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View from the Bedroom Window – May 2014

View from the Bedroom window May 5, 2014

View from the Bedroom window May 5, 2014

The view from the bedroom window on May 5 shows that the grass is greening up, but it is cold, 46 degrees, cloudy and windy. I dug up plants for the Bridge of Flowers plant sale, but then went back in the house to work in front of the woodstove.

View from the bedroom window May 12, 2014

View from the bedroom window May 12, 2014

Now it is hot! 80 degrees. What a difference a week makes. We had a little rain and warmer days – although with strong  breezes it has still felt cool – until today. The lawn just had its first mowing and you can see the lilacs beginning to leaf  out. A close look will show tiny budded lilac flowers. The weeping birch in the South Lawn Bed is greening, and a green brush has barely touched the trees in the field. Perennials are  well started, summer phlox, achilleas, delphiniums, and more and more daffodils.

View from the bedroom window May 19, 2014

View from the bedroom window May 19, 2014

A beautiful day, 70’s and sunny. You can see the trees are beginning to green, and the lilacs are just beginning to bloom.

View from the bedroom window May 28 2014

View from the bedroom window May 28 2014

58 degrees this morning and still misting from last night’s rain which saved me from watering the gardens this morning. The lilacs are in full bloom, and the apple trees are also beginning to bloom. The ginkgo trees are finally greening up. Some of the daffodils are still blooming, but they are joined by columbine, epimediums, tiarella, trollius, barren strawberry, as well as a host of annuals bought at the Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale, geraniums, cuphea, Diamond Frost , lobelia, torenia, and blue felicia daisy. Boule de Neige and Rangoon rhodies are also starting to bloom. Full spring!

My record for May has not been very regular and doesn’t give a full taste of how cold it was for most of  the month. Winter blankets still on our bed. And fires in the woodstove the first half of the month – and sometimes in the evening after that.

Walk on the Wildside with Sue Bridge

Wildside Cottage

How would you plan your retirement if you had already received a degree from Wellesley College, earned a further degree in Russian and Middle Eastern Studies, hitchhiked to Morocco, lived in Paris, worked for the United Nations, as well as in the cable TV world, and for the Christian Science Monitor newspaper?

Sue Bridge, with the urging of a Northampton friend, bought eight acres of hilly land in Conway. For the past seven years her retirement project has been to create a sustainable, self-sufficient home and landscape where she can live off the grid. The house she designed is energy efficient, well insulated with electricity and hot water provided by solar panels. It is also beautiful, inside and out. The sunny main living space is comprised of a kitchen, dining and living areas. French doors form the south wall of the living area which opens out onto a stone terrace with low stone walls overlooking terraced gardens and across to the hills beyond. The house is small but there is no sense of being cramped, only of spacious comfort.

For help in creating a sustainable landscape she turned to Jono Neiger of the Regenerative Design Group. Neiger and his group are proponents of permaculture systems. Bridge confesses she didn’t really understand what that meant when she began. Neiger came several times to visit; he’d walk around, make notes and walk around some more. Finally, after he had walked the land for several months and not a single spade of soil had been moved, she asked him if his crews were very busy. Did he have any idea when work would begin?

Then Neiger had to explain that work was well-begun. He had been building a scientific portrait of the land, how the sun, wind and water moved across the hill, and over the season.

It was not until Neiger invited Bridge to his own garden that she began to understand what permaculture is. On the appointed day she arrived at his house and garden before he did and was very confused. “Where’s the garden,” she asked when he drove up. The truth is that permaculture gardens do not look like the beautifully arranged flower gardens or orderly vegetable gardens that most of us are familiar with.

I was in the same position she had been with Neiger. I could see why she had named her place Wildside. I needed to have the garden explained. “This is not traditional farmland, but it is incredibly productive,” she said as we walked across the broad terraces  carved into the hillside. “Terraces are a permaculture trademark.”

The terraces help keep the soil from eroding, even in severe storms. “We had 17 inches of rain during Irene, but there was no erosion,” Bridge said.

