Gardening


This is a fun time of year – sort of. Although cold and (normally) snowy outside, plant people are filled with joy and anticipation for the upcoming spring season. While ordering seeds can give us hope, we tend to like to get our hands dirty – literally. I find that this is a great time to propagate African violets. Yes, these plants can be somewhat challenging to keep long term; they are rather easy to propagate. I find that when propagating them, I tend to watch the adult plants more carefully and, therefore, they do better and last longer.

African violet in bloom. Photo by dmp2009.

Keeping African violets is rather easy if you follow a few simple ‘rules’. First, their potting medium needs to be fast draining. They will rot if the soil remains soggy for too long. This is best accomplished by either buying a potting medium designed for them, or simply adding some extra perlite to a regular houseplant mix. I have found that filling the saucer under the pot with water is the best way to hydrate the plants. Any water remaining after an hour or two can be discarded. Care should be taken to avoid getting water onto the leaves as this cause diseases.  This is another benefit of bottom watering as water is never being dumped on the leaves.

A regular, dilute (quarter strength) application of fertilizer with every watering works best for African violets, as opposed to periodic strong doses. These plants need bright light but will burn in direct sun. I have found them to thoroughly enjoy living under a table lamp. Although some specimens seem to hang on forever, to ensure a long-lived violet, they will generally need to be repotted once a year. This does not actually mean moving them to a larger pot, but just take them out of the pot and remove as much potting media as possible and replace it with fresh medium. Try and avoid too much damage to the roots, as this will hurt the plant. This freshens the rooting media by adding new nutrients, lessening media compaction and gets rid of any salts that may have accumulated on the media surface (a consequence of bottom watering).

If your house gets extremely dry during the winter, a pebble tray filled with water beneath the plant will help, as African violets like humidity. The air should move around the plant, as stagnant air leads to fungal infections that may result in death of the plant. Many people who collect African violets will use fans to move air across their growing tables in order to prevent fungal diseases.

Now that we have talked about how to keep violets, we can talk about how to propagate them.  This is my favorite part of working with these plants. I propagate a lot of different types of plants, but for some reason this is one of my favorite species to reproduce. The first thing you need is a very healthy and well hydrated parent plant. If the parent plant is not looking good due to lack of water, or has been growing in waterlogged soil recently, the propagation usually fails.  You will need a mature leaf from a healthy, adult plant. It should be free from any kind of injury, as this will be a pathway for disease organisms. By simply moving the leaf sideways, it should snap off the adult plant. I like to use a new, clean razor blade to trim the end of the leaf. The pros may use a hobby knife for the increased control and accuracy. Make a nice clean cut. Sometimes it is necessary to retrim the bottom of the leaf stalk after removing it from the plant. Next, dip the end that you just cut into some rooting hormone. The easiest to use, in my opinion, are the powder types, although there are some liquid formulations. The rooting hormone generally has some antifungal properties that help protect your plant during this process. Once this is done, you are ready to pot.

A young African Violet, propagated by the author, that is ready to be potted up. It is just starting to bloom for the first time. Photo by mrl2023.

Almost anything can be used to allow the leaf to grow babies, but I like to use small individual plastic pots. Rather than buying these, I use small plastic bathroom cups. You will need to poke a hole in the bottom for drainage. Do not make it too tiny as you want the water to drain quickly.  Use the same potting mix described above. I like to take a pencil and poke a hole in the mix.  This allows you to easily bury the stalk of the leaf, called the petiole, in the mix so that the blade is just above the surface. If the blade is touching the surface or below the surface, many times the leaf will rot before babies appear. As the leaf has no roots yet, care will need to be given to ensure it does not dry out. If you are only propagating a few plants, you could loosely place a sandwich bag over each cup. If you have a number of leaves you are propagating, then you could use a plant tray covered by a humidity dome. I prefer the taller kind with adjustable vents on the top and sides to allow some air movement.

Newly propagated African Violet leaves. Photo by mrl2023.

Plant cells are totipotent. What that means is that even though the cells have differentiated into specialize cells (like stem, leaf, root, etc.), they can de-differentiate and then grow into a whole new plant. This is different from animal cells where once they differentiate (specialize), they cannot go back. There are a few exceptions, of course, but it is beyond the scope of this article.  Scientists are trying to figure out how to make our cells do this so we can regrow limbs and organs. Anyway, back to our plants! The leaf cutting will end up sprouting roots, and eventually will grow new baby plants. Your one leaf may grow a new plant, but many times it grows a number of them. Once large enough to handle, you can separate these into their own pots.

A plant tray covered by a dome to increase humidity. Photo by mrl2023.

Care for your young violets is similar to the adults. Water when the surface is dry, but a bit more at the beginning before the roots form. Once the baby plants emerge from the soil, I start the diluted fertilizer regime. Don’t be too concerned at this stage with getting water on the baby leaves. For some reason, wet leaves do not seem to be a problem when the plants are young, but try to minimize this as a precaution. They should be placed in bright light out of direct sun.  Alternatively, you could place them under a lamp, or some fluorescent strip lights. Any of the new LED style lights meant for growing plants will work too, but the blue and red light will not show the true colors of the flowers. Daylight “colored” bulbs tend to show the flower colors the best.

Powered rooting hormone. Photo by mrl2023.

Once the baby plants get big enough and start to spread their leaves horizontally, remove the dome as the excess humidity will start to hinder their growth. I am going to say the plants are about one eighth to one quarter as big as the adults at this time, but you will need to use your judgement. Each home or growing area has its own set of environmental parameters. Once the plants are big enough, you can split them out into their own pots. You might want to use the small plastic cups again at this stage, and as the single plant gets bigger, move it up to progressively larger pots. Usually, most adult African violets end up in four-inch pots. I have seen some gigantic specimens in six-inch pots, but those are rare.

Hopefully this article inspires you to try your hand at propagating African violets. The best way to start is to go buy a nice looking one from a grocery store florist. These tend to be economical, but well cared for. A floral shop is also able to get some really nice, high quality plants if you desire. Many times, they will take requests for specific colors too. I find African violets make great birthday gifts. They are also nice to bring if someone invites you over for dinner, or just to pass around to family and friends for absolutely no reason at all. A word of caution, African violets are addicting. There is always another cool looking color or pattern to be had!

Happy Propagating!

Matt Lisy

Living in an 1840s house limits the amount of sunlight available to both occupants and houseplants. Windows are small and not especially numerous as back then, they would be seen more as energy/heat wasting units than as illuminating elements. For years, I have been bringing houseplants to work at the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Lab as the lighting, both internal and external is vastly improved when compared to what I could offer at home.

