Category Archives: Planning

Midsummer “To Do” List

Maintenance, Pruning

For many gardeners, spring is the critical gardening season, what with preparing the soil, starting seedlings, setting out transplants, pruning, watching and staying prepared for late frosts and . . .  In my view, right now is just as crucial, and for an equal number of reasons.

True, a 90 degree day with high humidity doesn’t exactly pull you out to the garden to putter around in blazing sunlight. But early mornings around here are mostly cool, calm, and beautiful.

Much of what needs to be done is regular maintenance. Pruning tomatoes, for instance. I train my tomato plants to stakes and single stems, which allows me to set plants only 18 inches apart and harvest lots of fruit by utilizing the third dimension: up. At least weekly, I snap (if early morning, when shoots are turgid) or prune (later in the day, when shoots are flaccid) off all suckers and tie …

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My Compost for a Bin

Compost, All Good, In Time

One problem with gardening, as I see it, is that much of it is about delayed gratification. Even a radish makes you wait 3 weeks after sowing the seed before you get to chomp on it. With a pear tree, that wait is a few years.

Which brings me to compost. Now that the flurry of spring pruning and planting have subsided, I’m starting this year’s compost cycle again — that’s compost for use next year. Delayed gratification again.
Food waste, yard waste, and compostable paper make up 31% of an average household’s waste which, if landfilled, ties up land and contributes to global warming. Composted, it feeds the soil life and, in turn, plants, and maintains soil tilth, that crumbly feel of a soil that holds on to moisture yet has plenty of space for air. You don’t get all this from a bag of 10-10-10 …

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A Changing Landscape

Wormy Matters

Charles Darwin did some of his best work lying on his belly in a grassy meadow. Not daydreaming, but closely observing the lives and work of earthworms. All this lying about eventually lead to the publication of his final book, The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms. Darwin calculated that earthworms brought 18 tons of nutrient-rich castings to the surface per acre per year, in so doing tilling and aerating the soil while rendering the nutrients more accessible for plant use.
I wouldn’t find that many earthworms at work in my own grassy meadow. The last glacier, which receded about 12,000 years ago from the northern parts of the U.S., including here in the Hudson Valley, wiped out all the earthworms. Darwin’s meadow was spared because glaciation didn’t reach as far south as where Darwin’s home eventually stood.

Not that there aren’t now any earthworms here. Mostly, these …

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Future Hopes

 Totipotentiality (Is This a Word?)

I was so excited one day a few years back to receive a box full of leafless sticks by mail. The exciting thing about those sticks was that each one of them could grow into a whole new plant from whose branches would eventually hang luscious apples and grapes.

  And how did I know the fruits will be luscious? Because a year prior I was at an experimental orchard getting fruit photos for a book I was working on. Of course, I couldn’t help but also taste the fruits, and that’s why Chestnut Crab, Honeygold, Mollie’s Delicious, and King of the Pippins joined the two dozen or so other varieties of apples I already grew. Cayuga White, Bertille Seyve 2758, Steuben, Lakemont, Wapanuka, Himrod, Romulus, and Venus joined my grapes.

  It was “totipotence” – of the plants, not me – that allowed me to unlock potential …

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Cold Rules

Water Freezes. Why Don’t Plants?

(The following is adapted from my book, The Ever Curious Gardener: Using a Little Natural Science for a Much Better Garden, available wherever fine books are sold, and my website.)

Not being able to don gloves and a scarf, or shiver, to keep warm, it’s a wonder that trees and shrubs don’t freeze to death from winter cold. They can’t stomp their limbs or do jumping jacks to get their sap moving and warm up. The sap has no warmth anyway.

Sometimes, of course, plants do succumb to winter cold. But usually that happens to garden and landscape plants pushed to their cold limits, not to native plants in their natural habitats or to well adapted exotic plants. 

Think about it: water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit—not a particularly cold temperature for a winter night—and plants contain an abundance of water. Water is unique among liquids …

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Greenhouse Happenings, Figs and Lettuce and . . .

Darkness Descending

Plant growth has come screeching (almost) to a halt. Lettuces just sit, hardly growing. No wonder, you are no doubt thinking. It’s getting colder and colder outside. I know that, but I’m writing about lettuces in my greenhouse. The issue isn’t lack of heat. It’s lack of light.

For more evidence that light is the issue, look to good vegetable gardens in southern Europe. In that mild climate, harvest from a well-planned vegetable garden continues year ‘round. But year ‘round harvest there takes planning — lack of light also makes for very slow growth over there in these darkest months. Unprotected plants survive because the winter weather never gets that cold over there. (And cool-season vegetables, such as spinach, radish, and turnips, that we plan for sprig or fall, are what do well in Mediterranean winters.)

My garden here in the Hudson Valley, at about the 42nd parallel, experiences winter day …

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Mo’ Plants

Cyclamen Addict

I’ll admit to being an addict. But my addiction — to propagating plants — is benign. It pains me to throw away an interesting seed or pruned-off stem; either can grow into a whole new plant, anything from a charming little flower to a towering tree.

Hardy cyclamen self-sown seedling

Hardy cyclamen in pot

Case in point are some cyclamen seeds I collected and sowed a couple of years ago. The mother plant is Cyclamen hederifolium, a species that differs from the large, potted cyclamens you now see offered in garden centers, hardware stores, even supermarkets. Cyclamen hederifolium is cold-hardy here, so comes back year after years planted outdoors in the ground, and it’s a dainty plant, with small flowers and commensurately small leaves. Otherwise it looks just about the same as the widely sold commercial species, the pink or white flowers hovering like butterflies on thin stalks …

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Future Tense, Present Tense

Past is Present . . . No! . . . Present is Future

Gardening is so much about planning for the future. Dropping seemingly dead, brown specks into a seed flat in spring in anticipation of juicy, red tomatoes in summer is fun and exciting.

But now, in the glory of summer, I don’t particularly like planning, which means thinking forward to the crisp days of autumn that lie ahead. But I must. I know that when that time finally comes, I’ll have had my fill of hot weather. And the cooler weather coupled with shorter days and low-hanging sun will have tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and other summer vegetables on the wane. Planning and action now let me have a whole other garden come autumn, a garden notable for its shades of green (from leaves) rather than the reds and yellows (from fruits) of summer’s garden.

I’ll need plants and free space ready …

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Berries Begin

Green Thumb Not Necessary

Every day, for some time now, my strawberry bed has yielded about five cups, or almost 2 pounds of strawberries daily. And that from a bed only ten feet long and three feet wide, with a double row of plants set a foot apart in the row.
Good yield from a strawberry bed has nothing to do with green thumbs. I just did what’s required to keep the plants happy and healthy. To whit . . .

I planted the bed last spring to replace my five-year-old bed. About five years is about how long it takes for a strawberry bed to peter out due to inroads of weeds and diseases, including some viruses whose symptoms are not all that evident.

To keep my new plants removed from any problems lurking in the old soil, I located the new bed in a different place from the old one. Further forestalling …

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