Yearly Archives: 2015

Luxuriating in my Greenhouse

How Cool is That (Greenhouse)?

    Having a greenhouse is a much-appreciated luxury. To avoid being profligate, I eke all that I can from its every square inch in every season.    For starters, it’s a cool greenhouse — temperature-wise “cool,” not “ain’t this a cool greenhouse” cool. Winter temperatures are permitted inside drop to 35°F. before the propane heater kicks on. And in summer, roll-up sidewalls let in plenty of cooler, outside air to save energy (and noise) in running the cooling fan. Demands on the cooling fan are also minimized by letting summer temperatures reach almost 100°F. before the fan awakens.    I have to choose my plants carefully for them to tolerate such conditions.    Right now, lettuce, arugula, mâche, celery, parsley, kale, and Swiss chard seedlings and small transplants trace green lines up and down ground beds in the greenhouse. I sowed seed of most …

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I Find Common Ground, and More, in Maine

 My Favorite Country Faire

   Two dogs, one cat, six ducks, and one chicken are trusted to the care of friends; sourdough starter is re-fed and chilled; plants are on their own. It’s hard to leave the farmden. But this trip — to Maine — is well worth it.    Walking through the entrance gate to the Common Ground Fair in Unity, Maine, my senses are overloaded with color and fragrance. Along either side of the entrance path are boxes piled high with bright orange carrots, spilling over with the blue green leaves of kale, or packed full with yellow or red beets. Also flowers, herbs, and cheeses. Pervasive is the resiny fragrance of sweet Annie (Artemesia annua), which for some reason seems to be perennially the signature herb of the fair. Buckets are filled with stems for sale; knapsacks sprout bunches of purchased sweet Annie from their zippered pockets; and girls …

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SLOW SEED

 Appreciated but not Touched

   “Flower in the crannied wall, I pluck you out of the crannies, I hold you here, root and all, in my hand, Little flower . . . “ Whoa! Hold on there Lord Tennyson! Relax, little flower. I’m not doing any plucking.    I had hardly a hand in some of my best plantings, and that little flower is one of them.    There’s a small, moss-covered ledge at the base of the brick wall next to my front door, an east-facing spot that enjoys some morning sun in summer but shade from the nearby north wall the rest of the year. In short, it’s a perfect place for a summer vacation for my orchids, bonsai, and cyclamen.

Cyclamen flower in a crannied wall

    The cyclamen is Cyclamen hederifolium, sometimes commonly called Persian violet (though a violet it is not; hence the need for botanical names). …

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SUCCESSES, EDIBLE AND OTHERWISE

 Stand Up Straight!

   I am particularly proud of my Brussels sprouts this year — and I haven’t even tasted them yet. How odd that I should be proud of this vegetable that I spurned in the past, often quoting a friend who referred to them as “little green balls of death.” Then I put my own twist on that description, saying that perhaps the friend meant that Brussels sprouts were only palatable a “little boiled to death.”    I’ve come around, and decided, a couple of years ago, that Brussels sprouts were worth growing, despite their high demands on space and time. For good production in northern climates, the seeds need to be sown indoors in early March, and then harvest doesn’t start until October or sometime after the first frost. And for all that waiting, each plant — a mere single stalk with whorls of leaves from top to bottom …

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VEGETABLE GARDEN FRUITS

End of Summer But I Still Need some Watermelon

    Given sun, heat, and reasonably moist, fertile soil, watermelons are easy to grow. The greater challenge is in harvesting them at their peak of perfection. Even professionals sometimes fall short, as witnessed by not-quite-ripe watermelons I “harvested” awhile ago from a supermarket shelf and, a couple of weeks later, from a table at a local farmers’ market.    That was while I was waiting for my own watermelons to ripen — the delectable variety Blacktail Mountain. But should I have been waiting?    All sorts of indicators are touted for telling when a watermelon is ripe. The part of the melon laying on the ground supposedly turns yellow. The tendril opposite where the melon in question is attached dries up. Or my favorite method: thumping. Knock you knuckles on your forehead, your chest, and your stomach. The sound of a ripe watermelon should …

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ON TRIAL

And the Best Cherry Tomato Is . . .

