Category Archives: Pests

Shaving and Composting

 . . . But My Garden is in Order

“Some men there are who never shave (if they are so absurd as ever to shave), except when they go abroad, and who do not take care to wear polished boots in the bosoms of their families. I like a man who shaves (next to one who doesn’t shave) to satisfy his own conscience, and not for display, and who dresses as neatly at home as he does anywhere. Such a man will be likely to put his garden in complete order before the snow comes, so that its last days shall not present a scene of melancholy ruin and decay.” So wrote Charles Dudley Warner in his wonderful little book (much more than a gardening book) My Summer in a Garden (1898). I gave up shaving a few months ago, but I am putting my garden in order for autumn.

The scene …

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Some You Win, Some You Lose. Why?

Mo’ Better Berries

Because I’ve grown a number of varieties of blueberries for a long time, I’m often asked what variety I would recommend planting. Or whether you need to plant two varieties for cross-pollination in order to get fruit.

The answers to both questions are intertwined. First of all, blueberries are partially self-fertile so one variety will bear fruit all by itself.

But — and this is important — berries will be both more plentiful and larger if two different varieties cross-pollinate each other. (Apples, in contrast, are self-sterile so, with few exceptions, won’t bear any fruit at all without cross-pollination.)

Benefits of cross-pollination aside, why plant just one variety of blueberry? Different varieties ripen their fruits at different times during the blueberry harvest season. With a good selection of varieties, that season can be very long.

Here on the farmden, the season opens with Duke and Earliblue, both usually ready for picking …

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Figs and Peppers and . . .

Fig Frustrations and Joys

Over the years I’ve shared the joys and frustrations of growing figs in my minimally heated greenhouse. The joys, of course, have been in sinking my teeth into fruits of the various varieties. Also, more recently, the neat appearance of the plants which are trained as espaliers. Left to its own devices, a fig can grow into a tangled mess. In part, that’s because fig trees can’t decide if they want to be small trees, with single or a few trunks, or large shrubs, with sprouts and side branches popping out all over the place.

A major frustration in my greenhouse fig journey has been insects, both scale insects and mealybugs. These pests never attack my potted figs which summer outdoors and winter indoors in my barely heated basement. In the greenhouse the problem each year became more and more severe, eventually rendering many of the ripe fruits …

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Mulberries and an (a?) Herb

Mulberries, Still

I finally am getting to eat some ripe mulberries this year, and they were — and are — very, very good. The wait wasn’t because the tree was too young. And anyway, mulberries are very quick to bear fruit, often the year after planting. 

I got to eat fruit from my tree this year because resident birds have been kind enough to share some with me. Of course, it was not really kindness on their part. Birds also eat fruit for their juiciness, and the past weeks and weeks of abundant rainfall probably satisfied some of that need. The only other year I had plenty of mulberries — much more than this year — was a few years ago when 17-year cicadas descended upon here. All summer I awoke to their grating cacophony, but did feast on mulberries as birds feasted on the cicadas.

You might think it late in the …

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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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End of Year Punch List

 

Winterizing

My carpenter friends, near the end of their projects, have their “punch lists” to serve as reminders what odds and ends still need to be done. I similarly have a punch list for my gardens, a punch list that marks the end of the growing season, a list of what (I hope) will get done before I drop the first seeds in the ground next spring.

(No need for an entry on the punch list to have the ground ready for that seed. Beds have been mulched with compost and are ready for planting.)

Hardy, potted plants, including some roses, pear trees, and Nanking cherries, can’t have their roots exposed to the full brunt of winter cold. I’ve huddled all these pots together against the north wall of my house but soon have to mound leaves or wood chips up to their rims to provide further cold protection.

I’ll save some leaves to …

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The Morning After

Endive Galore

I don’t know if was a case of green thumbness or the weather, but my bed of endive is now almost as frightening as a zucchini planting in summer. The bed, 3 feet wide by 20 feet long, is solid green with endive plants, each and every plant looking as if it’s been pumped up on steroids.

I sowed seeds in 4 by 6 inch seed trays around August 1st, “pricked out” the seedlings into individual growing cells filled with homemade potting soil about a week later, and  transplanted them into the garden in the beginning of September. The bed had been home to one of this summer’s planting of sweet corn (Golden Bantam), a heavy feeder, so after clearing the corn I slathered the bed with an inch depth of pure compost.

Perhaps the vigor of these plants also reflects the extra space I gave them. In years past I …

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Grapes And Onions

So Many Choices, In Grapes

With over 5,000 varieties of grapes from which to choose, how can anyone decide which to grow? For better or worse, that choice is naturally limited by climate and pests in each part of the country. Here in the northeast, major limitations are humid summers that spread indigenous disease and frigid winter temperatures.

There’s still plenty of grape varieties from which to choose, which I’ve done over the years, weeding out varieties that would succumb to cold or disease. My varietal possibilities are further limited by my low lying land close to acres upon acres of forest. Cold, moisture-laden air sinks into this low spot, and the abundance of wild grapes clambering up forest trees provide a nearby reservoir of insects and disease spores.

With all that, I want to grow varieties that taste good to me (fresh, not for wine). I have dairy farmer-cum-grape breeder Elmer Swenson …

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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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