Saturday, December 19, 2009


I'm glad I started sprouting alfalfa indoors a couple of days ago. It's time for a winter diet!
This morning, having heard a snowy prediction, I harvested pac choi and chinese cabbage for tomorrow's dinner. I usually harvest just before eating, but one day in the frig will yield me more vitamins than most Americans get from their greens. The pac choi is looking ready to hibernate. They've had a good yield recently along the fence, but the past 48 hours have seen a major change in the garden. Their parent protected the vines that yielded some sugar snap peas last spring, so I'm hoping its many offspring will flourish again when the weather warms in time to give me a decent yield of peas even if the anti-woodchuck plants aren't as effective as promised. There are many more this year, scattered in sensible places, so they may be.
Meanwhile, it's time to start picking chinese cabbage from the cold frame for a dinner of fresh stir-fry greens every three evenings for the next three months. This morning I closed both cold frames and put a large plastic sheet over the one with the mature chinese cabbage. Chip suggested this, and it works. I remove (brush or shovel) the snow, and then can open the cold frame for Wednesday's dinner. Until he suggested the plastic, the frame would be frozen shut for days at a time. The plastic keeps out the snow and ice.

I also thoroughly picked the arugula. Much of it looks the way I would if I had spent the recent two nights as it did, but some is still edible. I picked that. I don't know whether it will revive in March, but I think I'll leave it undisturbed and find out. If I have the opportunity, I may cover some of it with floating cover.
I covered the meager senior collard plant with floating cover this morning. I thought I wouldn't be able to put the "fixers" in the ground, but I could. I hope the green worms that make lace of collards die over the winter, and the plants survive. They have survived without floating cover in the past, but usually from a stronger start.

Inside I still have tomatoes in the frig for salads. It looks like they will last beyond Christmas this year, which is unprecedented. When they are gone, I will begin harvesting carrots. A few days ago I covered the carrots, parsnips, and Jerusalem artichokes with plastic bags of leaves, so they will be available all winter.
I have lettuce growing in my green house window, so there will be some leafy green to supplement the bean sprouts and carrots for winter salads. I have one valiant kale plant that will provide greens for some salads. When I was raising kids, I had lots of kale (before those green worms found us!) and served it raw for salad greens all winter long. It is much sweeter fresh in the winter than you might think from summer
harvests or purchases. I'd break off leaves and let them thaw, of course, before serving them in a salad.

Guess what I ate in the garden today? Yup! One last raspberry. It wasn't sweet, but it was as red as a raspberry should be, and it was welcome in my mouth. Change is happening.


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Friday, December 4, 2009

December surprises:

Anyone who doubts climate change is not a gardener. Much of it is pleasant in NJ, but change is certainly afoot!
My tomato year is surely different. Four weeks ago today, when frost was correctly predicted for that night, I picked what I thought were all the tomatoes in the garden. As predicted, the vines were all black the next morning. But I kept finding tomatoes! Oddly enough, most were still edible, or at least were after they ripened. I conclude that the vines are killed before the fruit.
I have since determined that the same is true for peppers and eggplant. The peppers I missed on the drooping plants were fine for eating raw. We ate our last raw peppers this evening, despite my farmer-uncle's belief that they last only two weeks in the refrigerator.
Today AGAIN I found an eggplant on a hidden vine. It is soft, but judging by its predecessors in the past month, it will be a tasty addition to stir-fries. I never tried eating tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants picked after a killing frost before, but, in truth, I've never found so many before. Messy gardener!

In the front yard the chrysanthemums are no longer blooming, but the alyssm blooms on! I never thought of alyssm as an after-frost plant before. The zinnias, as expected, went black 4 weeks ago, both the plants and the flowers -- except for those I picked the day before the frost. I now have one last chrysanthemum in my table bouquet along with alyssm and azalea branches, which are a beautiful red and green now -- and need to be pruned. The holly berries are thriving, of course, but I can wait until next week and mix them with the white daffodils inside. I brought in some impatiens plants that tucked themselves near my chimney and were still alive two weeks ago after their friends were long frost-killed. They are now bearing flowers in my greenhouse window, as is a nasturtium plant I took in before frost.
Back inside, I covered my kitchen counter with tomatoes (only a slight exaggeration) four weeks ago, and then took two boxes of green tomatoes, wrapped in black and white newspaper, to the cold cellar. For the past four weeks we have eaten fresh tomatoes every evening from the counter. Some rot on one side and are fine on the other. We've eaten, therefore, lots of partial tomatoes, but one doesn't put an entire supersteak into one's mouth anyway. Tomatoes that turned red without any blemishes I put in a small container in the refrigerator. I have six such small containers now.
When I had no red tomatoes on the counter this week, I went to the cold cellar. Surprise! There were many that were red, and some that had rotted, making the box containing them fit only for the garbage. Now we have a whole new supply of to-be-edited tomatoes, and some green ones still in the cellar. It's been many years that I've eaten tomatoes well into December, and I like it.
Each day I pick a stalk of celery, and we share it in our dinner salad. The arugula is abundant still for a basic salad green, and some days we enjoy the lettuce from the plants that the woodchucks left behind. Salads are still good here.
The pac choi children of last year's volunteer plant that protected pea plants when it revived in the spring are doing well, and we're enjoying them in stir-fries. I hope they protect the peas next year if our abundant anti-woodchuck plants don't work any better next year than this.
I made a mistake in protecting my collards. I put floating cover over them, but it apparently kept the bad guys inside. I took it off and they are flourishing. David said they were victims of a green worm, and I confirmed that in my own mind when I found one in my pac choi harvest.
Alas, they have affected my Chinese cabbage in my cold frame, but I'm still hoping for good stir-fries in February. Much still looks good.
Would you believe I nibbled on sweet raspberries today? I harvested enough for breakfast toppings for days after the "killing" frost, but since then it's just been nibbles in the garden. I didn't count how many I harvested today, but it might have been enough for breakfast if I had engaged in delayed gratification. They were mighty good from the vine, and each one I found I thought was just one last treat. I don't remember such treats in December before. But, then, who ever heard of temperatures in the 60's in December before?


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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Flowers and bulbs for winter and early spring

I haven't reviewed the history recently, but as I remember, bulbs were brought from the Middle East to Europe in the early 1600's and became wildly popular. The prices of tulip bulbs skyrocketed in the "tulip craze." However, in 1632 there were enough for all, and the prices crashed, losing many a fortune.
Since then those of us who experience winter can enjoy flowers all year round. I do, and some of you have asked for a more detailed description of what I do. First I buy bulbs, and I believe you still can from garden centers near here. If my act is together, I buy them from Fedco before their August deadline. They are much cheaper, but inconvenient and their catalog is black and white. If I miss that, Dutch Gardens takes orders much later. I've been completely satisfied with the quality of bulbs from both, and I haven't heard any bad reports from local garden centers.
The first bulbs to bloom are "paperwhites," a daffodil that grows in water. I have two ancient low glass vases in which I always keep gravel to hold the paperwhite bulbs. One on this year's ten began blossoming two weeks ago, which is a delightful addition to my kitchen, but they usually begin around Thanksgiving and continue through December, a lovely addition to a bouquet of holly.

All other bulbs for winter go into a pot with the homemade potting soil that I have described before. The others go into the ground before it freezes, but after the annuals have been killed off in the first frost (last Friday). Some of these "naturalize," which is a jargon word meaning that they will reproduce in situ and you don't have to replace them. Others must be replaced each year if you are to enjoy them in the early spring. All the bulbs for sale can go into our ground, but only some, they say, can be "forced," the word for growing them indoors in winter.
My house was built in 1925 and has a cold cellar, which is colder than the rest of the house but warmer than outside. This is what the bulbs need. In Florida people who want tulips dig theirs up each fall and put them in the refrigerator for winter because they don't perform if they have only Florida's "warm" winter weather. My daughter in MA puts them in the back of her attached garage, which seems to work. Most cellars in Montclair have a colder spot that would do.
The recommended crocus for forcing is "flower record," a beautiful purple crocus to enjoy in January. Tete-a-tete daffodils are a miniature daffodil that blooms shortly thereafter. Then delft hyacinths and many daffodils, including King Arthur, bloom. The last forced bulbs that I enjoy are triumph tulips. In truth, I have not tried many other bulbs since these bring me such pleasure. By the time the triumphs are finished indoors, I have a mass of daffodils at the back of my property, planted from bulbs of previous year that I can pick abundantly.
When I began gardening, I remembered Shakespeare's oft-used phrase, "sweet columbine." He wrote around 1600 in England, and I now suspect that columbine was the first flower he saw after a flower-less winter. No wonder it seemed so sweet! It still is, but it is just one more flower in my year-round supply.
Flowers are not as essential for life as vegetables, but if you like them, they are worth cultivating. European and North American flower shops are importing flowers from tropical regions, and their cultivation is doing some terrible damage to previously beautiful places. Furthermore, we computed in my math class last month that at present rates, the known supply of petroleum will be gone in 38 years. That will put a real crimp in transporting flowers (which also need refrigeration,
as well as transport fuel), and we might as well learn to grow them locally. Of course, my bulbs come from Holland, but they are much easier to transport than fragile flowers, and if Holland can grow bulbs, so can New Jersey, given an incentive.
Meanwhile, I enjoy watching the bulbs grow under my care. In the cellar I water all the pots (24 of them now!) once a week or so. When the plants grow to 2" high, I bring them to my greenhouse window (any old window will do), and start watering them (almost) every day. I can put them in a tray of water if I go away for a week or less in January, and they seem happy there. This year I also brought in a nasturtium and two impatiens plants that seem to be thriving in my greenhouse window, but it's probably too late for you to do that. However, life is surprising. My impatiens next to the road all crumbled last Friday, but those in the corner between the house and the chimney have happy blossoms today!


