Forced Bulbs, A Cure For The Inevitable Late Winter Blahs

Our autumn has been quite pleasant so far but before you know it we’ll be  into the winter season.  Christmas and New Year’s are always festive but by the time February rolls around, most of us begin to tire of  the seemingly endless gray days.

By starting a fun project right now, you can head off some of those late winter doldrums in a small way.  Tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, crocus and others can be coaxed into blooming several weeks before their normal flowering season by a process known as “forcing”.  Forcing done by large commercial growers is a complex affair following certain standard procedures to ensure maximum profitability. Home gardeners can use  similar but much simpler techniques to accomplish the same thing.

The first thing to do is get all of your materials together. You’ll need pots or some kind of container (I like six inch pots), potting mix and of course bulbs. I advise gardeners who have never forced bulbs before to start out using tulips.

Fill your pot with enough soil so that the top of the bulb is nearly level with the top of the pot. Do not compact the soil, leave it loose to encourage quick root formation. Then gently place the tulip bulb onto the soil, again don’t press them down. Finally cover the bulbs with more soil leaving  at least 1/4 inch watering space.  If you look at a tulip bulb you will see that it has a pointed top, a bottom and one side that is flat. Place the flat side facing outward. By orienting the bulbs this way you will get the best arrangement of leaves and flowers as the plants bloom.  Keep the soil moist and do not use any fertilizer.

Your planted bulbs will look something like this. Here I have seven small hyacinths planted into a six inch pot. Usually you can fit five or six tulip bulbs into a pot this size.

Spring flowering bulbs need a cold period of at least 13 weeks in order to bloom properly.  So you must find a cold spot to store your pots during that time. The ideal temperature for this cold period is somewhere around 35 to 48 degrees F.  Older homes may have an unheated root-cellar, sometimes known as a Michigan Basement, that will provide the needed conditions. Otherwise, a spot in the garage might fit the bill. I have seen gardeners keep their forcing pots in the window-wells next to the outside walls of their house.

If you decide to store your pots outside, you may want to cover them with screen in order to keep out mice and voles that will feed on the bulbs. Keep the soil moist during this period so that you maximize root growth which will in turn maximize blooming.

After the 13 week cold period is over, you can begin bring the pots into the house. Don’t put them in direct sunlight. As they warm up, they will start to grow leaves and begin to flower.

You can utilize the same techniques that were employed to create this indoor winter display at the Matthaei Botantical Gardens.

There is nothing like your own home-grown forced tulips to brighten up those gray days in February and they make great gifts too.

Bob

Plant Garlic in the Fall for Summer Harvest

In past years I have written about the subject of planting garlic.  I think it never hurts to remind experienced gardeners that they need to get that garlic in now. Also, there may be new readers that would like to try their hand at growing their own garlic.

To grow garlic like these, you need to follow a few simple guidelines.

To get garlic like those shown in the photo, you need to follow just a few simple guidelines.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that garlic needs to be planted in the fall.  That means if you are thinking about doing it, now’s the time.  Fall planting allows the plant to establish roots before the ground freezes. You can plant garlic in the spring but keep in mind that the bulbs will be quite a bit smaller that if you planted now. Don’t wait too late in the season either. Planting too late in the fall will have similar results as spring planting… small bulbs.

I should mention that garlic is planted from cloves separated from a garlic bulb. If you are planting a small crop, one or two bulbs from the grocery store will work fine.  So called seed garlic is available from seed suppliers for those who want to plant a larger amount.

Since garlic is considered a heavy feeder, be sure the area you select has fertile soil and full sun. Addition of manure or compost is always a good idea.

After separating the cloves, place them into the soil at a depth of one to two inches.  You can dig a furrow  and set the cloves into it or just push them into the soil.  They need to be about six inches apart so they have room to grow next spring. The space between the rows should be at least six inches or more depending on the amount of space you have.

Once the soil freezes, mulch the area with straw, leaves, grass clippings or something similar to a depth of  four to six inches. Your new garlic will be happily tucked away and protected against the harsh winter conditions and freezing and thawing cycles.

Next spring rake off the mulch to let them begin their growth.

Keep in mind that garlic cannot compete against weeds. Any weeds present will drastically reduce your harvest.

Bob

Bees in the Trees

A few days ago my sister Vickie stopped by to visit and feed the chickens a treat of dry bread. While we were talking she asked me, “why didn’t you tell me you had a bee’s nest near your driveway?” I answered that I didn’t know what she was talking about.

It turned out that earlier in the summer a honeybee swarm had settled into a brushy area near my driveway. Instead of looking for a hollow tree or abandoned shed, they must have felt that they were adequately protected from elements and started to build honey combs right out in the open.  I hadn’t seen the hive because the undergrowth was too thick, it wasn’t until the leaves started falling that the bees became visible.  Honeybees will do this from time to time.

These bees were not visible until the leaves started to fall last week.

When bees do this, they use their own bodies as a wall to protect the Queen bee and her brood inside the nest.  This means that fewer worker bees are available to forage for nectar and pollen because they are preoccupied with keeping the hive warm and protected.  Fewer foragers means less honey and that equals less food available to the hive for use during the winter.  In our area, a hive like this would be unable to survive the winter without shelter.

Not wanting  to see them die a sure death, I decided to help them endure the upcoming winter by placing them into a beehive body made from a standard size wooden box used to keep bees. I’m feeding them sugar syrup to supplement the Goldenrod and Aster nectar they are collecting.

This honeybee is collecting nectar and pollen. Note the pollen she is carrying on her legs.

This was not a very large cluster of bees as far as bee hives go.  So they may not survive the winter anyway but at least I gave them a better chance than they would have otherwise.

Feral bees like these play an important part in the world of beekeeping. Since they are survivors they have the potential to carry important genetic traits that may make them resistant to the many diseases and parasites that plague bees.

I have more photos of the colony and moving the bees posted on line at my other site.

Bob