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Pondering Pickles and Other Preservation Techniques

 

Canning Display at Franklin County Fair

Canning Display at Franklin County Fair

Harvest season is upon us. This is the reward of summer-long labors. I’ve been talking to neighbors who are canning dilly beans and corn, making peach jam and drying herbs. One neighbor is seeing what she can rescue from the late blight that is hitting many tomato patches in the area. Harvest time can be hectic when so much produce is coming in at the same time.

I don’t do much canning any more. I depend more on the freezer, and a cold closet where I store winter squash. However, this week I tried out a new recipe for a turnip and beet pickle from my Ottolenghi Jerusalem cookbook. Delicious, and I don’t think I will have any trouble finishing the jar within the month – as recommended.

I always admire the canning display at the Heath Fair and the even bigger display at the Franklin County Fair. Those sparkling jars of beets, tomatoes and corn, of relishes and jams glowing with color and flavor are so inspiring. I am reminded of all the canning my Aunt Ruth did back in the 40s and 50s, turning the basement into Ali Baba’s cave. I also remember hot summer days and making sure I stayed out of the steaming kitchen with its bowls of produce and boiling kettles.

Preparing for the Fair and reading about the root cellar workshop that was held at the Bullitt Reservation in Ashfield last weekend (unfortunately I was not able to attend) I got to thinking about the many ways food has been preserved over the ages. It is all very well to invent agriculture, but even that will only take you so far. Winter comes and the fields are covered with snow. How did the ancients preserve food?

One of the oldest methods of preserving food was drying. Dried grains have been found in ancient Egyptian and Chinese tombs. Most of us don’t dry grains anymore, but it is easy to dry beans and store them for the winter. I know people who air dry apple rings, and others who now use dehydrators. The skill of drying food has come a long way since 3500 B.C. when all you had was the sun and breeze, to the 21st century when you can have a little electric dehydrator on your kitchen counter.

Once fire was invented drying meat and fish took on the extra dash of smoking, adding an interesting flavor to the drying process.

Fermenting was also an early food preservation technique that resulted in the happy invention of beer and wine, but also the fermented milk drinks of Asia. We must also remember that when Johnny Appleseed was making his rounds his apple trees were intended to make cider. Hard cider. Fermented apple juice. Cider could be much more reliable than water for safe drinking in those days.

It is interesting to think how the ancients learned the rules of fermentation, and how to control the process for ever better flavor. In fact for every development in food preservation there must have been careful observation, and perhaps deliberate experimentation to make these techniques work dependably. They may not have come up with any ideas about the microbial action that caused spoiling, but they could observe that certain actions kept food edible for a longer period of time, as well as adding new flavors.

Pickling was also invented and used in ancient times. The first pickles were a product of fermenting. Real Pickles in our own neighborhood uses the ancient techniques of fermentation to make their array of pickles. I also have friends who make their own sauerkraut, another fermented food.

Most of us these days use vinegar to make our dilly beans or bread and butter pickles, or chow chow relish. When was vinegar invented? First you needed wine, but the discovery that spoiled wine could be useful was not far behind. Legend has it that 5000 years ago the Sumerians used vinegar as a cleaning agent as well as food preservative and condiment. Caesar’s armies drank vinegar and hot and thirsty 17th century colonists drank switchel, water, vinegar and a sweetener like honey, or maple syrup.

Heath root cellar - end of season

Heath root cellar – end of season

Another of the simplest ancient ways of preserving food is cooling, as Emmet Van Driesche explained at the Bullitt Reservation. Here in Heath we had a Cellars and Cave Tour this past spring, organized by the Heath Agricultural Society. We got to see how several of our Heath neighbors set up root cellars in their basements without the work and expense of digging a root cellar. The trick is to maintain temperatures above freezing and below 40 degrees.

My Uncle Wally and Aunt Ruth had a big root cellar on their Vermont farm. When we bought a house in Maine there was a root cellar set up in the basement, equipped with rat traps. In confusion and dismay I asked Uncle Wally what I should do? “Set the traps,” he growled. We never used the traps or the root cellar because we moved to New York before the harvest was in.

Nowadays my own food preservation activities are limited. We hardly heat our upstairs (I require a cold bedroom for sleeping) and the guest room closet works well for storing cured butternut winter squash. There is the freezer for green beans and berries. Obviously I am lucky that I am not dependent on my own labors for fruit, vegetables and condiments to feed me during the cold season of winter.

Are you putting by any of your harvest?

Between the Rows    September 6, 2014

You Could Be a Master Gardener

Master Gardener Judy Gatland

Master Gardener Judy Gatland photo Jessica Schultz/Hitchcock Center

Over 200 Master Gardeners are volunteering their knowledge and energy up and down the PioneerValley. You might have called upon them to test your soil at local Farmer’s Markets, or found them answering questions at the Big E in Springfield and the Little E in Greenfield, or working at Wisteriahurst in Holyoke, the Bridge of Flowers in ShelburneFalls, or various community gardens as well as at other locations. I am personally grateful for the three Spring Symposia they arrange every year that bring inspiring speakers, and knowledgeable workshop leaders to get us all ready for the growing season.

Where do these Master Gardeners come from? Have they studied for years at educational institutions? Or have they learned everything they know in their own little garden? Neither! Some may have taken biology or horticulture classes somewhere along the line, and have some experience in their own gardens, but it takes 60 hours of classes on every subject from soils, composting, annuals and perennials, lawns, pruning shrubs and trees, pesticides, native plants and other topics between January and April. These classes are taught by faculty from the University of Massachusetts and Mt.Holyoke and Smith Colleges, and other local experts like Eric Toensmeier, author of Paradise Lot and Perennial Vegetables.

