Wow! What a gardening year this has been. Looking back on 2018, it’s been the oddest year ever in terms of weather, insects, and disease.
After starting off the season parched, seemingly ready to go into drought, the weather in July did an about face. The rains began. Average precipitation here in the Northeast is about 4 inches per month. July ended up with about 6 inches, August saw 5 inches, September 8 inches(!), October 5 inches, and November 8 inches(!!).
All that rainfall brought humidity, which might have been responsible for my celeriac plants hardly growing, then rotting.
Celeriac, early in the growing season, before the rains
(Perhaps not, because this was my third growing season of failure with celeriac.) I’m taking this as a celeriac challenge. Perhaps next year I’ll try them in a large tub where I can have more control over soil composition and moisture.
For the past few days I’ve been engaged in the esoteric exercise of unreiking. Basically, this involves lifting heavy (or sometimes light) sacks, slitting them with a knife, and then moving my arms back and forth over the spilled contents. Okay, okay, the “sacks” are plastic bags, their contents are autumn leaves, and I’m holding a pitchfork in my hands as I spread out the spilled leaves.
Sammy is looking forward to this leafy mattress
(Unreiking is the reverse of another esoteric exercise, reiking, whereby . . . well, leaves are raked up into plastic bags.)
Some people have too many leaves or otherwise don’t want them around. I have too few leaves and have use for them. By unreiking, the leaves get spread beneath my berry bushes, grape vines, and pear trees. These leaves feed bacteria, fungi, and other soil microbes, which slowly rot down the leaves to …
“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.
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 …
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 …
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.
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.
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 …
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 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 …