Monthly Archives: May 2019

A Changing Landscape

Wormy Matters

Charles Darwin did some of his best work lying on his belly in a grassy meadow. Not daydreaming, but closely observing the lives and work of earthworms. All this lying about eventually lead to the publication of his final book, The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms. Darwin calculated that earthworms brought 18 tons of nutrient-rich castings to the surface per acre per year, in so doing tilling and aerating the soil while rendering the nutrients more accessible for plant use.
I wouldn’t find that many earthworms at work in my own grassy meadow. The last glacier, which receded about 12,000 years ago from the northern parts of the U.S., including here in the Hudson Valley, wiped out all the earthworms. Darwin’s meadow was spared because glaciation didn’t reach as far south as where Darwin’s home eventually stood.

Not that there aren’t now any earthworms here. Mostly, these …

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Aquatic Matters

Rain, Rain Go Away; And It Did

Now that this spring’s incessant rains have stopped, we can settle in for dry weather. I hope.

Yes, I should be careful about what I hope for, but plants and people generally enjoy clear, blue, skies. For plants, those days mean plenty of light — actually, more than enough, but no harm done — for photosynthesis, which translates to better flavored fruits and vegetables, and conditions inimical to fungal diseases.

A plant only benefits under these conditions, of course, if it also has enough water at its roots. To that effect, yesterday, in celebration of the second clear, sunny day, I turned on and checked out the drip irrigation system that provides that water to my vegetable plants and blueberry bushes. (With mulches and choice of appropriate plants, all other plants are on their own.)

Despite the drip irrigation and self-sufficiency of other plants, some hand watering …

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A New, Old Twist on Strawberries

Strawberries White and Early

Awhile ago I plucked some ripe strawberries and handed them to Rachel for a taste. Her ho-hum reaction told me that I hadn’t picked carefully enough. Yes, the berries were white, but that’s their color when ripe — and also when not ripe.You should be scratching your head by now. Strawberries that are white when ripe? Strawberries perhaps ready for harvest in early May here in the Hudson Valley?

The berries I handed Rachel were alpine strawberries (Fragaria vesca), a different species from our usual garden strawberries (F. X ananassa). They are a kind of “wood strawberry” (often going under their more upscale-sounding French moniker fraises de bois) first encountered about 300 years ago near Grenoble, France. These strawberries are different from garden strawberries in many ways.

For one thing, alpine strawberries are everbearing. They’ll pump out fresh berries as long as given sufficient warmth, water, and nutrients. Mine …

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Grape Futures

My Rationale for Pruning so Late

Today I put the finishing touches on pruning my grapevines. Yes, it’s late: The buds have already swollen and expanded into clusters of small leaves. But there’s “method in my madness,” or, at least, my tardiness.

Vanessa grapes

My vines often experience some winter damage, some varieties — New York Muscat, Reliance, and Vanessa, for instance — more than others. Waiting to prune until I see some green saves me from cutting off too many living canes and saving too many dead canes. In winter it’s not so easy to tell them apart.

So I do mostly rough pruning in winter, lopping back canes that have to go whether they’re living or dead. Canes also need to be shortened, even those that are to be eventually saved.

Which brings me to another reason I left the final pruning until today. Plants generally make their earliest growth in …

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18th Century, Here I Come!

Is that me playing the fife? No.

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.)

The …

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