Category Archives: Gardening

Fruit, Again, With Nod To Michael Jackson

Blackcaps Redux, This Season

I took a cue from Michael Jackson today when pruning my black raspberry (a.k.a. blackcap) plants. Not that I had to prune them today, or even this time of year. But I couldn’t stand looking at the tangled mass of thorny canes. And, more importantly, the tangled mass would make harvest, slated to begin in a couple of weeks or so, a bloody nightmare.

(Most blackcaps bear only once a year, in early summer, so tidiness would be the main reason to prune conventional blackcaps now. Pruning would also let remaining canes bathe in more light and air, reducing the threat of diseases. My blackcap plants, though, are the two varieties — Niwot and Ohio’s Treasure — that bear twice a year; hence, my pruning now to make picking the soon-to-ripen second crop less intimidating.)

All blackcaps have perennial roots and biennial canes. Typically, the canes just …

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A Cardinal And A Jewel

And This Year’s Winner Is . . .

Organizations annually tout their “plant of the year.” There’s the Perennial Plant Association’s 2017 plant of the year butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa); Proven Winners 2017 Landscape Plant of the Year is Yuki Cherry Blossom Deutzia; American Conifer Society Collectors’ Conifer of the Year is Primo Eastern Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘IslPrim’); Assembly magazine’s 2016 Plant of the Year is Bosch Rexroth . . . whoops, the last is an assembly plant (hydraulic motors and pumps). Anyway, you get the picture.

How about a new category, the Weed of the Year? Here on my farmden, I nominate and elect jewelweed (Impatiens capensis). This weed is all over the place this year, even far from where it’s been in the past. For this weed, being all over the place is its only flaw.

On the positive side, jewelweed is a pretty plant with very succulent stems sporting orange, sometimes …

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Savin’ Seeds, Killin’ Weeds

 

Bolting Plants

Last week I was admiring a vegetable garden where just about every lettuce plant was reaching skyward, with flower buds about to cap the tops of the spires. Isn’t that the wrong way to grow lettuce?

Lettuce that flowers — “goes to seed” — becomes bitter and tough. In my own garden, I aspire to have no lettuce spires by sowing lettuce seeds every couple of weeks for a regular harvest of mild-flavored, succulent leaves or heads. The plants don’t have time to bolt.

Those bolting lettuces I was admiring were in a garden in Iowa, one of the gardens at the Seed Savers Exchange (www.seedsavers.org), an organization that every gardener should know about and a garden that I should have not waited so long to visit. The mission of Seed Savers Exchange is to save and preserve heirloom seeds, which are varieties that have been passed on down among …

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COMPOST TEA: SNAKE OIL OR ELIXIR? BLACK CURRANTS…

 

Tea For Plants?

Has your garden had its tea this morning? Tea is all the rage for plants and soils these days. Compost tea. And not just any old compost tea, but tea you steep in water that’s aerated just like an aquarium.

Compost tea steeped the old way, by hanging a burlap sack of compost in a bucket of water for a few days, was one way to provide a liquid feed to plants. The liquid feed wasn’t particularly rich but did provide a wide range of nutrients that leached from the compost, and was convenient for feeding potted plants.

The new, aerated compost teas are billed as an efficient way to transfer beneficial microorganisms from compost into the soil or onto plant leaves. After all, spraying a little tea is less work than pitchforking tons of compost. In the soil, the little guys can spread their goodness, fighting off plant diseases …

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GOOD FUNGI, BAD WEEDS

 

Myco . . . What?

There’s a fungus among us. Actually, fungi, all over the place. Right now, though, I’m focussed on a special group of fungi, a group that, as I look out the window on my garden, the meadow, and the forest, has infected almost every plant I see. Like so many microorganisms — most, in fact — these fungi are beneficial.

The fungi are called mycorrhizal fungi; they have a symbiotic relationship with plants. (“Mycorrhizae” comes from the Greek “myco,” meaning fungus, and “rhiza,” meaning root.) The plant and the fungus have an agreement: The plant offers the fungus carbohydrates which it makes from sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water; in exchange, the fungus infects plant roots and then spreads the other ends of its thread-like hyphae throughout the soil to act to be virtual extensions of the roots. The plant ends up garnering more mineral nutrients from the soil. …

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OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW

In Which I Emulate George Washington

It’s about 10 years since I planted the cherry tree, a sweet, self-pollinating variety called Stella, on  dwarfing rootstock. During that time, the trunk swelled to about 7 inches in diameter and the branches shot skyward to 20 feet.