Ron Kujawski who retired from the UMass Extension Service will be on hand with information about diagnosing plant problems and pruning. For those of us who can’t attend Master Gardener training he has also written an excellent book, Week by Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook, with his daughter Jennifer. I am so appreciative of this book which is useful to new and experienced gardeners.

Judy Gatland of Sunderland had always been interested in gardening and cared for perennial beds around her house, but with family and work as a computer systems analyst she didn’t have the time to devote herself to a large garden. Then came that happy moment when she retired. Gatland wanted to learn more about gardening, and she wanted to share her new knowledge.

“I had a couple of friends who were Master Gardeners, so I vaguely knew about the program, but it was when I saw a notice in the newspaper that I decided to sign up. It was the idea of educating other gardeners that really appealed to me, she said. “I found they don’t need people with a lot of horticultural information. They want people who are willing to learn and willing to share – to go out and talk to people at Farmer’s Markets and places like that.”

One of the places Gatland has found to share information is the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls. “I love being on the Bridge; it is so beautiful. And I really enjoy talking to the visitors on the Bridge. They come from all over the country – and all over the world. Most of their questions are pretty basic and it feels good to be able to answer them.”

She also works in the Butterfly Garden at the Hitchcock Center for the Environment in Amherst. This garden which supplies nectar for the butterflies, and the Caterpillar Garden which supplies food for caterpillars have been tended by the Master Gardeners, and others, for nearly 20 years.

Gatland explained that after the 60 hours of training and instruction, interns are paired with an experienced Master Gardener for the 60 hours of required volunteering. New Master Gardeners aren’t sent out alone. “I felt so inadequate when I began my volunteering, but it is OK to say I don’t know. There is also a telephone hotline and now that so many people have smart phones it’s easy to call back with an answer pretty quickly.”

The Master Gardeners of Western Massachusetts will have a booth at the Franklin County Fair. This is a place for questions. You can ask them questions, but they might have some fun questions for you too.

Would you like to be the one answering garden questions? Applications to the program are due by October 1. You still have some time to get ready for new friends and rewarding work.
Tuition for the course is $300 and by completing the training in one growing season, a candidate qualifies for a rebate of $75 on the course. For more information about the course and class experience and to download the application materials, visit the website http://www.wmmga.org/class-of-2015. For further inquiries or to receive an application by mail, please call Laura at 413-743-7976 or email laura.dumouchel@gmail.com. Applications are due by October 1, 2014. 

Between the Rows   August 30, 2014

Weeds in My Garden

 

nettles and jewelweed

Nettles and Jewelweed

Weeds. The weeds are thriving in my garden. In the middle of August when we are getting ready for the Heath Fair there is no longer even a pretense that I am keeping up with the weeds. This week I am resolved to begin a major weeding.

One friend I met at the Fair said she had given up weeding for the season and would worry about it next spring. I understand the feeling, but there is a benefit to weeding in late summer and fall. As I walk around the garden I can see the weeds setting seed. If I can pull those weeds now before the seeds disperse I can reduce the number of  weeds sprouting in the spring.

I made a little catalog of the weeds in my garden this fall. To begin with, in the corner of the Potager, behind my two compost piles are giant nettles and jewelweed. These are two of the most easily identified weeds. People learn to identify stinging nettles pretty quick, after only one or two run-ins.

Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) spread by rhizomes and by seeds. A double threat invasive weed. It is growing beyond its typical 6 foot height by the compost piles because nettles need good soil. Fortunately, they also make good compost fodder. They are rich in iron, calcium, magnesium and nitrogen. Cut up the tall stalk and put them in your compost pile. Or you can make a fertilizer tea by chopping up the stalk and putting them in a pail, weighting them down and filling the pail with water. Put them aside for two or three weeks then use dilutions of this tea as fertilizer in the garden.

You can also make a tea for yourself from a couple of nettle leaves. Don’t let it steep too long or it will be bitter. I haven’t ever eaten nettles, but they are edible and can be used much as spinach is. I’m saving that experiment for another day.

Jewelweed

Jewelweed

Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), which is often found growing near nettles, is recognizable because of its spotted golden orange flowers and the milky juice from its tender stems. Jewelweed got its common name from the way that water beads up on its leaves, not because the flowers look so jewel-like (to me) in the sun. It thrives in sun or shade, and spreads by seed. Some people grow it on purpose! It is very pretty.

Butterflies and hummingbirds are attracted to jewelweed. Children, parents and hikers like jewelweed because the juicy sap relieves the itch of nettles, insect bites and poison ivy. Native Americans had all kinds of medicinal uses for jewelweed.

Jewelweed is easy to pull up, and it can go onto the compost pile, although it will not add quite the nutritious wallop as nettles.

Milkweed has been getting lots of attention recently because it is an important food source for Monarch butterfly caterpillars. The Monarch population has been under siege for a number of years because of the loss of its tropical habitats. We used to have great clouds of Monarchs visit the end of the road where we had large stands of mint in the field. Mint is a nectar source for the butterflies. When hoping to attract butterflies we have to remember that we need to provide foliage for caterpillar food and nectar plants for the butterflies themselves.

I did see some butterflies on the milkweed blossoms this year, but only a lone Monarch or two anywhere in the garden or field.

