Monday, May 24, 2010

Gardening Season!

Gardening time is here!

How does your garden grow? With rich Midwest soil, abundant and sunshine and adequate water you can grow just about anything.

The picture posted to the left is the first picture of our garden for the season. It always amazes me how something that starts out so sparse ends up to be so full of plants you can barely walk through by the middle of summer.

We have a variety of plants growing this year. The ones you see in the foreground are potato and onion plants. Those have been in the ground since Easter weekend. The potato plants took a good hit in the freezing temperatures we had a couple weeks ago, but they have recovered well. We also have planted asparagus, lettuce, tomato, sugar snap peas, peas, pole and bush beans, radishes, brussel sprouts, broccolli, yellow/orange/red peppers, muskmelon, watermelon and, of course, sweet corn. Galen's grandpa grew peanuts on his farm in Nebraska one year, so we are going to try Spanish Peanuts this season. We have some berry plants as well, the only berries in the actual garden are strawberries. We do have raspberries and blueberries elsewhere on the property, and rhubarb, too. 

We enjoy gardening, but admit we are rather neglectful gardeners. Due to the nature of our work life we have very little time to devote to maintaining our garden space. We water when it needs water and weed when we can, but otherwise leave the plants to their own devices. I do admire folks who have beautiful weed free gardens. I have tried to convince my children to invite their friends over for weeding parties but they never take me up on it!

All gardens need water. If the weather patterns are not providing your garden with adequate moisture you will need to provide supplemental moisture. We have a highly technical watering system that involves a sprinkler head on a post and a hose hook up for spot watering. Not really high-tech at all, but it does the job. If you have an underground sprinkler system the options are almost endless as to how you can water your garden.  We have customers who opt for the raised head option, like we have, and some that have drip irrigation that they re-install to match their garden layout each year.

How much should you water? It is dependent on many factors. Your plants will tell you what they need. I did find an article from "How Stuff Works", titled: "Watering a Vegetable Garden" by C. Colston Burrell, that explains very well about watering I will paste it here in it's entirety:
Some plants are composed of up to 95 percent water. Water is vital from the moment seeds are sown through sprouting to the end of the growing season. Plants need water for cell division, cell enlargement, and even for holding themselves up. If the cells don't have enough water in them, the result is a wilted plant. Water is essential, along with light and carbon dioxide, for producing the sugars that provide the plant with energy for growth. It also dissolves fertilizers and carries nutrients to the different parts of the plant.

Watering, whether for rows of crops or in containers, is often necessary to supplement
rainfall. Ideally, water for plants comes from rain or other precipitation and from underground sources. In reality, you'll often have to do extra watering by hand or through an irrigation system. How often you should water depends on how often it rains, how long your soil retains moisture, and how fast water evaporates in your climate. Soil type is another important factor. Clay soils hold water very well -- sometimes too well. Sandy soils are like a sieve, letting the water run right through. Both kinds of soil can be improved with the addition of organic matter. Organic matter gives clay soils lightness and air; it gives sandy soils something to hold the water.

Other factors may also affect how often you need to water your garden:

    * More water evaporates when the temperature is high than when it's low. Plants can rot if they get too much water in cool weather.
    * More water evaporates when the relative humidity is low.
    * Plants need more water when the days are bright.
    * Wind and air movement will increase the loss of water to the atmosphere.
    * Water needs vary with the type and maturity of the plant. Some vegetables are tolerant of low soil moisture.
    * Sometimes water is not what a wilting plant needs. When plants are growing fast, the leaves sometimes get ahead of the roots' ability to provide them with water. If the day is hot and the plants wilt in the afternoon, don't worry about them; they will regain their balance overnight. But if plants are wilting early in the morning, water them immediately.

So much depends on climate and the ability of different soil types to hold moisture that it's difficult to give specific directions for watering your garden. Generally, however, vegetable plants need about an inch of water a week. The best time to water your garden is in the morning. If you water at night when the day is cooling off, the water is likely to stay on the foliage, increasing the danger of disease. Some people believe that you shouldn't water in the morning because water spots on leaves will cause leaf-burn when the sun gets hot; this isn't the case.

When watering your vegetable garden, there is one rule you should follow: Always soak the soil thoroughly. A light sprinkling can often do more harm than no water at all: It stimulates the roots to come to the surface, where they are killed by exposure to the sun. 
So, fellow gardeners, that is how, when and why to water your garden. If you ever have a hankering to pull some weeds, I know a garden where you can get your hands dirty!

Have a super week!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Selecting the right grass for your yard.

Most things in life need to have a good, solid foundation to be successful. Your grass is no different. You need a good quality seed and good soil to create the foundation of a lush, healthy yard.  We aren't going to talk about soil today, but if you have ever stood in the lawn care section of your local nursery or box store feeling totally overwhelmed at the sheer number of seed choices - this blog is for you.

