Awakening Earth!

Mother Earth stretches and groans, awakening in fits and starts.  Last week rainy and cold, a little hail storm!  Today chirping birds and sunshine.  The grass so green and fresh it lamost hurts your eyes.  The buds of trees and shrubs beginning to unfurl. The soft fuzzy blooms of serviceberry will begin blooming white, aple flowers next week.  The male catkins of black alder dangle in the breeze and rain down pollen on the purply brown female ‘stobile’ or cones.  Such an interesting monoecious flower with male and females born in distinctly different flower organs.  Flowers with no need for fancy petals or fragrance as they depend only on the wind to carry their pollen where it needs to go.   Beautiful flowers are to attract pollinators like bees and buttefly.  Look at the throat of many flowers and you will see stirpes or a darker color – the ‘landing pad’ for flying insects directing them to nectar and pollen and pollination!  Beautiful and complex flowers are the highest form of evolution in plants. I am completely entranced with a thought I read by Michael Pollen in his book Botany of Desire.  Are we cultivating the flower or is it cultivating us?  We are so attracted to beautiful flowers and plants that we pay a lot of money to bring them home with us.  We then carefully water and fertilize them, give them good soil, protect them from predators and disease.   In the end we care for the plant so it can accomplish its ultimate goal which is to disseminate its seeds. 

I love ths time of year with summer ahead like a clean sheet of paper waiting for adventures to be told, vacations to be enjoyed, gardens to bloom and visit, books to be enjoyed, suntans and water and leafy trees overhead!  Already the crocus are over and daffodil at peak bloom.  I saw my first dandelion today,its bright yellow head peaking through the mulch. Why do we hate htis pretty little flower so?  It provides plentiful and healthful pollen to early bees and beneficial insects. 

 Pehnology is the science of matching environmental cues to biologic activity.  In zone 5 horticulture we use this science to predict the emergence of insects in spring when they are often most vulnerable to our control tactics.  Humans have used this science for centuries,  ‘plant corn when oak tree leaves are the size of a mouse ear’,  is a concept used by Wisconsin farmers for a long time to know when to plant corn which will rot in the ground if its too cold or wet.  The oak tree indicates the soil temperature has warmed enough for the tree to begin growing, and corn seeds too. 

The first plants to bloom in Wisconsin in order are: snowdrop, crocus, scilla, daffodil, hyacinth, Star magnolia, forsythia.   

The ground is thawed and worms are active.  Insects aren’t hatching yet but soon… Magnolia soulangeana or the saucer magnolia is an early blooming tree that indicates emergence of a couple early season pests – spruce gall adelgid and pine scale.  These insects will soon hatch, begin feeding  and quickly create a protective shell around themselves to hide from predators – and pesticide sprays.  The adegid injects a toxic saliva into the spruce tip which stimulates  excess cell division to create a protective gall around itself.  The pine scale is similar but instead of a gall it creates a hard shell over itself, under which it feeds and reproduces.  Any attempts to control these pests later in summer when their feeding begins to show up as symptoms on plants, is futile.  They are well protected in their galls and scale shells.  There really is only a short window of opportunity to spray pesticides to control these pests – when they first hatch in spring – indicated by saucer magnolia in full bloom to dropping petals.

So phenology helps horticulturists know when the time is exactly right to spray a pesticide, when it will do the most good.  This will go a long way in reducing pesticide use in our landscapes.  Even if the pesticide is nontoxic like horticulture oil, Neem or  insecticidal soap, timing is everything.

I’ve been thinking of pests because we had a pretty mild winter here in the frigid north.  Last winter we had 2 weeks of weather at -20 degree, but not this year.  I wonder what the mosquitoes and Japanese beetle will be like without winter’s chill to knock them back a bit…

So I took my spinach to market and sure enough it sold like hotcakes!  My son picked about 5 bags and sold then for $5 each!  I only wish I had more!  Just goes to show the early crop gets the best price!  In a couple weeks when everyone here has spinach the price will be low.  This may do the trick in convincing dear hubby I need a decent hoop house.

I still have some bare root plants, sold some at market, and a few on Ebay.  My first experience with E-bay.  I’m shipping my first orders out tomorrow so will see how it goes.  I’m uncertain as to shipping and if plants will fry or freeze on their way to a destination.  I’ll wrap them in paper to insulate and hope for the best.   I get big boxes of plants shipped to our greenhouse all the time overnight FedEx or UPS form Michigan.  This has got to be hugely expensive but it works almost perfectly. 

I also have 3.5″ perennials which I need to either sell or shift up.  We will give them a week!


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