Trying to be restrained but yet being a plant nerd has been a hard dichotomy to attend to. Oh, what a gorgeous plant, I simply have to have it! No, you have no place in your house where it can grow! The two things I desire in my next home are a garage and plenty of windows.     

Last weekend, my sisters and I took a ride to Logee’s in Danielson, CT. They have several greenhouses filled with tropical plants, many in full bloom lighting up the cloudy, cold winter day. Logee’s has been around since 1892. It began as a cut flower business started by William D. Logee. He became enraptured with both tropical and unusual plants. In 1900, he purchased a Ponderosa lemon from Philadelphia and planted it in his greenhouse and 123 years later, it still is growing and producing huge lemons today!

Logee’s sign. Photo by dmp2023.

His son Ernest carried on his passion for collecting, selling and breeding exotic plants and ended up being one of the founding members of the America Begonia Society. You will notice quite the begonia collection at Logee’s. Although Ernest Logee died at a young age, his sister, Joy married Ernest Martin so they became second generation owners of Logee’s. Now their son, Byron, heads the third generation of growers and their offerings of exotic houseplants, hardy and indoor fruiting plants and unique introductions just keep expanding.  

There’s never a bad time to visit a greenhouse or garden center in my view, but something about getting up close and personal with a tropical plant clothed in showy blossoms during dismal winter days, just feels good. Two of my favorite vining plants under glass are bougainvillea ‘Orange Ice’ and blue skyflower (Thunbergia latifolia). Both need much more light and room than I can presently provide, but someday….

Bougainvillea ‘Orange Ice’. Photo by dmp2023

Citrus are another group of plants I like to try if I had more light. Logee’s offers Ponderosa lemons from cuttings off of the original Philadelphia lemon tree as well as other lemon varieties, several selections of oranges and limes, kumquats, guavas, figs and other tropical fruits that I am not familiar with. They look great here and if you have great light, do give them a try.

Ripening oranges. Photo by dmp2023.

Me, I am interested in some low light plants that I could grow in north windows as they are the only spaces free, at the moment. For years I have had a philodendron or two, the old-fashioned type with the heart shaped leaves. Not very exciting but they manage to survive with little care and low light levels.

I was delighted to find some choice philodendron selections at Logee’s. ‘Moonlight’ is a handsome chartreusey philodendron with bright lime green, new foliage, darkening with age. It has a more erect growth habit forming more of a 2-foot high and wide clump rather than climbing or trailing.

Philodendron ‘Moonlight’. Photo by dmp2023.

Another exciting find was philodendron, ‘Prince of Orange’. This plant also is more of a clump former with about the same dimensions as ‘Moonlight’ The leaves are quite unique as they change from sort of a golden yellow when they first emerge to a warm copper and eventually to a deep green.

Philodendron ‘Prince of Orange’. Photo by dmp2023

Philodendron ‘Cebu Blue’ looked quite interesting with its soft, steely blue leaves. It would look quite nice in a hanging basket. Upon further inspection, however, it turned out to be Epipremnum pinnatum, a similar-looking species and it was in its juvenile form. As it matures the leaves are bigger and split, like Monstera. At 4 feet in height, this plant will have to wait until I have more room, or I could bring it to work!

Philodendron ‘Cebu Blue’. Photo by dmp2023.

Even if you don’t bring home any plants, a visit to a local greenhouse or garden center on a cold winter day brings some of spring’s warmth into your heart and soul.

Dawn P.  

Red Raspberry (Rubus idaeus) is a perennial crop.  There are two types of canes in red raspberry plants. Primocanes are first year canes. Some varieties of raspberries produce berries on primocanes and are commonly called fall-bearing or primocane-fruiting raspberries. Other types of raspberries do not bear fruits on the first-year vegetative canes, but they develop flower buds that overwinter and produce berries in the subsequent season. These overwintered buds-bearing canes that will flower and fruit in the subsequent season are referred to as floricanes. After harvest, floricanes are commonly removed and the next cycle of primocanes develops. Sufficient nutrient availability during growth stages of red raspberry is essential for plant vigor, yield, fruit quality, fruit maturity, and sustainable plant health. Nutrient cycling in the soil-plant-air system in perennial plants is complicated and sufficient nutrients should be available before rapid nutrients uptake and requirement growth stages.   

Everbearing raspberries before pruning. Photo by dmp2006

Like any other plants, red raspberry requires seventeen essential nutrients, nine macronutrients (hydrogen (H), carbon (C), oxygen (O), nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), and sulfur (S)) and eight micronutrients (iron (Fe), copper (Cu), boron (B), manganese (Mn), molybdenum (Mo), zinc (Zn), chlorine (Cl), and nickel (Ni)). The three most abundant essential nutrients (hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen) are predominately obtained from water and carbon dioxide in the air, while all other essential nutrients are taken up by plant roots from the soil. When the soil is unable to supply sufficient nutrient(s), fertilization is needed for optimum yield and quality of berries. Nutrient application should be based on soil and plant analyses and grower experience in their raspberry production system.

Bowl of Heritage raspberries. Photo by dmp2014.

Plant tissue analysis is an excellent method for growers to monitor nutrient sufficiency levels. Timely plant tissue analysis is helpful for detecting nutrient deficiencies in perennial fruits before visual deficient symptoms show up and minimize loss of yield and quality. Nutrient uptake, accumulation, and relocations in plants are complicated in perennial crops like raspberry, therefore, tissue testing should be based on a consistent sampling in the plant growth stage and time of the day, selection of the appropriate plant part, and the recommended sufficiency levels (please contact UConn’s Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory, www.soiltesting.cahnr.uconn.edu for the recommended sufficiency levels) for comparison.

Red raspberry growers are recommended to sample and test leaf tissue from all fields annually.

  • When to sample: Tissue samples should be collected when nutrient concentration is stable, thus, collect red raspberry leaf tissue mid-summer.
  • What part of a plant to sample: Collect approximately 50 of the 4th fully expanded leaves located about 12 inches from the tip to make a composited sample for tissue analysis. Collect leaves that are free of disease or other damage. A single composited sample should not represent an area of more than 5 acres. Do not mix leaves from field locations with different soil types or management histories. Separate samples should be taken for different soil types, management histories. For diagnosis purposes, separate samples should be taken in healthy and unhealthy plants.
  • How to handle samples: Put a composited sample consisting approximately 50 leaves in a paper bag, clearly labeled the bag, and send it to a local laboratory providing leaf tissue nutrient testing services as soon as possible. Conventional laboratory plant tissue nutrient analysis procedures are shown below.
Schematic flow chart of conventional plant tissue nutrient analysis procedures.

