Yearly Archives: 2012

Good Gifts for Gardeners

What would be a good gift for a gardener at this gift-giving time of year? Every gardener has his or her special inclinations, gardenwise, so each of us warrants a special set of gift possibilities.

Still, certain expendable items are sure to please any and every gardener. Tops on my list would be a big ball of twine. Twine is useful for everything from lashing blue spires of delphinium and floppy tomato vines to stakes to tying pea vines to a trellis or grape vines to support wires. Not just any twine will do; best is twine made of natural fibre, such as hemp or sisal, so that it can be gathered up to be composted along with the plants it supported at season’s end.

Gloves are another expendable item great for gifts. Gloves made from leather and some synthetics last for years. Among my favorite gloves for everything …

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A Jump on Spring

I got a jump on spring yesterday and started pruning hardy kiwifruit vines. The fruit is a kissing cousin of fuzzy, market kiwis, except, with smooth skins and small size, they can be popped whole in your mouth like grapes. Hardy kiwis are also cold-hardy, which their cousins are not.


The vines need yearly pruning to let light and air in among the stems for productivity and plant health, to keep fruiting stems within easy reach, and to stimulate new stem growth each year off which grow fruiting shoots the following year.

My plants are trained on 5 wires strung between T-trellises, one wire down the middle of the trellis flanked by 2 wires on either side of that central wire. Each plant’s trunk rises up to the middle wire and then divides into two cordons, or permanent arms, that …

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Simplify, Simplify

People are funny. Take, for instance, a fellow gardener who, a couple of months ago, shared with me her excitement about a biochar workshop she had attended. “I can’t wait to get back into my garden and start making and using biochar,” she said. Biochar, one of gardening’s new wunderkind, is what remains after you burn wood with insufficient air — charcoal, that is. Stirred into the soil, its myriad nooks and crannies provide an expansive adsorptive surface for microbes and chemicals, natural and otherwise. Biochar, being black, darkens the soil, and dark soil is generally associated with fertility, although that’s not always the case. Because biochar is mostly elementary carbon, it resists microbial decomposition, so it’s carbon is less apt to end up in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.


But raw wood, as opposed to biochar, added to soil feeds …

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Rice, Corn, & Barley Harvest

Something new (new for me, at least)! You can subscribe to my posts and get notified each time there’s a new one. See “SUBSCRIBE BY EMAIL,” to the right.

—————————————– It’s been awhile since the grains have been harvested so it’s time to prepare them for consumption. Longest in preparation will be barley.

The barley is from last year’s harvest, and the grain-laden stalks have been bundled together and hanging from a kitchen rafter since then. I’ve procrastinated processing because of last year’s frustrations in trying to thresh wheat, also grown last year; the grains clung tenaciously to their stalks and no amount of battering would thoroughly separate them. I’ve also procrastinated because the bundle of barley’s tawny brown stems, with long, delicate, spiky awns emerging from the heads, look so decorative dangling upside down near the kitchen ceiling.

A bare spot …

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PRUNING, I CAN’T RESIST

Now is generally not a good time for pruning outdoor plants. Too bad. With the lawn nicely trimmed and vegetable and flower beds tidied up, it’s all the more difficult to resist the urge to lop back at least some misplaced or congested stems on trees, shrubs, and vines.

Redosier dogwood, neglected

I can’t resist. I figure little or no harm should come as long as I choose carefully what to cut. One reason not to prune now is that any wounding — and pruning does wound — stimulates a certain amount of cellular activity near the cut at a time when plants should be hunkering down for winter. Resulting cold injury can be minimized or nonexistent if pruning is restricted to the most cold-hardy plants. Also, gaping wounds won’t heal until spring so are open to pests. Here I rationalize …

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OILING MY EYES

I’ve always wanted to oil the eye of a fig, and finally got around to it a couple of weeks ago. Not that oiling a fig’s eye is something new or something that I came up with; fig lovers have been oiling their eyes at least since 300 B.C.E. And our reason for doing it is to speed ripening.


My oiled fig is the variety Kadota, which grows in a pot sitting in a sunny, south-facing window. Still, the amount of light streaming through those panes this time of year is around 500 foot-candles, as compared with a 10,000 foot-candle bath from summer sunlight, which figs do love. Light intensity and duration dropping daily justified a little oiling to speed up ripening. All that’s required is a drop of oil placed on the eye — the ostiole — of the …

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THINGS NOT SO ROSEY

Lest anyone believe that everything is always rosy here on the farmden, it ain’t so. True, right now, vegetable beds are brimming over with crisp, tender heads of delicious lettuce, broccoli, endive, and cabbage, and upright stalks of aromatic celery and leek. And, yes, the floor of the greenhouse is verdant with developing, young lettuce, large, leafy kale and Swiss chard plants, and 10 foot tall fig trees bearing fruits


But let’s start with those figs, three different varieties of which live with their roots right in the ground in the greenhouse. Green Ischia has been bearing large, copper-colored, firm, sweet fruits for weeks and weeks. No problem here.

About 8 feet from the Green Ischia grows a Brown Turkey fig. It kicked off the season as usual, loaded with fruit that started ripening in early September. Then scale insects …

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WORMS, WEEDS, AND BACTERIA

Autumn weather has been stellar this year, with a welcome number of crystal clear, sunny days, balmy temperatures, and enough rain to keep plants happy. Imported cabbageworms are evidently also happy, judging from the holes with which broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage leaves are now riddled. Even worse, looking more closely I see dark, green caterpillar poop down in among the leaves. And even worse than that, all that feeding weakens the plants and — I think — ruins their flavors (even after they’ve been thoroughly washed).


Problems from imported cabbage worms, as well as two other leaf-munching caterpillars, diamondback moth and cabbage looper, are easily dispatched. All three pests are members of the insect order Lepidoptera, which includes moths and butterflies; the organic insecticide B.t., short for Bacillus thuringienses and commercially sold under such trade names as Thuricide and Dipel, …

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THE CLOSING SCENES . . .

In the wee hours of the night of October 12th, temperatures here plummeted to 24°F, and it’s about time. Not that some garden plants wouldn’t have enjoyed a few more weeks of frost-free weather, but in the recent past, that depth of cold would typically arrive on the scene a couple of weeks or more earlier.


So I had plenty of time to prepare everything for the frigid night. Drip irrigation timers, filters, and pressure reducers are safely stowed away in the basement until next April. Frost-tender houseplants are lounging near sunny windows. The extra vents on the greenhouse have been sealed shut for winter. And the near-final cleanup is well underway.
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Tidying up the garden is a very satisfying job, especially in a no-till garden like mine. (I detail the benefits of no-till to plants and humans in my …

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TO MOW OR NOT TO MOW, THAT IS THE…

Eco-mowers

Cooler weather and moister conditions are keeping the lawn happily lush, and still growing. I figure we’ll need to do one or two more mowings before the season ends. That is, unless you count yourself a member of the anti-lawn movement.

The vendetta against lawns is two-fold. First, those lawn areas could be used for growing food. “Food not lawns” is the calling cry (and the website, www.foodnotlawns.com) for those who have repurposed their front and/or back yards for food production. And second, lawns often are ecological disasters, especially those maintained lush and weed-free no matter what the summer weather. But even a lackadaisical lawn needs regular mowing, or it becomes something other than lawn. One hour of mowing with a gasoline-powered mower spews as much fumes into the air as does driving a couple of hundred miles.

I choose a middle ground, and enjoy the appearance, the …

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