P.S. Another surprise is that I am still harvesting raspberries, but the kiwi vine became totally bare in Friday's frost.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

After frost

Last Friday night was one of the most emphatic "first frosts" that I can remember. Thursday "they" predicted frost Friday night. Friday the summer garden was there. Saturday black was the dominant color. Of course, we are all beginning gardeners in that we are all still learning and surprised. Overnight the tomato, eggplant, and zinnia plants went black, as expected. The pepper plants went limp, despite their burlap coverings, as did the nasturtiums (so beautiful the previous day!) and the Malabar spinach.
The pak choi, chinese cabbage, arugula, lettuce, carrots, parsnips, celery and parsley seem to revel in their newfound freedom, intense green amid the dead. I don't remember how beautiful the alyssm (sp?) looked after frost. Of course, I never allowed so many plants to live until I dug up this spring the lawn between the street and sidewalk. They are in beautiful contrast to what I called a mystery plant this spring, but seems to be "swan's neck." It has brilliant red leaves now in beautiful contrast to the white alyssm. Down the side of the property are chrysanthemums. Right now the front lawn is raked and mowed, and it's worth enjoying if you are nearby. Remember that I haven't used any poisons, chemicals, power machinery, or watered mylawn in the past 34 years. There are more important goals in life than a pretty front lawn, but those who think that it requires life-killing practices should
look at 56 Gordonhurst Avenue now.

Inside I have washed the peppers I picked last Friday, saved some for fresh salads, and chopped and froze the rest. We're enjoying eggplant parmesan M-W-F this week, as I use up the ones I picked Friday. Unlike peppers, even the very little eggplants taste just fine. I peel and slice eggplants, dip them in an egg-and-milk mixture, and then in flavored bread crumbs, and saut them in olive oil. Then in a casserole, I alternate a layer of eggplant, one of grated mozzarella cheese, and one of homemade
tomato sauce. Yum!
The many picked tomatoes do not need any preservation or refrigeration. The greenest I have layered in black-and-white newspaper in boxes and put in the cold cellar. Maybe they will last for weeks. Many grace my counters. This way I can keep an eye on them as they ripen or rot. As they ripen, I use them in salads. This year for the first time I saw some AFTER the frost that seemed worth picking. They don't seem to have rotted yet on my counter, so maybe the fruit survived what killed the rest of the plant.
One of you asked how much I eat tomatoes. We started with the little ones late this past June, and will have supersteaks for, I think, weeks yet. During those months homegrown tomatoes were always part of our dinners. I like this lifestyle! Unlike some other veggies, tomatoes are easy to grow in this climate, and homegrown are the best by far.
Soon I will begin sowing winter rye where crops have died, but first I have to remove those crops, which is no small task. Meanwhile, Fred brings home about a hundred bag of others' leaves, and I move them to the back yard for storage. "Gardening" continues!


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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Frost tomorrow night, two mistakes

I'm quite sure now that I have heard TWO warnings that frost may hit our region tomorrow (Friday) night. Gardeners alert! Suggestions below.
Last evening I made two mistakes that may interest this list. One was that I "heard" at the 5:00 PM news that there would be a low of 33 degrees. I spent the next half hour doing what I describe below, only to hear a "low of 43 degrees" at the 5:30 news. I guess I heard wrong at 5:00.
About the same time Anita knocked at our door and told Fred that she had seen bales of straw on Broad Street near the Shoprite. He grabbed a shopping list and took off while I was frantic in the back yard. When he came back and told me he had brought home "a bale" of straw, I wasn't as grateful as I might have been. I reminded him that last year I used two bales. Obligingly, later in the evening he brought home another.
When I saw the bales this morning, I saw I had made mistake #2.

These bales are three times the size of any I've seen before! One of them covered all my strawberries more deeply today than they have ever been covered before.
Anyone want a big bale of straw? If so, we'll put it out for you. It will spend the night in our garage where it will stay dry. A soaked bale of that size could break a human back.
I've heard about "production" (actually of consumption) of a reported number of barrels of oil so much, that I assume "barrels" is a constant volume. Apparently bales of straw are not. Oh, well.
We all make mistakes. I tell my students that often. Internalizing it is important, I believe, for enjoying mathematics -- and accepting mistakes is not easy in their test-driven lives.
Back to my other mistake last evening. My basil and Malabar spinach had already succumbed to the cold, so I ran around tending to the peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes. Since the eggplants and tomatoes have been abundant this year and I have already frozen lots of them, I first concentrated on the peppers. I picked the large ones (some of which were turning reddish!) and covered those not ready to eat with burlap. I will cut up and freeze those that I don't think we can eat "fresh," having been stored in the refrigerator.
I then harvested enough eggplant for tomorrow's dinner and Monday's, and perhaps a few more. I wonder whether they can be eaten after spending a night frozen. I have tonight to decide whether I'll pick all the rest tomorrow -- and all day to do it if I decide to do so.
Earlier yesterday I looked at my brown tomato PLANTS, and thought that the tomatoes would be just as healthy inside -- and less vulnerable. So I had started picking during the day. I picked more in the evening, and will pick more tomorrow. I have put green ones in a box, separating them all with black and white newspaper. It's been years since I've had enough late tomatoes to hope some will still be ripening during the holidays, and I hadn't realized how much color has taken over newspapers since. I suspect that color wrappings for tomatoes is less healthy than black and white, so we've scrounged around for the old-fashioned type. The ones that have turned slightly red are abundant on my kitchen counter.
I picked a bouquet of annual flowers this afternoon, and will pick another tomorrow. I'm happy to report my first bulb is blooming, so we don't anticipate the end of flowers for the winter. But that's the topic of another email (as one of you requested)!


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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Kiwi, Malabar, leaves, straw?

It's been week of surprises. The nicest was the discovery of an enormous crop of Arctic kiwi. They are scheduled to ripen in "late October." Last year they were later (which is nice!) and more abundant than I had ever had before. I harvested dozens of little fuzz-free, pit-free fruit that look like olives but taste and look inside like the kiwi you buy in the store. The disappointment was that, although the
books said they keep in the refrigerator for the winter, they developed unappetizing fuzz before too long.
This year there are hundreds! They are yummy, and I don't want them to develop fuzz. I soon found it is possible to eat too many in one day, so I now have the pleasant project of giving them away while they are still good. Of course, I am trying to balance my generosity with my own desire to eat them as long as possible myself with comfort. Is that a parable for the challenge of life? Anyway, it's fun to watch people's eyes pop.

I bought them mail order from Gurney's, two little plants less than 6" tall. One was tied in a pink ribbon and the other had a blue ribbon. The hard part of raising kiwi is constructing a sturdy enough frame for the weight of their vines. We were reminded of Biblical times. Each February I cut the vines that bore this year, and keep as much as I can of the other new vines. There isn't too much competition from other garden activities in February.

The big disappointment of the week is not finding straw after Halloween on curbs. Any suggestions of where we can scavenge it? Our strawberries have been much better since they spent their winters covered by straw. Fred suggested today maybe we could buy straw. What a profligate idea!
We are collecting leaves without trouble this week. We have to go to Glen Ridge for leaves in plastic bags, which are needed to cover carrots, parsnips, and Jerusalem artichokes so we can harvest them all winter. Paper bags, abundant now in Montclair and Bloomfield, are adequate for mulching and composting, although somewhat less convenient. They are MUCH better for the commercial composters who receive the Montclair leaves, so we understand why the cherished plastic bags are so
hard to find.
One of you asked if I shred leaves. No, they are fine "as is." Oak leaves compost less quickly than the others and so should be avoided by beginners if possible, but I don't mind them any more.

Someone who picked up some Malabar seeds from the left of my front porch wondered what you do with them. I just let them dry with no particular technique except removing them from the stems. Then I put them in potting soil next February or March. They take about 3 weeks to germinate and another 3 or more weeks to grow beyond an inch high. I suspect they are rare because they tax American ability to endure delayed gratification.
But they surely are good from mid-summer until the first cold. Mine died last week (in the sense of developing spots I don't want to eat), but this week they have started new, pretty leaves that are growing at a remarkable rate. We may even eat another fresh meal from them -- despite the fact that the moon is full this week. The hard part of Malabar is being sure they have a fence or trellis to climb when they take off. My peas leave the perfect fence when they die in mid-July, but there are many ways to provide for peas and Malabar. They won't knock over your trellis
as my kiwi vines did the first one I bought for them. (It was a gentle breeze and then "crack!" The $100 trellis was broken on the ground.)
There are plenty more Malabar seeds to give away. If you plan to come, let me know and I'll put still more to the left of my front door. Be sure to bring a plastic bag or baggie because they have a red "dye" that you don't want to get on your fingers or upholstery.


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Monday, October 26, 2009

Potting soil

One of you asked how I make homemade potting soil. I've written about this before, but even I can't find it on my blog, so I'll write it again and put it at the beginning of the title, so people can find it later.
In recent weeks I have put flower bulbs in 24 pots, 3-5 per pot. Lots of potting! This could be very expensive if I bought commercial potting soil -- or bought my own pots. Thank you to all who donated pots to me.

To make the soil I fill two large lasagna containers, one with compost and one with good garden soil. I put them in the kitchen oven, turn it to 250 degrees and leave it on for 2-3 hours. I did it last Wednesday while Fred and I taught our afternoon class. "Ugh," he said as he walked into the house. But the day was warm so we could leave open the windows both Wednesday and Thursday. By Thursday evening the odor was
completely gone.

Then I put the baked contents into a large bag and add about the same volume each (2-3 6" pots-worth) of sand and vermiculite. Stirring it together takes remarkably little time, primarily by "tossing" the bag, while leaving it on the cellar floor. Two such concoctions filled my 24 flower pots. I needed another (not all of it) for potting up the spider plants babies.
This year's tomato blight was blamed by many on some infected potting soil that was widely used for tomato seedlings, mass raised and shipped to many garden center outlets nationwide. Since both sand and vermiculite are sterile, I had no trouble. It's MUCH cheaper than commercial mix, of course. I've used commercial seedlings mixes before for starting spring seeds, but I tried using my own for about half this past spring with no obvious failures. Maybe I can give up on buying commercial growing mixes altogether.
I greatly enjoy having flowers to stare at and give away all winter long. I don't feel evangelistic about this as I do about home gardening and abstaining from power machinery, but flowers brings me innocent pleasure, as they have for many people over human history (and probably before). Innocent pleasures are not something to be taken lightly in this troubled world.

Happy potting!


