Yearly Archives: 2017

Winter’s Comin’

Ready of Ol’ Man Winter

October 31st, was slated to be the first hard frost of the season, later than ever. That afternoon, I went down my checklist of things to do in preparation for the cold.

Drip irrigation needed to be shut down so that ice wouldn’t damage the lines. I opened up the drains at the ends and at the low points of the main lines. I also  opened up the valves on all the drip lines so water wouldn’t get trapped anywhere. Some people blow out all the lines with compressed air.

The only parts of the drip system that ever need to be brought indoors are the parts near the spigot: the battery-powered timer, the pressure reducer, and the filter.

But I wasn’t yet finished with water. All hoses got drained, with any sprayers or hose wands removed from their ends. Hoses were also removed from frost-free hydrants to let …

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The Morning After

Endive Galore

I don’t know if was a case of green thumbness or the weather, but my bed of endive is now almost as frightening as a zucchini planting in summer. The bed, 3 feet wide by 20 feet long, is solid green with endive plants, each and every plant looking as if it’s been pumped up on steroids.

I sowed seeds in 4 by 6 inch seed trays around August 1st, “pricked out” the seedlings into individual growing cells filled with homemade potting soil about a week later, and  transplanted them into the garden in the beginning of September. The bed had been home to one of this summer’s planting of sweet corn (Golden Bantam), a heavy feeder, so after clearing the corn I slathered the bed with an inch depth of pure compost.

Perhaps the vigor of these plants also reflects the extra space I gave them. In years past I …

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Timing Gone Awry But Composting On Schedule

Time Change

Much of gardening is about timing — getting tomato plants in the ground early enough for a timely harvest, but not so early that transplants are killed by a late frost; checking that there’s enough time following harvest of early corn for a late planting of turnips, etc. So, when I began gardening, I read a lot and took lots of notes on what worked here in Zone 5, and eventually compiled everything into a neat table of when to do what.

I figured, with that table, that I was all set and would no longer have to respond to a gut impulse to plant peas during a freak warm spell in late February. Or to keep reading seed packets and counting back days to maturity to compute if there was still time, or it was too early, to plant a late season crop of endive.

Not so! In the few …

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Grapes And Onions

So Many Choices, In Grapes

With over 5,000 varieties of grapes from which to choose, how can anyone decide which to grow? For better or worse, that choice is naturally limited by climate and pests in each part of the country. Here in the northeast, major limitations are humid summers that spread indigenous disease and frigid winter temperatures.

There’s still plenty of grape varieties from which to choose, which I’ve done over the years, weeding out varieties that would succumb to cold or disease. My varietal possibilities are further limited by my low lying land close to acres upon acres of forest. Cold, moisture-laden air sinks into this low spot, and the abundance of wild grapes clambering up forest trees provide a nearby reservoir of insects and disease spores.

With all that, I want to grow varieties that taste good to me (fresh, not for wine). I have dairy farmer-cum-grape breeder Elmer Swenson …

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I Clothe The Ground

Sowing My Oats

Whew! Just made it under the wire. Sowing cover crops, that is. (Cover crops are plants grown solely to improve the soil.)

With the vegetable garden still filled to the brim, now overflowing with cabbage, kale, mustard, arugula, lettuce, Chinese cabbages, and radishes, with even corn and peppers still yielding well, where am I going to find room to plant a cover crop? Despite the cornucopia, some plants — the corn, peppers, and other warmth-loving vegetables — are on their way out. As they peter out, it’s too late in the season to sow any more radishes, lettuce, or any of the other cool season crops; there’s not enough time or sunlight for them to mature.

No reason to leave a recently cleared bed of early corn, early beans, or okra bare, so I planted those beds to a cover crop. Problem is that after a certain time of year, …

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Some Good, Some Bad

Picking Pecks and Pecks of Peppers

Warm — no, hot — weather going on and on keeps tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers chugging along, restrained only by diminished sunshine. Still, before real autumn weather rolls in and decimates these warmth-loving plants, it’s time to do some evaluation of this season before it fades into memories that meld with previous seasons.

