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Dear Friend and Gardener

Bloom Day – September 2017

Coreopsis

Coreopsis

At the moment I am celebrating Garden Bloggers Bloom Day with a burst of heat – after rain storms and night temperatures that went down to 35 degrees. But many plants are hitting their stride, like this coreopsis – one of several.

Cardinal flowers

Cardinal flowers

It turns out the cardinal flowers I planted last year – are a different color than the cardinal flowers I planted this year. But no matter. My mentor, Elsa Bakalar, assured me all shades of red go together.

Perennial aageratum and veronica

Perennial ageratum and veronica

The perennial ageratum and veronica are carrying on an autumnal love affair with lots of hugs.

Firelight hydrangea

Firelight hydrangea

The Firelight hydrangea is also being embraced by a nameless white aster and the bright pink Alma Potchke aster who just started to bloom.

honeysuckle

Honeysuckle

The honeysuckle clasps the fence in a tight hold while its bloom are entwined with  a few Grandpa Ott morning glories.

Japanese anemone

Japanese anemone

The Japanese anemone is less robust, but next year I think she’ll be more enthusiastic.

Neon sedum

Neon sedum

This “Neon” sedum attracts bees by the dozen.

Rudbeckia

Rudbeckia

These rudbeckias were given me by a neighbor in the spring. Next spring I am going to be looking for another neighbor who needs rudbeckia, loved by pollinators

Marigolds and nasturtiums

Marigolds and nasturtiums

This pot by my back door is a riot of color. Makes me so happy in my coming and going.

Click on over to May Dreams Gardens where Carol gives us a chance share our seasonal bloom. Thank you, Carol!

The Root of Laughter in the Garden

Anne Cleveland illustration

Anne Cleveland illustration in Weeds Are More Fun by Priscilla Hovey Wright

Laughing in the garden doesn’t always come easy. But what can you do after gnashing your teeth over the squash borers, weeping over the discovery of leaf miners in the beet bed, growling at the Japanese beetles in  the roses, or pulling up garlic mustard for the umpteenth time?  I imagine the gods laughing at me. But those who are wise will laugh and stiffen our backs for the next onslaught. I thought of this when my friend Karen brought me Weeds are More Fun by Priscilla Hovey Wright and published in 1941.

Wright has imagined every disaster from weeds, rashes, the Women’s Garden Club and proper garden attire, and of course, pests. Attacked as my squash were by borers, I was in complete sympathy with Wright who suggests filling a sprayer with “whatever there is in the house . . . leftover chicken broth, hair tonic bought in a rash moment, or bath salts received at Christmas. The bugs accustomed to the usual line of sprays and more or less immunized to them are totally unprepared . . . They either die of shock immediately or depart for the neighbor’s gardens as soon as possible.”

I may spend ample time gnashing teeth, etcetera, but laughter comes soon enough. Among the books on my shelves about organic control of pests, how to create shade gardens, or wildflower gardens or fruit gardens I have a number of books that take a lighter view of garden trials.

Charles Dudley Warner (1829-1900) born in Plainfield, and resident of Charlemont during his childhood years wrote My Summer in a Garden in 1870 while he was working for the Hartford Courant in Connecticut. His was a vegetable garden and his were the eternal problems, weeds that cover the garden when you go away for a week, the incessant battle against “pussley,” or finding his mess of peas decimated by the birds. “The dear little birds, who are so fond of strawberries, had eaten the peas.. . . I made a rapid estimate of the cost of seed, the price of labor, the value of the bushes, the anxiety of weeks of watchfulness. I looked about me at the face of Nature. The wind blew from the south . . . a thrush sang so deceitfully. All nature seemed fair, but who was to give me back my peas?”

He was never at a loss for the appropriate word. “What a man needs in gardening is a cast iron back – with a hinge in it.” Or “Lettuce is like conversation. It must be fresh and crisp so sparkling you barely notice the bitter in it.” Or “No man but feels more of a man if he have a bit of ground to call his own. However small it is on the surface, it is four thousand miles deep, and that is a very handsome property.”

