Author Archives: Lee Reich

Down in Dixie

Green, Green, Green, and Flowers!

After delivering a couple of lectures about gardening in North Carolina, I set off on a very short, whirlwind tour of the southeast, specifically North Carolina and Georgia, and ending with a stay in Charleston. How different from my spot here in New York’s Hudson Valley!

For all Charleston’s uniqueness, three characteristics jumped out. It being early March and my coming an achromatic landscape of snow, sleeping plant life, and cold, I was immediately struck by the abundance of greenery. Not the tired greenery of many evergreens here in the north, but vibrant, awake greenery in a variety of shapes, textures, and sizes.

Camellia blossoming in Charleston

Included in all that Charlestonian greenery were fronds of palm trees — saw palmetto and sabal palmetto — fanning out above jagged trunks. Those palms were a reminder that I was now in a subtropical rather than temperate climate. Not that …

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Volunteers and Clementine Boxes

Celery Volunteers for Me

I’m always on the lookout for volunteers in my garden, whether they’re people, fungi, plants, or any other organisms. The relationship is usually symbiotic. Human volunteers gain some knowledge and experience; I get some help in my ever-growing farmden. Fungal volunteers work with my plants, drinking in some of the sugars and other goodies plants produce. In return, the fungi protect plants agains certain pests and, in the case of mycorrhizal fungi, fungal threads ramifying through the soil act like extensions of plants’ roots so plants can absorb more nutrients.

  But what do plant volunteers get out of our arrangement? Plant volunteers usually arrive in droves so only some can stay. Those that stay get to enjoy especially good growing conditions.

Which brings me to celery. For the past few years, I’ve allowed celery in the greenhouse to go to seed each fall. The seeds drop and, within …

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Future Hopes

 Totipotentiality (Is This a Word?)

I was so excited one day a few years back to receive a box full of leafless sticks by mail. The exciting thing about those sticks was that each one of them could grow into a whole new plant from whose branches would eventually hang luscious apples and grapes.

  And how did I know the fruits will be luscious? Because a year prior I was at an experimental orchard getting fruit photos for a book I was working on. Of course, I couldn’t help but also taste the fruits, and that’s why Chestnut Crab, Honeygold, Mollie’s Delicious, and King of the Pippins joined the two dozen or so other varieties of apples I already grew. Cayuga White, Bertille Seyve 2758, Steuben, Lakemont, Wapanuka, Himrod, Romulus, and Venus joined my grapes.

  It was “totipotence” – of the plants, not me – that allowed me to unlock potential …

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Late Winter Sap, Pruning, and Planting

The Sap is Flowing

In past years, now is when we would always hope to make enough maple syrup to last until the following year at about this time. Maple syrup consumption has dropped dramatically, leaving me with quite a backlog of the stuff. So trees haven’t been tapped for the past few years.

Not that we ever made that much maple syrup. Four tapped trees always produced sufficient sap for a year’s worth of syrup. It had to, because that’s how many spiles (taps) and buckets we own.

Our operation was nothing like what I came upon a couple of weeks ago cross-country skiing in the woods of northern Vermont. All of a sudden tubes had appeared in the pristine, white wilderness. Tubes everywhere! Baby blue plastic tubes, black plastic tubes, interlocking connectors, everything neatly wired into position at chest height and thoughtfully out of …

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Inside and Outside

Houseplant Envy

I wonder why my houseplants look so unattractive, at least compared to some other people’s houseplants. I was recently awed by the lushness and beauty of a friend’s orchid cactii, begonias, and ferns. I also grow orchid cactii and ferns, so what’s with mine?

Perhaps the difference is that other’s houseplants have a cozy, overgrown look. Mine don’t. Most of my houseplants get repotted and pruned, as needed, for best growth. Every year, every two years at most, they get tipped out of their pots, their roots hacked back, then put back into their pots with new potting soil packed around their roots. In anticipation of lush growth, stems also get pruned to keep the plants from growing topheavy.

