MORE OF MY FAVORITE TH . . . GRAPE VARIETIES

The Birds and the B . . . Vespids

Hot and dry. What great summer weather it’s been here for grapes. Most years around this date, I’d go out every morning and pick bunches for fresh eating, continuing to do so for weeks to come.

Alas, where there are grapes, you’ll find the birds and the be. . . vespids (the family of wasps and hornets, not bees). No raccoons or foxes, here on my grapes, at least. Here you’ll also find paper bags stapled around about a hundred bunches.

The bags are meant to protect the enclosed bunches from birds and insects. This year was a first: Thirsty birds pecked holes in the bags through which they could reach, then peck at the grapes hanging within. By my estimate, about three-quarters of the bagged bunches suffered damage or were finished off in toto. 

In addition to the damage inflicted by the birds, …

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THESE ARE A FEW OF MY FAVORITE TH . . . VARIETIES

Not a Research Station, but I do Test

It seems that every couple of years or so, some kind gardener offers me seeds, plants, or just a recommendation for the best-tasting, earliest ripening, or longest keeping tomato. I’m appreciative, but these days usually refuse the offer or ignore the recommendation.

True, In addition to providing a year ’round supply of fruits and vegetables, my farmden provides a testing ground for innovative techniques in growing fruits and vegetables, and provides a site for workshops and training. All this would surely include trying out new kinds and varieties of fruits and vegetables.

But I want to avoid having my plantings become like those described by Charles Dudley Warner in his 1887 classic My Summer in the Garden: “I have seen gardens which were all experiment, given over to every new thing, and which produced little or nothing to the owners, except the pleasure of expectation.”

Still, …

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GOURMET COMPOST FOR ALL

Your Pet Needs:

As the bumper sticker on my truck reads, “COMPOST HAPPENS.” Even so, problems sometimes arise along the way.

Is your main complaint that your compost “happens,” but too slowly. I like to picture my compost pile as a pet, except this pet is made up of many different kinds of macro- and microorganisms, and the population changes over time. Like other pets, my compost pet and your compost pet need food, air, and water.

Compost piles work quickest when their two most important foodstuffs — nitrogen and carbon — are in balance. (All this, by the way, also applies to us humans; our nitrogen comes mostly from proteins, and our carbon comes mostly from carbohydrates.) Old, usually brown and dry plant materials, such as autumn leaves, straw, hay, and sawdust, are the carbon-rich foods for a compost pile. The older the plant material, the richer it is in carbon. Nitrogen-rich …

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BEST GARDEN EVER, DROUGHT NOTWITHSTANDING

Go Drip!

This summer has been one of the hottest and driest ever — and it’s been one of the best ever in the vegetable garden. Baskets of red, ripe tomatoes and peppers sit on the kitchen floor awaiting metamorphosis into sauces and salsas, dehydration, or just plain being eaten.

What about water? My garden plants are plump with water thanks to drip irrigation. In addition to benefits to the plant, drip is also good for the environment, typically using only about 40 percent of the amount of water used by sprinkling. That’s because the more pinpointed water avoids wasting water in paths and other places it’s not needed. Also because little water is lost to evaporation.

The “drip” in drip irrigation tells you that water is applied at a very slow rate, which is especially appealing to those of us whose water comes from a well. With drip, the well has plenty …

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COMPOST TEA REVEALED

First Step, Identification

A few years ago I went to a nearby permaculture convergence. (Actually a “permaculture conference; those people have the best terms for what they do). I’ve grown plants in what I learned was a permie way for many decades, so I’ve been accused of being a permaculturalist. I was even invited to do a presentation and host a farmden tour for the convergence.

While there, I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by someone who has been billed as the diva of dirt, or, at least, of compost tea, specifically aerated compost tea (ACT), Dr. Elaine Ingham. You’ve never heard of ACT!? It became the hot, new thing years ago, perhaps still is, as an alleged cure for poor soil and plant pests. I’d been skeptical and thought that hearing and speaking to Dr. Ingham in person could entice me into the fold.

