Author Archives: Lee Reich

An Onion Relative and a Cabbage Relative

 

Wild Leeks, Cultivated

I got pretty excited seeing rows of scrappy, green leaves emerging from the ground between a couple of my pawpaw trees. The leaves were those of ramps (Allium tricoccum, also commonly known as wild leeks) that I had first planted there two years ago, with an additional planting last year.

There’s no reason that ramps shouldn’t thrive here on the farmden; they’re native from Canada down to North Carolina and from the east coast as far west as Missouri. They’ve been best known in the southern Appalachian region, where festivals have long been held to celebrate the harvest.

Ramps became more widely known in the 1990s when, with the publication of a ramp recipe in Martha Stewart Living Magazine, the wilding became a foodie-food. Ramps are now threatened with being over harvested. Which, along with a desire to have this fresh-picked delicacy near the kitchen door, is the reason I …

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Spring?

Spring, You’re Late

Seems like everyone — in the northern half of the country east of the Rockies, at least — is talking about this spring’s weather. Robert Frost (in “Two Tramps in Mud Time”) had it right when he wrote: 

The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.” 

Perhaps T. S. Elliot (in “The Waste Land”) was right in writing that “April is the cruelest month.”

But has this past April really been crueler than most? Usually I pooh-pooh day to day impressions. But even Sammy, who usually bounds over to …

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(Micro)climate Change

As the train rolled southbound along the east bank of the Hudson River, I took in the varied landscapes along the opposite west bank. Spilling down the slope to the river on that bank at one point was what appeared, from a distance, to be a vineyard. I was envious.

(I never could understand why the region here is called the Hudson Valley. Along much of the Hudson, the land rises steeply right up from river’s edge. Where’s the valley?)

I wasn’t envious of the riverfront site of the vineyard property. I wasn’t even envious of having a whole vineyard  of grapes. (I cultivate about a dozen vines.)

What I did envy was the microclimate of the site. Microclimates are pockets of air and soil that are colder, warmer, more or less windy, even more or less humid than the general climate, due to such influences as slopes, walls, and pavement. 

The vineyard was …

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Doing Good with Saw and Lopper

Fruitful Pruning

To begin, I gave the bush in front of me a once over, eyeing it from top to bottom and assuring it that the next few minutes would be all to its good. It was time for my blueberries’ annual pruning, the goals of which were to keep them youthful (the stems, at least), fecund, and healthy.

Blueberries galore

I peered in at the base of the plant, eyeing now the thickest stems. Blueberry bushes bear best on stems up to 6 years old, so the next move was to lop or saw any of these stems — usually only 3 or 4 of them, more on a neglected plant — as low as possible.

Sammy & me, pruning blueberries

To keep track of the ages of individual stems, I mark off the age of them each year with a Sharpie. Just kidding! The thickest ones are the oldest ones, and …

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Northern Figs? Yes!

Faking The Subtropics

At first blush, the setting would not seem right for fig trees. There they were, in pots sitting on my terrace — so far so good — but with snow on the ground around them. Figs? Snow?

Figs seem so tropical but, in fact, are subtropical plants. And it does sometimes snow in subtropical regions. Climatewise, subtropics are defined as regions with mean temperatures greater than 50 °F with at least one month below about 64 °F. Further definitions exist but the point is that it does occasionally snow in subtropical regions; temperatures just never get very cold.

My potted figs couldn’t have survived our winters outdoors. They wintered in my basement, where winter temperatures are in the 40s. Cool temperatures are a must to keep the stored plants from waking up too early indoors, then, because the weather is too cold to move them outdoors, sprouting pale, sappy shoots …

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And The Season Begins . . .

 

St. Patty’s Day Passed; No Matter

Uh oh! St. Patrick’s Day was way passed and I hadn’t planted my peas. No matter. St. Patty’s Day is the right time to plant peas in Virginia, southern Missouri, and other similar climates, including, probably, Ireland.

Around here, in New York’s Hudson Valley, where the average date of the last killing frost is sometime in the latter half of May, April 1st is more like it. That’s the date that I shoot for, at least. Some springs, like the spring of 2017, earlier plantings would have done better. But you never know what bodes for the weather, so playing the averages is the best bet.

The problem with planting pea seeds too early is that the seeds will just sit and perhaps rot in cold soil. The problem with planting peas too late is that temperatures are too hot when the plants are supposed to be …

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Spring Inspires

Even Bob Got the Bug

As I write, daily high temperatures are in the 30s and snow is predicted. Nonetheless, just a few warm, sunny days and almost everyone is going to be inspired to garden. Or at least do something plantwise. Even my friend Bob.

Bob’s non-interest in gardening was demonstrated decades ago as I was starting my first very own garden at a house I was renting. Bob was there as I pushed my shovel into the clay soil of the lawn to turn over spadeful after spadeful. Bob watched peacefully lying beyond the proposed plot with his head propped up on his hands. (Not so another friend, Hans, who grabbed another shovel, and dug. Now that I think of it, perhaps I owned only two shovels.)

A crown of thorns (not Bob’s)

Bob’s current interest centers around one plant, a potted crown of thorns plant (Euphorbia milii). Crown of thorns …

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Peppers & Potting Soil

Concerned

You’d think that there’d be no reason for me to be concerned. After all, year after year I raise my own seedlings for the garden. Nonetheless, every day I take a look at the small tray of soil in which I had sowed eggplant and pepper seeds, waiting for little green sprouts to poke through the brown surface of the potting mix.

These plants are on a schedule. They get a start indoors — in a greenhouse now; under lights or in sunny windows in years past — so that they have enough time to start ripening their fruits by midsummer.

Italian Sweet peppers

Even an early-ripening pepper wouldn’t ripen its first fruits before October if seeds were sown directly in the garden once the soil had warmed enough for germination, which isn’t until the end of May around here.

Ingredients for Good Transplants

Not that raising transplants for the garden is difficult. All …

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