My Compost for a Bin

Compost, All Good, In Time

One problem with gardening, as I see it, is that much of it is about delayed gratification. Even a radish makes you wait 3 weeks after sowing the seed before you get to chomp on it. With a pear tree, that wait is a few years.

Which brings me to compost. Now that the flurry of spring pruning and planting have subsided, I’m starting this year’s compost cycle again — that’s compost for use next year. Delayed gratification again.
Food waste, yard waste, and compostable paper make up 31% of an average household’s waste which, if landfilled, ties up land and contributes to global warming. Composted, it feeds the soil life and, in turn, plants, and maintains soil tilth, that crumbly feel of a soil that holds on to moisture yet has plenty of space for air. You don’t get all this from a bag of 10-10-10 …

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The End of Chestnuts? No!

Blight Strikes

I looked up into the tree that I had planted 20 years ago and saw what I had long feared: two major limbs with sparse, undersized leaves. Blight had finally got a toehold on the Colossal chestnut tree, which, for the past 15 years, has supplied us with all the chestnuts we could eat. (“Colossal” is the variety name, apt for the size of the chestnuts it produces.)My first inclination, before even identifying chestnut blight as the culprit, was to lop off the two limbs. Once I got up close and personal with the tree, the tell-tale orange areas within cracks in the bark stared me in the face.There is no cure for chestnut blight. Removing infected wood does remove a source of inoculum to limit its spread. In Europe, the disease has been limited by hypovirulence, a virus (CHV1) that attacks the blight fungus. Some success has been …

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AH-CHOO!

A Dark Cloud Hovers

The end of May and early June is such a glorious time of year in the garden, with plants thoroughly leafed out yet still showing the exuberance of spring growth. (Those of you to the north of me, Zone 5 in New York’s Hudson Valley: your time will come. Y’all to the south: enjoy your camellias, southern magnolias, muscadine grapes, figs, and . . . all the plants I wish I could grow this far north.)Yet even on the clearest, sunny day — and especially on that kind of day — a dark cloud hangs overhead. Hay fever, literally from hay that is, grasses; and nonliterally, from tree pollen.

Every year the small white blossoms opening on multiflora roses signal that a sneeze season is on. That’s why this late spring allergy season is sometimes called “rose fever.” Rose is not the culprit; is just an easy to …

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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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