Growing Degree Days: Unlocking The Timing Of Nature

Adopt the pace of nature; her secret is patience.    (R.W. Emerson)

I want to take a minute to talk about a little known and seldom used topic: Growing Degree Days (GDD). A new topic for many, or an old topic just called something else depending on where you live. We all  know at least one piece of folksy garden wisdom such as putting down crabgrass preventative when  the forsythia bloom.  There are tons of little “tips” like this out there. Most of them actually based on science, even if most of us didn’t know it. So GDD is worth taking a minute to talk about.

So What are they?

Basically, they are a measure of heat accumulation to-date for the growing season. It is a tool used in phenology, which is basically the study of plant and animal life cycles. Tracking GDD allow you to predict plant, animal and insect development. These things are biologically timed to enter certain stages at certain times, often based on GDD. So forget about your calendar. Nature has it’s own, and it cares not for our man-made creations.

Growing degrees are calculated when the temperature goes above the base temperature, usually 10 °C. The actual formula is a little more complex because it requires taking into account the high and low temperatures. Then there are formulas for determining cumulative GDD, not just for a single day. The good news is , you don’t need to do math.

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Why Use Them?

If you are a serious gardener, urban homesteader, or even someone just getting started, tracking GDD is something you need to consider. Why? Because as I mentioned earlier, nature keeps it’s own calendar. Some people may go out and do the same things at the same time every year, and get lucky as a result. But why not do things at the proper time, when conditions are optimal and you get the best results? From an integrated pest management and organic gardening standpoint, it’s worth it. Using GDD to time fertilizer and pesticide applications maximizes results. That saves you time, money and reduces chemical usage.

Getting it right the first time is important with plants. As many of us know, depending on what you are growing, you only get one chance to stop an infestation, block a fungus, or correct a nutrient deficiency. Watching your GDD, and knowing what is coming next can really give you an advantage.

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Where Does One Get This Helpful Information?

I told you earlier, you won’t need to do math. You can if you want to, but there is an easier way. For those of us here in the states, it’s simple. Every county has an extension service , every state has its own friendly department of Agriculture who track this data for local farmers. But this data is just as helpful to the gardener as it is for the farmer.

This is the web page for the station nearest me, our local agricultural service has a monitoring station at a local apple farm. Here I use a “base 50” scale. Which calculates GDD using a base temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit:

NEWA Cornell at Orbaker’s Apple Farm

I visit this page weekly through mid-season. They have some helpful guides as to what pokes it’s head up when. So I know when to start looking for certain pests. The best defense is when you know exactly what the offense is going to do.

So take advantage of the hard work others are doing. Most of it funded by your tax dollars anyway. You will be the local garden wizard who always seems to know what is going to happen before it actually does. Whether you choose to share your secret is up to you.

Happy growing!

 

 

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The Basics of Garden Design

Design can be intimidating. A lot of people try it, a lot of people fail. Many aspirants overlook the simplicity of it and try and get all fancy. In the end,  they often wind up with an unintentional, eclectic mess in the front yard. Mostly because they fail to heed the rules. Rules you say?  Yes, rules. There are rules to designing almost anything. Just because they change over time, doesn’t mean that design using growing things is the exception.

What’s that you say? You don’t like rules? You’re unconventional, a mold breaker, an innovator……you refuse to have your rampant creativity restrained by stuffy old conventions. To that I say “go for it”. Have at it. Please send me pictures. In the end, you will see what I mean. In this case rules are not absolutes. So stop thinking of them like a straight jacket. Think of them more as handrails, or a safety net. That by no means gets you off the hook for designing something so eye-shattering that the local town council deems it a public menace. Guidelines…just guidelines.