I sacrificed my sugar snap pea bed to milkweed this year. We do not have a lot of milkweed in our fields so I thought I would let these milkweeds grow and then I would take the ripe seed pods out of the garden and release the seed in the fields. Next year I want to eat sugar snaps.

The pale green milkweed seed pods are fat and pretty, as is the silky floss that carries the seeds on the wind. That floss has been used to stuff pillows and mattresses. When we lived in New York City I did some research on herbs at the big New York Library on Fifth Avenue. It was there I found a book that said during World War II there was a shortage of material to stuff life jackets for sailors. The government turned to people in the country to collect milkweed floss as a substitute. It seems that milkweed floss is six times as buoyant as cork!

Galinsoga

Galinsoga

Hairy galinsoga is another rapacious weed in my garden. This is an annual weed that spreads by seed, and can actually seed several generations in one growing season. My excellent book, Weeds of the Northeast by Richard Uva, Joseph Neal and Joseph DiTomaso, says “it is one of the most difficult to control weeds of vegetable crops. . . . usually found on fertile soils.”  Well, I’m glad it’s presence in my garden indicates that I have fertile soil, but I have it growing in the vegetable garden, and most especially in the herb and flower beds.  Galinsoga is erect with branching stems, ovate, toothed leaves and tiny five rayed petals around a yellow disk. A single plant “can produce up to 7500 seeds.”

Galinsoga is listed on the online Invasive Plant Atlas so I throw the galinsoga into the compost pile and so far I haven’t found anyone with anything good to say about this weed.

I have lots of other weeds in my garden, lady’s bedstraw, pigweed, burdock, wild mustard, and more, but I prefer not to think of them today.

ALERT and CORRECTION 

My column in The Recorder last week got many responses, from people who couldn’t believe I let my nettles get so out of control (they have since been pulled out) and others who just wanted to commiserate and talk about their own weeds. I also got a warning Saturday morning from my good neighbor Rol Hesselbart, known locally as the Garlic King. He said no one should ever put galinsoga on their compost pile. Galinsoga seeds are so vital that they will not be killed by the composting process because most compost does not get hot enough. Then wherever you use the compost it will carry all those still vital galinsoga seeds. I have taken his advice to heart, because he knows his weeds as well as he knows his garlic. I now have a Weed Pile near the Burn Pile. We must all pay attention. Do you think he is angling for the title of Weed King?

Between the Rows   August 23, 2014

Container Gardening – Annuals in a Pot

Mixed annuals in  container“Container gardening is such hard work!” a friend said to me the other day. Work I thought?  A lot of thought which is in itself a lot of work, but I didn’t think that is what she meant. I soon learned that the work she had taken on was lugging  a heavy watering can to the end of a long country driveway to water a hanging basket. That is work! And it has to be done because container plants must be watered every day.

I do my container gardening right in front of the house with a few pots on the Welcoming Platform and the paved entry path. I can’t forget the containers since they are right in front of me, and a spigot and watering cans are always handy and at the ready.  What is hard for me is thinking about an interesting arrangement of plants for a single container. Pots of geraniums and petunias will never lose their classic charm, but now there are books and magazines urging one on to complex and seasonal arrangements.

I will not say I dismiss complex arrangements, but so far I am sticking with some old favorite annuals that will bloom  all summer, asking only that I keep them watered. I want my containers to give a flowery welcome to those who visit me – and indeed to myself when I come home at the end of a busy day touring around on errands or pleasure.

Visiting a garden center or nursery can be totally overwhelming. There are annuals for shade, for sun and hanging baskets. I bought some annuals at the Bridge of Flowers plant sale with the intent of planting a mixed container with an interesting and new-to-me Cuphea ‘Tiny Mice’ with its small but intensely red and purple blossoms, combined with Superbells ‘Trailing Blue’ which is really purple, and a silvery helichrysum ‘Icicles.’

I’ve planted a blue ceramic pot with a pink geranium, blue lobelia and white superbells. A good traditional combo and very pretty.

When planting a container there are a couple of things to remember. It is important to use potting soil, which is not really soil at all. This light mixture allows the plants roots to grow. Garden soil in a pot will soon bake into a very inhospitable home for plant roots.

Potting soils can be enriched with fertilizer, or not. Either way it is important to remember that flowering plants need to be fertilized on a regular basis all season long. There are many commercial fertilizers for blooming plants and they will have their own directions. All will say a dilute watering with the fertilizer weekly will work nicely. The necessary daily watering will always be washing out some of the fertilizer which is why it needs to be replenished regularly. Don’t forget to water daily. Containers dry out rapidly. Terra cotta flower pots dry out especially fast, but while plastic and resin pots hold water longer, the plants are using that water and respiring into the hot summer air. They get thirsty.

Because I am leaving room to grow there is bare soil in the cuphea pot so I am filling in bare spots with moss from my lawn. That gives the pot a finished look at this early stage in the arrangement’s life. This is a trick I learned from Gloria Pacosa who is a  great gardener and flower arranger, but I have to say she does recommend putting more plants in a pot than I can usually bring myself to do.

Petunias - root bound and unboard

Petunias – root bound and unboard

Annuals started in greenhouses early will have a pretty healthy root system by the time they arrive at the nursery. In fact, many of them will be root bound, twisted around and around their little planting pot or cell. Before I remove plants from their pots I always water them well. Then when I remove them, I break those tightly bound roots apart. I am gentle, but the torn roots will make new growth once they are put in more soil in the container. Tearing those roots apart will help get the plant off to a good start.

