I Clothe The Ground

Sowing My Oats

Whew! Just made it under the wire. Sowing cover crops, that is. (Cover crops are plants grown solely to improve the soil.)

With the vegetable garden still filled to the brim, now overflowing with cabbage, kale, mustard, arugula, lettuce, Chinese cabbages, and radishes, with even corn and peppers still yielding well, where am I going to find room to plant a cover crop? Despite the cornucopia, some plants — the corn, peppers, and other warmth-loving vegetables — are on their way out. As they peter out, it’s too late in the season to sow any more radishes, lettuce, or any of the other cool season crops; there’s not enough time or sunlight for them to mature.

No reason to leave a recently cleared bed of early corn, early beans, or okra bare, so I planted those beds to a cover crop. Problem is that after a certain time of year, …

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Some Good, Some Bad

Picking Pecks and Pecks of Peppers

Warm — no, hot — weather going on and on keeps tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers chugging along, restrained only by diminished sunshine. Still, before real autumn weather rolls in and decimates these warmth-loving plants, it’s time to do some evaluation of this season before it fades into memories that meld with previous seasons.

As usual, there are successes and failures. Good — no, great — are this year’s peppers. I credit the rousing success mostly to My choice of two varieties. The first was an old variety, Sweet Italia, aka Sweet Italian or Italian Sweet. Other varieties are available with similar names; the names are similar, but not the same, as are the fruits.

Sweet Italia has two problems: The seed is hard to find; and the plants flop over under their weight of fruit. Both problems are easily solved: Save seed (Sweet Italia is not a …

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Taste And Aroma

Old Peaches

The peaches on a friend’s tree were small, marred with bacterial spot disease, and still showed some green on their skins. So burdened with fruits was the tree that it had burst asunder from their weight, splitting one of the main limbs.

Still, the friend insisted that the peaches tasted good. As further enticement, the tree had a history, having sprouted on the grounds of a nearby 18th century house that had an orchard. The tree was evidently cold hardy also. So I twisted one fruit off and took a bite. In spite of being not quite ripe, the fruit was delicious, quite sweet — as is usual with white peaches such as these — and with an old-fashioned, intensely peachy flavor.

I took up the offer to take a small bag of them home with me. And not only for eating. My plan is to save the seeds from many …

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How Pesky And Interesting

Snowflakes? No.

Gardening never ceases to be interesting, even if the current object of interest is a pest. Not just any pest, but a NEW pest! And not just for me.

I was alerted to this pest when pulling a few weeds near my Brussels sprouts plants. Brushing against their leaves brought a cloud of what looked like fine snowflakes. They were, in fact, whiteflies, tiny (1.5 mm) fluttering insects, immediately recognizable to me from their common occurrence on houseplants.

Cabbage whitefly

Whiteflies rarely show up on outdoor plants; in my experience, never. Easy enough to discover on the web, my whiteflies are appropriately named cabbage whiteflies (Aleyrodes protella). This native of Europe first turned up in the U.S. in 1993, but is rare in the Hudson Valley. It’s fond of all cabbages relatives, with a preference for kale. Not in my garden, though; kale, sharing the bed with the Brussels sprouts, is …

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It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over, and Pears

Whoosh!

Whew! How quickly this growing season seems to have scooted by. I am putting the last plants of the season into the vegetable garden today. These were transplants of Shuko and Prize Choy bok choy, and Blue napa cabbage. I’m eyeing some lettuce transplants, and if I decide that they’re sufficiently large to transplant, they’ll share a bed with the cabbages.

Reconsidering, the end of the gardening season isn’t really drawing nigh. The cabbages won’t be large enough to make a real contribution to a stir fry or a batch of kim chi for at least another month. And then, with cool weather and shorter days slowing growth, the plants will just sit there in the garden, doing fine, patiently awaiting harvest.

Other plants awaiting harvest into autumn from plantings over the past few weeks are Hakurei turnips, crunchy, sweet, and spicy fresh in salads, daikon and Watermelon radishes, for salads or …

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The Destroyer To The Rescue

Predatory Helpers

Some of the figs — the varieties Rabbi Samuel, Brown Turkey, and San Piero — started ripening last week. With their ripening, I am now in a position to claim victory over the mealybugs that have invaded my greenhouse fig-dom for the past few years.
Mealybugs look, unassumingly, like tiny tufts of white cotton, but beneath their benign exteriors are hungry insect. They injects their needle-like probiscis into stems, fruits, and leaves, and suck life from the plants, or at least, weaken the plants and make the fruits hardly edible.

Over the years I’ve battled the mealybugs at close quarters. I’ve scrubbed down the dormant plants with a tooth brush dipped in alcohol (after the plants were pruned heavily for winter). I’ve tried repeated sprays with horticultural oil. I put sticky bands around the trunks to slow traffic of ants, which “farm” the mealybugs. And I’ve rubbed them to …

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The Bad and the Good

Winecaps, Not For Me

My successes with growing shiitake mushrooms emboldened me, this past spring, to venture further afield, to wine cap mushrooms (Stropharia rugosoannulata). After all, it’s been billed as “prized, delicious” and “edible when young.”

Their quick production also prompted me to give them a try. As a matter of fact, my spring “planting” started bearing a couple of weeks ago. A bed can also be refreshed or a new bed can be inoculated from an old bed for repeat performances.

Let’s go back to spring, to my planting. Wine caps grow very well in wood chip mulch, something that’s aplenty on my farmden. My berry bushes are mulched, my pear trees are mulched, as are the paths in my vegetable gardens. Why not do double duty with those mulches?

A few years ago, I attempted just that, laying a thick mulch of chips atop my asparagus bed in spring. Two problems: …

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Picked At Peak Of Perfection

Tomatoes Vs. Sweet Corn

Some gardeners sit tapping their fingers waiting for the first tomato of the season to finally ripen. I don’t. I’m waiting to sink my teeth into my first-picked ear of sweet corn.

Not that my tomatoes don’t taste really good, but they’re also good all winter dried or canned, as is or as sauce. Or just frozen.

An ear of sweet corn, though, captures the essence of summer. Not just for flavor and texture. It’s the whole ritual of peeling back the husks and snapping them off at their bases, brushing away the silk before steaming the ears, and then, holding an ear at each end, biting off kernels from one end to the other like an old fashioned typewriter carriage. (An image perhaps unknown to readers below a certain age.)

An art to harvesting corn at the just-ripe stage, and anxiousness for that first taste, make …

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Making Sense

Lilies, More Than Just Pretty

I’m triply thankful for the lily stems in the vase in the kitchen.

First, for their beauty. The large, lily-white (of course) petals flare out into trumpets, from whose frilly throats poke groups of rust-red anthers and single tear-capped stigmas. The petals spread about 8 inches wide from one side to the other, and the single stalk I plunked into the vase sports six of them!

Second, I’m thankful for the lilies’ fragrance. The heady, sweet fragrance fills the whole room.

And third, I’m thankful that the plants, cut from outdoors where they share a bed with staked Sungold tomato plants, are alive. They’ve been threatened by a relatively new pest, the lily leaf beetle (Lilioceris lilii). This European pest made its North American debut in Montreal in 1945, and its debut on my farmden in 2015.

Lily leaf beetle can be controlled by sprays, even organic ones such as …

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