Month: April 2020

Why save water when there’s not a drought? It’s time to talk about teleconnections

Saving water

After years of living through the seemingly never-ending nightmare of a record-setting drought, residents of the American West awoke in 2018 and 2019 to something very different.

Take California’s capital city, Sacramento, for instance. The month of May usually averages less than an inch of rainfall. But in 2019, May brought 3.42 inches of rain. That’s more than half of what Sacramento saw in the entire year of 2013.

So turn on those spigots and jump for joy. Happy days are here again. Right?

Sort of. Kind of. Er… not really.

Most people already know that recent years have brought historically erratic weather patterns. Hotter hots. Bigger storms. Crazy stuff.

This is partially attributable to climate teleconnections — a phenomenon first recognized by a British statistician named Gilbert “Boomerang” Walker in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Walker — who got his nickname because he was fascinated by the mathematical properties of throw-it-and-it-comes-right-back weapons used by Australian aboriginal hunters — was also interested in the physics of weather, and particularly monsoons in India. Using vast troves of data he and others collected from around the world, he identified a seesaw pattern that connected changes in atmospheric pressure in the Indian and Pacific oceans, and correlating temperature and rainfall patterns across the global tropics. These days, most folks know this teleconnection as the El Niño Southern Oscillation.

Teleconnections are… well… sort of wobbly, and in recent years they’ve gotten really wobbly. The result, in the American West, has been some years that are really wet and some that are really dry as the result of processes that none of us can control on a personal level.

So what does that mean for us individually? Well, it means that we need to be attentive to water conservation — as much when rainfall and snowpacks are high as in the years in which there is very little precipitation. That’s because, more than ever before in human history, we’re reliant on reservoirs — large natural or artificial lakes, often built upstream of a dam, that are used to collect and store water.

Sure, some of the water that falls from the sky in years of high precipitation is going to be used right away. But a lot of it is going to be kept behind one of the more than 91,000 dams in the United States for coming years, and even coming decades.

Even in long periods of drought, reservoirs take many years to drain. But with more frequent droughts that last longer — and rapidly growing populations across the American West — we can’t be certain that there will always be at least some water at the bottom of the reservoir when the next deluge comes.

Likewise, even in years with lots of precipitation, these bodies of water can take many years to fill, but greater uncertainty about future use can cause water managers to want to hold onto more water than might be prudent. The best example of this issue is Lake Oroville, which saw so much water input after a record drought that, in 2017, dam engineers couldn’t spill the water fast enough and had to use an emergency spillway, prompting the evacuation of nearly 200,000 people downstream.

So, it’s pretty clear where this is going, right? Predictable reservoirs are happy reservoirs no matter how much water is falling from the sky in the present year. And happy reservoirs mean happy people, since nobody enjoys the sorts of emergency water restrictions that were very common across Western states in the mid-2010s.

Those rules — affecting homeowners, farms and businesses, the maintenance of cemeteries and golf courses, the operation of car washes and water parks, and even the price of a gallon of water — aren’t gone forever. What you do every year to conserve water will help keep reservoir levels up in times of drought, reducing the scale and severity of water-use restrictions. Moreover, developing water-smart habits is easier during years when no restrictions are in place — making it easier to adjust when restrictions do occur.

So, sure, when high precipitation years come there’s plenty of reason to celebrate. But it’s also time to keep on saving — for a not-so-rainy day.

***

Jonathan Meyer is a climatologist with the Utah Climate Center at Utah State University, where Matthew D. LaPlante is an associate professor of journalism.

 

Selecting and Planting Trees

oak tree leaves

Arbor Day is upon us, and the best way to celebrate is by planting a tree. They produce oxygen, prevent erosion, absorb carbon, and provide food, shade, beauty, and many other things. Simply put, they’re amazing. With all the reasons to plant a tree, all you have to do is pick a variety and get it in the ground!