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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Two surprises

This afternoon I had two gardening surprises.
I went outside with two containers, a small one for raspberries and a large one for spinach. First I went to the raspberry patch(es), expecting to be disappointed. Friday I feared that there would not be many this week. But I picked a full cup!
This means I can offer some to my babysitter when she visits from CA on Tuesday. It's great to have lasting friendships, and mine with Hope Hoff Russell has been a jewel. I've visited her every time we go to the bay area (a favorite place for national math conferences) but this is the first time in a VERY long time she has been in NJ.
Elated, I went to the more mundane activity of picking Malabar spinach. Oops... Much of it was covered with spots. What, I thought, mischievous bug had gotten into it? Oops again. In protected places there were still some edible leaves. Apparently yesterday's chilly rain and winds had defeated the Malabar but the raspberries rose cheerfully to the challenge. I harvested enough spinach for one meal for two, but I doubt I'll be harvesting any more in 2009. Thank goodness, there is lots in the freezer.


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Thursday, October 22, 2009

False alarm, leaves, changing lawn care

Last Thursday, the 5:00 PM news told me that the night's low would be 43 degrees "but it will feel like 24 degrees." Feel like to whom? My plants? I'd never heard anything like that before when I was worrying about frost warnings. Until three years ago we always had our first frost in mid-November, but both the past two years it was in mid-October, so I was worried.

Before I went to the excellent films at the library after dinner I went outside to protect my babies. The wind was blowing and it felt COLD.I realized it seemed that way partially because the previous day had been so warm,but the plants might have a similar reaction to the sudden cold. So I did a lot of protection (burlap, etc.) and picking.
All in vain. The next morning the temperature, said the news, was 38 degrees, but the Malabar was still perky. I emailed my aunt and uncle, whose 66th anniversary I helped celebrate last month and whose farm I loved to visit in my childhood, about what to do with those peppers I had picked. They don't think peppers turn red inside, and they think they last no more than two weeks in the refrigerator. Freeze those peppers!

I had picked most of the basil plants, which were on their last yellow legs anyway, and that has taken lots of my time this week. Today I noticed that the basil left behind has taken off nicely. Wasn't today lovely? I noticed that many of the big tomatoes have fallen to the ground; I pick them up and they seem to ripen inside. The tomato plants don't look much more nourishing than my kitchen counter. Eggplants keep growing. I keep picking the Malabar, and tomorrow I may pick my last zuchinni.
Today's "Montclair Times" tells about the township deciding to charge landscapers who dump leaves in our recycling center, since the township then pays to have them taken away. What a waste! I have used all my own leaves and Fred brings me about 100 bags of others' leaves each fall. At and average of 20 pounds per bag, this is about a ton of leaves that have nourished my property each year for decades. Why don't other residents recycle their own puny amount of leaves? The eating is good and the flowers flourishing. Leaves belong under raspberry and other bushes -- and in compost. American waste puzzles me.
Several of you responded to my question about how long it takes to convert a lawn from poison-dependent to organic. All but one said their was no serious transition problem, and that one seemed to feel it was worth it. Give up those poisons and chemicals! You will be glad you did -- and will save money.


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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Freebees, basil, question for you

My Malabar spinach plants are loaded with seeds now. I have harvested many and put them in a container just to the left of my door at 56 Gordonhurst Avenue, Montclair. I don't really want to put Park Seeds, which sells them, out of business, but waste bothers me, and there may be some of you who would try them free but not pay money for the effort.
If you come, bring something plastic to take them away in, a bag or a baggie. You may not want your clothing and car uphostery to be dyed bright red. My container is open, so you won't want to take it away. Only take as many seeds as you might use.
They aren't the easiest thing to grow. They need a fence or trellis. If you are already growing climbing peas, they are a good companion because they begin to grow enthusiastically just as the peas are dying in mid-July. Meanwhile, they poke around and give an insecure gardener a feeling of non-achievement, which may be why they are no more popular.
I also had two plants volunteer under my bosque pear tree that look like baby pear trees. Succumbing to potting-up compulsion syndrome, I potted them up and put them on my front steps. Anyone is welcome to them. They are small and will take a long time to bear, if ever.

Hearing that the temp is to go down to 42F tonight and up to only 48F tomorrow, I brought in all my houseplants today. Is it worth my while to pot up all-green spider plants? They can be spectacular inside, but would be killed on the steps if there is a frost, so this will require someone saying, "I do (want one)" before I put them out.
A second "bulky waste" load was taken from my garage gleanings today, but I still have poles, boards, chicken wire, and windows left. Two people said they might use a window to make a cold frame. Anyone interest now? These things are along my driveway, but I would make them easier to take if someone wants them. Otherwise, they will gradually to to bulky waste.

People asked about my basil treatment. In general, I compost anything that dies from old age or insect or mammal damage, but illness sends them to the Essex County incinerator via the garbage. Yellowing basil is aging, so it is composted. Wilted basil is sick, so it goes to the garbage. Right now, my basil is yellowing quickly, so I'm making pesto as fast as my schedule and patience allow. It won't be with me much longer, but I want to keep it for salads as long as I can.
Now a question for you. A friend told me he suggested to his church's authorities that they abandon chemicals on the church lawn. One authority said that could be done, but for three years the lawn would look terrible. I sympathized with my friend, but didn't think until later to question the facts.
Has anyone changed from a poison and chemical lawn to a natural lawn? Was the transition ugly? There is a well-known "fact," which I believe, that a garden or farm transitioning from "traditional" methods to organic methods requires three years to get up to speed, but I wonder whether that applies to lawns. I remember long ago being told by TWO landscapers, "Once you get rid of the weeds, they don't come back." That's an overstatement, but largely true, so a newly organic lawn should not be overrun with weeds. Nor would I think it would be lacking nourishment. There would be some residual effect from the chemicals, and the lawn clippings would gradually
take over from them. Why should a transitioning lawn look bad?
Does anyone have experience who can speak with the authority that comes from one experiment? ("one data point" as the statisticians say) Several responses might be convincing.


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Monday, October 5, 2009

Preparing for frost

What a shocking title! With weather like today's? And such a gorgeous weekend? However, last week's weather reminded me that the past two years we've had our first frost in mid-October -- not far away.
Actually, last Friday we turned on the heat, using just the flick of a switch. I thought of my father's telling me how lucky I was to live in "modern times" as he shoveled coal into the furnace every day. I had central heating. His childhood nights in NJ were COLD, and he didn't get warm until his mother had lit the kitchen stove, around which the family would gather each morning to get warm again. I did revel in the easy warmth last Friday.
It will soon be colder, although maybe not next week. Until two years ago our first frost was in November. I think three years ago it was late November, and I thought we were going to have shorter winters. However, "climate change" is more than "warming," as anyone who has studied what is going on knows. It's CHANGE.

What won't change, I think, this year is a killing frost before too long. The tomatoes apparently think otherwise. Their babies are popping up all over. Do they think they have a future? Do they know something I don't know? This has never happened to me before in the autumn; I associate volunteer tomatoes with spring. Fred said today he can't wait for the killing frost; it's the end of his acute fall allergies. I have different emotions as I contemplate it.
If I hear that frost is predicted, I'll quickly email you before running to the garden. If you hear of it, do email me and if I am at the computer, I'll pass it on.
What will I do in the garden? I'll hasten to address the needs of five crops: basil, Malabar spinach, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. The first two die at the first touch of frost. I must pick like mad, and preserve or eat as much as possible.
The latter three can survive a light frost with a covering. If you want to try, get yourself some burlap now. I save some year to year, and throw it over any of these veggies that lives in a cage. This often keeps the tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers bearing after the basil and Malabar have succumbed. My small tomato plants are looking largely dead, although I still find tomatoes on the vines and on the ground. I think they've lived out their life expectancy, and this is to be expected.
Some basil is turning yellow, as it tends to do in fall. A few plants have wilted away, and I send those to the Essex County incinerator, not wanting to take chances with my compost pile. The leaves don't seem to be growing as large as earlier (3-4"), but that may be because I know the end is coming and am picking them more severely.
It may be worth pointing out that many crops survive the frost that kills tomatoes, including lettuce, arugula, parsley, celery, pak choi, chinese cabbage, carrots, and collards.
Light-bulb! I just realized that the first frost usually comes at full moon. We're through that for October, so maybe we can postpone that first frost to early November. Poor Fred. But who knows? With everything else changing, maybe frost will come with a half moon.


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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Early fall surprises

Jose stopped by today with some wonderful, fresh grass clippings, always a way to make my heart leap. I used them first to finish mulching the Chinese cabbage, which looks promising for mid-winter. Then I noticed the nearby carrots had been neglected, and started mulching and thinning them.

Oh, dear! They have been nipped to the ground at least twice (I think three times) by woodchuck invaders, and although they appeared to be thriving, a close examination revealed sad non-developments. Apparently, I haven't thinned them recently enough, which is an opportunity for a mild guilt trip, but they haven't demanded attention compared to the rampant growth elsewhere in my yard. Carrots should be thinned to two inches in August, but I didn't get to it then. Alas, today it seemed like a July thinning. The best of the pulled carrots were "fingerlings," the size that we eat in July. Too many were the tiny things I usually see in June. None were the 4"-6" carrots that I am accustomed to in my August session. I hope that in the couple of months until the hard frost topples the carrot tops, the remaining roots will grow enough to provide the decent winter carrots to which I am accustomed. I had wonderful ones last year, so perhaps inferior ones this year are only fair.

Right in the middle of the carrot patch is a volunteer anti-woodchuck plant. At first I thought it had kindly popped itself down in a vacant spot in the patch. Then I wondered if it had killed the nearby carrots. Then I decided that if it did and it was the reason I now have growing carrots now, it was worth it. Then I decided to let it live. Then I reflected on the power that humans have over plants.

The good news is that as I approached the neighbor's fence, I noticed that the lettuce I planted in late summer is flourishing. Yum, yum for this evening's dinner!

Did any of you have success with the collard thinnings I gave out some weeks ago? My remaining ones have had a hard life, but I thought last week I had salvaged a decent number. However, then a few days later they had only stems! The leaves were gone. he healthy lettuce and carrot tops tell me it can't be woodchucks. At first I thought it was insects, but then I saw the largest wild rabbit I've ever seen in my yard. Has anyone let a pet rabbit loose near me? About the same time I noticed two clumps of volunteer collard plants among the tomato plants. Why would insects take the plants in the open but not fly through tomato cages? However, a rabbit.... I took some of that left-over chicken wire and put it around the collard stems. Today I saw new leaves on the plants. However, I noticed another collard plant whose leaves have turned to lace -- not likely the result of a hungry mammal.

