Weeds


Hugelkultur is an old German concept/word meaning “hill-culture”. Wood is buried under topsoil (either in a hole or right on the ground) and as it breaks down, it holds lots of moisture and provides sustained nutrients for plant growth. Some more awesome benefits of Hugelkultur is that it greatly increases the available organic matter in the soil over time and for those of us with alkaline soils, which are mainly found in the more arid areas (which coincidentally is where water retention is greatly needed) the hugelkultur bed will release negative ions as it decomposes which will increase soil acidity.

Many people are using these beds for vegetables, but they are great for Fruit trees and windbreaks since the decomposition leans towards the fungal side and not as much the bacterial side as in compost.  This is more natural for trees and bushes, whereas compost is more natural for grains, grasses and vegetables.

The basic concept involves digging a trench and putting logs covered with branches and then covering that with smaller stuff such as straw, weeds, compost etc. that will provide an initial nitrogen source. The mound is covered with the soil that you dug out.  You can dig a pit, trench or just start at ground level with your mound. This is a great way to turn an old stump into a benefit.  Water will be retained by the wood acting as a sponge for roots to tap into while also releasing nitrogen and other nutrients to feed the trees. The soil is loose because of voids left by the decaying wood and gives great aeration for your newly planted trees and bushes. Because of this your trees and bushes will send down deeper roots, quicker and be much less susceptible to drought. Once established the amount of irrigation water required is substantially less than normal.  Combining this method with swales to capture our scare rainwater and snowfall and you have a win-win for your trees.

There are lots of good resources on the internet and several great videos to show and explain better the concepts and actual application.  Below I have listed a few:

Here is a Youtube that is a good and simple introduction   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbFGK_kFt00&feature=youtu.be

This one explains more how it saves water  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mibKS_Bdolg

This page is tremendous!  It show tons of good photos and different methods in action and also tells best and worst types of wood to use.  http://www.inspirationgreen.com/hugelkultur.html

With our last post we showed some older pictures from planting pecan seed in April. Now that we  are  almost in July, they are starting to emerge.   I think its a good idea to become familiar with how a pecan seed germinates and grows in its natural environment. At left is a photo of a germinated pecan. To germinate, the seed must first imbibe enough water to swell the kernel and crack open the shell.  As the seed starts to grow, a vigorous tap root is the first structure formed. Shortly thereafter, a smaller, wiry shoot develops and grows upwards, poking through the soil surface. In nature, a new pecan seedling will invest most of it energy in growing a massive, deep tap root. Above ground, first-year pecan trees rarely grow more than  8-12 inches in height and produce only a hand full of  leaves. This growth pattern is the tree’s way of ensuring seedling survival. Between fires, floods, grazing animals and brush hogging, seedling pecan trees often lose above ground parts. By storing a massive amount of plant energy in the tap root, a pecan tree can easily replace a lost top with a new sprout.

Caution and Constant are the words when weeding young pecan trees

Caution and Constant are the words when weeding young pecan trees

Pecan

Experts have long warned that weeds may compete with cultivated crops for nutrients and water.

But now research by a team from Washington State University and the United Kingdom has found that weeds may reduce the amount of plant-based nutrients in raspberries, according to a news release.

WSU weed scientist Tim Miller worked with fruit researchers in the United Kingdom last summer on a series of trials that examined weeds and herbicides and their relationship to plant-based or phytonutrients.

The UK team had already developed a method to measure the amount of several compounds in raspberries and black currants, two fruits that have been dubbed superfruits because of large amounts of antioxidants.

The 2012 trial in Scotland linked some hard-to-control weeds, such as broadleaf dock, fireweed and quackgrass, to reduced sugar, vitamin C, color and juice content in the berries.

Tim MillerCourtesy Washington State UniversityWashington State University weed scientist Tim Miller will travel to Scotland to work with colleagues on trial gauging the affect of weeds on raspberry and black currant nutritional content.

And the trials will be repeated this year to determine whether environmental responses during 2012 may have affected the outcome or whether the quality factors respond the same two years in a row.

