Jen Swanson

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since Jul 11, 2020
Vancouver, Washington
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Recent posts by Jen Swanson

All your stories are great! I don't know if mine qualifies but here goes. We have a big, long bed up by the street that really needed a lot of mulch to suppress weeds and we had a 20 yard pile of arborist chips, so we used some of the chips to thickly cover the bed this spring.  All of our neighbors have all of their beds covered in what's called bark dust here.  It's purchased, standard sized bark chips from the sawmills and, of course, being bark and standard sized, it takes a long time to decay.  (Plus, that is what bark is supposed to do.) One of our neighbors came by yesterday and said they had to know where we got our chips as our bed is weedless and not so at all with the neighbors' beds! And, no, we don't spray weed killer on our beds. I'm sure it's because our chips have a lot of fines in them and a lot of size variability so they  decompose better, making them a nice robber of the nitrogen at the very top of the soil, and, thus, a good weed suppressant. Here's to arborist chips!
9 hours ago
My first suspicion is sun scorch/scald.  Whatever is killing your plants seems to be doing it pretty uniformly across all of them, pointing to an abiotic cause.  Sunchokes need consistently moist soil.  The fact that the leaves seem to be dying from the outside in makes me think they are not getting enough water.  You said that this year has been dry, but last year wasn't.  I'm wondering if you got enough rain last year for the plants to be consistently moist?
As to the soil being poor (and maybe your prior sunchoke crops in that spot used up what was there that they liked), nutrient deficiencies can show up in a plant when it's not getting enough water.  For example, tomatoes get blossom end rot pointing to a calcium deificiency when they are not getting enough water to be able to pull the calcium they need from the soil.
Can you investigate the plants further? Do you see any mold-like growths or any unusual growths at all under the leaves or around the stems at the soil level? Do you see spots on the leaves where they seem to be rotting from a center point out making the area translucent? Pull up one and look at the roots, dissecting one even, to see if you see anything unusual too.
And where are you located?
I tried the companion planting idea of putting asparagus and strawberries together this year.  The strawberries are getting way too much shade and are not vigorous at all. Thank goodness I put most of my strawberries in a separate bed of their own and the ones under the asparagus were the leftovers.  
As for planting the crocus with the strawberries, I'd guess that because strawberries put out a lot of runners thus propagating readily, it might work the first year, but not after that. I put lettuce in my strawberry bed this year, but there won't be room for that next year.
Hope that helps.
Ok, so learn something new every day. I talked to some friends who have a huge hugel bed and they built it by digging a big hole in the ground and putiing in tree trunks first.  The soil around here does have a good portion of clay in it but does drain well.  The center of the bed is probably 3 feet about soil level and the whole thing is very fertile.  They use it as a vegetable bed.
5 days ago
Hi Mark -
Please don't dig a big hole in the clay and put your hugel bed in it. Clay does not inherently drain well. When you dig a hole in clay, put plants in it and fill it with material other than the clay, it creates a bowl that holds in water and it doesn't drain well at all. Most plant roots detest being soggy so this situation is very unhealthy. And nothing ever remedies this situation other than replanting the plant correctly.  In fact, research shows that anytime you dig a hole in the ground to plant and you fill the hole with something other than native soil, the hole will not drain well.  Water does like to move from one type of medium to another.
Roots are the same way.  They will double back into the soil they were planted in instead of growing into the clay, creating a rootbound plant. This is the same reason why you should not put gravel on the bottom of a pot.
Instead, put your hugel bed on top of the clay.  Save your back. And, over time, it will break down and the released nutrients will add organic matter to the clay, loosen it up and make the microbes in the soil happy, thus improving the soil. You have a good start going with the leaves and wood chips you put down last fall.
6 days ago
Next year, I'll be able to answer this question much better, as I now am only growing the hyssopus officinalis.  It's a much smaller plant that the big and beautiful anise hyssop that I am buying seeds to grow next year. But I can say that both of these plants are in the lamiaceae family, the family of mints, sages and deadnettles. Another name for hyssopus officinalis is hummingbird mint.  Carrots are in the umbelliferae family, like umbrella for how their flowers are formed.  Hummingbird mint has mint-like flowers, not carrot-like flowers.
