Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sprouting Seeds Indoors

An incoming email indicated that the techniques for sprouting seeds are not well known, so I hereby offer them. It's easy to do anywhere, and provides us a nice salad ingredient all winter long. Sprouts don't compete with the garden veggies I harvest in warm weather, but they are always a treat this time of year.

You need a proper container, I think. I have two lids with holes that fit over standard Mason jars. Trina has a much prettier container that is nice to bring to potlucks.

Put two or three tablespoons of sprouting seeds in the jar, cover them with water, and let it sit overnight upright. Then pour out the water, and put it on its side to drain.

Henceforth, three times a day pour in fresh filtered water, shake it a bit, and pour out the water. Resume its sideward position with the seeds. I do this before I go to bed, when I get up,and mid-to-late afternoon as convenient.

Keep the jar on your counter. NEVER put it in the sunlight if you can avoid it or the sprouts sizzle. (The same is true for fresh tomatoes ripening inside).

In four days I usually have edible sprouts. After six days I put the remainder in the refrigerator. They last maybe a week, so I start another before the previous jar is completely finished.

I buy seeds mail order from Johnny Seeds. One pack lasts years for the two of us. I think Trina said that the health food store on Bloomfield Avenue also carries them. It's just west of Midland Avenue, I think, but it may be just west of Park Street. It's above where the stairs go down.

We like alfalfa sprouts best, but there are many choices, and some people prefer other types or a mixture.

It's easy and nutritious. Happy indoor gardening!


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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Blizzard Challenges

I just got in from beginning to work the hardest I ever have for a single dinner. Tomorrow evening it will be time to have some yummy fresh vitamins amid this holiday eating! I was surprised at the thrill I felt when I could see about an inch-worth of the corner of the cold frame that contains my coveted Chinese cabbage. As I shoveled and pushed more, I realized that there was about a yard of snow above most of the cold frame, apparently the contribution of the roof and the greenhouse window. After all, we've had "only" about two feet of snow directly here.

Little did I know last Thursday as I dug for root crops for the first time this season how they would be used. I thought I was harvesting for guests, but they all drove for home suddenly Christmas evening after the predictions became more dire and imminent. They are now glad they did. I savor 27 hours of wonderful holiday festivities, which feels good.

So the carrots I dug Thursday are still abundant and will probably serve Fred and me for a at least a week. We had our first parsnips of the season Thursday evening. Yum! The parsnips are smaller than usual this year, in contrast to the carrots. I measured one carrot that was slightly more than two inches in diameter.

After my guests left Christmas evening, I went out to harvest Chinese cabbage for Sunday evening's dinner (as a consolation) and then closed the cold frames in the dark. Good thing I did that!

Amusingly, we each ate eight "fresh" tomatoes for last evening's dinner. There are more green ones, and they seem to ripen nicely. The taste is definitely competitive with store-bought tomatoes, although not up to summer tomatoes. We were glad to enjoy them on December 27, mostly products of last January's starting.

The lettuce in our greenhouse window is abundant, as is the parsley in our refrigerator, picked before the great cold not long ago. The basil, raised for the first time in the greenhouse window this year, adds a nice touch, and there are abundant sprouts. So our salad in midwinter is delightful.

Happy eating in the holidays!


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Friday, December 17, 2010


Winter has arrived. Perhaps you noticed.

What a difference in the garden from just this past Saturday, when I sat out in it comfortably talking with a guest! Greens that stood up proudly then have lain down. The carrot tops that looked like the ones in the store but more so no longer look like they are trying to feed the roots.

This means it's time to put the plastic bags of leaves down on top of the carrots and parsnips to keep them warm for the winter. This is a sizable job, but now accomplished. This year had the new quirk that I had packed all those plastic bags myself (because others are using paper bags), so I was critical of how they had been packed as I took them from the other side of the driveway to the garden. Isn't it interesting how the human conscience finds ever-new ways to annoy us?

The best culinary part of the week was the two meals of collards (with the traditional Italian recipe), the only two probably this fall. Yum! They have been attacked by some bug I haven't seen, but I've covered them with floating cover for winter, so maybe I'll get more delicious collard meals in March.

We also had our last two meals of the season's pac choi, picked before they lay down, but that's not so sad because we will now start eating Chinese cabbage from the cold frame. I've kept the cold frame closed the past few days because the temperature hasn't peeked above freezing. Today I should give them some fresh air in midday.

We now swing into our winter diet. The refrigerator freezer is packed, so it doesn't look like we will go hungry during January and February. By March I will be harvesting (I hope) collards and maybe other newcomers from the garden.

The first crop of lettuce from the greenhouse window is ready to harvest and delicious. I have been alternating for salads with arugula that I picked before the below-20 weather. I still have enough tomatoes so that it appears we'll be eating them at least until Christmas. They taste fine, and occasionally one reminds me of summer. I won't begin harvesting carrots from the garden until the tomatoes are gone, so it appears I'll have plenty of carrots for an abundant winter.

The second crop of winter lettuce is over 2" high, and I will start a third by Sunday. This has worked in previous years for a steady supply of winter lettuce from the greenhouse window. Yesterday I started my first jar of alfalfa sprouts, which complement my winter salads. Yesterday we ate the last of fresh peppers and today we will finish the fresh celery. I have plenty of frozen peppers and refrigerated celery leaves; both will flavor the many stir-fries in our winter eating.

Meanwhile, I'm enjoying preparations for Christmas, when both my kids come home. I hope you are enjoying the holiday season too! Soon we will have more sun again, but we know the cold is here to stay a while.


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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Open Garden Report, solar panels, yellow celery, carrots

What a great morning I had yesterday at the open garden! Everyone was so kind and appreciative! It really gave me a "high."

There were lots of "oos and ahs" over my cold frame that is chock full of Burpees two-season Chinese cabbage. It is believable already that I will harvest two meals a week throughout Jan. and Feb. of fresh vitamins for stir-fries from them. In answer to a question, I said I cut the leaves around the edges and the plants keep growing. I have used this cold frame for years. I bought it from Johnny Seeds, and put it up and down every fall and spring.

"I did close it last night."
When pushed further, I observed that I put a large plastic over the cold frame when snow is predicted. Otherwise it freezes shut. Then I can shovel snow off the cold frame, then push the rest off with a brush, and then open it to pick dinner.

The first question was about my solar panels. How did I feel about them? They have been a far greater financial benefit than I expected. Not only do I get large REC payments capably administered by my solar panel maven Bob Simpson (, but last month my electricity bill was less than $3. When I said this, I heard a gasp. I added that this was with a refrigerator that dates to 1965. I saw eyes widen. "We bought it second hand in 1975 for $100, so I know its age only from repairmen, but it serves my needs and I know someone who has had five refrigerators during that time because they don't last. It certainly isn't energy-efficient, but the solid waste problem is worth considering too."

Someone else asked if we had a large battery. "No, our solar panels are connected to the grid." The dial runs backward much of the time, which is why my electricity costs are so little. Admittedly, last month seemed to be an all-time low, but they are never high.

I said I was very impressed with the installer, Jake Wig, who Bob had recommended to me. However, I am not happy with the state or local government's "help." The state required installing posts in the attic in any house over 30 years (are they really less well-built than newer ones?), to support the panels, which are light enough for me to pick up myself. The town harassed Jake about fire safety, but he seemed saintly to me. However, I am very pleased with the cooperation of PSE&G, who have a special telephone-answerer for solar panel customers. Someone else commented that she is plagued with telephone solicitations by alternative energy sources, so she investigated those who have already switched. The majority are unhappy because after a short introductory offer, the prices soar, and you must wait six months to get back to PSE&G. I said some more pleasantries about PSE&G and repeated my sentiments that I wish our governments would catch up in cooperating with solar panels.

Someone commented that her celery has turned yellow. "So has some of mine. I tasted it, and it seemed fine. So I serve yellow celery to Fred and he eats it and never comments." Smiles all round.

My carrot tops are many and big. I pointed to a row of plastic bags filled with leaves and said when the weather turns really cold at the end of this month and the tops drop, I will put those bags over the carrots. That insulates them from the serious cold. Then I shovel snow off the top of a bag, pull up the bag, pull a week's worth of carrots, and replace the bag till next week. It will take 8-12 bags, I think, to cover the bed.

In the summer I thin the carrots first to a half inch, then a month later to an inch, eating the "finger carrots," then a month later to two inches, eating store-sized carrots that are the thinnings. This means the winter carrots are two-inches apart, which some need to be. "That's why I'm not having success with carrots," observed one visitor.

I pointed out my unimpressive kale, which, like the collards, has been attacked by some bug this year. Kale goes through out winter without protection and was my major winter salad green when I was raising kids. With the carrots and seed sprouts raised indoors, we had good winter salads. Now with only two of us, I can raise enough lettuce in the greenhouse window for winter salads. I could point proudly to them yesterday. For the first time this year I am (successfully) raising basil in the window, which is a nice addition to salads already.

Happy eating!


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Monday, November 22, 2010

Winter rye, straw, tomatoes, URL for CNNJ newsletter

Judy told me yesterday that her winter rye has germinated. Oops! I haven't even scattered mine. Defensively, I thought, "But I'm not finished harvesting there yet!" I went out with two containers this afternoon. There were still plenty of little tomatoes to harvest. I dove under the pear tree, up which they are growing. The neighbor referred to my "tomato tree." I saw one worth eating. Not bad -- not like summer, but worth savoring for Thanksgiving. There's another! It was even better. There was one higher than I could reach. I pull the dead vine down. The tomato looked even better than the other two, but when I tasted it, it was overripe.

I may still have some peppers on the vine on Dec. 4 open garden. It pretends to be thriving where I ordinarily plant winter rye by now.

Winter rye, in case you aren't informed, is the third way to nourish your soil along with compost and mulch. It is available in any garden center.

It is also time to distribute straw over the strawberries. I've been getting lots more berries since I have been mulching in winter with straw -- as the name implies we should do.