If you are looking at establishing a new lawn from seed, read this article from the Extension office. It offers advice on seed mixtures, timing, mowing, watering and fertilizing: Establishing a Lawn from Seed.

The type of grass seed best suited for your yard is largely dependent upon where you live. We live in Hardiness Zone 4, which is a cool season zone, so I am going to focus on grass types for our area. If you live in Hardiness Zones 1-5, you are also in the cool season zone and these tips will apply to you as well. There are three types of grass that are successful in our area: Rye Grass, Blue Grass and Fescue.

Bluegrass: This cool season, perennial ground cover forms a beautiful, high quality, dense sod when grown in pure strands. Bluegrass is very common here in Iowa. The Iowa State Extension has a care schedule specific to the needs of your Bluegrass lawn. You will find it here. (Turfgrass Management Calendar: Bluegrass) Bluegrass is the hardiest for cold weather. Blue grass has a fine texture, fills in bare spots quickly, requires more mowing, does not do well in shady areas and does not tolerate salt.

Ryegrass: are one of the best lower maintenance lawns of the cool season grasses. This is one of the toughest and most wearable turf covers that can be grown. Ryegrass is noted for quick germination, shiny green color, fine texture (newer turf type varieties), dense forming sod, high disease and insect resistance.

Fescue: endures heavy traffic, developed for higher disease resistance, insect resistance, better blade structure, and lower mowing capabilities. Fescue is low-maintenance, shade tolerant and drought resistant its better color makes a good choice for a premium lawn. Tall Fescue is a popular choice and used in many lawn seed mixtures. Fescue will grow in some shade areas where other grasses won't because it grows deeper roots than most other lawn grasses. It can also penetrate around tree root systems and compete for water. As people look for more ways to conserve water Fescue grasses just may be the trend for the future.

              Carl Wilson, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Agent, says this of Fescue:    
     Alternatives to thirsty Kentucky bluegrass look better all the time. One alternative proving its worth is turf-type tall fescue. A recent tour of a Denver curbside area seeded to tall fescue three years ago showed the grass to be healthy and weed-free, unlike adjacent city tree-lawn strips planted to bluegrass.
      Tall fescue is well suited for growing in areas between streets and sidewalks, because it resists the wear of foot traffic from people getting in and out of cars. It also solves some of the water-waste problems in these narrow tree-lawn strips, which are difficult to irrigate and always result in water runoff from overspray onto the pavement. But with a healthy tall fescue turf, fewer waterings means less run-off. Turf-type tall fescue uses about half the water as bluegrass, or 10 gallons per square foot per year (in addition to natural precipitation). Many miserly managers find they can water even less and still grow a satisfactory turf.
      Less watering also means less mowing, an additional plus in the minds of many.
      Tall fescue is a cool season turfgrass, as is bluegrass, and it remains green for about the same period of the year. Although slightly coarser than bluegrass, it is a similar green. The majority of those attending a recent public garden show found tall fescue to be very satisfactory for lawn use in a side-by-side comparison of fescue and bluegrass.
We narrowed it down to three choices so at least the seed selections won't be totally overwhelming! The next step for you is to decide which one is the right for your yard. All three are similar in texture and maintenance, but the Fescue is the clear winner in water conservation.

Have a super week!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tips for Efficient Irrigation

 Greetings from a gray and dreary Northwest Iowa! The forecast is looking up and we should get out of this March-like weather and move on to normal May weather in a couple days.  A very strange spring we have had this year. Above average temperatures in April followed by below average temperatures in May. What in the world will June bring? 

Before we really need to water we need to look at how to water. People tend to over-water their yards  (A little is good so a lot is better, right? Wrong!). Providing more water than your yard needs is wasting a precious natural resource, wasting your hard-earned money and creating a disease prone yard. Over-watering your yard creates a shallow root system, makes your yard more attractive to insects, mold and fungus. Over watering causes the soil to become poorly aerated as the over abundance of water fills the soil's air pockets and makes it so little or no air can reach the root system. Lawns with shallow root systems are less drought resistant. So, watering too much creates a yard that needs more water and more care. 

