Yearly Archives: 2017

Red and Green for Winter

A Mexican Native Adapts to Pot

A recent snowfall draped the landscape in magic. The white blanket settled softly on every horizontal surface to create a harmony in white.

Still, I miss green. Even better than seeing some green plants would be to liven up that green with, from the opposite side of the color wheel, red. And even better still would be to have this red-and-greenery close at hand — indoors.

Three plants fill this bill well, and are easy-care houseplants.

The most obvious and common member of this clan is poinsettia. Breeding, manipulation of their greenhouse environment, and plant growth regulators have transformed this sporadically blooming native of Mexico into a compact plant bursting into large blossoms for Christmas in foil wrapped pots.

(Actually, the “blossoms” are not blossoms, but colored bracts, which are modified leaves. Peer into the whorl of bracts and you’ll see small, round, yellow cups, called cyanthiums in which …

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End of Year Punch List



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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Autumn’s Leaves

Wherefrom the Colors?

Autumn is a season when New York’s Hudson Valley, and much of the Northeast, unfolds in all its glory. Not this autumn, though. What’s going on in the leaves this year? Is there anything I can do about it?.

Chlorophyll is what makes leaves green, but hidden behind that green, all season long, are some of autumn’s colors. Chlorophyll must be continually synthesized for a leaf to stay green. The shorter days and lowering sun of waning summer are what trigger leaves to stop producing chlorophyll and let some of the other colors come to the fore.

Yellows and oranges, no longer masked by chlorophyll green, come from carotenoids, which help chlorophyll do its job of harvesting sunlight to convert into plant energy. Thank carotenoids for the warm, yellow glow they give to gingko, aspen, hickory, and birch leaves.


Tannins are another pigment, actually metabolic wastes, that all summer …

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Some Fruits and a Ornamental Veggie

Happy Blueberries, Happy Me

My sixteen blueberry plants make me happy, so I make them happy. (They made me happy this year to the tune of 190 quarts of berries, half of which are in the freezer.) I don’t know how much work bearing all those berries was for them, but I just finished my annual fall ritual of lugging bag upon bag of leaves over to the berry patch to spread beneath the whole 750 square foot planted area.

I don’t begin this ritual spreading until the blueberries’ leaves drop. Then, old leaves and dried up, old fruits are on the ground and get buried beneath the mulch, preventing any disease spores lurking in these fallen leaves or fruits from lofting back up into the plants next spring. Rainy, overcast summers or hot, dry summers or any weather in between — my bushes have never had any disease problems.

In past years, …

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Giving Thanks

Share the Bounty

Thanksgiving is a holiday that really touches the gardener, this gardener, me, at least. If nothing more, it’s a harvest festival, a celebration of the bounty of the season’s efforts. And the season has been bountiful, as is every season if a variety of crops are grown.

Like most home gardeners, I grow a slew of different vegetables and fruits in my gardens. This year’s poor crops of okra, lima beans, and tomatoes was counterbalanced by especially bounteous crops of peppers, cabbages (Asian and European), and various kinds of corn (sweet corn, popcorn, polenta corn) and beans (green, cannelloni).

More than just give thanks, why not give back? One way would be to share the bounty with others who either don’t garden or can’t afford to purchase enough produce. Ample Harvest (, Angel Food Ministries (, and Feeding America ( are three organizations that can direct your …

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Leafy Exercises

A New Exercise: Un-Rei-King

A few years ago I wrote that, among the many benefits of gardening is the opportunity it offers for varied, productive exercise. At that time I highlighted rei-king (ray-KING). Now, let’s add un-rei-king to join rei-king, zumba, cardiofunk, and other ways modern humans build and maintain sleek, fit bodies.

In fact, many people, including couch potatoes and nongardeners, practice rei-king this time of year. You can see them practicing this sweeping motion on their lawn amidst gathering piles of leaves.

Un-rei-king is a more rare form of exercise, of which I am a practitioner. Rei-kingers gather those piles of leaves that are a byproduct of their exercise into large bags, then muscle them curbside. I gather said bags, muscle them gardenside, and launch into un-rei-king. That is, I employ a similar motion to rei-king, except more jagged and with a pitchfork, spreading the leaves once I have freed them …

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Winter’s Comin’

Ready of Ol’ Man Winter

October 31st, was slated to be the first hard frost of the season, later than ever. That afternoon, I went down my checklist of things to do in preparation for the cold.

Drip irrigation needed to be shut down so that ice wouldn’t damage the lines. I opened up the drains at the ends and at the low points of the main lines. I also  opened up the valves on all the drip lines so water wouldn’t get trapped anywhere. Some people blow out all the lines with compressed air.

The only parts of the drip system that ever need to be brought indoors are the parts near the spigot: the battery-powered timer, the pressure reducer, and the filter.

But I wasn’t yet finished with water. All hoses got drained, with any sprayers or hose wands removed from their ends. Hoses were also removed from frost-free hydrants to let …

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The Morning After

Endive Galore

I don’t know if was a case of green thumbness or the weather, but my bed of endive is now almost as frightening as a zucchini planting in summer. The bed, 3 feet wide by 20 feet long, is solid green with endive plants, each and every plant looking as if it’s been pumped up on steroids.

I sowed seeds in 4 by 6 inch seed trays around August 1st, “pricked out” the seedlings into individual growing cells filled with homemade potting soil about a week later, and  transplanted them into the garden in the beginning of September. The bed had been home to one of this summer’s planting of sweet corn (Golden Bantam), a heavy feeder, so after clearing the corn I slathered the bed with an inch depth of pure compost.

Perhaps the vigor of these plants also reflects the extra space I gave them. In years past I …

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Timing Gone Awry But Composting On Schedule

Time Change

Much of gardening is about timing — getting tomato plants in the ground early enough for a timely harvest, but not so early that transplants are killed by a late frost; checking that there’s enough time following harvest of early corn for a late planting of turnips, etc. So, when I began gardening, I read a lot and took lots of notes on what worked here in Zone 5, and eventually compiled everything into a neat table of when to do what.

I figured, with that table, that I was all set and would no longer have to respond to a gut impulse to plant peas during a freak warm spell in late February. Or to keep reading seed packets and counting back days to maturity to compute if there was still time, or it was too early, to plant a late season crop of endive.

Not so! In the few …

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Grapes And Onions

So Many Choices, In Grapes

With over 5,000 varieties of grapes from which to choose, how can anyone decide which to grow? For better or worse, that choice is naturally limited by climate and pests in each part of the country. Here in the northeast, major limitations are humid summers that spread indigenous disease and frigid winter temperatures.

There’s still plenty of grape varieties from which to choose, which I’ve done over the years, weeding out varieties that would succumb to cold or disease. My varietal possibilities are further limited by my low lying land close to acres upon acres of forest. Cold, moisture-laden air sinks into this low spot, and the abundance of wild grapes clambering up forest trees provide a nearby reservoir of insects and disease spores.

With all that, I want to grow varieties that taste good to me (fresh, not for wine). I have dairy farmer-cum-grape breeder Elmer Swenson …

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