Yearly Archives: 2009

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The 3-foot-long logs resting against the wall near my front door are not for firewood; they’re for eating. Not the logs themselves, of course, but what’s growing inside of them. As I write and as you read, thread-like fungal mycelia are spreading within, digesting wood and growing bigger and stronger. Sometime next fall, delicious shiitake mushrooms should start popping out of the bark.

Any old rotting log will not produce delicious, or even edible, mushrooms. A couple of weeks ago, I inoculated these logs with spawn of selected strains of shiitake mushrooms. The spawn originally came from www.fieldforest.net, via my friend Bill Munzer, who had some spawn left over from a shiitake growing workshop he recently held. The spawn arrives as inoculated plugs which get hammered into holes drilled into the logs. A coating of wax seals in moisture.

The logs would, in fact, make excellent firewood. Bill …

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Time for the next step in hunkering down for winter – not by caulking around windows, not by propping snow shovels next to the front door, not by waxing up the skiis. What winter will need is flowers. Or, at least, I need flowers to make winter more pleasant.

Poinsettias and jasmines are the flowers du jour. Not that either is blooming yet. As I said, it’s time for the “next step” in preparing for winter. Both these plants would naturally bloom sometime in spring but I need them blooming in the depths of winter.

I began planning for both plants’ winter bloom back in September’s balmy days. Not much was required. All the plants needed were nights of uninterrupted darkness and cool temperatures. And, for the jasmine, also being kept on the verge of thirst.

With more than enough neglect behind them, these plants should be …

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New models of plants, like cars, are deemed necessary to keep consumers interested and spending money. My cars (actually trucks . . . you know, manure and all that) stay with me for as long as they keep rolling along, so it was with equal skepticism I looked upon a new “model” of mandevilla, called Crimson, that arrived at my doorstep early last summer.

I was first attracted and introduced to mandevilla about 20 years ago. The glossy leaves and the bright red, funnel shaped flowers, were part of the attraction. The vining habit was also a big part of the draw, making the plant a stand-in for morning glory, but with prettier leaves and brighter flowers. Mandevilla is a perennial, tropical vine, so must winter indoors rather than be seeded outdoors each spring like morning glory. My vine’s leaves yellowed so much in winter that I tired of …

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I don’t know about you all, but I have a great urge to tidy up my garden this time of year. Partly it’s because doing so leaves one less thing to do in spring and partly because, as Charles Dudley Warner wrote in My Summer in the Garden in 1889, “the closing scenes need not be funereal.” All this tidying up is usually quite enjoyable.

Moist soil – and not too, too many weeds – make weeding fun. Creeping Charlie (also know as gill-over-the-ground) has sneaked into some flower beds. Its creeping stems are not yet well-rooted so one tug with a gloved hand and a bunch of escaping stems slithers back from its travels forward from beneath and among flower plants and shrubs. What remains are occasional tufts of grassy plants, especially crabgrass, easily wrenched out of the ground or coaxed out with my Hori-Hori garden knife.

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Dateline: New Paltz, NY, October 19th, 5:30 am. I bet my garden is colder than your garden. I was startled this morning to see the thermometer reading 23 degrees F. Not much I could do at that point about protecting “cold weather” vegetables still in the garden, some covered with floating row covers and some in “plein aire.” The thing to do under these circumstances was wait for the sun to slowly warm everything up and then assess the damage.

I ventured out to the garden for a survey in the sunny midafternoon. Joy of joys. None of the cold-hardy vegetables was damaged by the cold. Romaine lettuces stood upright and crisp, arugula was dark green and tender, radishes were unfazed, and the bed of endive, escarole, and radicchio looked ready to face whatever cold the weeks ahead might offer.

That 23 degree temperature reading came from my digital …

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Looks like another of my rosemary plants has bit the dust. And this one did so very early in the season. Too bad, because it was a very elegantly trained tree form rosemary.

I brought this rosemary plant indoors a couple of weeks ago. With outside air streaming in through frequently opened windows and flames dancing in the woodstove only occasionally, the plant, along with other newly moved houseplants, would – should – have had time to gradually acclimate to the drier, warmer air indoors. I paid careful attention to watering, even filled the saucers beneath the pots with water to raise the local humidity and supply some water from below by capillary action.

The photo at left is of my rosemary plant pre-death.

I evidently didn’t pay enough attention to the rosemary tree. The problem with rosemary plants is that their thin, stiff leaves never wilt to show …

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A few months ago I wrote that I once saw eye to eye with ex-President Bush – that was H. W. Bush, and we saw eye to eye about broccoli. Neither of us thought much of broccoli, in my case, it was my own, home-grown broccoli that failed to please.

This year I thought I’d make a real effort to grow good broccoli to see if perhaps I could effect an about face. The crop from my first planting was awful. I persevered with a second planting, sown in seed flats in June, for a fall crop. I gave each plant adequate spacing (2 feet apart in the row, 2 rows per 3 foot wide bed), planted them in soil enriched with soybean meal and an inch depth of compost, and kept an eye out for cabbage worms. The heads have been ripening in this cooler weather, and …

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Along with tens of thousands of other people, I descended this past weekend upon the small town of Unity, Maine, population 555. The attraction that drew all of us to this little town a half hour inland from the coast was the Common Ground Fair, sponsored and on the grounds of MOFGA, the Maine Organic Farming and Gardening Association (www.mofga.org).

The Common Ground Fair is a real old-time country fair focusing on farming, gardening, and rural skills such as timber frame construction, weaving, and tanning hides. No glitzy midway or bumper car rides at this fair. Instead, there are horse-drawn rides and demonstrations such as mowing with oxen, natural hoof care, and border collies herding ducks and sheep. Garden and farming talks covered everything from starting a vegetable garden to growing grain to – my own presentations – landscaping with fruit plants and weedless gardening.

When night falls at …

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Lurid, violet flowers have sprouted in the wood chip mulch beneath my row of dwarf apple trees. The flowers are autumn crocuses, the first part of the two-part flowery show that takes place each autumn in that piece of ground.

The second part of that flowery show, soon to follow, will be autumn crocuses. “But,” you exclaim, “autumn crocuses were the first part of the show!” Let me explain.

This first show is from a flower called autumn crocus but which is botanically a Colchicum species. It’s not really a crocus, not even related. Colchicum flowers do resemble true crocus flowers, on steroids. The second show will be from true crocuses (that is, Crocus species) that happen to bloom in autumn. The Crocus autumn crocuses are dainty and in colors like our spring crocuses.

What’s really unique about the colchicum flowers, and what makes them so striking, is that, …

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Canned tomatoes

I’m hunkering down for winter, which includes capturing what I can of summer’s bounty in jars and dried and frozen garden produce. With this year’s rainy weather, tomato yields fell far short of expectations. Still, I have 19 shiny quart jars lined up on a shelf in the basement so far, and plan to eke out a few more before the season of summer vegetables comes to an end.

A past neighbor of mine used to begin the process of canning tomatoes by alternating layers of tomatoes with salt in tall, half-bushel baskets. Other gardeners begin by peeling, perhaps seeding, their tomatoes. As for myself, I opt for the quickest method possible, which is: Cut off any bad spots and drop the tomatoes into a large pot with just a half inch of water in the bottom; bring to a boil and then simmer until the volume is …

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