Friday, January 11, 2013

Another Warm Winter and... Coffee Grounds!

It's another warm winter in Minnesota and, you might say, if it's gotten so much warmer here, it's likely to have gotten a lot warmer everywhere else too.  Our Twin Cities climate now resembles what DesMoines or Chicago were like ten years ago.  By the same token, DesMoines likely resembles what St. Louis was like and Chicago like Louisville, etc.  As I have said before, you might debate what is causing climate change, but you can't debate what has happened over the last ten years.
I follow the weather blog of my friend Paul Douglas, who is the chief meteorologist both of  the Minneapolis Star Tribune and WeatherNation TV, a new, national 24/7 weather channel with studios in Denver and Minneapolis (which Paul founded).  I was looking at the long-range temperature models on his daily blog and noticed that the probability of deep cold has diminished substantially for the rest of January in the Twin Cities.  I mentioned that to Paul in an e-mail and noted that if we don't have temperatures of -10(f) or colder in the next couple of weeks, we are going to have our first USDA Zone 6 winter in history in the Twin Cities.  This conforms with the statistically valid trend line of my 50-year Extreme Minimum Temperature (EMT) graph that I prepared using Minnesota Climatology/NOAA data.  That graph (below) indicates that, not only have we moved into USDA Zone 5, but that we are headed for USDA Zone 6 in several more years (or maybe sooner).
Paul wrote about our e-mail conversation in today's Star-Tribune and in his blog.  Here is what he had to say, as well as the address of his blog:
"I asked Pete Boulay, at the Minnesota Climatology Working Group, for his perspective and here is an excerpt of what he wrote:
"We usually prefer a 7-year moving average to look at recent trends. Here is a graph of seasonal HDD (heating degree data) values for the Twin Cities from 1891-92 to 2011-12 (the last time we have a complete season). Yes, I believe we have saved a lot of money (heating our homes and businesses) in recent winters."

"Tracking The Trends. The graph above, from the Minnesota State Climatology Office and the MN DNR, shows heating degree days since 1891-92. To calculate the heating degree data for any given data determine the average temperature (high and low) and subtract from 65. So an average of 10 degrees F. would equate to 55 heating degree days, and then add them up over time. The black solid line above shows a smoothed trend line, showing a drop in HDD since the early 70s as Minnesota winters have warmed over time. It's hardly breaking news: our winters are trending milder over time."

"Coldest Nighttime Lows at MSP Since 1963. Here is another interesting way to look at the data, a graph showing the coldest nighttime low (for every winter) going back nearly 60 years. The black line is the trend line over time, showing the same gradual warming trend. It's not getting as cold, for as long, as it did back in the 60s and 70s. Again, if you've been paying attention, this hardly comes as breaking news. Thanks to Jack Falker, an accomplished rose grower from Edina, for passing this along. Jack has compelling evidence that the Twin Cities metro is already in USDA Zone #5 (warming from Zone #4 in recent years). He suspects we may be close to entering Climate Zone #6 before long. Jack Falker writes:

Twin Cities in USDA Zone 5
"With our very warm 2012, and much warmer than normal winter-to-date in 2013, it becomes more and more obvious to me as a rose gardener that the Twin Cities have moved firmly into USDA Zone 5, where the extreme minimum temperature (EMT) is expected to be between -10 and -20 degrees, rather than our previous EMT expectation in Zone 4 of -20 to -30 degrees.
Notice how the upward slope of the 50 year graph I developed using Minnesota Climatology (NOAA) statistics, takes us right out of USDA Zone 4 into Zone 5. And following that upward slope, it looks like we could be headed higher yet toward Zone 6 (EMT -0 to -10). Last fall and winter-to-date in 2013 certainly bear that out. Our EMT thus far in January was -5 on January 1st and, looking at the models in your weather blog on Thursday, January 10th, it looks like we might not get much colder than that, which would be our first zone 6 winter, with the highest EMT on my 50 year graph and perhaps in history."
So, we shall see what the next couple of weeks bring, but the models indicate that our low temperature for 2013 will probably be warmer than -10 (i.e. Zone 6).
Coffee Grounds in my Mulch Pile
It's 40 degrees here today and everything, including my big shredded oak leaf mulch pile, is thawing out (this is why you cover your roses so they don't thaw).  So I went to my local Starbucks, ordered a cup of decaf, and asked for all their coffee grounds (my kind of stick-up).  I left with a great decaf Pike Place pour-over and three big bags of fresh grounds totaling about 120 pounds.  I brought them home and immediately worked them into my mulch pile, where they are beginning their good work, as I write.
I will elaborate on this in a future blog, but what's important to realize until then is that the pH of Starbucks grounds is 6.2, which is right in the range we’re shooting for in growing roses. And that’s not all. They’re also a slow-release fertilizer with 2.28% nitrogen, .06% phosphorus and .6% potassium.
So, that said, now is a perfect time to get on over to your local coffee shop and get some great coffee-ground "green manure" for your winter mulch pile!
Stay tuned!
Jack Falker
January 11, 2013

