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Earth Day 2019 – Pollinator Pathways & PV Squared

Pollinator flowers

Many pollinator flowers attract bees and butterflies

Forty-nine years ago Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson, looked at the disastrous 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, and thought that more attention needed to be paid to environmental problems. Thus he planned an Earth Day ‘national teach-in on the environment. He chose Pete McCloskey, a Republican Congressman, and Denis Hayes from Harvard to work with him creating this event. To make use of the energy of the young the date of April 22, during college vacations, was chosen.

On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans, young and old, took to the streets and auditoriums to speak about the environmental problems they faced. I was at a rally in West Hartford that day. Where were you?

By the end of that year the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had been created and the Clean AirClean Water, and Endangered Species Acts had been passed by Congress.

In 1990 Earth Day went global, and 200 million people in 141 countries participated. Today more than one billion people celebrate Earth Day and look for ways to protect our environment.

Locally, we have Nancy Hazard who has worked with many others to create Greening Greenfield (greeninggreenfieldma.org) working for a more resilient and sustainable community. In 2010 Greenfield was among the first Massachusetts communities to be awarded the Green Community designation.

The Greening Greenfield website lists many ways that we can lower our energy costs, and the programs that will help us make use of solar energy on our homes.

POLLINATOR PATHWAY

One environmental problem is the loss of many species of birds, animals and other creatures. Greening Greenfield has invited Tom Sullivan, the owner of Pollinators Welcome.com, to talk about a Pollinator Corridor. On his recent trip to Ireland he was inspired by their countrywide pollinator plan which supports pollinators that are vital to food production. He now has a vision of creating a pollinator corridor  in Greenfield. It  would begin at the pollinator garden he and Nancee Bershoff designed in front of the Zon Center and planted with the help of many volunteers to the Energy Park. To celebrate Earth Day h will speak at the John Zon Community Center on Saturday, April 20, from 1-4 p.m.

DRAWDOWN

Another Greening Greenfield Earth Day event is a discussion of Drawdown: The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming edited by Paul Hawken to be held on Monday, June 3, 2019 at the Greenfield Library. This is an amazing book that devotes two pages to each of the 100 challenges that would reduce global warming.

Some of those challenges quickly come to mind: composting, heat pumps, mass transit, green roofs and more. Some are surprising. Think of Managed Grazing that by 2050 could result in 16.34 gigatons of reduced CO2, at the net cost of $50.5 billion and with $735.3 billion in net savings! I saw this system used on the Sidehill Farm some years ago and I saw the value to the cows, and to the improved  soil and forage, but did not recognize the benefit to the environment.

Readers can choose the fields they are most interested in so the book is not intimidating. Hazard said “This is an opportunity for collective learning. We learn what is sustainable together.” She added that the book is available through our library system.

PV SQUARED

PV Squared

Owner-workers and workers at PV Squared

I called PV Squared to find out the impact of their work. The company was founded in 2002 by four owner-workers; today they have 44 workers, with 29 owner-workers. There are many ways to define sustainability. PV Square has always created sustainable, living wage jobs and worked to strengthen the local economy.

I spoke to Anna Manello who said “Since 2002, the electricity generated from all of the solar systems we’ve installed is 54,812,000 kW hours of electricity, which is equivalent to an estimated 38,760 Metric Tons of Carbon Dioxide!”  Another way of thinking about it is 4,361,467 gallons of gasoline used or 4,942,423,440 smart phones recharged.

Manello also told me that they have worked with Habitat for Humanity, installing solar systems on eight local projects including houses on Deerfield Street. Four more projects are in the offing. Their work with Habitat not only sequesters CO2, it provides a sustainable home for a family.

There are other organizations that make our area more sustainable. Just Roots supplies organically grown food that provides food security for many families. They just installed a 9.1 kW array of solar panels for sustainability.

Greenfield Community College teaches an array of classes that include concepts and principles in ecology including ecosystems, population, food production, energy, pollution, technology, and resource depletion.

Community Involved with Sustaining Agriculture  (CISA)  helps farmers with the business of farming. It also partners with others like the University of Massachusetts Extension Service to teach sustainable agricultural practices.

Earth Day is a day to recognize the challenges to our environment, and to encourage the ways we can each work every day to protect our environment.

Between the Rows   April 20, 2019

Rebirth of a Community Garden – John Zon Community Garden

Pleasant Street Community gardener

Eveline Macdougall with some of the lively Pleasant Street Community Gardeners

In 1997 Eveline Macdougall visited the Great Falls Community Garden in Turners Falls. She looked at that garden, and thought of all the gardens her family had grown. She thought about her own frustrations trying to ‘squeeze plants into tiny outdoor spaces while longing for a real garden.’ Then inspired by the Great Falls garden she turned to her friend Suzette Snow-Cobb who helped start the Great Falls garden for advice.