A garden, like the rest of life, is full of surprises, both pleasant and unpleasant.


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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Winter, layout of garden

What a glorious day! It was warm but not hot, and simply beautiful. I spent as much time outside as I could. Mowing the lawn was a delight.
I also planted out 18 Burpees two-season Chinese cabbage plants from my greenhouse window into the Johnny Seeds cold frame that some of you saw partially constructed on Saturday. Then I completed connecting the four sides of the cold frame. I hadn't noticed other years how unevenly it met the soil, but I did think about it this time and wondered if that was why the chipmunks last winter burrowed under the frame to eat some of MY food. Anyway, it seemed worth discouraging them this year. It was, of course, the soil's fault, not the cold frame's, that they didn't meet perfectly. I dug some compost from the compost pile and heaped it around the inside of the cold frame as a buffer. It almost seemed like a waste of compost, but I kept telling myself that keeping out those chipmunks is a worthy use of compost.

There has been no obvious mammal damage since the new garage floor was installed. I don't know whether it was taking away their adobe, or the sudden advent of many new anti-woodchuck plants that has made this great change, but I like it VERY MUCH. Last year after Jean gave me her anti-woodchuck plants, I had no woodchuck damage for eight months, and it may be that their offspring are now being effective. They have tucked themselves into a variety of imaginative spots, and I hope their effectiveness lasts longer than their parents'.
Before planting the Chinese cabbage but after taking out the bean plants that were there, I dug some of the top soil and put it in a well-used lasagne pan to bake for potting soil. This is the time of year to get ready to pot up the flower bulbs that will soon be arriving. It's too late to order from Fedco, but Dutch Gardens will still take your order if you want flowers this winter. You many remember that I bake one lasagne pan each of garden soil and compost and then mix them with about an equal amount of sand and vermiculite for my potting soil. It's much cheaper than the commercial stuff, and this year seems to avoid tomato blight.
One of you on Saturday observed that he liked my garden arrangement, "not in rows." I use the ancient Chinese method of intensive gardening, and have become so used to it, I don't even think to mention it these days. Rows are convenient for machinery, but they waste a lot of space, and don't preserve water the way wide beds do. John Jeavons, whose book I learned from, suggests 4' wide beds, but his arms are longer than mine. He also advocates never walking on the beds to keep the soil easy for the roots to penetrate, which I try to do. For more, consult his book, "How to Raise More Vegetables than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine."
The abundant growth makes the oxygen in the air luxurious, as one of my guests in July observed. Today was wonderful, and I kept trying to appreciate it while I can. One more week! Then the noise-makers will begin, and idyllic days like this will be a beautiful memory. I do wonder why anyone would want to use leaf blowers. Indeed, mowing the lawn today with a non-power mower was a lovely activity, but it will be a long time before I can convince others of that, despite evidence that it takes about the same amount of time and is easier.


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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What You Can See at Saturday's Open Garden

This Saturday afternoon, Sept. 19, offers an Open Garden at 56 Gordonhurst Avenue, Montclair, with displays in the front yard. The displays will run from 2-5 PM, but my back yard vegetable garden will be open only from 2-4, with the last tour beginning at 3:30 PM. The major display will be a butterfly tent, where you can take charming photos, especially if you bring children. When many children are present, some butterflies will be released from the tent to begin their migration to Mexico. Several butterfly raisers will be available for questions.

In the back yard you can see:
RASPBERRIES, and you can nibble on them if you come before they are all gone!
MALABAR SPINACH, and if you bring an envelope, you can take home seeds so you can raise it yourself next year. First time offer: If you bring a container, you can pick spinach to eat at home. I have so much this year, it seems silly not to share it.
SMALL TOMATOES: You may nibble on these too if you see tomatoes that are either bright red (sweet 100's) or bright yellow (sun gold). These are past their prime, but they are still respectable. They also have lots of dead branches, but I regard these as gray hair in humans.
BIG TOMATOES to be admired only. I have filled over 30 ziplock bags of tomato sauce made from Burpee's hybrid supersteak tomatoes. Each will provide a delicious dinner for two of lentil stew, spaghetti, or eggplant parmesan. These also provide tasty contributors to a pita dinner, or stirred in with zuchinni. I have been harvesting them as they turn color to keep the consumers human, but I may try to let some ripen on the vine to show off this Saturday. One plant under the peach tree with very little sun has borne six big tomatoes. One was 5" across. Yes, they are delicious.
EGGPLANTS I hope, critters willing.
ZUCCHINI They went two weeks with no females (in contrast to the beginning of the season!) but are now providing both sexes of flowers, and some nice zucchini.
PAK CHOI that promises to give me a good fall crop. Last year it survived the winter and protected nearby pea plants from the woodchucks, so I've planted many of that plant's seeds in auspicious places.
NASTURTIUMS Yes, I can eat them, and you may nibble.
LETTUCE, if I'm lucky.
Meager beans because the woodchucks ate them when they were vulnerable.

I mowed the lawn today because rain is predicted for the next three days. This means it will be more lush than ideal on Saturday, but I guess you can forgive that from a lawn that has had no poisons, chemicals, power machinery or watering for 34 years.

If you want to get more involved in the Cornucopia Network of NJ, the sponsoring organization that has promoted local, organic food since 1983, you can join a nearby potluck dinner after the garden and the CNNJ annual meeting afterward. All CNNJ events are free, but a can is available for donations.

I'm looking forward to enjoying a large crowd from 2-4!


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Monday, September 7, 2009

Defensive Gardening and Freebees

Let me be clear: I am eating wonderful dinners these days and have as many raspberries on my breakfast as I like. I really shouldn't complain. But being human, I will. I have the feeling that if I work hard to "raise" food in my backyard (with lots of help from Nature and God), then I should be able to decide who eats it, or most of it. I have long known that slugs, aphids, and grackles will take some, but they generally are moderate in their appetites.

This year's woodchucks are something else. They are hungry, destructive, and clever. I just about think I've outwitted them, and they bring me down to size. Last email I was pleased that using old onion bags over eggplants kept them away. Then one morning I got up to see all four of the bags on the eggplant plot next to the driveway were empty! Two of them were on the grass; the others were still hanging. Actually "empty" is an overstatement in two cases. The eggplants were chewed and eviscertated. In the other two cases the bags had been opened (!), and the contents removed. As I mourned, I noticed two other eggplants that I hadn't covered with the bags and they were still there. Apparently, I only had been bringing some to the attention of my adversary.

This will be the first winter I enter in over 25 years with no peas or brocolli in the freezer. Sob, sob. I don't know why I'm rebelling at the unfairness of it all; I know better. My kids remember my telling them repeatedly when they were children, "Life is not fair." Yet, I keep trying to make it so.

Anyway, my next strategy for ridding my garden of woodchucks will be an attack on their home. This year they have been digging through our 84-year-old cement garage floor. When we fill one hole, they dig another. My daughter pointed out that a floor that weak might be a hazard for humans; we might step through it with ill effects. So we hope to have a new garage floor before the Open Garden (on Saturday, Sept. 19, from 2-4 PM). Maybe I can get back to catching them in their entrances outside the garage, even thought I expect they will still live under it.

The goal of the next few days, of coures, is to clean out that garage so what's left of the current floor can be removed. I've put a LARGE shovel, larger than any senior citizen can use, to the left of my front door at 56 Gordonhurst Avenue, Montclair, for anyone who wants it. It may be joined by other goodies I unearth tomorrow. Please don't take my house plants that sit next to the steps!

Also on the porch are a stack of lawn refuse bags in which I picked up grass clippings to mulch my garden. Some may be from leaves, but most are from grass clippings. Since paper bags for lawn refuse came into fashion, I have tossed the left-overs into the back of the garage for future use. I use them for the dead raspberry bushes that I remove in July. (Composting raspberry bushes takes more finger-tip courage than I have.) This year's abundant growth meant that I used nine bags for that purpose! However, there are now more than a dozen bags on the porch to be picked up. Please don't take the weight that keeps them there.

Inside the garage I still have two wooden trellises. Prior arrangements will need to be made for these, since they are too big to put in the front yard for random pickup. They are each two feet wide, and six feet high with 28" wooden spikes below, apparently to go into the ground. If you are interested in these, let me know and we'll make arrangements for you to get them. Taking them away is a bit of a challenge, of course. I don't remember what their past life was, but I do have vague 30-year-old memories of thinking I might use them some time. It's not likely now.

Cleaning out one's garage has merit even if it doesn't improve my odds against woodchucks. Here's hoping!


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Sunday, September 6, 2009

Open Garden and Newsletter

On Saturday afternoon, September 19 (two weeks from yesterday), the Cornucopia Network of New Jersey (CNNJ) will sponsor an event at 56 Gordonhurst Avenue to share raising butterflies and home gardening. From 2:00 to 4:00 PM I will take half hour tours through my organic vegetable garden. The last tour will begin at 3:30 PM.

In the front yard from 2:00 to 5:00 PM a butterfly tent and other displays will be available. Visitors are encouraged to enjoy close encounters with butterflies in the tent. Bring children and cameras! Trina Paulus, Nancy Taiani, and Bob Simpson, who raise monarch butterflies after finding their eggs on milkweed, will be available. When many children are present, some butterflies will be released to begin their flight to Mexico.

Afterward a potluck supper will be held nearby, followed by a meeting of CNNJ, and then conversation about our current concerns. All Cornucopia events are free and open to the public, but a can will be available for donations.

In preparation for this event, the CNNJ has "published" a beautiful color newsletter with photos of butterflies and articles about them and current food issues. Some of us are busy this weekend preparing the print black-and-white edition for snailmailing. However you can read the color edition at At that page you can click to get to any of CNNJ's four most recent newsletters; the Sept. issue is the one I am advertising now.

If reading online or printing from the online version is satisfactory to you and you regularly get the print version, I'd appreciate a return email with "no print newsletter" in the subject line, and your name and (at lesat partial) address in the content of the email. It's easier for me if there is nothing else. This will save trees and CNNJ 44 cents for mailing.

