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The Dirt on Soil

 

compost

Compost for my new garden

Many of us take soil for granted. I just spoke to my daughter who said she broke sod for a tiny new vegetable garden. After taking away the sod she said she filled that space with good dirt. When I asked what good dirt was she said bags of organic dirt from Home Depot. We’re still talking dirt, even though she talked about good and bad dirt, soil.

I may get dirty while working in my garden, but I love my soil. The forester who made our forest management plan told us we were lucky because our area has good soil. And he had the soil map to prove it. And over the years I have improved the good soil.

Around 2000 we moved the vegetable garden and made it much smaller, 10×10 feet, because I was having so much trouble with my hip – all replaced in 2003. In that new space I started with my good soil and added my own compost to each planting bed.

Now you must have guessed I wouldn’t be happy with a 10×10 garden for long. We added another 10×10 space for a raspberry patch, and added more compost, plus some rock phosphate for phosphorous and greensand  for potassium, two of the three major nutrients needed for healthy plant growth. Nitrogen is the third nutrient in the NPK ratio you see when you buy fertilizer.

I also sprinkle lime from time to time to keep the soil from being too acid. I was not very scientific about any of these amounts, just sprinkling it on the soil when the mood came on me. You can imagine how happy I was when I sent my soil to the University of Massachusetts five years ago and found out that the vegetable garden had good soil with nine percent organic matter.

Any soil is made up of inorganic material like sand and silt, then organic matter. Think of the forest floor where leaves fall on the ground and rot, birds and animals die and they rot into the soil. There is water in the soil, and even, almost forgotten, air.  A good and productive soil is about 50% air.  But we are not done. The soil is also alive with fungi and bacteria that break down all that organic material and turn it into humus. The food web decrees that these fungi and bacteria will be eaten by tiny creatures like nematodes and springtails. In turn they will be eaten by beetles and ants and earthworms. All of them are adding to the richness of the soil, with their dead bodies, and their poop. They are also aerating the soil and making it possible for the water to penetrate.

How do we get good soil? We try to follow Mother Nature’s routine, by eliminating poisonous pesticides that will kill all those living creatures in the soil, and

adding more organic material, otherwise known as compost. We feed the soil, just like Mother Nature instead of later trying to feed our plants with chemical fertilizers.

I was talking to a friend who told me that she went to a permaculture workshop where one motto was “Let the carbon stay where it falls.” That means when you cut back plants in the fall you can leave the debris in the garden.  It is not neat and pretty, but you are following the natural routine. The debris will rot and enrich the soil. You and the debris are feeding the soil.

I am not a purist of any system, but I spent an afternoon pruning deadwood out of my roses and let some of the smaller twigs fall invisibly into the center of the rose bush to rot over time. I confess I did take many larger branches off to a brush pile to rot at a more leisurely pace.

I have made a fair amount of compost over the years. Some I make in a plastic bin I got from some organization. So long ago, I don’t remember who, possibly the Franklin County Waste Management? Compost adds nutrients and the organic matter improves the structure of the soil.

I also make compost piles contained within wire fencing or, in my circular black plastic potato bin with holes in the sides for the potato plants to reach through to the sun if they are so inclined.  I turned that potato bin into a compost bin. I can turn my compost pile by heaving it from one bin to the other.

I also have a plain old compost pile that I don’t turn regularly or fuss with. Eventually that pile turns into compost. I am never in a hurry.

I put all my kitchen peelings into my compost, autumn leaves, weeds, chicken manure when I have it, and debris from the garden in the fall when I am getting ready for winter. From now on I may leave some of that autumnal carbon where it falls.

I am getting ready to start a new garden in Greenfield. The first thing I will do is send a soil sample to UMass so they can tell me what my soil particularly needs.  I don’t know whether it is bad dirt or good soil, but I will find out. Currently I only know it grows a lot of grass, and I have a lot of space to fill with new plants.

I don’t have the necessary amounts of homemade compost for this new garden, so I have ordered a truck load, a major gift from my husband. I will use this compost when planting all the new trees and shrubs I am thinking of, as well as for top dressing on existing plantings.