To the east the living room terrace is an herb garden. One of Bridge’s specialties is five-herb tea. The terraces on the south hillside are first planted to vegetables that are harvested during the summer, the next terrace on the slope is for perennial vegetables like sea kale and Jerusalem artichokes, and the third is for pollinators, bee balm, garlic chives and other plants that attract pollinators.

Productive sweet potato vines in greenhouse

At the bottom of the slope is a small greenhouse where she grows sweet potatoes in the ground, harvesting more than 100 pounds of nutritious sweet potatoes, as well as ginger, and turmeric plants good for the digestion, and pain relief. The garden outside the greenhouse is mostly storage vegetables, beets, carrots, potatoes and squash. Of course, if you raise enough of this kind of vegetable you need a root cellar and Bridge has built a small one behind her house. Other edible crops are canned or dried.

Wildside rice

We walked past the path to the orchard with apple, peach, pear and plum trees and to the rice paddy in the Wet Meadow. It took heavy digging, but Bridge is growing rice!

The land rises slightly beyond the Wet Meadow. We walked through a stand of overgrown Christmas trees, planted by the former owners, then came into a sunny meadow where nut trees, including chestnut have been planted. The surrounding evergreens help protect them from high winter winds.

Mountain mint with Monarch butterfly

Bridge said she learned that eastern slopes are ideal for fruit trees and berries. On her eastern slope she grows persimmons, pawpaws, quince, Asian pears, shadbush, blueberries, elderberries, and black chokeberries. http://www.millernurseries.com/ sell chokeberriess. Chokeberries are not very sweet, but they are extremely nutritious and do make good jelly. Bridge has also tucked mountain mint and other plants for pollinators everywhere on this east slope.

I was fascinated by the “fertility bed” a long row of comfrey, bush clover and switch grass which Bridge cuts down twice a year and uses as mulch or compost.

Bridge has come to love Conway where she has found a great community with lots of grass roots action. “This is a friendly environment for me,” she said.

A broad community has found Sue Bridge to be very friendly, and inspirational. Her gardens have become a model of sustainable food production. Students from Wellesley and Smith Colleges, the Conway School of Landscape Design, Greenfield Community College and others come to see what she is doing and learn about the science behind what she is doing.

When I asked if she had intended to launch such an educational project in her retirement she said no. “I did not intend, but I do not resist.”    

Between the Rows   August 24, 2013

The Suddenness of Spring

The suddenness of spring caught me by surprise yesterday.  After two days of being kept inside by sometimes torrential rains, I went out and saw that the ajuga, escaped into the lawn years ago from an old flower bed, is in full and startling bloom. This area has not been mowed yet because I made the mistake of planting daffodils here and must wait until they have finished blooming and ripening.

Poeticus or pheasant’s eye daffs

Only a few daffodils are still in flower. Newly blooming are the poeticus daffodils which means the season will be over any minute.

Apple blossoms

The old apple trees in the field and by the Cottage are suddenly clouds of blossom, barely opened before being battered by the rain.

 

The Fairy rose, Alma Potscke aster, invisible alliums

I began weeding the area around The Fairy rose in the north Lawn Bed. I got most of the grass out from under the Fairy’s root and released the tiny fine alliums from groundcovering shepherd’s purse and carpetweed and other weeds yet to be identified. I also ripped out a good deal of silver artemesia that has become a weed.  I should have known better than to have planted it in a flower bed. It was not ideal to be working in such wet soil, but I can feel the grass growing beneath my feet, and the weeds  will quickly outpace the newly emerging plants. Spring is here.

Boule de Neige and Rangoon rhodies

Boule de Neige and Rangoon are the first to  rhodies to come into bloom. Other bushes have buds getting fatter by the minute.

Tiarella

Tiarella plants put in last summer and this spring as part of the lawn reduction project are blooming away and spreading out.

Beauty of Moscow lilac

Lilacs have been blooming for more than a week in the lower elevations, but finally mine have burst into bloom. I gathered up a bouquet of mixed lilacs and brought them inside, into the kitchen. Suddenly spring arrived in the garden, and I was able to bring a fragrant bit into the house. Hallelujah!

 

Birdsong not heard for years

Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale

I have not been posting very regularly because I have been so quietly busy. There were preparations for the fabulous Bridge of Flowers Plant sale which went off on Saturday without a hitch. I think we had 36 plants left over. Out of over 1300!

