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 http://cornucopianetwork.org/newsletter.html 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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