Illustration by Josep Capek

Illustration by Josef Capek

You would not think that the Czech brothers, Karel and Josef Capek, who wrote together and who invented the word “robot” for a science fiction novel would also be avid gardeners. Karel did most of the writing and Josef who was an artist provided the cartoons for The Gardener’s Year printed in 1931.  The brothers take us through the year to describe how a man becomes a gardener, his lust for compost, and the agonies of searching for the first bulbs of spring. As Warner complains about his aches so do the Capeks. However, they allow “But there is one moment when the gardener rises and straightens him up to his full height and administers the sacrament of water to his little garden. Then he stands straight and almost noble, directing the jet of water . . . So, and now it is enough the gardener whispers happily; he does not mean by ‘it’ the little cherry tree covered with buds, . . . he is thinking of the brown soil.”

Beverley Nichols in England was caring for his first garden at about that same time as the Capeks. Down the Garden Path was published in 1932. Nichols was a prolific author, writing novels, plays, children’s books and non-fiction, but Down the Garden Path and its sequels were among his best sellers.

It was a time when Nichols felt that “everything was cracking up” and he wanted a place to hide. He set out to buy a piece of property and plant a woodland where he could do just that, but of course, he did not know how to plant a woodland. He took himself to a nearby nursery and met Mr. Honey who spoke exclusively in Latin.

“The first thing I said to him . . . was I like that big bush with red berries over there.”

‘Crataegus pyracantha credulata yunnanensis’ crooned Mr. Honey.

I took a deep breath and was about to reply when Mr. Honey waved his arm to the right and murmured: ‘Ribes sanguineum splendens.’

This I felt was enchanting. One had a sense of being a young disciple walking by the side of his master.”

Nichols could barely speak. The only Latin that came to his mind was “Et tu, Brute” which he knew was not appropriate, but so began the planting of his wood.

I always say there are many paths in the garden leading us to history, myth, science – and I think – laughter.

Between the Rows   September 2, 2017

Monarch butterfly

kylee 2Kylee Baumle can date the beginning of her passion  for monarch butterflies to September 17, 2006,  the day she  found a tattered Monarch butterfly with a tiny sticker on its wing in the field where the United Flight 93 Memorial stands. Most of us remember with horror, and pride, the passengers and crew of that flight that crashed on September 11, 2001. The sticker listed the monarchwatch.org website, a phone number and a set of three numbers.

Baumle went to Monarch Watch and reported finding the tagged monarch. The website also gave her information about the amazing monarch migration, something she knew nothing about. She then set out to learn all she could about the very familiar Monarch butterfly – and then wrote a comprehensive book simply named The Monarch: Saving Our Most-Loved Butterfly. Knowing that the monarch population has declined by 90% in only 20 years Baumle encourages us to become citizen scientists and describes the many ways we can help save this beautiful butterfly.

The Monarch is not a big book, but it is comprehensive and beautifully and clearly illustrated with photographs, many of them taken by Baumle herself.  She gives a detailed description of a monarch’s life cycle beginning with the tiny, pin-head size- egg laid on the underside of a milkweed leaf. I had to learn some knew vocabulary to understand the monarch’s different life stages. The egg develops over 3-5 days and becomes a tiny caterpillar. This caterpillar has an exoskeleton which cannot stretch very much so it molts five times. Each stage between the molts is called an instar. Baumle describes this process and the caterpillar anatomy in fascinating detail.

Monarch by Kylee Baumle

Monarch by Kylee Baumle

Within two weeks the caterpillar is ready to pupate, forming the beautiful green chrysalis with its golden dots. The final molt reveals the chrysalis. Inside the chrysalis the caterpillar dissolves  and the butterfly parts which had been waiting, develop over about 2 weeks. The hatching process ends with the butterfly hanging on to the transparent chrysalis while it dries and is finally able to fly. This process can take about four hours. This amazing process is described in detail with clear photographs of the different stages.- MONARCH caterpillar 2

Most of us are not familiar with this part of a butterfly’s life. We just know that the caterpillars need to eat milkweed, and the adult butterfly  needs to eat and goes looking for nectar plants, including milkweed flowers and other plants like bee balm, coneflowers, goldenrod, Joe Pye weed, liatris, coreopsis, Mexican sunflower, yarrow and zinnias.

What I never gave any thought to is monarch sex. There are male and female monarchs and they mate quite soon after leaving the chrysalis. Males and females will both mate with several partners. Summer generations of monarch will only live between two and six weeks, so they need to get on with the process of procreation very fast. Besides finding nectar the female will be busy locating a place to lay her eggs. She prefers to lay one egg on each plant, ensuring that her progeny have plenty of food. Since she will lay about 400-500 eggs she will be busy.