First, let’s talk about deciduous and evergreen trees. Deciduous trees lose their leaves seasonally, typically in the fall. These trees provide ample shade during the growing season and let sunlight in during the winter. Evergreen trees lose their leaves throughout the year. For this reason, evergreens are wonderful for blocking wind and providing habitat to birds and other small animals year-round. The picture below shows a mix of deciduous and evergreen trees seen in the late fall:

Picking a place for your tree is very important. Positioning deciduous trees strategically on the south side of your house will provide hours of glorious shade all summer long, but if you plant them too close, the roots can wreak havoc in your sewer lines and break your concrete foundation. Trees have massive woody root systems that can extend many feet in all directions from the trunk. If a tree has a thirty-foot wide canopy, you should leave that same area free for their roots.

Trees grow in a variety of sizes and shapes. Do some research to find the tree that fits your needs best. A reputable nursery will tell you exactly how big your tree will get, if it will flower, what kind of fruit it will bear, and how much raking you have to look forward to in the fall. Planting the right tree in the right spot will save you a lot of hassle in the long run.

Trees, like all living things, have a life expectancy. Some, like bristlecone pines, can live for thousands of years, while common shade trees, like maple and ash, can live more than a hundred years. Fruit trees will live for decades, but typically only bear abundant fruit for about twenty years.

Fruit-bearing trees are typically grafted on dwarf root stock, which limits their size at maturity. Even though they’ll stay relatively small, fruit trees require annual pruning to increase yield and make picking easier. Positioning a fruit tree is especially important if you have pets. Many dogs love to eat the fruit that falls from trees, seeds and all. This is particularly bad when they eat fruits that have stony pits, like peaches and apricots. To prevent doggy digestive issues, plant your fruit trees where pets can’t browse.

Another thing to consider is how messy the tree will be. Evergreens, like pines, have needles that acidify the soil and can hinder other plants from growing under them, possibly making a bare patch on the ground. Many shade trees produce a multitude of small fruits that can litter your yard and rain gutters.

There are many factors to consider when picking the type of tree that will fit your needs. Whether you want beautiful flowers in the spring, juicy fruits in the summer, colorful foliage in the fall, or picturesque boughs in the winter, now is the time to plant a tree.

The Care and Maintenance of Orchids

Potted Orchids

Potted Orchids

Everyone loves orchids and I’m no exception. I have twenty different varieties, which means at least one is in bloom at any given time. The most common variety is Phalaenopsis, the moth orchid. That’s the variety we’ll be focusing on here. While their long-lasting flowers are sure to brighten any house, keeping them alive can be a challenge.

In order to grow happy orchids, you have to mimic their natural habitat. Phalaenopsis orchids are tropical epiphytes, which means they grow on the bark of trees high in the canopy where sunlight is available. Because of this, they have air roots. These roots have a special layer of cells, called the velamen, that looks gray when it’s dry and becomes transparent when it’s wet, showing the darker tissues hidden underneath as seen in the pictures below:

The velamen helps the plant hold onto their host tree, absorb water and nutrients, and protect the layers of photosynthetic and conductive tissues in the roots. Their roots like to be exposed to air, sun, and water, so potting them is crucial for the health of the plant.

Most commercially grown orchids are sold in solid ceramic pots with a flexible plastic liner, like this:

While these pots are pretty, they don’t have drain holes, so if you overwater the orchid, the roots will rot. For this reason, I like to use orchid pots like this one:

You can find orchid pots at home improvement stores, the internet, or you can hire a potter to make them for you (which is what I did). The holes on the sides and bottom provide air flow and allow the roots to grow in all directions, like they would in the wild.

Choosing the right potting media is just as important as finding the right pot. Phalaenopsis prefer bark and perlite, often sold as ‘orchid mix’ at home improvement stores. It comes in several varieties, ‘coarse’ and ‘fine’ being the most readily available:

While orchid mixes provide the best drainage, most orchids I’ve bought have come potted in sphagnum moss like this:

Sphagnum holds moisture for days, which keeps the orchid alive while it’s waiting to be purchased, but once you get it home, monitor the roots daily to make sure they’re not in standing water. When your orchid is done blooming, you should transplant it into orchid mix.

If you live in a dry area like I do, your orchids will need plenty of water. I’ve heard many people use ice cubes to water their orchids, but remember, these are tropical plants and don’t like to be near anything freezing.