Water wisely with this great information from the Irrigation Association:

Tips for Efficient Irrigation

Here are tips for reducing the cost of operating and maintaining an automatic irrigation system:
  • Know how to run your irrigation controller and change watering times.
  • Adjust the watering times (number of minutes) and the frequency of watering (daily, twice a week, etc.) based on weather conditions.
  • Change your settings to adjust for seasonal differences and reset the timer when needed.
  • Ask your contractor to install an inexpensive rain shutoff device or soil moisture sensor.
  • Regularly have a professional check for leaks, broken heads and other problems.
  • Make sure your maintenance contractor is certified and licensed (if required), is insured, experienced and reputable and is legally authorized to maintain irrigation systems in your area.
  • Only water after the sun has gone down or in the early morning. (Finishing just before sunrise is best)
  • Make sure your spray and sprinkler heads are properly adjusted to avoid watering pavements and other non-landscape areas.
  • Water areas in the shade about 30 percent less than sunny areas.
  • If possible use drip irrigation to water trees and shrubs.
  • To eliminate runoff, set your clock to cycle 2-4 start times (no longer than 5 minutes each), 1 to 2 hours apart to allow water to soak into the soil. For example: water three times for 5 minutes, instead of 15 minutes all at once.
  • Develop a separate drip watering schedule for trees, shrubs and flower beds.
  • Aerate in the spring and fall to loosen soil and reduce runoff.

 If you have any questions on how to implement these suggestions. Contact your irrigation professional.

Happy Watering!
Have a super week!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Selecting a Contractor

     Another busy week for us at Jensen Sprinkler, but that is what spring is all about. As I promised last week, today's blog is going to be about selecting a contractor. Again, most of the blog points are going to be taken from the Irrigation Association's "Irrigation Consumer Handbook". In perusing this part of the handbook, these points do not only apply to irrigation contractors, but for almost anyone you would hire to work on your property.

    " Whether you are searching for a professional irrigation contractor to install a system or to service an existing system, any professional you consider should have certain qualifications to do your work. The bottom line is that you are not just buying an irrigation system, but you are also buying the services of a contractor. Your job is to find the professional to do the work that will satisfy you. Use this guide along with questions on the IA Irrigation Consumer Bill of Rights"

Check for:

  • Insurance : Reputable irrigation professionals will carry appropriate insurance policies to protect you and your property. The insurance policies are critical to your future. You could lose your home or business if something happens and your contractor isn't insured.
  • Certifications, Training, Membership & Licensing: A contractor should readily provide information about professional certifications, training and required licensing.
  • References : All professional contractors should be expected to prove to you their track record of accomplishment. (Ask your neighbors or find a yard that looks great and see who they had helps, too)
  • How Will You Be Inconvenienced: Plan ahead for inconvenience. Irrigation installation creates change and activity on your property as well as an efficient system. How will you be inconvenienced? Will your pet have to be boarded? What will have to be moved out of the way during construction and for how long? Find out in advance.
  • Behavior and Appearance: How the contractor behaves and appears will be a good indication of how smoothly and professionally your job will go.
  • Proposals: Get a written proposal. A professional contractor will provide a written proposal. Every aspect of the job should be described in detail, have a dollar amount attached to it and include warranty terms.The more detailed the proposal, the better. Remember, the lowest price isn't always the best. You want to choose the best proposal based on all factors. The proposal should be broken down into subsections with quantities, sizes and brands specified. All preparatory and finish work should be included as should the amounts and the brands of irrigation equipment. Compare proposals point-by-point.
  • Customer Service: Expect to be told that the contractor will want to know about any problems or concerns today, tomorrow or a year from tomorrow. The contractor you want to hire will still be here years from now.
  • When the Job Finishes: Expect to be told that your irrigation system is fully guaranteed for parts and labor for a full year. This is the industry standard. The same language should also be in your contract. Expect a final walk-through prior to final payment. Expect full instructions on how to care for the system and how to use the mechanical components of your system such as controllers and timers. Do not expect seasonal reprogramming of timers or periodic adjustment of nozzles once they have been properly set and/or adjusted upon job completion unless it's part a separate maintenance agreement.

How to Spot a Nonprofessional Contractor

  1. A nonprofessional won't be listening to your needs.
  2. Nonprofessional telephone communications. Coarse telephone manners and failing to return calls indicate the type of response you will get on your project.
  3. Failure to show up for meetings on time. Maybe your work won't get done on time either.
  4. Unprofessional appearance. Inappropriate clothing and/or dirty or poorly maintained vehicles. Even smaller contractors who get out in the field regularly will take the time to tidy up before an appointment.
  5. Disorganized bids that fail to include specific details. Bids should be legible and easy to understand.
  6. Someone who gives you unrealistic prices. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  7. Belittling another contractor's work. A professional should never belittle another contractor or his or her work.
  8. Suggesting that you don't need a permit. In the event a permit is needed for your project, sometimes nonprofessional operators will try to get your okay to forego obtaining the permit. Don't give your permission. Even though permit inspections are often lax, the contractor should obtain all required permits.
  9. Offering to do construction work that is outside of the scope of the work for which the contractor was hired.
Hopefully these pointers will help you on your next project. Of course, we hope you hire us for all your irrigation projects!  Have a super week!