’s also called an action hoe or oscillating hoe. It’s great because you can make two strokes as you move the hoe in the soil, back and forth, rather than just back (toward your body) as with a traditional hoe.

 

Traditional paddle hoe (left) and stirrup hoe (right)

Traditional paddle hoe (left) and stirrup hoe (right)

Flame weeding

Another great method for tiny to medium-sized weeds is the flame weeder, also called a weed burner. It’s really just an attachment on a propane tank that allows you to direct a flame where you need it. Larger farms use models that can be pulled behind a tractor or 4 wheeler. We aren’t there just yet.

Our favorite ways to beat the weeds | Square Peg Food Farm

The flame weeder is great for large swaths of weeds and areas that have been seeded, where your crop hasn’t emerged yet, but the weeds have. I used it on some beds seeded to onions and carrots which take a long time to sprout.

After just a few moments of flame weeding, the difference is drastic.

Our favorite ways to beat the weeds | Square Peg Food Farm

Before flame weeding

Our favorite ways to beat the weeds | Square Peg Food Farm

After flame weeding

Tillage

For really large areas of weeds, small to medium in size, the tiller is a nice option, as well. We try to use the tiller only when it really makes more sense than flaming or hand hoeing. Using the tiller can bring just as many weed seeds to the surface to germinate as weeds that it tills under. Side-note: pigweed seeds can stay viable in the soil for 10 years OR MORE!

Tillage also brings more of the soil into contact with oxygen, allowing soil organic matter to decompose faster. We want as much organic matter in the soil as possible. Organic matter absorbs moisture allowing crops to access it during dry periods. It also feeds the micro-organisms that are abundant in a healthy soil, among other things.

Tilling is still a good option, because it buys some time for the crop to get established and shade out any weeds.

Hand weeding

For larger weeds, weeds growing close to desirable plants, and those with taproots, like dandelion or thistle, pulling them by hand is the only good option. For those with a tap root, a dandelion puller is a necessary tool. Be sure to have some good gloves for this job, to avoid blisters and, ya know, thistle prickles.

Mowing

If you get really desperate and the weeds get really large and out of control, you just might have to resort to mowing them down. Or using the weed eater.  Yes, I’m serious. Yes, we have experience with this. Probably too much experience. When you are pregnant and dog-tired one year, and have a new baby to care for the next year, weeds take a back seat. THAT is why we are getting serious about them from here on out.

 

What is your favorite method to beat the weeds?

 

 

Spring is Springing!

The past few days have been really great here in our part of the valley. We almost hit 50 degrees ABOVE zero yesterday, and there are snow-less patches everywhere. This weather has got us pretty excited to get planting. There aren’t too many things that can be seeded indoors this early, but I do have some herbs, cabbage and broccoli going in our seed cabinet.

I also have a garden plan for the season, and I thought this would be a great time to share what we plan to grow this season, and what you can expect at the market booth and in CSA boxes in a few months.

Green beans – 2 varieties

Dry edible beans – at least 1 variety, up to 3

Beets – 3 varieties, red and golden

Broccoli – 1 or more

Cabbage -2, one early season and one that is good for storage overwinter

Carrots -lots, including one purple variety

Cucumbers -at least 1 variety

Corn – at least 2 including a bi-color

Eggplant -1

Herbs -many, including: basil, borage, cilantro, parsley, mint, lemon balm, oregano, chives, thyme, edible flowers and others

Lettuce -3 or more

Kale – 2 varieties

Onions -several, bunching and bulb type

Peas -at least 2, shelling peas and snow peas

Peppers -several, sweet bells of many colors (including purple), hot peppers and mini-lunchbox peppers

Pumpkins -at least 1, though I might go overboard again this year

Radish -at least 2

Shallots -1 variety

Spinach -at least 1

Summer Squash -3, yellow, green (zucchini) and a scallop variety

Swiss Chard -1 variety

Tomatoes -many, I can go really crazy in this area! Yellow, red, green, black, cherry and possible others

Watermelon -1 variety

Winter Squash -at least 2, butternut, spaghetti and possibly one other

Expect a wide variety of tomatoes, peppers and winter squash. These are the veggies that get me excited, there are so many beautiful varieties that I find it hard to choose just a few! If there is something you’d like us to add, let us know sooner rather than later. We’ll do our best to incorporate your favorites, as long as you promise to purchase them when the time comes!

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