February 10, 2017
As February rolls along, work in the greenhouse intensifies as rooted
cuttings now must be transplanted into pots and hanging baskets while more
unrooted cuttings are to arrive from Costa Rica and Guatemala. Strict
sanitation controls are in place at the foreign greenhouses where
the stock plants for the plant cuttings grow.
In 2013, a virus called tobacco mosaic virus
or TMV was found in our greenhouse on petunias grown from cuttings in
Central America resulting in their disposal after the plants were potted and
growing nicely. The Dummen company sent out a warning that some of their
stock that they had shipped tested positive for the virus that is
evident by a slight streaking or mottling of the normally evenly dark green
leaves. The virus is spread by handling the cuttings while sticking them
into the rooting cells and then by trimming the plants. TMV will cause
a collapse of the plants when the weather begins to warm up in spring. This
collapse during warm weather is similar to a once common malady that
geraniums are prone to call Xanthomonas. This geranium killer is actually a
bacteria that is spread by water. Some plants, such as vining geraniums show
little or no signs of the disease and yet can be a carrier that results in
the infection of the zonal (regular) geranium. Today with virus testing and
better sanitation methods, disease like Xanthomonas and TMV are relatively
In the greenhouse too continues the
application of the microscopic worms called nematodes. These small creatures
move in water so that the foliage of the plants must be kept wet for no less
than 2 hours so they are able to hunt down and kill the destructive thrip
insect. Surprisingly, there are no restrictions by EPA as far as entry into
the greenhouse once the nematodes are applied as they already exist in
nature and are completely harmless to humans. Soon the hanging baskets just
recently planted will need to be hung up so that two small packets of
predatory mites will have to be attached to the plant’s foliage. These
packets called mini-sachets contain two mite species called Amblyseius
californicus and Amblyseius curcurbitae. The californicus mite seeks out the
nasty European two spotted spider mite while curcurbitae prefers the lousy
thrip insect. Everyday several of the mites walk out of a hole in the sachet
for a total of 6 weeks that will protect the plant from destructive
greenhouse pests without chemicals! With the help of a technician form the
Biobest Company that produces and supplies these critters to the greenhouse
and food crop industry, the complicated process of using “good” bugs to
“fight” bad bugs should be well under way this spring.
With more and more greenhouse growers and
possibly farms using beneficial predators will pesticides largely be a thing
of the past? I hope so.
February 3, 2017
With the passage of the coldest month of the winter and even the fact that
Punxsutawney Phil didn’t see his shadow, this winter season will be short.
Right? I am wondering if anyone really believes if the famous groundhog
doesn’t see his shadow that the winter will be shorter than usual.
For gardeners, farmers, nurserymen and those
in the orchard business, the return of more normally cold weather is a
blessing. One type of weather not needed though is like that of February
2015 that was relentlessly cold. In fact, that February was reported by the
National Weather Service to be the coldest February as far as average
temperatures have been recorded by Cleveland since 1875!
By the middle of this month, the days grow
gradually warmer and the average temperatures in Ohio for January have been
on the warm and wet side for the most part. The folks in the Portland,
Oregon area have received several inches of snow and somewhat colder
temperatures than normal. For the most part, Portland is known for its
mild winter due to the Pacific climate which is very similar to the effect
the Gulf Stream has on northern Europe. Once in a great while though, a cold
front will appear out of nowhere dropping temperatures into the single
digits. I remember talking to an old lady when I visited Vancouver, Canada
and related to her of how beautiful the weather in summer is in Vancouver
and that the winters are so mild. She replied that while my
observations are true the depressing fact is that the skies are mostly gray
all winter and accompanied by a cold, almost never ending drizzle. In fact,
when Lewis and Clark spent their first winter along the Oregon coast they
had written in their diary about the never ending winter rain and how
some men in their party were quite depressed.
The first in our series of winter seminars
is tomorrow with Judy Semroc from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History on
the subject of damselflies and dragonflies. As usual, all seminars begin at
11 a.m. and finish up at 1 p.m. Hope to see you in the Owl Barn.
January 27, 2017
The unusually warm, wet weather while not
enough to bring trees and shrubs to life because of their cold requirements,
it has caused a small push to the thousands of daffodils and narcissus
planted around the nursery as well as some hosta in Wolf Creek Gardens to
In the winter storage huts, while plants are
still dormant because of the cool and sometime cold nights plus short days
and low light levels, root systems in the containers are growing! In the
2006- 007 winter, temperatures were eerily warm until January 27, 2007 when
40 mph winds swept in with a cold front and dropped temperatures to -4º F.
Early the next spring, much damage to the plants occurred in storage by
evidence of the root system. The once tender growing roots in many cases
were killed by the sudden shock of extreme cold. That year was like deja vu
when in 1992 temperatures were abnormally warm in February only to drop
suddenly March 1st for several days again causing plant damage on the
outside. While widely fluctuating temperatures in winter are a nightmare for
the orchardists, gardeners, farmers and nurserymen, there is nothing that
can be done about it.
