A power hoe is put through its paces, suggestions for drying flowers, a magazine for small farmers is launched, blue orchard bees are found to be efficient pollinators, and a new egg-laying stimulant for parasite-controlling trichogramma wasps is tested.
After MOTHER's Eco-Village director, Leroy Richter, put a Weed Eater power hoe through its paces and couldn't stop talking about the machine, my curiosity was piqued. So I managed to borrow a Model 5000 power hoe from the folks at Beaird-Poulan, and now I'm a convert, too.
You may have seen equipment of this type advertised: Powered by a 1.6 cu. in. engine (similar to that used on a chain saw), it has a pair of five-pointed tines on the end of a three-foot shaft. Well, I have to confess that I had serious doubts about the usefulness of such a machine, but after a month's trial I'm convinced of its utility. The little hoe can actually do about anything a rotary tiller can do (except break up sod and turn under crop residues). I've used the 5000 to weed, prepare seedbeds, start holes for tree planting, and dig trenches for leeks and asparagus roots. Furthermore, wielding the machine is as simple as scooping the tines through the soil toward you, and the result is a well-churned, finely granulated path that's four inches deep and six inches wide. (When preparing the trench for the asparagus roots, I just pushed the loosened soil aside and then made another pass or two.) The manufacturer does suggest that you give hard earth a good soaking the night before you plan to till it, but I haven't yet found that "softening" to be necessary. If I can extend the loan long enough, I plan to use the hoe to incorporate this fall's chopped leaves into the raised beds in my vegetable garden.
There's one other benefit of this particular machine that I haven't mentioned: The engine can be detached from the hoe head and used to power other tools: a string trimmer, an edger, and a small snow thrower. The Model 5000 sells for about $200 with the power hoe head, while the trimmer attachment runs about $55, the edger $80, and the snowblower $90.
Now that autumn is here, it's time to start thinking about preserving summer's colors for winter enjoyment. According to the folks at Bedding Plants, Inc., the easiest way to preserve flowers is by air-drying. Just choose a place that's dark and arid (most attics are fine, but cellars are often too damp). Harvest the flowers before they open fully, and strip the foliage from their stems. Then tie the blooms in bunches, making sure that the flower heads do not touch each other, and hang them upside down. Most blossoms will dry in two or three weeks. Here's a list of annuals that can be preserved by using this technique:
Bells of Ireland
Castor bean pods
I recently got a chance to look over a right handy magazine that the folks at Ford Tractor have produced (and, in late September, will be giving away). It's called Enterprise Farming: The Ford Tractor Guide for Small Farms. In it you'll find invaluable information on financing, taxes, buying land, and choosing which crops to grow, along with stories describing how (despite the common belief that small farms are on their way out) creative and enterprising agriculturists are making good profits from small acreages, working full- or part-time. The magazine will be available, at no cost, at most Ford Tractor dealerships and at many agricultural extension service offices, as well as at many Strout Realty and United Farm Realty locations.
For those of you who were fascinated by Dr. Suzanne Batro's horned bees (see Hornfaced Bees Better Pollinators than Honeybees, Grow Exotic Mushrooms at Home, and More Gardening News), here's news about another wild—i.e., non-honey-making-buzzer—the blue orchard bee. Under study by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) researcher Dr. Philip F. Torchlo in Utah, this insect is, like the hornfaced bee, an amazingly efficient pollinator. For example, an acre of almond trees normally requires the services of three hives of honeybees (each 20,000 strong) to achieve full pollination. Yet only 300 blue orchard bees can do the same job, and do it better! The azure insect has been successfully tested on cherries, pears, prunes, apples, almonds, and blueberries, and should the bees ever be developed commercially, they could be responsible for a substantial increase in fruit yields.
A new chemical mixture is making important news on the organic agriculture front. Trichogramma wasps have long been known to provide on effective parasitic control for pests of commercial crops such as cotton and tobacco, but it's been impossible to raise sufficient numbers of the tiny insects (43 of them lined up end to end take up an inch!) to allow them to compete with the chemical controls currently used. Now, William Nettles, a USDA entomologist, has formulated a new chemical egg-laying stimulant (a simple solution of potassium chloride and magnesium sulfate, chemicals which occur naturally in the blood of the trichogromma, that holds the promise of greatly increasing the number of wasps available for bug-killing duty.
This breakthrough could reduce the chemical spraying of commercial crops, and might also mean that more wasps will be available for use in the family garden. They're remarkably effective in parasitizing such pests as the beet armyworm, the cabbage looper, cutworms, the fall armyworm, the garden webworm, and—praise be—the gypsy moth caterpillar.