We are fortunate to have two compost farms nearby, Martin’s Farm in Greenfield and Bear Path Farm in Whately. By feeding the soil with compost I’ll improve the structure and fertility of my soil. If it isn’t good soil to begin, it will be soon.

What next? I have to decide what to plant in this new garden. Do you think there will be roses? Keep watching.

Between the Rows   May 30, 2015

Greenfield Bee Fest #5

The Fifth Annual Bee Fest will be held at the Second Congregational Church on Bank Row in Greenfield on Saturday, June 6 at 10 am.  The event includes the Langstroth Lecture from 10-11 m – honoring the Reverend Lorenzo Langstroth who once served at the church and who discovered ‘bee space’ and created the modern bee hive with movable frames. There will also be activities for children including a Honey Bee Tea Party and  a Bee Parade through the Farmer’s Market. Bee sure to wear your very best bee outfit!  There will be workshops and face painting. Don’t miss a minute!  There will also be a workshop from 11-11:30 am for those considering a backyard bee hive. The Bee Fest is a great opportunity to learn about this valuable pollinator and have a good time. Be sure to buy a raffle ticket for one of the Bee Baskets with donated prizes worth $100-$200. All proceeds go to benefit SNAP or the Heifer Project.  Pollinators are vital to our nation’s health and  economy and President Obama has established a Pollinator Task Force to help us all help all the pollinators. We all need to protect our honey bees and all the other pollinators that turn flowers into food.

Raffle Bee Fest BAsket #2

RAffle Bee Fest Basket #2

Raffle Bee Fest Basket #1

Raffle Prize Bee fest Basket #1

Roses Without Chemicals by Peter Kukielski

 

Peter Kukielski, author of Roses Without Chemicals

Peter Kukielski, author of Roses Without Chemicals

Peter Kukielski knows how to grow roses without chemicals and I have learned a little about disease resistant roses over the past 30 years. One thing I love about our Annual Rose Viewing is the chance to tell visitors that you do not need an arsenal of chemicals to grow healthy, beautiful roses. I did not always know this. My rose education began when we moved to Heath in 1979. In my admiration for Katherine White, wife of the brilliant writer E.B. White, and her book Onward and Upward in the Garden, I determined that I too would grow romantic old-fashioned roses in my country garden from the Roses of Yesterday and Today nursery in California.

The very first rose I planted was Passionate Nymph’s Thigh, sometimes called Cuisse de Nymph, La Seduisante or Maiden’s Blush.  This is an old alba rose, a fragrant blush pink rose with slightly blue green foliage and much hardier than you might expect from her name. I came to think that Passionate Nymphs must have a lot of stamina.

The Passionate Nymph is nearly buried right now, but I think she likes the snow and prefers to be blanketed and thus protected from the terrible frigid temperatures of February.

Other hardy alba roses line the Rose Walk, Celestial, Felicite Parmentier, Queen of Denmark, Madame Plantier, and Semi-plena, as well as damasks, rugosas, hardy Griffith Buck roses and nameless farm girl roses. Many of these are fragrant and all have healthy foliage without any help from me. Early hybridizers put fragrance and disease resistance high on their list of vital attributes. What those roses don’t have is a long bloom season. Thus the Annual Rose Viewing is scheduled for the last Sunday in June when, for a brief period, all the roses are in bloom.

Happily for rose lovers, and organic gardeners who never considered growing roses, dozens of new disease resistant roses have been hybridized that also have a long bloom period. It was Peter Kukielski, former Curator of the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden at the New YorkBotanical Garden, who first introduced me to the lush First Crush and Cinderella and other hybrids created by the German Kordes company. It was over 20 years ago that the German government outlawed the kinds of poisons that rose growers routinely used. This set the Kordes hybridizers to creating beautiful disease resistant roses with a long bloom season.

Now other hybridizers have hopped on the band wagon. I was a little dubious about roses groups with names like Oso Easy, but these are also roses bred with disease resistance. Drift roses are another family of small shrubby disease resistant rose in shades of peach, pink, coral and red.

Kukielski also introduced me to Earth Kind roses. Again I thought the name was a marketing gimmick, but no, these are old roses tested and classified by Texas A&M to be disease resistant. Red Knock Out, New Dawn and The Fairy are familiar roses that claim the Earth Kind label.