How to guide fertilization with laboratory results?

Compare the laboratory results to the recommended leaf tissue sufficiency levels shown in Table 1. If laboratory results are below the recommended sufficiency levels, fertilizer applications would typically be increased. If laboratory results are within the recommended sufficiency levels, continue with the current fertilization regimes. For recommended sufficiency levels please visit the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory or refer to University of Vermont Extension publication at https://www.uvm.edu/vtvegandberry/factsheets/tissuetest.html. To assist with interpretation of tissue analysis data, record keeping is recommended. In addition to keep records of tissue testing, soil testing results, weather (daily rainfall and temperatures), disease problems, nutrient application rates, form and timing, plant growth (such as cane number and height), yield, leaf color, and fruit quality are also helpful in estimate nutrient requirements in various crop yield potential situations.

Table 1. Recommended leaf tissue nutrient sufficiency levels for red raspberry.

NutrientSufficiency level
N (%)2.3–3.0
P (%)0.19–0.45
K (%)1.3–2.0

Dr. Qianwen Lu, Graduate Research Assistant, University of Connecticut

In early July, I wrote a post titled “Considering Conifers”, where I discussed a few pests, diseases, and abiotic issues that conifers face here in New England. Some mentioned in that post included witches’ broom, root rot disease, and bagworm feeding. With the holiday season upon us, I figured now would be a good time to continue that post by discussing a few additional pests and diseases.

One category of pests briefly mentioned in the previous conifer post was scales. Scales are slow-moving insects in the order Hemiptera with a protective covering, making management with insecticides alone more difficult. An integrated pest management (IPM) approach, using a combination of low-impact approaches, is usually the most effective approach for homeowners and commercial growers alike.

Targeting scales with insecticides is most successful when applying the product in the spring and early summer during the scales’ “crawler”, or immature, stage when they are more likely to come in contact with the insecticide. Be sure to apply the product following the instructions on the label and following any specific timeline established for the species of scale in question. Two common scale pests one might encounter on conifers include wooly hemlock adelgid (you might see these when decorating your hemlock outside) and cryptomeria scale (these are more likely to be on your cut Christmas tree, like Canaan fir or Fraser fir).

Cryptomeria scales are often called “fried egg scale” due to their appearance. They are found exclusively on the underside of needles. The photo above shows some previous beetle predation of the scales. Photo credit: Nick Goltz, DPM

Scout for pests like scales routinely during the growing season. If you notice scales on your cut Christmas tree, don’t worry – they are harmless to humas and don’t survive off the plant. If you notice scales on your conifers, you may want to introduce a biological control agent, like the twice-stabbed ladybird beetle (Chilocorus stigma) in early summer, particularly if you would prefer to use minimal insecticides. Be careful to not apply insecticides, especially products containing pyrethroids or bifenthrin, when the ladybird beetles are active as these products will kill them as well as the scale pest. For Christmas tree growers, trees that have heavy scale infestations should be removed when observed to prevent spread to healthy trees nearby.

Beyond insect pests, conifers are prone to fungal diseases as well. Some fungal pathogens cause needle drop, such as fungi in the genera Pestalotiopsis, Rhizosphaera, Cyclaneusma, Dothiostroma, Lecanosticta, and others. These pathogens tend to produce copious numbers of spores and spread to new trees vi wind and rain. Needles, usually beginning with the outer needles, will become discolored before falling off the tree.  Other fungi cause cankers and blight, such as those in the genera Neonectria, Caliciopsis, Diplodia, Seiridium, Fusarium, and others. These pathogens are more serious as they destroy vascular (cambium) tissue, resulting in reduced water movement, trunk lesions, and often an untimely death for the tree. Minimizing unnecessary wounding (such as through excessive or off-season pruning) and environmental stress (drought, freezing, etc.) will reduce the likelihood of canker diseases appearing.

Pestalotiopsis (shown above) and other needle drop fungi produce abundant spores, especially after rain during the growing season. Prune away and tissue that appears to be diseased. Either submit it to a diagnostic lab for identification, burn it, or throw it in refuse/compost off-site. Photo credit: Nick Goltz, DPM.

While some fungal diseases, such as Armillaria root rot, cubical brown rot/ crumbly rot, and others produce large fruiting bodies (shelf mushrooms) on the trunk/base of the tree, making identification of the cause of decline easier, other diseases can be complicated to diagnose without culturing in a lab. If you’re ever unsure what could be wrong with your plant, consider contacting the UConn Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu to discuss your plant’s health and inquire about submitting a sample to the UConn Plant Diagnostic Laboratory. The UConn PDL is funded, in part, by the state of Connecticut and the USDA through IPM Extension Implementation and National Plant Diagnostic Network grants.

If you plan to submit a sample, be sure to do so BEFORE applying any fungicides for the season, or the pathogen may not be able to be cultured.

Wishing you and your loved ones a joyous holiday season and a safe and prosperous new year.

Nick

There are a few animal species that cause people tremendous amounts of economic damage, loss of time, and good old-fashioned frustration. Two of the most despised warm furries are rats and mice. There is nothing worse than having a great harvest, only to find out later that your bounty has been ruined by one or both of these creatures. They literally are ever present, but seldom seen. They carry a number of diseases, and you really want to make sure you do not get bitten by one of these. A disease, like rabies, is fatal if untreated, but according to the CDC is not usually seen in mice and rats. Even so, if the animals don’t actually cause the disease themselves, they can carry the vector that does. Mice host deer ticks that carry Lyme disease, and rats carry the fleas that caused the Black Plague many years ago. My barn had a big rat infestation this past summer, and I can tell you the fleas were the worst part. The rats would run on the rafters above me and the fleas would drop down onto me and bite. It took me a while to figure out how and why I had fleas on me at a certain time of the day!