Breaking the roots apart is necessary whether you are putting plants in a container or in the ground. I remember the late Elsa Bakalar giving a lesson in raking a cultivator  through root bound roots of a plant she bought at a season end nursery sale. Loosening the roots is the first step to revitalizing the plant.

Because potting soil is an expense, those who use large containers for plants that don’t need all that root room have come up with some tricks. One trick was to use the plastic peanuts that come as packing material. I have tried that, but found I had a mess to deal with the following year when I wanted to reuse the pot but needed to put in new potting soil.

The trick I have found most useful is to use some of the light plastic planting trays for vegetable starts or annuals. They add no weight, but do take up some room, saving a little on potting soil.

Container plantings can be charming or exotic, full of colorful foliage or colorful flowers. They can be near the house, or exclamation points in the garden. It is all a matter of taste and desire.

Gardening with Kids – Fun and Learning

Square Foot Gardening With Kids

Square Foot Gardening With Kids

Gardening with kids is being taken to a whole new level at the HawlemontElementary School. They have received a grant that is allowing them to establish themselves as an AgricultureElementary School. This means that the schoolyard will have a variety of raised vegetable and flower beds, including a story garden that is being sponsored by the school library. But the schoolyard will also become a farmyard with a cow, sheep, goats and chickens. And yes, that means a barn and chicken coop.

Jean Bruffee currently teaches second grade, but next year she will be the Coordinator of the HAY (Hawlemont Agriculture Youth) program. When I spoke to her she said, “Every grade will have an agriculture class every week next year, and children will have chores. We are already putting up hooks for the farm clothes, and they’ll also get a pair of farm boots.” But she explained that studies will also include environmental and sustainability issues. “The barn will have a weather station,” she said.

She also assured me that while the animals will go back to their home farms in the summer, families and teachers are making commitments to care for the gardens during the summer vacation.

Working with our children in a home garden can be a lot of fun, but sometimes it is hard to gauge what children can understand or how far their capabilities might extend. To help parents and friends make a start two new books came out this spring to provide help and inspiration.

Square Foot Gardening With Kids

Those who are familiar with Mel Bartholomew’s unique Square Foot Gardening techniques may be surprised to see how they can lead children not only into a successful garden, but into science and math understanding. Bartholomew’s new book Square Foot Gardening with Kids (Cool Springs Press $24.99) begins with a sensible overview of how to use the book with different age groups, and continues with basic information for all.

Of course, there will be a square foot raised bed box. Immediately we are thrust into a world of fractions. It doesn’t take long to be immersed in a project that requires information, thought, and decisions. The square foot bed needs to be filled with soil, a soil that will provide the nutrition that plants need to thrive. Bartholomew has his own soil mix recipe that he recommends, but on this point I think I recommend loam mixed with a really good helping of compost.

Experienced gardeners are so used to reading catalogs and seed packets, making a planting plan considering the arc of the sun and shadow patterns, maintaining a compost pile, making a trellis or two to save room and deciding what to plant and how to arrange the plants in a rotation, that we forget these acts and decisions require a lot of scientific information that is all new to children. Gardening is not just a physical act, it is an intellectual challenge, there is so much to know and consider. I’m still working on the intellectual challenges in my own garden!

Bartholomew’s book will be valuable to parents, but it will also intrigue children with various experiments, making functional trellises, and even a season-extending plastic dome. A final section gives growing information about the most common herbs and vegetables. Advice to any new gardener, child or adult, is to keep the beginning small so that it does not overwhelm.

Gardening Lab for Kids

Gardening Lab For Kids

Gardening Lab For Kids

While Square Foot Gardening for Kids is mostly geared to school age children, Gardening Lab for Kids: 52 Fun Experiments by Renata Fossen Brown (Quarry Books ($24.99) is designed to help the parents of young children find their way into the garden with a series of discrete projects. A list of the short chapters shows the variety of approaches from Planting Spring Seeds, Make a Rain Gauge, Plant an Herb Spiral, Make a Bird Feeder and Make a Sweet Pea Teepee.

The 52 projects are simple, requiring very few materials. The potato tower is made from old tires, a bug net is a piece of tulle transformed with a wire coat hanger, a nesting material apparatus for the birds requires only a whisk and the materials, and a pollinator palace is made of bricks, pegboard and twigs. Lot of science in all these projects for any age child.

Fossen knows that the value of a garden is not only in the various practical functions it serves, but in the space it provides for imagination and rest. Suggestions are made for a fairy garden. I’m wondering whether great-granddaughters Bella and Lola might think the privacy under the weeping birch is a good place for a fairy garden. Fossen also suggests a place to sit and admire the garden. Sitting peacefully and admiring the garden is something we adult gardeners might need some help with. There is more to a garden than chores.

Fossen is the Associate Director of Education at the ClevelandBotanical Garden where thousands of children come with their classes or with parents to learn about butterflies and pollinators and all kinds of plants so she is familiar with the many tactile ways children engage with nature and a garden.

Do you have kids in your life that you might lead down the garden path regularly, or from time to time? Help and inspiration is at hand.

Between the Rows  May 17, 2014

Plant Sales in the Spring

The Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale is Today, Saturday, May 17, 9 am – noon.  Don’t Be Late.

Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale perennials

Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale perennials

Plant sales are a sure sign that spring is here. When spring arrives plans and projects to spruce up our outdoor spaces, in our yards and in our towns, are set in motion. The Bridge of Flowers is a big beautiful public space, but other public spaces are getting their spruce up, too.