The newsletter of the Cornucopia Network of New Jersey is now available, along with some old newsletters on the CNNJ website:


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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Slow Frost and Tomatoes

Recently, after 30+ years of gardening, I've been feeling remarkably
inexperienced. Is this year different or am I simply more observant? Or a combination? This year the "frost" is coming far more slowly than I realized before.

When I picked and picked on Halloween, I wished I had picked my basil two weeks earlier as one of my neighbors did. I would have picked much more, I'm sure, because too much of it was already gone. I had wondered two weeks earlier, but how was I to know?

Halloween was definitively the last day to pick Malabar spinach, but the rest of my picking came to naught. We ate at this evening's dinner two small green tomatoes I picked then (two weeks ago), now turned red in the kitchen. They tasted fine, but not wonderful. More are turning red than rotted, but I'm not sure I could have told which was which two weeks ago.

One day about a week ago we had had a serious frost, according to the white on the lawn and cars.

The eggplant plants turned black, so I picked the remaining eggplants. Most of them were little, but we had some of the tiniest for dinner this evening, and they were fine to eat. So now I know I don't have to worry about picking eggplant before the frost; just wait until the morning when it's obvious the plants are dead.

Many of my pepper plants still look, at least, like they are alive, and the peppers seem to be acting like summer as far as I can tell: I think they are still growing and ripening. I think I'll take the same approach to them as for eggplants.

Then there are tomatoes. The plants have been GRADUALLY dying, but there is one, under the peach tree, that still has green leaves. It's borne only one fruit this year, and it is the only "large" tomato that is still in the garden.

I have many more small tomatoes this year, partially because I planted so many to protect the pea plants from woodchucks, but partially because they have just been more prolific than usual. I'm still harvesting tomatoes as fast as I can. I then sort them into groups: those ready to eat (several containers of which are in the frig); those colored but not soft yet, most of which will ripen nicely (if the past predicts the future); one container of those turning color; and two or more of green tomatoes. I'm not wrapping them, and it does seem that they some have moved up the status ladder.

The past couple of days amid picking small tomatoes from dead vines, I have found myself groveling among the mulch under the tomato plants, picking up dropped small tomatoes. Some look ready to eat except for the dirt, and when I taken them inside and was them off, they taste fine! Of course, no tomatoes we're eating now are like the yummy ones in the summer. The phrase "vine-ripened tomato" has new meaning to me this week. Still, slowly ripening tomatoes on or off dead vines are tasty enough to merit considerable labor in my present schedule. Perhaps children could do this harvesting for someone whose schedule is more pressured. Anyway, if the ripe tomatoes keep in the frig, Fred and I will be having garden tomatoes, if not exactly vine-ripened, for many weeks to come.

Yum! Gardens are fun.


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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Questions and frost preparations

One of you asked why the compost and soil are baked. I found out emphatically when I brought in a nasturtium plant, leaving it in the garden soil in which it had grown, and put the pot in the tray from which I bottom water my greenhouse plants. Soon I saw little things swimming around in the water, about a quarter inch long and very thin. Next thing we knew our kitchen was infested with mosquitoes! So you don't want to use unbaked garden soil any more than you must because don't want mosquitoes in your house either.

Another of you asked how to prevent troubles from bringing in garden soil. Obviously, I don't have definitive answers for this, but I will never put a pot from the garden in water again for the first month after it is in my house. I brought an impatiens plant in yesterday and put it NEXT to the tray. I should have watered it more than I did, and I'm not sure it will survive, but perhaps I can do better next time.

Frost wisdom: Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants survive after their plants turn black, I discovered last year. I picked them AFTER frost killed their plants and they tasted fine, fresh or frozen (no difference there!). Basil and Malabar spinach, of course, are completely lost as soon as the first light frost hits them, because we eat the most vulnerable parts of the plant. So given a choice, pick your spinach and basil aggressively when the FIRST frost warning is given. Please email me before you go to pick so I can tell others and then pick too. Picking by flashlight is possible, although not ideal.

You can read my potting recipe in the "basic skills" section of this blog. I have not bought any potting soil this year or last, and things seem to grow fine. Last 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.

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 vegetable gardening and abstaining from power machinery, but flowers bring 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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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Preparing for frost, open garden Dec. 4

Today is the day that the Rutgers Extension Service says we should take in our "tropical plants." I have brought in my aloe and my great-grandmother's Christmas cactus. I think I'll leave the others out a bit longer.

However, I'm picking and freezing my basil (as pesto) and my Malabar spinach as fast as time allows. Last year and the year before we had a frost that killed them in October, and the full moon is only about a week away.

I now have FIVE freebees on my front steps: basil and parsley seedlings, potatoes, and columbine and bee balm plants. I'm ashamed I haven't offered columbine before. It turns out to be easy to transplant. It is abundant in my yard right now, so take all you want. It spreads, but it is MUCH easier to dig out than dandelions, and not nearly as invasive as euphorbia (the anti-woodchuck plant). I have composted lots before, but that's a waste of a plant that William Shakespeare obviously liked so much in early spring.

Be sure to bring a plastic bag to pick up columbine or bee balm, and plan to replant it soon after you get home. I'm a bit more cautious about recommending bee balm. It is fine in the shade; take a look at it to the right of the steps, where it's been for years. However, it went wild in the sun next to my curb, and is NOT easy to dig out.

While you are there, you have my permission to wander in my FRONT yard as long as you walk only on the sidewalks and the green grass. To the left of the steps are the day lilies. Behind them is the laurel. A lilac bush is at the left corner of the house, where I planted it not THAT long ago. Above the bee balm is Andromeda, which has little white flowers early in the spring. You can see the azalea in the foreground behind the flowers. In front of the holly tree is the astilbe; you can still see the fern-like "flowers" which were pink and red much of the season and I still think are nice. In front of that are my two primrose plants, descended from my great-grandfather's (not the one married to the aforementioned great-grandmother). The asters are just beginning to bloom on the house side of the row of chrysanthemums.

Florence and Jose will join me in an Open Garden tour on Saturday, December 4, from 9:30 to 11:00 AM. That's long enough to be out at that time of year! If you want to open your vegetable garden to the public at that time, let me know ASAP.


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Friday, October 15, 2010

What Flowers Do I Raise?

One of you wrote in response to Monday's email, "Please make a list of all the flowers that you have in your property. Please also say if they are perennial or annuals."

My first reaction was to think that after the bulbs I have, through the season, columbine, zinnias, and chrysanthemums, but when I went through my mind and the yard listing them, I discovered that I had about three dozen blooming plants in my yard this year, not counting the varieties of each.

Annuals I raise from bought seeds: impatiens, zinnias, nasturtiums Self-seeding annuals: alyssum, columbine (or is it a biennial?)
Perennials: chrysanthemums, asters, monarda, swan's neck, black-eyed susans, echinacca, yarrow, Jerusalem artichoke, milkweed, day lilies (yellow and orange), Dutch iris, yellow and purple Siberian iris, winter sedum, astilbe, primrose, winter rose, rose, lily of the valley.
Bulbs: snow-drops, miniature crocus, flower-record crocus, hyacinths, daffodils, tulips (many varieties of each of the last two)
Shrubs: lilac, Andromeda, azalea, holly tree that Bob McLean planted in 1987, an offspring of one of his Groundcover: periwinkle (aka myrtle, vinca)
Weeds: violets, dandelion, some white flower in bloom now (October).

Shakespeare wrote repeatedly about "sweet columbine in spring." After I became a gardener, I realized he lived just before bulbs from the Middle East came to Europe, so he lived his winters flower-deprived. I raised some columbine from seed over two decades ago, and they reseed prolifically. I realize I should put some of the on my front steps for those who want to start them. I have more than I need and have been
throwing extras into the compost heap. The original package had many colors, but the survivors are mostly in the pink-purple range. Very pretty in early spring!

I raise zinnias from seed each year. I always have State Farm zinnias growing up my garden fence, and this year I have a variety of other types in the front yard.

In the mid-80's I raised chrysanthemums from seed, and they do well along the neighbor's driveway, providing color all fall. In recent years I've been supplementing them with asters. I used to have another variety that bloomed later, but recently I've contented myself with autumn sedum and paperwhites (also called "indoor narcissus") in very late fall. I bought one autumn sedum plant years ago, and I have separated it each spring and distributed it widely in my yard and elsewhere.

A Dutch immigrant neighbor gave me Dutch iris plants that grace my front yard and next to the garage. They have purple flowers, smaller than the usual Siberian irises. I should probably promulgate her generosity next spring; remind me if you want some in early spring. I have purple and yellow irises in the back, which I am known to give away in mid-summer, the right time for sharing them.

I planted minarda (also called "bee balm"), raised from seed also in the mid/late 80's, in the front of my north-facing house, where it has done well. When I started my front yard garden last year, I put some between the sidewalk and street, where it has gone crazy. I need to pull some out. It has a light purple bloom in late spring and/or early summer.

I started alyssum from seed about the same time, and it would like to take over the entire yard. I gave away some last spring, and would be glad to do more next year. It has many tiny white flowers, now invading the sidewalk and my garden in the back.

A former student gave me lily of the valley, which does well under the tree next to the street. I could share some of that next spring too.

I raise impatiens and nasturtiums from seed each year. The nasturtiums have mostly disappeared both this year and last, I assume eaten by those pesky woodchucks. I dug some of each last fall and they did well over the winter inside - very pretty in my greenhouse window. One nasturtium started this fall and I brought it in. More about that in a later email about potting soil.

In January I must content myself with VERY dark (dead) autumn sedum to supplement the holly and indoor bulbs. In late February or March snow-drops and then miniature crocuses scattered in the "lawn" appear. Winter rose and real crocuses appear in March. April brings hyacinths and daffodils, first tete-a-tete and then the full-sized ones. Late April and May have lots of tulips, by then joined by columbine.

The front yard had azalea, laurel and Andromeda when we moved in, and I use them still in bouquets. Do they count as flowers? It's not legal to pick laurel in public places, but I would think I could from my front yard.

Do ferns count? There were many here when I moved in, and I use them abundantly in bouquets. There were just a few at first, but I've separated them and moved them around and now have more than I need. Others took some from this past spring and I plan to be even more generous next spring if I can get takers.

