Category Archives: Planning

The Destroyer To The Rescue

Predatory Helpers

Some of the figs — the varieties Rabbi Samuel, Brown Turkey, and San Piero — started ripening last week. With their ripening, I am now in a position to claim victory over the mealybugs that have invaded my greenhouse fig-dom for the past few years.
Mealybugs look, unassumingly, like tiny tufts of white cotton, but beneath their benign exteriors are hungry insect. They injects their needle-like probiscis into stems, fruits, and leaves, and suck life from the plants, or at least, weaken the plants and make the fruits hardly edible.

Over the years I’ve battled the mealybugs at close quarters. I’ve scrubbed down the dormant plants with a tooth brush dipped in alcohol (after the plants were pruned heavily for winter). I’ve tried repeated sprays with horticultural oil. I put sticky bands around the trunks to slow traffic of ants, which “farm” the mealybugs. And I’ve rubbed them to …

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Making Sense

Lilies, More Than Just Pretty

I’m triply thankful for the lily stems in the vase in the kitchen.

First, for their beauty. The large, lily-white (of course) petals flare out into trumpets, from whose frilly throats poke groups of rust-red anthers and single tear-capped stigmas. The petals spread about 8 inches wide from one side to the other, and the single stalk I plunked into the vase sports six of them!

Second, I’m thankful for the lilies’ fragrance. The heady, sweet fragrance fills the whole room.

And third, I’m thankful that the plants, cut from outdoors where they share a bed with staked Sungold tomato plants, are alive. They’ve been threatened by a relatively new pest, the lily leaf beetle (Lilioceris lilii). This European pest made its North American debut in Montreal in 1945, and its debut on my farmden in 2015.

Lily leaf beetle can be controlled by sprays, even organic ones such as …

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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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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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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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AWESOME BLOSSOMS & RATIONALITY

 

Wow!!

With blossoms spent on forsythias, lilacs, fruit trees, and clove currants, spring’s flamboyant flower show had subsided – or so I thought. Pulling into my driveway, I was pleasantly startled by the profusion of orchid-like blossoms on the Chinese yellowhorn tree (Xanthoceras sorbifolium). And I again let out an audible “Wow” as I stepped onto my terrace, when three fat, red blossoms, each the size of a dinner plate, stared back at me from my tree peony.

Both plants originate in Asia. Both plants are easy to grow. Both plants have an unfortunate short bloom period, more or less depending on the weather. Fortunately, both plants also are attractive, though more sedately, even after their blossoms fade.

The tree peonies have such a weird growth habit. I had read that they were very slow to grow so was quite pleased, years ago, when each of the branches on my new plant extended …

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HOUSEPLANTS THRIVE DURING MY CUBAN GETAWAY

 

Water In Air, In Soil, In Reserve

My houseplants enjoyed my absence more that I expected. I thought it might be harder on them. After all, with spring in the air (indoors) for a few weeks now, they were all pushing out new shoots from the ends and along stems that had lain dormant all winter. Citrus, avocado, and amaryllis were even flowering, and rosemary was getting ready to flower.

Lack of water was going to be the threat, 5 days of it, while I was far away wandering up and down streets and in and out of alleys of Havana, Cuba.

Through winter, I had eased my houseplant watering chores by using “water siphons” (aka “hydrospikes” or “self-watering probes”). These porous ceramic probes, filled with water and pushed into the potting soil, have the thin, flexible tubes coming out of their caps plunked into mason jars filled with water. I knew well …

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MOVING ALONG, INSIDE AND OUT

 

Figs Awakening

Even in the cool temperature (45 degrees Fahrenheit) and darkness of my basement, the potted figs can feel spring inching onward. Buds at the tips of their stems have turned green and are just waiting for some warmth to burst open. Or, if the plants just sit where they are long enough, the buds will unfurl into leaves and shoots. Which would not be a good thing.

My goal is to keep the plants asleep long enough so that they can be moved outside when they will no longer be threatened by cold temperatures. How much of a threat temperatures pose depends on how much asleep the plants are. Fully dormant, a fig tree tolerates temperatures down into the low 20’s. Even now, as they are just barely awakening, they can probably laugh off temperatures into the mid-20s.

If the buds expand into shoots and leaves, they’ll be burned by any …

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HINTS OF SPRING, REMEMBRANCE OF SUMMER

 

Greenery, For Humans And Ducks

Spring has come early, as usual, in my greenhouse. Growth is shifting into high gear as brighter sunlight fuels more photosynthesis and warms the greenhouse more and for a longer time each day. Giant mustard plants, which provided greens all winter, are no longer tasty now that they have shifted their energy to stalks topped with yellow flowers. No matter. I’m digging the plants out and sowing lettuce seeds.

Paths in the greenhouse are carpeted in green — mostly from weeds, mostly chickweed, which is also soaking up the sun’s goodness. No matter. I’m also digging these plants out before they go to seed and threaten takeover of the greenhouse.

To take over the greenhouse, the chickweed would have to do battle with claytonia, which already has self-sown to  bogart much of the greenhouse floor. Fortunately, the claytonia is good fresh in salads.

Chickweed is also good — to some …

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‘SHROOMS

Home-Grown Oysters

Move over shiitakes, you fancy, reputedly healthful mushrooms offered on supermarket shelves and at farmers’ markets at high prices. Make way for oyster mushrooms.

Many of us have chosen to grow shiitakes rather than pay the high prices for them. This means laying in a stock of freshly cut hardwood logs and riddling them with holes that are plugged with inoculated dowels pieces, then sealed with wax. A dose of patience is also needed for home-grown shiitakes, even after going through all that trouble, because a year is needed until first harvest.

My logs, from two and three years ago, yielded mushrooms last spring and autumn. But those logs are sleeping now; what about mushrooms now?

Enter oyster mushrooms. Oyster mushrooms are much more cosmopolitan about their nourishment. And planted now, harvest could begin within a few weeks.

The basics of growing any mushroom are the same. You inoculate a substrate (some material …

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