Yearly Archives: 2020

GOOD BERRIES, BAD(?) BERRIES

Sad, Then Happy

A sad day here on the farmden: the end of blueberry season. Frozen blueberries, that is. Seventy quarts went into the freezer last summer, and a lot more than that into bellies, and now they’re all finished.

A happy day here on the farmden: the first of this season’s blueberries are ripening. These blueberries, and those that were in the freezer, are the large “highbush” (Vaccinium corymbosum) varieties commonly found fresh on market shelves. Also ripening now are “lowbush” (V. angustifolium) blueberries, growing as a decorative, edible ground cover on the east-facing slope near my home.

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again. After many, many years of growing fruits in my not-particularly-good-for-fruit-growing site, blueberries — a native fruit — have always yielded well. Two most important things are adapting the soil to blueberries’ unique requirements, and keeping birds at bay. Birds at bay? Best is a walk-in, …

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BAD SEEDS? NO SEEDS?

Edamame Scare

Got a couple of scares in the garden this season. No, not some woodchuck making its way past the dogs and then through some openings in the fences to chomp down a row of peas (which look especially vibrant this year, thank you). And no late frost that wiped out my carefully tended tomato transplants. 

The first scare came last week as I looked down on the bed where I had planted edamame a couple of weeks previously. No green showed in the bed, a stark contrast to the nearby bed planted at the same time with snap beans, the small plants enjoying the warm sunshine and neatly lined up four inches apart in two rows down the bed.

Testing edamame seeds

Scratching gingerly into the soil of the edamame bed did not reveal any seeds germinating but not yet above ground. In fact, I couldn’t find any seeds at …

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ALL FOR THE FUTURE

Seeding Transplants? Again.

Only a couple of weeks ago I finished planting out tomato, pepper, melon, and the last of other spring transplants, and here I am today, sowing seeds again for more transplants. No, that first batch of transplants weren’t snuffed out from the last, late frost when the thermometer dropped to 28°F on May 13th.

And no, those transplants were not clipped off at ground level, toppled and left lying on the ground, by cutworms. Neither were they chomped from the top down to ground level by rabbits.

I’m planting seed flats today to keep the harvest rolling along right through late autumn.

Future Further

Looking farthest ahead, I have in hand two packets of cabbage seed, Early Jersey Wakefield and  Bartolo. Early Jersey Wakefield is a hundred year old variety with very good flavor and pointy heads, due to mature a couple of months after transplanting. Once those heads firm up, they …

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STIRRING MY BLOOD, CLEARING (PARTS OF) THE MEADOW

Nearing Influence

What struck me most about Scott Nearing was his sturdy appearance, arms hanging loosely from broad shoulders, his near perfect teeth, and the deeply creviced wrinkles of his face. He was 91 years old. Looks aside, his influence on me was deep despite the brevity of my visit.Scott Nearing was a professor of economics, a political activist, a pacifist, a vegetarian and an advocate of simple living. And a gardener. For many of these reasons, he was almost a cult figure back in the 1970s when I, a young man, visited him. He was then known mostly for his book Living the Good Life. I had read the book, and decided to drive 1,000 miles from Madison, Wisconsin to show up on his farm, unannounced, in Harborside, Maine.

I thought of that visit today as I was swinging my scythe. Would I have been out in the field this morning …

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HOT KNOWLEDGE

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

More knowledge makes for a better gardener. That’s what I had in mind with my most recent book, The Ever Curious Gardener, excerpted here:

With hot weather here today, and soon to be a regular occurance, I pity my plants. While I can jump into some cool water, sit in front of a fan, or at least duck into the shade, my plants are tethered in place no matter what the weather. And don’t think that plants enjoy searing sunlight. High temperatures cause plants to dry out and consume stored energy faster than it can be replenished. Stress begins at about 86 degrees Fahrenheit, with leaves beginning to cook at about 20 degrees above that.

