The August Ramble - 27 East

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The August Ramble

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Groundhogs or woodchucks have now been reported in Water Mill.  They really have no natural enemies out here other than automobiles and angry gardeners.

Groundhogs or woodchucks have now been reported in Water Mill. They really have no natural enemies out here other than automobiles and angry gardeners.

These columbine seedlings were being grown in a seedling flat with a peat-lite soil mix. The peat dried out and lost its ability to hold water. A few drops of Joy in a few quarts of water will solve the problem for a few months.

These columbine seedlings were being grown in a seedling flat with a peat-lite soil mix. The peat dried out and lost its ability to hold water. A few drops of Joy in a few quarts of water will solve the problem for a few months. ANDREW MESSINGER

Roundup (left) in its many dry and liquid forms will be disappearing from retail shelves shortly.  The active ingredient, glyphosate, is still found in other products like KleenUp.

Roundup (left) in its many dry and liquid forms will be disappearing from retail shelves shortly. The active ingredient, glyphosate, is still found in other products like KleenUp. ANDREW MESSINGER

The left rear wheel on this Honda mulching mower seems to accumulate grass clippings making for an uneven cut. Note the lever to the upper left over the wheel.  This is for height control and can easily be dislodged by a vine or stick it comes into contact with also causing an uneven cut. These height levers can also be difficult to adjust.

The left rear wheel on this Honda mulching mower seems to accumulate grass clippings making for an uneven cut. Note the lever to the upper left over the wheel. This is for height control and can easily be dislodged by a vine or stick it comes into contact with also causing an uneven cut. These height levers can also be difficult to adjust.

Autor

Hampton Gardener®

It’s been a most confusing summer for gardeners. At first it was too hot and too dry. Then it was way too wet for way too long. The tropics are beginning to come alive with tropical waves traveling across the Atlantic with a large Bermuda high parked off the East Coast that will either deflect storms away from us or bring them right up the coast. Much to discuss, so this is my August ramble.

Last week there was an announcement that Bayer/Monsanto was discontinuing its sales of Roundup. On the face of it, this seems to be big news — but it isn’t. Bayer/Monsanto has a heap of lawsuits to deal with related to claims that Roundup causes or caused cancer. Drop the product and they reduce additional liability. The problem for us is that there are many other companies producing the primary ingredient of this herbicide, glyphosate. You may see it in garden centers under the trade name KleenUp.

When I did my column a few weeks ago on garden critters I noted that groundhogs/woodchucks were only an issue west of the Shinnecock Canal. A reader emailed to say that they’d just tried to trap one in Water Mill but that it moved on instead. It was also noted that several others have been spotted in the area. Not sure if this is an isolated group or if the eastward march of the groundhogs is now under way. If you spot them east of the canal please let me know where you see them.

But wait, there’s one more. A reader wrote that she had muskrat issues in her yard near the water. Now muskrats really aren’t garden critters in that they’ll go into your beds, borders and veggie garden to feast. In fact, they are considered beneficial in keeping stream, brooks and smaller water bodies free of vegetation that can choke the movement of the water. If you annoy them they may move on, but please don’t poison them.

Speaking of poisons: This seems to be a solution that too many gardeners are willing to try to take care of critters. It’s a dangerous proposition. More often than not other animals, including dogs, can ingest the poison. A number of years ago I found a hole in the ground that I assumed belonged to a critter I didn’t want to encourage. As I leaned down to peer into the hole a large toad peered right back at me. I’ll take toads in my garden any day. They love stone walls (dry laid) and places that stay damp and cool during the day.

Most if not all of us use pre-packaged potting soils to start our plants, in the garden and for potting larger houseplants. Most are variations on what was once referred to as peat-lite mix. Very light in weight and composed mostly of peat moss with some perlite, sand and even vermiculite mixed in. Now there are designer soils for every imaginable use, and in addition to peat they can contain coir and bark. All of these “constituents” don’t naturally absorb moisture so they are treated with wetting agents. But these wetting agents leach out, and if you’re not careful you soon find that instead of absorbing water and nutrients these artificial soils begin to shed the water as it drains away instead of being soaked up.

If you notice this happening there are simple solutions. The easiest is to mix a couple of drops of dishwashing detergent — not a quarter teaspoon or 20 drops, just a couple of drops — in a quart to a gallon of warm water. Products like Dawn and Joy will act as a surfactant. All you should need to do is water your plants once every few months with this brew, and your potting soils will never give out on you.

It was a disastrous week for me in the mowing department. I usually mow my acre of lawn once a week. This year though, with all the rain, I’ve had to mow every four or five days and even then the grass has grown too tall. The result is an awful cut, the grass never seems to completely dry and the mower, even with a mulching deck and blades, leaves wads of wet grass randomly across the lawn.

To make the situation even worse, the deck on my large Deere diesel tractor has just dropped off the tractor for no obvious reason. To date that’s meant four weeks of mowing without my 54-inch deck. Luckily, or not, I’ve got a 21-inch Honda mower that I’ve used as a substitute. With the Deere I can cut the whole place in 20 minutes. With the Honda, hours and hours.

I’ve learned a lot about the Honda, though, and here are a few things that may translate to the entire Honda self-propelled line. First are the mechanisms used to adjust the wheel height or cutting height. They are very difficult to move from one position to another and in most cases I find I have to get the mower on two wheels on the opposite side to adjust the height of the wheels on the side I’m working on. But, I’ve also noticed on several occasions that a branch or twig hitting one of these levers can force it into a different cutting position. This doesn’t become apparent until you notice the rows just cut are scalped on one side.

I also noticed that the wheels tend to accumulate grass clippings around their circumference, but it seems to happen on the left rear wheel more than on the others. This too can result in an uneven cut. Underneath, because the grass remains so wet into the day, wads of grass accumulate around the mulching deck reducing the ability of the deck to cut the grass blades into tiny, easy to mulch pieces that go unnoticed.

Seems Honda could easily solve all these problems, but by the time they do, my next 21-inch mower will be an electric one, battery operated. The stink of the gasoline engine just doesn’t do it for me anymore.

The good news is that I have a new Deere riding mower coming in shortly for a trial and I hope to review it in September. It’s an X380 with a 48-inch mulching deck and I understand one of the most popular Deere mowers. Want one? Get in line — there are few if any to be had this summer.

Now’s the time to do your tree shopping if you plan to add large landscape-sized trees to your property. There are a number of large nurseries on the North and South Forks that you can visit and see these trees while in foliage. Most will not get dug and planted until they drop their leaves, but if you wait until then to shop you’ll have no idea what they truly look like.

If you have spring-flowering bulbs on your fall to-do list, now is the time to get your orders in, especially if you buy from any of the online bulb suppliers. I have my favorites if you need guidance. I’m not sure how the current supply chain issues will affect the bulb supplies, but since most come from Holland on ships in containers, there may be issues. The first to order will be the first to get delivered. This is also the time to order your garlic for fall planting.

Keep in mind that late August into September is the perfect time for lawn renovation be it starting all over or just over seeding. Doing this now gives the grasses lots of time to establish, develop deep roots and easily make it through the winter. If you’ve cut back to just two fertilizer applications a year then September is the perfect time to make the second application.

No, you’re not the only one with late beans, few tomatoes, and limited squash production. Welcome to the world of farming on the small side. And speaking of farming, try to catch the Amazon Prime series “Clarkson’s Farm.” You’ll understand farming a lot better as well as the eccentric rich among us. Keep growing.

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