As I was coming down a hill on a recent hike in the woods, I came upon an open area where the path was lined with clumps of shrubs whose leaves shimmered in the early fall sunshine. The leaves — green on their topsides and hoary underneath — were coming alive as breezes made them first show one side, then the other.
The plants’ beauty was further highlighted by the abundant clusters of pea-size, silver flecked red (rarely, yellow) berries lined up along the stems. I know this plant and, as I always do this time of year, popped some of the berries into my mouth. The timing was right; they were delicious.
Many people hate this plant, which I’m sure a lot of readers recognized from my description as autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata). What’s to hate? The plant is considered invasive (and banned) in many states in …
For anyone who missed my recent 90 minute webinar on GOURMET COMPOST, the webinar has been recorded and is available for $35 on-demand from Oct. 1st, 2020 until Oct. 8th for $35. The webinar covers options for compost bins, feeding your compost “pets, monitoring progress, what can go wrong and how to right it, when is compost “finished,” and making the best use of your compost. Click below to pay almost by any of a number of ways. Thank you.
Putting Summer in Jars
I’m hunkering down for winter, which includes capturing what I can of summer’s bounty in jars and dried and frozen garden produce. With this year’s hot, sunny weather, tomato plants yielded plenty of fruit — until cut short with a few nights of freezing temperatures about a week ago. Still, I have over two dozen shiny quart jars lined up on a shelf in the basement.
For the past couple of months, I’m not so sure that my duck knows that she’s a duck. She and another female duck once shared a drake, and they all lived together in their own “duckingham palace.”
Sometime after the other female and the drake were taken by a predator, probably a fox or coyote, I thought our remaining female might enjoy some company at night. So I coaxed her to take up nightly residence with our three chickens — a rooster and two hens — who have their own house (“chickingham palace?,” actually more palatial than duckingham palace).
Not only has Ms. Duck moved in with the chickens at night but she also wanders around with the flock by day. Her special companion is the rooster, especially since the two chicken hens decided to spend much of their days sitting on imaginary eggs. Neither hen has laid a real …
Over the years, gardening has made me more and more aware of our planet’s annual track around the sun. How quaint. It gives me a certain kinship with the peasants at work in the 15th century painting for the month of September of Les Très Riches Heures de Duc de Berry.
Picking grapes, 15th and 21st century
As with those peasants, September is a month when I have abundant fruits for harvest. Like the peasants, I’m harvesting grapes; it’s been a bumper year. Unlike the peasants, my grapes are destined for fresh eating rather than being sullied by fermentation into wine. (Okay, okay, just kidding, although I am not a fan of drinking wine.)
First to ripen here were the varieties Somerset Seedless and Alden. With an abundance of varieties and fruits, I can afford to be picky, so this will be the last season here for Somerset …
(Adapted from my book Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden, now out of print but very soon available as online version. Stay tuned. Information is also available in my books Grow Fruit Naturally and Landscaping with Fruit, available from my website and the usual sources.)
I always know when my hardy kiwifruits are ripe because my dogs and ducks start grubbing around beneath the vines for drops. The fruits, for those unfamiliar with them, are similar to the fuzzy kiwifruits (Actinidia deliciosa) of our markets, only much better for a number of reasons.
Obviously, from the name, hardiness is one reason. Hardy kiwifruits will laugh off cold below even minus twenty-five degrees Fahrenheit, while market kiwis are injured below zero degrees Fahrenheit.
Another difference is in the fruit itself. Hardy kiwifruits are grape-size, with smooth, edible skins. Pop them into you mouth just as with grapes. Within the skin, hardy kiwifruits look …
Manure or not, it’s compost time. I like to make enough compost through summer so that it can get cooking before autumn’s cold weather sets in. Come spring, I give the pile one turn and by the midsummer the black gold is ready to slather onto vegetable beds or beneath choice trees and shrubs.
I haven’t gotten around to getting some manure for awhile so I just went ahead this morning and started building a new pile without manure. It’s true: You do not need manure to make compost. Any pile of organic materials will decompose into compost given enough time.
My piles are a little more deliberate than mere heaps of organic materials. For one thing, everything goes into square bins each about 4′ on a side and built up, along with the materials within, Lincoln-log style from notched 1 x 6 manufactured wood decking. Another nice feature of this …
Berries are making it harder to get things done around here. Not because they are so much trouble to grow, but because I’ve planted them here, there, and everywhere. Wherever I walk I seem to come upon a berry bush. Who can resist stopping to graze? This year is a particular bountiful year for berries.
I can’t even walk to my mailbox without being confronted. First, there are lowbush blueberries hanging ripe for the picking over the stone wall bordering the path from the front door. The wall supports the bed of them planted along with lingonberries, mountain laurels, and rhododendrons. These plants are grouped together because they are in the Heath Family, Ericaceae, all of which demand similar and rather unique soil conditions. That is, high acidity (pH 4 to 5.5), consistent moisture, good aeration, low fertility, and an abundance of soil organic matter. The small blueberries send me …
A sad day here on the farmden: the end of blueberry season. Frozen blueberries, that is. Seventy quarts went into the freezer last summer, and a lot more than that into bellies, and now they’re all finished.
A happy day here on the farmden: the first of this season’s blueberries are ripening. These blueberries, and those that were in the freezer, are the large “highbush” (Vaccinium corymbosum) varieties commonly found fresh on market shelves. Also ripening now are “lowbush” (V. angustifolium) blueberries, growing as a decorative, edible ground cover on the east-facing slope near my home.
I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again. After many, many years of growing fruits in my not-particularly-good-for-fruit-growing site, blueberries — a native fruit — have always yielded well. Two most important things are adapting the soil to blueberries’ unique requirements, and keeping birds at bay. Birds at bay? Best is a walk-in, …
Mundane as she may be, I love yew (not mispelled, but the common name for Taxus species, incidentally vocalized just like “you”). Hardy, green year ‘round, long-lived, and available in many shapes and sizes, what’s not to love? Perhaps that it’s so commonly planted, pruned in dot-dash designs to grace the foundations in front of so many homes.
Still, I love her. For one thing, Robin Hood’s bow was fashioned from a yew branch (English yew, T. baccata, in this case). Two other species — Pacific yew (T. brevifolia) and Canadian yew (T. canadensis) — are sources of taxol, and anti-cancer drug.
At a very young age, I became intimate with yew bushes surrounding our home’s front stoop, on which my brother and I would often play. Yew’s red berries, with an exposed dark seed in each of their centers, would give the effect of being stared at by so many …
To me, spring can be a manic time of year. On the one hand, no tree is more beautiful or festive than a peach tree loaded with pink blossoms. I’d say almost the same for apples, pears, and plums, their branches laden with clusters of white blossoms.
And it’s such a hopeful season. If all goes well, those blossoms will morph, in coming months, into such delicacies as Hudson’s Golden Gem and Pitmaston Pineapple apples, and Magness, Seckel, and Concorde pears. My peach tree was grown from seed, so has no name. With all this beauty and anticipation, I can periodically forget the pandemic that’s raging beyond my little world here.
But even as my eyes feast on the scene and I forget about the pandemic, I can’t forget about the weather’s ups and downs. Specifically, the temperature: Frosty weather has the potential to turn blossoms to mush …