On another note of interest, the folks at
Wolf Creek Winery about 1 mile north of the nursery have spotted a pair of
Bald Eagles hanging out along the shore of the Barberton Reservoir. How
strange to have such birds of prey as the eagle around when not too many
years ago it was pushed to the brink of extinction by the ravage of the
pesticide DDT and relentless hunting! With the passing of the Endangered
Species Act by Congress in 1973 which protected the birds as well as other
endangered species, the eagle began to recover very slowly. Then too,
Congress outlawed the use of DDT that same year resulting in more chicks
hatching from the formerly too fragile eggs of the birds. Hopefully the
eagles will thrive and multiply around the reservoir but as their numbers
grow, anyone with chickens will soon get wise as to what the birds do
best - eat.
January 20, 2017
Winter is a busy time in a greenhouse
It may not look like much is going on from
the outside, but winter is a very busy time of the year in a greenhouse
nursery operation. With the cold, short and bleak days of January and
February, the behind-the-scenes activity of a greenhouse nursery
operation is anything but slow. In the greenhouse, the rooting of thousands
of flower cuttings begins in December and lasts throughout the winter and
early spring months. The rooted cuttings which are referred to as “plugs”
must be hand transplanted to larger pots and hanging baskets for product to
be available during the peak selling season in the month of May. Even in the
depth of winter, disease and insect pressure on the greenhouse crops must be
controlled with a variety of insecticides and fungicides. A warm, humid
greenhouse is not only an ideal environment for plants but for harmful
insects and diseases, as well. Therefore, disease and insect control
products must be applied weekly with a fogger or hydraulic sprayer and in
some cases results in a considerable expenditure of time.
In the huts covered with a white
polyethylene film, shrubs and herbaceous perennials stored over winter must
have ventilation when temperatures exceed 28º F in order to prevent disease
called Botrytis, which will grow on dead and live plant tissue causing major
plant damage. Conversely, the huts must be closed when temperatures are
expected to fall below 28º F. This open-close scenario sometimes is repeated
every day depending on weather conditions. Vigilance is necessary to prevent
rodent damage from mice, in particular, that just love tender plant roots
and the live bark on a wide array of shrubs and herbaceous perennial
flowers. Mouse traps with sunflower seeds must be reset with new bait weekly
as the old sunflower seed bait becomes moldy as a result of the more humid
conditions in the storage huts. On the outside, at least weekly inspections
are required to assess any attack on the stock from browsing deer or gnawing
rodents such as rabbits. Maintenance to equipment including but not limited
to tractors, loaders, RTV’s and trucks needs to be performed along with any
needed repairs during the winter months. It goes without saying, working
equipment for the busy spring months is crucial as there is no time to
perform repairs or maintenance on the equipment.
In summary, winter in a greenhouse nursery
operation is a busy time except that sales in most of the smaller operations
are at a slow pace, or non-existent all together resulting in little or no
January 13, 2017
Even though January is that long,
seemingly non-ending winter month at the nursery, the somewhat slower time
allows for a “look-back” of what went wrong and definitely needs
improvement. As in any operation, the goal of perfection is for sure
elusive; however, the strive is for excellence and continuing improvement
which are never ending. One major “push” to improve the greenhouse operation
using almost all bio controls has been underway now for a couple of weeks.
Hours of study, meeting with greenhouse operators and speaking to various
vendors about using bio controls such as nematodes, beneficial fungus and
beneficial predatory insects and mites is needed to get the program underway
by February 1st. The goal is to control insect and disease on the stock
better without using harmful chemicals which are not good for the person
applying the products or the customers from the residue left on the plants.
Even though we eliminated the controversial neonicotinoid class of
insecticides three years ago, this step was only one in a longer process
that will be complete by the spring of 2018.
January has allowed time to reflect on what the
customers want and not just what we think they want when they come into the
nursery. With a number of surveys returned in December, the news was not all
compliments. Many areas that need improvement in the area of customer
service were identified with suggestions from customers on improving the
operations. A prioritized list is now being developed so that many excellent
suggestions from the survey can be put into effect as quickly as possible.
The “regular chores” at the nursery still continue with tax reports and
budgeting, ordering and product review, a Drug Free Workplace required
meeting, greenhouse production and equipment maintenance without any money
In summary, the “respite” of January is a
time of reflection and a time to get things moving to improve the nursery
and garden center operation for everyone working here and for all those we
work for - the customers!
January 6, 2017
Even with nothing growing outside and the nursery closed except
for seminars, that begin February 4th, the work at the nursery
never ends! Much of the work at hand concerns getting ready for the spring
and sometimes 3 years ahead or more.
Purchase orders are generated, plant and hard good
orders are being tweaked, descriptions of new plants are written, and new
signs are designed and printed.
Then the greenhouse propagation and transplanting is a
little behind with thousands of more flower cuttings coming next week to be
rooted for transplanting later.
Maintenance is an ongoing job but takes on a more
important role in winter as equipment greasing, oil changes, filter changes,
and any repairs are performed before the busy spring season.
Hiring of full and part time employees will be the mode
in late January and February which then leads into employee training, safety
seminars, a drug free workplace seminar, and pesticide safety seminars.
Ongoing too is the development of an information Kiosk for customer use and
the design of a new color digital catalogue!
I think sometimes there is almost as much to do in the
winter as in spring!