Happy reading! and hoping to see you in two weeks.


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Friday, August 21, 2009

Free collard seedlings, August sowings

You may come to the right of my front steps at 56 Gordonhurst Montclair if you want some free collard seedlings. I did something silly, about which I might as well confess. Having made earlier collard sowings from years-old seeds with only a modicum of success, I decided after coming home from vacation last week that I must take firm action. I not only used recent seeds, but I scattered them MUCH too abundantly. I don't remember doing such a thing before, but in an earlier life I would have simply composted the extras and saved only enough for me. Fred likes to say, "Denial isn't just a river in Egypt." So I may have been similarly silly before.
This time, however, I couldn't bring myself to destroy THAT many seedlings, so I've have put at least two-families-worth of seedlings in each of six pots. If they are taken, I have more. I'm not sure how long they will last or how easily they will transplant, but I suspect that anyone who gets there today will get plenty of collard plants if they take ONE pot. I forgot to check how far apart they should be spaced, but it's at least a foot. You get a lot of collards from one plant. I usually eat a collards meal every three days from light frost until the end of December. Then they play dead. One year I didn't remove them and they revived in March. Now I tend to cover them with floating cover, and they don't look "as dead" during the winter. They are a great fresh veggie in late fall and early spring. Some years I eat them all summer, but this year the mold got to them, just about the time that summer crops were coming in.

Also in the past week I have sowed kale and lettuce (I'm "always" sowing lettuce), and both are peeping up above the soil. Today I sowed 2-season Chinese cabbage and pak choi in my greenhouse window. The former will grace my cold frame and yield delicious fresh dinners every three days in January and February. The latter are destined to line the pea fence and defend the baby pea plants next spring against woodchuck invaders. Oh, yes, pak choi is good to eat itself, but these seeds are taken from the plant that successfully defended some rare surviving pea plants this past spring.

Meanwhile, we're eating well. Zuchinni, cucumbers, and tomatoes (both large and small), and Malabar spinach are abundant, and there is LOTS of basil for pesto.
If it were a bit less humid, this human would be even happier. However, the
baby eggplants, barely perceptible early in the week, are growing furiously in this weather. "There is no accounting for taste," observed Julius Ceasar over 2000 years ago. Yesterday the eggplants almost doubled in length between early morning and mid-afternoon!


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Friday, August 14, 2009

After 8 days away

Returning from a summer vacation is always interesting for a gardener, but yesterday I was in absolute suspense as we drove home. What would I find? Would there still be a garden? What disasters would woodchucks have wrought?

Yes, there was still a garden. Yes, there were still carrot tops, although they had been nibbled. One could see where the lettuce should be, although nothing worth eating had been left. Oh, well. We had had two fine weeks of lettuce salads before we left, and we would soon show those woodchucks again whose territory this is. Last time it took about ten days until we had decent lettuce again.

Only two of the five "early" plants zuchinni had died, although August 8 is the traditional date of zucchini death. The other three are still bearing, as are the five that I started in June. We have plenty of zucchini.

The cucumbers are still doing their thing. Wow! What a year for cucumbers! They like this rain.

Our neighbors had been kindly picking our slightly red large tomatoes while we were gone at our request. I had lost too many to marauders earlier. We had a delicious large tomato with our zucchini the first dinner of our return.
Then I noticed disaster. The eggplants had been attacked! A huge waistline was chewed around one, and two others were shorted radically. I had been planning on lots of eggplant this winter to substitute for peas and beans, but... I must accelerate my freezing of the Malabar spinach and pesto, it seems. Both Malabar and basil are thriving. It then occurred to me that Fred and I could eat what was left of the three traumatized eggplants. I made homemade tomato sauce from the tomatoes the neighbors had preserved and cut out the surviving eggplant pieces. We agreed that dinner was delicious this evening. Eggplant won't be as plentiful this winter as I planned, but with renewed territory marking, we will have some. The little ones are trying.

We ate well on vacation (our hosts know our preferences), but it's good gastronomically to be home!


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Sunday, August 2, 2009

Benign power edgers

Most of you know that I have never used poisons, chemicals or power machinery on my property for the 34 years that we've lived here. However, I discovered last year an edger -- one of those gadgets that trims the edges of your lawn -- that is incredibly quiet.

I concede that trimming edges by hand, as I do, takes considerably more time than using machinery (a concession I won't make for leaf blowers or power lawn mowers). One can ask why it is done at all. Back in those halcyon* days before power machinery, the edges were consistently messier and I'm not sure that compromised the quality of human life.

I hand-trim mine now strictly to conform to current social norms. My mother used to say, "You have to live within your own culture." I don't know how she would view this possible "waste of time" (wasting time was one of the greatest sins in her opinion), but if I'm to have a yard that shows how nice it can be without power machinery, I feel I should trim the edges several times a year with a hand tool, including the week before each open garden.
If you want to see what a non-trimmed edge looks like, come by surreptitiously about two weeks before an open garden. (The next will be Saturday, Sept. 19, from 2-4 and will feature a butterfly tent in the front yard.)

Anyway, last year when I was visiting my son, his neighbor came out with an edger, and I ran away fast from the expect noise. When it began,I was startled at how quiet it was. I then acquired the catalog; it is advertised as "pollution free" and "whisper quiet." The latter is an exageration, of course, but if the noise doesn't bother Pat Kenschaft, it is remarkable. If people would mow their own lawn, I would forgive them the use of Turnado edgers. It is item number F5-57337 from or call 1 800-229-2901. It cost $39.99, including a battery recharger. It allegedly runs 40 minutes per charge.

I do not feel so benign toward power lawn mowers. When I was a child, lawn mowing time was Daddy time. My father worked at an exempted job during the war and loaded docks all day Saturday and Sunday. Evenings I enjoyed keeping him company in whatever he was doing, and lawn mowing has special happy memories. Many of us find they take no more time than power mowers, and one woman on this list with MS told me last year that she didn't have the strength to use a power mower, so she mows her lawn with a non-power mower.

Leaf blowers are totally unacceptable. Using them nearby makes my husband sick short-term, and some people suffer more than he does. Long-term they endanger the health of all of us by blowing around dust, pollen, and fecal matter. I'm not willing to concede that they take less time than rakes and brooms, but I realize this is controversial. The local health dangers and the contribution to climate change is undeniable. If I were queen, they would be illegal with major penalties.

Happy lawn care! If you want to find a landscaping service that restrains itself, I can give you contact information.


*"halcyon days" refers only to the lack of use of power lawn machinery, which DID make life more pleasant in my youth. I still remember the day I first heard a power lawn mower. I exclaimed to myself, "What! They are going to allow THAT in residential areas?"

I don't mean to imply that everything has gone downhill. In particular, when I was young only men could do lawn care. I'm really glad that women's lib has allowed me to enjoy this activity and some others that were forbidden then. Mowing lawns brings me (and quite a few others) significant pleasure.

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Saturday, August 1, 2009

2 woodchuck-free weeks and then...

Tuesday marked two weeks without woodchucks in our garden, following a 3-day weekend vacation (3 weeks ago) when disaster hit: the lettuce and carrots were chewed to the ground, and no baby beans survived. Fred and I decided to take drastic action, and we were rewarded with abundant lettuce salads after the plants recuperated. The carrot tops grew back and look lush still; I must thin and mulch them again as soon as I get my hands on some fresh grass clipping.

Our drastic action was using inter-species communication to say, "This garden is human territory!" I kept a bedpan in the downstairs bathroom, and Fred used more direct action. This method of pest prevention is easier for men than women, but we both worked at it conscientiously. Several of you had advocated coyote or fox urine. I tried that years ago, but it is expensive and lasts only until the next rain. Our method is cheaper, and renewable after each rain.

Then Wednesday the rains struck. Two tomato cages were knocked over, and the remnant of a significant tomato was on the ground. We kept at it, as we had before, and the lettuce and carrots continue to thrive.

But last night we had another strong rain, and another cage was knocked over. Several tomatoes were on the ground. Even more interesting, one tomato with only a small part missing (where a jaw might have carried it) was just outside the woodchuck hole under the garage, as if woodchucks (like me) think of the future when they contemplate tomatoes. Since it was almost whole, I wondered if it would ripen indoors. I measured it -- six inches across! (Burpee's Supersteak Hybrid) It may or may not ripen on my counter, but the woodchuck's plans are thwarted. I would use it only for long-cooked sauce, of course, but that adds significantly to human pleasure.

A garden always provides many questions (like most of life). I wonder if the rains washed away our deterrent, or whether we just didn't use it close enough to the tomato plants. If the latter, a remedy will be soon applied.

Meanwhile, we continue to enjoy our lettuce salads and to coddle hope for winter carrots. I haven't been told of any other family trying our approach to woodchuck avoidance before. It's inconvenient, but one can get used to it. By Tuesday I was thinking of that old Pennsylvania Dutch saying that my mother's family liked to quote, "Ve grow too soon alt, and too late schmart."


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Friday, July 31, 2009

Jose and Stephane: garden and businesses

Jose German urged me to see his garden this week, and I did. It's a remarkable garden, very different from mine. He has LARGE pots in his macadam driveway in which he raises tomatoes, eggplant, and even collards, showing that a paved driveway need not prevent a gardener from raising vegetables. His three large raised beds next to the driveway have wooden enclosures, and they include many different types of edibles. Vegetables are tucked into a variety of other places among the flowers. He raises potatoes ably, an art I have not yet mastered. His pea vines are still up in many places, dead as is seasonably appropriate, but evidence of a good crop without woodchucks. Maybe the critters don't like Grove Street.

Jose's flowers are amazing and abundant. It is little wonder that his garden, at 69 Grove Street, and mine apparently had the most visitors in Saturday's CNNJ tour.

You may remember that Jose has started his own landscaping and gardening business this year, Green Harmony. (www. 973-233-1106 It is thriving, and he has hired several employees. I keep getting praises from his customers both for his design and maintenance successes.