When I spoke to Kukielski recently I asked why the list of Earth Kind roses hadn’t grown any longer. He assured me I shouldn’t have to wait too much longer. In the meantime I can watch the rose trial gardens set up at NaugatuckValleyCommunity College in Connecticut, Cornell University, and at the Deering Oaks Park in Portland, Maine where Kukielski lives and is now leading the northeast rose trials as part of the Earth Kind Team. He is also Executive Director of the American Rose Trials for Sustainability (ARTS) which will soon have a website up and running. He has his own new website the millennial rose garden.

Roses Without Chemicals by Peter Kukiuelski

Roses Without Chemicals

Right now you can get Kukielski’s new book, Roses Without Chemicals: 150 Disease Free Varieties That Will Change the Way You Grow Roses (Timber Press $19.95)

Kukielski wants unhappy or potential rose gardeners to know that failure in the rose garden is not their fault, it is (often) the fault of the rose’s genes. However, he does say that there are things you are responsible for.

Roses need a good site that has at least six hours of sun a day.

Roses need a good soil, with a pH  between  5.5-7, enriched with compost and a layer of mulch.

Roses need consistent water especially for the first year or two after planting. However the soil must drain well or the roots will rot.

Roses need annual helpings of compost and an organic fertilizer like Rose-Tone, as well as a renewed layer of mulch.

Gardeners are familiar with hybrid vegetable seeds with disease resistance. New varieties are always being developed to resist various rots, mildews, fusarium and blights. This makes success more sure for the vegetable gardener. Now rose lovers can look for roses with genetic disease resistance and a long bloom period. Red Knock Out Roses have gotten a lot of publicity but some of  Kukielski’s favorites are Drift landscape roses in Pink, Peach and Coral, Oso Easy Cherry Pie, Julia Child yellow rose and three Kordes hybrids: KOSMOS (pale creamy peach), Cinderella (pink) and Brothers Grimm (orange). That is just the beginning. More easy care, disease resistant roses are on their way.

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I will be giving a talk about the sustainable rose at the Western Mass Master Gardener Spring Symposium on Saturday, March 21 at Frontier Regional High School in South Deerfield. I will also be selling my book The Roses at the End of the Road. For full information about the Symposium go to www.wmmga.org. Hope to see you there.

The Fairy, an Earth Kind rose

The Fairy, an Earth Kind rose

Between the Rows   March 14, 2015

Bill Benner and Butterfly Gardens

Bill Benner

Bill Benner

Bill Benner, veterinarian, birder, and butterfly gardener, is a man with many strings to his bow, but they all play tunes of the natural world and its fragility. He will be talking about the natural world, climate change and the impact it has on our own part of Massachusetts at GreenfieldCommunity College’s Senior Symposium on Tuesday, March 10 from 2-4 pm.

As a young man Benner attended CornellUniversity because of their ornithology lab. “I just wanted to study birds,” he said. As part of his research he was working with a captive flock of birds that required occasional help from a veterinarian. As he was drawing close to finishing his Master’s degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology with the idea of going on to earn a PhD he realized that he was not looking forward to a purely academic career. His consulting veterinarian suggested that he could take his love of birds and turn it into a veterinary career.

And so he has become a vet with a practice in South Hadley, a practice that includes birds and other ‘exotics,’ like rabbits, snakes and rodents. However, his interest in the broader aspects of the natural world has not been diminished, but rather has grown. As well as meeting animals in his practice, he goes out into the local wildernesses. When he moved to our area in the mid-1990s he became interested in butterflies and served for a time as president of the Massachusetts Butterfly Club. He is the current editor of the journal Massachusetts Butterflies, and an active member of the Hampshire Bird Club.

Great Spangled Fitillary

Great Spangled Fritillary on black eyed susan

Benner was clearly the man to give me advice about making a butterfly garden. I have the same problem identifying butterflies as I do with identifying birds – my eyes are just not fast enough to discern detail of beak, or patterns on wings. However, I want butterflies in my garden so I am delighted to watch them visiting the herbs right in front of the house and think that I (probably) have some fritillaries or pearl crescents.

