Thursday, August 30, 2012

Fire In The Hole! Potting Soil Flammability Test

Can it really start a fire in a dry plant pot?

It's summer and fire season, a time when most of us are watching for dry brush, trees and grasses that might pose a hazard around our homes and businesses.   But there is something else flammable that we might have not even considered...potting soil, dry crusty potting soil.

Dry potting soil is not easily re-hydrated and floats on water

Who would have thought such a thing possible, I mean the whole fire issue seems so far removed from growing plants in containers that why would it cross our minds?  But it is true...potting soil is flammable, actually very flammable when dry.

I got to thinking about this a couple weeks ago as I was listening to a local news story on bark mulch fires being a real problem in our area, the fellow they were interviewing showed how these types of fires often migrate up through the soil to the base of a home and can end up causing the structure to catch fire.  Now I have seen first hand a bark mulch fire caused by someone's carelessly discarded cigarette butt, and how it was migrating up toward a building just as the expert had shown.  That is what got me going on dry potting soil possibly being a danger as well since it is mostly organic matter like bark which burns readily and how we NEVER hear about it.

Then today another blogger sort of beat me to the punch when he blogged about a reported an incident of a fire that destroyed a dozen apartments where a 56 year old man lost his life and that fire began in someone's planter.   Shocking I know but it's true.  And in case you are wondering, no, dry potting soil does not self ignite, it needs a spark to set it to smoldering before it becomes a fire hazard.

With that said I got all fired up (pun intended) and decided to do a little experiment of my own just to see for myself how flammable this stuff really is and hopefully have something to show you too.  So here goes!

Safety first...water to put out the fire

I placed a handful of dry potting soil in a cast iron skillet.  Since I don't have lit cigarette butts at my disposal I used a lighter which took only a few seconds to make the potting soil smolder.

Potting soil smoldering with a little glowing spark

It is important to note that it does not matter which brand of potting soil you have, they are all equally flammable.

Five minutes into the test this is how much burned

If there would have been a good breeze blowing my little pile would have actually flamed up into a real fire. Unfortunately we had no breeze so I was stuck blowing on the smoking pile of potting soil and this is what I got.

Oh woopie

The flammability of potting soils is due to the nature of the material potting soil is made up of...and all recipes are pretty much the same with each company adding their own variations to the basic mix. These products are really not soil at all and in the industry are called "soil-less mixes".  In fact potting soil is mostly peat, bark (cedar which is very flammable when dry) and perlite.

After fifteen minutes, one third or more is burnt up

Companies also often add bits of other ingredients to make each  recipe uniquely their own but the main ingredients...bark and peat or coconut coir (husk) are always present and all are always quite flammable when dry.

So what is the take away from all this?  Two things....FIRST: Keep those containers moist so they will not be able to catch fire.  (This second one is like spitting in the wind to me because those who do it just don't seem to get how dangerous it is or if the do they just don't care.)

One of many I find at the sidewalk in front of our house
SECOND: Stop putting cigarette butts where they do not belong folks!  If wishes were fishes as my momma used to say...and I sure wish there was a way to stop people from doing this but smokers, not all but some, just don't seem to get it that those butts are dangerous.

Oh well...
Need more proof?  Here is a video showing just how fast it can happen.

Safe gardening everyone and keep those hoses handy!

Copyright © 2012 by Patty Hicks
All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including printing, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without written permission from the author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review. All reviews must include author's name and a link back to this blog.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Tomatoes Have Worms?; Or What I Discovered Was Eating My Tomatoes

Who is that eating MY tomato?
Garden fresh tomatoes, we all wait with great anticipation for these luscious gems of the summer garden. We love them so much that when something spoils them we cry with the heart of a five year old “He stole my candy!”  At least that's what I did last night.

The spot that made me shudder with disgust.

There it was all red and luscious looking just calling my name.  But when I went to pluck it from the vine my finger landed on something that was just not right…a large soft spot.  EEEWWW!  “That’s not supposed to be there!  That was when I went into panic mode  “WHAT?  No, no, no…not my tomato!”  Next came disgust and that sinking disheartening feeling of being stripped of enjoying the fruits of my labor.  “What is it this time? Please God, not another new invader, some strange disease!”  I went into praying it wasn’t true mode.
That explains the soft rotten spot...there is an invader afoot!

I took the fruit inside to do my geek thing, dissecting it to see if I could find was going on.  Investigative research is important in fighting battles in the garden as we cannot fight our enemy with any hope of winning until we know who or what the enemy is.

Early pupal stage of the tomato fruitworm.

My research unveiled something I had never seen before.  I didn’t even know tomatoes had things like this.  The pest from what I can tell is Tomato Fruitworm, Helicoverpa zea, which by the way is the same pest as the cotton bollworm and corn earworm, an insidious little moth larvae that can be a real troublemaker if left undetected.  I am not looking forward to another battle but here we go again.

At first I was Googling tomatoes that eat worms to get some idea of what I was dealing with but had to stop.  The pictures were really creeped me out.  Maybe it was just too much to see worms eating garden fresh tomatoes but my stomach started feeling all icky.  By the time it got too uncomfortable to continue I had want I needed and knew I had my enemy by the tail.  I could plan my defense and get into the battlefield and hopefully save some of my tomatoes from this pest. And I will be watching and waiting for them next year now too.  The jigs up, these nasty little worms won’t stand a chance in my garden.

