Come Visit My Farmden

This Sunday, June 24th, 2018, from 1-4:30 pm my garden/farmden is open to the public as part of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program. The Garden Conservancy is an American nonprofit organization founded in 1989 and dedicated to preserving exceptional gardens and landscapes. The $7 admission cost to each Open Day garden helps fund their efforts. For more information about my farmden and other local gardens open that day (and through summer), go to https://www.gardenconservancy.org/open-days/garden-directory/springtown-farmden

My Dog and I Have Odd Tastes

In My Opinion . . .

Note: The following editorial comments represent the opinions of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the publisher.

I don’t understand the current — decades long, now — infatuation with the “stinking rose,” as garlic used to be called. Not to reveal my age, but I don’t remember ever seeing, smelling, or tasting garlic in my youth. Not that I didn’t; I just don’t remember it if I did. At any rate, in my family circle, at least, it would not have generated the undue enthusiasm it does these days. Whole festivals, for instance!

I don’t dislike garlic. Mostly, when I’ve used it, it’s flavor is lost when cooked. Except when roasting turns the texture satiny and the flavor bite-less; then it’s quite delicious spread on bread or baked potato, or mixed with vegetables. Mmmmm.

But still not worth planting. It’s my belief that many …

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“Worms” Good and Bad

Nematodes Galore

The name ”nematode” doesn’t conjure up a creature that you’d normally want to make friends with. It’s other name, roundworm, seems even more repulsive and is, in fact, also a name applied more specifically to a nematode that infects humans and dogs. 

Like it or not, nematodes are all around us, with over 25,000 species described so far that  inhabit diverse ecosystems from thousands of feet deep in the Earth to mountain tops, and from deserts to rain forests. Many are visible only under a microscope; some are two inches long. A square yard of soil can be home to more than a million nematodes, and we humans can be host to about 35 species.

Do we want our plants to cozy up with them?

A number of nematodes infect plants, resulting in stunted growth and, often, swellings on roots or stems.

Soybean cyst nematode

Their common names — root knot nematode, stubby …

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Invaders

Dare I Speak the Name?

As I was bicycling down the rail trail that runs past my back yard, I was almost bowled over by a most delectable aroma wafting from a most despised plants. The plants were autumn olives (Elaeagnus umbellata), shrubs whose fine qualities I’m reluctant to mention for fear of eliciting scorn from you knowledgable readers.

Yet, you’ve got to admit that the plant does have its assets, in addition to the sweet perfume of its flowers. Okay, here goes: The plant is decorative, with silvery leaves that are almost white on their undersides. And the masses of small fruits dress up the stems as they turn silver-flecked red (yellow, in some varieties) in late summer. Those fruits are very puckery until a little after they turn red, but then become quite delicious, and healthful.

(I included autumn olive in my book Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden, and also planted …

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Playing Around With Stems

Top Doggery

My pear trees look as if a giant spider went on a drunken frolic among the branches. Rather than fine silk spun in an orderly web, strings run vertically from branch to branch and branch to ground. Yet there is method in this madness. Mine.
 
As I spell out in my new book, The Ever Curious Gardener: Using a Little Natural Science for a Much Better Garden, plants produce a natural hormone, called auxin, at the tips of their stems or at high points along a downward curving stems. This hormone suppresses growth of side branches along the stem, allowing growth from a bud at the stem tip or high point be the “top dog,” that is, the most vigorous shoot.

Within any plant a push and pull goes on between fruiting an stem growth. Both require energy, which the plant has to apportion …

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Bedding Down

Flat Beds

My vegetable garden is in beds. Your vegetable garden is in beds. Seems like just about everybody plants in beds these days. And with good reason. Beds make more efficient use of garden space. Soil compaction is avoided because planting, weeding, pruning, and harvesting can be done with feet in the paths. And the shapes of the beds can help make even a vegetable garden look prettier, especially with decorative plants edging the beds. 

Raised beds are also one way to grow happy plants in otherwise poorly drained ground, or in ground that has been contaminated by lead or arsenic. Such contamination is likely to occur from past use of leaded gasoline near roadways, from old paint near buildings, and from residual pesticides in sites that were once orchards.

My vegetable garden is laid out in 3-foot-wide beds with 18-inch-wide paths between them that feed into one 5-foot-wide bed down the …

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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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