“A better understanding of the potential effects of management decisions will give growers one more tool to improve not only the yield of their fruit, but also the quality of those fruits for consumers,” Miller said in the release.

 

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This weekend while we performed the morning weeding ritual, we encountered huge quantities of a new bug we hadn’t seen before.  About ½” long and slightly green, this elongated and skinny little guy was a fast mover.   He seemed to be only on certain weeds stayed hidden in the shade.  Any weed that had them though had 30-50 of them on it!  This was definitely in the “invasion” category but we were unable to discern any damage caused by them. 

An email sent to Lisa Dennisson  with the USDA NRCS  Lisa.Dennisson@nm.nacdnet.net  gave us lots of info.  Lisa is the “Glenn Haege” of Estancia Valley agriculture.  For those of you who do not know who Glenn Haege is,  he is America’s Master Handyman.  He has a nationally syndicated radio show in which people call in with all kinds of questions about home repair, from painting to plumbing to siding and he always knows the best way to fix it, the best product to use and the store where you can get it that is closest to your house! 

But if it has to do with agriculture or  farming in our valley Lisa knows the answers.

To quote what she told us : Those are Blister Beetles, called that because of the caustic substance they secrete when they are crushed.  They are cyclic, and it appears that this is going to be a bad year for them as I have had several people complaining about them already.  They are drawn to Pigweed and Kochia, but will also decimate tomatoes, peppers and many species in the nightshade family.  They can do damage to fruit/vegetables also, but I tend to find defoliation is the biggest problem.  Try Diatomaceous Earth on areas that you absolutely want to protect, but that will take out the good critters too.  Blister Beetles have no natural enemies, and the birds don’t eat them because they taste bad. 

I don’t doubt anything she said but I do want to know how they know if they taste bad?  Who was the first person to test this out and why?   Are there people whose job it is to taste bugs? and how bad does it have to be to taste bad to a bird?  C’mon birds will eat worms all day long and I don’t particularly think much of the flavor of those.

As she said they will decimate Pigweed and as far as I am concerned that is a major benefit to us as they seem to grow anywhere you water. 

What about the blisters?  Here is a photo from the internet.  Can’t you just picture this fellow feeling something on the back of his neck and swatting it.  It then releases its stuff and blisters him. Ouch!!

We also spoke with Dr. Tessa Grasswitz,   tgrasswi@nmsu.edu  the Urban/Small farms IPM Specialist (505) 865-5163.  Her job is to help citizens with insect pest issues and is always quick to respond to our inquiries.  She has a doctorate in Entomology and certainly knows her bugs.  She had this to say on the subject:

“As adults, these particular blister beetles tend to be attracted to flowering legumes – mainly alfalfa; but they will also aggregate on weeds such as sliver nightshade. Again, however, it is usually the flowers that attract them the most. They are beneficial in that the larval stages parasitize grasshopper eggs, but they become a problem as adults when they aggregate in alfalfa fields because they contain a toxin (cantharadin) that is poisonous to livestock; the beetles can get caught in the crimper when the hay is cut, and even the dead remains can be fatal to livestock – particularly horses. They are not usually pests of fruits or vegetables. Both grasshoppers and flowering alfalfa fields are attractants for them.  The other thing to bear in mind about blister beetles is that their name arises from the fact that if you handle them roughly, their defensive secretion can cause nasty burn-like blisters on the skin. Do be careful with them!

From Wikipedia about cantharadin (the chemical they can secrete):  “Horses are highly sensitive to cantharidin: the LD50 for horses is approximately 1 mg/kg of the horse’s body weight. Horses may be accidentally poisoned when fed bales of fodder with blister beetles in them”

We felt this article was important not because of the detriment to our plants, but the fact that if they are here this might be an issue for those of you who are horse owners.  If these pests are in large numbers in the valley and you feed local alfalfa this could be problem.  I do not know if this is a problem for other animals or just horses. 

 Maybe in the crowd of blog subscribers we have a livestock vet that can help us out to learn more?