Category Archives: Books

READY FOR 2021

Why Now?

For the past week or so I’ve been getting parts of the garden ready for next year. Too soon, you say? No, says I.

Pole beans

A bed of corn and a bed of bush beans are finished for the season. Not that that’s the end of either vegetable. I planted four beds of corn, each two weeks after the previous, and the two remaining beds will be providing ears of fresh Golden Bantam — a hundred year old variety with rich, corny flavor — well into September.

The bed of bush beans will be superseded by a bed of pole beans, planted at the same time. Bush beans start bearing early but peter out after a couple of harvests. Pole beans are slower to get going, but once they do, they keep up a quickening pace until slowed, then stopped, by cold weather.

Why, you may ask, ready those beds …

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FOR THE GARDENER WHO HAS EVERYTHING

How Cold? How Humid?

Do you want to send a really good gift to a really good gardener? (Perhaps that gardener is you.) Problem is that most really good gardeners have pretty much everything they need except for expendables like string, seeds, or potting soil (unless they make their own. Don’t despair; I’ve come up with a few items many really good gardeners with (just about) everything they need might find useful.

At the top of my list is a nifty, little device with the odd name of Sensorpush. It’s not much bigger than an inch square pillbox, less than 3/4 inch thick, that you place wherever you want to monitor temperature and humidity — from your smartphone, via bluetooth.

Sensorpush, graph of the week’s outdoor conditions

Sensorpush, screen shot of current readings

Couple it with the WiFi Gateway and temperature and humidity can be monitored from anywhere on your …

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THE GIFT OF EXPERIENCE, OTHERS

READ ALL ABOUT IT

I’ve heard wizened gardeners boast at how many years they’ve been gardening, impressing newbies with their unspoken knowledge. I’ve never been much impressed by anyone’s years gardening as an indicator of horticultural prowess.

I speak from experience: I’ve swung a scythe for many decades, which may lead others to believe me to be a long time expert scyther. Not so. A few years ago, after 25 years of scything, I learned I was using it incorrectly. (Unfortunately, earlier on I had the hubris or ignorance to describe it and its use for a magazine article which included a sepia-toned photograph of me swinging it — wrong, I subsequently learned).

On the other hand, as a newbie gardener I had access to one of the best agricultural libraries in the country (I was in graduate school in agriculture at the time), and voraciously devoured its holdings. After only a couple …

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NO SIGN OF SPRING HERE YET, BUT . . .

The Onion Cycle Begins Again

Early February, February 6th to be exact, was the official opening of my 2017 gardening season. No fireworks, waving flags, or other fanfare marked this opening. Just the whoosh of my trowel scooping potting soil into a seed flat, and then the hushed rattle of seeds in their paper packets. And the grand opening was not for a flamboyant, who-can-reap-the-earliest-meal of a vegetable like peas or tomatoes.

No, the grand opening for the season is rather sedate: I sowed onion seeds in mini-furrows in a seed flat. Why onions? In addition to the fact that I love the flavor of onions raw and cooked, onions need a long growing season. The summer growing season is cut short because the plants stop growing new leaves to put their energy into swelling up their bulbs when daylengths grow sufficiently long, 14 hours long, to be exact. Around here, that …

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SO MANY FRUITS, SO LITTLE . . . ?

How Can Something So Nutritious Taste So Good?

    Black currants are a berry brimming with vitamin C (in comparison, oranges are like water) and other health goodies, with an intense, rich, to me resin-y flavor that pairs well with dark chocolate or, on bread, with peanut or any other nut butter. Not everyone enjoys the fresh flavor, but that’s okay. Not everyone needs to enjoy every kind of fruit.

Belaruskaja black currants

    What the doyen of horticulture, Liberty Hyde Bailey, wrote almost 100 years ago about apple varieties also applies to fruits in general: “Why do we need so many kinds of [fruits]? Because there are so many folks. A person has a right to gratify his legitimate tastes . . .  There is merit in variety itself.”    With that said, just about everyone does like black currants once they’ve been cooked and sweetened to make jam, juice, …

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FRUIT BOOK GIVEAWAY, AND FRUIT FUTURES

 The Eternal (Fruit) Optimist

   We fruit growers get especially excited this time of year. On the one hand, there’s the anticipation of the upcoming season. And on the other hand, we don’t want to rush things along at all.    Ideally, late winter segues into the middle of spring with gradually warming days and nights. Unfortunately, here, as in most of continental U.S., temperatures fluctuate wildly this time of year. Warm weather accelerates development of flower buds and flowers. While early blossoms are a welcome sight after winter’s achromatic landscapes, late frosts can snuff them out. Except for with everbearing strawberries, figs, and a couple of other fruits that bloom more than once each season, we fruit lovers get only one shot at a successful crop each season.    How did all these fruits ever survive in the wild? They did so by not growing here — in the wild. Apples, …

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GOOD BOOKS, GOOD LECTURES

One Book = Years of Experience

    I’ve been gardening for over 30 years. Don’t be impressed. The number of years spent with hands in the dirt doesn’t necessarily confer any particular expertise in the field (pun intended). Some gardeners do the same foolish things year in and year out, or never sufficiently investigate other, perhaps better, ways of doing what they’ve been doing. Or not appreciate cause and effect. (Was it really the compost tea spray that led to bountiful yields last year, or was it reliable rainfall interspersed with bright, sunny days? The tendency is to hold the former responsible.) Or, the wizened, old gardener’s wealth of knowledge might not extend beyond what they’ve grown on their own “back forty,” severely limiting the benefit of any wisdom passed on to others with a shorter history of gardening.    Reading is a efficient way to squeeze wisdom of others, reflecting decades …

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To Every Thing There is a Season

Pruning is reduced to small steps, in time & process

So many branches, so little time. Or so it seems. Annual pruning is needed to get the best out of most trees, shrubs, and vines, of which there are many here on my farmden.

But wait. My brother once remarked — and the remark rang true — that a large part of feeling overburdened from so much to do comes from thinking about it, rather than doing it. And now that I think about it — if I may be allowed a bit more thought — many trees, shrubs, and vines do not need annual pruning except for size control, in which case a different plant or dwarfer variety could have been planted. My witch hazel shrub is in that hardly-ever-needs-pruning category, as is fothergilla, goumi (an attractive shrub with tasty fruits), mountain laurel, and rhododendron. 

Witch hazel is a …

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Hormones Get Pumping

More Brussels Sprouts, Cabbages, & Pears with Hormones

It’s time to get the hormones pumping. No, not by me embarking on some testosterone-fueled, garden-related feat of strength or endurance. Not even my own hormones, but the ones in my plants, more specifically my brussels sprouts plants. And actually, quashing the action of one hormone so that other hormones can come to the fore.

Let me explain: Brussels sprouts are not only a member of the cabbage family but are the same genus and species as cabbage, as are broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, and kale. Differences in these plants lie in the way growth of the stems and leaves are expressed. Cabbage has a single stem that’s been telescoped down to very short internodes, resulting in a tight head of overlapping leaves. With kale, internodes along the stem are further apart, allowing each leaf to unfold fully on its own. They also look different …

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