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Friday, June 23, 2017

Vertical Hydroponic Conversion in Jackson Wyoming

I received this link regarding a vertical "greenhouse" constructed in Jackson, Wyoming and growing vegetables hydroponically. I thought this might interest some.The business was begun with some public economic assistance. Its goal was to replace food being transported to the Jackson Wyoming area and sold in local stores. Its aim was not to compete with local farmers. The reality is that competition is inevitable. That is the nature of our free market system.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Growing Edible Fruiting Bananas in Las Vegas

It isn't often I post other people's work on my blog. Several people have contacted me they have grown bananas here in our hot and cold desert but I thought the information here should be posted for comments and discussion. Harrison sent it to me in 2015. Yes, I'm slow.
 - Xtremehort

A successful strategy for growing edible fruiting bananas in Las Vegas has not yet been found; it is a challenge to match our environment with the banana’s requirements. That said, it is marvelous to watch the huge purple flower emerge and slowly expose tiny green bananas, even if they are not able to mature into sizable yellow fruits.

Edible bananas, Musa acuminata, are herbacious perennials that grow with a large pseudostem through which leaf stalks emerge at its tip until the growth cycle nears completion, about 2 years under favorable conditions. Then, instead of a leaf stalk growing from the pseudostem, a single flower stalk emerges, enlarges, the petals peel back from the “bud” and in between at the base of the petals are the fruits in bunches called hands. [See pictures, changes over 7 days.] After fruiting, the pseudostem dies back.

Banana plants are usually not available in local nurseries so mail order is customarily
required. Common cultivars are a good choice, and note that not all banana plants are edible fruiting. Search the Internet for their current availability. Order from resources that provide safe packingand shipping, and the shorter the travel time the better (the expense of air or two day shipping is sometimes worth it.) The plants will be shocked from travel in any case. Best time of year to order is spring. Fall ordering leaves short time for the plants to acclimate before winter protection must be placed.

Location. Daylight and sun light are two considerations. When the days get short, say less than 12 hours, their growing slows. That is why overwintering them in a dark garage is not a
good idea. They may never recover, and it can get dangerously cold there in winter. In our climate, bananas can tolerate heat but do not tolerate direct sun; broken shade is probably a best location. They should be planted in the warmest microclimate on your property. In my opinion, the growth of the plant is best if it is continuous and not interrupted by cold, wind, or heat. Banana plants tolerate wind, but not a hot, dry desiccating one, so limiting exposure to wind is also a consideration. In-ground (not in greenhouses) bananas require serious winter protection, strategies for which are available in nursery catalogues.

Container planting may seem a reasonable option, especially when considering seasonable portability in anticipation of hostile weather. In warmer weather, relocating the plant should maintain its orientation to sunlight. An urn of at least 20 inches is desirable, with a radius of about 5 feet around it to allow proper leaf spread. I prefer clay to plastic or pottery. Since the duration of the plant’s life is about 36 months, accumulation of salts from hard water should not be a problem. Emerging plants in the same urn, however, should be transplanted to replacement soil. Hand watering may be necessary, and moving the watered urn is a challenge. It is a good idea to “double pot” the urn so that, in the heat of summer, roots are not “cooked.”
Soil. Planting either in the ground or container, native soil is alkaline and bereft of nutrients. Various formulations have been given to improve the soil, for example, perlite, peat moss, potting soil, 33% each. The ultimate pH should be on the acid side, between 5.5 and 6.5. Well draining medium is preferred, and a generous bottom layer of cactus mix will enhance drainage.

Fertilizing. A well-balanced product, either 6-6-6 or 12-12-12 should be satisfactory. I recommend applying fertilizer first when the weather warms up and once in early fall. Some recommend more frequent fertilizing and special fertilizer combinations of nutrients.
Watering. For container plants, mulching and using a “water stick” is a useful guide to determine plant watering needs. In-ground plants, also mulched, are regularly watered, once per week for 15 minutes in Winter, increasing to twice per week in Spring, and perhaps once more per week at the height of Summer. Observation of the leaves, drooping when dry and discoloring when too wet, is also helpful in modifying watering schedules.

Fruiting. Between 9 and 12 leaves suggest the plant is potentially able to fruit. If you count the leaves on pictures of fruiting plants in nursery catalogues you will note they almost all have at least 10 leaves. Preventing leaf loss is critical to successful fruiting. After fruiting, it will take 2-4 additional months for fruit to ripen. I have not found measuring the girth of the pseudostem helpful in predicting flowering.

Pests. I have not noted any specific pests, but focused observation on plant growth should detect harmful conditions.

Propagation. Bananas are easily propagated, once you are able to grow them, even if they don’t grow edible fruit. From the base of the mother plant, little plants surface, and can grow to be mature plants. These offshoots are called “pups,” and are the same cultivar as the mother plant.

