~ December 9, 2009 ~
Winter Is Here...
The first real snow of the season. It is hard not to get caught up in the initial excitement. We sat at the dinner
table last evening watching the snow flakes fall. The boys talked about how great it would be if there was a
snow day. You can only imagine the disappointment this morning when they were told that it was just another
ordinary school day. It really is pretty, especially when you are sitting inside watching the flakes fall, covering
the ground in a blanket of white. The part I dislike is having to go outside. I wrap myself up in layers dreading
the first step outside. It is cold. The wind whips the snow up from the ground tossing it carelessly around. The
white pristine snow will soon be gone with just the cold hanging on. It is hard to swallow, but winter is here.
Nature's Drip Irrigation...
Last night's snowfall accumulation varied wildly through the Kansas City metro. Regardless
of how much you received, one benefit of that layer of ice and snow on the ground is
its slow release of moisture into the soil. It may not be a lot of water but because it
melts slowly into the soil it can be a more effective irrigator than a hard rain. You can
even increase the benefit by shoveling sidewalk and driveway snow and ice to areas of the
garden that will eventually benefit from the added moisture. Just make sure the shoveled
snow doesn't contain any salty or harmful chemical de-icers.
Ashes To Garden?
You may have heard that using wood ashes on your garden can help
make the soil more fertile. Though ashes do contain significant
amounts of potash, they contain little phosphate and no nitrogen.
Most Kansas City-area soils are naturally high in potash and do
not need more. Also, wood ashes will raise the pH of our soils,
often a drawback in Kansas where soils tend toward high pH.
Therefore, wood ashes add little benefit, and may harm, many Kansas
soils. In most cases it is best to get rid of them. However, one
possible use for ashes would be as an addition to compost. Compost
is normally acidic and the ashes would help neutralize the pH.
Most homes in winter become dry, dry, dry. Keep an eye out
for spider mites on your houseplants - they thrive in that dry
air. A light infestation can usually be controlled with foliage
rinsing or the application of insecticidal soap. Heavy infestations
may force you to dispose of the plant altogether. Females spider mites
can lay about 200 eggs and the life cycle may be completed in just 7 days.
Do the math - it gets ugly fast!
Household Humidity Help...
You know that dry feeling you get in a heated house all winter long?
Your houseplants like it even less than you do. They actually prefer
a relative humidity of 40 to 50 percent but suffer under humidity levels
of 10 to 20 percent common in many homes during the winter months.
What to do? Humidifiers are an excellent way to increase the relative
humidity in the home. Grouping plants together is an easy way to raise
humidity levels as well. The water evaporating from the potting soil,
plus water lost through the plant foliage, will increase the relative
humidity in the vicinity of the houseplants. Another method is
to place houseplants on trays (saucers) filled with pea gravel or
pebbles. Add water to the trays, but keep the bottoms of the
pots above the water line. The evaporation of water from the
trays increases the relative humidity.
By the way, misting houseplants is not an effective way to raise the
relative humidity. The plant foliage dries quickly after misting
and misting would have to be done several times a day to be effective at all.
Pacing Your Paperwhites...
As the holidays near, you can adjust the bloom time of your forced paperwhites.
If they are coming along too quickly, place them in a cool room (50-60ºF) and
water less frequently. If you need to speed them up a bit, place them in the
warmest room in the house. With a little luck they'll be blooming right on time!
If you are using guy wires around newly planted trees make
sure hose sections (or other protection) are still covering the
supporting wires or ropes. Without sufficient protection the
recent windy weather could cause a young tree's bark to be
stripped away by bare wire or rope.
Sharpen Mower Blades Now...
Last week we talked about putting the mower away for the winter. Now is also an excellent time
to sharpen mower blades so they'll be ready next spring. Sharpening rotary mower blades is
fairly straightforward. The following steps will guide you through this process:
- Check the
blade for major damage. If you can't fix it, it likely will need
to be replaced.
- Remove grass and debris from the blade with a
moist cloth. Dry before beginning to sharpen the cutting edge.
- Remove nicks from the cutting edge, using a grinding wheel or
- If using a grinding wheel, match the existing edge
angle to the wheel. If hand-filing, file at the same angle as the
- Grind or file until the edge is 1/32 inch, about
the size of a period.
- Particularly with a grinding wheel, avoid
overheating the blade as this may warp it.
- Clean the blade with
solvent or oil for optimum
winter storage. Avoid use of water as it will promote rust.
Following these tips can help you better prepare your mower for
winter storage and also save you some steps this coming spring.
"For the man sound in body and serene of mind there is no such thing as bad weather; every day has its beauty, and storms which whip the blood do but make it pulse more vigorously. "
~ George Gissing, "Winter," The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft