I just returned from time travel one month forward and a couple hundred years backward. Both at the same time! I did this with a trip to Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, where black locust trees were in full bloom, which is about a month ahead of when they will be blooming up here in New York’s Hudson Valley.
The impetus for this time travel was Colonial Williamsburg’s Annual Garden Symposium, at which I was one of the presenters. (I did presentations on espalier fruit plants and on growing fruits in small gardens.)
Williamsburg is a magical place anytime of year, and especially so, for me, in spring. (I first fell in love with the place on a family trip when I was 7 years old; on subsequent visits, I’ve forgone the three-cornered hat I wore on that first trip.)
You’d be surprised if you looked out on my vegetable garden today. Black plastic covers three beds. Black plastic which, for years, I’ve railed against for depriving a soil of oxygen, for its ugliness, for — in contrast to organic mulches — its doing nothing to increase soil humus, and for its clogging landfills.Actually, that insidious blackness covering my beds is black vinyl. But that’s beside the point. Its purpose, like the black plastic against which I’ve railed, is to kill weeds. Not that my garden has many weeds. But this time of year, in some beds, a few more sprout than I’d like to see.
The extra warmth beneath that black vinyl will help those weeds get growing. Except that there’s no light coming through the vinyl, so most weeds will expend their energy reserves and die. And this should not take long, depending on the weather …
I have one more important task to do before planting any vegetables this spring, and that is the annual mapping out of the garden, something I generally put off as long as possible.
In theory, mapping out my garden should be easy. I “rotate” what I plant in each bed so that no vegetable, or any of its relatives, grows in a given bed more frequently than every 3 years. In practice, I mostly pay attention to rotation of plants most susceptible to diseases, which are cabbage and its kin (all in the Brassicaceae), cucumber and its kin (Cucurbitaceae), tomato and its kin (Solanaceae), beans and peas (Fabaceae), and corn (sweet or pop, in the Gramineae).
Crop rotation prevents buildup of disease pests that overwinter in the ground; removing host plants eventually starves them out. (Insect pest are more mobile, so crop rotation has less impact except in very …
I’d like to introduce the words farmden and farmdener into the English language. I wonder if there are any other farmdeners out there.
What is a farmden? It’s more than a garden, less than a farm. That’s my definition, but it also could be described as a site with more plants and/or land than one person can care for sanely. A gardener and garden gone wild, out of control.
You might sense that I speak from personal experience. I am. My garden started innocently enough: A 30 by 40 foot patch of vegetables, a few apple trees, some flowers, and lawn. That was decades years ago, and in the intervening period, the lawn has grown smaller, the vegetable garden has doubled in size, and the fruit plantings have gone over the top.
Originally, I had less than acreage – 72 hundredths of an acre to be exact. But over …
I’m always on the lookout for volunteers in my garden, whether they’re people, fungi, plants, or any other organisms. The relationship is usually symbiotic. Human volunteers gain some knowledge and experience; I get some help in my ever-growing farmden. Fungal volunteers work with my plants, drinking in some of the sugars and other goodies plants produce. In return, the fungi protect plants agains certain pests and, in the case of mycorrhizal fungi, fungal threads ramifying through the soil act like extensions of plants’ roots so plants can absorb more nutrients.
But what do plant volunteers get out of our arrangement? Plant volunteers usually arrive in droves so only some can stay. Those that stay get to enjoy especially good growing conditions.
Which brings me to celery. For the past few years, I’ve allowed celery in the greenhouse to go to seed each fall. The seeds drop and, within …
In past years, now is when we would always hope to make enough maple syrup to last until the following year at about this time. Maple syrup consumption has dropped dramatically, leaving me with quite a backlog of the stuff. So trees haven’t been tapped for the past few years.
Not that we ever made that much maple syrup. Four tapped trees always produced sufficient sap for a year’s worth of syrup. It had to, because that’s how many spiles (taps) and buckets we own.
Our operation was nothing like what I came upon a couple of weeks ago cross-country skiing in the woods of northern Vermont. All of a sudden tubes had appeared in the pristine, white wilderness. Tubes everywhere! Baby blue plastic tubes, black plastic tubes, interlocking connectors, everything neatly wired into position at chest height and thoughtfully out of …
A day like this, a gray sky and six inches of fluffy, fresh snow laid gently atop the white already resting on the ground, hardly turns my mind to gardening or plants. Even the greenhouse, usually a cheery horticultural retreat in winter, is dark and cold. Snow on the roof blocks what little light peeks through the gray sky, and the heater doesn’t come alive until the temperature drops to about 37° F.
Carrots from jonnyseeds.com
And then I reach into my mailbox, and out comes summer! Seed and nursery catalogs oozing with photos of fresh carrots, heads of lettuce, juicy peaches, and sunny sunflowers. I’ve already ordered all my seeds, or so I thought until I started thumbing through more catalogs. Offerings in vegetable seeds, in particular, seem to get more interesting each year.
Take carrots, for example. Carrots have long been available in all sort …
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 …
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 …