Following the suggestions above, I have found complete success, i.e., growing edible fruit, elusive. I have been able to get fruiting but the fruits do not grow or ripen; they are small and inedible. There are still adjustments to try, for example, timing the cultivation of “pups,” the root offshoots from the mother plant, to allow for a longer uninterrupted season may be one strategy. 
 For me, growing edible bananas in Las Vegas is a work in progress.

Francko, David A. Palms Won't Grow Here and Other Myths. S.l.: Timber, 2011. Print.

Kepler, Angela Kay, and Francis G. Rust. World of Bananas in Hawai'i: Then and Now: Traditional Pacific & Global Varieties, Cultures, Ornamentals, Health & Recipes. Haiku, HI: Pali-o-waipi'o, 2011. Print.

Lessard, William O. The Complete Book of Bananas. Place of Publication Not Identified: W.O. Lessard, 1992. Print.

Morton, Julia Frances, and Curtis F. Dowling. Fruits of Warm Climates. Miami, FL: J.F. Morton, 1987. Print.

Roth, Susan A., and Dennis Schrader. Hot Plants for Cool Climates: Gardening with Tropical Plants in Temperate Zones. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000. Print.

Waddick, James W., and Glenn M. Stokes. Bananas You Can Grow. New Iberia, LA: Stokes Tropicals Pub., 2000. Print.

"California Rare Fruit Growers." California Rare Fruit Growers. Web. 11 Sept. 2015. .

"Growing Bananas in Phoenix Arizona." Web. 

Web. .

Mattocks, David. "Growing Bananas Is Easy." Central Florida Farms. Web. http://www.centralfloridafasrms.com/bananacare.htm

"Welcome to Going Bananas of Homestead, Florida!" Welcome to Going Bananas of Homestead, Florida! Web. 11 Sept. 2015. .

Harrison Sheld
Las Vegas, Nevada
September, 2015

Friday, June 16, 2017

Plums Blown Off? Veggies Windtorn?

Has fruit been blown off your plum or pluot tree? Just too much wind for a vegetable garden? Put up a windbreak.
Large-scale windbreaks affect the wind on the Windward side from 5 to 8 times its height

Wind damage to purple leaf Plum
This is a fact sheet on windbreaks I did years ago when I worked for the University.It was aimed more at those living on larger properties and had water to spare.

Download my fact sheet on windbreaks for large areas in the desert

Windbreaks do not need to be big or even use much, if any, water. All it has to do is slow down the wind to make it manageable for plants. Once this is done, you will see plums and pluots staying on
the trees and not blown off. Water use will go down because there is less wind. Vegetables will be more succulent with less tearing of the leaves and they will be more soft and succulent..

Why put up a windbreak in your backyard?

  • Fruit stay on your plum or citrus
  • Vegetables more delectable and eye appealing
  • Use less water
  • More pleasurable to work in the garden or backyard
A series of windbreaks can be used close to the growing area
Some "do not do" facts about windbreaks in the desert
  • Do not make them solid
  • Do not put them on the edge of your property
  • Do not make them out of plants
  • Do not make them out of wood
  • Do not put water near them
  • Do not use plants if you need a 12 month windbreak
Image result for chain link pvc slats windbreak
Chain-link fence with PVC slats gives almost the perfect 80:20 spacing for slowing wind
Some "do" facts about windbreaks in the desert
  • Windbreaks should be 80% solid with 20% open space
  • Put them close to where they are needed
  • Use steel or cement whenever possible
  • Construct windbreak height in a 1:5 ratio with the protected area
  • Consider using several smaller windbreaks instead of one big windbreak

Try using chain-link fence combined with PVC slats within a couple feet of the area that needs protection. The steel is very durable in the desert provided it stays dry. Diverting the wind with a solid wall causes wind turbulence in other areas. Having open spaces between solid spaces slows the wind rather than only diverting it.

Reed fencing also works well for slowing the wind but needs replacement every other year.

Windscreens will also work as long as they allow some wind through it to slow it down.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Remove Suckers from the Graft Union