Long ago I planted astilbe, which has fern-like red and pink flowers (?) that make lovely bouquets with ferns in spring.

I planted milkweed to attract Monarch butterflies, which they do, but they are also pretty when they bloom, which isn't for long. The butterflies are still pretty in October this year, which is late for them.

I was given swan's neck and black-eyed-susan for my curb garden and they are nice in late spring and early summer. I was given echinacca seeds, but they aren't very prolific where I planted them.

Day-lilies and Jerusalem artichokes have flowers that don't last when picked, but look festive in the yard, the former in mid-summer and the latter in fall.

Myrtle was here when I moved in at the back of the yard, and their small purple flowers and nice below the daffodils that have naturalized after I planted them following their performance inside. It is quite a riot of color each spring.

The day my nephew was adopted, having made the trip from Korea at age four months, I planted a rose bush. It still blooms this year of his joyous wedding.

A cousin gave me two primrose plants descended from those of our great-grandfather. They are doing fine in front of the holly bush, but when I tried to put pieces of them next to the curb, they didn't thrive and have apparently recently died. She tells me this is very unusual, so I may try again.

Writing this has been a revealing venture. I have thought of myself as a vegetable gardener and a "gardening evangelist," meaning vegetable gardening. Now I realize I have a shadow life, one that doesn't take nearly as much of my time and that I hadn't quite acknowledged before, but might also be of interest to others. That is a curious realization because for the past decade I have regularly given away two bouquets a week along with having one on my table. It appears that flowers are more important to me than I knew. Thank you for giving me this self-knowledge!


Freebees: I should give away minarda (which thrives in shade) and columbine now. I'm not going to pot them up, so bring a plastic bag to take them away. You can take them directly from here and put them in your own ground. I'll put them on the steps, each in a tray with columbine on the left in alphabetical order. Both spread.
When you take any freebees, please do not disturb the family unnecessarily. Too much of that could soon make it impossible to continue giving away hundreds of plants a year from my front steps.

Next spring I realize I must have a freebee morning, where folks can come thin (i.e. dig) out my perennial plants. My wrists have been better in the past couple years since I've been recruiting volunteer help for this. Don't let me forget, and if you have something you especially want mentioned above, it might be useful to shoot me an email late next March.

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Monday, October 11, 2010

Winter Flowers

I enjoy local flowers from my own property all winter if you are willing to consider holly berries flowers for a couple of weeks. Actually, even then I'm also harvesting winter sedum, which is very pretty now, turning from pink to purple, and can provide a nice foil for the holly. I usually harvest paperwhites indoors from about Thanksgiving to Christmas.

My bulbs for winter arrived this week, and I'll be busy potting them up now. This year's are from Fedco, by far the least expensive, but you might still get them from Dutch Gardens or locally. I like crocuses in mid-January, then tete-a-tete daffodils, then big daffodils and then tulips. By then the daffodils from previous years that I put out in the myrtle at the back of my yard are in full bloom, and I can get flowers from outside.

The "winter rose" that I bought three years ago was beautiful last year and this in March through April, and I have enjoyed outside flowers for many years from spring through the holidays. Chrysanthemums last through the first few frosts.

When she was a teen-ager, my daughter asked, "If Americans had as many flowers growing in front yards and public places as they do in other countries, do you think we would be more peaceful?" It's a question that has intrigued me for decades, and provides one justification for putting so much time into flowers. The main one, of course, is that they make me happy.


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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Winter preparations

In mid-September one of you wrote that she harvests basil all winter from her windowsill. About the same time a friend visited from Manhattan. Her 29th floor balcony garden has no bugs or birds, but tremendous wind. So she raises much of her crop in a barrel that shields it from the wind. She told me that her parsley survives until February!!! Then a super cold kills it.

Fred and I have been enjoying lettuce all winter long recently raised in my greenhouse window, but some tastes of basil and parsley sound appealing. So I found some old seeds, and sowed them profusely in the greenhouse window. In a few days I had more basil than I could imagine and in the past couple of days the parsley is following suit. I was uneasy that the parsley might have been told old to germinate, but here it is!

In earlier years our winter salad green was kale, but it's having a hard time recently. There is a hole where two kale plants were put out. I don't know why, but one day last week Fred heard a loud scream, "EEEK!" as I went out the back door. "What's the matter?!" the poor man called from the kitchen. "A woodchuck!" It left quickly, of course, and is the only one I've seen for months. I do have some kale on the opposite side of the garden from the "door," almost surrounded by basil and tomato plants, but looks like again I will have to count on lettuce for my primary winter salad green.

The Hakurei turnips have germinated where I sowed them after taking out the unsatisfying tomato plant. Would anyone be interested in trying these? I have no idea whether they will transplant, or even whether I will get a yield before the cold takes them, but my daughter assures me that the greens are worth eating even if I don't get the radish-like roots in time. I'll put them on the steps if anyone asks me to, but only then.

My youngest outdoor lettuce is almost an inch high, so it's almost time to sow the next crop. I've done this before and have harvested lettuce outside in December. One can never tell from year to year, of course.

No collards volunteered this year, which is very unusual. So I started some from seed. Some of it is doing well, but some it is being attacked by a pest MUCH smaller than a woodchuck or rabbit. I have two plants in my greenhouse window that need a new home, and I'm trying to decide whether to put them in a larger pot or plant them outside.

By mistake I put one collards plant in the corner of my cold frame. After I realized what I had done, I decided to leave it there and see if I can grow some in my other frame for collards all winter. That would be fun.

I'm doing lots of experimenting this year. It's been years that I've raised all our veggies except potatoes and onions year round, but there is clearly MUCH more to learn!


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Thursday, September 30, 2010

A sunny day

I remember a delightfully sunny day. Ah, yesterday! Predicted were two days of steady storms, so I spent it all outdoors. I'm glad the prediction wasn't completely accurate.

I did the expected things for a sunny day in the middle of lots of rain. I picked raspberries and small tomatoes for two days' consumption, at least. I mowed the lawn. So did Green Harmony Now, and they delivered wonderful, organic, fresh grass clippings. I love running my fingers through them! I did lots of mulching with them while it was so much fun. That involved a certain amount of weeding in non-garden, non-lawn places in the hope that it will remain weed-free for a significant time.

Much more emotional, I took out the unsatisfactory tomato plant. I needed counseling and a hug from Fred first. I don't think I have ever killed a mature, live tomato plant before -- but its tomatoes go directly from green to rotten, so I gulped and did it. My daughter assures me that the role of a gardener is selection, bless her.

I thought that the nearby eggplant and pepper plants thanked me. Fred doubts this, but they seemed so grateful not to have the embracing arms of a sprawling plant over them! It took FIVE little black pails to take all of that one plant to the compost heap.

My mourning is odd because I counted I have over 30 tomato plants this year,
including the volunteers in the front yard (of our north-facing house) and the compost heap (under the trees in the back). Why feel worried about removing one? It isn't like that poor little rabbit last seen diving under the neighbor's fence where the owner chasing the dog who had just broken his leash couldn't follow. I miss "my" rabbit, but that's understandable.

I must count carefully the number of eggplant and basil plants I have this year and raise that many from seed next year. The plants from the garden centers are not as satisfactory, although they aren't failures like that volunteer tomato plant. We ate our first dinner of yellow eggplant this week, and couldn't distinguish the taste or texture from that of purple eggplant. But if not picked, the eggplants rot when they are only 3" in diameter, so those I grew from seed are far more food-providing.

The garden center basil has MUCH smaller leaves than those I raised from seed. I think it is called "mammoth" basil. I picked one leaf yesterday that was at least 3" long and almost as wide, and this is much easier to prepare for pesto than the basil from bought seedlings. Furthemore, the latter go to seed lots, and I must be continually picking off the tops. I have the time now, but raising mammoth from seed is well worth the time of busy gardeners.

I was glad to get out and distribute some more grass clippings in a pause today, but I'm glad that sun is predicted to return this weekend. Not that we can trust that -- or ever could. But we all know climate change has changed all the rules about weather.

Enjoy indoor activities, maybe slipping out between the drops!


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Saturday, September 25, 2010

3 miscellaneous responses

-- A Master Gardener at Rutgers Extension Service says they recommend taking in tropical houseplants on Oct. 15, which makes sense to me. This doesn't mean that NJ veggies will die.

-- Someone writes he has lots of cat's mint in his back yard, but it doesn't seem to discourage woodchucks from scampering over it to the goodies in his vegetable garden.

-- Another reminded me of another woodchuck deterrent that is available only to men and has the same disadvantage as human hair; it must be done again after every rain (from the clouds).


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Thursday, September 23, 2010

#3 on woodchucks

Pepper writes that she thinks that fever few and cat mint deter woodchucks. She plants them around her garden. They thrive in either full or partial sun, and also under one of her trees.

Someone else wrote that she also had been told by an expert that Irish Spring soap keeping deer away is just a myth, but she uses it with success as I do. Bartletts has used it to effectively prevent disaster with their spring bulbs.

Another wrote, "I heard Epson salt is good for the plants as well as keeps woodchucks away. The only problem is, if it rains, you will need to reapply."

This reminds me that my first effort to keep woodchucks out of my garden was human hair. The nice woman who cuts my hair at Illusions would keep the hair on the floor of their beauty parlor separate from the other sweepings, and I'd go frequently to pick it up.

It worked, but had to be renewed after every rain -- a LOT of work! -- and I thought it looked incredibly ugly. So I hired the pest removal man and then entered into my own catching stage.

My daughter and I both had woodchuck damage for 6-8 weeks this spring, which cost me my broccoli crop and many peas, but then they seemed to have moved out. It makes sense that they are especially hungry after their long winter's nap. Maybe I'll try human hair for just a while this spring to get some broccoli. I could stand it that long... I think.

Long live humans!


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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

When first frost?

Someone just asked when is the first frost in our area. This is a more complicated question than it might appear.