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to both rodents, but especially the rats. If you let the rats get a foothold, and they start reproducing, it can get very hard to get rid of the colony. They are one of the smartest vertebrate creatures on the planet, which is what makes them so difficult to eradicate. From my experience over the years, it generally starts with one that shows up. It seems to take them a while (up to six months) before they start having babies, but it can happen much, much sooner. Next thing you know, you are overrun. No place is safe from them, so don’t think it could not happen in your basement, barn, garage, etc. We once had a rat show up in our basement. My wife had left some Halloween candy down there because she did not want the kids eating it all and rotting their teeth. Apparently, a rat showed up and found her stash sometime between the beginning of November and the end of December. He carried it to the opposite corner of the basement. There were wrappers and rat feces everywhere, but hidden from plain sight.  Because there was only one, I was able to use a jaw trap. I baited it with a Gummy bear candy (apparently his favorite), and that ended the problem. A little while later, I found this rat was living in my root cellar. He ripped out a bunch of the fiberglass insulation, mounded it up into a nice nest, and covered it in his own excrement.

For the gardener, seed stores are most vulnerable to rats and mice. I had my seeds, stored in my cool basement, raided by some mice recently. They spilled some I had drying and ate some others. Like many gardeners, I start seeds each spring. Last year, four flats of pepper seedlings were nibbled down to the soil surface. First it was the leaves, then on another day, the stems. It continued until they were all gone. By the time I figured out the culprit, it was too late – my plants were gone. I also had larger bags of agricultural pasture seed in my woodshed. I missed the fall planting and was going to opt for the spring. Over the winter, the mice chewed through the bag and were eating my seed. In the barn, I had some bags of cracked corn for my poultry.  The rats went to the underside of the pallet and chewed holes in the bottom layer of bags. This made it impossible to get to the bags to seal them up. The amount of time and money I, and others, have lost to these creatures is incredible. 

Getting rid of vermin can be tricky. You have to out-think them. Mice are not very bright, but rats are geniuses. As I said before, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Try your best not to give them food. That is the number one thing that attracts them. Be careful where you store your seeds, your harvest, and your animal feed. Monitor the areas closely and nip it in the bud when one of these animals arrives. As far as your seed or your animal feed, if you can store that in metal garbage cans with a tight-fitting lid, it will prevent the animals from accessing the food. Be careful not to spill feed or seed when you are using the materials, as this can invite trouble.

Four “snap traps.” From left to right, a covered mouse trap, a plastic pedal mouse trap, a plastic pedal rat trap, and a jaw-style rat trap. Photo by mrl2022.

 So, what do you do if you find yourself with a pest problem? Well it is by no means a simple answer, and it will depend on whether you are talking about mice, rats, or both. Looking at the scat the animals leave is your best way of identifying which creature you have. The second thing you can do is try and remove their food source. For example, a neighbor once was inundated with rats in her horse barn. She moved her feed from the barn to her garage. Once the rats had no food, they left. She solved her problem. Unfortunately for me, the colony decided to move into my chicken coop. What an experience that was! Anyway, there is a bit of a lag time between removing the food and the animals moving on. Up until the point you removed the food, the location was like paradise. You will need a little time for them to get hungry enough to relocate.  You also want to tidy up as much as possible. Try not to leave them good places to live, although I know this can be difficult. The time it takes to get rid of rats or mice will depend on the population size. You must be diligent though. Once you begin measures to get rid of them, do not stop until they are all gone. Both species are active mostly at night. A mouse scratching or chewing the inside of your wall when you are trying to sleep is a nice exercise in frustration.

Fortunately for us, mice are relatively easy to get rid of. Simple snap traps are quite effective, but you will have to dispose of the dead mouse and reset the trap at least once a day. There are some disposable options if you cannot stomach the thought, but these probably are not very good for the environment, and unless you only have one or two mice, it will get rather expensive. For mice, I really like the pedal-style snap traps. They have what looks like a piece of cheese for a trigger. You do not even need to bait them.  ust place them against the wall and as the mice run along it, they will step into the trap.

The next trap is one of my favorites, but the success with it seems to vary by location (I have not figured out why yet). It is called the rolling log trap. You can make your own or buy one on line.  It consists of a five-gallon bucket with a stick or wire going across it. In the middle of that stick, you put a can or similar container. On the container, you put peanut butter. A board going from the floor to the rim of the bucket provides access. The mouse walks out to get the food, and the can spins and the mouse drops into the bucket. The advantage to this style of trap is that it repeats. You can catch a number of mice in one night. You also have the option to make it a lethal trap or a catch-and-release. For the former, fill the bucket halfway with water. This will cause the mice to drown. For the latter, leave the bucket empty. I would recommend you check with local wildlife laws on the legality of releasing animals. This also presents an additional danger of being near/handling live wild animals. There are many variations on these traps. For many years I used to use a plain bucket with nothing, and the mice would drop in to get some feed I scattered on the bottom.      

Best suited for mice, a rolling-log style bucket trap made by the author. Photo by mrl2022.

For rats, things are much more complicated. As I stated above, they are extremely smart. Rats are very shy of anything new in their environment. They will not explore new traps or food. In addition, the older reproductive rats will let the younger individuals try the new food first. The use of snap traps should be reserved for the first few or the last few. Otherwise, if a rat sees one in the trap, it will not go near it ever again. You may need to bait any trap you do use. Meat or sweets generally work the best. I never had any luck with peanut butter for rats, but it works great with mice. It will be virtually impossible to eradicate a colony of rats without eliminating their food source. When I had the infestation in my chicken coop years ago, I found I needed to feed the chickens in the morning as opposed to the evening. The rats were eating the food all night and the chickens did not have much to eat! Eliminating the food altogether was not an option – the chickens needed to eat. However, by switching to the morning, I removed the rats’ food source. Any uneaten chicken feed was taken in the garage at the end of the day so the rats literally had nothing left to eat.

For the remainder of the article, I wanted to comment on some traps or techniques that could apply to both species. The first are glue boards. These are plastic trays filled with extremely sticky glue. The idea is that the mouse or rat walks onto it and sticks. They eventually die due to lack of water. The whole board is then thrown away. I generally do not like these. You will have to place them in an area frequented by the rodents and hope they walk onto them. Ideally, you place them in a runway. Mice are more easily caught by these. I have never been able to catch a rat as they are too dirty and oily (they walk right off). There is also a risk of little kids, pets, or larger wildlife having the trap get stuck to them. You also may be putting yourself at risk of contact with a live animal capable of biting, and/or exposing yourself to disease. Save your money and opt for a better remedy. 

If you do have a barn or similar outbuilding, barn cats may be a solution. These are generally either hard-to-adopt animals that need a home, or animals in need of adoption due to crowding at the shelter. Being that these are more work animals and not companions, they can be highly effective. Recently, my barn cats took out eight mice in one night. This was during the latest cold night, which drove the rodents inside to seek shelter. The cats have not really done much with the rats. I am not sure why that is the case. Barn cats may also go after other mammalian farm pests, like voles, so they can be a real asset. On the down side, if they are good hunters, they may take out songbirds or other beneficial organisms. 