As usual, there are successes and failures. Good — no, great — are this year’s peppers. I credit the rousing success mostly to My choice of two varieties. The first was an old variety, Sweet Italia, aka Sweet Italian or Italian Sweet. Other varieties are available with similar names; the names are similar, but not the same, as are the fruits.

Sweet Italia has two problems: The seed is hard to find; and the plants flop over under their weight of fruit. Both problems are easily solved: Save seed (Sweet Italia is not a …

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Taste And Aroma

Old Peaches

The peaches on a friend’s tree were small, marred with bacterial spot disease, and still showed some green on their skins. So burdened with fruits was the tree that it had burst asunder from their weight, splitting one of the main limbs.

Still, the friend insisted that the peaches tasted good. As further enticement, the tree had a history, having sprouted on the grounds of a nearby 18th century house that had an orchard. The tree was evidently cold hardy also. So I twisted one fruit off and took a bite. In spite of being not quite ripe, the fruit was delicious, quite sweet — as is usual with white peaches such as these — and with an old-fashioned, intensely peachy flavor.

I took up the offer to take a small bag of them home with me. And not only for eating. My plan is to save the seeds from many …

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How Pesky And Interesting

Snowflakes? No.

Gardening never ceases to be interesting, even if the current object of interest is a pest. Not just any pest, but a NEW pest! And not just for me.

I was alerted to this pest when pulling a few weeds near my Brussels sprouts plants. Brushing against their leaves brought a cloud of what looked like fine snowflakes. They were, in fact, whiteflies, tiny (1.5 mm) fluttering insects, immediately recognizable to me from their common occurrence on houseplants.

Cabbage whitefly

Whiteflies rarely show up on outdoor plants; in my experience, never. Easy enough to discover on the web, my whiteflies are appropriately named cabbage whiteflies (Aleyrodes protella). This native of Europe first turned up in the U.S. in 1993, but is rare in the Hudson Valley. It’s fond of all cabbages relatives, with a preference for kale. Not in my garden, though; kale, sharing the bed with the Brussels sprouts, is …

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It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over, and Pears

Whoosh!

Whew! How quickly this growing season seems to have scooted by. I am putting the last plants of the season into the vegetable garden today. These were transplants of Shuko and Prize Choy bok choy, and Blue napa cabbage. I’m eyeing some lettuce transplants, and if I decide that they’re sufficiently large to transplant, they’ll share a bed with the cabbages.

Reconsidering, the end of the gardening season isn’t really drawing nigh. The cabbages won’t be large enough to make a real contribution to a stir fry or a batch of kim chi for at least another month. And then, with cool weather and shorter days slowing growth, the plants will just sit there in the garden, doing fine, patiently awaiting harvest.

Other plants awaiting harvest into autumn from plantings over the past few weeks are Hakurei turnips, crunchy, sweet, and spicy fresh in salads, daikon and Watermelon radishes, for salads or …

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The Destroyer To The Rescue

Predatory Helpers

Some of the figs — the varieties Rabbi Samuel, Brown Turkey, and San Piero — started ripening last week. With their ripening, I am now in a position to claim victory over the mealybugs that have invaded my greenhouse fig-dom for the past few years.
Mealybugs look, unassumingly, like tiny tufts of white cotton, but beneath their benign exteriors are hungry insect. They injects their needle-like probiscis into stems, fruits, and leaves, and suck life from the plants, or at least, weaken the plants and make the fruits hardly edible.

Over the years I’ve battled the mealybugs at close quarters. I’ve scrubbed down the dormant plants with a tooth brush dipped in alcohol (after the plants were pruned heavily for winter). I’ve tried repeated sprays with horticultural oil. I put sticky bands around the trunks to slow traffic of ants, which “farm” the mealybugs. And I’ve rubbed them to …

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