Three years ago, I would have answered, "mid to late November."
However, both last year and the year before we had a light frost in October that killed first the Malabar spinach, then another that killed the basil and some tomatoes. The "killing frost" that did in the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant waited until November. I did cover them with burlap when the October frosts were predicted, so that helped -- but it won't work forever!

I heard an old farmers' tale decades ago that seems to be a good predictor. The first frost usually comes with a full moon. The Bartletts have found this to be usually true too. I assume it's because the gravity of the moon pulls the atmosphere away from the earth, leaving the growing things on the surface without the blanket they have at other times of month. That's my idea; I haven't read it anywhere. I think the scientific community doesn't believe in this old "myth," but the fact that the Bartletts have observed it to be usually true over a much longer period than I've been gardening suggests there is some validity to it.

Anyway, if low temps are predicted and it's full moon or near it, I take out those pieces of burlap I keep handy in the garage.

Perhaps I should add that lettuce and fall greens usually thrive until the holidays. I sowed some lettuce seeds within the past week. It surely seems unlikely today that we could have frost in a month, but life is full of surprises.


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Monday, September 20, 2010

Woodchucks again + deer

One of you wrote to me in response to my afternoon email:
Please inform your devoted followers that Euphorbia lathyris (splurge) is poisonous and should be handled with gloves. I would not plant it where there are small children. Throw the berries in the groundhog burrows.

Another forwarded a web piece that says it is native to southern Europe, northern Africa, and Asia, and is invasive when it gets to this continent.

Trina writes that she can catch woodchucks without bait simply by blocking other exits to their hole. I think I've done that too.

Another writer said the more she caught, the more that came, corroborating my experience.

My daughter, who teaches gardening classes, says they installed a "woodchuck ready" fence, bought for that purpose, and dug the recommended foot below the surface, and the woodchucks CHEWED or CLAWED through the fence and came into the garden!

Jose of Green Harmony Now offered to build me a fence, but he hasn't had any woodchucks in his own garden yet (at 69 Grove Street!), and he didn't brag about how successful he has been with installing woodchuck fences. Have you been successful, Jose?

Jean protested that I haven't said how pretty the flowers are. Come to think of it, I haven't seen any flowers -- or berries either. Since my strong neighbor helped us remove the largest plant because neither Fred nor I could do it, I have been removing them before they are full-grown. Where did all these young 'uns come from? Hm...

It reminds me of my biologist cousin, with top credentials, insisting that Irish Spring soap deterring deer is "only a myth." But I had one devastating visit and since I put the soap around the garden, none have returned, even though some have been seen in our front yard.

Life is puzzling, and that certainly includes gardens.


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Woodchucks (aka. Groundhogs)

Woodchucks, also called "groundhogs," have been the worst garden pest for me by far. Since I have received a number of pathetic appeals for help recently, I will devote an entire email to them.

I had none when I started gardening here 32 years ago, and for quite a few years thereafter. I remember hearing about their destruction in central Jersey with some skepticism, which now prods feelings of guilt. Then they arrived here.

It was more than 12 years ago because I my father was still alive. I asked him what his father had done about woodchucks. I still remember his answer with shock. His father was the supervising principal of the Middlesex Township public schools of Cape May County, traveling far and wide to lead many one-room school houses in those days before busses. Yet he raised the family's vegetables in Cape May Court House, as all good fathers did in those days.

- "He had me shoot them," my pacifist father said with downcast eyes.
- "What! You used a gun?!" He nodded, found out.
He had never joined my mother's relatives in their sport of hunting, and I sensed disapproval as they reported their adventures, although he did join in eating the hunting harvest.

Today's gardeners can't use that method of checking our wildlife. It's against the law. So at first I hired a pest exterminator. We paid him $75, and he didn't catch any. Then I bought my own woodchuck-sized cage. At first we were as successful as the exterminator, but then Trina told me you can catch them if you put the cage with bait just outside their hole, blocking any other escape, so as they come out hungry, they don't notice they are walking on metal. I used Jerusalem artichoke leaves and caught many. One can, of course, use anything they eat in your garden for bait if you have something left.

It didn't seem to decrease the number of woodchucks. There were more and more, as I caught more and more. At the July 2008 Open Garden the topic of woodchucks came up, as by then it always did. Jean Blum said she had trouble until she got a plant from a gardener in central NJ that seemed to keep woodchucks out of the garden. She offered me some, and in August 2008 I planted three around my yard. I had no noticeable woodchuck damage for ten months.

Then I had by far the worst of my gardening career. I've had essentially no broccoli the past two years, and before that it was a winter mainstay after I ate and froze lots in the warmer weather. I would harvest it until Christmas.

Last year my peas were almost non-existent. The woodchucks not only ate the peas, but tore down the vines so neither they nor we would get more! This year I have had a decent crop, but not like before. I started Sweet-100 tomato plants in January, and put them with the peas to climb up the fence. I harvested decent peas where the tomato plants protected them. I tried the same with pac choi with no discernable success. I guess next year I will have LOTS of tomatoes. (Not that I don't this year, but I like tomatoes.)

Meanwhile, last August (2009) we hired Keil's Construction Company to replace our garage floor since we had seen them burrowing through in many places. That seemed to stop the woodchucks for another 10 months.

There was much less damage this year than last. The euphorbia (the official name for the anti-woodchuck plant) has been prolific, and perhaps that helps.

However, now it is VERY prolific and I spend an amazing amount of time tearing it out. Since I'm retired, it's okay; I prefer doing this to having woodchucks wreck havoc with my garden. However, I hesitate to recommend it because it is so invasive and there are other variables that may have caused my decreased woodchuck damage this year. Also, I still lost my broccoli.

Last week Pepper left me a perennial plant that she claims woodchucks don't like and isn't invasive. Can you give up its name, Pepper?
Perhaps I should cautiously share some of my euphorbia with those who beg if they assure me they know it is very invasive. Someone told me that Plock' sells it under the name of "mole plant" because it deters moles. Others assure me that there are 2000 varieties of euphorbia, and my eyes and knowledge don't support finding more details of the name. I'll spread the word if someone who thinks they know tells me the complete name.

Gardening is still satisfying and healthy for me, but writing this emphasizes how truly we are all "beginning gardeners."


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Monday, September 13, 2010

Open Garden Report

I had a wonderful time at Saturday's Open Garden, and I gather most of the other hosts did too. It is wonderful to bathe in communication with so many good people! About 60 came through my back yard, and many more enjoyed the butterfly tent in the front.

We seemed to have an unusually sociable group of 40-60 butterflies. Trina would open the tent flap, and offer the butterflies an opportunity to fly freely, but a remarkable number would sit, apparently happily, on children's fingers. Some remained so long, I wondered if they were injured, but eventually they took off and went far, far upward! They seem to like children's fingers, and the children clearly like them.

In the back yard I fielded many questions. Probably the most common was, "My garden and my neighbors' looks so dry. Why is yours so lush?

I think there are two answers. One is the as-thick-as-possible grass mulch that covers my vegetable garden. The other is the organic matter in the soil that holds water for a long time. I described double digging, which you can learn (as I did) from John Jeavon's book, "How to Have More Vegetables than you ever thought possible on less land that you can Imagine." It's in the Montclair public library. When I started gardening, I double dug spring and fall for three years, and then the soil was as friable as it is now.

This led to the question, "Aren't you afraid of the poisons on the grass clippings?"
"Yes, I think they are terrible. Please see the display about Safe Lawns Montclair (or its website), which is working to abolish them in Montclair. They are totally against the law in the entire province of Quebec. The lawns there look just as lush as ours." Then a discussion would ensue about unpoisoned lawns in Montclair, including one on Upper Mountain Avenue. We old timers told about the beautiful lawns before lawn chemicals became available.

Then I would tell about how dramatically my health improved after a few years of eating my own fresh, organic food. The short story is, "The garden is good for me, even with the poisons. I'm sure it would be better without." Later that day Jose, president of Green Harmony Montclair landscaping service, offered to bring me poison-free clippings. Whoopee!

"Do you turn your compost heaps?" No, I did at first, but that has lost its charm. My heaps turn to compost in a few months in the summer, and more slowly in the winter. I have plenty of compost.

"Do you water your compost heaps?" No

"Do you use bio starters?" No, I put weeds in the compost heap, and apparently the soil on their roots provides enough microbes to get the composting going.

"Why do you have all that soap around?" It keeps away the deer. Last year I had one devastating night in the spring, and I assume it was deer. I've heard that Irish Spring soap keeps deer away, so I sent Fred out for some and he immediately bought an 8-pack. Since then I've had not apparent deer damage in my garden, although some deer have been seen in my front yard.

"Why don't you water your lawn?" Mostly because I think I have better things to do with my life. However, the world is having a water crisis, and it makes sense to get into habits of not wasting it.

"What do you do about woodchucks?" That's worth an entire email, which I hope will get written within a week.

Happy gardening!


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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What you can see in Saturday's open garden

My refrigerator is sufficiently well stocked with fresh raspberries that I can abstain from taking more until the Open Garden this Saturday from 2-4 PM. Barring an untimely visit from purple grackles, that will leave plenty for delicious nibbling by (at least) early guests. Take only those that are dark and ripe, and come off the vine easily! The almost-runs will be my treat on Sunday.

In the garden you can see impressive tomatoes (if I may be allowed some gardener braggadosio), eggplants, peppers, basil, carrot plants, celery, parsley, and just-planted-out pak choi, kale, collard, and Burpee's two-season Chinese cabbage, among other things. The last is in my cold frame, available for $325 from Johnny Seeds, so you can see where I will be picking in January. Oh, yes, and there is the Malabar spinach, pretty on the fence, but not yet providing free seeds.

See you Saturday!


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Friday, September 3, 2010

Eggplant, grass clippings, euphorbia

The will of living things to continue living is impressive. I pulled a large euphorbia (also called "anti-woodchuck plant" or "mole plant") out of the middle of my garden this week and saw a stunted eggplant plant there. It didn't get much sun, and it was competing for nourishment from its roots, but it didn't give up. It was about half as tall as its siblings, but there it was, looking healthy! Its most mature siblings have been giving me delicious eggplant parmesan for two weeks now, and they are really beginning to "come in."