There is a special breed of dog, called a Rat Terrier, that can be useful. This is an American breed that was bred to go after farm pests like rats and rabbits. They can be highly energetic.  There are numerous videos of them in action on the internet. Before you get too excited and go out and buy one, these fell out of favor in the mid-1900s when poisons became widely available (more on them in a minute).   

There is a new product on the market that is made of pellets that are supposedly pet and wildlife safe. They work by the rodent ingesting them, which coats their digestive tract. The rodent does not drink as they do not feel thirsty, and then they die in a few days due to dehydration. The trouble I had with this product was the rats are not consuming it!  It was also very expensive for the small amount that came in the bag. Either way, every individual would have to eat this to wipe out the colony, but that is not how rats behave. As such, I would not recommend those products. There are also recipes on the internet for how to mix either plaster of pairs with cocoa powder or baking soda and cocoa powder. The former hardens in the rodent’s stomach and eventually kills them, while the latter forms gas. Rats cannot belch so they end up dying. All the times I have tried these concoctions, the animals would not eat it. 

The last option is poison, but they are not recommended by our Center. Although there are different ingredients that can be used, they are generally anticoagulants. After ingestion, they cause the rodents to bleed and die. There is a great risk to pets, farm animals, and wildlife if you  use these. If any animal ingests them, it will be the same outcome – death. Rats generally only nibble on a new food source. As such, the poisons are fairly concentrated so a little nibble is enough to kill the animal. There are bait boxes that restrict access to all animals except for rodents. These can be screwed shut to prevent non-target animals and/or children from accessing the poison. The problem is, if predators normally feeding on these rodents eat one that has been poisoned, it is highly likely they will die themselves. There are some baits that claim they are less concentrated and therefore less likely to do this, but because the outcome cannot be controlled, we advise against using these. In addition, I have heard stories of rats ending up in house walls and bleeding right through them. How unsightly! Even if they didn’t bleed into your living space, the stench from a rotting rat in the wall would be very unpleasant, and would usually be followed by a fly infestation.

Rodent problems should not be taken lightly. They cause losses of time and money, and can carry diseases that you, your pets, and your livestock may acquire. It is best to be vigilant and prevent these situations from ever happening in the first place. Store your seeds, feed, and food in metal containers, and monitor the areas for rodent scat frequently. If you have a problem, eliminate the food source first before attempting to eliminate the organisms. Overall, the choice of how to deal with these pests is yours. You will have to assess your situation, your surroundings, and your family. Please don’t forget to consider wildlife with whatever you choose. Prompt action at the first sign of vermin with snap traps/jaw traps can prevent most problems.       

Matt Lisy

Despite the summer’s drought, this was a great growing season for sweet potatoes. While they are tropical plants and typically associated with being grown in more southern climates, many varieties do well here in New England. They are not related to potatoes but rather, morning glories.

Sweet potato flowers look like morning glories as they are part of that family. Photo by dmp2022.

Not only are sweet potatoes a highly nutritious vegetable, they are easy to grow with few pests in this area. Native to the Americas, sweet potatoes contain high levels of vitamins A and C along with supplying iron, potassium, and dietary fiber. An average sized sweet potato only has around 120 calories.

To harvest a good crop, sweet potatoes need a growing season of between 90 and 120 days depending on the variety. My favorite choice is ‘Beauregard’, which matures in 90 days so if we have a colder than average spring, there is still enough time for a sizeable harvest. ‘Georgia Jet’ in another variety that matures in 90 days and ‘Centennial’ in 100. ‘Bush Porto Rico’ takes a little longer to mature (110 days) but is a more compact variety for smaller gardens and containers. All of these varieties have dark orange flesh but for those looking for something different, sweet potatoes can be found with white, yellow and even purple flesh.

Rule number one when growing sweet potatoes is to give them enough room to run. Once the warm weather hits, the vigorous vines cover a sizeable area. I planted 12 slips in a 6 by 15-foot bed and they still rambled into neighboring beds and out into the lawn area.

Sweet potato vines escaping from the garden. Photo by dmp2022.

While potatoes are started with pieces of the actual tuber, sweet potatoes are started from slips, which are basically cuttings off a mother plant with a small amount of root and a few leaves. The sweet potatoes that we eat are the plant’s tuberous roots.

Sweet potato slip. Photo by dmp2022.

Being of southern origin, sweet potatoes can take the heat and even some drought and need to be grown in a sunny site with well-draining soil. If your soil is on the sandy side, so much the better as well-aerated soils promote the formation of more roots. I grow them in a slightly raised bed but have seen directions for creating small mounds to grow them in if your soil is rocky or compacted.

Not many garden centers carry edible sweet potato slips or plants so your best bet would be to order them from a seed/plant company online. Order early, like in January, to ensure you get the variety you want. A dozen slips will easily feed a family of four and usually that is the smallest amount one can order. When the slips come in, place them in a container of water for a day or two to hydrate them before planting.

Hopefully the arrival of your sweet potato slips will coincide with good planting weather. Ideally they should be planted 3 or 4 weeks after the last spring frost or when the soils warms up to 65 degrees F. I have held them for a week all together in a pot with some soilless media in a bright but not full sun window.

Plant the slips deep enough to cover the roots, usually 6 inches deep or so. Space plants about 30 inches apart to allow plenty of room for tuberous root formation. Plants could be watered in with a high phosphorus liquid fertilizer. Keep them moist for the first two weeks to ensure good root establishment. After that, water when the soil dries out and no rain is predicted. Avoid planting in soils that have recently had manure added. Do not overfertilize with nitrogen as plants may produce lots of foliage and not a lot of sweet potatoes.

Harvest after the frost starts to blacken the foliage. Cut back the vines and gingerly start digging with a trowel or small shovel about 18 inches from plant crowns. The crowns can be tugged upon and if the soil is loose, where the sweet potatoes are is often obvious and they can be removed from the soil.

Sweet potato foliage blackened by frost. Photo by dmp2022.

While some sources say not to wash them, this year with all the rain made them pretty muddy so I washed them off and set them in the sun to dry.

Fresh dug sweet potatoes covered with mud. Photo by dmp2022.

Try not to bruise them and store in a humid place around 55 degrees F. Curing at 80 degrees and high humidity for 10 days is suggested to improve storage but it is hard to find these conditions during a New England fall. I just let them dry and wipe off any soil that was clinging to them and store in a bin in my cool basement. My sweet potatoes really varied in sizes with some being quite large – probably just need one for a sweet potato pie.

