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Dear Friend and Gardener

Ben Grosscup and Soil Restoration

Ben Grosscup

Ben Grosscup

Soil Restoration is important. I don’t always understand the science behind good garden practices, but an afternoon with Ben Grosscup helped me think about my soil in new ways. Grosscup began working with the Northeastern Organic Farming Association NOFA) right out of college. He was part of the efforts to organize putting bans on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and efforts to label foods if they did include GMO’s. He organized educational events and seminars for farmers and others interested in the quality of our food supply. Over the years he learned about carbon restoration of our soil.

I went to see Grosscup’s in-town half acre garden to get a better understanding of what carbon restoration means and the role of microbes in the soil. The first thing we did was look at the cover crops, radishes, vetch and winter rye, that Grosscup planted after his vegetable crops were harvested. “I plant a variety of cover crops in one space because each species of plant calls a different microbial community,” he said.

I had understood that cover crops like radishes, winter rye, peas, and oats had enough time in late summer to cover the soil over the winter protecting it from erosion while the roots went deep in the soil to bring up valuable nutrients. I also knew that winter rye would send up shoots that survived the winter and continueto grow in the spring while annual crops like peas and oats would die.

Radish, vetch winter wheat

Cover crops, radish, vetch and winter wheat

I did not understand how you could plant in a bed that was full of winter rye in the spring or any other cover crops. All was about to be revealed. First, there are two types of cover crops, perennial and annual. Winter rye is a perennial crop in that will survive the winter and continue to grow in the spring. When it is nearly time to plant new vegetable crops in the spring Grosscup pulls up the winter rye, covers the bed with newspapers and lays the harvested winter rye on top.  He supplies the newspaper barrier to prevent the rye from re-rooting.

He uses three techniques when planting the newspaper covered rows. First he waters the newspaper well, and the soil beneath. Then he can puncture little holes in the newspaper and insert his vegetable starts. Or he can plant his hills of cucumbers, squash, or beans by making the holes in the paper for the seeds. Or he can create a shallow long trough through the paper to plant seeds. As in any planting he needs to keep it well watered until the seeds or young plants are well established.

Annual ground covers like peas and oats will not survive the winter. Their roots will bring up nutrients and the dead plants will compost in place giving organic matter and nutrients back to the soil.

There are three goals: to cover the soil and protect it from erosion, to enrich the soil, and to avoid disturbing the soil which would release carbon into the atmosphere.

We all have to remember that soil is alive. It is full of fungi, bacteria, nematodes and many other invisible creatures. It has been estimated that a teaspoon of healthy soil contains more microbes than there are people on earth. Grosscup explained that these creatures need sugars created by photosynthesis.

Of course I needed to give myself a little review course about photosynthesis. Chlorophyll in green plants takes the energy from sunlight to break up the water (H2O) molecules in the plant. The plant breathes some of the oxygen back into the atmosphere. The saved molecules are bound to carbon dioxide molecules (CO2) to ultimately create simple carbohydrates like glucose (C6H1206). “These sugars are exudated into the soil through the plant’s roots” Grossup said.

“What the microbes give back to the soil is the ability to metabolize the crystalline formations (stones) that are a part of the soil and turn them into a biologically active substance like trace minerals that are important and usable by the plant.”

The tools of what we now call conventional agriculture include fertilizers which are attempting to give the soil the nutritional elements that plowing and tilling has removed. We gardeners see this when we buy a bag of fertilizer and notice the identifying NPK numbers 5-10-5 or 5-4-1 which refers to  the percentage of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in that fertilizer. What these fertilizers do not do is provide food for all the microbial life in the soil which is so vital.

Grosscup has a large sunny vegetable garden next to his house. He says he and his partner rarely have to buy vegetables, and they have three chickens to provide eggs, and compost. They also have fruit trees and berries, as well as a section they call a pollinator garden, filled with perennial flowers that attract bees and other pollinators.