The Bridge of Flowers is one of the notable tourist attractions of the region. Certainly it has the most flowers per square foot anywhere. It is a joy – and an education – for the local residents who get to cross the Bridge regularly on their daily rounds. For the thousands of tourists who come from as far away as China, it is an unforgettable wonder and marvel.

This year the Bridge got a new bench designed and built by John Sendelbach whose studio is on the Buckland side of the Bridge. It was very exciting to have it rolled down the street, across the Bridge and into its place on the Shelburne side of the Bridge. That corner of the Bridge garden is definitely spruced up.

Another Bridge spruce up is not quite so visible.

As a member of the Bridge of Flowers committee and the monitor of the BOF email, one of the most frequent questions I get is ‘When is the best time to visit the Bridge?’ My answer is always, ‘It depends on what kind of flowers you like best.” The Bridge opens on April 1 when only the earliest crocuses are blooming but by mid-May there are tulips, daffodils, scillas, snowflakes, hyacinths, bloodroot, jack-in-the-pulpit, blooming trees like cherry and magnolia, and a variety of annuals from pansies to peturnias and osteospermums. More annuals will be added over the next few weeks.

By June the Bridge is in the full and glorious bloom that we promise everyone.  And it remains in full and glorious bloom into October when frost usually kills many bloomers, but there are always a few plants in flower after the Bridge officially closes on October 30.

But now anyone can check the bloom seasons because new pages on the spruced up website (www.bridgeofflowersmass.org) list all the hundreds of blooming bulbs, trees, shrubs, and perennials in their season.  You will be astonished by the variety of bloom when you look at the list, which will soon include some photographs as well. For those who would like to take a virtual walk through the seasons on the Bridge of Flowers they can scroll through the posts for the past year on Facebook. Just remember every year is a little different. We are all complaining this year about the long cold spring that has made many plants decide to sleep a little longer than usual.

Greenfield Garden Club

I am also a member of the Greenfield Garden Club, and our efforts to beautify and educate the community are not always so visible because they are more dispersed.

One of our most important projects is giving grants to schools for garden projects. This year Mohawk High School, as well as schools in Leverett, Shutesbury, Gill, Conway, Colrain, Heath, Leyden, the 8th grade at Greenfield High School, and the Wheeler Library in Orange have been awarded funding for projects as various as an edible garden, a greenhouse project and a Monarch Waystation.  I have served on the grant committee and it is always inspiring to see the ways that teachers fit gardens into various parts of the curriculum, and the fun the students have as they learn and gain some very practical skills.

In addition the Greenfield Garden Club works with the DPW and the Greenfield Rejuvenators, a community group devoted to the beautification of downtown. The garden club is funding the planting of containers on the medians on Main Street, Bank Row and Deerfield Street.  Greenfield is getting a lot of sprucing up and the garden club is a part of that.

So how do the Bridge of Flowers and the Greenfield Garden Club fund these worthy projects? They organize plant sales!

The Greenfield Garden Club Annual Extravaganza will take place today, Saturday, May 10 from 8 am until 1 pm at the TrapPlainGarden at the intersection of Federal Silver Streets. This garden is maintained by club members. Today it will also be filled with potted perennials for sale, as well as a selection of annuals and hanging baskets from Spatcher Farms. Just in time for Mother’s Day. There will also be a raffle of garden related items like tools, and a tag sale where you can find some real bargains for the garden.

The Bridge of Flowers Annual Plant Sale will be held on Saturday, May 17 from 9 am til noon. In addition to perennials off the Bridge, there will be a wide assortment of annuals from LaSalles, wildflowers from Hillside Nursery, vendors selling tools, books, and other garden related items. Shoppers will also be able to refresh themselves with a snack and drink from the food table. This is the single fundraising event for the Bridge.

The Greenfield Garden Club and the Bridge of Flowers Committee are both committed to making our communities more beautiful. Making them more beautiful also makes them more attractive to visitors, and to businesses.  So, shop at the plant sales and beautify your own landscape, and beautify the community at the same time. ###

Between the Rows   May 10, 2014

Seeking Spring at the Leonard J. Buck Garden in NJ

 

Leonard J. Buck Garden

Leonard J. Buck Garden

I went to New Jersey, the Garden State, to search for spring and found it at the Leonard J. Buck Garden in Far Hills. My brother Tony and his wife Joan took us to the 29 acre garden which was originally part of Mr. Buck’s estate. In the 1930s Buck began working with Zenon Schreiber, a well-known landscape architect, to create a naturalistic garden that incorporated the various rock outcroppings, the sinuous Moggy Brook and two ponds.

I was searching for spring, but she was elusive, even in the Buck Garden which is, to a large extent, a spring garden. Trees were barely leafing out, it was too early for the groves and allees of azalea and rhododendron that would be spectacular by the end of May, and even the large patches of primroses were not blooming. What we did find were certain rocky areas in bloom that seemed to encourage us and remind us that spring was finally on her way.

The stone outcroppings vary in size and height, creating different microclimates. My sister-in-law- Joan and I spent a lot of time that day talking about and marveling at the power of microclimates. For example the primroses in the large boggy sections of the garden were almost entirely without bloom because this garden has also been having a very cool spring. And yet, nestled against the Big Rock stone cliff primroses were blooming happily in the sun.

Growing among the soil pockets were a number of colorful spring bloomers from the delicate red and yellow native columbine, brilliant basket-of-gold, petite iris reticulata, epimediums, barren strawberry, trillium, bluets, familiar creeping phlox, bleeding hearts and small narcissus like ‘Jack Snipe.’