There can be three summer generations of summer monarchs but the “Methusalah” generation, the migrating generation will live for about eight months. The great migration is from the eastern United States to Mexico, although there are monarchs who live and overwinter in California. It is hard to understand why the population has declined so rapidly, but habitat destruction in the U.S. and in Mexico plays some part, as does the use of pesticides. Mexico now has several protective monarch sanctuaries.

Tagged Monarch butterfly

Tagged Monarch butterfly

Baumle does more than describe the biology of monarchs, and the threats. She gives us ways to support the monarch by planting milkweed and other pollinator plants, and urging our mayors to take the Monarch Mayor’s Pledge, I can tell you that locally the EnergyPark in Greenfield is devoted to providing milkweeds and other pollinator plants for Monarchs as well as other pollinators. She also provides a list of informative websites, films and books. Barbara Kingsolver’s novel Flight Behavior is on her list, a “heady exploration of climate change” and the discovery of an Appalachian forest valley shimmering with monarchs. This is the suspenseful story of catastrophe and denial seen through the eyes of Kingsolver’s heroine, Dellarobia. I highly recommend it.

`           There were a very few years in the 80s when August brought great clouds of monarchs to our Heath field overrun with mint plants that the butterflies found delicious. Then one year they stopped coming. Nowadays we get all excited to see one or two of the easily identifiable monarchs in our garden. We are now aware of the monarch’s need for protection; Baumle’s book gives us multiple ways to provide that protection

Monarchs in Mexican sanctuary

Monarchs in Mexican sanctuary

Between the Rows  September 2,2017

 

End of August Views

View from the window

View from the window

The end of August view from the upstairs window shows not only a full garden, but my most recent project of a wine bottle hose guard on the left. Also in the center of that bed is a beautiful glass “flower” given to us by the sister of a dear friend. You can’t see it very well here, but as soon as I see the sun shining on it I’ll give a better photo.

A view slightly to the north

A view slightly to the north

I wanted to get a good view of the most norther island bed and you can see that more work needs to be done at the east end. The pagoda dogwood will get bigger so I am thinking about low growing plants.

The South Shrub Border

The South Shrub Border

I rarely show photos of the South Shrub Border, but it is the oldest planting in the garden and right now the important bloomers are three hydrangeas, Limelight, Angel Blush and Firelight, fronted by roses, some of which are still putting  out blooms. The two pink roses, one a low grower, and the other will be a large bush – Purple Rain and Thomas Affleck.

Firelight hydrangea

Firelight hydrangea

The Firelight  hydrangea (not Angel Blush as typed earlier)  is coming into full blushing color. Lovely. A lovely end to August.

 

Foodscape Revolution by Brie Arthur

Foodscape Revolution by Brie Arthur

Foodscape Revolution by Brie Arthur

Last week I wrote about several neighborhood gardens that would fall into the category of The Foodscape Revolution which also happens to be the name of a book, The Foodscape Revolution: Finding a better way to make space for food and beauty in your garden by Brie Arthur. Arthur would have applauded the Chicoine/Ayers garden which eliminated grass completely from the tree  strip, as well as the front and side yards. Most of the back yard was also given over to edibles, but there was a shady and grassy place for relaxation.

Although we live in an area with many small farms growing vegetables and fruits, the number of edible gardens in town has grown substantially since we lived here in 1971. Greenfield is not unique in this growth; the trend is growing (pun intended) all across the country.

Arthur’s book is divided into three sections. She suggestions ways of organizing an edible garden around your house thinking about which plants are most used, like a salad or herb garden; which  plants need the most watering; and the edibles that need less daily care like fruits and berries. All zones include beautiful ornamentals which will attract pollinators, as well as making the garden a beautiful place.

Of course, you also need to consider the amounts of sun and shade on your lot as you design your plantings.

Arthur recommends getting a soil test to see what deficiencies the soil might have and incorporating compost annually. I do want make a small caveat here. If you add compost that includes animal manure every year it is possible that eventually you will end up with soil too rich in phosphorus. Too much phosphorous will keep the soil from taking in manganese and iron which are essential micro elements, causing yellowing of leaves. It will also kill many of the mycorrhizal fungi which is so vital to soil and plant health. I first learned about this problem some years ago from a friend who had magnificent vegetable gardens. She got a lot of her compost from a horse farm nearby. One year her plants were not doing well and she had her soil tested to find out what had gone wrong. The answer was too much phosphorus. It was a shock to learn that her beautiful rich soil was too rich to be healthy.

