TIME TRAVEL

18th Century, Here I Come!

Is that me playing the fife? No.

I just returned from time travel one month forward and a couple hundred years backward. Both at the same time! I did this with a trip to Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, where black locust trees were in full bloom, which is about a month ahead of when they will be blooming up here in New York’s Hudson Valley.

The impetus for this time travel was Colonial Williamsburg’s Annual Garden Symposium, at which I was one of the presenters. (I did presentations on espalier fruit plants and on growing fruits in small gardens.)

Williamsburg is a magical place anytime of year, and especially so, for me, in spring. (I first fell in love with the place on a family trip when I was 7 years old; on subsequent visits, I’ve forgone the three-cornered hat I wore on that first trip.)

The …

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Fruit Tree Pruning

The Why, and the Easiest

Following last week’s missive about pruning fruiting shrubs, I now move on to pruning my fruiting trees. Again, this is “dormant pruning.” Yes, even though the trees’ flower buds are about to burst or have already done so, their response will still, for a while longer, be that to dormant pruning.I mentioned flower buds, so these plants I’m pruning are mature, bearing plants. The objectives and, hence, pruning of a young tree are another ball game. As is renovative pruning, which is the pruning of long-neglected trees.

Most fruit trees need to be pruned (correctly) every year. Annual pruning keeps these trees healthy and keeps fruit within reach. This pruning also promotes year after year of good harvests (some fruit trees gravitate toward alternating years of feast and famine) and — most important — makes for the most luscious fruits.

With that said, as …

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Pruning Gets Hectic

Easiest to Prune Plants

Most of the pruning I do is “dormant pruning,” that is, pruning while plants are leafless. A few weeks ago, pruning was a relaxed affair with still-cold temperatures keeping the buds only slowly swelling in anticipation of upcoming growth. Then a few warm days kicked them into gear, making pruning more hectic.

Berries, later

Hecticness is little problem with those plants that are the easiest to prune because the work can be quick; other plants require my standing back with arms folded for some study before every few cuts.

Here on my farmden, easiest to prune plants include mature ornamental trees, shrubs, and vines, and even some fruits. Those fruits are American persimmon, pawpaw, and mulberry. They’re so easy because they can get by with little or no pruning.

Mostly what I do with the three fruit trees, every year or so, is to take a lopper or a …

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SOIL MATTERS

Plastic on My Bed?!

You’d be surprised if you looked out on my vegetable garden today. Black plastic covers three beds. Black plastic which, for years, I’ve railed against for depriving a soil of oxygen, for its ugliness, for — in contrast to organic mulches — its doing nothing to increase soil humus, and for its clogging landfills.Actually, that insidious blackness covering my beds is black vinyl. But that’s beside the point. Its purpose, like the black plastic against which I’ve railed, is to kill weeds. Not that my garden has many weeds. But this time of year, in some beds, a few more sprout than I’d like to see.

The extra warmth beneath that black vinyl will help those weeds get growing. Except that there’s no light coming through the vinyl, so most weeds will expend their energy reserves and die. And this should not take long, depending on the weather …

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A Podcast and a Workshop

I was recently on Joe Lamp’l’s gardening podcast talking about “uncommon fruit.” They’re worth growing because they’re easy, they’re ornaments, and, with few or no pest problems, they’re easy. And they have excellent and unique flavors. Listen to the podcast here.

Also, I’m hosting a pruning workshop at my New Paltz, NY farmden:

The Season Begins

One More Thing? Ha!

I have one more important task to do before planting any vegetables this spring, and that is the annual mapping out of the garden, something I generally put off as long as possible.

In theory, mapping out my garden should be easy. I “rotate” what I plant in each bed so that no vegetable, or any of its relatives, grows in a given bed more frequently than every 3 years. In practice, I mostly pay attention to rotation of plants most susceptible to diseases, which are cabbage and its kin (all in the Brassicaceae), cucumber and its kin (Cucurbitaceae), tomato and its kin (Solanaceae), beans and peas (Fabaceae), and corn (sweet or pop, in the Gramineae).

Crop rotation prevents buildup of disease pests that overwinter in the ground; removing host plants eventually starves them out. (Insect pest are more mobile, so crop rotation has less impact except in very …

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Increasing My Hyacinthal Holdings

Hyacinth City

I’ve admitted this before; here’s more evidence of my addiction — to propagating plants. I currently have a seed flat that’s only 4 by 6 inches in size and is home to about 50 hyacinth plants. Obviously, the plants are small. But small and sturdy.

The genesis of all these plants goes back a couple of years when I needed photos for my book The Ever Curious Gardener: Using a Little Natural Science for a Much Better Garden. For the chapter on some aspects of the science of plant propagation and the practical application of that science, I made photos of some methods of multiplying hyacinth bulbs. Here’s an excerpt of that section:
“Knowing what a bulb really is makes it easier to understand how they can multiply so prolifically that their flowering suffers, and how to get them to multiply for our benefit. Dig up a tulip …

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A Farmdener, That’s Me

A New Word is Introduced

I’d like to introduce the words farmden and farmdener into the English language. I wonder if there are any other farmdeners out there.

What is a farmden? It’s more than a garden, less than a farm. That’s my definition, but it also could be described as a site with more plants and/or land than one person can care for sanely. A gardener and garden gone wild, out of control.

You might sense that I speak from personal experience. I am. My garden started innocently enough: A 30 by 40 foot patch of vegetables, a few apple trees, some flowers, and lawn. That was decades years ago, and in the intervening period, the lawn has grown smaller, the vegetable garden has doubled in size, and the fruit plantings have gone over the top.

Originally, I had less than acreage – 72 hundredths of an acre to be exact. But over …

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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 …

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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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