Learn With Us, January 2021

Learn With Us has a new format! Some in-person programming will be happening in 2021, but space is limited to allow for distancing. Instead of publicizing events happening in the following week, we will advertise events further in advance to allow more time for registration. Since most lectures and presentations are still virtual, we will be posting links to programming in Durham and beyond, highlighting a few talks while providing our readers with the opportunity to view full schedules of events if desired.

Virtual Programming from Durham County

Durham Garden Forum: January 19, 7:00 – 8:30 PM.
Our program this month is on “Tomato Grafting” presented by Dr. Ashley Troth, Extension Agent, Agriculture, NC Cooperative Extension Durham County Center and Kathryn Hamilton, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer. Learn how to get the best of both worlds – great tomato taste and vigorous, disease resistant tomato plants in your garden by grafting two tomatoes together. You will receive all the information needed to do this on your own in the spring. This Zoom presentation is being made available free of charge. Register here: https://ncsu.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJUrd-uvrzojGdKhYoZN2iGx9qjB9MmDr7aw
A confirmation email with information about joining the meeting will be sent. Contact durhamgardenforum@gmail.com for information on future programming.

Getting Started With Warm Season Vegetables: February 11th, 2021, 6-8 PM
For more information and registration: Getting Started With Warm Season Vegetables | North Carolina Cooperative Extension
This class is part of the Bull City Gardener Learning Series – see the full schedule of online and in person events here: go.ncsu.edu/bullcitygardener2021

Integrated Pest Management (Workshop for small fruit growers): February 23, 2021, 6-7:30 PM
Additional information and registration link here: https://durham.ces.ncsu.edu/2021/01/upcoming-online-workshops-for-small-fruit-growers/

Programming from Sarah P. Duke Gardens: Duke Gardens Winter 2021 Adult Programs – Browse program listings

Events at JC Raulston Arboretum (many are online): https://jcra.ncsu.edu/events/calendar/index.php

Follow this link to learn about several NC Cooperative Extension webinars in February that may be of interest to gardeners:

January: To Do in the Garden

By Gary Crispell, EMGV

Well, THAT year is gone. It’s hard to decide whether to be happy, sad or both. It seems premature to be relieved. Perhaps we can be hopeful that the light we see at the end of the tunnel is a good thing and not an Amtrack express train. We can be hopeful that the vaccines will be successful against Covid-19 and its mutant offspring and that enough of the world population will get vaccinated to at least cage the beast. Perhaps we will be able to salvage at least part of the summer and plus the Fall/Winter holidays. Let us be optimistic. Let us GAR—DEN! (A word about the weather; When NOAA predicted a wetter than normal December, I did not anticipate the potential for rice paddies in the backyard. I shall re- access the backyard plan.)

Keep the accumulations of leaves off the turf. They should be through falling by now making that job easier.

Think about how you could change your landscape to eliminate some (or all) of your grass. It is after all the most expensive planting in the yard (unless you have an extensive planting of tea roses) and the most ecologically unsustainable. Just sayin’.

Not much here either unless you need a place to dump wood ashes. You can spread them on the veggie garden, bulb beds or non-acid loving shrub beds if the pH is low, <6.0.

See introductory paragraph.

Should the soil dry out enough to actually be workable asparagus crowns can be planted now.

Sharpen those hand pruners and loppers and go to work. Here’s your get-out-of-the-house excuse. Studies have shown that January pruning cuts heal more rapidly than those made in other months. So, take down those branches over hanging the house and the ones that shade that corner of the garden. Cut back those misshapen or overgrown shrubs. Please prune the branches individually to shape the plant. Unless you are trying to recreate Buckingham Palace or Versailles or the Imperial Palace in Tokyo leave the power hedge clippers where they are. Shearing is not the best thing you can do for a plant. However, if you must…be sure the finished product is wider at the base than the top. This allows sunlight to reach the lower leaves and keep the plant looking full from top to bottom. When pruning entire branches of anything make the cut at the outside of the branch collar (flared area at the branch origin).

Did you bring in some friends when you brought in your houseplants for the winter? Yeah, me, too. Try to catch a warm day and run the plants outside for a quick dose of a light horticultural oil or insecticidal soap. Be sure to READ THE LABEL!

Wear lots of clothes when you go outside, ‘cause I know you are going to go outside. You’re a gardener.

Seed catalogues are highly entertaining and in abundant supply. Enjoy!

Put up a squirrel resistant (squirrel proof is an oxymoron) bird feeder.

Google (or Bing or whomever) North Carolina native plants and determine if there might be something new and interesting you could add to your landscape. (or just check out the NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox)

Make homemade soup with the bounty from your garden and drink warm beverages.

Stay warm. It’s only two months until March.