Some huge sweet potatoes! Photo by dmp2022.

I learned my lesson in past years not to leave them in the ground too long after the frost kills back the vines. Voles and slugs also find sweet potatoes delectable and will start nibbling on them if not harvested in a timely fashion.

Portions of my sweet potatoes were feasted on by slugs or voles. Photo by dmp2022.

So if you are looking for something different to grow as you peruse 2023 seed/plant catalogs, why not try sweet potatoes. Except for some feeding damage on the potatoes, I did not have any other insect or disease problems. After they were established, I just mulched and did not add any additional water this year and got quite a good size harvest, despite the summer’s drought.  

Dawn P.

Cover cropping is becoming a practice used by many farmers for its benefits to soil health and sustainable agriculture. Cover crops are crops that are commonly planted after the primary cash crop is harvested in order to avoid periods of bare soil. Sometimes cover crops are planted before the cash crop harvest to extend the growing season for the cover crops. Cover crops offer several important ecosystem services, as well as improved yield and quality of subsequent crops. There are many different crops that are used as cover crops and each type offers their own strengths. Specific cover crops can be grown alone or can be grown in mixtures to gain maximum benefits, as well as shape the mixture to the specific needs of the agricultural system. Legumes, such as clovers and vetch, are known for their association with nitrogen-fixing microorganisms and their ability to increase soil organic matter. Grasses, such as ryegrass, barley, and cereal rye, are well known for their ability to prevent erosion, suppress weeds, and capture residual nutrients. Brassicas, such as canola, rapeseed, daikon radish, turnips, and mustards, are commonly implemented as cover crops for their benefits in erosion control, weeds suppression, water conservation. In addition, their deep and strong taproots can alleviate soil compaction and take up nutrients deep in the soil profile that the cash crops left behind.

Mixture of cereal rye and dailon radish. Photo by Nora Doonan, UConn

Cover cropping is a useful tool for preventing the leaching of nutrients because pf their ability to take up the residual nutrients. Non-legume cover crops, like grasses and brassicas, are commonly used to withdraw nutrients from the soil to be used for biomass that would otherwise be susceptible to leaching. Mixtures of legume and non-legume cover crops are a great method for both supplying the soil with nitrogen through biological N fixation by legumes and the capturing of that nitrogen by non-legumes. After the cover crops are terminated, the residue will decompose overtime and some of the nutrients will be released becoming available for subsequent cash crops.

Growing cover crops can increase soil organic carbon. Soil is one of the major reserves of carbon on land. Using cover crops for their benefits in carbon sequestration can help to mitigate climate change by removing excess CO2 from the atmosphere via photosynthesis. The rate and amount of carbon accumulation in soil from cover crops depend on several factors, such as cover crop biomass production, the number of years in which cover crops have been implemented into the system, tillage practices, the species of cover crop, initial soil organic carbon, climate, etc. In order to enhance the potential of cover crops to sequester carbon, biomass production is one of the most important factors. It is necessary to ensure that the cover crops have maximum number of growing days possible. This can be achieved by planting your cover crops immediately after cash crop harvest and terminating cover crop late or at the subsequent crops’ planting. Another practice related to biomass would be to interseed cover crops with standing crops.

Single species of cereal rye in fall. Photo by Nora Doonan, UConn

There are a few methods commonly used for cover crop termination, including natural winter kill, chemical termination, incorporation, burning and mechanical termination (such as rolling/crimping). Cover crops may also be grazed or harvested as silage. When rolling/crimping method is used, it is important that the cover crops are terminated at the right growing stage because it impacts the efficiency of killing the cover crops. For example, more than 90% rye was killed if terminated at milk stage compared with 20% rye kill if terminated at flag leaf stage, three weeks after rolling/crimping. Regrowth can occur if mowing in early growth stages. Herbicide termination is more flexible in terms of when the cover crops can be terminated. Burning can cause loss of carbon, nutrients, and turn soil surface to be hydrophobic.

Cover cropping, specifically multi-species mixtures, are an excellent method for increasing agroecosystem diversity, which serves many benefits in weed and pest management and nitrogen retention. Whether grown as a single species stand or in polyculture, it is clear that cover crops can be used as a tool to achieve specific goals necessary for promoting soil health.

Home gardeners can practice cover cropping on a smaller scale. Winter rye, buckwheat, oats, beans, peas and some alfalfa species can be planted before, during or after harvest depending on the purpose of the cover crop.

Nora Doonan, Graduate Research Assistant, University of Connecticut

For many gardeners, dahlias are the superstars of the garden. Big, beautiful, long-blooming, and rich in a rainbow of colors, dahlias make summer to fall a colorful ball. And with just a little special care, the dahlias that made this summer special can come back next year to do an even better job.

Dahlias by Marie Woodward

Proper winter care of the tuberous roots of dahlias (which for this blog we will just refer to as tubers) will determine their success in the growing season. With careful preparation and regular vigilance, gardeners can enjoy this year’s dahlias for many years to come. Just follow these sometimes surprising instructions:

First, don’t dig up dahlia tubers until after a killing frost. Tubers can be left in the ground from a few days up to a few weeks after the frost as long as the ground itself doesn’t freeze. The longer you leave the tubers in the ground the larger the eyes (growth buds) will swell, making the plant’s tubers easier to divide. A good indicator it’s tuberous root digging time is when the flowers die and turn brown. 

Dahlias blackened by frost. Photo: The Martha Blog

When you are ready to dig up the tubers (they’ll be in clumps), use a pruner or lopper, and cut the plant’s stem to about 4 inches above the ground. The stem will serve as a handle to help lift the tubers out of the soil. Next, using a long shovel or garden fork, (the latter is preferred), dig a circle around the plant about one foot away from the stem. Dig deep, and gently lift the tubers up to the surface from below the plant. If you had stuck labels in the ground when planting dahlias, be sure to keep the label with the roots so you know what you are planting where next year.

Holding the stem, shake any loose soil off the tuber clumps. Then rinse them gently with water. (A clean tuber is a happy tuber.) This can be done with a garden hose or in utility sink. Leave the tubers to dry, but for no more than 24 hrs. Caution; Don’t let them dry to the point of wrinkling (a sign of dehydration) which could cause damage to the tuber. Also don’t leave them to dry outside in freezing weather.