Young Elliott and friends

On Sunday we hosted the Presentation of Elliott (in the plaid suit) and celebrated. And celebrated!

Monday was just one thing after another and yesterday, in the heat, I was out of the house all day,  with first graders at the Bridge of Flowers, at the Clarke School Hearing Center, at the Forbes and Jones libraries, and at a Bridge of Flowers meeting in the evening. Then wild thunderstorms all night that left us the gift of more than 2 inches of rain.

Sargent Crabapple in Sunken Garden

This morning I walked barefoot through the garden to inspect all the newly refreshed flowers. The birds were singing, trilling, warbling, and calling,  as they hadn’t for years. Or, to put it another way, birdsong as I had not heard it for years. What a gift.  And why?

I think I may even be able to hear my tiny fountain this  summer. I am so happy. If only my husband’s morning newspaper didn’t make such a racket!

Life Under Our Feet – and Fruit Over Our Heads

There is life under our feet. I have talked about living soil from time to time, but in his New York Times essay yesterday  Jim Robbins says that “One-third of living organisims live in  soil. But we know littel about them.” Well, of course I know about worms and  bugs and the mycellium that I can see, and I know the soil is full of microbes, but to think that one-third of ALL living organisims live in the soil is mind boggling. Research is going on about all this life and some of it is going on in Central Park.

“A teaspoon of soil may have billions of microbes divided among 5,000 types, thousands of species of fungi  and protozoa, nematodes, mites and a couple of termite species. How these and other pieces fit together is still largely a mystery.” What a revelation! It makes it clearer to me that it is really important to garden organically, putting food, as in compost, into the soil to feed all those organisims., and helping to maintain a healthy system.

The Sunday New York Times  also included a story by Patricia Leigh Brown talked about ‘fruit activists’  who are “using fruit to reclaim public land and expand ideas of art.” It seem apprpropriate to me that both these articles appeared on Mother’s Day, when we should also celebrate Mother Earth and think about the riches she showers upon us, and what we owe to her in gratitude and responsibility to care for and share those gifts.

The life under our feet, and the fruit over our heads are all gifts! Celebrate every day.

A is for Apple – A to Z Blogger Challenge

Clarkdale prizewinning apples at the Franklin County Fair

A is for Apple and I found 36 varieties of Apples with names that begin with A right here.  I’ve known about the Arkansas Black and the Arlington Pippin but that was the end of it for me. But there is also the Ambrosia apple, a modern Canadian apple similar to the Golden Pelicious, the American Summer Pearmain Apple, very juicy, the Autumn Gold apple, better than Golden Delicious and obvously, many many more!

I became interested in old apple varieties when I became a regular at my local orchards, Clarkdale in Deerfield and Apex in Shelburne. They have Northern Spy, Gravensteins, Winesaps and many more. I like to buy a bag of ‘pie mix’, several varieties of apple because my applie pie guru, Susan Chadwick, told me the secret of her fabulous pies is different varieties in one pie.

Taste, Memory by David Buchanan

Of course, I am not the only one who is interested in old apples. David Buchanan wrote Taste, Memory about old apples, and other old fruit and vegetable varieties that have been forgotten – almost. Taste, Memory: Forgotten Foods, Lost Flavors and Why They Matter takes us on David’s journey from the Slow Foods Movement to the farms and orchards of Maine where he now lives.

On this journey he met John Bunker in Maine, a man who really knows his apples. He goes hunting for old apples and has written his own book about apple hunting in the orchards of Maine Not Far From the Tree. He is a man of passion with a great sense of humor and great taste buds. I wrote about his visit to Apex Orchard with David Buchanan here

There’s a lot to know about apples like the reason Johnny Appleseed (born not far away in Leominster, Massachusetts, a town also known as the Plastic City) planted apples was because everyone drank cider in those days. And usually not sweet cider. Hard cider! And hard apple cider is another trend in our area. West County Cider in our neighborhood is a great outfit and make wonderful cider including varietals (just like wine) like Baldwin and Redfield, a pink cider made from Redfield apples that have red flesh.