*Resources & Further Reading

Organic Lawn Care Guide

Central North Carolina Planting Calendar for Annual Fruits, Vegetables, and Herbs

General Pruning Tips

NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox

Overwintering Honey Bees in the South

By Catherine Urich, EMGV

As the days of autumn begin to shorten, the bee hives prepare for winter. The queen’s production of eggs will decline in order to reduce the number of bees that need to be taken care of during the cold months. A productive hive requires approximately 40 pounds of honey for the bees to survive an average southern winter. Therefore, the hive will be reduced from 50,000 bees to approximately 20,000. The reduction of the bees is due to the decline of eggs laid by the queen and worker bees dying off. A worker bee’s lifecycle is approximately 28 days during the summer and up to 50 days in the winter. All of the male bees are kicked out of the hive kicking and screaming NOOOOO so the girls will not have to feed them all winter long.

Beekeepers will normally reduce the number of the hive bodies and honey supers on the hive so that it’s more compact and doesn’t overwhelm the bees. It’s important to have one brood chamber and one honey super on each hive. The beekeeper will place an entrance reducer on the hive to prevent rodents from entering and setting up housekeeping during the winter.

Honey and pollen are stored around the perimeter of the brood frame for easy access during very cold weather. The colony will cluster around the queen to keep her warm and fed during cold months. They rotate from outside in to create warmth through their body heat to help keep the brood warm as well as the queen and themselves. The internal temperature of the cluster should remain no lower than 45 degrees regardless of the external temperature. There are winters that the bees will starve or succumb to disease even though they have been well taken care of. Sometimes it’s just bad luck. 

Pests like hive beetles are not normally an issue in the winter because they had rather overwinter in the ground below. Some beekeepers douse the area with a pesticide around the hive to kill the eggs of the beetles. Normally bees do not hang out or land directly in front of the hive.

Food supplies may dwindle during the winter months and the beekeeper will feed with sugar syrup, one pound of sugar to one pound of water. The beginning of February or three weeks before the honey flow starts, the beekeeper will provide pollen patties for the bees to build up their energy to be successful in the spring. Even though there could be snow on the ground, trees will still produce pollen and the worker bees are anxious to collect it. The queen will begin increasing egg production around the same time. Spring is on the way and the hive is beginning to re-BUZZ.

Resources & Further Reading

If you wish to learn more about beekeeping, join your county beekeepers club. Durham’s club meets the third Monday of the month at 7 p.m., currently via Zoom.

Getting started as a beekeeper

The classified ads section of the NC Agricultural Review newsletter is a place to find beekeeping supplies for sale

NC Beekeepers Association

October: To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

Of course, it’s October! It happens every year, although I would not have been surprised if it did not happen this year (or if November preceded it). It has been an exceptionally weird year. September was … well, exactly. September was. We did get some non-tropical rain as well as some of the tropical stuff. There were hurricanes, remnants of hurricanes and hundreds-of-miles-off-shore-and-still-buried-NC-12-with-sand-and-salt-water hurricanes. There are horrendous wildfires in the west and the ever-present life altering Covid-19. I am not even going to start on the toxic political climate.

On a lighter note, the accidental cottage garden looks better than it did at the beginning of September (see photos below). (Ain’t rain wonderful?) The plantings along the driveway don’t get as much sun since the equinox, so they don’t have much to offer right now. There are a couple of asters (Symphyotrichum puniceum and Aster novea-angliae), a lone cock’s comb (Celosia plumosa) and some hardy ageratum (Eupatorium coelestinum). Along the gable end, the galardia (Galardia puchella) and lance leaf coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata) are still putting on a show. In the more intentional (less accidental?) part of the garden the spreading mum (Chrysantemum x unknown), a wand flower (Guara lindheimeri) and a stonecrop (Hylotelephium “Herbstsfreude” ‘Autumn Joy’) lighten up the front of the rampant tomato plants. BTW, the stonecrop is a cross-genus hybrid cross between Sedum telephium and a species of ice plant, Hylotelephium spectabile.  (The preceding trivia is presented for the benefit of your erudition at no extra charge.)

Photos – Clockwise from upper right: Sedum autumn joy, chrysanthemum and guara, hardy ageratum, galatia and coreopsis. Credit G. Crispell.

“Yo, Dude! Quit your yammering and tell the people what to do in the garden this month.” Oh, yeah.  Right. Here ya go, y’all. Enjoy October.

– Not much to do here unless you are planting spring flowering bulbs. Should that be the case, incorporate a little balanced fertilizer (10-10-10 or equivalent) into the soil as you plant.
– Store any leftover fertilizer in a dry place for the winter.

– Plant the above-mentioned spring flowering bulbs (E.g. hyacinths, tulips, daffodils, crocuses, etc.).
– Pansies! Those plucky members of the Viola genus who can brighten up a gray winter day should be on everyone’s list unless, of course, there are deer nearby. Apparently, the pansies make a great dessert after a meal of azalea branches. Plant them soon as the more established they are when it gets cold the better able they will be to withstand the cold.
– “Fall is for planting.”  It’s not just a slogan from the nursery industry. It is gospel. The very best time to plant any new landscape plants you have been planning for is now.
– Peonies can be planted or transplanted now.
– In the vegetable garden consider a nitrogen fixing cover crop like red clover, hairy vetch or winter rye.  This will help keep down the weeds and add nitrogen to the soil. In the spring just till it into the soil to add nutrients and organic matter.
– If you happen to be one of the foresighted people who have a cold frame* now is the appropriate time to plant a winter’s worth of salad. Lettuce, green onions, radishes, carrots, spinach and other leafy greens will grace your salad bowl all winter if planted now.