Jose is one of two of my friends who left a high-paying, money-centered career in NYC to work locally helping people live better lives. The other is Stephane Morteir, who is now a handyman. He writes the following about his current offerings:

"Creative handyman services:
Projects: I analyze problems and present clients with several creative solutions.
Fix/Setup: I also do the traditional fare around the house and outside (walls, doors, insulation, painting, carpentry, plumbing, electricity, landscaping, etc...).
Fix and maintain bikes: I extend the life of these wonderful method of transportation one way or another. I gave a class at the adult school of Montclair last spring, on bike maintenance and ride preparation.
Appliance repairs: Most problems are easily diagnosed with a little research, and fixing them often involves replacing a part, not the whole unit. Having a knowledgeable handyman do the job is a clever way around expensive repairmen (lots of whom end up recommending to buy a new unit for the cost of the repair).
Computer support, repair and maintenance: I've supported technology and users for a bank for 7 years, and still love to share my knowledge of computers to make people more proficient. I can recommend a plan of action to keep your computer humming along for over 5 years (the average life expectancy being less than 2 years). Mine is 7 years old and faster than so many of the computer I work on.

Graphic design: I design ads for stores participating in, business cards/logos and manage web sites design projects.

Voila! (Oh, I give French tutoring and conversational too) It is eclectic, as I follow what I love to do in order to provide the best service to my customers. I am meticulous, creative and naturally try to repair rather than replace."

You can reach Stephane at 973-873-4330.

I have lots of faith in these two men, and I hope we can support them in their useful, local businesses.


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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Monthly Harvests, Catalogs, Books, and Hints for Beginners

Winter: When the leaves look cold in December, I put neighbors' bagged leaves over carrots planted in April. Then all winter I brush snow off the bags and and pull the carrots. Similarly for parsnips, salsify (G), and Jeruselum artichokes, but there are fewer. Kale survives outside; just break off and thaw inside for February salads. Grow sprouts inside. Harvest Chinese cabbage from the cold frame every 3-5 days from January through March.

March: Collards may look dead during the winter, but revive and can be eaten again. Pak choi and lettuce planted in January may sometimes be taken from under the floating cover or cold frame, but may wait until April. Finish eating the carrots and parsnips before they become stringy. Harvest lettuce planted on a windowsill in January.

Mid-April: Fresh lettuce salad and stir-fry pak choi, both planted in a January warm spell under floating cover or overwintered in a cold frame. Gourmet Blend lettuce (B&F) planted every 3 weeks from April to Sept. yields a continuous varied harvest until December. Summer variety packets are more prolific in summer. Collards continue. Arugula can substitute for lettuce or complement it in a salad.

Late May: Hakurei turnips (F) and maybe some radishes. Sugar Ann Peas planted early in March. Also broccoli started indoors in February and planted out in April. Nursery broccoli plants are available too late, but nursery plants for tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, and eggplants are fine. If I pick and discard bitter broccoli all summer, it becomes sweet again in the fall. It has a large yield for Thanksgiving, and typically some in December. Strawberries.

Early June: Sugar snap peas. In 1986 I froze 150 servings and served many, but most years provide a more modest yield. Peas freeze easily in the kitchen refrigerator. Peas, beans, spinach, and brocolli keep well frozen if you blanch them (that is, boil them for three minutes) before putting them in a zip-lock bag in the freezer. Labeling dates may help, but isn't essential.

Mid-June: Basil for pesto; pesto freezes well. Basil deters insects from tomatoes and pesto is delicious; I plant lots of basil! Nufar basil (J) resists wilt and is very large, so it is faster to clean. It tastes the same to me as standard basil.

Late June: Zucchini, usually beginning June 26! Since squash bugs destroy these by August 8, I plant new seeds in late June for a September crop. Sweet 100 and Early Girl tomatoes may begin in June. Blueberries begin and various varieties yield throughout the summer. Ancestral and heritage raspberries begin and are abundant in July.

Mid-July: Sun gold and jubilee yellow tomatoes (B). Roma bush beans freeze well. Successive plantings yield continuing crops. Concord seedless grapes. White peaches. Early corn (P) planted under floating cover in mid-April begins. Staggered plantings can yield until October, but the squirrels usually steal my corn after July. For more plentiful crops, fertilize it by hand (i.e. take some pollen and scatter it on the silks) and hide each fledgling ear with a paper bag if the animals are naughty. Arugula gives a fine salad if the heat or the woodchucks take the lettuce.

Late July: Peppers that I chop and freeze. Before freezing eggplant, I dip slices in an egg-milk mixture, then in Italian flavored bread crumbs, and fry so they come apart easily for eggplant parmesan. Climbing summer spinach (Malabar) is abundant now until frost. Plant kale, 2-season hybrid Chinese cabbage (B), and collards.

August: Burpee hybrid beefsteak tomatoes (B) make good sauce for freezing and provide ample eating while other tomatoes take a heat break. Abundant fall-crop heritage raspberries.

September: Frostbeater soybeans(B) (or bought ones) in whole wheat pita with fresh tomatoes, pepper, cucumbers, and lettuce. Pole Roma and/or lima beans grow where peas once climbed. Pears and then apples, first red delicious and then mackintosh, all on dwarf trees. Native plums (G) come about the same time as the pears.

October until below 20 degrees: Lutz or yellow beets, Chinese cabbage, collards, and rutabaga. Kiwi (G) Before the first mild frost I pick all the basil and Malabar spinach, gorge on it and freeze most.

November: Just before frost, pick, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. Freeze extras. Put unripe tomatoes in layered newspaper in the basement to ripen, sometimes into the holidays.

Free Catalogs
(F) Fedco Seeds is a cooperative that has no color in its catalog and no phone-ordering service. However, it offers enormous variety at phenomenal prices. Get a catalog at either 207-873-7333 or P.O. Box 520, Waterville, ME 04903-0520
(B) Burpee: 1-800-888-1447, the old stand-by with a glorious color catalog. Their telephone answerers assure me they do not carry any genetically engineered seeds;
(J) Johnny Seeds in Maine sells cold-season vegetables and cold frames.
(C) Cook's Garden 1-800-457-9703, a family-run newish establishment;
(G) Gurney's: 1-605-665-1930;
(P) Parks: 1-864-223-7333, the only source for Malabar spinach, which climbs gloriously all summer until frost, but they don't carry it every year;
(S) Stokes: 1-716-695-6980;
(-) Territorial Seed Company: 541-942-9547
(A) Gardens Alive: 812-537-8650;
(-) Gardener's Supply Company: 800-863-1700
The last two carry the extras for organic gardeners that make organic gardening successful

I especially recommend:
- John Jeavons' "How to Raise More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine,"
- Ruth Stout's "Gardening Without Work: for the Busy, the Aging, and the Indolent," and
- Eliot Coleman's "Four Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long."

Hints for beginners:
Plant tomatoes, beans, and peas. Double dig repeatedly, digging compost in deeply. If you don't have compost, use some other organic matter like dead leaves, but this is not as satisfactory because it takes good things from the soil as it decays. I did this spring and fall for three years, and my soil was indistinguishable from my current rich, friable soil.
Mulch profusely with grass-clippings, chopped leaves, wood chips, and partially rotted compost. If you have plenty of sunshine and compost, try zucchini.
The second year try lettuce, Chinese cabbage, chard, and other leafy vegetables, perhaps broccoli.
Wait until the third year for root crops. Keep frozen cooked soybeans in your freezer to mix with rice and stir-fries. Consult your local library for many good gardening books. Fine new books are appearing all the time. I learned by listening to old-timers and to my guests at my open gardens. No individual knows very much compared to what there is to know about growing food locally. Enjoy. And remember that a gardener can bury her mistakes without anyone caring!

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Yesterday's Open Garden

Yesterday's Open Garden was as wonderful for me as it has ever been. It wasn't just that I'm amazed at how many very nice people there are in this world; I have that feeling at and after every Open Garden. This one had exactly the right number of people for the hostess, enough to feel appreciated but not enough to be overwhelmed. The questions were interesting and the ambiance lovely.

It left me feeling so fortunate to have a garden. One person who claims to know about such things said there was an unusual amount of oxygen in the air, making it very relaxing. No wonder I love going outdoors! Today I think of her and take deep breaths and do feel like I'm breathing luxuriously.

The crop getting the most attention was probably... the Malabar spinach, which is now taking over the main garden fence where the peas should have been earlier. There was enough for every visitor to pick and eat one leaf, and the responses were gratifying. Those of you who can bring an envelope to the next Open Garden on Saturday, September 19 from 2-4 PM, can pick Malabar seeds and sow them again next year. Others can buy them from Park Seeds, who I'd like to keep in business.

I had lots of questions about my use of compost. In the last few years I merely rake it in the top of the soil as I plant a new crop. Recent anti-tilling movements to keep the carbon dioxide in the soil are consistent with this. Garden soil doesn't need to be dug after it becomes "mature," according to John Jeavons.

Sowing seeds attracted several questions. I had sown kale and the next crop of lettuce about a week ago, and the tiny seedlings were visible and interesting. Yes, I sow little seeds (like these) directly into the soil and rake them in. Then I keep the soil moist with my watering can until they are visible, at which point I assume they can fend for themselves. I haven't used a hose for over two years (or is it three?).

Kernels of corn are poked individually in appropriate places, like peas and beans. My corn received much attention yesterday since it is wonderful in late July. This evening was the fourth dinner we've had of corn recently, and there will be a few more. If I try to harvest corn in August, racoons eat the ears at night, but they don't interfere with the July crop. So I sow the seeds in April under floating cover of "early" corn, which is a bit smaller than the regular crop, but wonderful.

This evening's dinner also included lots of zuchinni, tomatoes, cucumber, and lettuce (!!! -- more on that tomorrow if I complete two woodchuck-free weeks that have revived my lettuce eating). The only food we ate for dinner this evening that had not grown on the property was the cheese I put on the zuchinni, and our drinks. This is living!

Near the end of the OG two little girls showed me raspberries they had in their pails that others had left after two hours of picking. I was impressed; I suspect their being so short helped them spot berries others had missed. They asked if they could pick tomatoes and I told them the same thing I had told others: they could pick bright red or bright yellow tomatoes. I was impressed again when later they brought me their pails for inspection. They had done just as instructed. I asked how old they were. "Four," said the big one. "Two," said the other. Some children these days are remarkably precocious.


