Friday puzzler revealed!

Lots of discussion about the mysterious white streaking on the hedge.  The pictures below show a little more detail than those on Friday:

As you can see, Jimbo was on the right track when he suggested the hedge might be near a parking lot.  But it’s the heat escaping from the engine compartments that’s been causing the damage. 

(I am now committed to find some good photos of urine damage by dogs, donkeys, or drunken frat boys!)

Friday puzzler addendum

OK, I know we gave you a tough assignment for the weekend, so I want to post something fun as well.  (Think of this as dessert after your healthy meal!)  Take a look at the photos below:

This hedge is regularly sheared and no one part of it has been maintained any differently than another part.  Both sections of the hedge face east, and the damage is anywhere from 2 to 4 feet from the ground.  What do you think has caused the damage?

Explanatory photos reveal all on Monday!

Friday puzzler: Opening a can of worms

Part of being a Garden Professor is evaluating, interpreting, and passing on good science to the rest of the gardening world.  I was recently made aware of two articles soon to be published in Crop Protection and Pedobiologia, both peer-reviewed, scientific journals.  (You can download these articles just by clicking on the highlighted journal names.)

Briefly, what one expects from a scientific article is (1) a statement of the research question (the hypothesis) to be investigated, (2) a clear description of the materials used and procedures followed, (3) a listing of the results, along with their statistical significance, and (4) a discussion of the results, including whether they supported the hypothesis.

    

Both articles focus on the use of vermicompost teas as a way of reducing pest damage on greenhouse grown crops.  If you’re not familiar with this product, it’s made using worm castings and water in an aerated system. The researchers conducted one large experiment and divided the results into two parts for publication. Therefore, the materials and procedures were the same for both articles, and you’ll also see that the conclusions are likewise the same.  (My point – you really only need to read one of these articles.)

 

I sent these articles and my evaluations to my GP colleagues; at least two of us will be sending letters to the editors of both journals expressing our concerns.  Jeff thought these articles provided a great opportunity for our blog readers to look over our shoulders and see what we do.  We don’t question the results that the investigators got, nor do we have any argument with the statistical analysis.  We do question the authors’ interpretation of the results.

So here is your assignment for the weekend:

(1)  Read the methods section carefully to understand the differences between the treatments (the vermicompost tea addition) and the control. Can you think of an alternative reason for the results the researchers found?
2)  What additional flaw do you see in the discussion section in terms of the proposed mechanism of protection conferred by the vermicompost tea treatment?

On Monday, I’ll post the draft of the letter that we’ve drafted to the journals.

Oh, and if you have any questions, please post them!  We will answer them the best we can.

Soap and Deer

Short post today — Linda appears to have transmitted her illness electronically over a couple of thousand miles — Thanks Linda!

I was reminded yesterday that it’s almost time for gardeners to start worrying about winter deer damage. With that in mind I thought I’d share with you my favorite research article on the subject.  It’s a little paper by Michael Fargione and Michael Richmond and published about 18 years ago.  You can find it here.

This paper attempts to establish how repellent bars of soap are to deer and comes up with some very interesting conclusions.  The first thing you should know is that no one type of soap appears to be better than another.  The second thing you should know is that soap does appear to stop deer from feeding around the soap — but the best you can hope for is a radius of protection of about a meter from the bar of soap itself — Can you imagine what that would look like if you were trying to protect the lower limbs of a large tree?  And finally, bar soap appears to attract voles.  Based on my reading, and my limited experience, I’ve found that almost everything that people say repels deer does repel deer — human hair, peeing around a tree, predator urine, dried blood — the issue is how long these repellents stay effective and how effective they are when the deer get really hungry.  The most effective commercial deer repellents tend to have “putrescent egg solids” in then (rotten eggs) — I once had a graduate student who needed to protect some hazelnuts from deer and she found that a mixture of a few eggs (2-4) mixed in a quart of water and sprayed onto the trees worked pretty well — and no, the eggs weren’t rotten.  This mixture should be sprayed about once every two weeks if possible.

Inspecting nursery plants, part ll

Well, I’m recovering from this simply horrific chest cold or whatever it is and feeling brain function returning.  The last time we were at our virtual nursery, we were looking for root flare and inspecting the trunk for damage from improper bagging.  Since we’re already down on our hands and knees, let’s consider roots.  In general, you really don’t want to SEE roots, except where they meet the trunk (the root flare).  The presence of coyly crossed “knees” in this photo is a clear indicator of a plant that wasn’t potted up quickly enough:

Likewise, while the fused, circling woody root mass in this next photo might be aesthetically interesting, it sure doesn’t make a functional root system:

It’s pretty easy to avoid these types of plants, because you can see the root problems before purchasing.  The hidden root problems, such as those I’ve shown in earlier posts, are tough to find until (or if) you take all the extraneous stuff off of the root ball.