Macdougall then began creating a community garden by talking to people, and finding the right people to talk to. There were talks and more talks with the DPW about a site for the garden. None were found.

Then used as an administrative building the Davis Street School lot had space and Macdougall noticed. She talked to the school department. Macdougall told me she was “getting an interesting political lesson on how to approach people.” Months passed of talks with the school board and the selectmen.

Finally she got permission, but not before she kneeled down before them at a meeting. ‘You are wearing me down. Look at me. Look at my hands in prayer. I’m a really good community organizer.” With laughter, permission was granted.

The selectmen approved the garden but she had to check in with all the abutters which she did. Approvals were finally given and after two years the Pleasant Street Community Garden was about to be born.

Pleasant Street Community Garden is born

In the spring of 1999 Rick Pascale brought his Gravely machine (they don’t make these anymore) to Pleasant Street and spent eight long hours breaking ground. Thirteen plots were marked off and immediately found gardeners to use them. When Dorothea Sotiros came along to help Macdougall as the garden grew, thirty-plots were in use. There was always a waiting list.

There had been struggles and frustrations to get the garden and to maintain the garden, but Macdougall told me she wouldn’t trade a minute of her time in those first 15 years for anything. The gardeners who gathered there were refugees, immigrants, youngsters, elders, apartment dwellers like herself, and even prisoners from the jail. All were grateful and happy to have dirt for planting. Macdougall’s stories of trials and joy and thanks would take more than this column to tell.

Then, as we know, the brick building came down, the gardens were removed and there was gnashing of teeth. Macdougall reminded the gardeners and everyone else that the town had been very generous in giving the land, for free, for all those years. Now the garden is coming back.

John Zon Community Center – Community Garden is Reborn

Rabbi Andrea

Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Kiener on the site of the new Community Garden

The John Zon Community Center is sitting on that Pleasant Street lot. So far, there are lawns, shrubberies, and a large pollinator garden in front of the building. Behind the building is a rain garden, and the beginnings of a new Community Garden. Dorothea Sotiros is once again one of the organizers, along with Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Kiener and others who have met for the past few months as a Working Group. On April 22, Earth Day, there will be a celebration from 5 to 7 pm, to mark the beginnings of a new Community Garden. There will be music and snacks and conversation about What Next. Attendees will be invited to participate in one way or another.

I met with Rabbi Andrea and we both looked at the 180 by 35 foot planting bed full of promise. It is not ready to be planted. Rabbi Andrea explained that the soil needs to be prepared this year before it is fertile and healthy. A healthy soil will prepare the garden for successful healthy crops next year. The Working Group has been grateful to NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Organization) which has given them best practices advice about improving the soil.

The Working Group is happy about the educational impact of the location of the garden. Those who come to the Community Center, and even those who walk by will have an opportunity to see the skills needed and used as the garden takes form. There will be a best practices workshop in composting for those who are interested. There will demonstrations of the different ways to garden. There is talk about vertical gardening. The Working Group is welcoming the thoughts, dreams and desires of those who will be interested in getting a plot in the garden.

The soil will be worked this year with tools that had been used in the original Pleasant Street Garden, then patiently and hopefully stored while waiting for this renewal. Those tools will now be stored in a new shed due in part to the generosity of the New England Grass Roots Environmental Fund, and the Greenfield Common Good, both of which have given grants to the Community Garden. The town has absorbed the installation of the shed.

Join the Community Garden party on Earth Day, April 22, 2019 from 5 to 7pm at the John Zon Community Center.

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An extra note. Eveline Macdougall has written a book about the Amandala Chorus which she founded. It is titled Fiery Hope and will soon be for sale. I am looking forward to her book, still to be written, about her adventures in the Pleasant Street Community Garden.

Between the Rows  April 13 2019

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day – April 15, 2019

purple crocus

Purples crocus on Bloom Day

Bloom Day! The purple, and gold crocus I planted last year have bloomed!  The gold crocus is just about done, and the purple crocus no longer seem to be attracting the honey bees. I think the bees drank them both dry. This photo has a second purpose – besides showing off the blooms – I wanted a record of where they were coming up so I could plant more this fall.

Scillas

Scillas

I love scillas – in large swaths. I am finding it hard to think why I planted three little clumps where they are easily stepped on.  I think I will dig them up and replant them when they are done blooming.