Q. You mentioned that citrus trees are often grafted. Are full size trees grafted like dwarf trees? Do I need to remove anything from these grafts? The only tree that really produced was a grapefruit while my orange and tangerine, produced very little over a span of 9 years. They flowered in the spring and work protected from wind and freezing temperatures. Will I have more success in getting fruit from full size trees?
suckers coming from the rootstock
A. All citrus bought from commercial nurseries are grafted with another tree. This grafting gives it a different set of roots. This new set of roots is called the rootstock. Most fruit trees are not intentionally grafted to rootstocks to dwarf the tree. But some dwarfing can result from rootstocks that are not terribly fast growers. If the rootstock dwarfs the tree, it should be mentioned on the label.
            There are five major citrus rootstocks, each with different characteristics that benefit the tree. A citrus rootstock may be added because of soil problems, disease issues, dry soils or survival during freezing temperatures. Knowing the type of rootstock can be extremely important to commercial growers with a certain set of growing problems.
            Nurseries that buy citrus to sell in the Las Vegas market usually focus on rootstocks that survive freezing temperatures. A little of this tolerance to cold temperatures is passed on to the tree itself.
bud union on fruit tree making a dogleg
            Look at the base of your citrus tree trunk. You will see a “dogleg” or bend (or noticeably swollen) where the two trees were grafted together at a very young age. Any shoots growing at or below this “dogleg”, called suckers, must be removed since this growth will not give you desirable fruit or benefit the tree in any way.
            Remove suckers now and continue to remove them as soon as you see them. If you remove them when they are very young, they will break away easily from the tree. Don’t wait or let them get older or they will be more difficult to remove.
            Older trees stop producing suckers from the rootstock if you start removing them early, when the tree is young. But if the top is killed from freezing temperatures, the rootstock will start suckering, even from older trees, and produce a vigorous new tree from or below the dogleg. It looks pretty but this “new” tree will have very poor quality fruit.
Many citrus flower and begin fruiting at the same time we have freezing temperatures. If your citrus is in a warm, protected spot you have a better chance of getting fruit. You can protect them with lights, blankets, burlap, etc. but if the temperature and wind are bad enough, protection will not guarantee fruit and a lack of damage. The tree may require temperatures of 20 - 25° F for damage to occur. However, all flowers and fruit are killed at 30 - 32° F regardless of the temperatures required for tree damage to occur.
            Citrus is “iffy” in this climate. Some years you may have fruit, other years you may not. Some years they may freeze to the ground and other years sail through the winter without damage. This is the nature of our climate and growing citrus here.

Compost and Steer Manure Not the Same on Lawns

Q.  Recently you recommended applying compost to lawns. I am confused if you mean steer manure. How often do you recommend doing this? When should I do my first application? My lawn is approximately 1,000 square feet. How much compost should I buy?

A.  Compost is very different from steer manure.  Steer manure in a bag is dried, poop from cows broken apart mechanically so it’s easy to use.  Compost can be made from animal manure like steer, horse, rabbit or chicken, even human, or entirely from plants.  But it takes time to make it
Composting breaks down manure much faster when compared to Mother Nature doing it au naturel.  Both Mother Nature and composting create a very rich ingredient, the gardener’s “black gold”, which is a valuable addition to vegetable gardens, fruit trees, ornamental trees, shrubs and even lawns.

Steer manure bought in a bag is raw and not composted.  When manure is not composted, it has not yet released its “black gold” that is so valuable.  In its raw state, steer and other animal manures may cause damage to plants if applied incorrectly.  Bagged steer manure is cheap and tempting to use.  But use it with caution.

Research done at Cornell University clearly demonstrates the best compost to use on lawns is made from an urban waste, called municipal solid waste in engineering and science lingo. If composted correctly, compost made from municipal solid waste is a very valuable resource.
We have a big environmental problem with solid and liquid waste coming from cities.  In Nevada, this urban waste is buried in landfills.  In other states putting it in landfills is no longer permitted.  In these states, municipal solid waste is required, by state law, to be put to beneficial use; much of it made into compost.
Compost made from biosolids

University research regarding lawn diseases and compost from municipal solid waste is very clear.  This type of compost not only fertilizes the lawn but helps it fight several diseases including several that damage tall fescue in our climate.

Apply this type of compost evenly over the lawn, about 1/8-inch-deep, equivalent to 11 cubic foot bags applied to 1000 square feet of lawn.  Use a compost spreader to apply it.
Compost spreader

Apply it monthly during the growing season.  In our climate, I would start applying it in February until May. I would avoid applying it during the hottest months of June, July and August.  Resume applying it September, October, November and December.

Yellowing of Pear Might Be Fireblight Disease

Q. The pears started looking like this last week.  Any ideas on what I should do?

A. They look pretty rough. Because of their weaknesses in fireblight disease and this time of year I first think of fireblight disease. They are highly susceptible to this disease which is usually not a problem in the desert unless it is has been wet, windy and cool in the spring and early summer.

This disease can be transmitted from tree to tree on pruners that were not sanitized. One of the reasons I am so picky about sanitizing pruners. Disinfect with 10% bleach and oil equipment afterwards. The disease hits Asian pear the worst, then European pear like Bartlett not as bad and apples as well. Fuji, Pink Lady and Mutsu are susceptible apples. Also quince. It can spread very quickly.

The only remedy is pruning it out far below the infection and sanitizing shears between each cut (10% bleach). If the disease gets in the trunk the tree cannot be saved and should be removed from the property asap and with great care so the disease does not spread. Sanitize all hands, gloves, tools, etc. Very virulent disease.