One recourse plants have in hot weather is to cool themselves by transpiring water. Transpiration, which is the loss of water from leaves, can cool a plant by about 5 …

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LIBERATED, AT LAST

Exposée

My garden was liberated yesterday, the soil freed at last. That’s when I peeled back and folded up the black tarps that had been covering some of the vegetable beds since early April. My beautiful soil finally popped into view.

Covering the ground was for the garden’s own good. “Tarping,” as this technique is called, gets the growing season off to a weed-less start. The black cover warms the ground to awaken weed seeds. They sprout, then die as they use up their energy reserves which, without light, can’t be replenished and built up. (I first learned of this technique in J. M. Fortier’s book The Market Gardener.)

Tarping is very different from the much more common way of growing plants in holes in black plastic film, even if one purpose of the soil covering, in both cases, is to snuff out weeds. Black plastic film is left in place all season …

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PERENNIAL VEGETABLES

Hablitzia: What a Name!

At last night’s appropriately social distanced “zoom” dinner with my daughter, she commented on how tasty my salad looked. “All home grown,” I replied, and held up to the computer screen a leaf of one of the major contributors to my bowl of greenery, Caucasian mountain spinach (Hablitzia tamnoides). “Looks like some leaf you just plucked off a tree,” says she. Yes, it did, but it was as tasty and as tender as any leaf of regular garden spinach.
 
It’s with good reason that the two “spinaches” are so similar: They’re both in the same family, Amaranthacea, also kin to beets, chard, quinoa, lamb’s quarters, and pigweed.

Caucasian mountain spinach has it over conventional garden spinach in a number of ways, most significantly its being a perennial. I planted it last spring and don’t plan on doing so ever again. Not that making new plants would be difficult. They …

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I MAKE TREES

Here are 3 Easy, Fun Grafts I Made Yesterday

Finally, the weather cooperated and I got around to doing some grafting. I could have done it a couple of weeks ago, as I had planned, but I’m blaming cooler weather for the delay. Not that I couldn’t have done it back then, but things chug along more quickly in warmer weather, so I waited.

Apple tree on very dwarfing rootstock

I’m going to describe 3 easy grafts I did yesterday. Which one I chose to do depended on the size of the rootstock on which I was grafting. The scions, which are the varieties I’m grafting on the rootstocks, are all one-year-old stems 6 to 12 inches long and more or less pencil-thick (remember what pencils are?). They have been stored, wrapped to prevent drying out, in the refrigerator so that they are more asleep than the awakening rootstocks.

The principles that …

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PRUNING FOR BEAUTY, FUN, AND FLAVOR

Yew Love

Mundane as she may be, I love yew (not mispelled, but the common name for Taxus species, incidentally vocalized just like “you”). Hardy, green year ‘round, long-lived, and available in many shapes and sizes, what’s not to love? Perhaps that it’s so commonly planted, pruned in dot-dash designs to grace the foundations in front of so many homes.

Still, I love her. For one thing, Robin Hood’s bow was fashioned from a yew branch (English yew, T. baccata, in this case). Two other species — Pacific yew (T. brevifolia) and Canadian yew (T. canadensis) — are sources of taxol, and anti-cancer drug.

At a very young age, I became intimate with yew bushes surrounding our home’s front stoop, on which my brother and I would often play. Yew’s red berries, with an exposed dark seed in each of their centers, would give the effect of being stared at by so many …

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Spring: A Manic Time in the Garden

The Season’s Ups and Downs

To me, spring can be a manic time of year. On the one hand, no tree is more beautiful or festive than a peach tree loaded with pink blossoms. I’d say almost the same for apples, pears, and plums, their branches laden with clusters of white blossoms.

And it’s such a hopeful season. If all goes well, those blossoms will morph, in coming months, into such delicacies as Hudson’s Golden Gem and Pitmaston Pineapple apples, and Magness, Seckel, and Concorde pears. My peach tree was grown from seed, so has no name. With all this beauty and anticipation, I can periodically forget the pandemic that’s raging beyond my little world here.

But even as my eyes feast on the scene and I forget about the pandemic, I can’t forget about the weather’s ups and downs. Specifically, the temperature: Frosty weather has the potential to turn blossoms to mush …

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