Honeyberry surrounded by cover crop

Honeyberry surrounded by cover crop

The sloping area in back of the house is very much a project in progress.  Norway maples were taken down and removed. Some spaces have been covered with cardboard to kill all the weeds growing in the area. Other spaces are farther along in the process and have been planted with annual cover crops with the intent they be ready for planting in the spring. Other areas have been planted with honeyberries, gooseberries and goji berries and a few fruit trees. The ground around them has also been planted with annual cover crops to keep building the soil.

I always say the garden path leads to many fields. This week I explored a path that led into some fascinating science.

Between the Rows   October 14, 2017

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day – October 15, 2017

The Fairy Rose

The Fairy rose

This Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day arrives during a very mild October. We have had a very few fold nights with temperatures going below 40 degrees, but the daytime temperatures still reach well into the 70′s and even over 80 degrees. It has been fairly dry except for a couple of welcome rain we got as hurriane Nate touched us for a couple of days.  The Fairy rose will stand in the the sprinkling of other rose blossoms, Folksinger, Peach Coral Drift, Purple Rain and Red Knockout.

joe pye weed

Joe pye weed

We still have a few good pollinator plants blooming and filled with the buzzing of the bees – of all sorts. The bees have had to bend down a bit because when we have had rain it has come down hard and many of my plants are bent over – but it doesn’t seem to matter very much, except that you might notice my plants langour in my photos.

hydrangea

Limelight hydrangea

The hydrangeas are doing very well, and  showing their interest in providing a living fence between my garden and my neighbor’s driveway.

Firelight hydrangea

Firelight hydrangea

calamint

Calamint

We’ll run through the rest.

toad lilies

Toad lilies lying in the grass

Asters

Asters

Grandpa Ott

Grandpa Ott morning glory

Snake root

Snake root

http://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/woodland/plants/wh_snakeroot.htm

Sheffield daisy

Sheffies – Sheffield daisy

The Sheffield daisy blooms very late in the fall.

nasturtiums

Nasturtiums

The nasturtiums show up all over the garden because I used them as a kind of temporary ground cover.  I love them because they are so cheerful.

red winterberry

Red winterberry

Though winterberries aren’t blooming at this time of the year, I had to show off my red winterberry and

Gold winterberry

Gold winterberry

my gold winterberry.

I thank Carol over at May Dreams Gardens for hosting Bloom Day and making it possible to see the gardens in bloom all across our great land.

Pumpkins for Eating and Decorating

Pumpkins

Pumpkins for sale at Butynski Farm

Pumpkin Season is here!  Jack o’ lanterns seem as American as apple pie, but pumpkins, squash and gourds, along with tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, maize, and cocoa, are native to Central America and Mexico. Over time they migrated to North America and Europe. In fact, New World foods are essential to a large portion of the African population.

We don’t often think about the important nutritional value of pumpkins. Pumpkins are all about Cinderella’s coach, Jack ‘o lanterns and pumpkin pie. However, the many species of pumpkin are low in calories but are a good source of fiber, vitamins A and C. These all support vision, heart health, and reduce the risk of colon cancer. Even the seeds provide health benefits. When was the last time you added some nutritious pepitas to your salad? Happily pumpkins and squash are delicious so it is no hardship to fit pumpkins into your diet.

Pumpkin is the essential ingredient in pumpkin pie (of course) but the menu is much larger including pumpkin bread and pumpkin pastries, pumpkin ravioli, risotto and soup. We went to a party last year where they were serving pumpkin beer!

Pumpkin pie is a great dessert for the fall. It need not be kept just for Thanksgiving. I have bought canned pumpkin for my pies, but I have just been informed that most canned pumpkin is really squash. I guess I should read my labels better.

The best pumpkins for pie have familiar names like the New England Pie Pumpkin, but less familiar are Baby Pam, Long Island Cheese, Long Pie Pumpkin, Baby Bear, Ghost Rider and Spookie.