Inspired by that, I planted out today the runts of the eggplant litter that I started in April. They looked really pathetic when I planted out the others, but I kept them in my greenhouse window. Today I decided they were ready to be planted where I've been clearing out. We'll see if they have time to be fruitful before frost.

This living thing is feeling really let down this evening at the lack of rain. I've promised Friday rain all week! Hurricane Earl is doing enough of trouble elsewhere. Why can't it water my garden, as promised? Maybe the weed growth will be less enthusiastic. Last time I complained about the weeds, some of you thought I was worried about weeds in my garden. Not really. With my grass clippings mulch, I don't get many. I may have twice as many as usual this year, but that's hardly worth mentioning. Also the lawn may have twice as many as usual, but that
too is hardly worth mentioning. It's not quite true, as two landscapers told me over 20 years ago, that once you remove the weeds from your lawn, they don't come back, but it's true enough so lawn weeds are not a real problem.

It's those other places that are far more prolific than I thought they could be! And the borders between them and the garden or lawn. Weed, weed, weed! I was delighted to get three containers of fresh lawn clippings last Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, so weeding is satisfying this week because I can mulch afterward and have some hope the situation is under control.
And then there is the euphorbia popping up all over. Jean warned me, and her warning has made be reluctant to offer or recommend it to others. Still, if that's the reason I haven't had woodchuck problems since spring, and not nearly as many then as last year, it's worth it. How can one tell causality in a garden? (or elsewhere...) Anyway, I'm digging out the 3"ones and oodles of tiny ones, which are very easy to remove, and leaving well-placed 'tween-sized euphorbia scattered thoughtfully around the property.

Happy weeding!


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Monday, August 23, 2010

Euphorbia available at Plochs, transplanting, finding grass clippings

Someone anonymously left a tag for what I've called an "anti-woodchuck plant" for two years, saying it is available at Plochs. Or so my mysterious visitor believes, which may well be right. They label it as a "mole plant" and say it is "euphorbia lathryis." The label says (in very small print) "The stems of the Mole Plant contain a sap which is poisonous and caustic and is said to deter moles and gophers. Grows as a single stem and bears yellow flowers in clusters. When Mole Plant is spaced forty feet apart as a border plant around flowers, herb, or vegetable gardens, it is extremely effective in deterring moles."

I have had many fewer woodchucks this year than last, and the many euphorbia around my garden may be a major reasons. I find the plants are very difficult to remove after a certain size, and have been removing them smaller. I haven't seen any flowers. They are extremely invasive and easy to remove when less than a foot high. I remove them selectively. I'm not a total believer, but I'm cautiously optimistic. I'm still experimenting.

I haven't had mole problems that I am aware of, but woodchucks have been terrible at times.

I began transplanting the lettuce I sowed last week today. It was perfect transplanting weather -- between showers! If it is indeed dry enough tomorrow morning to finish, I may have.

My own great excitement today was finding some grass clippings available on the curb after a 12-hiatus following our return from MathFest. I could understand why people weren't cutting their grass, but it sure is nice to have mulch again. It makes weeding seem like it has a promise. Actually, I have dug out some large euphorbia in recent days and some "gone" collards, so I'm making space for the seedlings to go out before the open garden on Sept. 11. IF the euphorbia are actually deterring woodchucks, they work before they are maximum size, when, I've discovered, they are hard to remove.

Happy weeding!


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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Cucumbers, buying seedlings, sowing seeds, dead raspberry bushes, weeds

I officially pronounced my cucumber plants dead this afternoon. These super-long cukes from Fedco are great while they last, but I think they die out sooner than some varieties. Since I raise my own seedlings, I could raise more than one type. If you are still harvesting abundant cukes, what is the type? Is Marketmore still looking healthy? Or is it this summer's unusually hot weather and my reluctance to water the culprit?

Someone asked for local places to buy seeds and seedlings now. Once I tried to buy seeds at a Montclair outlet in early summer and was told with distain, "You must plant seeds in May!" I was speechless in disbelief at his ignorance, while he stared at me with a superior look. I've had the charity not to remember where that was, but since then I have bought abundant seeds from mail-order in the spring. If I forget something, I phone Burpees again. Fedco doesn't take orders after a Montclair-type deadline.

However, I bought seedLINGS from three garden centers early this summer: Bartlett's on Grove Street somewhat north of Montclair on the left; Ploch's, at the end of Alwood Avenue on the left side as you drive out of Montclair north on Broad Street; and that place on Center Street in nearby Nutley, on the left shortly after you turn left from the GSP (or more accurately, East Passaic Avenue).

Today I noticed that the lettuce I sowed outdoors last week has germinated. This week I sowed pak choi, kale, collards, and Burpees two-season Chinese cabbage (which will end up in my cold frame for harvests all winter) in my greenhouse window. I suspect any sunny windowsill would do nicely. I still have some fledgling eggplant seedlings in my greenhouse window to put where I will remove the cucumber plants.

Last evening I put FOUR full bags of dead raspberry bushes on the curb; they were picked up this morning. Earlier I had put three more out. Cutting them out is a huge project, and I hoped I was done, but as I began mulching today the raspberries with the leaves Fred kindly brought home last fall, I discovered some I had missed. That happens every summer as I remove last year's raspberries plants.

More seriously, I was appalled as I looked at the weeds in my front yard. I've been so busy freeing the young raspberry bushes for harvest, I had ignored the front yard. The old raspberries have savage thorns, and the young 'uns are getting quite prolific now. (If you come to the free film this evening, you might sample some.) Anyway, I hope people aren't too shocked by the growth in my front yard. I began a bit this afternoon, but it will take much more effort to get it presentable. Every experienced gardener and landscaper with whom I discussed this agrees this is a phenomenal year for weeds.

But the goodies are good too. Happy harvesting!


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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Home again! What do I plant now? Carrots, watering, eggplants

We arrived home last evening from another week away (this time visiting relatives while driving to and from MathFest in Pittsburgh), and it's always interesting to see what the garden is like after a week of neglect. The news is good this time except for the lettuce, which was chewed to the bottom.

Someone asked what I do for watering when I'm gone. Except for that time about a month ago when I confessed to you that I had watered in the extreme heat during that super-hot spell, I haven't watered the garden for three years with a hose. I'm not in principle opposed to watering a garden, as I am to watering a lawn, but it just hasn't needed it. There have been times in the past when I've gone away for three weeks (both in June and in August) and the garden was fine while I was gone. The only thing I need human help with sometimes is picking beans and zucchini so the plant doesn't think it's done its duty and die.

Speaking of beans, it's a fine time to plant them again if you now have the space.

Lettuce is also fine up until September, but it will need lots of watering with a can until the plants are a quarter inch high, and you may have the problem I did last week. (That can happen any time of year.) Soon I will start pak choi and collards plants inside to plant out this fall for fall harvest. I will also start Burpee's two-season Chinese cabbage and kale inside for winter harvests.

Last week when I was home for four days I noticed that I had one eggplant that was the usual purple color and another (on a different plant) that was green! I'd never seen anything like that before. Now I see I have one that is yellow, which I assume is the mature version of green. These must be plants I bought. (I raise most of my own, but this year supplemented eggplant, peppers, and basil with plants from garden centers.) Does anyone have experience with this? I wasn't warned by the label. Is a yellow eggplant ripe? Will it continue to grow the way purple eggplants do?
Last week I forgot to mention that with that wonderful haul of grass clippings, I thinned and mulched my carrots. Wow! The "thinnings" were the best I've ever had. One was nine inches long and a half inch in diameter. Unprecedented for early August! All plants are growing remarkably this year, both goodies and weeds.

Incidentally, I see that there are few weeds where I mulched with grass clippings. However, they have managed to fit themselves into many unprecedented spots. Perhaps it's worth mentioning that I compost all garden waste (dead goodies and weeds) except raspberry bushes. The Heritage raspberries are bearing again! I still need to remove the remaining dead plants, but I did some this evening, and will continue to chew away at that job. I have an extra incentive now because removing the oldies makes it easier to get to the new plants that are bearing. I feared Fred and I had been too raspberry-greedy at breakfast today when I went out this evening, but then I found more buried among their elders.
Soon they will be yielding lots, in time, I suspect, for the next Open Garden on Sept. 11 from 2-4 PM.
We ate well while we were away, but we both agree that garden eating is welcome again. Isn't summer nice? Well, except for the heat and humidity... The next two days are supposed to be cooler, which seems appealing.


P.S. The final honorary address was given by the leading Native American mathematician. He choose to devote much of what was expected to be a math talk to photos he had taken while hiking in the Rockies over recent decades to show how much evidence there is of climate change. The photos were beautiful but scary. Afterward he told Fred and me about a physicist at MIT (whose name, lamentably, I forget) who insists there is not convincing evidence of human implications in climate change. "He doesn't believe in statistics. He says there is an excellent correlation between the number of Republicans in Congress and the number of sun spots, and that is true." But his conclusion that the correlation between human activity and climate change does not imply we are implicated in its quick progression is not justified. "He doesn't admit he doesn't believe in statistics, but that's what his arguments imply." He and I worry about the consequences of people who should know better denying the human impact on climate change.
Let's raise vegetables locally, ride bikes whenever possible (It's fun!), and turn off your motor vehicle when it's not moving. I read recently that after 10 seconds an idling motor will hasten the demise of the engine. Such precise estimates are always subject to skepticism, but idling is hard to defend even if it's 30 seconds or a whole minute.

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Monday, August 2, 2010

Jose's Garden

Just before I left on last week's trip Jose German and I found a common time in our schedule for me to visit his garden. Wow! He has much more variety of techniques than I do. He has a commercial set of short boxes that are suitable for worm composting in the winter in kitchen and he now has outdoors. He has a contraption that makes compost tea overnight. He raises crops in all kinds of settings that suggest nobody has an excuse for not raising some.

He has more beans than you could believe could grow in a Montclair yard. He was harvesting eggplant over two weeks ago. He aspires to rid his yard of lawn before long.

