Category Archives: Design

DESIGNS ON GARDENING

The Turn Of  The Year

Sure there’s seed-sowing, weeding, and pruning to do, but I’ve also been spending a good amount of time communing with my pitchfork. Turning compost.

Some people are put off by the thought of having to turn compost. Don’t be. Compost does not have to be turned. Any pile of organic materials will eventually become compost.

Still, I like to turn my composts. I typically build new piles (a lot of them!!) through summer into fall, turn them the following spring, and then spread the finished compost that fall or the following spring. As I fork the ingredients from the old pile into the adjacent bin, I break up any clumps with the pitchfork and fluff up any parts that seem sodden and gasping for air. A nearby hose makes it convenient to spray any dry areas.

Everything organic (was once or is living) — hay, weeds, old plants, some …

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I TAKE A CLOSER LOOK, AND LIKE WHAT I SEE

 

Hey Bud, ‘Sup?

Nothing like winter to force me to take a closer look at my trees and shrubs. “To see what, you may ask?” To look at their buds, within which lie the makings of this season’s flowers and shoots. Not only are the buds quite distinctive, but they also offer a crystal ball into the future, which is very important to me as a fruit grower.

Trees’ and shrubs’ fruit and shoot buds look different from each other. It’s the fatter ones that open to become flowers and then, barring damage from late frosts, insects, diseases, or hail, fruits.

Last year, perhaps because of dry weather or a late spring freeze, my pawpaw crop was a failure. This explains why I now see so many distinctive plush, velvety, fat, brown buds — flower buds — lining the stems. For any fruiting plant, a light crop of fruit one year generally makes …

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CATS ON A COOL, GREEN ROOF

Not Green Enough

I’m looking up at my green roof, my evergreen roof, and it’s not green enough. Literally. I had expected that by now the roof would be solid green. It’s not.

The green of this roof was supposed to come from the plants growing on it. Because conditions up on the roof are very harsh, the plants I chose were tough ones, hens-and-chicks (Sempervivum spp.). Hens-and-chicks look like little cabbage heads of stubby, succulent leaves. Baby plants push out from around the mother plants, grow, and make more babies, and so on, ad infinitum. Or so I hoped.

The roof only has a couple of inches of “soil” on it and covers a porch, so has no heated space or insulation beneath it. If winter temperatures plummet to 10 degrees below zero, not uncommon here, temperatures within that thin layer of soil also plummet to 10 degrees below zero. If summer temperatures hit …

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CHANGING STEMS, CHANGING LEAVES

Korean Giant Pear, In Training

    Stepping down the two stones at one end of my bluestone wall, a friend looked up and asked, “Are you torturing or training this tree?” He was referring to the tree on one side of the the stairway, one long stem of which was arching overhead, held in that position with a string tied to a stone on the opposite side of the stairway.
    “Training,” I replied. The stem was being coaxed into this seemingly submissive position both for form and function. Not to inflict pain.
    But first, something about this tree. It is an Asian pear, the variety Seuri Li that I created many years ago by grafting a Seuri Li stem on a semi-dwarfing rootstock (OH x F 513). It’s initial training was as an en arcure espalier. Deer found the young pear trees sitting high enough on the backfilled soil …

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DRY WOOD, & AUTUMNAL AIR

 Passionflower to the Rescue

   When I began, many years ago, to heat my home with wood, I struggled to get the driest possible wood, finally building a 60-foot long woodshed beneath which a double row of logs basked in the direct hit of sunlight from the south. I more recently learned that firewood can be too dry, which is when moisture drops below 15 to 20 percent. Bone dry wood can’t get enough oxygen for a clean, efficient burn, so smoke, within which is locked the potential for rendering additional heat, is produced; pump enough oxygen into the mix, though, and you get an inferno that can damage a woodstove.    So — and here’s the plant-related part — rather than tear down or put siding on my super-drying woodshed, I put some heat loving vines to climb and provide some shade on the south face. Sections of hog-fencing temporarily hung …

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UNPERMACULTURE

Accusations,  (Mostly) not True

I’ve understandably been accused of being a “permie,” that is, of practicing permaculture.    (In the words of permaculture founder, Bill Mollison, “Permaculture is about designing sustainable human settlements. It is a philosophy and an approach to land use which weaves together microclimate, annual and perennial plants, animals, soils, water management, and human needs into intricately connected, productive communities.” In the words of www.dictionary.com, permaculture is “a system of cultivation intended to maintain permanent agriculture or horticulture by relying on renewable resources and a self-sustaining ecosystem.”)    Walk around my farmden and, yes, you’ll come upon Nanking cherry bushes where forsythia bushes once lined the driveway, an American persimmon tree where a lilac bush once stood, and other edible plants used also for landscaping. In the vegetable garden, I preserve soil integrity by never tilling it, and, in the south field, blackcurrant bushes make use of the space beneath …

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THE UGLY, THE TASTY, & THE BEAUTIFUL

Close Your Eyes, If Necessary

   “A crabby looking, brownish green truncated little spheroid of unsympathetic appearance.” That’s how a British writer of almost 75 years ago described one of my favorite fruits, medlar (Mespilus germanica). True, the fruit is no beauty to some eyes. To me, the fruit has an authentic, old-fashioned, unvarnished look to it, like that of a small, russeted apple whose calyx end (opposite the stem) is flared open.

Medlars, ready for harvest

    Medlar is truly an old-fashioned fruit, whose popularity peaked in the Middle Ages. Chaucer mentioned it, indecorously referring to it as “open arse.” Even Shakespeare got his digs in, more discretely call it “open et cetera.”    This past season was a good season for fruits, including medlar. Yesterday, I harvested the crop from the leafless tree. But no, I couldn’t yet sink my teeth into one. Besides its odd appearance, medlar has one …

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SWEET ANNIE AND SWEET GRAPES

Annie Helps the World

    Sweet Annie (Artemisia annua): such an unassuming name. Likewise for the plant itself, with its ferny, but not distinctive, foliage, and flowers not worth a second look. You’d hardly peg this plant as a player in global health and global warming.    But look within the leaves and you find artemisin, a biologically active compound that has contributed to Sweet Annie’s figuring into Chinese herbal medicine for the past 2,000 years. Artemisin was isolated from the plant in the 1970s by Chinese scientist Tu Youyou, for which she  shared a Nobel Prize. Sweet Annie’s uses in Chinese medicine — qinghao in Chinese — run from treating asthma to skin diseases to stomach pain to rheumatism to  . . . but not all such claims have been experimentally verified (and Sweet Annie could have bad side effects).    The most widespread and thoroughly documented use of Sweet Annie …

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