Sunday, June 12, 2022

A day of rest

I went to 8:00 AM Mass today. It left a lot of daylight to do some chores.

I picked up a few tomato plants at Hastay's Greenhouse in Eaton Rapids to fill the "holes" where my home-grown seedlings didn't survive. The selection is eclectic this late in the season but the plants are husky and eager to get into the ground. I chose Roma tomatoes because the plants are not overwhelmingly large and they produce very heavily.

After I got the new plants watered in (no point in transplanting if you cannot give them a big drink and melt the surrounding soil into intimate contact with the root-ball) I cleaned my hand sprayer. I had a tiny bit of herbicide in it.

After cleaning, I found a bottle of Sevin and mixed up some spray and spot-sprayed for potato beetles. My basic strategy in spot-spraying is to walk down the rows and when I see beetles I catch and crush them. When I see larvae I spray the infested plant and a couple of plants in either direction. 

I don't carpet bomb the planting with insecticide because I am going to go through and hand-weed. I spray the potato plants and not the weeds next to them. Sure, there is a little bit of over-spray but total volume might be 10% of what it would be if I sprayed everything green to the point of dripping.

I will survey the patch after 24 hours to see if the old bottle of Sevin still had enough active ingredient to kill potato beetles.

Professor Stan Howell

Stan Howell was the professor tasked with breathing life into Michigan's feeble wine industry in the 1970s. At that time, growing "vinifera" like Chardonnay and Reisling were all the rage.

Howell had a gentle cynicism and sense of humor much entertained by the quirks of the human condition.

The growing of wine grapes and the making of wine seems to exert an irresistible attraction to many people. They want to jump from the care of their suburban lawn to growing Reisling grapes in a borderline, hostile climate.

There was a steady stream of well-healed wannabe growers beating a path to his office. Many of them spent their time trying to impress Howell with how smart they were. They waxed lyrical about biodynamics and organic methods and traditional, European methods of training vines that negated the need for $10k per acre in trellises.

Howell let them talk. In five years the brutal realities of mildews and rots and winter-kill and frost would wipe them all out.

Some of the potential growers already had orchards or grew Concord grapes. They tended to be humbler. They were doing research and were risk adverse.

Dr Howell's advice to them was to learn how to grow wine-grapes by planting French/American hybrids like Seyval, Vidal, Foch, Chambourcin and Chancellor*.

Plant 5% or 10% of the area you are considering "flipping" to wine grapes and make your mistakes on these friendly, forgiving cultivars before going all-in. Sell the grapes to wineries because growing wine grapes and making wine are two very, very different things.

Then, if you determine that your site, resources and temperament are agreeable with growing wine-grapes, talk to the local wineries and see what they forecast the highest demand for over the next 10 years. If you plant vinifera limit it to 5% or 10% of your planting. It will be a black-hole for money.

Howell's point was that very few car dealerships stay in business selling just Mustangs or Corvettes or 'Cudas. They have one or two in the show-room. The men coon-paw them and drool before their wife drags them over to the minivans or Chevy Traverses and they buy something "practical".

Wines made from vinifera varieties win metals but they do not pay the bills. Vinifera grapes, east of the Mississippi, are the Corvette that ares kept inside beneath the lights of the showroom. The hybrids are the Chevy Traverses and Ford Edges and minivans and Camrys that keep the lights on and keep the paychecks from bouncing.

New gardeners

We have another wave of new gardeners entering the hobby.

I am going to buck the tide and say that a combination of "conventional" and organic practices are more likely to result in a harvest at the end of the season.

It saddens me that so many newbie gardeners are gulled into the gardening trend-du-jour. Those trends are for gardeners who are jaded by simple things like growing tomatoes or cucumbers. The people writing those articles (or being interviewed) are people who are trying to carve out a niche.

My advice would be to pitch most of today's gardening magazines (or ditch the bookmarks) and review what people did in the 1950s.  Look at what and when they planted. Look at the spacing. Many of them used organic fertilizers and the transition from cow-poop to spoiled hay or yard-waste is not complicated.

The 1950s were not far removed from the food insecurity of WWII. Plant breeding was science. The booming economy had yet to reach much of rural America. People were serious about growing their own food. They did not plant micro-greens. They might have planted collards or Swiss chard or beets or spinach...but not micro-greens.

Walk through your garden every day. Give yourself at least 15 minutes. Pull a few weeds. See what is ripe (that is, eat some of your produce raw). Pull a few more weeds. Kick the dirt to see if you need to water. Look at sentinel plants to see if your insect control plans are working. Your fifteen minutes in the garden should not be a chore and it might easily stretch out to be longer.

Anticipating power outages

The weather guessers predict 95 degree temps across much of the mid-West on Wednesday.

Due to multiple conventional power plants being taken off-line, it is almost inevitable that we will have power outages this summer.

Forewarned is forearmed.

Peak power use is between 4:00 PM and 8:00 PM. That that is when folks come home from work, turn the thermostat down, throw laundry in the washer-then-drier, throw a frozen pizza in the oven and then step into a hot shower.

If you have the scheduling flexibility, you can avoid some of the unpleasantness by showering in the morning, washing your laundry before noon and hanging the fluffiest, most absorbent items on a line outside. You can have cold fried chicken, potato salad and baked beans lined up to serve cold. 

You can pre-cool your house by running the A/C at a cooler set-point before 3:00 PM and then letting the temperature drift upwards (i.e. program a higher set-point for 3:10-till-9:00 PM) while the mindless horde hit the shower.

If you are blessed with a basement, you might consider putting a few comfortable chairs down there, some battery-powered lighting, beverages and a radio or two. Most wildlife in the desert goes below-ground in the heat of the mid-day sun.

Bonus image

Old skool "photoshop"

*The list would be different today but the strategy remains the same.


  1. There's a lot to be said about Square Foot Gardening methods too. A great way to start and a lot of fun.

  2. Very good post tonight Joe. You covered a lot of things well as usual. Your advice about ditching the gardening magazines is what I do also. I have had several people tell me that they get discouraged because they cannot produce results as described and pictured in the articles. I tell them to look at the pictures and then check out the ripening time of the plants and they will see that most of those plants came from the store as they do not ripen at the same time as the articles suggest and the harvesting pictures are faked. And every growing location has it's own soil and climate so don't look for the same results. I try to help my neighbors but they often have unrealistic expectations after reading the magazines. ---ken

  3. Ukraine War Update - Russia 'using everything at its disposal' (UPDATED)

    ps. could you please add CC to your blogroll? thanks!

  4. As you know Joe, our oh-so consumer friendly energy provider otherwise known as Consumers Green Energy is prepping us for the fact that they won't have sufficient capacity to supply electricity during peak hours this summer:
    "“On-peak” rate price From 2 to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, the electricity rate will be about 1.5 times higher than the “off-peak” rate price."

  5. In Maricopa County they took care of the 3-8 power increase by doubling the price of power during that time. Works pretty well. It's 112 outside right now (noon) and I keep the house at a constant 75 until 3PM, then up to 80 until 8. Not too worried about outages, as we're twelve miles from Palo Verde nuke plant - assuming of course it doesn't go bang.