STUFFED

Breadcrumb Seeds?

Who’s getting stuffed for Thanksgiving this year, you or your turkey, or your tofurkey? A good stuffing (of the real or faux bird) is good enough to eat sans bird. And, for best quality, you can grow it yourself. Not by dropping seeds of a “stuffing plant” in the soil, but by planting all the ingredients you need.

The bread and butter of any stuffing is some starchy food, often bread and butter itself, the bread usually as crumbs. There’s no breadcrumb plant, so forget about growing breadcrumbs. Not that you couldn’t buy some wheat berries, plant them next spring, harvest the grain when the plants dry down, thresh and winnow out the berries, grind them into flour, make the flour into bread, then let the bread go stale and pound it into bread crumbs. Whew! Most of us are not going to do this. 

“The Bread Tree”

As an alternative to …

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PREPARING FIGS FOR A COLD WINTER

They’re Not Tropical

Too many people think fig trees are tropical plants. They’re not. They’re subtropical plants and that’s one reason those of us living in cold winter climates can harvest fresh, ripe figs. In fact, fig trees like that little rest that cold weather offers them.

Here in Zone 5 (average winter lows of minus 10 to minus 20° F), I grow figs a number of ways. Figs are cold hardy to the low ‘teens, too cold for even subtropical plants to grow outdoors in the ground, their stems splayed to cold winter air like my apples and pears. Their roots, especially if mulched, generally will survive winters here in the relatively warmer temperatures underground. But then new shoot growth must originate at ground level, and the growing season isn’t long enough for figs that develop on those shoots to ripen.

Potted

  Some of my figs, like many of yours, are in …

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BEAUTY AND FLAVOR

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (in my opinion)

For better or worse, every year nurseries and seed companies send me a few plants or seeds to try out and perhaps write about. The “for better” part is that I get to grow a lot of worthwhile plants. The “for worse part” is that I have to grow some garden “dogs.” (I use the word “dogs” disparagingly, with apologies to Sammy and Daisy, my good and true canines.) Before my memory fades, let me jot down impressions of a quartet of low, mounded annuals that I trialed this year.

Calibrachoa Superbells Blackberry Punch was billed as heat and drought tolerant, which it was. As billed, it also was smothered in flowers all summer long. It’s a petunia relative and look-alike. Still, I give it thumbs down. But that’s just me; I don’t particularly like purple flowers, and especially those that are …

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CATS ON A COOL, GREEN ROOF

Why and How to Build

I’ve got to learn to look up more, you know, the way tourists do; natives generally fix their gazes straight ahead to a destination or downwards, in thought. I am reminded of this when a visitor (a “tourist” in this context) walks up my front path, smiles, and tells me, “I like your green roof.” So then I (the “native” in this context) look up and join in the appreciation.

My green roof was born about twenty years ago. After fumbling too many times with packages or keys in the rain at the front door, the time had come build protection from the elements. Rather than cover just the area around the door, this cover would extend over a small patio. And rather than just shingle the roof, why not make it a planted roof, a “green roof?”

So my friend Bill and I built a sturdy, shallowly …

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OF MAPLES AND REDS

Where’d the Red Go?

Sugar maples (Acer saccharum) are now doing just what I expected of them. But not exactly what I want them to do. Here in New York’s mid-Hudson Valley, at least, this autumn’s leaf show is not quite up to snuff. And it’s also later than in the past. It used to peak here in the middle of October; nowadays, with climate change, the peak has been pushed forward to about now.

Back to the color: This year the local sugar maples are mostly only yellow, lacking the oranges and the reds that, along with some yellow, really ramp up the blaze of landscapes and forests. Let’s blame that more subdued show on the weather. To know why, let’s backtrack to summer when, quoting from a section in my recent book The Ever Curious Gardener, Using a Little Natural Science for a Much Better Garden:

Green is from …

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HARDWOOD CUTTINGS: NOT HARD (TO DO SUCCESSFULLY)

Pros for Hardwood Cuttings

Years ago, I had just one plant of Belaruskaja black currant. Now I have about a dozen plants of this delicious variety, and plenty of black currants for eating. Do you have a favorite tree, shrub, or vine that you would like more of. 