Benner explained that a butterfly garden needs  more than nectar plants to attract butterflies. It is essential to supply host plants. Host plants are the plants where butterflies lay their eggs, and which will be eaten by the larvae, caterpillars, when they hatch. I have often sacrificed my dill plants in order to feed the caterpillars that will one day become black swallowtails. The much larger herb, fennel or sweet anise, will also attract swallowtails. The tiger swallowtail is partial to wild cherry, but lilacs, and ash and willow trees are also host plants.

Each kind of butterfly will require certain host plants, although there certainly is overlap. The same nectar plants will feed many more types of butterfly. Zinnias are an excellent nectar plant, but it is important to choose single or double varieties so the butterflies can see just where to land and dip in their proboscis or feeding tube.

Butterfly garden

Bill’s butterfly garden photo by Bill Benner

Other nectar plants that will feed a number of butterflies include lilacs, butterfly bush, milkweed, coneflowers, asters, Joe Pye Weed, phlox, goldenrod, and mint. In the days when huge clouds of monarchs used to visit us in late summer I didn’t know they were attracted by the huge stand of mint in  our field. The mint, important nectar plant, is still there but the monarchs no longer come. The world has changed.

Like many others I have given up pulling out milkweed in my cultivated gardens, and help the seeds fly down into my field, hoping to  supply hosts for the monarchs. Benner recommended I not do this anymore. He said the common milkweed is very invasive, and is not of great benefit. Instead he recommends butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberose, with its big orange flower heads, and swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnate with its lavender/purple flower heads. These are certainly additions to the garden, not weeds that we wish we didn’t have to ignore in order to support our local food web.

The Massachusetts Butterfly Club website has more information about gardening for butterflies including an article that Benner wrote for their newsletter. There he points out that there can be a danger in buying seedlings from the big box stores because they come from huge propagators who use systemic insecticides, neonicotinoids, that persist in the plant for weeks, or even the whole season. When the butterfly sips from these plants they will die. The big box store may never know about this and so can never guarantee that the plants are insecticide free.

And that brings us to the general advice not to use pesticides or herbicides in your garden if you want to attract wildlife. Let the edges go a little wild.  Don’t mow the lawn too often. Violets are a host plant for fritillaries. It is hard to imagine that the small violets in my lawn could be hiding fritillary eggs or caterpillars.

Bill Benner will speak on Climate Change in our Own Backyards at the Greenfield Community College Downtown Campus on Tuesday, March 10 from 2-4 pm.

Swallowtail

Swallowtail photo by Bill Benner

While Benner speaks about butterflies and summer days we can also visit the greenhouses at Smith College and Mount Holyoke College. It is  time for their Spring Flower Shows both of which will be held from March 7-22 between 10am – 4 pm. Old Man Winter is keeping a firm grip on the landscape this year, but Lyman Plant House at Smith and Talcott Greenhouse at Mount Holyoke are calling his bluff.

Between the Rows

Greenfield’s Winter Fare – February 21, 2015

Winter Farmers Market

Winter Farmers Market

Greenfield’s Winter Fare is more than a Farmer’s Market. Last month I attended the first  Winter Farmers Market of the year, held at the Greenfield Middle School. I came home with two heavy bags full of apples, winter squash, watermelon radish, golden beets, bread and frozen ground lamb.  And wonderful bread from El Jardin bakery.  Walking into that space was like walking into Ali Baba’s cave full of jewels. A little brighter, but with so much wealth spread out before us – and all local. Greenfield’s Winter Fare is more.

On Saturday, February 21 I will be at the 8th Annual Greenfield Winter Fare which started the whole Winter Farmers Market project rolling. Now Winter Fare is more than the Market, although the vendors will be there in force with vegetables, meat, fruit, honey, cheese and bread, etcetera. There will be the Soup Cafe which opens at 11 am and workshops – and visiting  because everyone will be there. At 1 pm there will be a Barter Fair led by the Valley Food Swap, swapping home-grown or home-made food.