It does not take long for most of us to identify the microclimates in our own gardens, and learn to take advantage of those spots where a plant will be protected from the wind, or where stone might act as a heat collector as well as a wind barrier. In those protected spots we can grow plants that are marginally hardy in our zone, or get earlier bloom.

Hellebores at the Leonard J. Buck garden

Hellebores at the Leonard J. Buck garden

There were various plantings of pink or white Helleborus orientalis or Lenten rose. I first became familiar with these lush early bloomers on the Bridge of Flowers. Last year when I attended the opening of the newly redesigned Monks Garden at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Michael Van Valkenburg promised that this spring the garden would be ‘crazy with hellebores’ which had been planted, along with ferns and shiny European ginger, under the new young trees.

One of the pleasures of visiting the Buck garden is the ability to see closeup woodland plants that you don’t often find in cultivated gardens. There were trilliums, red and white, just coming into bloom, guinea hen fritillarias, and sunny marsh marigolds that shone in a boggy spot.

Another sunny plant that stopped us was a clump of yellow flowers with sharply recurved petals, and mottled leaves. I couldn’t remember their scientific name (Erythronium americanum) but thought they were trout lilies. I pointed out the mottled leaves to Tony and Joan, explaining that they could be said to resemble the markings on brown trout. I thought they were also known as dogtooth violets even though they are not violets and do not resemble dog’s teeth in any way. Of course, later we had to do some research, and I was correct as far as I went. We learned the dog’s tooth refers to the little corm from which it grows.

Trout Lilies at Leonard J. Buck Garden

Trout Lilies at Leonard J. Buck Garden

Later in the day, at another garden, we saw a similar clump of flowers I thought were trout lilies again, but the petals were not curved back. We looked all over for a label, but only found one that said Bletilla striata. More research. These were trout lilies, but we learned it takes strong sun to make the petals curve back. Bletilla striata is a small purple ground orchid. No purple flowers of any kind were in sight. Which just goes to show you have to be careful when looking at plant labels. The plant they refer to may not yet be blooming, or the label may have been moved, but not with any accuracy.

While doing this trout lily research I also learned that every part of the plant is edible. One warning. I can’t anyone would actually manage to eat a large number, but in large amounts trout lilies act as an emetic. However a few blossoms to brighten up a salad will not hurt.

Most of us will never have enough trout lilies to take up roasting and eating the little corms. They are very slow growing. It takes seven years for a plant to mature, bloom and begin to reproduce. Mostly they increase by runners, not by seed. If you find a colony in a damp humusy woodland it is likely to be quite old. I prefer to just admire them because they are so lovely.

New Jersey has quite a number of public gardens that are a part of the park system. After we left the Buck Garden, and refreshed ourselves with a hearty lunch, we went on to Willowwood Arboretum, New Jersey’s largest (130 acres) and longest continually operating arboretum. You will hear more about the gardens there, as well as the trees, in the future.

Between the Rows  May 3, 2014

Groundbreaking Food Gardens by Niki Jabbour

Groundbreaking Food Gardens

Groundbreaking Food Gardens

Groundbreaking Food Gardens is a great book to take new vegetable gardeners into an exciting and varied garden world this very long slow cold spring.

The snow is finally gone, even here in Heath, and bulbs are blooming and tender shoots are evident all through the perennial beds. I can finally think about the vegetable garden.

I actually have two vegetable gardens. One is very small. The Front Garden, or Early Garden, as I sometime call it, is right in front of the east end of the house. It consists of two beds, about 32 inches by 9 feet, separated by a woodchip path. This is where I plant the hardiest crops, seeds and seedlings. They are easy to remember right in front of the house, small enough to weed in the few odd minutes I spend surveying them every day, and easy to keep watered because an outdoor spigot is right near by.

The other garden is located at the end of the Rose Walk enclosed by a tall chicken wire fence to keep the deer out. It is not very lovely but I call it the Potager, a French word for a beautifully designed kitchen garden that includes flowers and herbs. My potager includes red raspberries, vegetables, a few herbs and annual flowers, but it is not beautifully designed.

While any well kept vegetable garden is a thing of beauty, most people did not think about vegetable gardens in terms of beautiful design until recently. Niki Jabbour, author of The Year Round Vegetable Gardener, appealed to 73 gardeners/garden writers of every variety to design and describe all manner of edible gardens. The result is Groundbreaking Food Gardens: 73 Plans that Will Change the Way You Grow Your Garden published by Storey.

When I emailed Jabbour to ask why she wrote this book she replied, “As a gardener, I’m always curious about what other gardeners are doing and growing in their own plots. This book is the result of that curiosity and I hope that gardeners will find it full of useful tips, techniques, plans and ideas that can be used to boost productivity, add diversity and encourage pollinators and beneficial insects in their own gardens. The many contributors generously shared their expertise with me and I hope that gardeners will benefit from their experiences. Personally, I’m in the middle of a re-shuffling of my garden layout that is a direct result of writing this book. I’m picking elements from many of the plans to make my garden more beautiful and productive.”

This book certainly looks at gardens from every angle.  Do you live in a town or city? Check out Theresa Loe’s Urban Homestead. Do you have land for a garden like Jennifer Bartley’s American potager, or is your garden space limited and containers are your only planting plots? See what Renee Shepherd and Beth Benjamin can grow in containers. Do you want to preserve your harvest? Daniel Gasteiger has a plan for a canner’s garden. Do you want a garden where you can entertain guests over fancy libations? Look no farther than Amy Stewart and Susan Morrison’s cocktail garden.

