Yearly Archives: 2014

NICE HIPS, BUT WHOSE?

2 Contenders for Hips and Rabbi Samuel Redux

As I walked along the beach, I took a look and my first thought was “Nice hips.” But what about the flowers? I’d have to return to the plant next summer to find out, a problem since I was 4 hours from home visiting a relative in Rhode Island.

Most of the roses you see growing seaside are Rosa rugosa. Common names for this plant are Japanese rose, indicating its origin, saltspray rose, indicating its tolerance to beach sand, and rugose rose. “Rugose” means “wrinkled,” which is what leaves of R. rugosa are.

The particular planting of nice-hipped roses staring back at me did not have rugose leaves. What’s more, the hips were about 3/4 of an inch across and bright red. Hips of rugose rose are usually an inch or more across and orangish-red. With this slightly different morphology and the fact that rugose …

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STILL SOME FRESH FRUIT, and GENDER STEREOTYPING

Fruit for My Mouth, Flowers for My Eyes

As I write this, on December 1st, the Rabbi — that’s the Rabbi Samuel fig — is still ripening fruit in my barely heated greenhouse. That’s commendable. Not so commendable, however, is the flavor; cooler temperatures and sparse sunlight have taken their toll. The drooping fruits look ripe and ready to eat, inside and out, but they are no longer worth eating.

End of the fruiting season for Rabbi Samuel fig.

On the other hand, another fruit, Szukis American persimmons, hardly look edible but still have rich, sweet flavor. Outdoors, fruits of this variety of American persimmon cling to bare branches. Their orange skins once stretched almost to the point of breaking over the soft flesh within. Now, alternate freezing and thawing temperatures and drier air have sucked moisture and temper from the flesh, so the skins have shriveled and barely cling. Their darkening does …

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IT’S ALL ORGANIC, BUT NOT NECESSARILY ALL GOOD

Hay, Grass Clippings, Manure, Leaves — Watch Out!

Organic materials — that is, things that are or were once living — are the core of “organic” agriculture, and right from the get go, many years ago, I set out pitchfork in hand to gather these materials. Into large garbage pails toted around in my van I loaded manure from nearby stables. Neighbors let me haul away their bags of autumn leaves.

I even convinced city workers to dump a truckload of harvested lake weeds onto the side lawn of my small rented house. (That was in Madison, Wisconsin, where fertilizer runoff from lawns was spurring growth of lake weeds which, besides making swimming hazardous, were, upon their death, causing oxygen depletion of the lakes.)

Me mulching, even as a beginning gardener

Mowings of roadside hay, which I stuffed into the back of the van, were another source of organic matter, used for …

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A Harvest of Mediterranean Transplants

Mediterranean Delectables & Not So Delectables

Figs thrive in heat and sunlight, nothing like the cold and frequently overcast days we now have, with only a few hours of sun when it does show itself.  Still, my figs keep my attention.
In the greenhouse, heated only enough to keep temperatures above 35°F, the fig trees still have plenty of hard, unripe fruits splayed along their stems. Nothing odd about that. Figs, unlike apples and most other fruits which ripen during a narrow window in time, keep developing and ripening new fruits all along their growing stems.
But only one of my varieties, given the name Rabbi Samuel, seems able to tap into what little sunlight and heat are still at hand. The flavor of fruits that ripen on the heels of a spate of cold, rainy weather falls flat. But whenever sunlight fuels enough photosynthesis in the leaves and warmth in the greenhouse …

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CITRUS IN NEW YORK

Paradise Under Glass, and I Take a Bit of it Home

Wandering in and out of the narrow alleys, I could barely squeeze past other, potential buyers. On my way back from a lecture and book selling, a wad of money was burning a hole in my pocket. I muttered to a young couple who glanced up to let me pass, “I feel like a drug addict.” A fleeting, sympathetic smile, and they, like others, were again intent on the offerings, hardly aware, like us other “addicts,” of other humanity.

I was lucky, able to leave Logee’s Greenhouses in Danielson, CT only $75 poorer. But richer in plants. Perched on the tray that I carried to my car were small plants of fragrant wax plant (Hoya odorata), Nordmann Seedless Nagami kumquat, and Golden Nugget mandarin (tangerine), all three promising to offer, for years to come, sweet fragrance, beauty, and good eating …

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Who’s the Best Gardener/Farmdener?

Fresh Watermelon, and More, with Help from Ethylene

Could I possibly be the best gardener west of the Hudson River? Perhaps. As evidence: On November 1st, here in Zone 5 of New York’s Hudson River Valley, where temperatures already have plummeted more than once to 25°F, I was able to harvest a fresh, dead-ripe watermelon. Not from a greenhouse, not from a hoop house, not even from a plastic covered tunnel. Watermelon, a crop sensitive to frost and thriving best in summer’s sun and searing heat.

Okay, perhaps I can’t assume all that much responsibility for the melon. Let me explain . . . 

Every fall, I have a landscaper dump a whole truckload of leaves vacuumed up from various properties at my holding area for such things. Rain and snow drench the pile in the coming months, starting it on the road to decomposition. When sufficiently warm weather has decided to stay …

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HOME-MADE TOOLS, GOOD, BAD, AND SOMETIMES IMPOSSIBLE

Needed Now, A Hay Rake, Garden Line, & Bulb Planter

The small meadow that stretches south of my vegetable garden is more than just a meadow. It also provides mulch for my trees and shrubs, and food for my compost “pet.” All this necessitates moving the greenery — or brownery, when it’s old — from the field to the trees, shrubs, and compost bins. I cut the hay with a scythe, gather it together with a rake, scoop it up with a 4-tine pitchfork, then pile it high in the garden cart for transport.

The tools needed seem straightforward enough, except for the rake. An ordinary garden rake would not do. It’s too small for so large an area and its heavy, short, sharp teeth would too readily tangle up in the mown hay without reaching deeply enough too grab a sufficient amount with each pull. A leaf rake likewise would not do; the fine teeth …

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FIGS UP NORTH

Who Says I Can’t Grow Figs? A Mouse?

Crisp weather notwithstanding, almost every day I can reach up into the branches of my fig trees and walk away clutching a handful of soft, dead-ripe fruits. That’s because the trees, the ones bearing fruit, are in the greenhouse, where nights are chilly but daytime temperatures, especially on sunny days, are balmy or hot.

I’m not gloating. Those greenhouse figs take some work beyond normal routines of keeping heating, cooling, and watering systems chugging along harmoniously in the greenhouse. Earlier in the season I battled cottony cushion scale insects with toothbrush and soapy water, with oil sprays, and with sticky band traps (for ants, which “farm” scale insects) on trunks. Now I see the insects are staging a comeback at a time when the trees are too big to scrub with a toothbrush and too big, too laden with fruit, and surrounded too closely …

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FIGS, POMEGRANATES, LETTUCE, BEDS: ALL READY

 Beds Ready for Spring Planting, Figs and Lettuces Readied for Cold

Much colder weather has been sneaking in and out of the garden but leaving traces of its presence with some blackened leaves on frost-sensitive plants and threatening to brazenly show itself in full force sometime soon. This fall I vow to put all in order before that event rather than, on some very cold night, running around, flashlight in hand, gathering and protecting plants.

Before even getting to the plants, drip irrigation must be readied for winter. Main lines and drip lines can remain outdoors but right near the spigot, the timer, the filter, and pressure reducer must be brought indoors where they won’t freeze. I plug the inlet for the drip’s main line to keep out curious insects. At the far end of the line is a cap that I loosen enough to let water drain out. Opening all other …

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