Author Archives: Lee Reich

FINAL HARVESTS

Compressed Gardening Experience

People are so ready to sit at the feet of any long-time gardener to glean words of wisdom. I roll my eyes. Someone who has gardened for ten, twenty, even more years might make the same mistakes every year for that number of years. I, for instance, swung a scythe wrong for 20 years; I may have it right now. Even a wizened gardener who has evaluated and corrected their mistakes has garnered experience only on their own plot of land; these experience may not apply to the differing soils, climates, and resources of other sites.

When I began gardening, my agricultural knowledge and experience was nil, zip, niets, rien, nada. But — and this is important — I had easy access to a whole university library devoted solely to agriculture. Hungry to learn, I read a lot. (I also was taking classes in agriculture.) In one year I …

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GARDEN ESSENTIALS, FOR PEGGY

Compost, of Course, and More

Very soon I plan to drive a truckload of compost to my sister Peggy’s house. Like many people, she’s caught the gardening bug, and this compost, along with a wheelbarrow I fished out of my town’s metal recycling, is a gift. It includes my help spreading it.

What else would be a good gift for any beginning gardener? (Okay, Peggy has been dipping her toes in the gardening waters for years, but only recently got more serious about growing vegetables.)

For starters, indispensable, would be a trowel or a hori-hori knife, the latter being something of a hybrid of a garden knife and a trowel, not as good as either parent but great for all-around use. No need to labor over the worth of a high-end, stainless steel, oak-handled trowel; either will work well and last long if stored out of the elements.

A pair of hand shears would …

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ONE OF THANKSGIVING’S UNSUNG HEROES

Years ago I wrote about one of the unsung heroes of Thanksgiving, the groundnut (Apios americanum). This plant, which helped nourish the Pilgrims through their first winters, never achieved the reknown of corn, pumpkins, cranberries, and other foods of the season.

When I first wrote about groundnuts, I had just planted them. I pointed out that there was renewed interest in the plant, though specifics as to how to grow it were wanting and selection of superior clones was just beginning. Now that I have grown groundnut for a few (thirty plus!) years, I am ready to share my experiences.

It Looks Like . . . And Acts Like . . .

As you might guess from the name, the plant makes edible tubers, usually the size of golfballs and strung together on a thinner, ropelike root. The swollen roots on one of my plants are more the size of tennis balls than …

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GHOST OF A NOVEMBER PAST

A Vine or a Bush?

Here’s a blast from the past, from my November 20, 2009 blog post, with current commentaries  on how things have changed — and not changed — over the past 11 years.

Dateline: New Paltz, NY, November 20, 2009, 5:30 am. New models of plants, like cars, are deemed necessary to keep consumers interested and spending money. My cars (actually trucks . . . you know, manure and all that) stay with me for as long as they keep rolling along, so it was with equal skepticism I looked upon a new “model” of mandevilla, called Crimson, that arrived at my doorstep early last summer.

I was first attracted and introduced to mandevilla about 20 years ago. The glossy leaves and the bright red, funnel shaped flowers, were part of the attraction. The vining habit was also a big part of the draw, making the plant a …

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FROM PAST TO PRESENT

Br-r-r-r-r-r

This post originally appeared November 7, 2009. Here’s an update with commentaries  on how things have changed — and not changed — over the past 11 years.

Dateline: New Paltz, NY, October 19, 2009, 5:30 am. I bet my garden is colder than your garden. I was startled this morning to see the thermometer reading 23 degrees F. Not much I could do at that point about protecting “cold weather” vegetables still in the garden, some covered with floating row covers and some in “plein aire.” The thing to do under these circumstances was wait for the sun to slowly warm everything up and then assess the damage.