Workshops:

10 am  – Secrets of Winter Garden by Daniel Botkin of Laughing Dog Farm

11 am  – Seven Class Culinary Herbs: Harvest, Cultivation and Medicinal Use with Jade Alicandro Mace of Milk & Honey Herbs

Noon – Simple Dairy Ferments, with Aaron Falbel, fermentation enthusiast

For other events during the week click here.

It seems to me that the success of Greenfield’s Winter Fare and the Farmer’s Markets is one measure of our community’s interest in good food, and the health of our environment. In the last few years the number of CSA  (Community Supported Agriculture) farms and other small farms has grown as has the number of farmstands and farmers markets. The Community Development Corp has a busy food processing kitchen available to entrepreneurs to make their products.   CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture)  is helping farmers with business training and marketing; and Greenfield Community College has instituted a course in Farm and Food Systems. That is a rich bouquet of services to farmers, and those who enjoy good, healthy food.

Will you be shopping at this year’s Winter Fare?  I will.

Winter Fare 2013

Winter Fare 2013

Blogoversary – and Cultivating Garden Style by Rochelle Greayer

Cultivating Garden Style by Rochelle Greayer

Cultivating Garden Style by Rochelle Greayer

My first blog post went up on December 6, 2007, which means I have seven happy years to celebrate on this blogoversary. In that first post I wondered whether 67 was too old to begin blogging. I  guess I didn’t need to worry. I don’t have statistics until 2010, but since then I have written 1582 posts and received over 6000 comments. I don’t feel a day older and there are many new ideas and plants, and gardeners out in the world to meet and learn from. And many wonderful books.  In that first post I mentioned Eleanor Perenyi’s book Green Thoughts and I have written about many more garden books since then.

On this Seventh Blogoversary Timber Press and I are giving away a copy of Rochelle Greayer’s new book Cultivating Garden Style: Inspired ideas and practical advice to unleash your garden personality. This bright and cheerful book contains hundreds of ideas for creating a beautiful and personal garden. Browse through the wonderfully illustrated page and consider – is your garden Wabi Sabi Industrial? Hollywood Frou Frou? or a Pretty Potager?  Do you long for a Forest Temple? A Sacred Meadow? Or are you Organic Modern?  Of course, as you browse you might think you cannot pigeonhole yourself like that, and why should you. Rochelle herself describes her garden as being influenced by her childhood in Colorado but she’s a little bit Rock ‘n’ Roll as well as Handsome Prairie.

We all deserve to let our best selves shine, but sometimes we need information about how to make that happen. What do you know about decking or outdoor fabrics? Rochelle has answers and ideas.

Roses at the End of the Road

Roses at the End of the Road

I will also be giving away a copy of my own book, The Roses at the End of the Road, with charming illustrations by my husband. I do give some basic information about growing roses, but when people ask me what my secret of success is I always say it is choosing the right rose. I don’t fuss with my roses or use any poisons. I was a beekeeper and I treasure all the pollinators who come into the garden. I do talk about neighbors, the history of roses, and my own adventures among the roses. I had no long held desire for a rose garden until I planted the Passionate Nymph’s Thigh rose and thus began my own love affair. There is no explaining passion.

To win both of these books all you have to do is leave a comment here by Midnight on December 13 here I will draw a winner at random on Sunday, December 14. Once I have the winner’s address, I will send the books right out.12-2 me illustration

You’ve got to love a man who thinks you look like this. And I do!

 

 

 

 

Thinking About Our Gardens

 

Thomas Affleck Rose

Thomas Affleck Rose

As I‘ve worked  to put my gardens to bed this fall I’ve also been thinking about gardens and how they came to take this form, and how any garden takes form.

Some people plan a garden in one fell swoop. Or have someone do it for them. But I think for most of us we begin slowly and one step follows another. Which is a good thing because we learn about our site, and about ourselves as we move through the seasons.

Still there are some basic things to think about when we plan, or plan again.

First we have to consider the site. Do we have a lot of room or a confined space? Where is the sun on the site? Where is the shade? How does the shade move over the course of the season as the sun’s course across the sky changes? Is the soil sandy, or clay? Is it very dry or damp?  Does the site slope and is it exposed to wind? The answer to each of these questions will help determine how to proceed. The answers will guide us as we search for the right plant for the right spot.

