Should I trust Dr. Earth?

Most of us were taught from an early age to trust doctors (I mean the medical kind).  They’re supposed to be smart, committed, and loving, and most of the doctors I’ve had over my life have fit that mold.  And Earth, what an awesome name!  It makes me think of dark, warm, rich soil in the spring.  Damn it makes me feel good!  So it’s no wonder that some clever marketer thought up the name Dr. Earth and slapped it on a bunch of organic products, because hey, if you can’t trust Dr. Earth who can you trust?  When I see a Dr. Earth package I want to buy it!  I mean look at it:

How can you not trust this guy?  But as most wise shoppers have learned over the years, whenever you purchase a product you should look at the ingredients to see what you’re buying.  This product includes Probiotics — microbes which are probably dead when you buy the fertilizer — or which may not even be compatible with your soil.  It is a “balanced” fertilizer meaning it has equal parts nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium — which means too much phosphorus and potassium.  And finally, while it does have a number of good renewable ingredients, it also contains bat guano and rock phosphate, two ingredients which are non-renewable and which damage the earth when they are mined.

You can’t judge a book by it’s cover, or, apparently, a fertilizer, by the cute farmer-looking guy on the front of the package.

Taking gardens to a new level

I spent the last few days in New Jersey, with a quick day trip into NYC.  It was a perfect East Coast winter day – sunny and cold – while back home in Seattle it rained.  So it was with real joy that I hoofed it through some of the city’s greenspaces, ending up at The High Line.

I won’t go into detail about the site’s history and development of this city landscape, because the link will do that much better and with more authority than I can.  But briefly, the High Line was the elevated freight train line used in the industrial district.  After it was decommissioned, it was developed into a public greenspace.  And an important note – it is entirely funded through private money.  Its future won’t be affected by city budget cuts.

I was enchanted by the landscaping: it looks like an abandoned trainyard that’s being taken over by a re-emerging forest.  Rather than being centered in a planting space, most of the trees and shrubs pop up right next to a rail or crossbeam; dead grasses remain in place, and you can see crocus and other spring flowers poking through.  It’s obviously a designed space, but it’s not unnatural.

There are benches everywhere – some big enough for two people to sunbathe.  There’s an outdoor movie projector across from a white-painted wall for showing movies in the summer; bleachers are built against the opposite wall.  It’s an interesting, inviting, and unique landscape, allowing you see the city from a completely different perspective.

Hot enough for ya?!

Ok, ‘Hot’ might not be exactly the right word, but winter in the Midwest has certainly been warmer than average this year.  I did a little trolling around on Michigan State University’s Automated Weather Network website, which has been logging temperatures and other weather variables around the state for the past 15 years and compared our current winter here in East Lansing to recent years.  Since the middle of December our average daily temperatures are 5.2 deg. F above the previous 15-year mean.  The departure from the 15-year mean is even greater (+5.6 deg. F) when we look at minimum temperatures. 

15-year average Minimum daily temperature and Current-winter daily minimum for East Lansing, MI.

Minimum temperatures are especially important when discussing winter injury to landscape plants since extreme low temps (and the conditions immediately preceding them) are often responsible for many of our winter injury problems.  With a generally mild winter and only a few, brief temperature dips below average, one might expect that we will see few winter-related plant problems this spring.  However, prolonged exposure to temperatures above average means that plants are beginning to deharden early.  We see several signs of this already; such as witch-hazels blooming in protected locations and sap in maple trees running 2-3 weeks ahead of normal

February 28, 2012. Witch-hazel in bloom on MSU campus.

While other trees and shrubs may not provide the same outward signs, they are progressively becoming less cold-hardy by the day.  Unfortunately, temperatures, like the stock market, rarely move in a straight line. Here in mid-Michigan, temperatures in the single digits are possible throughout the month of March.  Given the preceding mild conditions, a sudden, severe cold snap still holds the potential to cause considerable damage to developing buds on trees and shrubs.  This type of late from damage may be evidenced by shoot die-back, bud-kill or death of newly-emerging shoots.  As always with winter injury, the final result won’t be known until late May or early June. 

Madison Wisconsin takes care of bees-ness

The bee blogosphere (hiveosphere?) and listservs were abuzz the past two
days with news that Madison, Wisconsin, has taken an active role in
encouraging beekeeping within the city limits.   The version of the
story I found a link to was in the Madison Commons.

Apparently beekeeping was prohibited in town (though the prohibition was
rarely enforced, except in the case of complaints).  The ordinance was
changed to allow urban beekeepers to keep hives.

There are specific regulations, such as 25′ distance to the nearest
neighbor as well as a  requirement to supply a fresh water source near
the bees (very important – especially in urban settings). 

Flight barriers – fences, shrubbery, or  sheds are also required.  This
is a simple bit of beekeeping etiquette if you have close neighbors.
Bees will fly straight in and out of the hive entrance, usually just a
foot or two off the ground.  They’ll maintain this altitude until 
forced to go up or down.  Constructing, planting, or placing the hives
in front of an existing barrier they must fly over ensures they will
maintain a higher altitude coming and going and not zip across your
neighbor’s lawn at kid-eyeball height. 

I’m currently learning stuff like this and much, much more in the
brand-new Virginia Master Beekeeper Program, taught by the most
excellent Bee Professor on the planet, Dr. Rick Fell. Honeybee
physiology and sociology is absolutely astounding.  I’ve been beekeeping
for four years now, and am just finding out with this class how much I
didn’t know.  I was also unaware that incidences of beehive thievery are
at an all-time high, hence the out-of-site suggestion.

I’ll probably continue to pop out with the occasional post on bees,
because I just can’t curb my enthusiasm.  "Cleansing flights" might be a
good topic…

   Slide from Dr. Richard Fell’s immense bastion of knowledge.