An orchid pot paired with orchid potting mix will provide a lot of ventilation, so I keep my orchids in catch trays that always have water in them, like this:

This standing water will increase the humidity in the air around the orchid, which they love, and will wick into the bark, keeping the roots moist. For air roots that grow above the pot, I water them a couple of times a week using a spray bottle. The fine mist of water is perfect for Phalaenopsis.

Every other month, add diluted orchid fertilizer to the bark at the base of the plant. This will keep your orchids growing beautifully and flowering regularly.

 

Happy growing!

Welcome to the New “For You” Section of the B-hyve App

Welcome to the new “For You” section of the B-hyve app! As you enjoy your yard and your B-hyve, we wanted a space specifically “For You” to get helpful watering tips, tricks, information, and special offers for products used in your yards.

When new content is available, you will see a red dot in the “For You” section of the app. Once that content is viewed, the red dot will go away.

To you, our valued Orbit B-hyve customers, have a great watering season! During this period of uncertainty, may you find some peace spending time in your outdoor living spaces.


Sincerely,
The B-hyve Team

The Happy Science of Being Outdoors

Happy Family Playing Outside

At some point it seems we forgot what the artists, poets, and philosophers have known for centuries—that being outdoors in nature is good for the brain.

As more scientific studies are being done, the evidence is clear: that being in nature has a profound impact on our brains. It elevates our mood, helps relieve stress and anxiety, it increases our creativity, our attention span, and improves our relationships.

University of Utah researcher David Strayer, said “People have been discussing their profound experiences in nature for the last several 100 years—from Thoreau to John Muir to many other writers. […] Now we are seeing changes in the brain and changes in the body that suggest we are physically and mentally more healthy when we are interacting with nature.”

In an age where we spend more time indoors, connected to devices and technology, these studies highlight the importance of preserving our outdoor spaces, both man-made and natural. City parks are equally important as national parks, providing access to all.

This season, we hope that you will find opportunities to engage with nature, whether that’s a small indoor garden or your first vegetable patch. In those moments, we’re confident you’ll discover some small patches of happiness.

Starting Your Garden Indoors

seeds sprouting

Starting Your Garden Indoors 

  

Going through seed and garden catalogs while it’s snowing outside is a joy for many gardeners. The catalogs have bright pictures, enticing descriptions, and the latest garden gadgets. Spring can’t get here soon enough! But you don’t have to wait for spring to get a jump start on your garden. 

Have you ever bought seeds and not known what to do with them? Or planted them with little success? Your luck is about to change. Starting your garden from seed is a great way to save money and get the varieties you want and you only need a few supplies to do it. 

  • Seedling mix: These are finer than regular potting mixes. Composed of peat, coir, perlite, and compost (or some combination of these), a seedling mix will hold moisture while allowing air movement. Using your watering can, wet and knead your soil. This is a crucial step! If you don’t properly hydrate it, your potting mix will never hold water like it’s supposed to. 

        

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Pots: I use twoinch square pots made of flexible plastic. This size is big enough to start seeds and keep them until you’re ready to plant outside. Another reason I use them is that eight of these pots fit perfectly in a salad container: 


    

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Empty salad container: every time I buy a one-pound salad mix, I keep the container. The plastic is transparent, the lid helps keep moisture in (and pets out) while the seeds are sprouting, and you can water your seedlings by pouring water right into the container (not onto the soil where you might wash seedlings away). They’re also easy to carry to your garden once it’s time to plant. 

 

  • Fill Pots: Fill pots with soil and compact lightly, leave ½” of space for seeds and vermiculite. 

  • Planting: plant two seeds per pot in opposite corners. For larger seed, make sure you plant them root-side down (this will speed up their growth). For smaller seeds, place them flat on the surface. 

    

 

  • Vermiculite: Cover seeds with a thin layer of vermiculite. It will improve air flow, reduce rotting, and be easy for the seedlings to push through. 

  • Seedling Heat Mat: Place planted pots inside salad container on top of seedling heat mat. These are thin and flexible, and some come with rheostats so you can adjust the temperature. The ones I have fit a flat or three salad containers side by side.  

 

 

  • Lights: I use LED shop lights on an adjustable pully system, so they can be raised as the seedlings grow. 