The second consideration is how each gardener will use the garden. We each have different desires and needs. I’ve needed a vegetable garden, but I’ve also wanted flower gardens. I want to be comfortable in my solitude, but I also enjoy eating outside, and entertaining friends in the garden. I like to stroll through the garden, but some like to admire the garden landscape from a deck or from inside the house.

Beyond the practical ways we use the garden, I think we have to examine how we want to feel in the garden. Do we want to feel sheltered? Do we want to feel we are in a private woodland? Or do we want to feel like a Jane Austen character strolling through the estate shrubberies with a dear friend?  What is your fantasy?

One element of your fantasy might be a season of constantly blooming flowers. This will mean gaining knowledge of the many beautiful annuals that can bloom from spring well into the fall.  On the other hand, you might have a fantasy of a serene green garden where it is the shades of green and foliage textures that please.

For myself, my mostly-achieved fantasy is that of a mixed border. It did not happen all at once. Inspired by my mentor Elsa Bakalar I once tended a 90 foot long perennial border. Many perennials were gifts from Elsa, and many were bought with careless enthusiasm when I saw them at the garden center. I could not maintain such a garden for long.

It was only about 16 years ago that we planned The Lawn Beds. These are mixed borders, which is to say in each bed I have evergreen and deciduous trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. Because the shrubs take up more room than flowers, these generous beds are much less labor intensive than that 90 foot long border. I still have perennials which will bloom for three or four weeks in their season, but there is room for annuals that will give me bloom all summer long.

Ghislaine de Feligonde whose orange-apricot buds open to cream

Ghislaine de Feligonde whose orange-apricot buds open to cream

Of course, I have The Rose Walk. This began as my fantasy of growing lush fragrant old roses. Thirty two years ago I planted the first two roses in the middle of the lawn. I don’t know why I chose that spot. Those two roses ultimately forced the creation of the Rose Walk. I have mourned (briefly) the roses that did not survive, and enjoyed adding new roses every year. I loved my early summer morning walks along the Rose Walk thinking of the centuries that roses have bloomed on this earth, and the ladies that have cared for and enjoyed them in their modest farm gardens or on great estates. The Annual Rose Viewing., our annual garden party was a further natural outgrowth. The Rose Walk is proof that a complete plan is not necessary to begin.

A garden will inevitably attract wildlife.  Some wildlife like deer are not welcome, and it behooves us to be aware that some plants are very inviting to deer and rabbits, and others less so. Lists of these are available. I never plant hostas because of deer, but thought my herb garden was safe because they would not dare to come so close to the house. I was wrong. They tramped across the Daylily Bank (totally unnecessary) to eat the parsley in the herb bed.

Other wildlife, birds, bees and other pollinators like butterflies are very welcome. Birdwatchers have told me that the sound of moving water is the most dependable draw for birds. The burble of a fountain, especially if it is near some sheltering plants is especially inviting.

Pollinators are attracted by the many plants that are native to our area. Bee balm, asters, rudbeckia, and even our fields of goldenrod attract the pollinators that will keep our vegetables and fruit trees productive.

Finally, when planting we have to remember those basic considerations like allowing for growth. A small shrub in a small pot bought at the garden center will not stay small. When planting allow for that growth, how wide and how tall will it be in three years?  Or five years?

Soil needs annual attention with applications of compost, and mulch. Where will the compost pile go?

One very important question is how much time can the gardener realistically expect to devote to garden chores?

Are you thinking about your garden this fall? How might it change? How does it need to change? We gardeners must always be thinking. ###

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day – October 2014

Thomas Affleck rose

Thomas Affleck rose

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day arrives this October after two hard freezes. The trees are richly adorned adding most of the garden color at this time of the year. The roses are very nearly done, but Thomas Affleck, right near the door, has nearly a dozen blossoms left. In the rest of the garden there are a few scattered rugosa blossoms, and The Fairy is still making a bit of magic.

Sedum 'Neon'

Sedum ‘Neon’

This is the second year for Sedum ‘Neon.” I will have to do some dividing. The Fairy is right behind her, as well as a snapdragon and a foxglove blooming at this odd time of year.