The information here at UCDavis on tomato fruitworm great for starters.  They include life cycle info, a list mechanical ways to control it from physically destroying eggs and monitoring plants, pheromone traps, preditory insects (our garden soldiers), and at the bottom of the page is a list of pesticides that may be used to control this pest..  If you should choose to use pesticides please contact your County Extension Office, Master Gardeners for what is listed for use in your area just to be safe and within the laws of your state.

I hope this helps if you have found a little worm ruining your garden plans.  Here's to winning the battle and future successes in your garden!

Copyright © 2012 by Patty Hicks
All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including printing, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without written permission from the author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review. All reviews must include author's name and a link back to this blog.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

What I Discovered At Viscaya: Social Plant Addiction

Stepped out of my car and into delight....

Do you live close to a nursery?  Do you just go to walk around and chill?  Have you ever considered that you may be addicted to plants?  Why do I ask that?  Because I love to go chill at the nursery.  For me it takes me to my "zone" where the rest of the world is allowed to evaporate for a while.  But I don't just do this sort of thing by myself all the time, I am probably more of a social plant addict myself, people are a big part of why I enjoy gardening so much.  Sort of like a social drinker only instead of the booze it's plants I share in the company of others.  Just ask my friend William if I'm right.  He is owner of Viscaya, a great little nursery near my home that I go visit probably once a week at least.

Yummy...I must get one for my garden too!

William and I seem to share this common bond of being social plant addicts.  Not just regular plant addicts but those who seem to enjoy sharing about what we love publicly.  He is even lucky enough to be a host of a garden show, Garden Time, that is broadcast locally here on television.  So he is sharing on a level I can only dream of and drool over.  (Oh dear, I think I may be a little jealous.)

Like all plant addicts we use Latin nomenclature more than common names, comment on plant anomalies as if it was a yummy dessert, swoon over the latest new thing, gushing as we share any new discoveries and enjoy trying to figure out plant related puzzles that we come across and often are asking questions about issues with plants we are growing. 

The human quotient is as large if not larger in our addiction though.  We could never be solitary plant addicts like some gardeners I have heard of. People make it even more fun for us.  We laugh about ourselves often too.  If we ever stop being able to laugh at ourselves please plan an intervention, we will be needing one.  But we laugh mostly because it is who we are and besides...being a social plant addict can be quite entertaining.  What a great way to have good time.  So how about you?  Social or solitary?

Speaking of laughing, today it was my turn to make William laugh.  But I want to take to peek at the nursery first. I'll you what made him laugh in a minute.  (See, I really am pathetically addicted.)

This is so unfair.  It's too gorgeous I want it all!
Chocolate cosmos and those leaves...fabulous!
What could be more perfect than a garden with a nursery sprinkled along the pathways?  Delightful and very approachable is what I have decided it is.  It is a very friendly place with spots to sit in the shade and even a table to sit at too.  In spite of the number of times I have visited Viscaya I always manage to come away inspired, either by new plants, new garden art ideas or by a lively conversation with William and his mom Roberta.  She's a peach too by the way and as friendly as the day is long.

Sweet nest and things hanging about.

Fountains and creative art pieces seem to be around every corner. Many William has created in homage to his heritage and others are just plain fun, but all of them are great examples of things we could replicate for our own gardens and that is something I really appreciate about his place.  The whole place is just friendly...just like William is.

Dicentra scandens in the serenity of the shade

With that being said I want to say William has become one of my favorite people and his momma Roberta is becoming a good friend too.  The thing I love most is that they really are my neighbors and though having Viscaya so close to my home may not be such a good thing for my pocket book, it is a great thing for my garden and our community which needs good friendly businesses like Viscaya to help infuse our area with new life.  But enough about all have got to see what I spotted along the drive in.  You drive right past it so I lets going back along the driveway to see what's there. You'll miss some things around here if you don't look at what is at your feet too.

Velvety Stachys (Lamb's Ear) and Euphorbia
A beautiful pairing of textures

Like I need more inspiring me to buy plants, here at my feet was this Stachys and Euphorbia that made me coo.  I think I should take a video camera along sometime...I have no pride when it comes to adoring plants.  Oh just like when I spotted this pillar planter William put together.  I mean isn't it fabulous?!  This one is going on my list to reproduce for my garden.  Oh and like the planter below...I didn't even see it until I was walking back in from the driveway, walked right by it on the way out too.  See what I mean.

I absolutely love this one and see how simple!

Now back to that story I was going to tell you.  I was checking out the brick pillar planters that flank the entrance to one area just off the parking lot and saw these big fat luscious Nasturtium seeds and was considering making a snack of some of them. William had been doing some edging and stopped to answer a question I had about something.

Nice seeds ya got there!

"Nice Nasturtium seeds you got there." I say.  He burst out laughing, doubling over, and I almost blushed in my confusion.  I think I said something like, "What's so funny." and when he finally caught his breath and he explained through his laughter that my statement reminded him of how an addict sounds when they are talking about crack and isn't that funny how my comment sounded like that.  Really, it's that obvious? Well at least it's a delightful addiction, that's all I can say.

Unusual and beautiful Monk's Hood Vine (Aconite)

If  you are ever in Portland I recommend you take the time to pop in to visit Viscay and meet William and his momma and prepare to be tempted by the plants.  You may even get in a good laugh.

Happy Gardening!

Copyright © 2012 by Patty Hicks
All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including printing, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without written permission from the author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review. All reviews must include author's name and a link back to this blog.