Category Archives: Vegetables

ALL-AMERICAN THANKSGIVING

Danger of Squashing

Thanksgiving is a most appropriate time to put together a truly American meal, one made up of native plants, many of which are easily grown, that might have shown up on the original Thanksgiving table about 400 years ago.

(The date of that first feast was 1623 but the date for celebrating Thanksgiving in all states— on the final Thursday in November — was not fixed until 1863, with a presidential proclamation. Lincoln hoped that a unified date throughout the country would help unify the nation during the divisive days of the Civil War. Not so. Confederate States refused to accept that date until the next decade, during Reconstruction. Another presidential proclamation, by F.D.R. changed the date to the 4th Thursday of November, in an attempt to boost the economy. Would a new date help now?)

On to garden history . . . Back in early November, I picked a …

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UBER ORGANIC & A BEAUTIFUL BLOSSOM

‘Tis the Season

    ’Tis the season to really put the “organic” in organic gardening. “Organic,” as in organic materials, natural compounds composed mostly of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. “Organic,” as in materials that are or were once living, things like compost, leaves, manure, and hay.
    I’ve spread compost over almost all my vegetable garden beds. A one inch depth laid atop each bed provides all the nutrients the vegetable plants need for a whole season, in addition to other benefits such as snuffing out weeds, holding moisture, improving aeration, and nurturing beneficial, pest-fighting organisms.
    I’m also finishing up the bulk of making new compost for the year. Pretty much everything organic — old vegetable plants, kitchen trimmings, even old cotton clothing — go into the compost piles. The primary foods, though, are hay, which I scythe, rake up, and then haul over from my hayfield, and horse manure, …

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THE GOOD AND THE BAD OF A DRY AUTUMN

Just Like Korea?

    The bone dry weather blanketing the Hudson Valley and much of northeastern U.S. does have its saving graces. For one thing, it forces perennial plants to shut down and direct their energies to toughening up for cold weather lurking over the horizon. That’s a good thing — unless, of course, the soil gets dry enough to kill a plant. Deciduous plants have the option, before that happens, to drop their leaves, drastically reducing their water loss and needs.
    This dry autumn weather is not unlike that in many parts of Korea. So what? When it comes to cold-hardiness, some plants that survive Korea’s frigid winters typically are done in by our similarly frigid winters. One plant that comes to mind is Asian persimmon (Diospyros kaki). The chances of an Asian persimmon surviving a winter here at my Zone 5 farmden and ripening its fruits are generally not …

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NUTTY TIMES AND COLD WEATHER

Nuts Galore

    What a nutty time of year, literally! Chestnuts and black walnuts, two of my favorite nuts, were raining down, figuratively, just before the middle of the month.
    Black walnuts are free for the taking. Wild trees are everywhere around here, and keep increasing because of overlooked nuts buried by squirrels. The nuts are so abundant this year, and most years, that squirrels and humans can have their fill. (Not so with my filbert nuts; squirrels will strip those bushes clean.)
    Black walnuts have a strong flavor. Like dark beer, fresh blackcurrants, and okra, not everyone likes the flavor. That’s fine. Fast food chains might purvey foods that everyone sort of likes, while a home gardener and gatherer can grow and gather fruits and vegetable and nuts that he or she really, really likes, and ignore what he or she really, really does not like.
    There’s …

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DUCKS AND TOMATOES

My Discerning Ducks

    Every morning when I throw open the door to my Duckingham Palace (a name coined by vegetable farmer Elliot Coleman, for his duck house), my four ducks step out, lower their heads as if to reduce air resistance, and race to the persimmon tree. They trace a large circle around the base of the tree, scooping up any fallen persimmons and, still running, gulping them down quickly enough so no other member of the brood snatches it.
    The circle is wide because of the low, temporary fence I’ve set up around the tree. Within the fenced area, I gather up most of the fallen fruit for myself. The ducks, can’t, or haven’t figured out how to, fly over an 18 inch high fence.
    My tree is an American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), native to eastern U.S. from Florida to northern Pennsylvania. Until they are dead ripe, …

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THE WEATHER, AND BLACKCAPS

Dry Soil

    Digging a hole to bury an animal last week gave me new respect for the plant world. Each shovelful brought up dusty, light brown soil, even to a depth of more than two feet. That’s expected, since it hasn’t rained more than 1/4 of an inch here for the past five weeks.
    With their leaves flagging in midday, trees and shrubs don’t exactly look spry. Still, they are alive, even some spring-planted trees and shrubs which have had little time to spread their roots deep and wide.

Thirsty, young Asian persimmon

    Appearance of a soil can be deceiving. There’s some water lurking within those pores, water held tightly by capillary attraction. After heavy rains or irrigation, all soil pores get filled with water, a situation as bad for plants, if it lasts too long, as dry soil. Plant roots need air as well as moisture; air …

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SOME REFLECTIONS. . . NOT THAT IT’S OVER

Finish Squash

    “Zucchini bread is for people who don’t have compost piles.” That’s what I told Deb after she suggested, first ratatouille, and then zucchini bread, as vehicles for our excess zucchini.
    Most years I make an early, too large planting of zucchini (about 6 plants), and then, six to eight weeks later, make another sowing of only a couple of plants. The first planting puts enough zucchinis into the freezer for winter, as well as leaving enough for eating. The second planting is to yield an occasional zucchini for fresh eating through summer after plants of that initial planting have succumbed to squash vine borer, cucumber beetles, bacterial wilt, and any of the other maladies that usually do in the plants a few weeks after they begin bearing. Usually and thankfully do in the plants. But not this year.
    Almost every time I check that early planting …

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DRY WOOD, & AUTUMNAL AIR

 Passionflower to the Rescue

   When I began, many years ago, to heat my home with wood, I struggled to get the driest possible wood, finally building a 60-foot long woodshed beneath which a double row of logs basked in the direct hit of sunlight from the south. I more recently learned that firewood can be too dry, which is when moisture drops below 15 to 20 percent. Bone dry wood can’t get enough oxygen for a clean, efficient burn, so smoke, within which is locked the potential for rendering additional heat, is produced; pump enough oxygen into the mix, though, and you get an inferno that can damage a woodstove.    So — and here’s the plant-related part — rather than tear down or put siding on my super-drying woodshed, I put some heat loving vines to climb and provide some shade on the south face. Sections of hog-fencing temporarily hung …

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UNPERMACULTURE

Accusations,  (Mostly) not True

I’ve understandably been accused of being a “permie,” that is, of practicing permaculture.    (In the words of permaculture founder, Bill Mollison, “Permaculture is about designing sustainable human settlements. It is a philosophy and an approach to land use which weaves together microclimate, annual and perennial plants, animals, soils, water management, and human needs into intricately connected, productive communities.” In the words of www.dictionary.com, permaculture is “a system of cultivation intended to maintain permanent agriculture or horticulture by relying on renewable resources and a self-sustaining ecosystem.”)    Walk around my farmden and, yes, you’ll come upon Nanking cherry bushes where forsythia bushes once lined the driveway, an American persimmon tree where a lilac bush once stood, and other edible plants used also for landscaping. In the vegetable garden, I preserve soil integrity by never tilling it, and, in the south field, blackcurrant bushes make use of the space beneath …

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