  Dr. Ingham showed myriad images …

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WAITING FOR FIGS

(Much of the below information is gleaned from my book Growing Figs in Cold Climates and a video I presented, now available online.)

Affliction

If you’re not growing figs because you think your cold winter climate is wrong for them, you’re wrong and you’re missing out on an exotic treat. Figs can be grown just about everywhere. If you are growing figs and you’re in a cold winter climate, the fruits should be nearly or already ripening.

Impatience is the affliction of the cold climate fig grower. I’m feeling it right now, as I write. That impatience comes from watching little figlets forming and expanding early in the season and then just sitting on the branches, doing nothing, seemingly forever. Knowing something of how fig fruits develop and grow, and ways that ripening can be hastened along helps soothe my affliction.

Let Me Know Thy Ways (of Fruiting)

Most varieties of figs …

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LUSCIOUS LANDSCAPING

From Alaska & the White Mountains to my Garden

Lingonberry a plant of harsh, cold climates. I’ve seen the plants poking out of rocky crevices in Alaska and high in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, all of which makes all the more surprising the stellar performance of my plants in this hot summer. For years they sat quietly, growing slowly and slowly spreading; this summer, the plants took off, their underground stems reaching further than usual and aboveground stems sporting a very respectable crop. Or, I should say, crops, plural; more on that later.

Here in the U.S., lingonberries are little known and, when they are known, it’s as jars of jam. But merely utter the word “lingonberry” to someone Scandinavian and watch for a smile on their lips and a dreamy look in their eyes. Each year, thousands of tons of lingonberries are harvested from the wild throughout Scandinavia, destined for …

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MY BICOASTAL PLANT

A Tree Takes a Plane Ride

I managed to pack lightly for a journey, many years ago, to the West Coast, toting along only an extra pair of pants, a couple of shirts, and a few other essentials. But on the return trip, how could I resist carrying back such bits of California as orange-flavored olive oil and chestnut-fig preserves? The most obvious bit of California that I brought back was a potted bay laurel plant (Lauris nobilis), its single stem poking out of my small backpack and brushing fragrant leaves against the faces of my fellow travelers.

Bay, with its subtropical pals, rosemary and citrus

Not only did the bay laurel bring a bit of California to my home, but also traditions dating back thousands of years from its native home along the Mediterranean coast. Ancient Romans crowned victors with wreaths of laurel and bestowed berried branches upon doctors passing …

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A BACTERIA TO THE RESCUE

A Cabbageworm is a Cabbageworm is a . . . Not!

A few weeks ago, one or more of the few species of “cabbageworms” began munching the leaves of my cabbage and Brussels sprouts plants. They ignored kale leaves, thankfully, because it’s my favorite of the three.

A laissez fair approach would have left the cabbages and Brussels sprouts mere skeletons, so I had to take some sort of action.

For the record, “cabbageworms” are actually not worms, but a few species of caterpillars all classified — and this is important — in the order Lepidoptera. Here’s the lineup: A cabbage looper arches its back when moving, and is light green with a pale white stripe along each of its sides and two thin white stripes down its back.

Cabbage looper

A diamondback moth larvae is 5/16 inch long, yellowish-green, and spindle shaped with a forked tail.

Diamondback moth larva

A cabbageworm (yes, …

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HEAT? DROUGHT? NO PROBLEM.

Physiological Workaround

Portulaca is a genus that gives us a vegetable, a weed, and a flower. All flourish undaunted by heat or drought, a comforting thought as I drag the hose or lug a watering can around to keep beebalm, an Edelweiss grapevine, and some marigolds and zinnias — all planted within the last couple of weeks — alive.

Portulaca employ a special trick for dealing with hot, dry weather, which presents most plants with a conundrum. On the one hand, should a plant open the pores of its leaves to let  water escape to cool the plant, as well as take in carbon dioxide which, along with sunlight, is needed for photosynthesis. On the other hand, the soil might not be sufficiently moist or the pores might end up jettisoning water faster than roots can drink it in, in which case closing the pores would be the ticket.

Portulaca gets around this …

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