 Take your picks from the descriptor grab bag: Honey, Gold, Drop, Sun, Bunch, etc. Now put a couple of them together and you might end up with a luscious-sounding name for a tomato variety. People have done this, and reeled me right in. This year I got fished into planting a few, new (for me) varieties of cherry tomato.    Sungold is the gold standard of cherry tomatoes, the one I always grow. Its rich aroma underlies a sweetness livened with just the right amount of tang. One problem with Sungold is that it’s an F-1 hybrid, which means that you can’t save the seed and expect the resulting seedlings’ fruits to have the flavor of Sungold. The flavor might be better, but it’s more likely to be not as good. The other problem with Sungold is that the seeds, which must be …

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I WAS WRONG

 Hog Peanuts, Groundnuts, Whatever

   I was wrong. A few weeks ago I wrongly dissed groundnut (Apios americana) for invading my flower garden. Yes, I planted it; that was 30 years ago, and it’s resisted my attempts at eradication for the past 28 years.    The worse culprit, this year at least, is related to groundnut. Like groundnut, it’s a legume, it’s native, it’s edible, and it’s a vining plant with compound leaves. But each leaf of hog peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata), has 3 egg-shaped leaflets, as compared with groundnut’s 5 lance-shaped leaflets.

Hog peanut leaves

    Hog peanuts produce flowers both above ground and below ground. Below ground is where the goodies are. Pods that form there enclose peanut-sized seeds that allegedly are tasty raw or cooked. I’ll see if I can dig some up in a few weeks. Like groundnuts, hog peanuts provided food for Native Americans; the plants were …

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GOLDEN REWARDS, NOW & FUTURE

 Why Grow Sweet Corn?

   With all the supersweet, tender ears of corn readily available at farms, farmers’ markets, even supermarkets these days, why do I bother to grow my own sweet corn? Because it tastes better, much better. Corn can be too sweet, and too tender for many of us maizophiles.    I grow the variety Golden Bantam, which was the standard of excellent in sweet corn a hundred years ago. Its fat, golden kernels are toothsome, giving you something to chew on (but they’re not too chewy), with a rich, corny flavor. And yes, they are also sweet, just not supersweet.    Corn is a relatively pest-free vegetable that warrants space in any garden. I grow corn in hills (clusters) of three plants each with 2 feet between hills in the row and two rows of hills down each 3-foot-wide bed. With each stalk yielding one …

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MAYPOP & ASPARAGUS, BEAUTIFUL & EDIBLE

 Awesome, Made More So

   You would think — or I, at least, would think — that a purple and white passionflower would be more passion-inducing than one that was merely white. Not so. The white one displays a passionate juxtaposition between a pure, lily-whiteness and a wildness from the the squiggly, threadlxike rays of its corona backdropping female stigmas’ that arch over the yellow pollen-dusted anthers.    A white passionflower is a rarity. Mine sprung up by chance from a batch of seeds I planted last year. Mostly the plants bear purple and white flowers.    Most passionflowers are tropical, but this white-flowered passionflower, like its mother and siblings can survive outdoors even with our winter lows of well below zero degrees Fahrenheit. Commonly known as maypop, Passiflora incarnata is native to eastern U.S. as far north as Pennsylvania. Tropical passionflowers, are woody perennial vines; maypop is an herbaceous perennial vine, …

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SUNNY DAYS & YOGA, BUT TOMATOES?

Springtown Farmden Health Spa

    In the past, I have written of rei-king and sie-thing as two of the many healthful exercises offered here at Springtown Farmden Health Spa. We now have a new offering at the spa: garden yoga or, more catchy, gardoga or yōgdening. I like the last one best.    Yōgdening grew out of my respect for the soil, my desire to maintain and foster a healthy balance of life below ground. A healthy population of bacteria, fungi, worms, actinomycetes and other below-ground dwellers translates to healthy plants above ground. Those beneficial creatures need to breathe, which is why most gardeners and farmers till their soil. To aerate it.

Yogdening, for health and weedlessness

    But tilling a soil also burns up valuable organic matter. This organic matter feeds soil organisms and, in turn, plants, makes nutrients already in the ground more accessible to plants, helps hold moisture …

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