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Dayton "Dirt"
Weekly Blog entries
by Tom Dayton

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"Going Green" Blogs


March 17, 2017
Winter’s last gasp (hopefully) is done at least concerning minimum low temperatures in the teens. Snow is another matter as Lake Erie is unfrozen and strong winds from the north could bring additional snow to southern Summit County and areas even farther south through April. As far as the plant business, snow is not a bad thing with great insulating power during cold and especially clear nights. Still the “show must go on” as delaying work in the greenhouse is not possible as stock keeps arriving for transplanting and our rooted cuttings will not fare well in their small cells if not transplanted soon enough. Fortunately, all roses were potted just before the onset of the cold so that now they are safely tucked in a covered house with a small heater that keeps the temperature from falling no lower than 28F. The cool period during rooting is necessary in order to retard growth of the plants in order that the roots can grow and expand to fill the pot and support the top  growth later. Once fully rooted in the pot and a moderate amount of short growth in early May and once they have gone through a process called hardening-off in which the roses will be ventilated continuously in order to get them used to wind and cool if not cold temperatures at night and conversely bright sunshine of the day, they are ready for sale.

Removal of the vinyl tree guards on trees over-wintered outside has been delayed at least a week due to the abnormally low temperatures. Young trees used to the guards that are put on in December to protect the bark from hungry rabbits could suddenly experience a bark split if low  temperatures in the teens or lower combined with an early rising sun which results in a temperature difference between the sunny side and the early morning shaded side.

One aspect of this past cold week is that for sure the quick rush of spring due to the weird warm weather in February and early March, will definitely be slowed.

As the sun returns to the north to rise earlier and set later, the newly installed solar panels are entering their high production period of April through September in which they will send more power to the grid than is used in the greenhouse operations at least for the one meter. It’s good to know that for every one of these solar kilowatts produced means coal that is not mined and burned for the production of electricity.

With St. Patrick’s Day here, today is the day to plant peas. What “they” don’t tell you is how do you plant peas if the ground is frozen! LOL!

Tom

March 10, 2017
Amazingly, spring flowering bulbs are emerging everywhere as abnormally warm temperatures continue to push the spring season. Surprisingly, the severe freezes of last Friday and Saturday did not seem to bother the flowers as even the narcissus showing flower buds don’t seem to be affected. Tulips though have been ‘tested’ by deer in some areas last  week even when they had emerged from the ground no more than 2 inches! The next day, all the thousands of tulips were sprayed including those along Cleveland-Massillon Road as the deer herds this year seem quite  aggressive.

Thousands of perennial flowers have been arriving from Minnesota and Holland, Michigan to be potted up into gallon pots or larger for later sales in spring. Unfortunately, the plants must be handled quickly as diseases can damage and even kill the tightly packed plants in the warmer weather. Plants in what are called plugs and bareroot ones are potted in an assembly line fashion where 3 potters place trays of the then potted plants on a roller conveyor where they can be tagged and fertilized to then be placed in what is called a minimum heat greenhouse in which the plants will grow to a saleable size.

Already the warm weather has caused a speed up of bringing tightly packed azaleas out of winter storage to the movable roof greenhouse called a Cravo greenhouse which is the name of the manufacturer from Canada. The spacing of the plants with the greater light and air movement has prevented fungus problems that would eat away at the plants very quickly. Soon will be the unloading of truckloads of nursery stock and removing thousands of plants from winter storage.

March as well as April is quite strenuous at the nursery as the days seem to pass quickly with all the multiple chores in progress all at once.

Que sera sera.

Tom

March 3, 2017
With February now past with its record high temperatures, March is traditionally the month that comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. Strangely though, February mostly went out like a lamb with temperatures and sun feeling like spring when it even isn’t spring! Sadly, many spring flowering bulbs have awakened early along with the swelling of the buds of some trees and shrubs as they have been “fooled” that it’s time to awaken.

At the nursery, deer have nibbled at some emerging tulips already when usually the plants are sprayed with a deer repellent called Deer Stopper in late March. The Valley Forge American Elm next to the Owl Barn is already getting ready to bloom which soon after will be followed by the  dropping of the protective bud scales and then the emergence of leaves.

Inside the well-ventilated winter storage huts, Hydrangea Endless Summer, Bloomstruck and other large-leaved types are opening with leaves even though temperatures in the huts drop to the outside air temperatures at night which has been in the 30's. Interesting too is that bright sunshine has caused such high generation of electricity in the newly installed solar panels that about 16 kilowatts per hour are being produced by noon which is more than that in use so that electricity is being sent back to the grid.