The first thing to remember about pumpkins and winter squash is that pumpkins, and winter squash are long season fruits and need a long warm season, Many gardeners use floating row covers or sturdier plastic over hoops early in the season to protect them from the weather as well as cucumber beetles or other pests. They also need a rich soil with lots of organic matter to help retain moisture, a pH of 6 to 6.8 as well as a lot of sun and a lot of room. Their vines can run amuck in the garden.

The All America Selections Cinderella pumpkin is also known as the Rouge Vif d’Etampes because of its color and shape resembling Cinderella’s coach. It will send out 10 foot vines and the fruits can weigh up to 20 pounds. Sorcerer pumpkin, another AAS winner, is similar in size with similar vines, but a deeper, dark orange color.

There are bush varieties like Gold Nugget Squash which looks exactly like a pumpkin. This All America Selections squash can produce up to ten fruits per plant weighing about one or one and a half pounds.

Over the past few years ghostly white pumpkins have come on the scene. There are a number of varieties. Baby Boo is a miniature white pumpkin that might especially appeal to children. Flat White Boer Ford is bone white and its flattened shape is similar to the Cinderella pumpkin. It will reach 30 pounds is a good pumpkin for cooking. Lumina will grow to 20 pounds and is a smooth round squash that is good for carving and also good to eat. It is notable that these white pumpkins often need some shade to keep them from turning yellow.

The white Pumpkin Super Moon is an AAS winner. It can reach up to 50 pounds and was chosen by AAS for its disease resistance, vigorous growth, early fruit development and flavor.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Baker Creek Heirloom seeds offer large selections of very unusual pumpkins like Galeux d’Eysines which is a pale pink and covered with rough ‘warts.’ It grows on a long vine and will weigh about 15 pounds. It can be a stunning decoration, or it can be eaten in stews and soups.

Giant Pumpkin

Giant Pumpkin – 1st prize winner grown by Sue Chadwick

Pumpkins provide a lot of fun in many ways including growing a giant pumpkin. I once attended a Giant Pumpkin club meeting and learned all about the trading in giant pumpkin seeds, and how to pamper plants over the spring and summer with shelters from the cold or wind, how to arrange proper watering and fertilizing. They also talked about various pumpkin events. I was enchanted by the idea of a pumpkin race. Contestants hollowed out pumpkins large enough to sit in, and then raced each other across a pond! I always think of that race when I admire the giant pumpkins at the Franklin County Fair.

I’m planning on some fun with a pumpkin too, but it doesn’t involve a pond. I bought a pie pumpkin at the Greenfield Farmers Market and I’m ready to make my first pumpkin pie from scratch – beginning with cooking the pumpkin. I’ve been told to cut the pumpkin in half, cut off the stem, scoop out all the seeds and scrape away any fibers. Then lay the pumpkin halves cut side down on a parchment lined cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes. It’s wise to test by inserting a paring knife here and there to make sure it is cooked through. Then remove it from the oven and let it cool for an hour. Scrape out the cooked pumpkin flesh, put it in the food processor and process for two or three minutes until there is a smooth puree. The puree can be refrigerated for five days or so, or kept in the freezer for three months. Bon appétit.

.Between the Rows   October 7, 2017

Dreaming of trees

American sycamores

American sycamores on both side of the street

Since moving to Greenfield we seem unable to get through a day, or night, without thinking and dreaming about trees. When we bought our house, which was surrounded by nothing more than lawn, our attention was taken by the giant American sycamore on the tree belt in front of our house. I called an acquaintance, Dennis Ryan, who is a retired arborist and professor at the University of Massachusetts. I described our tree which we believed was a sycamore, but were not sure. He asked if it shed lots of bark as well as leaves. I gritted my teeth and said yes, it was always shedding bark. American sycamore it is, not a London plane tree which has a similar and handsome mottled bark.