  • Fan: Once your seedlings sprout, remove the lid from the salad container and place a small fan nearby. Air circulation will make seedling stems hardier. 

 

That’s it! With a few supplies, you can get a head start on your garden and brighten up your home. Happy gardening! 

Tomato Varieties Demystified

tomatoes

Tomato Varieties Demystified

It’s true what they say. Money can’t buy home grown tomatoes. That means you need to grow your own! Whether you start from seed or buy plants from a greenhouse, finding the right variety is crucial. But where do you start? Let’s begin with hybrid vs. heirloom varieties. What’s the difference?

Hybrid tomatoes are varieties that have been intentionally crossed from two parents. The offspring have specific and desirable traits like disease resistance, uniform fruit size, and setting fruits all at once for easier picking. Hybrids are desirable for commercial growers for these reasons, but sometimes, flavor is sacrificed for production. A few exceptions to that rule are Sun Sugar, Super Sweet 100, and Juliet. One other thing that sets hybrids apart is if you collect the seeds from a ripe fruit, they will not grow the same variety as the parent plant, which means you’ll need to buy new seed or new plants every year.

Heirloom tomatoes are funky, colorful, and often very flavorful. The fruits don’t typically ripen all at once and some varieties are prone to diseases like blossom end rot. Heirloom tomatoes can be found at farmer’s markets and specialty grocery stores during the growing season, but you’ll pay a lot for them. The beauty of heirlooms is if you collect seeds from a flower you’ve self-pollinated (a pipe cleaner wrapped around a sonic toothbrush does the trick) that has grown into a ripe fruit, those seeds will grow into plants very similar to the parent. Seed collecting is a great way to keep your seed stock fresh from year to year. A few of my favorite varieties are Green Zebra, Black Krim, and Brandywine.

Another key word you’ll come across as you peruse tomato catalogues is indeterminate vs. determinate. Determinate plants grow to a determined size and stop. These varieties typically set fruit all at once and are better for growing in limited spaces like hydroponics or container gardens. Indeterminate varieties will grow continually. Their fruit production is staggered and they need a lot of support. These are best in a big garden where you can cage them or provide a fence for them to lean on.

I group tomatoes into three categories: cherry, beefsteak, and roma. They are all very different in flavor and texture and all have different applications in your kitchen. These are all available as hybrids, heirlooms, indeterminate, or determinate. Now you know the basics, let’s dive into cherry tomatoes.

Cherry tomatoes are small, have many seeds, and are tangy and sweet. They typically have a thin skin and are best eaten fresh. I like to grow a few cherry varieties for snacking and salads.

Beefsteak tomatoes are large, have some seeds, and a flavor that ranges from mild to tangy. These are excellent for sandwiches and if the seeds are removed, are a great addition to sauces.

Roma tomatoes are medium, have few seeds, and a mild flavor. These have a thick skin, which makes them easy to blanch for processing and keeps them fresh longer. Roma tomatoes are the most versatile in cooked dishes, so if you like fresh sauces and soups, these are the tomatoes for you.

With all this information, you should be able to find a variety you love. Happy gardening!

How to Save Tomato Seeds

tomatoes on vine

How to Save Tomato Seeds

Saving tomato seeds from heirloom varieties is more than a hobby for some people. It’s a passion. In order to be successful, you must follow a few simple steps.

First, hand-pollinate the flowers you want to collect fruit from. Tomato flower pollinating wands are sold specifically for this job. They vibrate at the same frequency as the bees that pollinate them in the wild. Or, you can wrap a pipe cleaner around the post of a sonic toothbrush, like this:

Hold your pollinating wand (store bought or homemade) against a fully open tomato and push the power button in little pulses to shake the pollen loose:

Once your flower has been pollinated, mark the stem near the flower so you know which tomato to harvest seeds from when the fruit is ripe. I use a piece of pipe cleaner.

