Yearly Archives: 2016

NUTS, SOME GOOD, SOME BAD, AND NEW(!) PLANTS

 

A Good Harvest, But . . .

The black walnut harvest was abundant this past fall. Back in October, we gathered about a dozen 5-gallon buckets of of unhusked nuts, and, after husking, cleaning and drying them, set them in the cool, dry, squirrel-proof loft of our garage/barn (gabarn?).

The nuts are now sufficiently cured and ready for cracking. Two tools have made quicker, easier, pain-free, and more effective the once difficult and thumb-threatening job needing a concrete floor and a hammer. The Master Nutcracker makes elegant use of cogs and levers. For any nutmeats still gripped in a piece of shell, a “diagonal cutting plier” nips the shell piece to create a fault line that opens to drop out a piece of nutmeat, or to twists off a piece not fully cracked.

This year’s harvest was from two trees. Most was gathered from the ground beneath a decades-old tree. That tree grows …

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MY PONYTAIL GROWS, AND SEEDS ENTICE

I Grow A Ponytail

A friend gave me a ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) decades ago, and up to this summer it looked something like a palm tree sitting atop a large onion. Or a long-leafed dracena plant whose stem, near ground level, had swollen almost to the size of a bowling ball. The plant looked very interesting, but not particularly attractive, and the sharp edges of its long, strappy leaves were grabbing at me every time I walked by too closely.

So last summer, I was going to toss the plant in the compost pile; instead, I lopped off its top to about 3 feet in height. What remained was nothing more than what looked like a tan bowling ball halfway immersed in a pot of soil with a inch-thick, bare stem tapering skyward from its upper side.

After pruning, I ignored the plant just as I had done for the past few …

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CATS ON A COOL, GREEN ROOF

Not Green Enough

I’m looking up at my green roof, my evergreen roof, and it’s not green enough. Literally. I had expected that by now the roof would be solid green. It’s not.

The green of this roof was supposed to come from the plants growing on it. Because conditions up on the roof are very harsh, the plants I chose were tough ones, hens-and-chicks (Sempervivum spp.). Hens-and-chicks look like little cabbage heads of stubby, succulent leaves. Baby plants push out from around the mother plants, grow, and make more babies, and so on, ad infinitum. Or so I hoped.

The roof only has a couple of inches of “soil” on it and covers a porch, so has no heated space or insulation beneath it. If winter temperatures plummet to 10 degrees below zero, not uncommon here, temperatures within that thin layer of soil also plummet to 10 degrees below zero. If summer temperatures hit …

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UPCOMING PRESENTATIONS

I will be offering lectures and workshops at a number of venues across the country in the upcoming year. If interested, go to the “Lecture” page of this website for a current listing, which will be updated as needed.

IN WITH ENDIVE, OUT WITH ASPARAGUS

First Harvest At Season’s End

Finally, I’m harvesting endive from the garden, just as planned when I settled seeds into mini-furrows in a seed flat back in July. After leaves unfolded on the seedlings, I gently lifted them up and out of their seed flat, helping them up with a spatula slid beneath their roots, and into individual cells in a GrowEase Seed Starter.

Also as planned, a bed in the vegetable garden was freed up from harvested sweet corn in early September. After removing corn stalks and slathering an inch of compost on top of the bed, the endive plants were snuggled in, 2 rows down the 3-foot-wide bed, with one foot between the plants in each row. In October, I laid row cover over the plants, plus a tunnel of clear plastic film supported by hoops, to protect plants from bitterest cold.

Endive harvest could have begun earlier. But …

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ALL-AMERICAN THANKSGIVING

Danger of Squashing

Thanksgiving is a most appropriate time to put together a truly American meal, one made up of native plants, many of which are easily grown, that might have shown up on the original Thanksgiving table about 400 years ago.

(The date of that first feast was 1623 but the date for celebrating Thanksgiving in all states— on the final Thursday in November — was not fixed until 1863, with a presidential proclamation. Lincoln hoped that a unified date throughout the country would help unify the nation during the divisive days of the Civil War. Not so. Confederate States refused to accept that date until the next decade, during Reconstruction. Another presidential proclamation, by F.D.R. changed the date to the 4th Thursday of November, in an attempt to boost the economy. Would a new date help now?)

On to garden history . . . Back in early November, I picked a …

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SENSORY DELIGHTS, NOW AND FUTURE

A Scented Wave

    For the past couple of weeks, every time I walk upstairs to my home office, a sweet aroma hits me like a wave a few steps before I reach the top stair. This wave pulls me forward, a room and a half away, to the Meyer lemon plant sitting in my office’s sunny, south-facing window.
    The wave began when only a single Meyer lemon flower had opened. Now, the plant, only a foot and a half high, is decked out with more than 20 flowers.
    This “tree” started life as a cutting I took from a friend’s old tree that anyway needed some pruning. With their bottom leaves stripped off, the 6 inch long stems rooted reliably in a few weeks after their bottom portions were plunged into a moist mix of equal parts peat and perlite, and transpiration was reduced with a clear plastic …

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UBER ORGANIC & A BEAUTIFUL BLOSSOM

‘Tis the Season

    ’Tis the season to really put the “organic” in organic gardening. “Organic,” as in organic materials, natural compounds composed mostly of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. “Organic,” as in materials that are or were once living, things like compost, leaves, manure, and hay.
    I’ve spread compost over almost all my vegetable garden beds. A one inch depth laid atop each bed provides all the nutrients the vegetable plants need for a whole season, in addition to other benefits such as snuffing out weeds, holding moisture, improving aeration, and nurturing beneficial, pest-fighting organisms.
    I’m also finishing up the bulk of making new compost for the year. Pretty much everything organic — old vegetable plants, kitchen trimmings, even old cotton clothing — go into the compost piles. The primary foods, though, are hay, which I scythe, rake up, and then haul over from my hayfield, and horse manure, …

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CHANGING STEMS, CHANGING LEAVES

Korean Giant Pear, In Training

    Stepping down the two stones at one end of my bluestone wall, a friend looked up and asked, “Are you torturing or training this tree?” He was referring to the tree on one side of the the stairway, one long stem of which was arching overhead, held in that position with a string tied to a stone on the opposite side of the stairway.
    “Training,” I replied. The stem was being coaxed into this seemingly submissive position both for form and function. Not to inflict pain.
    But first, something about this tree. It is an Asian pear, the variety Seuri Li that I created many years ago by grafting a Seuri Li stem on a semi-dwarfing rootstock (OH x F 513). It’s initial training was as an en arcure espalier. Deer found the young pear trees sitting high enough on the backfilled soil …

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THE GOOD AND THE BAD OF A DRY AUTUMN

Just Like Korea?

    The bone dry weather blanketing the Hudson Valley and much of northeastern U.S. does have its saving graces. For one thing, it forces perennial plants to shut down and direct their energies to toughening up for cold weather lurking over the horizon. That’s a good thing — unless, of course, the soil gets dry enough to kill a plant. Deciduous plants have the option, before that happens, to drop their leaves, drastically reducing their water loss and needs.
    This dry autumn weather is not unlike that in many parts of Korea. So what? When it comes to cold-hardiness, some plants that survive Korea’s frigid winters typically are done in by our similarly frigid winters. One plant that comes to mind is Asian persimmon (Diospyros kaki). The chances of an Asian persimmon surviving a winter here at my Zone 5 farmden and ripening its fruits are generally not …

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