Finally, there is a new production practice that really fries my potatoes.  What really makes me angry is that these trees had absolutely LOVELY roots – a nice flare, woody roots spreading radially – and then they were butchered – and left unprotected:

 

I can think of no legitimate reason for this practice.  I’ll be curious to hear my colleagues’ thoughts, as well as those from the blogosphere.

Compost Tea? How About Compost Pee!

My news tab in Firefox is the BBC “latest headlines” page. It’s a great place to get pretty darn unbiased news plus the U.K. equivalent of “News of the Weird”.  SO, relative to our ongoing discussion of composting…here’s a story ripped directly from the BBC headlines. Follow the link for a video (interview, that is).

Disclaimerage: I nor any of the other Garden Professors endorse this activity, nor any claims as to its usefulness, scientific relevancy, harrumph harrumph, etc,. etc,. etc. We do, however, fully endorse garden-related humor!

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Pee To Help Make Your Garden Grow

Gardeners at a National Trust property in Cambridgeshire are urging people to relieve themselves outdoors to help gardens grow greener.

A three-metre long “pee bale” has been installed at Wimpole Hall.

Head gardener Philip Whaites is urging his male colleagues to pee on the straw bale to activate the composting process on the estate’s compost heap.

He said the “pee bale” is only in use out of visitor hours, since “we don’t want to scare the public”.

He said: “For eight weeks now, male members of our garden and estate teams have been using the outdoor straw bale when nature calls. The pee bale is excellent matter to add to our compost heap to stimulate the composting process; and with over 400 acres of gardens and parkland to utilise compost, we need all the help we can get.

“There are obvious logistical benefits to limiting it to male members of the team, but also male pee is preferable to women’s, as the male stuff is apparently less acidic.”

By the end of the year, it was calculated that the 10 men from the 70-strong garden and estates team will make more 1,000 individual trips to the pee bale, contributing towards the compost for the estate. The estate said it will have saved up to 30% of its daily water use by not having to flush the loo so many times.

Rosemary Hooper, Wimpole estate’s in-house master composter, said: “Most people can compost in some way in their own gardens. Peeing on a compost heap activates the composting process, helps to produce a ready supply of lovely organic matter to add back to the garden.

“Adding a little pee just helps get it all going; it’s totally safe and a bit of fun too.”

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/uk_news/england/cambridgeshire/8357134.stm

Published: 2009/11/13 00:40:21 GMT
© BBC MMIX

 

Will cocoa mulch kill my dog?

Recently I was asked to comment about a rash of e-mails floating around cyber-space concerning the toxicity to dogs of mulch made from crushed cocoa bean hulls.  Cocoa mulch is by-product of cocoa production.  The dark brown mulch is aesthetically and aromatically pleasing, giving the garden a rich, chocolately scent.  Since theobromine, a naturally occurring compound in chocolate is toxic to dogs, the internet is now filled with cyber-legends of dogs eating cocoa mulch and keeling over dead.

According to an article published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVM June 1, 2006 p. 1644), cocoa bean husks can contain up to 2.98% theobromine.  The JAVN article state “no reports of lethal toxicosis from ingesting this mulch have been filed with the ASPCA Poison Control Center this year (2006). In 2004 and 2005, 16 reports of single exposure to the mulch were received, none resulting in death.”

The ASPCA posts this comment regarding cocoa mulch on its website:
“Dogs consuming enough cocoa bean shell mulch could potentially develop signs similar to that of chocolate poisoning, including vomiting and diarrhea. In cases where very large amounts of mulch have been consumed, muscle tremors and other more serious neurological signs could occur. To date, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center has not received any cases involving animal deaths due to cocoa mulch ingestion. One key point to remember is that some dogs, particularly those with indiscriminate eating habits, can be attracted to any organic matter. Therefore, if you have a dog with such eating habits, it is important you do not leave him unsupervised or allow him into areas where such materials are being used.”

It should be noted that processed cocoa mulch may contain much lower concentrations and some manufacturers market cocoa mulch that is ‘Pet safe’.  Consumers should look for products that are tested and certified theobromine free.

As always, I stand by my recommendation to use locally processed wood products such as ground hardwood bark and ground pine bark.  Plants grow well in these mulches, which are typically among the most cost-effective and natural looking (to me, at least) mulches available, and they are renewable and help support your local economy.