The only other tree in front of our house is a lilac tree. This Japanese lilac tree is a true syringa. When it bloomed after we took possession of our house in  June 2015 we were thrilled with the large white panicled blossoms that were so fragrant they perfumed our who yard. It took a little research to discover its name, but I soon began to notice that a number of Japanese lilac trees are being planted in town. It doesn’t seem to be on many lists of recommended town trees but I think it should be. It grows to about 25 feet tall, with a similar spread and blooms through June in our region.

Japanese syringa

Japanese lilac tree in mid June

roadside maple trees

Roadside maple trees

We got those beauties with the house, but we wanted trees for the back garden as well. The first concern is to plant the right tree in the right spot. Our choice was river birch because it loves wet soil. River birch has exfoliating bark, a clumping habit, and will grow to 40-70 feet. It has grown well and is now about 20 feet tall. We liked it so much we planted another in the same bed.

Trees are an important part of our domestic landscapes, providing shade and interesting form and color to delight our eyes as it dances in the wind or changes color from delicate greens in the spring and brilliant color in the fall. While there is no denying the aesthetic delight of trees, there are the services that trees provide. They clean our air, provide oxygen, cool our cities, create barriers for unattractive views, muffle the sound of busy streets, and provide food for insects and birds that eat the insects, as well as a dozen other benefits.

Trees are important to the streetscapes of our town. Greenfield has tree wardens who can work with residents who want trees on their street. In addition, Greening Greenfield is a community organization designed to increase the sustainability of our town. One element of their goal is to increase the number of trees lining our streets.

Like all of us, trees have a lifetime. Once there were giant elms marching up and down Main Street providing beauty, shade and a sense of stability. Then Dutch elm disease hit Greenfield’s Main Street, and elms all over the country. There are ongoing efforts to replace the street trees in Greenfield. I’m sure we have all seen young trees planted by the town on the tree strip or on the front lawns of residences with their watering bags.

My neighbor Wendy Sibbison and I are interested in getting more trees on our street. When Sibbison was on the town council 20 years ago she was instrumental in getting a number of trees planted on our street, but some of them have died. Other trees on the street are simply old and failing. We met with the town tree wardens, Paul Ratskevitz and Mike Duclos, and they gave us a list of the trees that the town usually plants. They explained that residents can request a tree, or trees for their street and their name will be put on a waiting list. There is not a lot of money for street trees in the town budget so it is hard to say how long residents will have to wait. It is also possible for a resident to buy a street tree themselves and the town will plant it, and maintain it for a year with a water bag. In that case it is possible that the tree will be planted much more quickly.

Sibbison pointed out that the trees on our street are planted on residents’ lawns where the tree roots are less constricted and there is less stress from road salt. Paul Raskevitz said they prefer planting trees on lawns for that very reason. In fact Massachusetts General Law (M.G.L.) Chapter 87, Section 7, specifically allows towns and cities to plant trees within 20 feet of the public right of way. These trees are considered to be ‘public shade trees’. Aside from the benefit to the tree, planting on a lawn lessens the problems of hitting public utility lines under the tree strip, or the power lines above it.

Between the Rows   September 30, 2017

Not All The Essentials for the Apocalypse

What are the essentials for an apocalypse?

The New York Times listed essentials for the apocalypse in the September 24, 2017 issue. I did note  that these are essentials as deemed so by a certain affluent group of Americans.

Author Alex Williams lists 13 things to have on hand in case worse comes to worst, what with daily threats from North Korea – and our own White House.

essentials for the apocalypse

Silver (mostly) essentials for the apocalypse

Is money one of  the essentials for the apocalypse? At first glance it seems reasonable that you might want to put in a stock of silver – and in nickels, dimes and quarters “because silver coins come in small enough denominations to barter for a loaf of bread or a socket wrench.” Of course, there is an assumption that someone will be around with extra loaves of bread or socket wrenches.

Stocking your own food seems sensible since you can also include your favorites libations. Are you a Scotch person or a bourbon afficianado? I thought a really great essential was rabbits, that are not fussy about what they eat, and will make up to 50 babies a year. Rabbits are very nutritious.

