Monthly Archives: June 2012

Deadheading Keeps Flowers Blooming all Summer

As we settle into our summer garden maintenance routine, there are a few garden tasks that we do weekly. This time of year we are kept busy watering plants and deadheading the spent flowers. Many first-time volunteers are unfamiliar with the term ‘deadheading’ and I have the opportunity to show them something new.

So, what exactly is deadheading? Simply, Pelargonium 'Brilliant' that needs deadheading. Photo by Shelagh Fritzit is the removal of dead flowers. By removing the dead flowers, the plant is tricked into producing more flowers; all the plant really wants to do is produce seeds to ensure the next generation of its kind. When we remove the flowers right before the plant begins to put energy into producing seeds, the plant instead puts energy into making more flowers for us to enjoy all summer long. As well, removing dead flowers keeps the plant looking tidier.

 

Deadheading does take a certain type of person though. As you can imagine, removing tiny flowers one-by-one from 4.5 acres of gardens is time consuming and having patience, an eye for details, and a strong back helps.

Removing the flower stalk and the dead flower. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

Most plants are deadheaded in the same basic way – cutting the flower back to the next live leaf is a good general rule. However, for pelargoniums, they do look better when done a certain way. For these plants, the entire flower plus the flower stalk must be removed. If only the flower is removed, the stalk will eventually die-back leaving an unsightly stick. And while it may only be one stick, over an entire section of planting of pelargoniums, these little ‘sticks’ will prominently catch a person’s eye. Removing the flower and stalk is easy enough – simply firmly hold the base of the stalk in one hand and then bend down the flower stalk. Pelargoniums also tend to have yellowing leaves underneath that will shrivel and fall to the ground. A good practice to help prevent disease and buildup of insects is to regularly clean these leaves up and compost them.

 

Seed of Pelargonium starting to form. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

Other island plants that benefit from deadheading are Osteospermum, Arctotis, Penstemon, snapdragons, rose, Zinnia, Limonium, Calendula, Centranthus.

 

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Escapees

This past Monday marked the 50th anniversary of the famous escape of the Anglin brothers and Frank Morris, as portrayed by Clint Eastwood in the movie Escape from Alcatraz. Cleverly arranging to be in cells next to each other, four men planned the elaborate escape. Back in 1962, seating at meal times was arranged by cell location – meaning that the foursome sat at their own table and had every meal to plan and update each other on their progress. Planning likely took a year and a half before beginning a six month dig out through the back concrete wall surrounding the air vents of their cells. Their route would take them up to the roof through the utility corridor. Unfortunately, all that planning could not have predicted that when Allen West dug through the back of his cell, he encountered a pipe that would let him go no further. The three remaining inmates fled to the water where they used homemade rafts to brave the frigid waters of San Francisco Bay.

 

Mug shots of the wanted.

Family of the Anglin brothers was on the island along with many members of the media to speculate if the trio made it or not. With the three still officially wanted by the FBI, the search continues.

 

There are a number of other escapees; however they get much less press coverage – the plants.

 

After the closure of the prison in 1963, Nasturtiums escaping their boundaries. Photo by Shelagh Fritzthe gardens were abandoned, leaving the plants on their own to either perish without the constant care of gardeners; or to thrive. These garden escapees chose to thrive and are well suited to dry windy summers, poor rocky soil and near constant wind. If a plant can cope with these conditions, it almost deserves its freedom by growing where it pleases.

 

High on the wanted list (or unwanted list as the case may be) are the usual suspects – ivy, blackberry, and honey suckle. A few other plants are more recognized as ‘garden plants’ – calla lily, Chasmanthe floribunda, sweet pea and Acanthus mollis. Nasturtiums try to sneak into most garden areas – sending their long tendrils cautiously at first, and then before you know it, the vine is 10 feet long and clambering over its neighbors. The most dramatic escape, almost comparable to the Great Escape of 1962, is Elliot Michener’s fig tree. In the forty years of the gardens being neglected, the fig was happy to spread out and take over a portion of the west lawn. This escape has a happy ending, as now the overgrown vegetation provides habitat for snowy egrets, which are back on the island, right now in fact, raising their chicks amongst the ripening figs.

 Acanthus, succulents and pelargoniums now grow where the guard tower once stood. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

The escapees give a glimpse of what introduced plants will do on an abandoned plot of land, and what other creatures will find opportunity with a new habitat created.

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Worm Farming on Alcatraz

As part of our commitment to being as sustainable as possible, we have a worm bin on the island. One of my volunteers, Dick Miner, started it two years ago and has since become nicknamed the Worm Man of Alcatraz.

Dick outlines in a few easy steps how you can make your own worm bin.

To start a worm farm one needs a simple container. We use a Tupperware container in which small holes have been drilled for air exchange. Fill the bottom half with bedding, we use coconut coir, this is the fibrous material of the coconut. The bedding should be moist but not wet. Coconut coir can be purchased in many good nurseries.  In Marin, it’s the nurseries the specialize  in native plants that carry coir and red wigglers.  

 

Sturdy container for the bin with small holes. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

Next, ordering the worms. One should start with maybe a 1/2 pound of red wigglers. The worms can be ordered through worm farming websites, Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm which is in Pennsylvania is where we ordered ours from.  Another web site that is good is Worm’s Wrangler in the Northwest.  

The worms will eat most kitchen scraps, just not meat or dairy products.  They love coffee grounds, melons, and salad greens. They are picky eaters when it comes to onions, garlic, or peppers. The worms on Alcatraz are fed once a week. Dick buries the veggies in one corner of the box; and next week the next corner and so on. The worms will migrate to wherever the food is. It is vital not to let the box dry out or they will try to leave, making a very slow getaway.

 

Food scraps (dinner for the worms). Photo by Shelagh Fritz

The bedding should be changed when the box gets too wet.  Harvesting castings is a bit tedious.  Dick dumps out the bedding on a tarp and separates the worms from the coir one at a time.  The worms then go into new bedding.  The castings are used in our compost tea, which is sprayed on our roses.

Worm Poop. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

 

The worm bin stays in the greenhouse under a bench and does not get too hot, the worms can stay outside but they do need to be brought inside for chilly winter evenings.

Visitors on the free docent tour are shown into the greenhouse and get a chance to see the worm bin and if they are lucky, will have Dick as their guide.

 

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