The Seasons of the Garden column shares seasonal gardening information and tips with MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers.
Seasonal Gardening: Low-Water Lawn Care, Low-Nitrate Carrots and Protecting Crops
Summer heat and dry weather often add up to low water supplies. You may have already done a lot to minimize outdoor water use by mulching your flower and vegetable beds and installing drip irrigation around your shrubs and tree crops. But are you doing anything for your grassed areas? Lawns are frequently the biggest water guzzlers in home landscapes. Proper care can make a difference in how much water you need to keep grass green and healthy. Here're a few guidelines:
Frequent low mowing creates a dense grass canopy. Since little air flows around such short-cropped leaves, little water gets "wicked away" by wind. However, high-mowed grass has more extensive roots than low-cut blades, so it withstands drought better. Thus, a low-mowed lawn may use less water over a season than a high-mowed one, but it needs it more often. Lawn-care experts suggest a compromise: Mow the grass frequently at a moderate height.
Don't overfertilize with nitrogen, or the leaves will grow too quickly and use more water. Too much N also restricts root development, further increasing watering needs. On the other hand, adding extra potassium and iron may enhance root growth and improve drought tolerance. In fact, adding iron can make a low-N lawn look as green as a high-N one.
Last, if you're starting a new lawn, check with your local garden supply store or extension agent. Several new grass cultivars have lower water needs than most common varieties.
Seasonal Gardening Research Briefs
Low-nitrate carrots. Russian trials show that carrots grown in high-nitrogen soil have high concentrations of nitrates (which are potential carcinogens)—unless the soil is also high in phosphorus and potassium. So for your and your carrots' best health, give them a balanced (fertilizer) diet.
Grow up. MOTHER-reader Woodie Owen recently saw the University of Mexico's new idea for helping people with little land grow crops: large crop-growing tubes. Each six-foot-high and -round cylinder is made from heavy plastic sheeting and filled with soil. Then holes are cut out of the sides and transplants set in. Seven of these wood-braced tubes fit under one hexagonal plastic roof.
Preventing beetles . . . University of Kentucky entomologists found that just the scent of a few Japanese beetles feeding on a plant can attract more of the pests. So handpick the advance guard (in the morning, when the beetles are sluggish), shake those first comers off, or shield your plants with a floating row cover such as Reemay.
Dollar signs of the times. The new Boy Scout Agribusiness merit badge replaces the Food Systems and the Farm and Ranch Management badges. The patch's logo? A computer flanked by dollar signs! (A barn and gear appear in the background.)
Birds away! Japanese farmers reportedly use large balloons painted with several black-and-red bulls eyes to protect millions of acres of rice. North American trials show that six "Scare-Eye"- balloons per acre help protect cherries, blueberries, strawberries and corn from flocking birds like starlings, grackles, crows and pigeons. Scare-Eyes are available from Hartmann's Plantation, Inc., Grand Junction, MI.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Greg and Pat Williams raise most of their own food on a small farm and publish HortIdeas, a fine newsletter on gardening research and products (available for $10 a year from G. & P. Williams, Gravel Switch, KY).