He told me he has 170 native species on his property, seven trees, 14 bushes, three vines, and more than 120 flowers and other plants. Twenty-seven different flowers are blooming "now." He knows an amazing amount about property care, which makes us very lucky that he has started (If you want his landscaping or advising services, you can get in touch with him there or at 973-233-1106.) He agrees we have an inordinate amount of weeds this year, but adds he has a team of three men who can pull a thousand weeds in three hours!


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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Thrills and weeding

Thursday evening Fred and I arrived home from being the only NJ participants at the first International Conference on Ethnomathematics (ICEM-4) held in the U.S., which was a WONDERFUL experience with people from 20 countries.

However, as we drove down Grove Street, I felt a thrill of how beautiful Montclair is. There was another thrill as we turned onto Gordonhurst, and, of course, several as I became reacquainted with my garden after a week away. I feel lucky to live in northern NJ for the beauty!

I had thought that my bush beans were ready to pull when I left and was contemplating what I would do with that choice spot in front of my greenhouse window. Lo and behold! When I arrived home, there were little beans on most of the plants. A whole new crop!

One more zucchini plant had bit the dust, but there are three left, and all seem to be thriving.
The small tomatoes were abundant, although one neighbor said he had picked some when we were gone, as he had permission to do. We picked and ate our first large tomato last evening. I had to take a photo of it between those activities because it was SIX INCHES across. Now, that is a big tomato!

The peppers are coming along. We are enjoying them in salads, but they aren't abundant enough yet for freezing. (I just wash them, cut them in pieces, and put them in a ziplock bag in the kitchen freezer for winter stir-fries with the fresh greens from our cold frame.)

Our first dinner back was pesto. Yum! Very little basil has died, but national warnings about basil blight make me wary. It should be eaten or frozen as it becomes available, especially this year.

I was happy to spot several eggplant flowers, and then saw my first purple eggplant. It was over an inch in diameter, not to eat this week, but full of promise. Then I couldn't find it for two days. Did I imagine it? No, this evening it was there again. This time I won't forget where my first fresh eggplant parmesan dinner of 2010 is coming from.

One of my cucumber plants has died, but the other seems to be thriving and has a couple juvenile cucumbers. I still have some in the frig from before the trip.

The second crop of raspberries is abundant, but not ripe.

Friday morning I noticed that a neighbor had left two bags of grass clippings on the curb. Big thrill! My neighbors are catching onto the fact that there are better uses for grass clippings, so finding them is always exciting these days. The weather has been delightful for mulching and weeding, and the yard certainly needed it. I've spent lots of time outside in the past three days. About sundown this evening I placed the last of those two bags.

I'm not devoted to neatness, but this year's weeds have been trying even my tolerance of mess. Furthermore, those super-hot days had me carefully rationing my outdoor time to early morning and dusk. At my age and health one doesn't want to run more risks than necessary. But the recent weather can only be good for health, don't you think? I have enjoyed watching the property become more suburban, as I weed, weed, weed, and mulch those empty spots so the weeds won't return. Maybe.


P.S. Ethnomathematics is the study of the interface between math and culture. Many people at ICEM-4 had been studying how math is used and learned in various cultures with the hope of enriches all our lives, promoting world peace, and inspiring youngsters in those cultures to learn more math. I learned about masons in Portugal, bus conductors in India who keep all the records for a day in their heads without a machine or writing, and weaving in many parts of the world with a remarkable variety of social connotations.
The most amazing report to me was a young woman in Hawaii who has learned the ancient navigation art that the Polynesians used thousands of years ago to cris-cross the Pacific Ocean. They had no written language but did sophisticated trigonometry in their heads! In our own culture people have been studying the informal math of street children. The researcher from South Africa says he is fluent in 6 of their 11 official languages, and can speak 4 of the others somewhat.


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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Open Garden report and homecoming

The Open Garden on July 10 was a glorious morning. Many new faces had found us from the STAR LEDGER article the day before. There were many questions, but three stand out 11 days later.

What is the soap for? "Irish Spring soap is there to keep away deer. I had one terrible morning last year, and I dug around for what to do. Then Fred went out and bought me an 8-pack, which I put around the garden."

"Does it work?"
"I've not had any deer since, and they are still in Brookdale Park. They've been seen in my front yard." Last week I visited a cousin who is a professor emeritus of biology and he insists that Irish Spring soap deterring deer is just a myth. However, it seems to work for me.

"What about the chemicals others put on the lawns whose grass clippings mulch your vegetable garden?"

"I live in metropolitan New York on planet Earth. Nothing is pure. However, by the time the chemicals sink into the neighbors' lawns, and the grass is cut, and whatever is left goes into my soil, only a bit of which comes up in the vegetables, I think I'm getting much purer food than anything you could buy. The mulch keeps away the weeds, keeps the moisture in the earth by preventing evaporation, and when it decays, it nourishes the garden."

"What is that plant?"
"That's an anti-woodchuck plant. It deters woodchucks."
"Does it work?"
"Maybe somewhat. I've done several things to deter woodchucks this year and have much less damage than last year."
However, I now know its sap stings human skin painfully, and causes a red rash. It is very invasive, but easy to pull in its infancy. I'm cautiously optimistic, but not as enthusiastic as I am about Irish Spring soap.

"What is its name?"
"I don't know its grown-up name. I call it the anti-woodchuck plant."
"It's euphorbia," said Alphonso, a newcomer. Whoopee! A possible grown-up name! I haven't checked it, but that gives those of you who are curious a name to investigate on the web and elsewhere.

Since I arrived home this past Sunday, I have had three woodchuck sightings in my back yard, so it isn't perfect in its efforts, but it may be worth the trouble. One of my collards plant is nibbled suspiciously, and one young zucchini has had most of its leaves eaten. What self-respecting mammal would stoop to ZUCCHINI leaves? Ugh! However, the plant had a blossom this morning, so it hasn't given up.

My first two zucchini plants died this week, earlier than usual, but they also bore fruit much earlier than usual, so I don't fret about that. I still have two younger ones still bearing, and the two I started in June that I hope will bear into the fall.

Monday morning, two days after the open garden, I left for a vacation in New England, culminating in a wonderful wedding. My five-year-old grandson and his parents stopped in here Saturday night on
their way home to Virginia. It was my first opportunity to show Nathaniel my summer garden, and his response to tomato picking was inspiring. The small tomatoes have become somewhat overwhelming, but he showed me how to enjoy it. Each evening since, I have picked a large container of small
tomatoes (about four cups), which serve as our "fruit" these days.

We're between raspberry seasons except for a few stragglers. It's time to cut out the old bushes, a daunting task. I've been spending as much "cool" time as I can cutting them back. I put two (used) lawn bags of raspberry bushes on the curb today that the collectors picked up. I don't choose to compost raspberry bushes, although I'm pretty fanatic about other organic waste.

I'm feeling lawn-clipping-deprived this week. My garden would like more mulch. But I can understand why others would not want to mow their lawns in this season; mine isn't growing very fast either. It has some brown spots, but I'm sure they will green up when the heat is less intense and the rain a bit more abundant. Weren't those thunder storms this week welcome?!


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Sunday, July 4, 2010

Watering lawns, gardens, and trees

As I biked out to my Sunday morning activities today, I was saddened to see sprinklers on several lawns. There is no faster way to ruin a lawn than to water it when the sun is shining. If we should have a water shortage, the problems are compounded. The easiest way to improve your lawn is to never water it.

I have never watered my lawn in 35 years. Its roots go down deep, and when we have a drought, it stays slightly green after the watered lawns go completely brown during the watering ban. It greens up much faster than the others when the rains return. If you MUST water your lawn (because it's become dependent on your attention), do so ONLY in the evening, when the water goes into the soil and not the atmosphere.

Gardens are a different matter. I haven't used a hose on my garden for three years, but I just placed mine to use this evening on newly bought seedlings that I planted this week. They don't have the root structure yet to sustain themselves even with this much drought without my help.

When I first started gardening, one of the old guys who had been running a garden center for generations told me that you only water a garden when the tomatoes look tired in the evening. "If they droop during the day, just tell them to cheer up. Life will be better before long."
"When you do water, do it in the evening and only face-on for a full hour." Then he sold me a spout that sends a spray face-on. I have always followed his advice before, but this evening I'm catering to late-in-season-bought seedlings although my tomatoes, which have been there for weeks, look perfectly happy during the day. The newcomers don't.
If you don't have a face-on spray and must content yourself with a rotating sprinkler, let it go for three hours in the evening. I figure that gives as much water to any one place as the face-on one does in an hour.

If you haven't planted out in the past couple of weeks I suggest taking the late Mr. DeVos' advice and water only when your tomatoes look tired in the evening.

Trees are yet another matter. Montclair's arborist has told me to tell people with new trees planted in front of their house to water evenings when the weather is hot and dry. A bucket gently dripped on the base of the tree so that it goes as far into the soil as possible and doesn't just wash away might do the trick. Obviously, a hose dripping water gently would be even better.

The goal whenever you water is to get the water as far down in the soil as you can. This is done best in the evening, when it can sink in instead of evaporating, and in large quantities at one time not very often. And don't water your lawn ever!


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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Woodchuck stories, good and bad

I shouldn't complain. My garden now is yielding abundant zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, basil, and raspberries. But being human, I WILL complain, but kindly tell two amusing stories first.
Yesterday afternoon I was meditating in the back of the yard facing the garden, when a woodchuck entered the yard from the yard on my right. To my amazement it stopped less than a yard directly in front of me! I could study a woodchuck as never before and yearned for a camera. With all their flaws, they surely are cute!

Then it moved about two yards to my left, and paused again. Now I felt safe that if I told it to leave, it would go to the neighbors on the left and not into my vegetable garden. "Go!" I said pointing.

It stood up on its hind legs and looked around, apparently wondering at the uppiness of some intruder.

