Milkweed

Milkweed is one of the loved, cherished weeds we have growing on our property. The plant is very important for monarch butterflies and may be edible (this subject gives rise to much debate!). And they are beautiful! We were wondering, though, if this was the RIGHT milkweed for monarchs in our area of the country. So I finally decided to check.

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Seed head from Showy Milkweed in fall

And yes indeed, our property is home to Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) which is the best milkweed for monarchs in the Intermountain West region, followed, according to Monarch Watch, by Broadleaf Milkweed (Asclepias latifolia).

Why is having the RIGHT milkweed important? Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed, and then the caterpillars only eat milkweed. If you plant the wrong type of milkweed for your region, it can severely mess up the monarch’s reproduction cycle (they might lay their eggs at the wrong time). More on that here: Plan to save monarch butterflies backfires

So, if you also have milkweed or are thinking about planting some and want to make sure it’s the right one for your region, check out this guide at Monarch Watch and you can quickly find the right varieties.

And as far as eating milkweed goes? I figure the butterflies need them more than we do anyway. Problem solved.

Cold frame conundrum

I have four cold frames that I made using plastic storage bins and two more that use glass with the thermal mass of bricks and stone. These are experimental and so far I’m seeing some clear differences in the results.

The seeds started in the thermal mass cold frames are thriving and growing much more quickly than the others. While not the exact same varieties, there are tomatoes and peppers started in both the plastic frames and the glass-brick frames.

There is one cold frame in particular (Cold Frame 4) where the seeds are ESPECIALLY slow coming up. I have only spotted one seedling in here so far:

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Cold Frame 4

Compare with Cold Frame 3, started on the same day:

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Cold Frame 3

And the big difference is with Cold Frames 5 & 6 which have the advantage of thermal mass keeping them warm at night. These were started a couple of weeks AFTER Cold Frame 4 but are growing much faster:

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Cold Frame 5

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Cold Frame 6

I have a couple of ideas about why the seeds in Cold Frame 4 aren’t coming up, or aren’t coming up as fast as all of the others.

The thermal mass surrounding Cold Frame 5 and 6 are certainly helping keep the seeds and seedlings in there warmer at night. In the desert environment here it gets a lot colder at night than it is during the day. (Why? Humidity in the air keeps the temperature more stable. You’re welcome.)

But the other  plastic cold frames are also doing better than poor Cold Frame 4, which is the lower container below:

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I’m guessing that perhaps the height on the other bins is somehow allowing for more warm air to accumulate, keeping those seedlings warmer at night too.

Or, perhaps when the plastic cold frames were next to the house #4 took on too much water one night and washed all the seeds out of the pots. It’s possible!

In any case, it’s a good learning experience. Next time I will go with thermal mass all the way. And perhaps for the time being I’ll go out and pile up some bricks next to Cold Frame 4 and see if that helps.

This episode of geeking out in the garden has come to a close! More garden geekery next time!

New life in macro

If you’re a gardener but have never planted from seed before, you really must try it. Every year when I plant seeds there’s always some doubt: they might not come up. And yes, sometimes for various reasons some seeds don’t come up. But most of them do. Suddenly, on their own schedule, they come up, sprouting out of the ground, pushing the soil out of the way, in their new green splendor. It feels like a miracle, always. Here are a few little miracles that are taking place in our garden beds right now.

A climate change

But not the kind you might be thinking of.

Last year I moved away from the Southeast where the summers are hot and humid and the winters are mild. It would be considered a temperate forest zone (as opposed to a tropical forest zone – though sometimes it felt pretty tropical!). This is what my garden in Charlotte, NC looked like:

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Now I am in the Intermountain West, in the high desert or steppe, where the summers are hot and dry, with cool nights, and the winters are frigid and dry. Everything I learned about growing plants within my southeastern framework I am now trying to adapt to this new climate.

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Whereas in the southeast I had to be careful not to plant things too deeply, so they didn’t rot, here it is the opposite. We have to plant things deeper than the surface of the soil to give the water a chance to soak the plant roots before running off and/ or evaporating.

However, since the challenges are greater here, there is even more need for smart solutions. Planting in rows are what my sweetie has been practicing for the past several years. This requires a lot of time watering as you have to lug the hose to each row. I’m working on a design for this space that should cut down on the amount of watering time involved and really help build up the soil to hold on to more moisture. I’m looking forward to sharing and would love feedback!

Until then – toodles!