Yes, there is a lot to know about apples. And a blog post is simply not long enough. Think of all the apples that begin with letters besides A.  As part of the A to Z challenge I will be posting everyday this month because although there are only 26 letters in the alphabet, I will be adding/publishing Between the Rows every Sunday so there will be 30 posts in a row.

A big  shout out and thank you to Arlee Bird who  invented A to Z Challenge.

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Bringing Nature Home at the Master Gardener’s Spring Symposium

Dr. Douglas Tallamy

Dr. Douglas Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens, was the keynote speaker at the Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners Spring Symposium last week. His talk focused on the need for more insects to make our gardens – and the world – healthier and more ecologically balanced. “A mere 1 % [of all insects] interact with humans in negative ways. The other 99 % pollinate plants, return the nutrients tied up in dead plants and animals to the soil, keep populations of insect herbivores in check, aerate and enrich the soil, and as I keep stressing, provide food either directly or indirectly for most other animals,” Tallamy writes in his book and illustrated in his talk.

Bringing Nature Home

 

His enlightening talk covered a lot of ground, but two ideas made a particular impression on me. The first was the idea of the environmental carrying capacity of our local landscape, and ultimately of the whole earth. The term carrying capacity refers to the amount of resources needed to sustain a certain population. It is easy to understand that a given population of insects, or birds or whatever, will decline when the food they require decreases.

So, what happens when, for example, the emerald ash borer, which is a threat inMassachusettsright now, were to kill all the ash trees? Forty-four insect species rely on the ash tree to survive. No ash trees; no more 44 insect species. And that means reduced food for the creatures who depend on those insects so their populations will decline as well. Insects are the very bottom of the food chain and we usually do not consider how important they are to the wildlife that we enjoy. At least, that is true for me.

Tallamy said many people ask him why insects can’t eat some other tree or plant? He explains that over thousands of years plants and insects have evolved together. The insects’ digestive systems have adapted/evolved to digest the particular chemicals in a plant’s foliage. They cannot immediately adapt to a new plant. That is one of the reasons that invasive plants can take over. The food web of insects, birds and wildlife cannot keep the invading plants in check.

The second idea Tallamy put forth is that not all native plants are equal. Some plants support many more species of wildlife than others. This was an eye opener for me. I have been talking about the benefits of native plants for a long time, but this idea never occurred to me. As you might expect, trees are the most productive in having what it takes to support many insects and birds. Trees are big. But even here, some trees are more productive than others. In his book, and on his website, www.bringingnaturehome.net, Tallamy lists the 22 of the best woody plants beginning with oaks that support 534 species, down to the chestnut which supports 125 species. Black cherries, maples and willows are also highly productive.

If we don’t have the room to plant an oak or two, we might be able to fit in a crabapple or some blueberries. We can plant asters, morning glories and lupines in our ornamental gardens. We can not only marvel at and admire the lupine meadows that some people in our area have cultivated, we can thank them for supporting 33 species of wildlife.

Those lupine meadows also remind up that birds and other pollinators need clumps of productive native plants. Their eyesight is not always good so they need big clumps of a useful plant to catch their attention. Tallamy pointed out that 80% of our food crops are pollinated by animals. It is clear that supporting that wildlife is very important in our area where there is a growing number of farms.

Lately I have been talking about the benefits of reducing the size of our lawns. Tallamy said that 92% of landscape-able land is lawn, lawn which is a monoculture that does not support wildlife. He suggested that if we reduced the amount of lawn in theUnited Statesby half we would have 20 million acres that could be put to native trees and other native plants. This would certainly increase the carrying capacity of our neighborhoods and our nation.

Suburban yards can play an enormous part in restoring the health of our ecosystem. A whole neighborhood that includes a substantial number of native trees, shrubs and other plants can make a significant impact.

I am so grateful to the Western Massachusetts Gardeners for bringing us this excellent program that included Ellen Sousa of Spencer and the author of The Green Garden, as well as workshops on making compost, hypertufa containers and bentwood trellises that not only make our gardens healthful and productive, but beautiful as well.

