Farm Tips and Bugeroos! 9/15/23

Farm Tips and Bugeroos! 9/15/23

Posted by Mandy + Steve O'Shea on

We are enjoying the bits of rain we’ve been getting the last few days.  So is the landscape and especially the dahlias.  Native to higher elevations in Mexico, they are a flower that prefers cool temps, especially in the evenings and they love rain.  If you’ve ever seen a field of dahlias in the pacific northwest, you’ve seen them at their happiest.  Down here in the sultry south, it took us 8 years of failure after failure to start to find varieties that were not only  beautiful, but were also tough enough to survive our relentless and punishing summers that seem to last half a year.  We keep trying new ones, but we’ve got our favorites in abundance out in the fields.  Even our A-listers have suffered this year though.  They are producing beautiful flowers, but they are hardly more than knee high and are producing at about 40% the yield that they would have in a less punishing year.  Fortunately we planted a ton, so we are able to meet the needs of our subscribers and have a bit to spare for extra orders and Farm Store visitors.

   And if you’ve got an 8 foot tall Jumangi style dahlia plant in Georgia and are wondering why ours are short…it’s because early planted dahlias in Georgia do get huge, but they also become breeding grounds for pests and if you plant thousands of them, the result will be dahlia Armageddon.  A billion bugeroos just feeding and fornicating until they become so numerous and so strong that every bloom will be tarnished despite your best efforts.  The flowers will look like hell come September and October due to the thrip infestations and you’ll spend more time and money fighting the problem than you will selling the flowers.  So, we plant late and circumnavigate that issue.

   We’re starting to work on our tunnels to prepare them for spring flowers.  Yesterday I spent most of the day on the tractor, scooping up soil from the bottom of our farm and driving it all the way up and across the farm to Tunnel 1 and spreading it around to build it up.  It was the first high tunnel (greenhouse) I built back in 2011 or 12 and I didn’t understand the need to raise the area prior to construction, so now it needs to be elevated a bit.  As you harvest plants every year, you are effectively removing matter and the result is that your tunnel can get lower over time.  The outside of the tunnel stays the same height though, which can result in water pooling up in your tunnel because you’ve inadvertently created a pond inside, yet planted your most valuable possessions in it.  So now your delicate and expensive plants are flooded and sad.  This causes anaerobic conditions for plant roots and ideal conditions for water-molds and fungal pathogens to wreak havoc.  Extensive or even complete crop loss on something like this is financially and emotionally devastating and has brought a tear to the eye of the toughest of farmers. 

   So, if you’re building your first tunnel…. raise it up higher than the surrounding area, so water runs away instead of inside.  If it’s too late, you can rent a backhoe and install a French drain…though that is more expensive, time consuming, and can be a challenge around gas, electric and water lines.  You can also try rain gutters on the top of the side walls of the tunnel.  All help to a degree, but the gold standard is to raise your tunnel relative to it’s surroundings.  And if anyone’s wondering why I was bringing soil from across the farm instead of buying in soil, it's because we’ve never bought in good soil.  Ever.  You never know what you are getting.  At best, it’s all clay and completely devoid of nutrients and organic matter.  At worst, if it’s “topsoil”, it’s got chemicals and noxious weeds in it that will forever be a part of your farm going forward.  We had a pickup load of manure from a friend 10 years ago that destroyed our production on half an acre for 3 seasons.  Their mom watched their horses one weekend and gave them a couple bales of hay from a different supplier.  Turns out that hay was sprayed with persistent herbicides (most hay is).  Those horses ate it, digested it , then we composted it, and spread it half a year later, and got ruined….. 10 parts per billion of this chemical was all it took to destroy all of our flowers for 3 seasons.  So…. if we want to build up a location for a tunnel, we never buy topsoil.  We may buy fill dirt which is just clay from deep in a hillside (no possible chemical exposure), but we’ll scrape our own topsoil off and put it to the side first.  Then we build up our elevation with the fill dirt.  Then we go to our own hill and dig out our topsoil that has more sand and is better for drainage and put a layer on top of the fill dirt.  Then we move our own pre-scraped topsoil back on top.  We end up with an elevated tunnel with 3 layers of earth.  Fill dirt for elevation and compaction at the bottom.  Sandy soil from a remote farm location that elevates us further and allows for drainage.  With a final layer of the original topsoil put back on top for happy plant roots.  This strategy has worked brilliantly on our latest tunnels.  Don’t reinvent the wheel, or repeat our mistakes.  Copy our successes.  Use this approach.

   Next step for us is to put new plastic on Tunnel 6, which is always a joy (its 138’ x 35’ and almost 20’ tall).  It ripped off in the wind in early summer.  I’m sure there’ll be vids of us trying to wrangle this together on Instagram.  But meanwhile, it’s time to take your soil samples so you know exactly how to amend your beds for the proper pH and nutrient array.  Your spring plants need every advantage they can get.  Rachel just dropped off our samples at the UGA extension office this morning and we look forward to our results next week, so we can make the perfect beds for our upcoming plantings of spring flowers.  Don’t skip this step!!  

   Finally, it’ the last call for the plant sale!  We’ve got a few items left, but the sale is about to end, so if you’ve got some last minute Fall garden needs, check out the sale here.  And if you are interested in easy to grow bulbs, we’ll be starting our bulb sale on the 30th!

   Thanks so much for all your support and for following along.  Wishing you a great weekend and a happy garden!