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Dear Friend and Gardener

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

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.

Gardens of the High Line

Gardens of the High Line

Gardens of the High Line by Oudolf and Darke

Those involved with the creation of the High Line gardens in New York City were always aware of their predecessor, the Bridge of Flowers in ShelburneFalls. Both gardens make use of disused railroad/trolley tracks to create a beautiful garden that will welcome strollers from the neighborhood and visitors from far away. But there is a difference between these two public gardens that goes beyond physical scale.

In Gardens of the High Line by Piet Oudolf and Rick Darke (Timber Press $40) the authors explain that the difference lies in their aesthetic and philosophy. The Bridge of Flowers was always intended to be a bright and colorful flower garden. The High Line gardens were inspired by the wildflowers that took over the space after the railroad was discontinued. A survey of the High Line before work began counted 161 plant species, with a pretty even split between indigenous and introduced varieties. The designers of the High Line focused, but not exclusively, on native plants, trees, shrubs, perennials and grasses and the way biological process change the scene over time.

High Line Garden

High Line planting leaving railroad tracks visible

I was fortunate enough to visit the High Line in 2010 with a friend when only the first section of the now 1.45 mile long park was completed. Strolling along through a small woodland of gray birches and alongside casual plantings of ferns, grasses and flowering spring bulbs that gave way to native flowers like Amsonia was magical – a walk through a wild garden but floating past the old brick buildings and newer towers of lower Manhattan while catching glints of sunlight on the Hudson River to the west.

The different perspective of the city was astounding. It seemed almost impossible to be walking in mid-air. Piet Oudolf, one of the great modern designers of our age, seemed to make a point of this disassociation between city and garden in the 10th Street Square area. Here the walkway swerves to the side to make way for amphitheater seating going down to large windows that gave a view of the traffic below, a visceral reminder of the fact that this garden was in a great bustling metropolis. Those down on the street can look up and see garden visitors. I see you and you see me!

High Line 10th Street Square

High Line 10th Street Square

I like the title of Gardens of the High Line with its subtitle Elevating the Nature of Modern Landscapes. The Elevating pun seems like a hint of the pleasures of this elevated site, elevating the spirit, and touching the reality of nature’s beauties.

The book begins with an introduction by Robert Hammond, one of the founders of the Friends of the High Line. He talks about this hybrid space, “It’s an art museum on an industrial structure. It’s a community space . . . . a botanical garden . . . it’s an immersion in the city, not an escape from it. . . . It’s always free. It is a living, changing space that anyone can experience.”

Every one of these four season gardens, from the entry into the Gansevoort Woodland, the Washington Grasslands, Chelsea Thicket, Meadow Walk and all the others, gets its own description with big, beautiful photos over the seasons and from different angles. Plants are named and the rationale behind designs are explained.

High Line Northern Spur

High Line Northern Spur

The High Line is a public garden but the book reveals it as a work of art, as is the book itself. Rick Darke’s photographs carry us along through the woodlands, meadows, grasslands, and even a lawn, a walk almost as good as one on your own two feet and feasting with your own two eyes. Darke’s photographs do not show the High Line as a perfect uninhabited garden; he include images of the social life created by the garden. If you have the chance I recommend that you make the High Line a part of your New York visit. If a physical visit is not in the cards, this stunning book is the next best thing.

For me the book is a reminder of my own visit, and a spur to making another trip to see the completed garden. I suspect many people will visit and walk the High Line with no greater purpose than enjoying nameless beauties they had never seen before, or certainly never in a public garden. A visiting gardener will have her eyes opened to new plants, and new ways of using unusual plants, as well as a new recognition of the richness of pollinator and bird life attracted to this garden.

As said before, the Bridge of Flowers is nothing like the High Line. However, right in Greenfield the Energy Park at the end of Miles Street has been based on the High Line principles before the High Line was imagined. Right now the Energy Park is in the process of a renovation, with new walkways and new pollinator friendly plantings. Replanting and editing is an ongoing process, just like on the High Line. I hope you will visit the Energy Park. It is not as far away as New York City

Backyard Berries for Delight

Raspberries

Raspberries beginning to ripen

If you have berries in your backyard you can have fresh blueberries on your cereal in the morning and raspberries on your shortcake or ice cream for your dinner dessert. As far as I am concerned these are the easiest backyard berries to plant and harvest, but I am considering adding thornless blackberries.