These affluent survivalists could also get numchucks or brass knuckles or the “100 Deadly Skills” book written by Clint Emerson, a former Navy SEAL. A folding kayak can fit in a closet, JetPacks that will carry you away may soon be commercially available.

With all these valuable resources, only one of  which mentions food – those rabbits – I can’t help thinking of a different apocalypse – climate warming which will change the foods that can be grown and where they can be grown. I also see an unmentioned danger to seeds.

The Svalbard ‘doomsday’ seed vault was built to protect millions of food crops from climate change, wars and natural disasters on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen. It contains almost a million packets of seeds, each a variety of an important food crop. When it was opened in 2008, the deep permafrost through which the vault was sunk was expected to provide failsafe protection against “the challenge of natural or man-made disasters.’

However, this past winter’s unparalleled warm temperatures caused melting of the permafrost which went into the seed vault. Fortunately, none of the seeds were affected. This time.

Clearly there are many events that can get survivalists scurrying for something that will save them, but I wonder how many unforeseen and unintended consequences are waiting for us.

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

 

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.

Squash Borer Attack

Squash borer and entry

Squash borer entry and damage

Last Sunday I went on an education edible garden tour and learned about the Squash Borer. In the first garden we visited we all noticed a yellowing and flopping squash plant. Was it lack of watering? No! We were seeing the fatal damage  caused by a squash borer.

Though I grew squash in Heath for many years I never had squash borers  so  this was quite an education for me. Espececially since when we got home and looked at the summer squash plants I had put in because I thought all that squash foliage would cover the ground and keep down weeds while other plants grew larger. A couple of my plants  also had slightly yellow drooping leaves and evidence of squash borer entry.

Squash borer larva

Squash borer larva

The fingertip in the photo is just to give a sense of scale.  I immediately went around the garden and found  several more plants showing borer damage. A friend told me all I had to do was slit the affected stem with a sharp knife and that would kill  the borer. I did some slitting but I also did some online research. I don’t think the slitting will do any good.

The adult vine borer is a moth that will lay its tiny eggs at the base of a stalk. They are not really visible and it is only after they have hatched and begun their entry into the stalk, leaving the evidence of their ‘frass’ (the proper work for borer excrement) at the entry point. You can try to slit the stem and pull out the larva which will grow to an inch long, but there does not seem to be agreement that this will lead to a squash harvest.  And to make things worse, since  I have borers now, I probably also have pupating borers in my soil that will hatch next spring!

If I wanted to plant squash next year, not likely, I could choose a different spot and keep the squash plants covered with a floating row cover. However,  the consensus is that prevention is the best answer. Weekly applications of insecticidal soap have been found effective. Also Btk, Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki, an organic compound found in t he soil can be used regularly. When larva eat this they die.  You can spray with Btk weekly or wipe down  the stems with Btk or insecticidal soap weekly.

I had visions of tons of squash I could bring to the Center for Self Reliance, but that does not seem likely. However,  I’ll be ready if I plant squash next year. Right now that is a big IF.

A.R.T.S. and Earth-Kind Rose Trials

Michael Schwartz photo 2Recently I met with Michael Schwartz at the Naugatuck Valley Community College in  Connecticut to visit the rose trial gardens of both Earth-Kind roses and the newer organization A.R.T.S. trials. The American Rose Trials for Sustainability (A.R.T.S.) was founded in 2012 when the All America Rose Selections (AARS) closed its doors. Schwartz is the trial director of both gardens, as well as the current president of the A.R.T.S. organization.

Earth-Kind roses have been around for a number of years under a program run by Texas A&M AgriLife and Extension. There are now Earth-Kind trial gardens in several locations in Texas and in several states as different as Maine, Mississippi and California. Canada, New Zealand and India also have Earth-Kind rose trials. The goal of all these sites is to identify the roses that thrive with low-input conditions which means pest and disease resistance and needing less irrigation and fertilizer.

Chamblee’s Rose Nursery has a number of Earth-Kind roses that are familiar to gardeners including The Fairy, Belinda’s Dream and Carefree Beauty.