Last year I attended a talk up at the Eco-Living Worskhops up at the Fair Grounds given by Caro Roszell, a NOFA/Mass Soil Carbon Technician, who also mentioned the problem of too much phosphorous in the soil.

To start our garden here in Heath we bought beautiful compost from Martin’s Farm which includes manure to build our slightly raised beds, but we do not need to do that every year. We can now use our homemade compost, and recognize that our mulches will also add organic material to the soil over time.

The second section is devoted to foodscaping projects like the sociable foodie fire pit, a meadow to create a privacy screen, growing edibles in pots for those without a garden, and even a different – and edible – approach to entryways that are used in many housing developments. I was fascinated by the descriptions of alternate growing systems, aeroponics, aquaponics and hydroponics. Arthur said her mechanical husband and scientific son found these systems fun and educational,

The final section is all about harvesting, preserving  and processing complete with a few recipes.

Arthur is a graduate of Purdue where she studied Landscape Design and Horticulture. She then spent more than a decade as a professional grower and propagator but has now turned to lecturing and writing. She is a correspondent for the PBS show Growing a Greener World. She recently was given an award by the American Horticultural Society for her achievements and leadership in the horticultural world.

Her recognition and support of the Foodscape Revolution, is a part of a national movement which I heard referred to as Public Food which involves getting permission, and then planting fruit trees or other edibles on land owned by schools, libraries or other public spaces which can then be harvested in season by those who pass by. I learned about Public Food from two of the young men digging up some of the last plants at the Pleasant  StreetGardens before construction began on the Zon Community Center.

I thought this project was a little like gleaning which is an ancient practice practice that is  being used again to allow people to come to a field after it has been harvested to collect the vegetables that have been left behind. Why should food go to waste when there are people who are hungry.

Brie Arthur is an author with lots of experience in growing, who also knows how to inspire and educate. ###

Between the Rows September 26

Solar Eclipse on Beech Street

Wendy and Pat

Wendy and Pat and solar eclipse

My neighbor Wendy came over to our house to watch the  solar eclipse. You can see our scientific arsenal, a colander, a red plastic dish pan filled with water and a big stainless steel bowl filled with water. We did not have any of the special glasses but we heard that you could watch the eclipse as a reflection in water, even if it was only a bowl of water. You can also hold up a colander with good sized holes over a sheet of white paper or poster board.

Eclipse reflected in red dish pan

Eclipse reflected in red dish pan

The red dish pan gave the better reflection of the solar eclipse, but we did try some other techniques. I should say, our sky  was cloudy and this good photo came through the clouds.  When there was a brief moment with no clouds, the eclipse was way to bright to look at. Not as bad as looking directly at the sun, but not good  either. We were very happy to have those high clouds.

Many little eclipses

Many little eclipses

The photo does not have sharp definition, but this colander creates shade and causes each hole to created an eclipse image. This reminded us of an eclipse in 1994 when we were both working at Williams College. Everyone was out on the campus and we walked by some small trees with light foliage and on the grass we saw shadows of the foliage, and in the patches of sun between the leaf shadows we saw hundreds of tiny eclipses. An amazing discovery then – and now.

Eclipses on the sidewalk

Eclipses on the sidewalk

Again there is not sharp definition in the photo, but also again you can (barely) see eclipses between the shadows of a densely leaved sycamore.

Venetian blind eclipses

Venetian blind eclipses

By chance we had to get something from our bedroom and saw all these eclipses caused by the shadows of  our blinds. One eclipse (I don’t know why) was beautifully clear.

I plan to have a pair of those scientific glasses by the time we have the next solar eclipse in 2024.

Visiting Neighborhood Edible Gardens

Lisa Ranghelli and Bram Moreinis

Lisa Ranghelli and Bram Moreinis  planted their first edible garden

The edible garden tour arranged by Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Kiener of TempleIsrael took us to several gardens within walking distance of my house. The first garden we visited is a very pretty small garden created by Lisa Ranghelli and Bram Moreinis. This was their first garden and they showed their wisdom by saying they thought it best to start small. We admired the design, the assortment of vegetables and the exclamation points of marigolds. But we also noticed a summer squash plant that had yellowing and drooping foliage. How could a single plant in a well tended garden droop for lack of water? Well, of course, the problem was not a lack of water. Nancee Bershof, an experienced gardener, took one look at the plant and then named the problem – the presence of squash borers.