I have nothing else to celebrate this Bloom Day – except buds on the hydrangeas (newly pruned), on the lilac, viburnams, willow, Korean spice bush, and raspberries. Oh, yes, and startling green shoots of daylilies, asters, waldsteinia, and foam flower. Spring is coming. Slowly here in Massachusetts. The thermometer went up to 70 degrees this gray  day, and heavy rains are scheduled for tomorrow. Once again my garden will be flooded, but not where these bulbs are blooming.

Thank you Carol, over at May Dreams Gardens for inviting us all to show our gardens on Bloom Day! This is the third spring for our new gardens in the valley.

Thomas Jefferson – Lover of Liberty and Monticello

Sully portrait of Thomas Jefferson

Sully portrait of Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743-July 4, 1826) was a man of many parts. We all know he had a plantation, but I never knew he inherited it from his father along with a lot of debts. He graduated from the College of William and Mary, but I didn’t know he practiced law. Briefly. He represented his county in the Virginia House of Burgesses, but I didn’t know he served as the second Governor of Virginia from 1779-1781. I know he attended the Second Continental Congress and is considered the main author of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. He did not attend the Constitutional Congress in 1787 that gave us our Constitution because he was in Paris. He kept in touch with letters and during the ratification process he was instrumental in the addition of the Bill of Rights. We all know he became our third President in 1801 but I didn’t know (no blame to my history teachers I am sure) that he served as Minister to France, then Secretary of State to George Washington, and Vice-president to John Adams.

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams take a tour

There are a lot of other things I didn’t know about Jefferson including a garden tour he took in 1786. That April Jefferson was living in France as the American Minister to France, at the same time that John Adams was living in London as the American Minister to the court at St. James Palace. Adams was having difficulties with trade negotiations that stalled. He invited Jefferson to come to Britain for a week or so and tour some of the gardens. A respite. At that time British gardens were considered the ultimate in garden fashion. Jefferson agreed to come. In spite of difficulties with Britain, he did feel that the English had the most magnificent landscapes.

Jefferson's vegetable garden, 1000 feet long

Jefferson’s vegetable garden at Monticello

On April 3, the second day of their tour, they visited the famous Woodburn Farm. At that time such estates were open to the public. Woodburn was considered a “ferme ornee’ which combined the beauties of a pleasure garden with the elements of a working farm. Jefferson had been fascinated by the idea of the simple delights of a country life which included elegant landscapes. He admired the groves of trees and shrubberies that bordered paths and wound around the Woodburn’s fields and meadows. Though it was too early in the season to really see the foliage and flowers of the shrubs, the sight of the blooming crabapples, and the yellow pendant catkins of the alders was enough to feed his imagination about the kind of gardens he wanted to design and plant at Monticello.

Monticello

Jefferson was a learned man who knew about science and horticulture. Today visitors can see and enjoy the fruit (pun intended) of his passions and interests. There had been large gardens but in 1806 the 1000 foot long vegetable garden we see today was hewed and terraced out of the side of a mountain by slaves. There he grew 330 varieties of 70 vegetables. The garden mainly served the functional needs of the plantation, but Jefferson built a beautiful pavilion where he and guests could admire the magnificent view of the mountains beyond. That Pavilion was destroyed during a storm in the 1820’s. It was replaced in 1984 so that today’s visitors can imagine Jefferson sitting in solitude, or possibly showing off the view to visiting friends.

For many years Jefferson kept a Garden Kalendar. He experimented with seeds from Italy, Britain, France and Mexico. He wanted to find the best of the varieties that he planted. He loved the English pea, but he also appreciated figs and asparagus. Jefferson enjoyed planting those ‘new ‘vegetables like tomatoes, eggplant, broccoli and cauliflower.

One of the biggest, and earliest things Jefferson did while President was make the Louisiana Purchase. The size of our country was doubled when he signed this agreement with France. He sent Lewis and Clark off to explore and map the area. In addition to the maps and information about the land and the Indian tribes, he had them send back plants for his gardens.

South Orchard at Monticello

South Orchard at Monticello today

Man cannot live by vegetable alone. Jefferson also planted an eight acre ‘fruitery.” Over time the South Orchard was planted with over 1000 fruit trees including many varieties of apples, peaches, cherries, pears, plums, nectarines, almonds, and apricots. It is said that Spitzenberg was Jefferson’s favorite apple. I am happy to say it is easy to come by in our area in season. Many of the apple trees were grown for cider. Over the years some of those trees did not thrive and died. The orchards were restored in 1981, so visitors today will see the orchard as it might have looked at its best period.

Of course, there were berries, and his grape vineyards today thrive as they could not when Jefferson made his attempts.

Jefferson continued with his many interests after his terms as President. His notable accomplishment during those years was the founding of the University of Virginia.