This morning Fred and I were meditating together in a similar place. (We took TM classes some time ago, and he joins me for the morning meditation.) This time we noticed a raspberry bush moving oddly. Then we saw the hind part of a woodchuck below the bush. The upper part, including the head, was invisible, but we guessed its activity. Shortly, our suspicions were confirmed. We could see the whole side of the woodchuck on the ground, busily nibbling on raspberries. It continued happily. Since I have plenty of raspberries higher than it can reach, I wasn't bothered.

Not so with other crops. The heads of the three broccolis that were trying largely disappeared Thursday at dinner time. They were there in the afternoon and gone in the evening. Lettuce is chewed over. I put some cut anti-woodchuck plants over the attacked plants, and am hoping, but it's mighty late for broccoli at best. One of you did have a good harvest, so something odd is happening in my garden, which is typical of gardens.

Even sadder was the mangled dead bird that I found in my garden yesterday afternoon. That's the first time in 32 years of gardening, and I haven't seen any cats. Guess who I suspect.


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Monday, June 28, 2010

Harvesting garlic

I should have mentioned in last week's email about harvesting that this is the season for harvesting garlic. Those of you who took a garlic from me last spring and put some bulbs in different places have noticed that they are turning brown. That tells you it is the time to pull them.

Actually, I'm a bit tardy on this. When I pulled one this weekend, the stem was so dry it broke! This makes it challenging to hang to dry the bulb, so I'm digging the others now, which is a bit more work than pulling.

The books say you should hang the garlic from their stems in the attic to dry out the bulbs, but I have a place in the kitchen where I can hang them. When they are dry, it is easy to remove the stems and fuzziness on the bottom of the root and put them in a cupboard to use -- or separate them into bulbs and put them in different places in the garden for next year.


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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Peas, Malabar, Broccoli, Collards, Basil

One of you wrote, apparently surprised, that some of his pea plants are dying. Yes, they usually start this time of year and are all gone by mid-July. Both the super-hot weather and the early tendency of everything would accelerate this. I picked as many as I could today and froze them, taking my solace in the tomatoes that are now plentiful for salads. I won't have nearly as many peas in my freezer as two years ago, but far more than last year.

The early summer demise of peas is why I like malabar spinach so much to replace them on the fences. One of you lamented that her malabar is only about an inch high. Yes, malabar spends a LONG time in infancy. Some of mine is two inches, but most has not gotten to that lofty height. When the weather stays hot, it will take off.

Yesterday and today the woodchuck (I assume) ate most of my broccoli plants' leaves. The plants hadn't begun to form heads yet, so I almost feel the woodchuck is welcome to them. However, what does it forebode? It intensifies the woodchuck-dread I feel this year. One plant has a head (more than an inch in diameter), and the woodchuck spared that one until I was inside this afternoon taking refuse with a (room) air conditioner. This evening I cut off a piece of an anti-woodchuck plant and lay it over the top of the struggling broccoli plant.

I might as well remove the other broccoli plants and hope that the garden centers can provide me more eggplant and pepper plants. Has anyone had success with broccoli this year? The only responses I've had to that question before were negative. Judy says it's been too hot, and she may well be right. That 90-degree spell in April may have done them in. They should have borne edible heads by now.

We gave lots more collards to Toni's Kitchen today. The woodchuck has nibbled at the chinese cabbage too, but not to devastate it. I think the same is true for lettuce, but I've been pretty greedy there too. The arugula is in, which will do for salads, but it's not like lettuce.

I heard an NPR feature on a basil disease that is plaguing NY. We should pick that and enjoy the flavoring and pesto now, and freeze as much of the latter as is available. The narrator said she picked hers in August last year instead of November to make pesto for winter. I can't imagine making a winter supply at one time. I've already begun, and will continue throughout the season, basil willing.

The early zucchini is wonderful. Win some, lose some.


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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Harvests: when, how, and preservation

I've spent an amazing amount of time harvesting and preserving in the past 24 hours, and I thought my practices might be of interest to others. Beans, peas, and raspberries need to be harvest "now" when they are ready.

I froze my 12th serving of Roma bush beans of 2010 this morning. They are growing as they never have before -- like the weeds! But such nice weeds. I remove strings if there (not many), and par boil them for 3 minutes. This is supposed to preserve vitamins better. Then they don't need much cooking when you serve them in winter. When I pull them out of the boiling water in their strainer container, I run it under cold water and let it cool for a few minutes. Then I run it under cold water again. After the third time, they are ready to put in ziplock bags in my kitchen refrigerator's freezer.

It won't be too late to plant bush beans for a couple of months. I planted these after the April 24 Open Garden because I wanted to show visitors my cold frame and its contents then. I started harvesting the beans last week, an incredibly quick growing season.

It's pretty obvious when to harvest beans, and they wait a couple of days, but peas are more challenging. I try to harvest sugar snaps when they are bulging, but not withered or dry. It means checking them over at least once a day these days. As I harvest, I pull down on the strings to remove some of them. Removing the rest of the strings before par-boiling is a much bigger job than for beans. Then I precede as for beans.

Raspberries need to be harvested when they have turned dark and come off the plant easily, but not TOO dark. They last only two days in the refrigerator, so picking raspberries takes lots of my summer time -- pleasantly! One should always nibble as one goes, of course.

I've never frozen raspberries before, but this morning I put some rolling separately in a container in the kitchen frig freezer, as my 8th grade friend told me last month she does. I'll then put them in a ziplock bag and see how many I actually use this winter. They roll out of the bag separately, Ann says.

I also made my first batch of pesto this morning and froze it. Last evening when I harvested the basil, I was startled to see that the basil around my pea-tomato circular fence was dead and dying. This morning I was even more startled to see it had risen from the dead. I guess basil doesn't like heat. The basil not far from the neighbor's fence was wonderful to harvest last evening. I gather now that basil likes some shade. I'm not sure how much.

However, tomato plants have popped up on my compost heap and under my apple tree. I think I'll let them live and see how well they thrive. I know from the front yard that tomatoes don't need nearly as much sun as advertised. If the newcomers bear...

A garden is full of surprises.


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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Zucchini, collards, and NJ wind power

Both sex therapies on my zucchini flowers were successful! I will harvest at least two zucchini in the next few days. Until two years ago I harvested my first zucchini on June 26, and last year I was surprised that it was June 21. This year I expect to have zucchini dinner on June 13.

Oddly enough, none of my broccolis are showing any signs of heading. Usually I harvest broccoli weeks before zucchini. Life is endlessly surprising.

We had our first full meal yesterday with snap peas as the vegetable. We're each eating a small tomato every day this week, which is early but pleasant. We have enormous quantities of collards, Chinese cabbage, and lettuce, so we're eating well. Other good news is that I still do have sugar snap vines.

I forward below first a message from Gray Russell, Montclair's Environmental Outreach Coordinator in response to my query about local wind power.


Montclair's Water Bureau employs two wind turbines which are small, helix-type generators. That means their blades look more like an egg-beater than a wind mill. They are really experimental, but serve as a good model for further wind technologies. Although these are small turbines, Montclair is one of the only towns in NJ with any wind power at all.

Of course, we have the beautiful 7.5-megawatt (MW) Jersey-Atlantic Wind Farm in Atlantic City - visible from the Atlantic City Expressway (more than 30 million visitors see it every year) - which is the first coastal wind farm in the United States. It consists of five (5) 397-foot-tall wind turbines, each generating 1.5 MW of electricity. The project produces approximately 19 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, which is enough emission-free energy to power over 2,000 homes. The electricity is used by both the Atlantic County Utilities Authority (ACUA) Wastewater Treatment Plant, and delivered to the regional electric grid.

And the NJ BPU is studying plans for the nation's first off-shore wind farms, off the coast of NJ, which could host as many as 300 wind turbines and supply 3,000 megawatts - far more than a nuclear power plant - while helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent in the next decade.


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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Zucchini sex successful!

Or at least I think it was. Read on!

Earlier this week I realize that both my lead zucchini plants had female buds. The books all say that male flowers come before females and drop off. I found that to be true until last year, when I had three females before any males. The morning that the third female blossomed, I wrote an email titled, "Zucchini male needed!" and Ranae wrote back offering me help. I went to her home, couldn't rouse a human, but found a male flower on a squash plant. I ruthlessly plucked it, took it home to please my female, and -- lo -- had an early zucchini! Later Ranae wrote that her plant was a yellow squash, but it seems that intermarriage is
fine for summer squash.

When I saw those females early this week, I emailed Ranae and the closer neighbor who had helped me last year and asked if I could have blanket permission this year to kidnap their males if I had early females. Both were obliging. However, yesterday morning I had BOTH males and females on both plants. I gave the needed help, and it seems that both are growing instead of falling off the plant.

Too fast? Perhaps I should explain zucchini biology and humans' contribution to it. Each plant grows both male and female flowers. You
can tell the females before they blossom because they look slightly pregnant -- a little (very little!) zucchini is behind the bud, bulging the stem. The males look like more typical buds. When they blossom, they do so for only a few hours each in the early morning. The challenge is to get some pollen from the male to the female orifice. Worker bees typically perform this service by visiting first the male to eat whatever he offers, incidentally getting some pollen on her body, and then flying to the female. The bee probably has other motives than delivering the pollen to her, but she does that too. This works fine in mid-summer, but the bees are just beginning to fly around now.

I have different skills than a bee, although I can use my finger like a bee body for short hauls. More certain is to clip the male flower from his moorings, and rub him affectionately over the female. I did this yesterday -- twice! Today I THINK the zucchini are growing, which bodes a good dinner within a week. If I failed, that baby zucchini will soon wither and die, but both look promising today. If you too are hoping to have zucchini soon, I thought you would enjoy this tale.

Better news, which everyone can appreciate without explanation, is that Fred and I each had one sun gold tomato for dinner. Yum! Summer has arrived early, and I like the tomato part of it. It's interesting to note that the sweet-100s were planted earlier and get more sun, but they also have been exposed to more wind and the sun golds are next to the south-facing wall of our house, which is warmer. Maybe tomatoes need heat more than light.


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Saturday, June 5, 2010

Energy Independence - Yes, we can!