The March extended forecast while a bit warm is not as warm as the recent February warmth and will tend to check the advance of the degree days that plants receive to break into full growth and bloom.

This Saturday will be our seminar on Hemerocallis genus (Daylilies) as much intensive breeding is bringing on numerous, unusual and beautiful varieties. Our speaker, Rae Dickens is from the Western Reserve Daylily Society and will expand on the creation of these new types as well as  showing off the latest cultivars. Last year when Rae Dickens came to the “What’s new” seminar for 2016, she related to me that what we were showing in daylilies was “old news” so that I asked her to speak this year.

The nursery is open but the plant selection is quite limited as nothing will be put on display until early April as there is always the danger of a very severe cold weather blast such as on April 8th of 2008 when temperatures dropped to 19F overnight accompanied by 35 mile per hour winds after  a warm March pushed everything ahead. To say the least, this spring season is going to be very interesting.


Tom


February 24, 2017
The weather has been to say the least, enjoyable although it’s not typical for the end of February. Last week, the bud scales on the lilacs in the storage huts are already falling off which is definitely a  sign of the plants wanting to push out growth. All the storage huts for a variety of trees, shrubs and perennials are well ventilated including the provision of roll up sides to keep the houses even cooler with the warm weather. Unfortunately, growth will “push” to early anyway that is for sure to cause problems later on when a sure-to-come hard freeze will occur later on. Even outside, daffodils are popping up everywhere soon to be followed by trees and shrubs starting to “wake up” as their cold  requirements have been achieved for the breaking of dormancy. The warm weather too is a wake up call to perennial weeds such as henbit and the troublesome hairy buttercress as it grows quickly and then blooms with its tiny white flowers that will soon fade to be followed by countless  seeds to pop up again everywhere!
 

              

New growth on planted Montauk Daisies and daffodils popping up everywhere!
 

At the nursery, planting of annual flowers is proceeding at a feverish pace with now the arrival of perennial flowers from Michigan that must be handled quickly as they will not keep well in their small cells if not transplanted soon to larger pots. In addition, bare-root roses have arrived from California and they too will not keep long in their shipping boxes as they will be subject to destructive mold should they remain only a few days sealed up.
 

          

Perennial plugs are arriving daily and need to be potted up quickly by a whole planting crew.
 

Now the clematis vines potted last summer are showing a little growth which means they must be quickly pulled from winter storage, trimmed, fertilized, spaced and weeded before they become tangled in a mass of early growth of the twining vines.

It’s only the beginning of the wild side of spring. In June, we’ll reflect on spring and think how did it pass so fast!

Tom

 

February 17, 2017
While the weather department still behaves like a roller coaster, the extended periods of warmth are mimicking last year’s relatively warm winter. With some exposed vegetation from the lighter than normal snowfall, deer browsing at the nursery is less than it had been in the two recent previous cold winters of 2013-2014 and 2014-2015. In Wolf Creek Botanical Garden, the deer repellent called Deer Stopper was applied to many of the shrubs susceptible to deer such as the evergreen azaleas and rhododendron about Thanksgiving. During a thaw in late January, the repellent was applied again as the deer had found their favorite azalea called ‘Herbert’ which ironically is a dark double purple that is quite winter hardy and easy to grow except in the case of  deer. It seems the animals prefer the flower buds of this variety even though Herbert is surrounded by Azalea Boudoir, Stewartstonian, Cascade and Elsie Lee which are deer damage free! Who would have thought that deer would be picky about what variety of plant suits their taste within a species!

Part of next week is filled with safety seminars, a Drug Free Workplace seminar and one on the new expansive regulations rolled out by E.P.A. on January 2, 2017, which is aimed at protecting workers and applicators from exposure to pesticides that are sprayed in greenhouses and on the  grounds. This update of the WPS 1992 Standards although somewhat cumbersome, is designed to protect workers and prevent pesticide poisonings in the work place.

Tomorrow I will be giving a seminar entitled “Lovely Lilacs” that will not only give the “dos and don’ts” when planting and caring for this genus and reviewing the various hybrid groups and varieties within those groups. Recently, Father Fiala near Medina, Ohio was known for his  breeding and selection of many varieties. Sadly after the priest’s death, the property was sold and divided up into housing lots due to the zoning violations having to do with all the traffic resulting from all the activities having to do with his lilac display.

As always, join us for this informative seminar beginning at 11 a.m. this Saturday. See you at the seminar.

Tom


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 rare.

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.

Tom

 

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.

Tom

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 the north.

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 -4 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.

Tom

January 20, 2017
Winter is a busy time in a greenhouse nursery operation!

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 28 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 28 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 income!

Tom

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 coming in!

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!

Tom

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!

Tom
 


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