No matter what kind of berries you want, the first thing to do is choose your site and prepare your soil. All berries need at least 6 hours of full sun a day, and regular watering in well draining soil. Check your soil pH. Raspberries prefer soil 5.5 to 6.5 and blueberries need more acid soil, below 6.0.

I grew different varieties of red raspberries in Heath, and I have two rows of red raspberries and one row of golden raspberries in Greenfield. I think these are easy to grow and handle, and I confess that the older I get the easier I want my gardening tasks to be.

Preparing the soil means digging out all the weeds and testing the soil. Then you can incorporate compost and a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer. Those numbers refer to the ratios of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, the three major nutrients needed for good plant growth, in the fertilizer. All this should be done at least a week or two before planting.

I chose bare root Prelude raspberries which are supposed to begin bearing at the end of June, and Nova which begins fruiting a bit later and bears into early August. My neighbor gave me five gold raspberry roots which will bear even later. These berries do not have large roots, and should be planted only deeply enough to cover the root, and spaced at least 18 inches apart. They should be watered in thoroughly after planting and watered well, an inch a week over the first season.

My three rows of five raspberry plants each are arranged with a bit more than two feet between the rows which are mulched to keep down the weeds. Those rows will fill out with extra canes over time. Next year I plan to install T-trellises that will define and hold in the three rows, making harvesting easier. Canes should be cut out after bearing at the end of the season.

raspberry trellis

Raspberry trellis of a different sort to keep cane contained and controlled

Earlier this week I visited a friend’s garden, and took came away with a box of ripe red raspberries. Already a few berries have formed on my new bushes , but I do not expect any real harvest until next year. Fifteen bushes is not a lot of berries, and I don’t see myself boiling up jars of jam, but there will be enough berries to eat fresh, and enough to freeze for future treats.

Blueberries

Blueberries under netting

The blueberries we planted in Heath over 35 years ago are still bearing generously. I assumed the soil there was sufficiently acid and so it proved. The one mistake we made was not to consider how to protect the berries from the birds. Amazingly  birds are not very interested in raspberries. We did ultimately put up a kind of netted tunnel arrangement, but it was after years of makesift netting schemes. Here in Greenfield we have arranged four bushes in a square with a planned net tent to cover them.

In 2015 we planted our potted blueberry bushes, even easier than planting bare root plants, at the end of the South Border which we hoped was sufficiently dry. We were wrong. This year we moved the four bushes which seemed healthy but had not gained much growth. We put them into the North Border which is a higher raised bed. They have gained in growth, but still no berries. I am going to spread a little Espoma Holly-tone (4-3-1) fertilizer in that bed. Earlier I spread some around my new acid-loving rhododendrons because it includes a measure of sulfur which will lower the pH of my soil. It will do the same for the blueberries. We will think positively about blueberries in 2018.

Our new town garden only has room for two edible berries, but I want to add that we planted two elderberry bushes which delight the bees when they are in bloom, and the birds when they bear their berries in late summer. That is all we require of them. However, the small berries these easy care shrubs produce can be eaten by humans as well especially if you are interested in making elderberry syrup to stave off winter colds and the flu, or elderberry jam, or elderberry wine.

My neighbor's thornless blackberries

My neighbor’s thornless blackberries

When we were in Heath, the house came with a wickedly thorny blackberry patch, but a Greenfield neighbor has thornless blackberries supported by her back fence. They are delicious out of hand, but can be turned into wonderful jam or jelly. Nourse Farms offers five varieties that will bear fruit at the end of July and into September. These berries need a lot more room than other bramble fruits. They should be planted three to four feet apart, with three yards between the rows. They would benefit by being given the support of a larger T-trellis than is needed for regular raspberries. Or you can provide stabilizing wires to hold them against a sturdy fence as my neighbor has done. They need soil with a pH of 6.5-6.8.

We are fortunate to live where we have access to a wonderful berry farm like Nourse Farms in Whately where we can get a large selection of berry plants and a large selection of cultivars with good advice about planting and harvesting.

Between the Rows   July 15, 2017

Tranquility in the Shade

The Cathedral Walk

Cathedral Walk at Mt. Cuba Center

The Master Gardeners organized a wonderful garden tour to Philadelphia and environs.  Both Chanticleer and the Mt.CubaCenter gave us the shade of a woodland and I am so glad both were included.