Fast forward a few weeks and you have a perfectly ripe tomato. How do you know it’s ripe? It’ll be soft, smell good, and will be the right color for that variety. Follow the steps below to save seeds:

  • With a clean, sharp knife, cut each tomato open, wiping the knife between varieties and keeping your varieties separate:

  • Squeeze the seeds into a cup with the variety and date labeled like this:

  • Cover the seeds with ½ cup of water and let them sit at room temperature away from direct sunlight for two weeks. This step is very important. Not only does it rot the flesh away from the seed to prevent your seeds from going moldy while in storage, it also builds disease resistance in your future plants.
  • Moldy seeds will look like this:

  • Rinse your seeds thoroughly (one variety at a time) using a metal sifter and plenty of fresh, cool water. Gently rub the seeds against the metal to remove any residue from the seed:

  • Once your seeds are free from contaminants, shake them onto a clean paper towel. Fold the paper towel around the seeds several times, making an envelope. Transfer the label from the cup onto the paper towel:

  • Set your seed packets in a cool, dark area until the paper towel is completely dry
  • Tuck your saved seeds in a plastic zip-top bag and seal shut

That’s it! Stored properly, these seeds will be viable for years. Happy gardening!

Mildew in My Garden!

moldy pumpkin leaves

Mildew in My Garden!

Near the end of summer, nights begin to cool, the sun isn’t as intense, and it is finally time to harvest your garden. These changes can also bring an unwanted guest: powdery mildew. Most gardeners have seen it and may not know what it is. It looks like someone sprinkled powdered sugar all over your plants, but it’s actually a fungal infection.

Powdery mildew has microscopic spores that spread easily and can weaken plants and reduce their fruit production, the exact opposite of what you want happening in your garden. There are many species of fungi that cause powdery mildew infections, and most are specific to one type of plant. For instance, while apples and grapes can both be infected, the fungus species is unique to each and will not spread from one type of plant to the other.

In my garden, the plants that suffer the most are in the squash family: zucchinis, crooknecks, pumpkins, and butternuts. These are my favorites and I want to do everything I can to keep them healthy.

Now we’ve identified what it is, let’s talk about how it grows. Like most fungi, powdery mildew grows best in humid and cool areas with stagnant air, which is why we often see it in the fall. The most effective weapon you have in preventing mildew is controlling when and how you water your garden.

Watering just before the sun comes up is a great way to ensure your plants will have the water they need for the day and that any water that gets on the leaves will evaporate when the sun comes up. Remember, this fungus likes moisture, so letting the leaves and soil dry each day will reduce the likelihood of infection.

Let’s discuss how to water. While sprinklers are great because they can water a large area, they also deposit water onto leaves, which makes them a bad choice for gardens. A drip irrigation system is the clear winner. Install a line exactly where you want it, set a time to water in the morning, and you’re done.

Even with a drip irrigation system in place, powdery mildew can still show up when weather conditions are just right. Now what do you do? You have two choices: prune the infected leaves away or apply a chemical to kill or slow the growth of the powdery mildew.

Pruning is a great place to start because it increases air flow. With a few tools, you can clean up your garden and give your plants a fighting chance and give you more produce. You’ll need a pair of pruning shears, rubbing alcohol, a cloth rag, and a bucket.

Each pumpkin leaf has a long petiole, the leaf stem that attaches to the main stem as seen in the picture below:

Using clean pruning shears, cut the petiole away from the main stem. Dab your cloth with rubbing alcohol and wipe the blades of the shears clean between each cut. Discard infected leaves in a bucket. Do not compost infected leaves. The spores can overwinter and will infect next year’s crop. You can either throw the leaves away or burn them. If most of the leaves on a plant are infected, pruning them all is not an option. In this case, prune the oldest leaves and leave the younger ones in place and prepare a treatment.

There are many chemicals you can apply to kill powdery mildew. Most home improvement stores have a shelf full of fungicides, but if you’re like me and don’t want chemical residue in your garden, never fear, because there are alternatives.

Believe it or not, milk is one of the best homemade treatments you can use. Fill a spray bottle with a 1-part milk and 10-parts water. Shake well and spray on both sides of the leaves in the morning and let the sun do the rest. Diluted milk has been used by homesteaders for generations to treat powdery mildew and is safe and non-toxic for plants and animals.

Now that you know what powdery mildew is and how to prevent it and treat it, you can keep your garden healthy and producing all season long. Happy gardening!