What are your edible passions? Chilis? Figs? Herbs? Italian vegetables? Asian vegetables? There is a garden for every taste. Literally.

Each garden comes with a bright plan illustrated by Anne Smith, Elayne Sears or Mary Ellen Carsley, plant lists, and explanations of why each gardener grows certain plants, and why they avoid certain plants. Nan Chase has a beautiful and varied front and side yard garden with fruit trees, herbs, blueberries, vegetables and flowers, but she never grows zucchini, squash and cucumbers because of bugs and powdery mildew, and she says she gets lots of tomatoes from all her friends so she doesn’t grow her own.

I was particularly taken with Ellen Eckert Ogden’s Formal Kitchen Garden even though there is no chance I will ever have such an elegant garden. Ogden lives in Vermont so I feel a sentimental connection, having spent some of my young years on a farm outside Burlington. Her design is 30 by 35 feet, which means it could fit into almost any backyard. She is a cook as well as a gardener so her garden surrounds a picnic table.

Although raised beds have become popular Ogden prefers soil level beds because she finds it is easier to “add compost, plant cover crops, and work the earth . . . and harder to do with a raised bed.

When faced with a big rack of colorful seed packets it is hard to narrow down what to plant. Ogden begins by thinking what she most likes to eat, but also what is most expensive to buy. What is most delicious when it is really fresh? Lettuce and other salad greens! Gourmet beans like ‘Fin de Bagnol’ bush bean and ‘Kwintus’ an early pole bean.

Her garden also includes bright varieties of sunflowers and edible little ‘Lemon Gem’ marigolds that add some sunshine to a salad.

As I looked through the different plans I saw changes I would make to almost every one. It can’t be helped. We each have our own tweaks that we would make. I’m never going to use ornamental evergreens as a border, but basil, parsley and bean trees make good borders. I think.

How do you design or layout your edible garden? What are your favorite edibles to grow? I’d love to hear how others approach their vegetable garden. Email me at commonweeder.com and I’ll pass on your thoughts and strategies in another column.

Between the Rows  April 26, 2014

Fancy Foliage for the Ornamental Garden

 

Caladium 'White Christmas'

Caladium ‘White Christmas’

When people think of the ornamental garden their first thought is of flowers, but it is foliage that holds a garden together. Flowers on naked stems would not be as lovely as they are when surrounded by foliage, leaves of various shapes and in various shades of green ranging from almost white, to almost blue, to almost red, as well as deep green. We take foliage for granted, but it can be used to increase the interest of the garden and sometimes be a real show stopper.

Hostas are one of the most familiar and popular foliage plants. When on a garden tour ofSeattleand environs in 2011 I visited the amazing gardens of Michael Shadrack, author and hosta expert. In his garden the full range of hosta possibilities was on display, from the plant stand on his deck that held potted miniature hostas, to the lush beds of hostas where variegated, blue, green and chartreuse hostas mingled beneath the dappled shade of tall trees.

Shadrack explained that there are several reasons for the hostas popularity. They are easy to grow in fertile, moist-but-well-drained soil, many are hardy in our climate, they thrive in shade or part-shade and are fairly tolerant of short periods of drought or flood. They do produce flower stalks, but people usually do not grow them for the flowers. One caveat. Deer love hostas!

To illustrate the range of color and form we saw ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ that have tiny blue-green leaves. They grow in neat mounds eight inches tall and bloom in mid-summer. They grow well in containers as well as the garden. Other ‘blue’ hostas include the gigantic ‘Blue Angel,’ three feet tall and wide; and the medium sized blue ‘First Frost’ with gold margins that age to cream

An interesting 20 inch tall variegated hosta is ‘Remember Me’ which has golden centers with a green edge in spring, but changes over the season until the center is white with a narrow margin of blue green.

They grow so vigorously that hosta growers often have divisions to give away. Shadrack calls it a friendship plant because it is so easy to share.

Caladiums are another shade loving foliage plant. No flowers. This is a summer bulb that can be carried over during the winter, or you can just treat it like an annual. Last year I grew two large pots of red and green caladiums on either side of the Cottage Ornee door. I find it so hard to resist shades of red, but this year I am ordering ‘White Queen’ from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs. The large leaves are mostly white with red veins. I think the white foliage will be more attractive and more eye catching in the Cottage’s shade.

‘Moonlight’ is the whitest of the Brent and Becky caladiums, but there are others with white speckles and veins, and others in shades of green and red or pink. Caladiums are really dramatic plants that are not hard to grow. If you grow caladiums, or any plant, in a pot make sure you water the pot every day during the summer. Pots, especially terra cotta pots, dry out very quickly in summer heat and breezes.

Heucherella 'Cracked Ice' courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries

Heucherella ‘Cracked Ice’ courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries

Heucherellas are a fairly new plant on the foliage scene. Heucherellas are a cross between heucheras, coral bells, and tiarella, foam flower. I like heucherellas because they have a more substantial flower than regular coral bells. Even though they do bloom, it is the colors and markings of the foliage that attract most people. And variety there is.

Most heucherellas prefer well drained, humusy soil and some shade, but others are quite tolerant of full sun.

‘Cracked Ice is a new variety this year with blue and green toned foliage with dramatic veining. In spring and fall there is a silvery pink overlay making it very difficult to describe this dark foliaged plant.

‘Sweet Tea’ has large rich reddish foliage that darkens in the summer but then becomes paler in the fall. It is about 20 inches tall, with a spread of 28 inches, and white flowers that bloom above the foliage in June and July,.