Never having any experience with squash borers I was as surprised as anyone. (It was probably too cold up in Heath.) The plant was pulled out and passed around enabling us all to examine the damage so that we would recognize the problem in our own gardens.

Squash borer damage

Squash borer damage

When I got home that evening I did recognize the problem in my own edible garden. I am only growing zucchini and yellow summer squash, so I could not see that there was anything to do but pull out the affected plants. However, if you plant butternut, or other squash growing on a vine, you can slit the stem and try to pull out the borer. If you are successful, you can then bury a section of the vine and it can make new roots and continue growing.

Prevention is the best solution to vine borers. Right after planting seeds, cover the site with a floating row cover to protect the plants as they emerge from the squash borer moth. You can also plant radish seeds around each squash hill because they will repel borers and squash bugs.

When the summer squash plants have established stems you can wrap two inches of stem with aluminum foil to protect them, and redo that foil wrapping every week or so, as the plant grows. The foil must touch the soil. Or you can make use of one of the safest organic pesticides, Bacillus thuringiensis often referred to as simply BT. You can begin a weekly regime of spraying with Btk, Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki that can specifically control caterpillar pests like cabbage moths and vine borers.

Tomatoes staked high off the ground

Tomatoes staked high off the ground

Mary Chicoine and Glen Ayers care for another edible garden, a veritable urban homestead amazing in its size and variety. There were fruit trees, a strawberry bed, cucumber trellises and countless vegetables. Well staked tomatoes grew in one area and we were told that the staking system was designed to keep the tomato foliage up off the ground to help prevent tomato blights.

Fortunately we did not see any tomato blights on our tour, but recently this has been a threat to our vegetable gardens and a disaster for farms. Tomato blights are caused by wind borne fungi spores. The spores take hold of tomato foliage when it is wet for several hours. There are several ways to reduce the threat. Plant the tomatoes in a way that allows good air circulation and keeps the plants off the ground. Use drip irrigation or at least water early in the day so foliage will dry quickly. Clean up all diseased plants and foliage and remove them. It is best not to compost affected plants, and always be sure to rotate crops from year to year.

Prevention is best, but if blight is caught very early it might be possible to attack the problem with fungicides like copper spray, oil based fungicides like Neem, or Actinovate a bacterial fungicide.

Happily, there are a number of blight resistant tomato varieties from Jasper Hybrid cherry tomato, Brandywine, Yellow Pear, Tigrella and Roma, among others.

Coneflowers

Coneflowers for the pollinators

It was inspiring to visit these edible gardens and see how much food can be grown on a town lot. I must also say that the riotously growing pollinator plants in the gardens, coneflowers, bee balm, rudbeckia, zinnias and others added color and beauty. As I take stock of my edible garden this fall I am trying to think of ways I might add a few more edibles than I have so far.

Between the Rows  August 19, 2017

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day – August 15, 2017

Hellstrip

Hellstrip with many pollinator flowers on Bloom Day

Here is the August Bloom Day report. The summer of 2017 has been relatively cool, with only a few days that went over 89 degrees. We  also had rain – almost sufficient to my desires. The hellstrip in front of the house is full of bloom – daylilies, bee balm, yarrow, coneflowers, and marigolds. Weeds and fallen sycamore bark as well.

Folksinger rose

Folksinger rose

Several of the roses are blooming again. Folksinger, a Griffith Buck rose, is the most enthusiastic.

Thomas Affleck rose

Thomas Affleck rose

Thomas Affleck was a great rose for me in Heath, and it remains a great rose in Greenfield. I will let these two roses stand in for Purple Rain, The Fairy, Polar Express, Red Kockout, Peach Drift and Paprika.

Clethra

Clethra alnifolia with bee balm and thalictrum in background

The clethra is gaining stature and so is the bee balm. That is a rain-bowed thalictrum in the background. There will have to be substantial dividing and rearranging in the fall.

Honeysuckle and morning glory

Honeysuckle and Grandpa Ott morning glory

The honeysuckle has a substantial but hidden trellis while the Grandpa Ott morning glory is hanging on to a couple of stakes and the fence.

Rudbeckia

Rudbeckia

When my friend gave me some small divisions this spring I misunderstood the gift. These rudbeckias look great this year, but I think I will have to find  someone in the spring to share with myself.

Monarda fistulosa

Monarda fistulosa

Monarda fistulosa is a wonderful pollinator plant. I have two other bee balms, one is Colrain Red, and the other is a darker, more winey red.