A.R.T.S.

American Rose Trials for Sustainability or A.R.T.S.

The  11 A.R.T.S. trial gardens across the country are working to provide objective, accurate and reliable information about the cultivars that are tested to identify the most disease and pest resistant, and the most garden worthy cultivars. No fungicides, insecticides or miticides are used in the trial gardens. Each garden also includes Carefree Beauty and the Original Knockout rose, to use as reference points for the growth and condition of the trial roses.

Schwartz gave me a tour of both test gardens. In the A.R.T.S. test garden I admired the roses planted this year, and roses planted last year. They showed a lot of growth in only two years. I also got to see Peachy Knock Out; Ice Cap, a double white shrub rose; and Double 10, a riotous orange tea rose, all of which won four regional awards, and earned the name Master Rose. These roses are the first A.R.T.S. winners and will come on the market in 2018. Watch for them.

Peachy Knock Out Rose

Peachy Knock Out Rose A.R.T.S. Master Rose for 2018

Those three roses are not the only A.R.T.S. roses that will be available next spring. Also watch for Farruca Courtyard, a compact climber with double red blossoms; BougainFeelYa, a compact spreading shrub with single red blossoms, and Apple Dapple a blush pink shrub rose, both from the Look Alikes series; and Petaluma a semi-double orange-pink shrub rose. These colors are all luscious!

The system for evaluating the test results has been a lot of work, but now that the results can be handled electronically the process is more thorough and much easier. In addition to quantifying disease resistance and such, rose marketers know that fragrance, mature growth habit, and length of season bloom are important. These qualities are taken into consideration as well. The final question Schwartz said “tries to account for the X-factor which is – do you like the rose? That takes a subjective evaluation, but it’s important. It’s hard to quantify beauty, but we tried.”

Earth Kind Trial roses

Earth Kind roses in NVCC Trial Gardens. I’d love either one, preferably both, of these roses

After visiting the A.R.T.S. trials Schwartz walked me across the campus, past the Biblical Garden, the Teaching Garden and a collection of some of  the maple tree varieties that are part of the college’s Tamarack Arboretum to view the Earth-Kind rose trials. This large trial garden is located on a steep terraced hillside, with each terrace devoted to one year’s roses. There is no way I was going to slide down the narrow hillside path to wander through this lush rose garden, but it was an amazing site in its entirety, even if it didn’t make for a great photo. It is clear that the Earth-Kind list of low maintenance roses will include new cultivars in the near future.

Schwartz and I spent some time in the Zinser Rose Garden talking about the college, its roses and the two year horticulture, and horticulture and landscape design programs. The rose garden is named after the beloved Professor Zinser who taught mathematics. Here we were surrounded by a number of hardy, easy care roses like the romantic Blushing Knock Out, Teasing Georgia, a striking yellow rose, and Nearly Wild, with pink/white single blossoms.

Schwartz told me that there have been a number of companies and rose gardens that have disappeared over the past few years. In this modern world too many gardeners were finding too many roses too much trouble to grow and fuss over. Roses had such a reputation for requiring a lot of work and chemicals that many gardeners never even tried to grow roses in their garden.

The Earth Kind and A.R.T.S. trials will be giving gardeners the information to choose beautiful and low maintenance roses to make up a successful rose garden.

Double 10 rose, available in 2018

Double 10, Master Rose, in A.R.T.S trial for 2018

Several years ago I met Peter Kukielski, then curator 0f the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden at the New YorkBotanical Garden and he told me that he often had to assure gardeners whose roses died. He’d tell them “you are not the problem. It is the roses that are the problem.” He went on to write Roses Without Chemicals: 150 disease free varieties that will change the way you grow roses. Kukielski was the first president of the A.R.T.S trials and worked to identify more strong and beautiful roses for gardeners.

I wonder which one of the A.R.T.S. roses I will plant next year?

Between the Rows    July 1, 2017