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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What can we do about food?

What should be our response to "Food, Inc."? Some of you have asked, and we did some brainstorming at the recent Cornucopia board meeting.
Of course, I'm partial to food from home gardens, as anyone on this email list knows. However, there are other possible actions at the family, community, and political levels. The Cornucopia Network of New Jersey, which sponsors my Open Gardens and has been promoting local organic food since 1983, has a newsletter that explores all of these. You can access the current issue and the immediate past three at
Food from farmers' markets is fresher and keeps non-corporate farmers in business. Recently, someone posted a list of nearby farmers' markets on the Montclair Watercooler:
Monday: Linden near City Hall 3 p.m .- 7 p.m.
Tuesday: Springfield 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Wednesday: Rutherford 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Thursday: Livingston 12 noon - 6 p.m. at the new Livingston Ave. shopping center
Friday: West Orange 12 noon - 5 p.m. behind Town Hall
Friday: Caldwell: behind the Caldwell Movie Theatre on Bloomfield Avenue
Friday: Little Falls 11:00 AM, 225 Main Street, Little Falls Municipal Buildings Parking Lot
Saturday: Montclair 8:00 - 2:00, in the Walnut Street station parking lot

There are several CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) serving the Montclair area, but it's not a good time of year to join. As I remember, Genesis Farm has a winter program for which one pays in the fall.
You can speak to the manager of whatever store you are patronizing, and tell them that you want as much organic, local, and fair trade food as possible. Customer preferences matter to store and chain choices.

Then there is the matter of what you eat. I was very glad as I watched that movie that I'm already a vegetarian! We did it for our health, but now I know many more good reasons. Each quarter pound hamburger that is raised in the rain forests (as much of ours is) turns 55 square feet of rain forest to desert. If your body or taste resists foregoing meat altogether, you can introduce an occasional vegetarian meal into your diet and cut the size of your meat servings to what was standard when I was young. Today's restaurant servings suggest that destroying the planet's life is a major goal of this generation. Fortunately, most restaurants offer doggie bags, so your meat can be used for another meal at least.
At the community level, we could preserve the Wildwood plot for serving gardeners, as it was when I started gardening. The compost and wood chips always available there were invaluable to a beginner. We might even offer some community gardens there. When I checked with Home Corp last week at 973-744-4141, they told me that there were still three plots available at 15 Miller Street. They charge $10 a year.

Alice Waters' book "Edible Schoolyards: a Universal Idea" is an inspiring report about what can happen on public school grounds. Youngsters can enjoy the joy of helping things grow, of eating their own harvests, and the fun of cooking and learning new recipes.

Finally, much political action is needed. What? Right now Cornucopia is especially concerned about genetically engineered food, and we've written the letter below to the president about it. I have written many times to my legislators asking them to stop the food subsidies to corporate agriculture that have done so much harm to small farmers in this country and abroad. They have virtually destroyed the corn farmers in Mexico (hence our immigration problems) and cotton farmers in Africa (causing much hunger and starvation). Thus far this effort has been in vain, but U.S. taxpayers are beginning to look at subsidies with a new eye, and "Food, Inc." will help.

But there are many other political issues, and a variety of organizations that can keep you up to date and suggest when is a good time about what. Six of my favorites are the Organic Consumers' Association, the Center for Food Safety, Beyond Pesticides, Corporate Accountability, Food First, and the Union of Concerned Scientists. You can learn about them at their websites. There is much we can do.


Dear President Obama,

At its July meeting, the board of the Cornucopia Network of New Jersey, an organization that promotes local, organic food, unanimously asked me to write to you on its behalf pleading with you to oppose Genetically Modified (GM) food in all its forms.
The ISIS report this spring concluded that we can conquer world hunger only if we support local farmers without GM products.
Generations of humans will be needed to determine whether these new forms of life are damaging to our health and survival. The companies that profit from them claim they are no different from previous life, but they also claim they are so distinctive that the companies have the right to prosecute those who "steal" them. Either they are different or they are not; we believe the former.
GM plants mate with others and are proliferating. GM weeds that resist all pesticides are already becoming a nuisance, and may become a serious menace to large scale agriculture. Meanwhile, farmers who are trying to maintain traditional crops and save their seeds, as farmers traditionally have done, are having their crops polluted by GM pollen. Some have even been sued by producers - after their crops were polluted!
It is basic to agriculture that farmers be allowed to save their seeds and that those seeds be true to those the farmers planted.
The Union of Concerned Scientist recently released its study of the yield of GM plants titled Failure to Yield: Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops. It concluded that yield increases were at most 0.3 percent per year, much less than the one percent per year that has been typical of corn increased production over recent decades using traditional breeding methods and "other sophisticated farming practices."

The Casey-Luger bill includes a provision that GM crops be forced on Africa. We urge you to veto this bill unless this provision is removed. It could destroy Africa's ability to feed itself.
Furthermore, the currently proposed USDA rules allow biotech companies to self-assess the safety of their own experimental GE crops to determine whether USDA should regulate them. This is preposterous. If GM crops are not prohibited (which is not politically probable at this time), they must be strictly controlled all the time.
And the public must have the right to know when it is eating GM food, whenever it can be identified. Labeling must be not only encouraged, but required.

Sincerely yours,

Frederick D. Chichester, Dr. Engrg. Sci.
President, Cornucopia Network of New Jersey

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Local Farmer's Markets

Food from farmers' markets is fresher and keeps non-corporate farmers in business. Recently, someone posted a list of nearby farmers' markets on the Montclair Watercooler:

Monday: Linden near City Hall 3 p.m.- 7 p.m.
Tuesday: Springfield 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Wednesday: Rutherford 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Thursday: Livingston 12 noon - 6 p.m. at the new Livingston Ave. shopping center
Friday: Caldwell: behind the Caldwell Movie Theatre on Bloomfield Avenue
Friday: Little Falls 11:00 AM, 225 Main Street, Little Falls Municipal Buildings Parking Lot
Saturday: Montclair 8:00 - 2:00, in the Walnut Street station parking lot

There are several CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) serving the Montclair area, but it's not a good time of year to join. As I remember, Genesis Farm has a winter program for which one pays in the fall.

You can speak to the manager of whatever store you are patronizing, and tell them that you want as much organic, local, and fair trade food as possible. Customer preferences matter to store and chain choices.

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Preparing for an open garden

A week from now my garden will be open to the public at 56 Gordonhurst Avenue, Montclair. Everyone over the age of three is welcome.

If you want to dig strawberry plants, vinca (aka: myrtle, periwinkle), or oregano, bring a bag. I will provide trowels. I'm pretty sure the strawberry and vinca will transplant fine, but the oregano may be at an inauspicious time of year. However, it too is invading my lawn, and I'm glad for others' wrist work in digging it out. Good news: my hands are giving me lots less pain this year than for some time. I'm sure your volunteer digging can take most, if not all, of the credit.

I'm hoping there will still be raspberries for eating on site. There were plenty last evening, but the first crop is diminishing, and the second is just tiny buds. Our July tour is later than usual this year, and the season is -- odd. I hope that children of all ages will enjoy roaming in my raspberry patch, but don't count on it too much.

It is definitly time to begin cutting out some dead raspberry bushes. Those who pick raspberries adventurously next week will appreciate this effort. The thorns are especially nasty this year. I've had three times when I saw blood running down an arm or leg, which I believe is unprecedented viciousness from raspberries. Some might claim I'm older and more vulnerable than before, but I blame it on the incredible growing season. Those thorns are BIG! Hint: Generally speaking, raspberry owners cut down lots of dead plants in mid-summer.

I'm also taking down dead pea vines. This is seasonably correct, but the lack of pea harvest was not, generating new emotions.

Years ago when I said to my visitors that my yard is neater when they come than usual, a mature man asked me why I don't let the yard just look the way it usually does for the Open Gardens. Pat Kenschaft is rarely speechless, but that was one of those moments. I've thought about it lots since. I don't want anyone to conclude, "If this is what a non-poisoned yard looks like, I'm going to keep poisoning mine." I do want people to be able to see what I am growing, undistracted. The weeds need to be pulled some time, and why not before Open Gardens? Everyone cleans up for guests. Why? I guess it's some crazy need to look good.

Anyway, I'm hard at it and enjoying it. Does anyone want tomato plants at this late date? I suppose I could be diagnosed with Compulsive Potting-up Disorder. Shall I pot up the late-comers or throw them into the compost heap? There are, by the way, three now on my front steps for takers, each at least six inches high, in separate pots. I've noticed the past two years that the volunteers in my own garden die later in the fall than the ones I started in February. However, the volunteers that I nurtured this spring already have healthy green tomatoes on them, so current volunteers are behind even that schedule.

Weeding the driveway is more challenging this rainy spring than ever before. As I do so, I remember my mother's horror that people were paving over gravel driveways. She died in 1985, when it was taking off. It seemed to her a terrible waste of resources and also a hazard to drainage. It's probably time for the decadely renewal of gravel on the driveway, but meanwhile the weeds are having fun.

I look forward to seeing lots of you next Saturday between 9:00 AM and 11:00 AM. My new regimen means I'll be starting my last tour at 10:30, but the displays in the front yard will stay until noon, as will the other open gardens in this tour sponsored by the Cornucopia Network of NJ. Oh! You can read the CNNJ recent newletter and three others at

Three other gardens in Montclair will be open from 9:00 to noon:
Bob McLean at 51 Gordonhurst was my mentor; he began gardening in 1930.
Nick Diminni began gardening at 2 Bruce Road three years ago, and actually harvested grapes last year.
Carole Lane at 176 Midland has a first year garden, made with the help of Jose German of Green Harmony.
Jose German and David Wasmuth at 69 Grove Street will open their garden from 9:00 AM until 2:00 PM. Their beautiful property and vegetable garden are also party of the Montclair Backyard Habitat tour of properties certified by the National Wildlife Federation. A list of the other properties on that tour can be picked up at their yard.
Judy Hinds, with a square-foot garden at 156 Rhoda Avenue, NUTLEY, will also have her garden on the CNNJ tour. It will be open from 9:00 to noon.

See you next week!


