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Fall Clean Up and Cold Compost

cold compost

Cold compost ready for spreading as mulch

Leaves are falling, some flower stalks have turned brown and brittle; it’s time for the fall clean up.

I have been cutting back iris and daylily foliage which was looking less and less attractive every day. Cutting back is one way to make the garden look neater and a bit more serene. It is also a way to see clearly which clumps will be ready for dividing in the spring. Where can these divisions make the most impact? Or maybe the divisions can be sold at spring plant sales like those for the Bridge of Flowers or the Greenfield Garden Club.

I also started to cut back the large stand of six foot tall chelone, turtlehead. Cutting back the waning but still tall or spready perennials in the garden make it easier to see the plants with autumnal and winter interest like winterberry.

All of these large leaves and plant stalks go into a special big compost pile. In the spring we will turn the pile, and with a little luck the bottom half of that pile will be good compost to put on the garden beds.

Walking through the autumn garden shows the spots of failure. My sweet peas didn’t get enough sun. The stringbeans didn’t get proper support and were too crowded. The smaller honeysuckle wasn’t as small as I thought; it needs a real trellis. My wanderings show that the vigorous and twining Grandpa Ott morning glory is also going to need careful removal from the honeysuckle.

cold compost

time to load up the cold compost

Fall clean-up doesn’t happen in one day, and it doesn’t need to. Unlike chores in the spring which seem to happen all at once, I feel we have more time in the fall, especially this year because the weather has been so mild. The leaves fall and have to be raked. Then more leaves fall and they have to be raked. Fall clean up encourages a slow and steady approach.

Our biggest problem with clean up this year is the dead brown leaves of our big horse chestnut. We noticed other horse chestnut trees in town also shedding their big brown leaf clusters early. I have tried to do some research to confirm or disprove the rumor we heard that there is a fungus attacking these trees, and that the fallen leaves should be collected and removed, not put in the compost pile.

Our horse chestnut is very tall and branches are not within reach. I cannot see the leaves clearly until they fall off. I did find examples on line of leaf blotch which is caused by a fungus, but I am not able to see my leaves early enough in the fungus development stage to see if they develop as shown in the photos. In any event, we are trying to rake up as many of those leaves as possible, bagging them up and putting them out for the trash collector. The leaf blotch fungus, Guignardia aesculi, can overwinter in a compost pile and be a threat next year.

While we are doing our best to get rid of the horse chestnut leaves, we welcome the sycamore, Japanese lilac, and river birch leaves as well as the maple and oak leaves from our neighbors’ trees. There are plenty of these over the course of the fall. I collect them and put them into a five foot tall wire cage, pressing them down as the season progresses. We can watch the pile melt down and stand in awe of the speed of the rotting process.

I did not invent the idea of a big wire bin. That was the late Larry Lightner’s idea. He was a marvelous gardener and years ago was responsible for many of the gardens on the Northfield Mount Hermon campus. He collected leaves and made what he called ‘cold compost.’ The compost bins that many of us use for our kitchen scraps, grass cuttings and weeds, use the heat created by the rotting process to make compost. In a different process leaves break down in their aerated wire bin without heat. It does take a full year, and sometimes longer to be usable, but it is valuable compost.

Lightner even planted in his cold compost bins. He made them about two or three feet tall,  sometimes circular or of any other shape that suited him. He kept adding leaves all fall until the bins were full. In the spring he would top off the planting bin with cold compost from another bin. The newly full bin was ready for planting. He would make an indentation in the cold compost, add about a quart of soil, and then plant a vegetable or plant start. One big bin could hold numerous starts. These bins did need to be kept well watered, but plants got plenty of nutrition from the still rotting leaves and thrived.

We just pulled our wire bin up and off the rotted leaves we collected all last fall. Unrotted leaves remainrd along the outside edges, but  the rest of the leaves have rotted into good compost. I am spreading that compost over my beds as I cut back and weed.

cold compost

spreading cold compost

As soon as I spread all of that finished compost, we’ll set up the bin again and pile in this year’s crop of leaves. This is a wonderful cycle. It makes me happy to know that I can look forward to a compost harvest every fall.