Hardwood cuttings are a simple way to multiply plants. This type of cutting is nothing more than a woody shoot that is cut from a plant and stuck into the soil some time after the shoot has dropped its leaves in the fall, but before it grows a new set of leaves in the spring. In the weeks that follow planting, if all goes well, some roots may develop and, come spring, this apparently lifeless piece of stem grows shoots and more roots, and is well on its way to bona fide plantdom.

(Be very careful, though. Multiplying plants can become an addiction. I speak …

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WHAT I LEARNED ABOUT BRUSSELS SPROUTS

Sprout Success

Years ago, a friend referred to Brussels sprouts as “little green balls of death;” that never exactly increased the gustatory appeal of this vegetable for me. The same could be said for “a little boiled to death,” a too common way of preparing the vegetable, and perhaps that’s what the friend had actually said.

Still, I’m always up for a horticultural challenge, even if I had never had success with Brussels sprouts. What does “lack of success” mean with Brussels sprouts? Dime-size sprouts.

Sit tight. This season my Brussels sprouts are a roaring success, and I’m going to impart to you what I learned about growing this sometimes maligned vegetable. Or, at least, what I did differently this year, which was a few things, so I’m not sure whether one or more of them was responsible for my achievement. It could even have been the weather, which I had no hand …

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FERTILIZING 101

Feed Sooner, Not later

Although shoot growth of woody plants ground to a halt weeks ago, root growth will continue until soil temperatures drop below about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Root and shoot growth of woody plants and lawn grass are asynchronous, with root growth at a maximum in early spring and fall, and shoot growth at a maximum in summer. So roots aren’t just barely growing this time of year; they’re growing more vigorously than in midsummer. 

Remember the song lyrics: “House built on a weak foundation will not stand, no, no”? Well, the same goes for plants. (Plant with a weak root system will not be healthy, no, no.) Fertilization in the fall, rather than in winter, spring, or summer, promotes strong root systems in plants.

By the time a fertilizer applied in late winter or early spring gets into a plant, shoots are building up steam and need to be fed. …

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A DELECTABLE PEACH

A Time Machine

A few days ago, a fuzzy orb that I held in my hand became a time machine. This time machine was a peach, and time travel took place immediately after I took a bite out of it. There I was, no longer eating the peach on my friend Wendy’s farm — Wendy is a botanical artist, https://drawbotanical.com — but in the backyard of my youth, biting into a peach from our backyard tree. (Our home “orchard” also consisted of two crabapple trees, whose fruit was morphed under the direction of a great aunt into jelly, and a pear tree that I remember bearing only one fruit that I watched daily only to find it, one day, gone, picked prematurely by my sister.)

Back to the time machine peaches. These peaches would never sell at a supermarket, even a farmers’ market. Their skin was very fuzzy and a washed …

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FOXY GRAPES

A Bad Rap

The word foxy has not been complimentary to grapes. It refers to the dominant flavor in one of our native species, the fox grape (Vitis labrusca). Around 1880, the botanist William Bartram went so far as to suggest that the epithet foxy was applied to this grape because of the “strong, rancid smell of its ripe fruit, very like the effluvia from the body of a fox.” (Others more generously suggested the epithet came about because foxes ate the grapes, or because the leaves resembled fox tracks.)

Glenora and Vanessa seedless grapes

Although native Americans ate this grape, early white settlers, well before the time of Bartram, had been unimpressed by the flavor. In 1672, John Josselyn wrote that fox grapes had “a taste of gunpowder.” Two Dutchmen visiting New York in 1679 recounted how they “went along the shore to Coney Island . . . and discovered …

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