Author Archives: Lee Reich

GOOD FUNGI, BAD WEEDS

 

Myco . . . What?

There’s a fungus among us. Actually, fungi, all over the place. Right now, though, I’m focussed on a special group of fungi, a group that, as I look out the window on my garden, the meadow, and the forest, has infected almost every plant I see. Like so many microorganisms — most, in fact — these fungi are beneficial.

The fungi are called mycorrhizal fungi; they have a symbiotic relationship with plants. (“Mycorrhizae” comes from the Greek “myco,” meaning fungus, and “rhiza,” meaning root.) The plant and the fungus have an agreement: The plant offers the fungus carbohydrates which it makes from sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water; in exchange, the fungus infects plant roots and then spreads the other ends of its thread-like hyphae throughout the soil to act to be virtual extensions of the roots. The plant ends up garnering more mineral nutrients from the soil. …

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BLACKCAPS AND PRUNING

Blackcaps All Season (Almost)

It’s a bumper year for blackcaps (also know as black raspberries or, botanically, Rubus occidentalis), at least here on the farmden. Up to last year, we harvested wild blackcaps from plants that pop up at the edges of woods. The current bountiful harvest is from blackcaps that I planted a couple of years ago. Last year’s harvest was unimpressive because the plants were still settling into their new home.

Most blackcaps, like many other bramble fruits, have biennial canes that grow stems and leaves their first year, fruit in early summer of their second year, then die back to the ground. (Annual harvests are possible because while those second year canes are fruiting and then dying, the perennial roots are pushing up new canes, which will bear the following year.)

Niwot and Ohio’s Treasure, the two varieties I planted, stand out from the crowd in bearing on new, growing …

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OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW

In Which I Emulate George Washington

It’s about 10 years since I planted the cherry tree, a sweet, self-pollinating variety called Stella, on  dwarfing rootstock. During that time, the trunk swelled to about 7 inches in diameter and the branches shot skyward to 20 feet.

Stella is now gone, and it was all my doing. She took ten years to grow but only about an hour to cut down (with my new Stihl cordless electric chain saw, which I highly recommend). Afterlife of her trunk is as firewood, her branches as chipped mulch.

I warned Stella, who never bore one cherry, that this was her last chance. Finally, this spring she was loaded with blossoms, for the first time, followed by a good crop of developing cherries. A couple of weeks later, all the cherries were gone, except for two green ones I noticed on a cut branch. The weather could not have …

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THE GOOD OL’ DAYS

Corn Made Even easier

I can understand why corn was so popular a crop early on in the settlement of our country by Europeans. Sure, it tastes good popped, ground and cooked, and, while immature, fresh from the cob. Mostly, though, corn was easy to grow in the rough soil left from recently cleared forest.

Most of my corn grows in my two vegetable gardens where the soil is crumbly and weed-free, watered gently by drip irrigation, and nourished annually with an inch depth of compost.

Highly cultivated sweet corn

The south garden is home, every year, to a couple of beds (about 60 square feet) of popcorn, and the north garden to 4 beds (about 215 square feet) of sweet corn. Those two gardens provide us with all the sweet corn and popcorn we eat for a year.

Separate gardens are needed because if sweet and popcorn cross-pollinate, the sweet corn will be …

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I’M AN INGRATE, AND RUTHLESS WITH FRUITLETS

Great Asparagus Does Not Require A Green Thumb

Not to be an ingrate or a braggart, but the asparagus some friends recently brought over for our shared dinner didn’t compare with my home-grown asparagus. Not that the friends’ asparagus wasn’t good. Theirs came from a local farm, so I assume harvest was within the previous 24 hours. But the stalks of my asparagus are snapped off the plants within 100 feet of the kitchen door, clocking in at anywhere from a few minutes to an hour of time before they’re eaten. It’s not my green thumb that makes my asparagus taste so good. It’s the fact that I can harvest it within 100 feet of my kitchen door.