Between the Rows  October 21, 2017

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

The Art of Farming – A fundamental human endeavor

Nancy Hanson

Jason Dragon, Nancy Hanson and Pete Solis (L-R)

Where do people learn the art of farming? Farmers used to raise farmers as well as crops of hay, wheat, potatoes or other vegetables. Children learned the art of farming at their father’s – or mother’s knee.

Then came a time when the farms got bigger and bigger, and more expensive, as did farming equipment, but the farmers became fewer and fewer. And yet we all need to eat. Where do our farmers come from now?

Recently I met with Nancy Hanson, Director of Farm Programs at Hampshire College at the barn where students and staff come to pick up their CSA order for the week. We were surrounded by bins of beets, pepper, carrots and other vegetables waiting for the week’s allotments to be collected. Hanson is a woman who grew up on a farm started by her grandfather, then passed on to her father. In the mid 1980s the federal government created a program to control milk prices by offering money to dairy farmers if they would sell their herds. Hanson’s father accepted the offer.

Carrots

Carrots for CSA pickup at Hampshire college

Hanson hadn’t wanted to be a dairy farmer, but she did want to work with plants; After high school she took jobs working with ornamental plants. “After some years I learned what I didn’t know in those jobs and eventually was accepted into the University of Connecticut and earned a degree in ornamental horticulture,” she said.

She continued working with ornamentals in Boston and Maine. For a couple of years she was the estate horticulturist in Manchester by the Sea. “A couple bought an estate that was in disrepair. They renovated the buildings, pruned and replanted trees, and perennials.”

Hanson said that it was during those couple of years that she leaned to think about design and aesthetics in ways that were new to her. As part of her job she cared for a quarter acre vegetable garden. “That’s where I was the happiest, and that’s when vegetables became a passion.”

In the 90s Hanson learned more and more about organic growing. “This was interesting to me because it meant you had to understand the whole system,” she said. In 1999 she applied for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) position at Hampshire College, and she has been there ever since. Hanson works with two other professional farmers. Pete Solis mostly works with livestock like sheep, pigs, beef and hens, while Jason Dragon is mainly in charge of the vegetable fields. All three work with each other, and with the students.

Flock of sheep

Sheep flock at Hampshire College

Hanson explained that they have six students working full time in the summer with crops that are chosen to be ready for fall harvest. Work study students work on the farm in fall and spring. Some of those students do see farming as their life’s work, but others have different levels of interest in raising food.

“The goal is not to train farmers,” Hanson said. “Students work within academic programs like the introduction to food systems. We want them all to appreciate the goodness of fresh vegetables. This is the 26th year of our CSA. About one third of the harvest goes directly to the cafeterias serving the nearly 1500 students, and college faculty and staff.”

Hampshire’s program is not designed like a major in other colleges. Hanson explained that HampshireCollege was founded in 1965 by the other four valley colleges, the University of Massachusetts, Smith College, Amhers tCollege and Mt Holyoke College. Through the 60’s the administrations of these colleges felt the waves of new theories that were worthy of exploration and practice – but didn’t fit into their own academic visions. Thus was 800 acres of farmland bought and Hampshire College opened in 1970.

Section of Pick Your Own CSA at Hampshire College

Section of Pick Your Own CSA at Hampshire College

To this day HampshireCollege remains an experimenting institution with students creating their own self directed programs that usually include study related to societal or community problems. There are no exams or grades given. For example, the CSA program was designed and put in place by two students who made it their senior capstone project.

Hanson said that they try to bring the farm into other study fields. Art students come to the farm and one teacher brings students to look at water systems. They give tours, and this year they made bouquets with their own flowers to sell to parents bringing in the new freshmen. The bouquets sparked everyone’s interest in the gardens.”

Hanson said it is the combination of farming and teaching that makes her happy.

“I’m still here because as a teacher there is always some smart alec who asks me a question I can’t answer – and keeps me learning about something I’ve been involved with since I could walk. Some students are familiar with farms, but to some the farm is a totally new thing. I want them to realize that farming is a fundamental human endeavor. It is great to watch a student get it, when things start clicking.”

**************************************

Recently I talked to Ben Grosscup about a Pollinators and the Urban Homestead workshop where you can learn the key principles of gardening for pollinators on Ben’s urban homestead and emerging food forest. Sponsored by Western Mass Pollinator Networks, this free, in-depth workshop will be co-led by landscape designer Tom Sullivan (pollinatorswelcome.com)  Sunday, October 1, 9:30 a.m. to noon. 195 Chapman St., Greenfield.  PLEASE REGISTER by emailing your name to wmassbees@gmail.com. ###

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.