Chrysanthemum 'Starlet'

Chrysanthemum ‘Starlet’

“Starlet’ is a very hardy quilled mum that I keep moving around the garden.

Sheffield daisies

Sheffield daisies

The Sheffield daisies  are just beginning to bloom!  At least I have been calling these Sheffield daisies all year before they came into bloom, and now I am thinking they are some other very vigorous chrysanthemum. I have one clump of ‘mums’ not yet blooming. Maybe that is the Sheffie clump.

Asters

Asters

This low growing and very spready aster is definitely ‘Woods Blue.’ I just found the label while weeding today.

Montauk daisy

Montauk daisy

I am coming to realize that the Montauk daisy has quite a short bloom period. Maybe it doesn’t deserve to be so front and center.

Autumn crocus

Autumn crocus

A flower that does deserve to be more front and center is the Autumn Crocus. It is invisible in August when it should be transplants. Out of sight. Out of mind. Maybe next August.

'Limelight' hydrangea

‘Limelight’ hydrangea

The ‘Limelight’ hydrangea has had a good year and is doing better than ‘Pinky Winky’ planted at the same time, and the native oakleaf hydrangea. The enormous ‘Mothlight’ is also still blooming.

Lonicera sempervirens

Lonicera sempervirens

I am going to have to do something about this honeysuckle. She has grown enough this first full year and deserves to be arranged so she is more easily admired.

Cuphea

Cuphea

This annual potted Cuphea has given me a lot of pleasure this summer. Endless bloom.

Nasturtiums

Nasturtiums

I plant these nasturtiums on the slope between the Daylily Bank and a bed of the Early garden right in front of the house. Such a cheerful flowers.

Love Lies Bleeding

Love Lies Bleeding

And finally, in a knocked down tangle is Love Lies Bleeding. A right bloody mess. I expected long drooping tails of blossoms, but this looks like ropes of chenille balls.

What is blooming in your garden this Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day?  Check Carol at May Dreams Gardens, our welcoming host.

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

Five Things to Love About Blueberries

Highbush blueberries

Highbush blueberries

There are more than five things to love about blueberries, but these are my top five things to love.

First blueberries are hardy and really easy to grow, especially in Heath where the soil is suitably acid. Blueberries require a pH between 4 and 5.5. I never tested the soil in the berry patch, but my highbush blueberries are  healthy, big and productive. And have been for 30 years. This year I am getting a bumper crop. Blueberries need two cultivars for cross pollination, and two or more cultivars can spread ripening time over a long season. Nourse Farms near us offers a dozen cultivars from very early like Patriot to mid season like Blueray and Bluecrop to  late season like Jersey. Just remember if you are going to get a good crop you will need to net the patch, something to consider when you are planting them. Mine grow in a line, but I do think a square of berry bushes is easier to manage. It is tough to get  a net over  a 30 foot row of bushes. And make sure you aren’t wearing any buttons while you wrangle that  black netting.

Two. Blueberries don’t all ripen at once and they hang on the bush happily for a few days until you can get out and pick. Nor are they susceptible to damp or rain like raspberries that need to be picked every day in season. Blueberries are very considerate of  busy gardeners.

Three. They are incredibly nutritious. They are not only rich in Vitamins C and K (important in blood clotting) they are rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants  protect cells from the damage caused by free radicals (oxidation) that thus possibly setting the scene for disease. Blueberries are among the foods highest in antioxidants – and so delicious. A list of these foods shows  the wisdom of the motto Eat Your Colors.

My blueberries

My blueberries

Four. Blueberries are easy to preserve. Just pop them into a freezer bag and into the freezer. My own blueberries come in over a long season so it is easy to  always have fresh blueberries on hand, but I also buy a 20 pound box of local lowbush blueberries every year. It takes me about half an hour to put them in bags and into the freezer. Naturally, I also have many berries of my own to freeze.

Five. Blueberries are delicious. You can eat them out of hand or in your breakfast cereal. Fresh or frozen you can use them in pancakes, muffins and pies. You can combine them  with peaches, plums or raspberries in a colorful and delicious summer fruit crumble. We eat a lot of summer fruit crumble. Have you grown blueberries?