But don’t take my word for it. Research has shown that asparagus spears begin to age as soon as they’re picked, the stalks toughening and sugars disappearing, and bitterness, sourness, and off-flavors beginning to …

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PERENNIAL VEGGIES AND A DEAD AVOCADO

 

King Henry Was, And Is, Good

The good king has gone to seed. Good King Henry, that is. A plant. But no matter about that going to seed. The leaves still taste good, steamed or boiled just like spinach.

The taste similarity with spinach isn’t surprising because both plants are in the same botanical family, the Chenopodiaceae, or, more recently, the Amaranthaceae. Spinach and Good King Henry didn’t change families; their family was just taken in by, and made into a subfamily of, the Amaranthaceae.

Whatever its name — and it’s also paraded under such common names as poor man’s asparagus and Lincolnshire spinach — Good King Henry is a vegetable that’s been eaten for hundreds of years, except hardly ever nowadays. While spinach, beet, and some of its other kin have been improved by breeding and selection over the years, Good King Henry was neglected.

But the Good King, besides having good flavor, …

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PERMACULTURAL GLITCHES

Imperfect Lawn

I’m no devotee of the perfect lawn, but I did recently suggest, for the bare palette of ground on which W wanted to plan for a variety of fruits, a patch of lawn. W protested that she hated mowing and wanted a “permaculture planting” that would take little care.

Visitors to my garden have occasionally complimented me on my lawn. The only care I give it is mowing with a mulching mower that lets clippings rain back down. By not cutting the lawn I avoid “mining” the soil for nutrients by repeated harvest of clippings. The clippings also enrich the ground with humus.

Pawpaw tree in my cousin’s lawn

Still, I’d rather grow trees, shrubs, vines, especially fruiting ones, and vegetables and flowers, than lawngrass. But I have plenty of ground devoted to these plants. And the easiest way to care for a plot of ground, short of sealing it in …

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AWESOME BLOSSOMS & RATIONALITY

 

Wow!!

With blossoms spent on forsythias, lilacs, fruit trees, and clove currants, spring’s flamboyant flower show had subsided – or so I thought. Pulling into my driveway, I was pleasantly startled by the profusion of orchid-like blossoms on the Chinese yellowhorn tree (Xanthoceras sorbifolium). And I again let out an audible “Wow” as I stepped onto my terrace, when three fat, red blossoms, each the size of a dinner plate, stared back at me from my tree peony.

Both plants originate in Asia. Both plants are easy to grow. Both plants have an unfortunate short bloom period, more or less depending on the weather. Fortunately, both plants also are attractive, though more sedately, even after their blossoms fade.

The tree peonies have such a weird growth habit. I had read that they were very slow to grow so was quite pleased, years ago, when each of the branches on my new plant extended …

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SANS (fr.) / SIN (sp.) SOIL

Clarabel And Abbe Fetel

The UPS guy delivered two large, long boxes last week. Laid out in each box as in a coffin was what looked like a sturdy, 4-foot long stick. You wouldn’t think that either stick, one labelled Clarabel quince and the other labelled Abbe Fetal pear, could ever become a tree, could ever even come to life! Unpacking, then holding one of the sticks up, its bare roots dangling in the air, I had my doubts about the plant’s viability, even though I’ve planted many bare root trees over many years.

Bare root tree soaking

Bare root trees are grown at a nursery and, sometime between fall and spring while still leafless and dormant, are dug up, their roots shaken free of soil, and shipped. Before shipping a tree, a good nursery will  tuck moist sphagnum moss, shredded newspaper, or other water retaining material in among the roots, then …

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DESIGNS ON GARDENING

The Turn Of  The Year

Sure there’s seed-sowing, weeding, and pruning to do, but I’ve also been spending a good amount of time communing with my pitchfork. Turning compost.

Some people are put off by the thought of having to turn compost. Don’t be. Compost does not have to be turned. Any pile of organic materials will eventually become compost.

Still, I like to turn my composts. I typically build new piles (a lot of them!!) through summer into fall, turn them the following spring, and then spread the finished compost that fall or the following spring. As I fork the ingredients from the old pile into the adjacent bin, I break up any clumps with the pitchfork and fluff up any parts that seem sodden and gasping for air. A nearby hose makes it convenient to spray any dry areas.

Everything organic (was once or is living) — hay, weeds, old plants, some …

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