Last evening on Channel 13 I saw a feature on a town that decided in 1998 to become energy independent. Samso in Denmark has about 4000 residents and is on an island. It succeeded in a decade. Last evening's show pictured the many solar panels and wind mills.

I now want to share a paragraph I read this week:
Energy experts like physicist Daniel Goldstein (the former vice-provost of Caltech and author of "Out of Gas") tell us that within a decade all of energy for America's homes can be generated by solar power in an equivalent of the area of 80 square miles in our southwest deserts. Americans should be aware that the United States has been called, "the Persian Gulf of Wind." Two-thirds of our nation's needed electricity could be generated by the winds of North and South Dakota with the other third by the winds of Texas. But hydropower still accounts for the
majority of the so-called alternative energy today, with 7% of the energy produced.

["Tikkun" July-August, 2009, p. 56]

The article concludes with my sentiments: "As Amory Lovins famously says, "because saving energy is cheaper than making it, pollution is avoided not at a cost, but at a profit." It is time to create an electricity system for the United States that relies neither on fossil fuel nor nuclear power. We can do it starting now - yes we can!"

If Samso can generate all its power without fossil fuel or nuclear power, why not New Jersey? Our solar panels have been surprisingly financially satisfying. Does Montclair have any windmills nearby yet?


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Friday, June 4, 2010

Tomatoes and coming open gardens

Tomatoes are beginning gardeners' favorites. Garden tomatoes usually taste much better than those you buy, and they are preposterously easy to grow. One of you worried this week that a deer had come through for the first time (near the Upper Montclair shopping center!) and nipped off the tops of his tomatoes. Would they survive? I think so. Some books advocate actually "pinching off" tomatoes, because they grow back more fully. If someone removes your head, you won't grow a new one, but tomato plants are different. Eat their heads and they will grow more, probably more than one.

There is the tale that they need light. There must be truth to that, but I've had tomatoes volunteer on my compost heap and actually bear. More convincing is the tomato plant that volunteered in the front of my north-facing house. "You silly thing!" I said to it when I first saw it. "You won't get any decent sun here, and I've done nothing to enrich the soil." But it impudently kept growing, so I gave it a cage, and it bore tomatoes -- not as many as in the good soil of my garden in the sunny back yard, but nice.

This week I discovered it had more great-grandchildren (or were they great-great grandchildren?) than I had realized. I potted them up and put them on the right of my steps at 56 Gordonhurst Avenue. Jane brought some more, so if you are still tomato-plant-hungry, you can pick them up.

Are there any folks willing to open their gardens on the morning of July 10 or the afternoon of Sept. 11? First and second year gardens are especially welcome. We experienced gardens can be a bit intimidating, and people like to see what can be accomplished "soon."

I took off my floating cover this morning. The root crops are not germinating quickly where I reseeded, but they are thriving in the mini-plots where they did grow at the first sowing. Gardens are mysterious, like much of life.


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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Small gardens

After attending a wonderful memorial service for a wonderful uncle who was born in 1920, I spent last night with my little brother (now 6'2") in Providence and his family. They served an amazing salad with lettuce and a PEPPER from their home garden. Last year I learned how early tomatoes can be grown; this year it is peppers I now learn I must start much earlier with hope. That pepper was unbelievably tasty.

Of course, I wanted to see his amazing garden. He kept saying modestly that it was "very small." It is that. It is between his driveway and a wall "next" to the driveway. It is about 10 feet long, a yard wide at the shortest distance fanning out to about two yards wide at the longest. It has, as he said, only one pepper plant, which he was able to buy individually from some garden center. Along with the delicious pepper he has already picked, it has one over 2" long and another over an inch long. The sunlight comes down the driveway since on the other side is the house. I didn't know peppers could grow in midsummer with such little light. He also has some tomatoes and squash plants, but they are only hopefuls.

His lettuce is in two rows. When I pointed out a semi-empty spot between his bean plants and commented that the next crop of lettuce could be planted there when this one ends, he said that last year this type of lettuce was harvested all season long, so he didn't expect to replant.
Here, I've been telling you falsely that you have to replant every few weeks for a continuous harvest!
I asked what kind they were, and he hesitated. "Butter..." he said of the one with roundish green leaves. "Red sails" I guessed for the red one that has ruffled leaves. Today I confirmed it is available in the current Gurneys catalog separately. For many years I've been buying just "blends" so I get lots of types, and have lost track of the names, which I knew better before blends were available.

As we were driving from his home toward the superhighway, we passed a tomato garden between the sidewalk and curb! I don't think I've ever seen that before. This one already had small green tomatoes on at least one plant, large enough to be seen from my car. It reminded me of the statistic I've heard often enough to believe that Havana raises half its vegetables without the city limits. Americans are beginning in our cities!

I arrived home to a garden that is growing nicely with no obvious pest damage. Whew! I'm paranoid this year after last year's woodchuck devastation.


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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

25 Recommended local businesses

It's the time of year when I advertise Bartlett's as a good source of seedlings. They are just north of Montclair on Grove Street on your left. You can see the greenhouses from the road. I've always been pleased with their seedlings. I have nothing against the other nearby garden centers.

My (environmentally aware) bike is serviced by Brookdale Cycle just on the other side of the park at 1292 Broad Street. Mark is the third generation to do this work, and I delight in his service. There are two bike stores in Montclair, but he is closest to me.

The Bread Company at 113 Walnut Street is another family-owned business. It provides fresh-baked baked goods with the best of ingredients - and taste. I make most of my own bread with my bread machine, but when we want a treat, we run to them. They take orders for special occasions, but when you just go in, the choice is wonderful.

Terra Tea Shop at 10 Church Street provides simple meals and a good conversation setting. It also sells a variety of fair trade products.

Go Lightly around the corner at 4 South Fullerton sells environmentally sensitive items.

Milk Money at 76 Church Street is a consignment shop for children's clothing and toys. This helps prevent waste ("There is no 'away.'") and surely saves money. My grandson's presents come from there.

Jose German started Green Harmony Now last year and now has 5 employees! He provides sustainable gardening and landscaping services and advice. greenharmonynow@ 973-233-1106

Lullaby Lawn Service is a group of enterprising high school students that provide responsible inexpensive landscaping service with no power machinery. Lullabylawns 973-716-1216

This is fun. Aren't we fortunate to have so many fine services nearby? I was unhappy to hear the president of Bolivia say last week both in public at the people's conference on climate change and then to an interviewer that democracy and capitalism are incompatible. I agree with him that trans-national corporations have done a lot of harm and need to be curbed. Indeed, corporations that are too big lose touch with the people they serve need to be made smaller, I think.

However, real capitalism, people helping others and getting paid for it, is certainly compatible with democracy and maybe essential to it. Small business run by people who want to help the people who pay them are healthy and a joy to do business with. Thus, in this season when there is a movement to ban banks with assets of more than $100 billion (hardly small, but dwarfed by some current banks), I hereby want to add to the list of small locally-owned businesses that Fred and I recommend.

Brantley's at 91 Maple Avenue sells used tires. This is really important for the environment (there is absolutely no "away" for old tires!), and we buy all our tires there. It's at least a second generation business in that location.

Mac Automotive at 7 South Willow Street is Fred's auto repair shop.

Tony's Autobody at 126 Washington Street in Nutley is his choice for reliable body work on his cars.

Saunder's Hardware at 627 Valley Road is under new management, but I find them as reliable as the earlier owners.

Aspen East is an exercise center at the end of the parking lot in Watchung Center (122). I prefer less formal forms of exercise, but I am very grateful to their friendly staff for providing a place for my tai chi group to meet when it's too cold in Edgemont Park.

"I've got a notion" is a sewing store with wonderful fabrics along with notions, just to the right of Aspen East (also listed at 122 Watchung).

Watchung Booksellers on Fairfield Street is where I buy books.

Keil's Contractors, led by Gordon Keil (973-746-0603) did a fine job replacing our garage floor last summer.

Joe the Plumber (973-226-6607) is local enough to come to our home -- not the famous one from the campaign!

Stephane Mortier is a fine handyman. (973) 873-4330

Years ago I started going to "Mario's" at 213 Bellevue Avenue for my shoe repair. One time I was startled that Mario had turned Korean and had Korean talk radio on. The service continued to be excellent. Recently it changed its name to Montclair Shoe Repair. It's between Valley Road and Norwood on the north side in the middle of a group of stores.

A massage therapist is not exactly a business, but they do support themselves without being attached to big business. I am extremely happy with mine, who keeps me in good health. Marie-Christine Lochot practices at 88 Park Street. Her telephone number is 973-746-7476 and her email is massageappt @

Since I raise my own vegetables, I'm not as plugged into sources as I might be. The only CSA that I know still has a few memberships available is Genesis Farm. To contact the Community Supported Garden (CSG) at Genesis Farm, call 908 362-7486. The membership form for the CSG is at www/

The Montclair Farmers' market officially opens on Saturday, June 5. It is held every Saturday through November in the Walnut Street Train Station parking lot, from 8:00 am - 2:00 pm, running all summer and fall into November. A few vendors are there already on Saturday mornings from 8:00am - noon.

Janit London sent me the following: Purple Dragon Co-op provides local organic fruits and vegetables year round supplemented by produce from outside the region, Florida and farther away when necessary. Five types of NJ honey, Blue Earth Local Natural Foods NJ organic blueberry butter, heirloom tomato sauce, heirloom tomato garlic ketchup, NY eco apple butter, organic sunset salsa and salsa verde concentrate, local eggs, meats and cheese, regionally roasted coffee, grains, nuts, beans, vitamins, natural cosmetics, veggie brushes. Janit London at (973) 429-0391 9 am-7 pm or

Jane Califf writes, "I just had a few things dry cleaned the other day in an "organic dry cleaning" business: Brookdale Cleaners, 1294 Broad St., which is near Brookdale Shoprite in the north end of Bloomfield and next to a post office. It was amazing to go into such a store and smell no chemicals. My clothes were cleaned well, and I have the satisfaction of knowing that there are no dangerous chemical residues on my clothes. Their phone number is: 973-338-7900.

Aren't we lucky to have 25 local, family-owned businesses to enjoy!


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