– Once frost (It’s October; It is going to frost!) has finished the decimation of the perennial garden cut off all the dead tops and throw them on the compost pile.
– Root prune* any trees or plants you plan on moving in the spring.

Unless you have a lace bug problem it is time to clean up and winterize the sprayer and store the pesticides in a secured dry location that will not freeze. As to the lace bugs they are active whenever the leaf surface temperature is warm enough (i.e. whenever the sun shines on the leaves).  A horticultural oil spray can be helpful in controlling both feeding adults and egg stages.

Lawn Care*
– Maintain adequate moisture levels for any newly seeded or sodded lawns. 
– Avoid leaf buildup on lawns.
– Tall fescue and bluegrass (not the fiddlin’ kind) can still be planted in October.

– Keep an eye on any new cuttings in the cold frame (the one without the salad greens in it). They should be checked at least twice a month and watered as needed.
– If you are a gardener lucky enough to be able to grow rhubarb now is the time to dig and divide it.

Other stuff to do that will keep you outdoors while the leaves turn color

Take soil samples while they are still FREE. NCDOA will charge for them from November to April. Supplies are available for curbside pickup at the back of the Extension office, 721 Foster Street.

Put those raked or blown leaves into the compost bin or till them into the veggie garden.

Clean, fill and put out the bird feeders.

Dig and store (cool, dark, dry) tender summer flowering bulbs (E.g. gladioli, dahlia, caladium) before frost.

Clean up, lubricate and otherwise prepare lawn and garden equipment for its long winter’s rest.

A mea culpa. This writer neglected to inform you that it is time to band trees that are susceptible to canker worm invasions. This involves wrapping and securing the trunk with a coarse material like burlap or quilt batting about four or five feet above the ground. That in turn is wrapped with a corrugated paper wrap that is then covered with the stickiest gooeyest stuff you’ve ever played with. All these materials are available at some nursery/garden centers one of which is very proximal to the Durham Extension office.

For a fun activity now that will yield fresh living flowers in the bleak mid-winter try your hand at forcing spring flowering bulbs. Plant bulbs in pots early in October and place them in the refrigerator. In 12 weeks bring them out into the house and watch them grow and bloom. Kids love it.

Further Reading

Root pruning will encourage the plant to produce a flush of new feeder roots. The goal is to allow the plant to develop new feeder roots within the zone of the future root ball that will be moved. Learn more: https://extension.psu.edu/transplanting-or-moving-trees-and-shrubs-in-the-landscape

Fall Lawn Care: Evaluate before you Renovate https://www.trianglegardener.com/fall-lawn-care-tip-evaluate-before-you-renovate/

How to Build and Maintain a Cold Frame https://www.hws.edu/fli/pdf/cold_frame.pdf

A Garden Surprise

by Cathy Halloran, EMGV

My husband and I were in need of a break from our usual, daily Covid-routine of exercise, gardening and deciding on dinner. In pre-Covid days, we would take the Durham-Washington DC Amtrak to visit friends in D.C. One stop we always found curious was Wilson, NC. It didn’t look like a very vibrant town, yet it was an Amtrak stop. So, in late June, we packed a picnic and headed East/Southeast to Wilson.

We suspect Wilson, in its glory, was a prosperous tobacco town. Its downtown is now quiet and sedate. However, on the edge of town is a jewel called the Wilson Botanical Gardens. It surrounds the site of the Wilson Agricultural Center and was started in 2003 with grants to develop a community garden. The gardens are maintained by the Wilson County Extension Master Gardener Volunteers. The gardens were designed to show the diversity of plant materials that can be used in the home landscape, and to educate and entertain visitors.

The garden delivered its intent. There are sections for every interest, from native plants to perennial borders, to trees, ornamental grasses, pollinator attractors, and a children’s secret garden. 

The area we found most interesting and educational was how they incorporated STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) into the garden. Each STEM sign had a bar code to access more detailed information once one leaves the garden.

The Science section showcased and explained a rain garden and carnivorous plants. 

Solar energy and a weather station were used to demonstrate Technology, plus they added an old-fashion human sundial and explained how it can tell time.

A windmill and hydroponic garden were used to demonstrate Engineering. The windmill, when powered by wind, circulates the water in a holding basin where they grow plants.

The hardest area was Mathematics where the Fibonacci Spiral was explained and the use of only three measurements to calculate the height of a tree.

The last section we enjoyed was the Culinary and Medicinal Herb Garden. Each plant was marked with the usual botanical information, then added its medicinal qualities.

All photos by C. Halloran

If you need an outing where you are surrounded by beautiful plants and trees, and want to learn something and have fun, we highly recommend the Wilson Botanical Gardens. They have benches tucked in shady areas to enjoy a picnic. The garden is open 365 days a year and restrooms are accessible 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday – Friday. The garden is located at 1806 SW Goldboro Street, Wilson, NC. Masks and social distancing are required.

A map of the garden: