Yearly Archives: 2011

WHOSE NUTS?

Nuts are underrated as a food and in the garden. After all, how many gardeners plant nuts? In the landscape, nut plants range from majestic trees to graceful shrubs. As a food, nuts are an excellent source of protein, heart-friendly fats, and all sorts of other nutritional goodies known and unknown. Did you ever see a fat or tired squirrel? (True, we wouldn’t see those couch potato squirrels as they lounged in their den.)

Right now, I am enjoying the fruits of my nutty labors. Some nuts — most nuts that grow around here, in fact — need to be cured before they taste their best. Hazelnuts, ready in September, were good as soon as harvested but even better after resting a couple of weeks. Chestnuts, likewise ready in September, were likewise pretty good immediately, but sweetened …

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HOMEGROWN WREATH

The dark green wreath was tied with red ribbons and gliding towards me, in its progress stirring up snowflakes gently floating out of the grey sky. No, the wreath was not hanging from a horse-drawn sled, but was plowing through the frigid air affixed to the chrome grille of a gleaming white Cadillac! Here we are in the twenty-first century, still infusing a breath of life into our winters with cut evergreen boughs, just as did the ancient Egyptians, Persians, Jews, Christians, and Druids.
And it’s true: a few evergreen boughs tied together and accented with a red ribbon do make a doorway more inviting, or a room more cozy in winter. (I’m still undecided about what greenery does for a Cadillac grill.) But going one step further with the greenery, to a bona fide wreath, creates something special. And the actual making of a wreath can be an end in …

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XMAS TREE PLANTATION ON MINI-PLOT

A living Christmas tree seems the “right” thing to do: You get a holiday tree decorating your living room for a couple weeks; the planet gets a tree to soak up carbon dioxide, provide a playground for wildlife, and contribute to the landscape greenery. The problem is that yearly planting out of living Christmas trees in most yards pretty soon leads to a small-scale version of the Black Forest. A lugubrious and mysterious landscape is not for everyone.
But there is a way to enjoy living Christmas trees, and keep the scene sunny and winsome: Plant very young trees, then harvest them when they reach the size to cut for Christmas. Essentially, have your own tree farm. The tree lives — and you enjoy it as such — until you cut it.
You may imagine that a tree farm big enough to supply you with one tree a year would take up …

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Thanks(soil)giving, Chokes, & Rosemary

As part of my Thanksgiving celebration, I’m thanking the soil. Soil, after all, is where it all starts. We’re thankful for the plants, but the plants got where they got because of the soil, offering plants support, water, air (which roots need), a friendly microbial environment, and nourishment.
Basically, I thank the soil with organic materials, that is, stuff that is or was living. Stuff like wood chips (dead), straw (dead), compost (living and dead), manure (living and dead), and autumn leaves (dead). Organic materials are what put the “organic” in organic gardening and farming. Organic materials are bulky, and are what chemical fertilizers have too often replaced. Compost, for instance, is about one percent nitrogen, so to supply the average 2 pounds per 1000 square feet of actual nitrogen needed would require 200 pounds of compost. Opt for 10-10-10 chemical fertilizer and a mere 20 pounds per 1000 square feet …

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UNCOMMON FRUIT, COMMON FRUIT, CATERPILLAR HEDGE

With the economy the way it is, forget about any hedges against inflation. Anyway, I’m more concerned about hedges against poor harvests, and that hedge is to grow a diversity fruits and vegetables. I’ve never had a year of poor harvests of everything. Cabbage and broccoli will revel in a cool summer during which peppers or melons hardly ripen. Bean beetles that might ravage green beans won’t touch tomatoes, okra, and other vegetables; they won’t even nibble soybeans.

Besides offering a hedge, that diversity also usually presents me with a spectrum of flavors and nutrition.
In fruits, 2011 was a particularly good year for pears and hardy and super-hardy kiwifruit. These kiwifruis are grape-sized, smooth-skinned cousins to the fuzzy kiwifruit of our markets. The flavor is similar, but better, and you pop the whole fruit into your mouth, …

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With the economy the way it is, forget about any hedges against inflation. Anyway, I’m more concerned about hedges against poor harvests, and that hedge is to grow a diversity fruits and vegetables. I’ve never had a year of poor harvests of everything. Cabbage and broccoli will revel in a cool summer during which peppers or melons hardly ripen. Bean beetles that might ravage green beans won’t touch tomatoes, okra, and other vegetables; they won’t even nibble soybeans.

One thing I like about my kiwis, besides great flavor, is thatthey don’t have those obnoxious plastictags on them.

Besides offering a hedge, that diversity also usually presents me with a spectrum of flavors and nutrition.
In fruits, 2011 was a particularly good year for pears and hardy and super-hardy kiwifruit. These kiwifruis are grape-sized, smooth-skinned cousins to the fuzzy kiwifruit of our …

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WINTER, ALREADY IT SEEMS

Winter seemed to have begun all of a sudden on October 29th when, after weeks of balmy autumn weather, large flakes poured out of the sky to bury lush green lettuces, leeks, Chinese and Occidental cabbages, and radishes beneath a heavy, white blanket. The next night, temperatures plummeted to below 20°F.

Thanks to modern weather reporting, I was ready. Before the snow fell, I set arches of 5-foot-long wire at 4-foot intervals over some of the vegetable beds. On top of these wire hoops went a layer of row cover fabric, which lets in some light and affords a few extra degrees of cold protection, topped by clear plastic for even more protection from cold. More wire arches at the same locations as the first set of hoops sandwiched the plastic and row cover material to keep …

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MULTIPLYING PLANTS

It’s a quirk, but it’s benign: When a pretty or useful tree presents seed-laden branches to me, I start conjuring up visions of whole new trees. Whole new trees that I can grow. What amazing potential is contained in such small packages! I was presented with some of these packages on a recent hike.
The date was about three weeks ago, before fall color had peaked — except for that of black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica), also known as black gum or sour gum. This native of eastern U.S. is often planted as an ornamental for its early and striking color. The fluorescent purple, red, and yellow leaves are the first harbingers of autumn color.
Walking along the top of a rocky ridge, I came upon a tupelo lit up for autumn and presenting, within easy reach, many small, dark purple fruits. Although native, tupelo isn’t all that common around here, and trees …

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SWEET POTATO FOOTBALL & PEARS GALORE

Lance the Plumber is also quite a good gardener; I’ve seen his garden. So I had some faith in his recipe for growing sweet potatoes: Make a circle of fencing a couple of feet across, fill it with soil, and plant. The raised cylinder of soil, being warmer than soil at ground level, would be much to the plants’ liking.
I eat a lot of sweet potatoes but have never grown them because summer weather here in the Hudson Valley isn’t quite warm enough for best yields and because the trailing vines take up a lot of space. Still, Lance’s method seemed worth a try — with some “leafy” modifications.
Every autumn I get truckloads of leaves dumped at a holding area where they sit to let snow, rain, heat, and time reduce the volume and bring about …

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PAWPAW TALK & GLICKSTER VISIT

Deep in the hills of West Virginia, at the end of a steep, gravelly driveway, is where I found Glicksterus maximus. Sounds like a plant, doesn’t it? It’s not. It’s the self-ascribed nickname for Barry Glick of Sunshine Farm and Gardens (www.sunfarm.com), a mail-order nursery offering oodles of species and varieties of mostly herbaceous plants, many of them obscure and many of them native. I’d spoken with Barry, I’d planted his plants, and I’d sat on the receiving end of one of his entertaining and informative lectures, but I’d never visited his nursery/home. My own speaking engagement last week at the International Master Gardener’s Conference in Charleston, WV afforded me the opportunity for this visit.
Let’s cut right to the chase: Barry’s deepest affections go to one genus, Helleborus. And hellebores, as they are commonly called, …

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