Stella is now gone, and it was all my doing. She took ten years to grow but only about an hour to cut down (with my new Stihl cordless electric chain saw, which I highly recommend). Afterlife of her trunk is as firewood, her branches as chipped mulch.

I warned Stella, who never bore one cherry, that this was her last chance. Finally, this spring she was loaded with blossoms, for the first time, followed by a good crop of developing cherries. A couple of weeks later, all the cherries were gone, except for two green ones I noticed on a cut branch. The weather could not have …

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THE GOOD OL’ DAYS

Corn Made Even easier

I can understand why corn was so popular a crop early on in the settlement of our country by Europeans. Sure, it tastes good popped, ground and cooked, and, while immature, fresh from the cob. Mostly, though, corn was easy to grow in the rough soil left from recently cleared forest.

Most of my corn grows in my two vegetable gardens where the soil is crumbly and weed-free, watered gently by drip irrigation, and nourished annually with an inch depth of compost.

Highly cultivated sweet corn

The south garden is home, every year, to a couple of beds (about 60 square feet) of popcorn, and the north garden to 4 beds (about 215 square feet) of sweet corn. Those two gardens provide us with all the sweet corn and popcorn we eat for a year.

Separate gardens are needed because if sweet and popcorn cross-pollinate, the sweet corn will be …

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I’M AN INGRATE, AND RUTHLESS WITH FRUITLETS

Great Asparagus Does Not Require A Green Thumb

Not to be an ingrate or a braggart, but the asparagus some friends recently brought over for our shared dinner didn’t compare with my home-grown asparagus. Not that the friends’ asparagus wasn’t good. Theirs came from a local farm, so I assume harvest was within the previous 24 hours. But the stalks of my asparagus are snapped off the plants within 100 feet of the kitchen door, clocking in at anywhere from a few minutes to an hour of time before they’re eaten. It’s not my green thumb that makes my asparagus taste so good. It’s the fact that I can harvest it within 100 feet of my kitchen door.

But don’t take my word for it. Research has shown that asparagus spears begin to age as soon as they’re picked, the stalks toughening and sugars disappearing, and bitterness, sourness, and off-flavors beginning to …

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PERENNIAL VEGGIES AND A DEAD AVOCADO

 

King Henry Was, And Is, Good

The good king has gone to seed. Good King Henry, that is. A plant. But no matter about that going to seed. The leaves still taste good, steamed or boiled just like spinach.

The taste similarity with spinach isn’t surprising because both plants are in the same botanical family, the Chenopodiaceae, or, more recently, the Amaranthaceae. Spinach and Good King Henry didn’t change families; their family was just taken in by, and made into a subfamily of, the Amaranthaceae.

Whatever its name — and it’s also paraded under such common names as poor man’s asparagus and Lincolnshire spinach — Good King Henry is a vegetable that’s been eaten for hundreds of years, except hardly ever nowadays. While spinach, beet, and some of its other kin have been improved by breeding and selection over the years, Good King Henry was neglected.

But the Good King, besides having good flavor, …

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PERMACULTURAL GLITCHES

Imperfect Lawn

I’m no devotee of the perfect lawn, but I did recently suggest, for the bare palette of ground on which W wanted to plan for a variety of fruits, a patch of lawn. W protested that she hated mowing and wanted a “permaculture planting” that would take little care.

Visitors to my garden have occasionally complimented me on my lawn. The only care I give it is mowing with a mulching mower that lets clippings rain back down. By not cutting the lawn I avoid “mining” the soil for nutrients by repeated harvest of clippings. The clippings also enrich the ground with humus.

Pawpaw tree in my cousin’s lawn

Still, I’d rather grow trees, shrubs, vines, especially fruiting ones, and vegetables and flowers, than lawngrass. But I have plenty of ground devoted to these plants. And the easiest way to care for a plot of ground, short of sealing it in …

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