1 week ago
Haha.  I used to make a chicken liver spaghetti dish for my family.  If you dice them up small enough and disguise them with tomato sauce, no one will know the difference.  It's actually delicious and my kids loved it! Of course, they had no idea what was in it.  lol
1 week ago
When to prune depends very much on the plant and on what you want to achieve.  In general, it's better for the plants themselves if you prune them in late winter/early spring, when it's started to warm up but the plants have not started to leaf out their spring growth. It's less stressful to them, their wounds heal faster and it directs growth to where you want it.  Prune in the summer if you want to retard the growth of the plant and make it smaller. However, you should stop pruning woody plants 6 to 8 weeks before you expect frost in order to allow the plant to heal and harden off properly before winter comes.
Another consideration is if and when the plant blooms and whether it blooms on old or new wood.  For example, rhododendrons bloom on old wood and set their buds in the fall for spring blooms.  Therefore, you'd probably want to avoid pruning them in the late winter/early spring because you want to keep the buds.  A good general rule is to prune blooming plants right after they bloom.
And yet another consideration is what pests you have in the area that may be invigorated by your pruning. Where I live, we avoid pruning pines at certain times of the year in order not to attract pine bark beetles.
Those are all general rules. I keep a chart of what plants I have and when I should prune them. Different plants have different requirements and my chart helps me not forget what and when I need to prune, so I am not forced into either pruning when I shouldn't or neglecting to prune a plant that year.
1 week ago
Yes, you should definitely try!  Before you take the cuttings, make sure you have on hand a very sharp razor knife, rooting hormone, and peat and perlite for the potting soil.  Find the youngest, most flexible branches for the cuttings and take a number of them to increase your chances. That will get you started. I know you can find lots of instructions online for rooting cuttings so I won't go into more detail here. I'd also try air layering some branches as I think that might take better.  Here's some good instructions for that: https://homeguides.sfgate.com/air-layer-pear-trees-41283.html. Air layering does take a while but the property may not sell right away anyways.
As far as taking care of the cuttings for their first year, you should be fine as long as they are kept in a sunny location, properly watered and fertilized, and uppotted as needed.  You don't want them to outgrow their pots and get rootbound.
One thing I'm not sure of is how much the pear seedlings need to be outside during the winter.  Pears do need a winter chill to bud and fruit, but it would probably would be better if they didn't bud and fruit their first year anyways. If they did bud, I would nip the buds off the first year to force the plant to focus on growing both below and above ground. Anyways, I think you'd have to root them in the house so they don't lose their leaves before they've rooted.
Another thing to consider is that the pear trees you want to propagate may well be on grafted root stock. I would try to figure out what kind of pear it is to see it it's root stock is susceptible to any diseases.  There are some apps you could download to identify plants and your county extension office could also help. If it is on grafted stock, that may well have affected how big the pear trees grew, meaning that when you grow a pear tree from a cutting, you could end up with a much bigger tree than you expected. That would be another reason to try to figure out what kind of pear it is.
Good luck!
1 week ago
A few things -
I think your bird of paradise needs to be repotted into a larger pot. The one it's in looks too small. If there are a lot of roots that you can see if you pull the plant out and some are circling, then it's rootbound and needs a larger pot.  When you repot it, unbind those circling roots, remove any that are dead or unhealthy, and repot it in good soil in a pot with holes in the bottom so it gets good drainage.  As for the philodendron, is in a pot that has drainage holes? If not, that definitely needs to be repotted as well.
Secondly, philodendron need only medium to low light.  If it is in a really sunny location, it should be moved to a more gentle location. Bird of paradise needs good direct lighting.
Both plants like moist soil but like to dry out some between waterings. Water when the top inch of soil is no longer damp, but do not let it dry out completely. When you water it, put the pot in the sink or outside and water until the water is pouring out the bottom.  (If the soil is actually totally dry, you may need to soak it in a sink of water.) Let it drain well, then put it back in its location.  
Whatever is causing the spots on the philodendron may be alleviated by the above, but they could be a fungal or bacterial infection that could spread.  If you can without damaging the plant, remove the leaves with the spots on them.
Good luck!
1 week ago