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Hazardous Roses

This is the first of several articles I will be posting about the hazards of growing roses, both to the rose gardener and the environment.  I am the first to admit that I have been guilty of creating these hazards, both to the environment and to myself, through the extensive use of fungicides and insecticides in my gardens.  By the same token, I have also learned a great deal over the years about minimizing the use of chemicals through integrated pest management (IPM), which I would like to pass along to my readers.

First, let me say that I believe it is necessary to use at least some insecticides and fungicides in growing roses.  All roses are susceptible to attacks by spider mites, aphids, Japanese beetles (JBs) etc., and it is virtually impossible to completely control these insects in a large garden by sharp sprays of water or, in the case of JBs, by hand picking.  By the same token, it is virtually impossible to grow exhibition quality roses without controlling the multiple spores of black spot and anthracnose funguses through the use of fungicides.  I know there are gardens that spray nothing at all, but these are also gardens that are subject to insect infestations and funguses during a significant part of every growing season.  

So the question is not whether to use chemicals; it is which chemicals provide the greatest effectiveness with the fewest hazards to the environment and the gardener; and how often those chemicals should be used.  The good news is that some of the best insecticides and fungicides are also among the least hazardous and require the lowest frequency of use.  The bad news is that many people are confused by which chemicals to use; plus they are led to believe that they must use chemicals every week or two, in order to keep them effective.  That is not at all surprising because it is in the interest of chemical manufacturers to sell their particular products and convince you to use them often.

I just paged through the most recent edition of the American Rose, the magazine of the American Rose Society, which, for many of us, is the bi-monthly rosarian bible.  In this edition, I found no less than 15 separate ads and references for rose chemicals.  Rosemania, which in my opinion is the best provider of rose growing supplies in the country, lists 16 different rose chemicals in this month’s ad, alone.  (As a side note, I am astounded at the prices for some of this stuff!)  At the front of the magazine, the ARS lists its tested and endorsed chemicals.  So, are these the safest and most effective chemicals?  Not necessarily, in my opinion.  I am sure the ARS could not publish the American Rose without the advertising revenues from chemical manufacturers and distributors, so it is difficult for them to state opinions on which products are the safest and most effective.  Not since the passing of Howard Walters, who provided his opinions in his monthly “Rosarian Ramblings” columns, have we had any such direction in the American Rose.
Howard’s shoes are way too big for me to fill but I will try, in the weeks ahead, to describe what I believe are the safest and most effective chemicals available to us as rose growers today.  I have already done some of this in several of my previous blog posts; most notably “There’s a Fungusamongus”: and “Good Results Using Demand CS on JBs”: .
I am also very interested in the effects on the environment of what we spray.  Specifically I will address effects on beneficial insects, especially bees and the extensive world-wide problem of colony collapse disorder (CCD).  It now appears that we are contributing to CCD with the extensive use of imidacloprid (Merit) and other insecticides containing neonicotinoids in the rose garden.
Finally, I will be addressing personal safety through the use of proper breathing apparatus and overall bodily protection.  Unfortunately, I have had personal experience with the effects of spraying rose chemicals with protection I thought was sufficient, but which clearly was not.

 Stay tuned.