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You can follow the rules and still be creative and artistic. There are an infinite number of combinations of textures, colors, hardscape elements, specimen plants, and the like that you can incorporate. So think of these rules as the glue that holds all that together. Now you may finish reading this and decide that it’s not for you. You would rather leave it to a professional. That’s generally a safe move and can be much less aggravating. Then you are only responsible for whatever grand vision you tried to get them to translate into a drawing. But for those brave souls who want to try it themselves, or maybe you just want to have a finer appreciation  of how green spaces are intentionally put together, this may be for you.  You will also have a much greater appreciation when you tour horticultural attractions and you can sound super smart when you flippantly comment about how “the conflicting textures of the foundation plantings really anchor the structure to the landscape”.

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WELL, YES…

These rules can be broken down into two basic major parts. First, on a larger (think macro) scale are the design principles: balance, focalization, simplicity, rhythm and line,proportion and unity. You consider design principles when looking at the bigger picture, such as a large garden or an entire property. On the smaller (micro) , yet no less important scale are the elements of design: line, color, texture, form and scale. If these sound somewhat familiar to you, think back to any art classes you took in school. These attributes are not unique to landscaping and gardens. They are somewhat general artistic principles. You could just as easily apply them to a painting or a sculpture as you could to a cottage garden.

Now I could discuss each separate point in depth. and give you a complete informal education in one sitting. But that would require me to wear my fingers down to nubs typing. I have no wish to do that because I have a garden to plant soon. So, dear reader, this becomes a series. I will work through each of the design elements in more detail since each is worthy of it’s own post. Then I will move on to the design elements. Each of them deserves their 15 minutes of fame as well. I will keep it as interesting as possible and practical enough that anyone can follow along. I hope you will stay with me through this journey.

To be continued…….

First up: Balance

Basement Lettuce

So I am sick and tired of Lettuce recalls. That’s how this whole thing got started. Remember earlier this year? The great Romaine recall? Well, welcome to modern agriculture. This is what happens when you have centrally located super-farms busy mass producing all manner of agricultural products, sharing water sources with other farms. Gut bacteria from animal waste gets into the water supply. That water gets spread around….and poof. E.coli is added to your nice healthy salad. Now I am not slamming modern agriculture. It does much good and this is an unfortunate by-product. But we can do better.

Well, after weeks jonesing for salad (worse because we couldn’t get any romaine and my local Panera stopped selling salads), I said enough is enough. I am a horticulturalist and avid gardener. I have grow lights, trays, starter packs, potting mix and lettuce seeds. So why am I not growing my own? Well, I am now.

That’s right, in the bowels of winter, in my not so well heated basement, I started some lettuce seeds. My intent is to grow my own lettuce pretty much year round. I do not have a greenhouse or sun room. So I will have to make do as things progress. I started the new category that you find this post in, and that is where I will post periodic lettuce updates so you can see my success and hopefully very few failures.

Salanova Red Butter Lettuce

So after just a about a week ad a half, I had some respectable lettuce seedlings. I let them go for a few more weeks until I could transplant them into pots. Here they will stay. I made sure to plant them far enough below the rim, so I could cut them just above the crown. That is far off, but this “cut and come again” method will allow me to keep harvesting them for quite a while. When the nights get warmer in early May, I will move them outside. Lettuce is pretty cold-hardy. So a late freeze doesn’t scare me too much.

If this works I will keep it going, starting new seedlings, the transplanting into pots. The benefit of pots is I can move them to shadier areas in the high heat of summer to reduce bolting.

Dragoon Romaine

All in all, I am excited at the prospect of nearly year round fresh lettuce. Obviously to get any quantity, I will have to expat the operation. But right now I am happy with the 9 plants I have and if I rotate what I cut , water and fertilize wisely, I should get fairly regular and consistent harvests.

Well, that’s it for right now. I will post another Lettuce update in a few weeks. These pictures are over a week old, and the plants are now starting to flourish so the ext update should show quite a bit more development. In the mean time, keep finding ways to be green. And to those of you who have subscribed since my past post, thank you. As time allows I will come check out your content and return the favor.

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