Culver's Root

Culver’s Root

Culver’s Root is another plant chosen because it is a pollinator magnet, as are two types of mountain mint, still bloom and feeding pollinators.

Asclepias tuberosa

Asclepias tuberosa

The Asclepias area is filling out, but the season is starting to go by.

Limelight hydrangea

Limelight hydrangea

Three hydrangeas are a major part of the South Border. The most easterly is Limelight. This is the third summer for all three.

Angel's Blush hydrangea

Angel’s Blush hydrangea

Angel’s Blush is just beginning to show shades of pink, that don’t really show in this photo.

Firelight hydrangea

Firelight hydrangea

You can see the blooming sedums on the ground and an aster clump that will be blooming next month.

Asters

Asters

These tall asters with sprays of very small flowers are the first to bloom.

This has been the third summer for our garden. We began planting the South Border in June of 2015. We are so happy to see everything making the show we hoped for and look forward to rearranging in the fall ans 2018 spring to do a bit of simplifying.

I thank Carol over at May Dreams Gardens for hosting Bloom Day. Go and visit and see what else is blooming over all  our great land.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weeds in My Garden

  1. Pennsylvania smartweed

    One of my weeds – Pennsylvania smartweed

    What is a weed? How do I get rid of weeds? These are two of the questions gardeners agonize over.

I own a wonderful book, Weeds of the Northeast by Uva, Neal and DiTomasso, that offers a page of extensive information of about 160 weeds, and a facing page of photographs showing those weeds in their various stages of development and flower form from baby seedling to seed at the end of the season. I use this book to identify my weeds and I have a substantial collection. I keep hoping that naming my weeds will give me power over them.

Some weeds like nettles, lambs quarters, hairy galinsoga with its tiny white flowers and bedstraw were common problems in my Heath garden but have not appeared in Greenfield. I cannot tell you why.

The most prolific weed in my garden is probably the common violet which fills the south border and fights to enter the other beds as well. However, I have also identified broadleaf plaintain, dock, ground ivy, mullein, Pennyslvania smartweed which is quite a pretty plant, prostrate spurge, Virginia creeper, bindweed, moneywort, purslane, woodsorrel, white clover, vetch, garlic mustard, and mugwort. These are not the only weeds in my garden, but I cannot identify any others.

Garlic mustard is the most dangerous weed in my garden. I have no idea where it came from. I saw it for the first time in my garden last year and I did not recognize the leaves. They were nice leaves, and I have been known to forget what I planted where so I let it grow. Fortunately for me when I asked a visiting friend if she recognized the plant she gasped and ordered me to pull it up immediately. I have never seen it bloom in my garden, but I have found those leaves coming up here and there. I continue pulling them up.

Garlic mustard

Garlic mustard

Garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata, is an aggressive invasive plant that originated in Eurasia. It was originally imported as a garden herb and salad green. Now it can take over woodlands where beautiful spring blooms like trilliums, bloodroot, Dutchman’s breeches and others bloom. They outcompete these spring beauties taking up light, moisture and space. Deer can eat plants around the garlic mustard, giving it more space to spread. Other creatures who depend on spring natives for their food, foliage or nectar and such, are then out of luck. I continue to pull up this weed, and wonder where it came from and how it comes up here and there in the garden.

Some of my weeds do not trouble me too much. I am loosing the battle with violets, and console myself with the thought that their pretty flowers feed the pollinators in season, and cover the ground – so  that other more noxious weeds cannot get a foot hold. As for white clover, I do not even consider it a weed. It is an important plant in my lawn and is also a pollinator plant. My husband likes it so much he has used it where we are replanting sections of lawn.

That brings up the question – what is a weed – really? The best description is simply a plant that is growing where we do not want it. We want the clover.

Once we identify what we consider a weed we need to find a way to get rid of it. We can always pull up our weeds and put them on the compost pile, but we should not put plants gone to seed in the compost, because the heat in most compost bins is not hot enough to kill the seeds. We should always try to get rid of our weeds before they set seed.

A new suggestion is to cut down the foliage of a weed. If this is done two or three times the roots will have been starved of nutrition and die.

Wendy and her mini-dragon

Wendy and her mini-dragon

My neighbor bought a flame thrower and has been using it to eradicate the weeds in her gravel driveway. The weeds bothered her sufficiently that she was considering paving the driveway, which would not only have been an expense, it would have been an impermeable surface and would not keep our rains on site instead of sending it into the storm drains.

