Category Archives: Tools

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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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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DESIGNS ON GARDENING

The Turn Of  The Year

Sure there’s seed-sowing, weeding, and pruning to do, but I’ve also been spending a good amount of time communing with my pitchfork. Turning compost.

Some people are put off by the thought of having to turn compost. Don’t be. Compost does not have to be turned. Any pile of organic materials will eventually become compost.

Still, I like to turn my composts. I typically build new piles (a lot of them!!) through summer into fall, turn them the following spring, and then spread the finished compost that fall or the following spring. As I fork the ingredients from the old pile into the adjacent bin, I break up any clumps with the pitchfork and fluff up any parts that seem sodden and gasping for air. A nearby hose makes it convenient to spray any dry areas.

Everything organic (was once or is living) — hay, weeds, old plants, some …

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OF FLOWERS AND TEMPERATURES

Flower, You Hoya

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but some plants suffer much neglect in my hands. My aloe, for example, has occasionally gone a whole year without a drop of water.

Hoya, also known as wax plant or Hindu rope plant, is another of my neglected plants. This plant is about 25 years old and has sat in the same pot in the same location for the past 15 years. The pot is only 3 inches square, dwarfed by the 3-foot-long “Hindu rope,” a single stem along which grow thick, green, involuted leaves. The hoya sits on a west-facing windowsill of a tower window in my house, and the lanky stem can drip down another 2 to 3 feet before it’s got to be shortened to keep from being bumped by anybody beneath it. One reason the plant gets watered so infrequently is because watering involves pulling out and climbing a …

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OF MITES & MOISTURE

It Mite be a Pest

    Mites! Eek! A new pest in town (for me). Actually, the mites, which showed up on some newly rooted Meyer lemon cuttings, don’t really scare me, nothing like the scale insects that regularly turn up on some of my citrus. Chigger mites, scabies mites, dust mites, itch mites — they’re not pests of plants, and they WOULD scare me.    The cuttings were well rooted and just sitting still, basking in a south-facing window, waiting for longer days and warmer temperatures before they can come alive. (They pick up an attenuated version of seasonal temperature changes at that window.) A few weeks ago I noticed a yellow stippling developing on the green leaves.    No panic; the plan was to wait a few weeks and see if the stippling disappears or if new growth, unstippled, develops. Citrus sometimes develop iron deficiency, which also yellows leaves, in cold …

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SUSTAINABLE DIRT

 Dirt is Free, Almost

   Sustainability is such a buzzword these days. Okay, I’ll join the crowd and say, “I’m growing fruits and vegetables sustainably.” But is this true. Can they really be grown sustainably, that is, in such a way to be able to continue forever?    As any plant grows, it sucks nutrients from the soil. Harvest the plant and you take those nutrients off-site. Eventually, those nutrients need replenishment. That’s what fertilizer does, but spreading fertilizer — whether organic or chemical — is hardly sustainable. Organic fertilizers, such as soybean meal, need to be grown, harvested (taking nutrients off site), processed, bagged, and transported. Chemical fertilizers need to be mined and processed, or manufactured, and then also bagged and transported.    About half the volume of most soils is mineral, the rest being air, water, and organic matter. The mineral portion derives from rocks that, with time, temperature changes, and …

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UNTRADITIONAL ROSES AND HOEING

 Rose Fan: No, Yes?

   I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m not a big fan of roses. But I can’t help myself. The garden is awash in golden yellow, crimson red, soft pink, apricot pink, and plain old pink blossoms. Almost all of this is thanks to David Austin, breeder of roses.    My father was a big fan of roses, so I was exposed to them at an early age. Pre-dating Mr. Austin’s creations, my father’s roses were the ever popular — except with me — hybrid tea roses which everyone — except me — liked and likes for their pointy, formal blossoms, their bold colors, and their repeat bloom. Nobody mentions their gawky stature, general lack of strong or interesting fragrance, and attraction to pests.

L. D. Braithewaite rose, cold-hardy and just keeps blooming

    David Austin roses won me over with their softer colors, fuller …

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GOOD BOOKS, GOOD LECTURES

One Book = Years of Experience

    I’ve been gardening for over 30 years. Don’t be impressed. The number of years spent with hands in the dirt doesn’t necessarily confer any particular expertise in the field (pun intended). Some gardeners do the same foolish things year in and year out, or never sufficiently investigate other, perhaps better, ways of doing what they’ve been doing. Or not appreciate cause and effect. (Was it really the compost tea spray that led to bountiful yields last year, or was it reliable rainfall interspersed with bright, sunny days? The tendency is to hold the former responsible.) Or, the wizened, old gardener’s wealth of knowledge might not extend beyond what they’ve grown on their own “back forty,” severely limiting the benefit of any wisdom passed on to others with a shorter history of gardening.    Reading is a efficient way to squeeze wisdom of others, reflecting decades …

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