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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A gardeners' worst pest

Yesterday morning I couldn't believe what I saw (more to the point, didn't see) in my garden. I will postpone the description to the end of this email since I wouldn't want to disturb your holiday joy.

Fortunately, last evening someone told me that deer have been seen on "my" end of Ridgewood Avenue recently, and a photo posted on Baristanet. Click! This morning first thing I went through the print-outs of old "beg. gardening" messages to prod my memory. It was two years ago that when I went to Barletts to fortify myself after some minor disappointment when I heard Skip Bartlett say to someone on the phone that he had lost 5,200 tulip plants to deer last night. Last year he told me that hanging Irish spring soap around his place had ended his deer problem.

So shortly after breakfast Fred went to Shoprite and bought an 8-pack of Irish spring soap. They are slightly smaller in the middle than the ends, so I was able to easily hang one from a commerical circular tomato cage. However, they squeeze even more easily on the top of my home-made tomato cages and the high pea fence, so quickly all eight were gracing my garden.

The odor is impressive even for a human. Surely no deer will enter my garden again! However, it's a nice scent, I think. It reminds Fred of his academic brother, who used that kind of soap in graduate school, and returned to Africa decades ago after they both earned their doctorates.

Before I tell you my sad tale, let me prevent any overwhelming pity for my condition. I harvested my first cucumber today, which is about two feet long. I harvested my first green bean today, which was delicious despite the leaves of its plant having been removed several weeks ago. It appears other beans will bravely grow to maturity. I finished harvesting my garlic today, and two of the cloves are 3" in diameter! We are enjoying celery and tomatoes at every dinner. Both the raspberries and blueberries are delightful.

Yesterday morning I first noticed that my cucumber plant had been nipped. Then I realized that quite a few basil plants had been shorn of most leaves. (I picked enough then to make a dinner-for-two of pesto, which I froze.) Then I noticed that the only pepper plant that had been sporting a flower the day before was naked except for the flower and one leaf. The flower dropped today, and that plant is going to have to be very determined if it is to revive. Most startling: ONE of my smallest tomato plants had been stripped of most of its leaves. The big plants look the way they did before, and I have enough that it's no great loss if this one dies, but what it portended left me breathless.

I immediately thought of the article I had just submitted for the upcoming CNNJ newsletter, "Gardening With Woodchucks." It claims that woodchucks (also called "ground hogs") don't eat basil, or pepper, cucumber or tomato plants. I felt a surge of guilt. Now that I've decided my new marauder is a deer, not a woodchuck, that emotion is at peace. There are others that aren't entirely positive, but the good news is that there is no sign today of either a woodchuck or a deer visitor.


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Death, life, and other surprises in the garden

The garlic plants are keeling over, as is the season. If you took one from me in May or acquired one otherwise, you might want to check its status. I try to dig them while there is still some green leaves that I can use to tie the clove up to dry. I have a convenient place in my kitchen, but the standard advice is to dry them in your attic.

Less cheerfully, most of my nasturtiums are succumbing to black aphids. We bought some lady bugs from Home Depot last week, but they don't seem to have done their job. Most of the pea plants are just plain dying, due to the woodchuck's assault. We do each get 2 or 3 peas each evening for dinner, but other years we have been eating and freezing abundant peas at this time of year.

On the happy side, the raspberries and blueberries are delicious -- and not illegal, immoral, or fattening. We get a few little tomatoes each for dinner. This is a big treat in June! I heard on NPR this evening that there is a Florida regulation that registered tomato packers may not pack any tomato less than 2 and 9/32 inches in diameter. How sad! (and odd)

I've been cleaning out the volunteers next to the fence, which went wild. Their chopped stems were unexpectedly tasty in last evening's stir fry. I thought they might be dying, but after editing them, I now I believe there will be many more good meals from there. Meanwhile, I sowed more lettuce and collards seeds.

We had for dinner this evening the 15th (!!!) zucchini that I've harvested
in 2009. Guessing that these five plants will die in another month or so (at which time I'll put collard plants where they are now), I have sowed some zucchini seeds where the Sugar Ann peas were in front of the grape vines. I want five new plants, so I sowed ten seeds in pairs. Nine germinated, and I dug out four today.

I put two each in two containers that are now on the right side of my steps, available for taking. Zucchini is not to be entered into lightly. The plants are BIG, at least a yard in diameter, and they need lots of sunlight. If you have that kind of space, the first two to get them are welcome to them. This crop may bear until frost.

There is also still one container of two tomato plants waiting patiently for a new home on the left of the steps at 56 Gordonhurst.

I have far more baby arugula than I need. Is it worth my time potting them up and putting them on the steps? Or do they go to the compost pile?


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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Berry picking places

In answer to Bridget's question about where to pick berries with children, Amy writes:

We were told that this place (at least in the past) does not spray their berries, just the flowers (is that possible?). I'd call to clarify how ecologically gentle they are...
We love the fun of going to pick enough that I forgive any chemicals they might have on them, for one day... they're about 45 minutes from Caldwell.

And for real organic, just about 90 minutes from here there's Emery's Berry Patch is just 10 minutes down the road past the huge theme park Great Adventure-
They have organic blueberries- wonderful! Love them! In July they come in...
It can be very warm, so we try to get there early in the morning, and then head over to the shore to swim for the afternoon... a long, but fun day.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

1st tomatoes, raspberries, sad aphids

I ate my first two fresh tomatoes of 2009 today! They were sun golds, started (I believe) at the same time as sweet 100's, which are slower this year. Renee's January tomato is turning red, so I suspect next year I will have earlier tomatoes, following her example of starting seeds in January.

I ate my first two raspberries yesterday, and 3.5 raspberries today. I'm not sure who ate the other half, but I doubt he has the flu. My human neighbor and I are beginning to nibble on blueberries, hoping to eat more than the birds. It looks like there will be enough for all.

When I surveyed my collards on Wednesday, I saw they had completely capitulated to the black aphids. I salvaged some leaves to be carefully washed when I'm listening to "Democracy Now," and pulled out the plants. This is early to give up on collards; I should have cut away the aphids earlier. Alas, now the woodchuck apparently has nibbled on the carrot tops and downright gobbled some volunteer greens, both of which apparently had been protected by the nearby collards.

On the other hand, the aphids were beginning to live on the tips of the grape vines, so maybe taking away the collards was prudent. Not to repeat my collards error, I clipped the aphid-ridden parts of the vines and took them to the compost heap.

Several of you observed that lady bugs eat aphids. Yes, I think that's true. Someone wrote they are available at Plochs. Good idea! One year not long ago I was almost overridden with ladybugs, but I haven't seen one this year. Maybe I didn't feed them enough aphids last year. I don't ever remember having so many aphids before. Their effects are not so dramatic as the woodchucks', but...

Think about tomatoes and raspberries, Pat!


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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Thinning, 2 questions, woodchucks again

Someone asked, "What is thinning?" We all know there is jargon in every human endeavor, and I guess I assumed more than I should have. You have all heard of thick woods and thick hair. If you scatter carrot seeds, you may get a think crop of carrots. Then you need to "thin" the crop by pulling out the excess. We speak of "thinning to one inch" when we are pulling out enough carrots so that the remaining ones are all one inch from their nearest neighbor. The tradition was to thin to a half inch in June, to one inch in July, and to two inches in August. My tradition was to throw away or compost the thinnings, but this year I've been transplanting them to fill in the empty spots and to expand the carrot plot. The moist weather has been conducive to success in this project.

Someone asked what to do with aphids. Some folks suggest spraying soapy water on them,
and I've found plain water just as successful. It's a lot of time and effort, however, for each leaf, and this year I have settled with going on a guilt trip for not removing the aphid-ridden leaves from the plant before they spread. This is not a very useful approach. Any other suggestions? This tropical weather is good for aphids.

And for mushrooms. Several people have asked what I do about mushrooms. Don't eat them! They are probably deadly. My own approach has been to kick them in the lawn, and to mulch over them with grass clippings in the garden. I'm not sure I recommend either. Any other ideas? Most years they aren't a problem, but this year is surely "special."

When I first had woodchucks, we invested in an electric fence. This worked, but is expensive. Worse, the battery died over the winter, and we couldn't find any replacement battery the following spring. So that was one very expensive woodchuck-free year. An electric fence is less invasive in your yard than a "real" fence that goes a foot underground and four feet over. I put it about one foot above the ground so I could step over it easily. Our neighbor found it upsetting in the yard next to where he was raising children, but verified that electric fences are legal in Montclair. A friend told me her two sons liked to annoy her by touching the fence. One is now a professor of mathematics at Columbia University, so I gather this
repeated prank did him no short or longterm harm. I touched mine once by mistake, and wouldn't do that again just to annoy someone else! However, the discomfort stopped as soon as I jumped away from the wire, which was quickly. If anyone knows where they (or replacement batteries) are available nearby, that might be of interest to readers, perhaps even me. Yes, you can turn off the fence whenever you like.

Our woodchuck infestation continues. My main defense is to think of Marie-Antoinette as I say to myself, "Let them eat tomatoes." Thank you all for the cages. I am going hog-wild with supersteak tomatoes and eggplants. The woodchucks don't eat tomato plants, but they will take a bite out of a large tomato. I'm not above cutting around the bite and including the remainder in sauce. They don't seem to find tiny tomatoes worth their time. They take occasional bites off the tops of eggplants, peppers, and zinnias, but they aren't speciescidal with these, as they are with broccoli, and the plants seem to grow back or around the bite.

I ate my first sugar snap pea today. Yum, but sigh. There won't be many this year. The ones I have grew up in the protection of early tomatoes or overwintered volunteer pak choi. Pac choi (for the reader who asked) is a kind of chinese cabbage that does very well in the NJ climate. I think I may plant its seeds along the main fence this fall to protect more peas as they climb the fence next spring. Also, I'll follow Renae's lead in starting tomatoes for my circular fence in January, so they will protect the peas around that fence.

You can see I'm settling into the possibility of life with woodchucks. I hope Jean's plants will do their thing and evict them, or someone will find a battery that can reactivate my electric fence. No children live next to me now. However, I just harvested my fifth zucchini of 2009, the volunteer greens will provide stir-fries when the Hakurei turnips are finished, and the basil is almost ready to provide dinner pesto, so eating is still mighty good INSIDE the house here.


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