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.
Last week I mentioned my brother’s mystery shrub, which he wanted to prune back heavily. I told him it was okay to do so even though I — and a number of experts I consulted — could not identify the plant.
(Drum roll . . .) The plant has finally been identified, by Mark Brand of the University of Connecticut, as Wilson rhododendron, Rhododendron x laetevirens. I had narrowed it down to R. carolinianum, which is one of the parents of this hybrid, the other being R. ferrigineum.
Wilson rhododendron flower bud
My brother’s not noticing flowers on this rhododendron is understandable. It’s a super cold hardy but sparse bloomer that’s grown mostly for its foliage; the pointy leaves don’t droop or curl, but remain perky, even in frigid weather.
Now I can sleep nights.
It was Cold Outside!
Talk about frigid weather: I was surprised at how cold it …
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 …
It’s nice to see that at least someone or thing enjoys the current cool, wet weather. My eight ducks, for instance. As I open the door to “duckingham palace,” each duck pads out onto the slurpy ground as happy as a lark (a lark on a sunny day, I assume). Also enjoying this awful weather are the oat cover crops that I’ve sown in some of my vegetable beds. The oats are especially lush and green, as is your and my lawn grass. The same goes for beds I recently planted with lettuce, radishes, arugula, turnips and other cool weather vegetables.
Nasturtium flowers, which I planted back in May, went hardly noticed all season long. But now they are lush, their red flowers boldly staring out against the background of their round disks of bluish green leaves.
The plants’ present prominence comes, first, from the weather. Native from the …
About a month ago the greenhouse was looking messy as oxalis, grasses, chickweed, and other weeds were starting to carpet the mostly bare ground. An unacceptable situation, considering that a month hence — now — I would need the space for planting in preparation for fall and winter.
The first step back in August was, obviously, to clear away the weeds, pulling almost each and every one out, roots and all. As long as weeds aren’t too overgrown or too abundant, the job is pleasantly satisfying. Moist soil also helps.
Pulling out weeds differs from the usual approach of preparing the soil by tilling it to discombobulate and bury weeds. I avoid tillage because it exposes buried weed seeds to light, which is just what new weeds need to germinate and grow. Tillage also burns up valuable humus and discombobulates not only the soil, but also resident fungi, earthworms, and other …
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 …
With apologies to E. B. Browning: “How do I store [as in ‘preserve’] thee? Let me count the ways. I store thee to the depth and breadth and height a Mason jar can reach . . . “ And in other ways.
Red, ripe tomatoes, the essence of summer. How to capture that essence for a dark, snowy winter day? A few ways: Let me count the ways.
Canning tomatoes can be a complicated, drawn out process, or something quick and easy. In the heat of summer, I choose the latter, merely filling a large pot a half-inch of water and then whole tomatoes from which any diseased or unripened areas have been excised. No de-skinning, de-seeding, or chopping. The pot is allowed to cool a bit after its volume has been reduced to one-half to two-thirds of the original volume.
“So sad,” to quote our current president (not a president known, so far at least, for his eloquence). But I’m not sliding over into political commentary. I use to that pithy quote in reference to the fleeting glory of Rose d’Ipsahan.
A little background: Rose d’Ipsahan was given to me many years ago by a local herbalist under the name of Rose de Rescht, which it soon became evident it was not. Descriptions of Rose de Rescht tell how it blossoms repeatedly through the season; not my rose. I finally honed down my rose’s identity from among the choices suggested by a number of rose experts based on photos and descriptions I had sent them.
Under any name, Rose d’Ipsahan would be my favorite rose. Without any sort of protection, it’s never suffered any damage from winter cold. Insect and disease pests do it …
Note: The following editorial comments represent the opinions of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the publisher.
I don’t understand the current — decades long, now — infatuation with the “stinking rose,” as garlic used to be called. Not to reveal my age, but I don’t remember ever seeing, smelling, or tasting garlic in my youth. Not that I didn’t; I just don’t remember it if I did. At any rate, in my family circle, at least, it would not have generated the undue enthusiasm it does these days. Whole festivals, for instance!
I don’t dislike garlic. Mostly, when I’ve used it, it’s flavor is lost when cooked. Except when roasting turns the texture satiny and the flavor bite-less; then it’s quite delicious spread on bread or baked potato, or mixed with vegetables. Mmmmm.
But still not worth planting. It’s my belief that many …