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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Methods to Use to Increase the Size of Grape Berries

Q. A few months ago you had an article about grapes not growing to normal size. You stated the soil in Southern Nevada lacked a certain hormone that the grapes required. My Thompson vines grow like weeds but the fruit is the size of peas.

A. The hormone is not in the soil but manufactured by the plant. Purchasing and applying this hormone is one of three methods that can be used to encourage larger berries.
            The application of this hormone to grapes is permitted for organic production in most cases. However, there are two other methods that will enlarge berry size without the application of this hormone.
            These other two methods follow the same principle used for producing larger fruit in tree crops: remove fruit from the plant so the remaining fruit becomes larger. This totally organic practice is called “thinning”.
Pinching the bottom third off of the bunch
            When berry clusters or bunches first emerge in March or early April, thin or remove bunches so only large ones remain spaced no closer than a foot apart. Remove small bunches totally.
            Second, when grape individual berries are about the size of a BB, pinch off the bottom third of the bunch. Bunches of grapes are normally triangular in outline. Pinching the bottom third of the bunch produces a harvestable bunch that is round in outline with much larger berries.
            After those practices have been followed, you can use a plant hormone called gibberellin to increase the berry size artificially. This is not a natural process but you are basically giving the berries a "kick in the pants" to get them to elongate more than they would normally.
            Warning. Don’t expect gibberellin alone to do the work for you. You must also thin out your grape bunches.

Improving Size and Quality of Seedless Grapes

Hope Freezing Temperatures are Over. Plan That They are Not.

This has not been unusual weather. It’s the norm. But watch out! About eight or nine years out of ten we get a warming trend in mid-January followed by returning cold weather. Sometimes it is devastating.
            February can be dangerous for plants. December 1990 was one of the coldest months on record but February 1989 was much more damaging to plants. 
            In December plants are in their deepest sleep, well-prepared for winter lows. But on February 5, 1989, unrecorded temperatures as low as 2F in the Northwest part of the valley came on the heals of 70+F temperatures in mid-January. The temperatures that week in February were low enough to kill bermudagrass, roots and all, at the Painted Desert Golf Course in the Northwest part of the valley.
            Be diligent around your garden. Protect tender plants. We can be 95% assured that freezing temperatures will not occur after mid-March.

Human Urine as a Fertilizer

Q. Your may think I am crazy but a neighbor has beautiful roses. When asked what he uses for ferilizer, he said he uses urine mixed with an equal amount of water. Is human urine fertilizer?

Vermicompost Opinion Piece

Q. A lot of people are raving about worm castings. What is your opinion?

A. Producing worm castings is a form of composting. Some people add worms to finished compost so the worms do not have to survive the very high temperatures produced during composting.
            Another method is to add worms directly to a fresh compost letting worms mix and digest scraps in the compost heap directly. Either way the resulting product is a very high grade of compost uniform in size and consistency.
            The finished worm compost or vermicompost has a low percentage of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium among other nutrients as well. The finished product is humus, just like it is in compost.
            Humus has many other benefits such as a lowering of the pH, increase in organic acids that act as natural chelating agents and an increase in biological activity.
            So, in a nutshell, what is there not to like? However, producing vermicompost without composting first may produce a product that has more health concerns and weeds than traditional compost.

            Composting releases nutrients and many other It was first recommended that after traditional composting this compost was taken through a second stage of composting by worms, vermicomposting. Vermicomposting is now done directly with waste products, many times skipping the traditional composting step. Traditional composting done correctly produces temperatures high enough to kill most microorganisms associated with health concerns like E. coli. If temperatures were high enough, it also killed most weed seeds. However, research has shown that both pathogens and weed seeds can be destroyed in vermicomposting. Vermicomposting is usually done in containers and can be done indoors and outdoors, allowing year round composting.
            It takes compost to a different level. There are some good and some not as good. After it passes through the gut of a worm, it is more finely digested and makes nutrients more quickly available to plants making it act more closely to a faster releasing fertilizer. The down side of it, it is not as good at re-building desert soil structure and stimulating microorganisms as compost can be. Below is for your information with my comments inserted in ( ) and important points highlighted.

Effects of composting with earthworm on the chemical and biological properties of agricultural organic wastes: a principal component analysis.

Liu T, Ren ZL, Zhang C, Chen XF, Zhou B, Dai J.

Taking mixed agricultural organic wastes cattle manure and rice straw (C:N = 28.7:1) as the substrate of earthworm Eisenia foetida, an experiment was conducted to study the effects of earthworm on the changes of the chemical and biological properties of wastes during vermi-composting. After 30 days of vermi-composting, the substrate' s pH and C/N decreased (this is good) while the total P content increased significantly, and the total N, available N, dissolved organic carbon, available P content, microbial biomass-C, respiration rate, and microbial quotient increased by 8.5% , 2.6%, 1.8%, 6.3%, 21.2%, 4.4%, and 30.0% (this is also good) whereas the organic matter content (not as good if you are re-building a desert soil) and metabolic quotient (activity of microorganisms) decreased by 5.0% and 21.9%, respectively, as compared with natural composting. Vermi-composting made the substrate have higher invertase, acid phosphatase, and alkaline phosphatase activities but lower catalase and urease activities. Principal component analysis and discriminant analysis confirmed the significant differences in the substrate' s chemical and biological properties between vermi-composting and natural composting. This study indicated that vermi-composting was superior to natural composting, which could obviously improve the chemical and biological properties of composted organic materials, being a high efficient technology for the management of agricultural organic wastes.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Pruning Crepe Myrtle Correctly

Q. When is the right time of year to trim my crepe myrtle tree and what should be done?

A. They usually do not require much pruning. I noticed from your picture that it is planted close to your house Your biggest problems would be branches growing toward the house and walking under branches that are too low.
            Remove branches growing toward the house at a "crotch" (where two branches come together) and remove with a "thinning cut”. A thinning cut is the total removal of a entire branch, leaving no part of it coming from the tree.
            Limbs that are too low should be removed if people need to pass under the tree. This should also be done with a thinning cut. Remove limbs high enough to allow traffic under the tree.
            Aesthetically, trees look better if you restrict limb removal so the tree’s trunk is exposed for no more than one third of its height. A common problem in pruning large trees in this town is excessive limb removal. Once removed, large limbs and the aesthetics it brings, is lost forever.            Crepe myrtle tends to grow branches too close together and sometimes on top or crossing each other. Look for these common problems and remove one of the offending branches with a thinning cut, leaving no stub.
            Lastly, remove any dead wood or weak growth. Using thinning cuts will help preserve this year’s flower production.