Plant Now for Spring Bloom

Crocuses

Crocuses in early April on the Bridge of Flowers

scillas and crocus

Scillas and crocus on Bridge of Flowers

If you want to have  spring bloom in your garden you have to get to work right now. Crocus, scillas and snowdrops are three of the earliest spring bloomers in the garden – or lawn. You have to start thinking about planting them in the fall if you want them spring bloom.

I planted very few crocus while living in Heath, but now that I am living in town with a sidewalk next to the front lawn and conifer bed, I feel I must add color to this spot. I have been looking through the catalogs where I can find white crocus with golden hearts, crocus in all shades of yellow and gold and crocus in pale to deep purple.

There is also a category of small crocuses, properly named tommasinianus, and more lovingly called tommies. Some consider these the ideal crocus to plant in the lawn because their foliage is finer and less likely to offend people who like to keep their lawns very neat. The foliage of any bulb needs to ripen, which is to say it should be left to its own schedule gathering sunlight which will feed the bulb for good blooming the following year.

Crocus and all the little bulbs can be planted in beds which are cared for with fertilizers and watering, but these beds are a little more likely to attract hungry squirrels. The advantage to planting any crocus in the lawn is that squirrels tend not to search them out in the grass. However, if you are going to plant crocus in the lawn the lawn should not be fertilized or watered because this will likely make the grass too vigorous and overcome the little crocus bulbs.

The crocus in its many sizes and colors may be the first early bloomer we think of, but scillas, also known as Siberian squills, have dainty blue flowers that can live happily in a lawn and turn it into a reflection of the blue spring sky.

Snowdrops in the lawn

Snowdrops in the lawn

inches high and will naturalize and spread nicely. Because the blossoms are so small, it is best to plant them where you will be able to see and enjoy that early bloom.

Snowdrops in the garden next to the house

Snowdrops in the garden next to the house

Snowdrops are not to be confused with snowflakes which is a completely different family, Leucojum aestivum. The flower of the snowflakes, sometimes called a summer snowflake even though it usually blooms in late April and May, closely resembles the snowdrop flower, a drooping white blossom with a  touch of green. However the snowflake is at least a foot tall. It is more noticeable in the garden than the snowdrop but still I think it is good to plant these small bulbs in clumps.

Because these early blooming bulbs are so tiny it is suggested that they be planted as closely as 10 to 15 bulbs in a square foot. They only need to be planted about three inches deep in soil that drains well. Too wet a location can rot bulbs. I mostly planted daffodils in my Heath lawn and my technique was to dig up about a square foot of turf, dig in a little compost and phosphorous which could be bone meal or phosphate rock. Then arrange the bulbs as per directions in the soil. I replace the piece of turf and wait for spring blooms. This technique works as well for the small bulbs. These very early spring bulbs are tiny so you need to plant a fair number of them to make them noticeable.

Fortunately these little bulbs are not terribly expensive. I have just ordered four different sets of little bulbs that ranged between $13-18 for 50 bulbs. The bulbs are small so they won’t put on much of a show next spring – but they will increase.  If I get too impatient I can buy another 200 in 2018.

Fall is also the season for planting garlic bulbs. You can buy them online. I got my first bulbs from a friend, but Filaree Garlic Farm offers about 100 varieties of hard neck and soft neck garlic. There is not much to planting garlic in the fall. It is possible to break apart a supermarket garlic bulb and plant those, but it is really a better to plant what is intended as seed garlic. The bulb will be of good size and healthy.

Like all the bulbs garlic cloves should be planted in well drained soil. Plant each clove about 6-8 inches apart in a 3 inch deep furrow. Give it agood straw mulch about 6 inches deep. In our area garlic should be planted by the end of October. In the spring you can remove most of the mulch. In addition to foliage the plant produces scapes which should be cut off because they will sap energy needed for making a nice big bulb. Those scapes are useful and can be used in recipes that call for garlic. The new bulbs can be harvested in July.

I will only be planting little bulbs this fall, but of course, if you want daffodils, tulips, alliums, low growing anemones, and more this is the time to look for bulbs in garden centers, or online. There are many choices

Between the Rows   September 9, 2016

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