Another new entry is ‘Fire Frost’ whose yellow foliage has a frosted red center. This is a smaller plant, only 10 inches tall and with a spread of 18 inches. It will bloom from July into September.

For a very different form of foliage there is Hakonechloa, an 18 inch ornamental grass that bends  and sways gracefully. I think has a very oriental look about it. H. Aureola was the Perennial Plant Association Plant of the year in 2009. It has become very popular, and is a lovely edging in a shady bed.

Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’ is this year’s Plant of the Year. This is another grass, but this switch grass variety is notable for its very upright five foot tall growth. It prefers sun, but can tolerate some light shade. The blue-green foliage turns golden in the fall.

Looking at the PPA Plant of the Year choice is always a good idea because they choose plants that are not only beautiful, but dependable in a wide variety of circumstances. Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ chosen in 2012 has pretty forget-me-not flowers in spring, but it is the season long frosted foliage that makes it desirable.

What plants have you chosen because of their foliage?

Between the Rows   April 12, 2014

CSA – Community Supported Agriculture is for You

Winterfare Market February, 2012

For some people the initials CSA are just another of those annoying acronyms that can make our conversations sound like an unintelligible inter-office memo. For some CSA means Community Supported Agriculture which encompasses delicious local food, help for the farmer, and a community of like-minded folk who enjoy fresh food, and enjoy knowing they are supporting farmers and farms, and the very land and environment that surrounds us.

Small farmers never think they are going to get rich doing what they love. They only hope they won’t go broke after a bad season. In the 1980s a new idea came on the scene when the first community supported agriculture farms were first organized. The idea is that people would buy shares in the farm and its harvest at the beginning of the growing year, essentially sharing the risks the farmer would face over the course of the season. Would there be flooding rains? Drought? Would blight kill all the tomatoes? Mother Nature can throw all kinds of disasters at a farmer. CSA members are essentially buying the harvest as crops are planted and becoming a part of a community – a “we’re all in this together” community sharing the risk, the worry and the joys of the farm.

When I first became aware of Community Supported Agriculture some years ago, there were not many CSA farms or people buying shares. The organizational elements were fairly standard. An individual or family would buy a share in the spring, and then as the May and June harvest started coming in they would pick up their weekly boxed or bagged share of greens, beans, radishes and vegetables of every type in season. Because man does not live by carrot alone, many CSAs also included a bouquet of summer flowers.

Now there are many more CSAs in our area. I spoke with Phil Korman, Executive Director of CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture) who said that in the three counties, Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden, in 2009 there were about 4550 farm shares sold, but in 2012 that number had increased to about 7300 farm shares sold. Some of those shares were to people outside the three counties. The expectation is that the number has continued to increase but statistics are only collected every five years. Korman pointed out that those farm shares did not include winter shares which are now available.

In fact, there are now many more kinds of CSA shares that people can buy. In addition to the regular vegetable garden shares, there are shares for meat, fish, eggs, flowers, and grain.

The last few years have seen other changes in CSA distributions. Originally, a shareholder paid up, and then picked up that share weekly at the farm. Nowadays CSA shares can be delivered to various sites including schools, retirement communities, and work sites.CooleyDickinsonHospitalallows staff to pay for their share with a payroll deduction, and the share is delivered to the hospital.  Some people share a share with a neighbor

Hager’s Farm Market and Upinngill Farm sell vouchers. The Hager vouchers are dated for use throughout the season, but they can be used at the Market on Route 2 in Shelburne with the shareholder making his own choices, for produce or pies, eggs or yogurt. Upinngill’s vouchers are not dated. Several can be used at one time. In both cases, at the Hager Farm Market and the Upinngill farmstand, the vouchers provide for a discount, so you are saving money, as well as getting wonderful produce.

There are 15 CSA farms inFranklinCounty, inGreenfield, Montague, Gill, Leyden, Colrain,Sunderland, Ashfield, Whately, and Berndarston. Each CSA farm delivers its share one day a week. All of them are now signing up shareholders for the 2014 season.

Western Massachusettshas been “an incredibly receptive community” to desiring and buying local farm products Korman said. The first local, and now longest running CSA farm is Brookfield Farm inAmherst. The first Winterfare was created inGreenfieldby volunteers just a few years ago. Now farmers plant winter storage crops for the 30 winter farmers markets that are ongoing across the state. CISA was the first non-profit organization in the state and created the Local Hero marketing project.

Currently there are 55 Local Hero restaurants using local produce for a total of about $2 million a year. There are also 240 Local Hero farms. They sold between 2002 and 2007 $4.5 million worth of farm products, but that amount has now doubled to $9 million. Food coops account for $16 million in sales. Right now in the three counties between 10%-15% of our food is fresh local food, but CISA’s goal is to have 25% of our food grown and enjoyed locally.

I was shocked that we are eating so little local food, but Korman gently pointed out that the whole population ofFranklinCountyis only half the population of the city ofSpringfield. I can see that it will be a great day when everyone inSpringfieldgets 25% of their dinners from local farms. I have to keep reminding myself that not everyone lives in our beautiful and fertile valley or near a hilltown farm where fresh food is available for a good part of the year.

It’s finally getting warmer. It’s time to think about fresh salads, grilled vegetables and corn on the cob. It’s time to think about the possibility of joining a Community Supported Agriculture farm.

You can find a full listing and information about local CSA farms on the CISA website. http://www.buylocalfood.org/buy-local/find-local/csa-farm-listing/

Between the Rows  April 5, 2014