After they dry, carefully inspect each tuber clump. Trim any roots growing from the end of the tubers. If one or more tubers in a clump are damaged or show signs of rot and cut the affected tubers off. Such damaged tubers can spread rot to other tubers. (think of that one bad apple – thanks, Osmond Brothers).  

Once the clumps are dry and inspected, cut the stem (your former handle) low enough so it’s not hollow and make sure it’s free of any rot.

At this point you must make a decision. Some gardeners like to divide tubers in the fall (to increase the number of dahlias they have) because they are easier to cut. However, it’s hard to see the “eyes”- the swelling that shows where next year’s growth will come from – in the fall. A tuber without an eye will never flower That’s why other gardeners prefer to wait till spring to divide their tubers when the eyes are swollen. The plant is more difficult to divide after winter hardening, but in spring the eyes are easier to see. 

Whichever you decide, carefully consider the pros and cons of each approach.

After the tubers are dug out, rinsed off, dried, and inspected (and perhaps divided), it’s time to make a nice bed for them to sleep in through the winter. Almost any non-plastic container will do so long as it’s not airtight.  Plastic containers are not a good choice because they won’t provide circulation. Cardboard boxes or a crate will do just fine. 

Dahlias tucked in for the winter. Photo: Dahlias.com

Line the bottom and sides of the box or crate with about 8-12 layers of newspaper. (Burlap is another good choice if newspaper is difficult to come by.) Then, choose a medium to nest the tubers in. Freshly purchased peat moss, pine shavings, or coarse vermiculite are all good choices. The American Dahlia Society even suggests wrapping tubers in saran wrap:  https://www.dahlia.org/docsinfo/articles/no-fuss-store-your-tubers-in-plastic-wrap/

No matter what medium you choose, it’s critical that it be moist without being wet. A five-gallon bucket of vermiculite mixed with one cup of water, for example, will give tubers an ideal moisture content for storage 

Line the bottom of the box with medium and nest the tubers or clumps of tubers in the mix, giving them plenty of space between each clump. If the box is deep enough, you can layer the clumps but, make sure you have plenty of medium between the layers. Next, cover the tuber layers with the medium, and cover the medium with paper bags to keep light out. Store tubers on a shelf in an area with a temperature between 40-50 degrees.  It’s very important not to let the tubers freeze. Freezing will destroy them.

 Also, DO NOT store tuber boxes or crates on cement. Cement will draw moisture out of the medium and dehydrate the tubers. Check your tubers about once a month. If they show any sign of shriveling, spray the clumps and medium lightly with water and keep an eye on the temperature. One trick to help monitor temperature is to keep a spray bottle next to the tuber box. If the bottle shows signs of frost crystallizing, move the box to a warmer area. You can also monitor temperature using a remote wireless thermometer. Keep your dahlias dry, unfrozen, and in the dark till spring, and you’ll be ready for a dahlia explosion in the summer to come. The process of preparing dahlias for winter is not hard. It just requires more steps to ensure success for the next growing season. I’m sure, like me, you will find the reward of seeing your dahlias blooming happily in the garden well worth the winter effort. 

Marie Woodward

“The leaves fall, the wind blows, and the farm country slowly changes from the summer cotton into its winter wools” 

– Henry Beston

Travelling around the Connecticut landscape in the fall is full of colors, interesting buildings, signs that the growing season is coming to a close and, quite often, little surprises that can make crabapples smile. For instance, driving along country roads, you may see example of a whimsical trend where dead branches and tree trunks are used as “sculptures”.  One is even incorporated into use as a mailbox holder.

Leaves are turning and oaks are just about the only trees with leaves now. While perhaps not as colorful as maples, aspens, birch and other tree leaves, oak leaves offer a last look at autumn leaf color. Gingko trees also hold their bright yellow, fan-shaped leaves into November.

Oak leaves over a woodland pond
Fall color of a gingko on the UConn Campus

A local sand and gravel company is the home to bank swallows, who excavate holes in the exposed sand banks to use as nesting chambers. Every year the bank is dug into by machinery, leaving a fresh canvas for these birds. Holes resemble New Mexican pueblo structures, in a way.

Barn swallow excavations in a sand bank

Fields are mostly harvested by now, with some winter squash and pumpkins left behind until needed. As long as the stems are left intact, they can last a while longer in the cold before they rot or become deer chow.

This summer was one of drought and heat conditions that extended into early September. In late October parts of the state had heavy rainfalls of 3-5 inches, though, so some relief came. Two days after those rains, the Housatonic River was raging, as were the waterfalls at Kent Falls, and the waters shooting through the gorge near Bull’s Bridge. Both of these places are along Route 7 in Kent.

Covered bridge in West Cornwall
Triple waterfalls at Kent Falls
Raging water through the gorge just above Bull’s Bridge

Beavers are active all year, and my sister and I recently found a lot of small river and sweet birch felled by one of theses animals along the Scantic River. Birch and aspen are favorites of beavers because they can easily gnaw off the thin bark on saplings and young trees and eat it.

Beaver has gnawed bark off this small birch tree

A visit to Diana’s Pool in Chaplin was a first for me, and, like General MacArthur,  I will return. The trail along the Natchaug River is not hard to hike, and the pool formed by large boulders that trap the water is quite large. There are two sets of waterfalls along the trail.

View along the Natchaug River- Diana’s Pool- in Chaplin
Diana’s Pool

A large, stacked tooth fungus has interested me enough to revisit the old sugar maple where this large parasitic fungus has made its home in recent years. It takes a full season for it to reach its mature size, pushing its fruiting bodies outside the cavity where the fungal body makes its living. By fall, the teeth of this fungus are ready to release their spores.

Stacked tooth fungus fills a hole in a sugar maple where it originates from

Around East Windsor, Broad Brook and Enfield there are many farms, tobacco barns, old tree nurseries and horse stables. There is a place where old trains seem to be collected and left right on old tracks in a boneyard of sorts near a small grain elevator that still receives deliveries from newer trains. An old, retired engine has a spiffy rounded roof over the cab.

Old train in the boneyard

Weathervane on the roof of Coventry Library is the replica of the library
Barn on the way to the Cornwall Covered bridge

Autumn will gradually fade away into the sunset and winter will arrive with all that cold and snow that defines its season. Until then, I am looking forward to getting the most out of my November ramblings. I am of the same mind as whoever said this (credited to Unknown, so it could be any of us!)