2009

I ventured out to the garden for a survey in the sunny midafternoon. Joy of joys. None of the cold-hardy vegetables was damaged by the cold. Romaine lettuces stood upright and crisp, arugula was dark green and tender, radishes were …

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THE SHOW GOES ON

Lesser Known

A whole slew of clear, sunny days and cool nights caused sugar maples to put on a particularly fiery show of yellow and orange leaves this fall. That’s mostly over now around here — but a number of other trees and shrubs, many not well known, are keeping my farmden and beyond colorful longer.

Little known, for instance is Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica). I planted it years ago as a shade tree. Big mistake! For shade, that is. It doesn’t grow very large and is more of a large, multistemmed shrub. I’m glad I planted it, though. The smooth, gray stems grow thick and often horizontally, then downward a little before heading skyward, sort of like a miniature beech.

But I’m writing about color, and Persian ironwood has it, the leaves emerging purplish in spring, turning a lustrous green in summer, then morphing into variable shades of yellow, orange and red …

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ABOUT PEPPERS

Better Late than Never

Cold has finally gotten the better of my pepper plants. Two below freezing nights a month ago started their demise, and two more during the last few nights finally finished them off for the season. Not the fruits, though, plenty of which are piled and spread out in trays and baskets in the kitchen.

Outdoors, fruits weathered the below freezing temperatures well. They’ve been shielded from the full brunt of cold by their canopies of increasingly floppy leaves. Also, fruits of plants are higher in sugars than are the leaves. Thinking back to high school chemistry, I recall that any solute, such as sugar, lowers the freezing point of the solution. So pepper fruit cells can tolerate more cold than pepper leaves.

Even with the plants dead outside, the pepper season isn’t over here. The season has been greatly extended by harvesting and bringing indoors sound, green peppers showing …

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GRAPE and NUTS

Long-term Grapes

About a month ago, I picked a bunch of grapes as I was walking around the farmden with a friend, and handed it to him to taste. “Wow,” he exclaimed, eyes lighting up, “that really has taste.” That was the variety Brianna, one of many I grow that are otherwise not well-known, surely not to anyone who doesn’t grow grapes. My friend and I went on to agree that store-bought grapes are, “at best, nothing more than little sacks of sugary water.”

All that’s history now. Over the past month, most of the remaining grapes have either been harvested, eaten by birds or insects, or rotted, although a few very tasty berries can be salvaged here and there from some ugly bunches still hanging.

But are those grape-ful days gone yet? Years ago I read about how, over a century ago in France, fresh grapes were sometimes preserved by cutting off …

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COMPOSTING, A DIDACTIC & A PERSONAL VIEW

Start With The Carbs

A bit of chemistry might be good for your compost. Just a bit. Actually, we mostly need to deal with only two familiar elements of the 100 plus known ones. These two elements are carbon and nitrogen, and they are the ones for which the “bugs” that do the work of making compost are most hungry.

“Work” is too strong a word, though, because these composting bugs do nothing more than eat. Nonetheless, a balanced diet — one balanced mostly with respect to carbon and nitrogen — does these bugs, the composting microorganisms, good.

This time of year, the microorganisms’ smorgasbord is set with an especially wide array and abundance of carbon-rich foods. You can identify these foods because they are old plants or plant parts. As such, they are mostly brown and mostly dry. Autumn leaves, for example. Other carbon-rich foods include wood chips, straw, sawdust, hay, and …

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FRUITS UNLAWFUL AND LAWFUL

Interloper, Not Welcome by Everyone

As I was coming down a hill on a recent hike in the woods, I came upon an open area where the path was lined with clumps of shrubs whose leaves shimmered in the early fall sunshine. The leaves — green on their topsides and hoary underneath — were coming alive as breezes made them first show one side, then the other.

The plants’ beauty was further highlighted by the abundant clusters of pea-size, silver flecked red (rarely, yellow) berries lined up along the stems. I know this plant and, as I always do this time of year, popped some of the berries into my mouth. The timing was right; they were delicious.

Many people hate this plant, which I’m sure a lot of readers recognized from my description as autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata). What’s to hate? The plant is considered invasive (and banned) in many states in …

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