Nowadays Jefferson has lost some luster because he was a slave owner, as were George Washington and James Madison. Still we cannot deny the energy and wisdom that these men devoted to the creation of our country. I am as happy to celebrate his April 13 birthday as I do Washington’s.

Between the Rows   April 6, 2019

Flowering Shrubs All Season Long

Witch hazel

Hamamelis – witch hazel in mid-March

Many of us gardeners eventually come to embrace shrubs because we need a low maintenance garden. I believe that in my new town garden, I have gotten a shrub garden that requires less work, and works with the limitations of my soil and space.

I have concentrated on water loving shrubs like button bush, elderberry, and willow, but the shrub list is long.

The earliest shrub to bloom in our neighborhood is Hammamelis or witch hazel. My neighbor’s witch hazel grows in front of her house and those twirly golden flowers are brilliant in a landscape where there is so little color. They began blooming at the beginning of March.

Witch hazels can grow to about 15 feet with a pretty wide spread. They like well drained, loamy soil and lots of sun. They are natives, but there are cultivars in addition to the native bright yellow. Arnold’s Promise was introduced by the Arnold Arboretum about 40 years ago. It has the large fragrant flowers

Hamamelis x intermedia “Diane” blooms at the end of winter and has deep red flowers that will age to a copper tone. There is very little fragrance. This cultivar will be about 10 feet, wide and tall. “Jelena” is a coppery orange and also blooms in March.

Depending on what you read the size of these witch hazels seems to fluctuate.  I think we can count on between 10 to 15 feet. Pruning should be done after the blooms are done in the spring.

Pearl bush

Pearl bush

The common Pearl bush, (Exochorda racemosa) can grow to six feet or more, and is covered with white flowers in early May in zones 4-8. Cultivars like ‘Snow Day Surprise’, and ‘Snow Day Blizzard’, are easy to find in garden centers. These will grow to about three or four feet and will bloom profusely and beautifully in May. There is a lovely pearl bush on the Bridge of Flowers but I cannot be sure of the cultivar. It is a stunning spring bloomer.

Pearl bush will need pruning when the flowers fall off because it is a shrub that blooms on ‘old wood.’ That means the wood that will grow after pruning and will be ‘old’ the following spring when buds will set and bloom. If you prune a pearl bush in the spring, you will be throwing away all the spring buds.

The issue of old wood and new wood has confused many gardeners. I just attended the Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners Spring Symposium and attended a talk by John Barry. Barry is a hydrangea lover and told us of the aggravation gardeners give themselves if they don’t understand old wood and new wood.

Mothlight hydrangea

Mothlight hydrangea

I have known these terms for a long time, but they confused me. In Heath my first hydrangea was MothLight. In my timidity I did not prune it much, I just cut out dead branches, or branches that crossed each other. Mothlight did not seem to care very much. It just grew and grew to a height of ten feet or more with a wide spread.

Barry said that was understandable. Mothlight is a hydrangea in the paniculata family. It blooms on new wood, and if you are not pruning it at all, it will keep growing and making that new wood to bloom every year.

The thrust of Barry’s talk was really about the new smaller hydrangeas that are so useful for people with smaller gardens. He gave suggestions.

One list was of new small hydrangeas in the Arborescens family which can tolerate some shade. These all bloom on new wood and should be pruned back to one or two feet in the very early spring, which is to say, now. They are hardy in our zone. Some gardeners may be familiar with Annabelle, a very popular ‘mophead’ with its large round flower. There are now two new similar cultivars. Invinciball has the biggest flowers and the sturdiest stems. Spirit II is the deliciously pink flowered Annabelle.

Hydrangea paniculata is also called Hardy Hydrangea. All the hydrangeas I have grown have been paniculatas. Limelight, Firelight and Angel’s Blush are all doing well in my South Border. Barry said that Arborescens and Paniculatas are just about fool proof in our area.

While I have full sized hydrangeas there are small paniculatas which have airier blossoms than arborescens.  Little Lime, with green flowers, will only grow to four feet. Little Quickfire has flowers that turn from white to pink over the summer on a four foot shrub. BoBo has the largest white flowers in this group.

Hydrangeas bloom all summer and into the fall.

Beauty bush - callicarpa

Callicarpa – Beauty bush

Callicarpa or American beauty bush is a relatively small shrub. It is said to grow to a height of three to six feet with an equal spread in zone 5 or 6 – 10. However, in our valley climate it will probably not grow much taller than three or four feet. A callicarpa has grown on the Bridge of Flowers for a number of years. I don’t know if the river provides some modifying warmth.

Beauty bush prefers a lot of sun and a well draining soil.

This small native shrub has insignificant white flowers in June. The real attraction in is the small purple fruits that appear in late August and last until hard frost.

Between the Rows   March 30, 2019