The first garden we went to was Chanticleer. Once the Rosengarten estate, it opened as a public garden in 1993. I had expected lush, but neat beds of exotic flowers, but what I found at Chanticleer was a peaceful garden with large potted plants in the terraces around the house, a vegetable garden that donated its produce to the local food bank, and sunny “wildflower” hills with paths that led down to shady woodlands,. That shade was especially welcome on what was the hottest day of our tour.

Drinking fountain

Artistic drinking fountain

One of the design and functional elements in the garden that provided sustainability for visitors was the presence of drinking fountains! It has been a long time since I have seen drinking fountains in public spaces and to find drinking water on a blistering hot day was a blessing.

In addition we found beautiful handmade bridge railings and benches for moments to rest and enjoy the tranquility of the shade. Every sense was engaged, the whisper of the breezes in the trees, the play of light and shadow over the green plantings, and the quieting of busy thoughts.

Though the woodlands provided green shade there was color like the Indian pinks which were actually red with a touch of yellow, and buttery yellow corydalis.

On our second day we traveled to the Mt.Cuba Center where our group spent most of our time in a shady woodland. When the Copeland family bought this land it was always their intent “to be a place where people will learn to appreciate our native plants and to see how these plants can enrich their lives so that they, in turn, will become conservators of our natural habitats.” It was just a joy to wander through the woodland filled with rhododendrons beneath tall tulip poplars that had been limbed up so high that the effect was of strolling past pillars and down a cathedral aisle.

One of the trees had been trimmed with a “coronet cut” which means that instead of just slicing off the top of a damaged tree, the cut imitated the irregular way a tree might have been naturally damaged and broken. That natural cut causes a faster rotting process that attracts birds and insects, a kind of conservation that goes beyond just caring for plants on the ground.

As we walked along the light and shade would alter and shift providing enough sunlight to allow plants to thrive and bloom.

Oakleaf hydrangea blossom close up

Oakleaf hydrangea blossom close up

There were many native oakleaf hydrangeas in the woodland. Our guide pointed out that the ray flowers, what we think of as real flowers, are only intended to attract insects to the tiny ‘true’ flowers which is where the nectar and pollen are located. I am going to examine the hydrangeas I planted to see if these hybrids provide the same temptations to pollinators. I had wanted to buy at least one oakleaf hydrangea for our South Border, but I could not find one locally in 2015 – and I was too impatient to wait another season to plant.

Pondside primroses and ferns

Pondside primroses and ferns

One path led to a series of ponds that reflected the dappled sunlight and the surrounding trees. I was fascinated and inspired to see primroses, irises and ferns living on the banks of the ponds, as well as other unidentified water-loving plants. I began to think this was the answer to our question of how to handle the edges of the “dry stream bed” we are creating as part of our flood management plan.

Pitcher plants

Pitcher Plants

One pond included a boggy section that was planted with pitcher plants. Pitcher plants are carnivorous plants that lure insects that drown in its fluids. The insects decay  and the enzymes produced by the plant allow the plant to absorb all the nutrients. These are fascinating plants and always exciting to young children who visit the garden.

I was paying particular attention to low growing plants because our low maintenance garden strategy is to have large shrubs, low ground covers and a few flowering perennials and annuals to provide color. We saw large areas of pachysandra procumbens, a native plant also known as Allegheny spurge. It looks a lot like the pachysandra we see in so many gardens, and it produces small fragrant blossoms in the spring, but the leaves are not as shiny.

Green and gold, Chrysogonum virginiana, is only six inches tall but the small yellow flowers bloom in spring and fall. It likes moist shade, and is hardy in Greenfield. I have not seen this used locally, but I will be on the watch, and will be checking the offerings at Nasami Farm, the native plant nursery in Whately.

There was so much to see at these two gardens that included sunny and formal areas as well as the woodlands, but it was thought-provoking to consider that these two families were thinking of the importance of native plants and conservation, long before popular garden books, magazines, and even botanical gardens stressed the importance of these issues. Visiting these gardens give us examples of beauty that can inspire us as we consider changes in our own gardens. And there are always changes in our gardens.

Between the Rows   July 8, 2017