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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HAVE SOME SYMPATHY

Soil That is Too Good?

 I don’t expect to elicit much sympathy from moaning about the problem with my soil here on the farmden; the problem is that it’s too good. Wait! Don’t roll your eyes or, worse, stop reading. Allow me to present my case.

The setting: A valley cut through with a small river (the Wallkill River) in New York’s Hudson Valley. River bottom soil, specifically young alluvial soil, rich in nutrients, a silty clay loam with perfect drainage. Also naturally rich in nutrients. No rocks.

So what’s the problem? One problem is too much growth from plants that I’m not cultivating — weeds, everything from stilt grass and garlic mustard to wild blackberries and poison ivy to ash and cherry trees. Every minute of every day they are making the most of this rich ground and trying to insinuate themselves into my plantings. They creep into the edges of the …

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COMPOST, LOOKING AHEAD, LOOKING BACK

Spring Readiness

  I’m frantically getting ready for spring. A large portion of that readying means making compost. Compost piles assembled now, while temperatures are still relatively warm, have plenty of time to heat up right to their edges, quickly cooking and killing most resident weed seeds, pests, and diseases.
I like to think of my compost pile as a pet (really, many pets, the population of which changes over time as the compost ripens) that needs, as do our ducks, dogs and cat, food, water, and air. Today I’ll feeding my pet — my compost pet — corn stalks, lettuce plants that have gone to seed, rotten tomatoes and peppers, and other garden refuse. Plenty of organic materials are available to feed compost piles this time of year.

  In case you’re wondering, no, I’m not taking a close look at each leaf, stalk, and fruit to make sure it’s free of …

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AN ANCIENT FRUIT, STILL POPULAR

You’ve caught me at a good time. I’m just now dipping my toes into figdom, and in the next few days expect to be swimming in a sea of fresh, ripe figs.

You’ve never tasted a fresh, ripe fig? Don’t judge them by what you might buy in the market. Ripe figs are very perishable so for commercial purposes must be harvested slightly underripe. But figs don’t ripen at all after harvest, which is why market figs are but a shadow of the real thing.

Fresh, ripe figs are ubiquitous in California, Florida, and other mild winter regions, so perhaps are ho-hum to those living in those parts. Not here in New York’s Hudson Valley though, where winter temperatures dipping to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit are no surprise!

Five Ways with Figs

I — and you —can grow figs in cold climates by one of five techniques I describe in my new book, hot …

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SWEET CORN OP-ED

Ah, the Good Ole’ Days

The good ol’ days seemed to have had snowier winters, greener grass, and more toothsome apples. Perhaps it was so. One thing those good ol’ days definitely did not have was sweeter sweet corn. Only in the past few decades have plant breeders found new genes that shoot the sugar content of sweet corn sky-high.

Papoon corn, the first recorded variety of sweet corn, probably originated as a chance mutation of a single gene of field corn. That gene, the so-called sugary gene (abbreviated su), brought the sugar level in corn from four percent up to ten percent.

We gardeners have tried to make the most of that ten percent ever since the time when 18th century Plymouth, Massachusetts gardeners first grew Papoon corn. We pick an ear just when each kernel is creamy and as sweet as can be. Since sugars in corn start changing to starch …

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