Rather than being scattered willy-nilly throughout the house or clustered cozily in corners, as in friends’ homes, my houseplants get carefully sited. For best growth, plants, especially flowering and fruiting plants, need …

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Snowy Skies & Winter Colors

Snow Outside but Color Inside

A day like this, a gray sky and six inches of fluffy, fresh snow laid gently atop the white already resting on the ground, hardly turns my mind to gardening or plants. Even the greenhouse, usually a cheery horticultural retreat in winter, is dark and cold. Snow on the roof blocks what little light peeks through the gray sky, and the heater doesn’t come alive until the temperature drops to about 37° F.

Carrots from jonnyseeds.com

And then I reach into my mailbox, and out comes summer! Seed and nursery catalogs oozing with photos of fresh carrots, heads of lettuce, juicy peaches, and sunny sunflowers. I’ve already ordered all my seeds, or so I thought until I started thumbing through more catalogs. Offerings in vegetable seeds, in particular, seem to get more interesting each year.

Take carrots, for example. Carrots have long been available in all sort of …

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Cold Rules

Water Freezes. Why Don’t Plants?

(The following is adapted from my book, The Ever Curious Gardener: Using a Little Natural Science for a Much Better Garden, available wherever fine books are sold, and my website.)

Not being able to don gloves and a scarf, or shiver, to keep warm, it’s a wonder that trees and shrubs don’t freeze to death from winter cold. They can’t stomp their limbs or do jumping jacks to get their sap moving and warm up. The sap has no warmth anyway.

Sometimes, of course, plants do succumb to winter cold. But usually that happens to garden and landscape plants pushed to their cold limits, not to native plants in their natural habitats or to well adapted exotic plants. 

Think about it: water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit—not a particularly cold temperature for a winter night—and plants contain an abundance of water. Water is unique among liquids …

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Get Crackin’

Cured!

It’s finally time to get crackin’. Literally. Black walnuts are ready for shelling.
This nutty story goes back to early this past autumn as black walnut trees were shedding their nuts. The nuts fall in their husks, the whole package looking like green tennis balls. Lots of people curse the trees for littering lawns, sidewalks, and driveways. We, on the other hand, praise and collect the nuts.

The first step to the present day crackin’ was husking the nuts. The soft, fleshy covering is easy to twist off the enclosed, hard-shelled nut. But we’ve also tried many methods to speed up the process, from spreading the dropped fruit in the driveway and driving over them to pounding them through a 1-1/2” hole in a thick piece of plywood to running them through a suitably modified old-fashioned corn-sheller.

There’s no way around it: Husking black walnuts is a tedious job. And messy, because the …

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Gardening by the Book

An outdoor temperature of 8.2 degrees Fahrenheit this morning highlighted what a great time winter is for NOT gardening, but for reading about gardening. A lot of gardening books, new and old, end up on my bookshelves, and I’d like to note a few favorites new to my shelves last year.

(Disclaimer: I had a new book published last year, The Ever Curious Gardener — available here. I like the book very much.)

For anyone serious about vegetable growing, Eliot Coleman, gardener extraordinaire, is the author to seek out. The Winter Harvest Handbook builds on his The New Organic Grower (recently re-issued to celebrate its 30th year since publication!) and Four Season Harvest, delving into innovative techniques for growing vegetables more efficiently and year ‘round, with minimum heat inputs even in northern climates.

The “aha” moment for me in reading Eliot’s method’s for year ‘round harvests was that sunlight, even this far north, …

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A Wizening Little Tree

Now, in its tenth year, my weeping fig is just waking up. (This plant is not one of my edible figs weeping from sadness, but a species of fig — Ficus benjamina — with naturally drooping branches.) As a tropical tree, its sleep was not natural, but induced, by me.

In its native habitat in the tropics, weeping fig grows to become a very large tree that rivals, in size, our maples. The effect is all the more dramatic due to thin aerial roots that drip from the branches, eventually fusing to create a massive, striated trunk. Because the tree tolerates low humidity, it’s often grown as a houseplant. Growth is rapid but with regular pruning the plant can be restrained below ceiling height.

At ten years old, my weeping fig is about four inches tall with a trunk about 5/8 inch in diameter and no aerial roots. Four inches was about …

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