“A September to remember. An October full of splendor. A November to treasure”

 

Pamm Cooper

This spicebush swallowtail caterpillar needs to hurry up and pupate before leaves are all gone

Sometimes in life it is the bad things that happen that really teach us lessons we otherwise would never have learned. In this case, I am talking about a 180-year-old barn with a lot of character. It was in sad shape when I bought the property – or at least one side of it was. A few months ago, I noticed one of the walls was starting to cave in! This began my lesson on the American Chestnut. 

A good portion of the rotted 7×7 barn post that was cut out during my recent barn-saving repair. Photo by mrl2022.

The American Chestnut used to be plentiful in the American landscape. It was roughly found from Maine to Louisiana, staying away from the southeastern coastal United States. Here in Connecticut, it was plentiful. My barn was built largely out of Chestnut, as were many in the countryside. Long before I was responsible for it, water infiltration and termites took out a back-corner post and two of the main structural beams. Only something built in the mid-1800s could still be standing given that description. I am part of the way through replacing the missing and/or rotten framework. It was during this time that I developed a respect for this species of tree.

Even though there were beams over half way rotten or eaten, they were still incredibly strong.  From my observation, the wood does not behave the same way as other modern-day lumber.  Even when only one third of the beams are left, it was extremely difficult to cut through. It is a very hard, dense, strong, and most of all a highly rot resistant wood. In fact, there are pieces that are in contact with the ground that are still solid in both my barn and house. Now I have no way of knowing for sure if some of the ground pieces were replaced, but I do not see any evidence of it.

Even though the wood was largely rotten and riddled with insect damage, it was the hardest wood the author ever had to cut through. Photo by mrl2022.

The American Chestnut was used for building houses, barns, fence posts, animal housing, furniture, and just about anything else one can imagine. The bark is reportedly medicinal for coughs, arthritis, and a sore throat. The chestnuts themselves, like a famous holiday song suggests, were good to eat when roasted over an open fire. I have read about farmers turning their cattle and hogs loose in the forest in the fall to enjoy the fallen nuts. I can only imagine how many native wild animals used it as a food source as well. All in all, it seemed like the absolutely perfect tree. Then, in the early to mid-1900s, the Chestnut Blight wiped out most of them. It is a type of fungus that kills the above-ground portion of the tree. Many times, the roots below ground remain alive. They send up shoots that only live five or ten years max before they too die off. This stump sprouting is another beautiful aspect of this tree species. When they were cut down for lumber, they would simply send up another shoot that would grow into a beautiful tree a number of years later. You did not even have to replant it! 

There is hope, however. There are different organizations and teams of scientists working to bring it back. Some are looking for disease resistant varieties and trying to selectively breed them, while others are trying to genetically engineer resistance to the blight by introducing a gene from a type of grass. Some purists resist such genetic tampering, but I believe the ends will justify the means. There are plans to freely distribute the trees to anyone who wants one once there is a stockpile of resistant specimens ready to go.

So, this brings me to the point of my story. The loss of the American Chestnut was not just an ecological disaster, but one that hit us humans hard as well. We lost one of the most valuable, if not the most valuable, species of tree in this part of the country. As such, humans were forced to replace what nature had provided for us with pressure treated lumber. Pressure treated lumber is treated chemically, under pressure, to produce a product that is rot and insect resistant. It has gone through a number of formula changes over the years. There has been great concern over what chemicals were used in the process. In the past, arsenic was the main ingredient in the wood treatment, but copper is now the main ingredient used (except in marine applications due to toxicity to marine life). Either way, boards that are rated for ground contact contain much higher levels of the chemical preservatives. The newer formulation does not possess the same risk as the old. It can be used for playscapes and furniture, but is not recommended for food contact. This leaves a bit of a gray area when we consider its use in raised garden beds or chicken coops. Much of the school of thought says that it is generally safe to use, but I don’t use it for these purposes. So many times, something thought to be safe ends up not being so. It is extremely difficult to determine what amount of leaching of the chemical preservatives does enter your garden soil, and how far they may migrate from the source. A lot will depend on the various soil properties, chemistry, hydrology, and other biotic and abiotic factors. Being that plants indiscriminately take up elements from their surroundings, you could be eating some of the preservatives. Chickens tend to scratch up the soil and move it all around, so they could be coming into contact with the preservatives as well. If you eat the birds and/or their eggs, you could be exposed so some small levels. Remember that these chemicals are actually toxic to life.  That is why the wood isn’t eaten by insects or rotted by bacteria or fungi. I am in no way trying to alarm anyone or imply that there is an enormous danger. I do know many people who have used it in agriculture, and it is generally considered safe to use in these manners.

I personally use some kind of alternative for anything I will consume, like vegetables and chicken eggs. There are a number of rot resistant woods on the market that you can use in place of treated lumber. They are not nearly as rot resistant as Chestnut, but they have varying levels of resistance. By and far the best of the remaining woods is Cedar. This can last an extremely long time. The downside is the exorbitant cost. I used to use it in certain instances, but since the lumber price hikes during COVID, I have not seen this being a feasible option. According to a manager at a local big box lumber store, the company does not stock cedar anymore due to the price – consumers and just not willing to pay that much. Redwood, cypress, and locust are also better at resisting rot, but they can be more costly and harder to come by as well. You will have to price things out if you have a project in mind. Lumber prices fluctuate frequently. 

My recommendation for raised garden beds and chicken coops is Douglas Fir. This wood is somewhat rot resistant. This is the slightly red colored wood you will see in most box stores. It is widely used in construction. I have used it in ground contact for a number of animal housing projects and got 15 years or more out of it before it started to significantly break down and need replacing. I have done this in a number of locations and soil types, both wet and dry, and have had really good luck. The advantages are much lower cost, it is readily available, there is no risk of chemical consumption, and it has a decent life expectancy. Couple this with the statistic about how often people move, and you are more likely to sell your home before you would have had to replace your chicken coop or raised garden beds. Even if you stay put, you most likely will only replace the wood once or twice. The only exception I make to this rule is fence posts and barn posts and beams. These I see as structural components, and here the greatest risk would be failure of the lumber components. As such, I used treated lumber in these places.

Douglas Fir being used in a ground-contact situation for a chicken coop. The author gets about 15 years out of the wood used like this. Photo by mrl2022.

Overall, you have to decide what is best for your particular situation. There are many factors that go into picking the right wood product for the job. Cost, aesthetics, longevity, type of use, and years of expected use are just a few. I really hope science can figure out a successful, permanent solution to the Chestnut Blight. It would be great to have a future where our children can use American Chestnut trees the way our forefathers did.   

Matt Lisy

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