She gave us a demonstration showing that the flame thrower does not need to burn the weed to ash. The flame is so hot that it will not only burn the foliage, it will also kill the roots. The small propane tank holds about two hours of flame, but a larger canister can be hooked up to the torch.

Horticultural vinegar is not an herbicide but just a few drops on the center of a weed will kill it the same way a chemical herbicide kills a plant.

Weeds will always be with us. We can mulch, but seeds are always in the air and will find a place to root.  However, we can control them and we can do it without  using poisons.

Between the Rows   August 5, 2017

Onions and Garlic for Savor

 

garlic ready for harvest

Garlic ready for harvest

Cooks can hardly start a dinner without peeling with an onion, or some garlic, or maybe a shallot. For all the common necessity of onions in the kitchen, or even the gourmet at the table, alliums are not difficult to grow.I have grown regular onions and garlic. Onions can be grown from seed. The onions I usually grow begin as a handful of sets, immature plants that you can buy at local garden stores in the spring, or order online from a farm like Dixondale Farms that specializes in organic onions, leeks, and shallots. This is one way you can find a wide variety of onion plants. In our region we can grow long day onions that need 14 or more hours of sun every day. The onion patch should have fertile, slightly acidic (pH 6-6.8), well drained soil and be sited where there is full sun. Onions are hardy plants and can be planted 4-6 weeks before the last expected frost. Here in Greenfield that could be as early as April 1.

Onion sets should be planted in a well prepared and fertilized bed, about 1-2 inches deep and watered well. Because they have such shallow roots, they should be watered regularly and kept well weeded.

Onions are ready for harvest when the tops bend over. You can always pull up a slightly immature onion before the tops flops, but don’t rush that bending of the tops. When the onion tops have fallen over, and the onion shoulders are in view, pull them up and leave them to dry in the garden for a few days. Bring them to a sheltered space if there is rain. After they are dry trim the top and the roots and store them in a cool place.

Although I always thought of onions as something to add savor to my cooking, they do have health benefits. Onions are a source of vitamin C, sulphuric compounds (the element that makes your eyes water)  flavonoids and phytochemicals. These phytochemicals have antimicrobial properties and can help lower blood pressure. They are high in  antioxidents which battle the free radicals in our blood that can cause disease.

Garlic harvest

Garlic Harvest

Garlic is another common member of the allium family, and like onions garlic has health giving phytochemicals and antioxidants.

It is not too late to get a garlic crop for 2018 in the ground. In fact, garlic is planted in the fall, towards the end of October. You want to plant at least four weeks before the ground freezes. You can plant the individual cloves from a supermarket garlic bulb, but it really is best to begin with good seed garlic from a place like Filaree Garlic Farm that sells 100 varieties of organic garlic. I guarantee this is a way to get a better crop from your own garden.

In late October prepare your garlic bed. Garlic also needs rich, well drained soil. Dig in well rotted compost before planting. I made three furrows about 6-8 inches apart. Push the cloves into the furrow, point up, and cover with soil so it is about 3 inches deep. Plant cloves about 4-6 inches apart. Water well and mulch with an eight inch layer of hay or straw. Tucked into rich soil the cloves will start to send out roots before the frost. There are many varieties and flavors of garlic. If you plant different varieties be sure to label your rows so you can later identify the varieties you like best.

Garlic starts to send up shoots through the mulch early in the spring. When the weather is really warm you can remove some of the mulch to let the soil warm up. Keep the garlic watered as you would any vegetable bed.

The large garlic had the scape removed and the small bulb kept its scape

The large garlic had the scape removed and the small bulb kept its scape

Curly scapes will appear in June. The scapes should be cut off because they steal energy needed by the forming bulb. I didn’t cut off the scapes of my first harvest and the bulbs were quite small. The scapes can be diced and used for flavor in any recipe calling for garlic.

In July the foliage will start to yellow. When half of the foliage is yellow, some time in July, it is time to dig up the new garlic bulbs. Do not pull them up. Be careful with your spade not to dig into the bulbs.

Let them dry in a shady spot for a couple of days being careful not to damage the papery skins. When dry cut off the stem, leaving only about an inch, and trim the roots. Store them in a cool place. They will be fully ripe in about 6 weeks, but of course you can use them as you need them.

Choose a different place for your garlic every year.

Alliums are an essential part of our pantries, and they are easy to have right at hand.

Between the Rows  July 30, 2017