Their Spring Symposium is their big educational effort of the year, and there are two more Symposia coming up on April 6 in Holyokeand April 13 in Lenox. Check their website http://www.wmassmastergardeners.org/ for complete details. However, they hold soil testing events, phone and email hotlines where you can get your questions answered, and lots of question answers right on the website. They even have a speakers bureau that can send a speaker to your club, or class, or other organization. If this is of interest to you send an email to toigraham@charter.net for more information.

Now I am wondering how many of us will find a place to plant an oak. Or a crabapple.

Between  the Rows –  March 23, 2013

John Bunker and David Buchanan on Cider Day

John Bunker and David Buchanan at Apex Orchard

John Bunker and David Buchanan gave a couple of talks on Cider Day all  about their experiences with finding and planting heritage apples. They also got to sell their books. I knew about David’s book, Taste, Memory: Forgotten Foods, Lost Flavors, and Why They Matter,  but I didn’t know that John had also written, and illustrated, a book about the apples and orchards of Palermo where he lives in Maine.

Not Far From the Tree: The apples of Palermo 1804-2004

Not Far From the Tree: A Bried History of the Apples and the Orchards of Palermo Maine 1804-2004. After his wonderful and engaging talk I was delighted to find that he had written this book (he hadn’t mentioned it during his talk) and it was being sold at the Buckland-Shelburne Community Hall Cider Day site. I haven’t had a chance to sit down and really read the book but I did get past the Acknowdedgements page, where among other things, he siad that he had finally and with  the help of “the Apple Professor Tom Burford, idenitfied the ‘Blake’ apple as a Grimes Golden. This will be a good update to David’s book in which he describes some outings searching for the Blake apple.  As John said in his talk ‘exploring for apples is a project in process. It is something you are Doing all the time.” He said those who are exploring have to act like Sherlock Holmes, and that there are two different sorts of exploring. “Sometimes you are poking around to find a particular apples, and sometimes you are trying to find a name for an apple. Related, but two different processes.”

He also  talked about the Preservation Orchard that MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners) is planting, concentrating on apples that originated in Maine. Like David, John is interested in finding locally adapted crops. One of my neighbors also attended the talk and by the time we left the Apex Orchard Farm Store where the talk was held, we had determined to talk to our own Heath Historical Society about exploring our own apple history (Heath used to have a  number of orchards) and planting a selection of those apples on the Common or on Historical Society land.

You can learn more about John Bunker and his apple CSA by clicking here.

More about John Bunker and David Buchanan to come this week.  I have to read a little more of Not Far From the Tree.

Apple Blossom Time

Sargent crabapple

I hope this photo give some sense of the amazing bloom of the Sargent crabapple. It is  not 15 feet tall, but it is at least 15 feet wide and was planted about 15 years ago. It thrives in the Sunken Garden even though it is very wet in the spring.  It is now in full flower – almost a single tree-sized blossom at this point.

This apple tree, name unknown, produces apples but they are not the best apples I’ve ever eaten. I do use them in apple sauce and apple pie as part of the mix.  The tree usually takes a beating from the plow when it makes the turn in front of the house.

These apple blossoms are on  the Liberty semi dwarf tree in the ‘orchard’. All apple blossoms are so lovely. I hope they were open long enough to get pollinated.  Some of our trees are beginning to leaf out.  The grass looks as though we had a big wedding today.

Black Knot on My Plum

It’s been raining for almost a week. This means the conditions are good for the spread of black knot.

Plum tree with black knot

We have slowly been removing the plum trees from our orchard and the time has come to take down the last tree.  I loved the occasional harvests of Stanley plums which I mostly canned, but I think we will just content ourselves with the three semi-dwarf apple trees.

Black knot gall

This gall, one of several, is about 6 inches long and a little more than an inch in diameter.  I don’t know how this disease got a toe hold because there are no wild trees in the vicinity, but obviously once disease began, it has continued to spread.  The first galls can be quite small and difficult to see, but they don’t take long to grow. We have cut out and burned the galls as they appeared, but we never succeeded in eradication. Over time the tree weakens, the gall grows, and there is no cure but removal of the tree.

Apple blossom

We will remove and mourn the plum tree, but I will concentrate on the apple trees that are just beginning to bloom.