University of California on fireblight

Other possibilities include planted too deep (move the trunk back and forth and see if moves in the soil a lot or dig to see where the roots are). This usually surfaces like this in hot weather. In cool weather the tree has more tolerance to the planting depth.

Poor drainage and collar rot or root rot. Get any wood mulch away from the trunk. Improve drainage. This can slowly choke tree turning leaves yellow first due to not taking up many nutrients, then leaf scorching because the roots cant take up enough water and eventually strangulation/death/drought due to root rot. Vertical mulch with four holes 18 inches from the tree to act as a sump. Posthole digger works well.

The leaves are yellow like iron shortage but I don’t think it is.

Use Water to Control Root Growth Direction

Q. From your past articles I thought my Vitex or Chaste tree was not going to give me problems if planted near a wall. I was shocked this spring when I saw a 3” diameter root from our Chaste tree over 15 feet away heading toward a wall! I had it removed and the root cut out. You mentioned that Cottonwood trees can re-sprout from their roots after the tree is cut down. Can I expect the same situation with my Chaste tree?

A. Probably not. To my knowledge, Vitex roots will not grow back from the roots if the top of the tree is removed. It will sucker from its base if you do not remove the entire tree stump including a few inches below the soil surface. Removal is done by hand or using a stump grinder.
            Normally, this is a small tree that has few problems. It has few roots that grow on the soil surface so reading your email is a bit of a surprise. This tree is, however, notorious for invasive roots that grow into septic tanks and sewer lines when there is an opportunity. As with any tree, never plant it on top of or close to a leach field.
            I am guessing this tree root found something it liked in the direction of the wall. Like most plants, once they find a rich deposit of water and nutrients, roots grow vigorously in that area and can enlarge quickly.
            Roots do not grow into an area and explore it. They are not adventurers. They are opportunists. Roots grow most vigorously where there is water, air and nutrients. Plants such as Vitex, with few surface roots, grow near soil surfaces because they have to, not because they want to.
            Apply water and fertilizers in areas where you want roots to grow. Discourage root growth by not applying water and fertilizer toward problem areas.

Crimson King Maple Root Loss Needs Top Loss

Q. I have a pair of mature crimson king red maples in Arlington ma that are showing signs of stress due to recent construction close to them and coinciding drought their canopy has reached its limits to receive water easlily from rain or the surrounding irrigation that is in the lawn under them I was told fertilizer and lots of water should bring them back before pruning any suggestions would be appreciated 
Image result for crimson king maple university
Crimson King maple picture  from University of Arkansas Extension
A. I think water and fertilizer is pushing your luck this time of year. It is possible to lose quite a bit of roots and not have many canopy problems but that just depends on which roots were cut and how many. 

General rule of thumb is to correct root loss with decreasing the size of the canopy. Don’t have pictures so I would tell you to prune back the canopy ¼ to 1/3 by reducing the canopy size at the furthest distances from the roots. 

Trees have the most difficult time getting water to leaves and stems furthest from the roots. They show stress first...leaf scorch and limb dieback. This will probably mean you many have to “drop crotch” the canopy. If done by a good arborist, they should be able to maintain its beautiful characteristic shape and you will notice very little change in appearance except size.

Of course putting about an extra ½ inch of water under the canopy weekly beyond irrigating the 
grass will help because of the tree’s shallow roots. They aren't very drought tolerant due to their shallow roots.

I think Crimson King is a Norway maple.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Best Free Stone Peaches for the Desert

Q. I would like to know which freestone peaches are best for Las Vegas and are they readily available at our nurseries?

A. Generally speaking, the most reliable fruit trees for this area are available from local nurseries. Peaches should state on the plant tag if it is a cling-type or freestone. The trend in home gardening is towards freestone so most peaches and nurseries will carry freestone types.
            It can be fun to look at plants from the national retailers but be knowledgeable about what you want and what will work in this climate if you go plant shopping there. Sometimes you can find some real jewels. Sometimes you will find some real challenges as well.
            Fruit trees are in limited in quantities this year; worse than past years as the trend toward growing your own food has grown and inventories were sold out early. Nearly any peach will grow here. But the quality of fruit they produce will be different than the same fruit grown in other climates.
            There are literally hundreds of varieties to pick from. It is not possible to list them all and tell you which is the best. Rely on knowledgeable staff. Stay with standard size or so-called “semi dwarf” types if you are growing them in the ground.
            Big trees are not always the best. Select trees that are moderate in size and have branches growing from the trunks in many different directions and at locations along the trunk 30 inches from the top of the container or lower.
            Select miniature or genetic dwarf peach if you are growing them in a container. Generally speaking, full-sized trees have better quality fruit than miniatures or genetic dwarf.

For a start you can look at my recommended tree list by clicking here