“The poor farmer grows weeds, the mediorcre farmer grows crops, the good farmer grows soil.” How true, when I think of the good farmers and gardeners I’ve visited over the years. I aspire to be a good farmdener and spend a lot of time trying to grow soil.
Growing soil isn’t all that complicated. (You do need to start with good drainage of water.)
First, keep the ground covered. Organic mulches, such as leaves, straw, and wood shavings, keep rain from pounding the surface. The pounding drives small soil particles into pores, sealing the soil surface so water can’t percolate in. Bacteria, fungi, worms, and other soil organisms gobble up organic mulches, releasing nutrients and forming humus, which improves percolation and moisture retention, and makes room also for air in the soil. In my gardens, I never want to see bare …
I haven’t yet given up on cardoon — growing it. But eating it? I just about give up. It’s like eating humongous stalks of stringy celery having just a hint of artichoke flavor. As an ornamental is how cardoon has made itself garden-worthy. Like most perennial plants, it grew only leaves this past season, its first season here. But what leaves they were! As I said, like “humongous stalks of celery.” Not much good for eating but nice to look at. The edges of the three-foot-high stalks were winged with undulating, pointed blades (each stalk is a leaf), and the whole plant is a very Mediterranean-looking olive-green. If all goes well, next year should provide an even better show, when flowers also appear. Cardoon is in the thistle family. It’s as if you injected our common (Canadian) thistle with steroids. In addition to those giant leaves, …
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 …
Fresh Watermelon, and More, with Help from Ethylene
Could I possibly be the best gardener west of the Hudson River? Perhaps. As evidence: On November 1st, here in Zone 5 of New York’s Hudson River Valley, where temperatures already have plummeted more than once to 25°F, I was able to harvest a fresh, dead-ripe watermelon. Not from a greenhouse, not from a hoop house, not even from a plastic covered tunnel. Watermelon, a crop sensitive to frost and thriving best in summer’s sun and searing heat.
Okay, perhaps I can’t assume all that much responsibility for the melon. Let me explain . . .
Every fall, I have a landscaper dump a whole truckload of leaves vacuumed up from various properties at my holding area for such things. Rain and snow drench the pile in the coming months, starting it on the road to decomposition. When sufficiently warm weather has decided to stay …
Among the many benefits of gardening is the opportunity it offers for enjoyable, productive exercise in the great outdoors. And now we can add an exercise called rei-king to boot camp, pilates, zumba, kick boxing, cardiofunk, and other ways modern humans build and maintain sleek, fit bodies. Or so I told my wife, Deb.
Rei-King by Deborah as Sammy looks on.
As with some of those other exercise routines, equipment is needed, simple equipment in the case of rei-king. Basically, the equipment is a pole, perpendicular to and at the end of which is a length of wood or metal, attached in its middle to the pole. From the lower side of the length of wood or metal are teeth, each a couple of inches apart and a couple of inches long.
Now for the exercise. You lift the pole just enough to bring the head off the …
How could I resist? Road crews that had been trimming trees along power lines were finishing up work almost right in front of my house with a whole truckload of wood chips. Spreading chips had not been on my “to do” list; now it was, right after the crew graciously dumped contents of the truck in a space between my chestnut trees.
Chestnuts are trees of the forest. Mine, like many of those deliberately planted, have grass at their feet. The wood chips, I reasoned, would make the ground more home-like for the trees. Forest soils are typically overlaid with a layer of organic (that is, living or once living) materials: fallen leaves, twigs, limbs. These organic materials rot, in the process releasing nutrients as well as putting nutrients already in the soil in forms more readily accessible to plants. The organic feast encourages fungi, bacteria, and other …
I’m getting a lot of mulchercise here at the farmden these days. It’s good for me and good for the ground and, in turn, my plants.
Four piles of materials await me: a pile each of new and old wood chips, and a pile each of new and old leaves. The new pile of leaves is going to sit out this year’s mulchercise sessions. After a winter of settling and some decomposition, that pile will be just right for being planted with squash and melon plants. The lanky vines can run wild over the pile through summer and then, next year at this time, I’ll spread the much-reduced pile.
Last year’s leaf pile, from which I harvested this year’s squashes and melons, is part of my present mulchercise. The now dark brown material is getting hauled over to and spread beneath currant bushes, over the asparagus and flower beds, …
What a lucky gardener I am to have a one-acre field at my disposal. Not for planting, though. Except part of it; I couldn’t restrain myself.
When I moved here, many years ago, the caretakers of the field — before it was mine –mowed it every couple of weeks all summer long. Before them, another neighbor had mowed the field once a year with a sickle bar mower attached to his tractor. Nowadays, I mow the bulk of the field once a year with my tractor’s
brush hog attachment, which is, in essence, a giant rotary motor. But I mow the edges and a significant portion of the field by hand, with a scythe.
(Stay tuned for a scything video posted on my “Life on the Farmden” video series; link to the series above, to the right.)