Yearly Archives: 2010

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I oversee, in all probability, the biggest pomegranate farm in Ulster County, perhaps New York State, even the Northeast. My planting recently expanded by 200 percent with the 4 new plants that arrived at my doorstep a couple of days ago. My farm is biggest because so few people in this part of the world grow pomegranates and, if they do, they might have one plant.

Pomegranates are an up and coming plant. Their health benefits have been highly touted, perhaps with some hyperbole. They are beautiful shrubs or small trees with traffic-stopping red (sometimes white or pink) blossoms. Best of all is the fruit’s flavor, combining the richness of berries with the tang of citrus.

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Walking in the woods this time of year, my friend Bill and I always play a game of tree identification. We don’t even bother with white birches or shagbark hickories. They’re too easy.

I might be able to stump Bill if we happened upon a European birch, another white-barked birch distinguished from our native paper birch by the dark, diamond shaped fissures on its bark. (Of course, we’re unlikely to find that birch in the woods.) I’m often snagged by cherry birch, whose bark isn’t white at all, but whose young bark resembles young cherry bark, then morphs with age into longitudinally elongated plates. The giveaway for cherry birch comes with breaking a small twig and …

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I’ve said it before and Yogi Berra said it before me, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” A recent night’s temperature plummeting to 15°F. was still not enough to put the brakes on the vegetable garden. Arugula, mâche, kale, and spinach are looking as perky as ever and, most important, taste better than ever. Lettuce is surviving, not exactly perky though.

It’s a wonder that these tender, succulent leaves tolerate such temperatures. You’d think the liquid in their cells would freeze and burst the contents to smithereens. That would have been the case if the 15° night temperature had come on suddenly, without any precedents.

Plants aren’t passive players in the …

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Okay, I’m braced for an attack. Imagine a fruit, ripe for the past few weeks, with a pleasantly aromatic, sweet-tart flavor. My informal “surveys” have shown very positive response to plates of the fruits brought to various gatherings; the fruits disappeared. The berries are small, yellow or red, with a silvery flecking on the outside and a soft, edible seed within.

The bush bearing these fruits is no slouch in appearance. It’s got silvery leaves and pale yellow flowers that individually don’t amount to much but together suffuse the plant with a soft haze in spring, a sweetly fragrant haze. Care needed for this bush is zip, nothing, rien, nada. And with that beauty, fragrance, …

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And I thought I was just about finished for the year. Ha! The long farmden “to do” list I made early this morning makes a mockery of such thinking. No particular rush for any one thing on the list although once snow falls almost everything will need to be pushed forward to next spring. Shudder the thought. I know what spring is like.

Perhaps today I’ll begin with the small meadow on the south side. It — or part of it — needs mowing, which I used to do with a scythe. That much mowing of the dense mix of grasses and perennials was a bit much for a scythe, resulting in tennis elbow (scythe elbow?) a few years ago. Nowadays a tractor and brush hog make …

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For better or worse, nurseries and seed companies each year send me a few plants or seeds to try out and perhaps write about. The “for better” part is that I get to grow a lot of worthwhile plants. The “for worse part” is that I have to grow some garden “dogs.” (I use the word “dogs” disparagingly, with apologies to Leila and Scooter, my good and true canines.) Before my memory fades, let me jot down impressions of a quartet of low, mounded annuals that I trialed this year.

Calibrachoa Superbells Blackberry Punch was billed as heat and drought tolerant, which it was. As billed, it also was smothered in flowers all summer long. It’s a petunia relative and look-alike. Still, I give it thumbs down. …

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“It ain’t over ’til it’s over” said Yogi Berra, and so says I. Yes, the outdoor gardening season is drawing to a close around here, but I have a checklist (in my head) of things to do before finally closing the figurative garden gate.

Trees, shrubs, and woody vines can be planted as long as the ground remains unfrozen. To whit, I lifted a few Belaruskaja black currant bushes from my nursery row and replanted them in the partial shade between pawpaw trees. A Reliance grape vine, also in the nursery row, is now where the Dutchess grape — berries too small and with ho-hum flavor — grew a couple of months ago. And today a couple of black tupelos are moving out from the nursery row …

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In? Out? In? Out? I can’t decide where to grow the two pitcher plants that I got at Broken Arrow Nursery a few weeks ago. One of them, purple pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea), is quite cold hardy so could — should — survive outdoors in the ground. The other, Scarlet Belle (S. wrigleyana), is less cold hardy, but could probably rough it through our winters. Both plants, and especially Scarlet Belle, with pale white leaves having prominent, deep-purple veins, are so spectacular that I’d hate to lose either one.

These plants are as fascinating as they are attractive. Their leaves are long, vertical tubes that, with their purplish color and nectar, entice insects within. Once inside, insects can’t climb out because of the stiff, downward-pointing hairs on …

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Saturday night, October 9th, while I was enjoying myself at a friend’s party around a bonfire, my garden experienced it’s first autumn frost. Temperatures plummeted to about 28 degrees F. The frost was not unexpected, so basil and pepper plants had been draped with old blankets and other pieces of cloth, the two pressure regulators and filters for drip irrigation lines had been swaddled in additional scraps of cloth, and any tender houseplants had been brought indoors or moved to protected places.

My low lying patch of ground in the Wallkill River Valley is a particularly cold spot. Still, twenty-eight degrees was colder than I expected; many nearby gardens didn’t even experience light frost. Despite the covers, peppers and basil were blackened by frost.

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A couple of weeks ago I had a most fruitful — and I mean this very literally — experience. I visited one of the USDA’s germplasm repositories. A “germplasm repository” doesn’t sound like the kind of place anyone would want to be, but these USDA repositories are, in fact, sunny, colorful places, often redolent with enticing aromas. In the case of the one I visited, the aroma was of ripening apples.

Germplasm is the stuff that gives rise to an organism, and the USDA has set up repositories around the country to house various kinds of plants. Each repository is situated where a particular group of plants grows well. So Davis, California is home to the repository for figs, pomegranates, and Asian persimmons; Corvallis, Oregon is …

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