Saturday, February 20, 2010

Today's Open Garden (and pesticide action)

It turns out I have just as much to say in February about my garden as in May. Hmm... Maybe I have much to say whenever I'm awake? Anyway, people kept asking questions for the whole half hour, and I enjoyed today's impromptu Open Garden very much. About a dozen people showed up, both old friends and some people I haven't met before.

I dug some carrots, and people commented about how soft and easy to dig the soil was. We observed the effectiveness of the bags of leaves in keeping it unfrozen, but afterward I realized that maybe they haven't seen soil so full of organic matter before. Unlike "natural" Montclair clay, it's easy to run your fingers through my garden soil, but that's because over all the years, it has absorbed LOTS of organic matter.

There were comments about the two different appearances of my Chinese cabbage this year. One group is dark green and spread out as it usually is. The other has been infected with some kind of disease or invader. I cut out the affected parts when I prepare it for stir fries, but the result is that I have cut off the outer leaves and the inner ones have "headed up." I so routinely cut off the outer leaves of the heads while harvesting that I hadn't really noticed the difference between the two types before my visitors commented on it.

Some people walked back in the yard in the snow to see our solar panels, and one hardy soul walked all the way back to inspect my compost heap, which I'm not sure she found worth the effort. It still grows these days, but less regularly. I keep a black 1' pot outside my kitchen door into which I put compostables, and then make the pilgrimage to the compost heap only every few days in the snow. The compostables cause no trouble in this weather; in warmer weather they would soon stink and probably attract unwanted visitors.

Someone asked about the practice of gardening only on top of one's native soil, buying soil ingredients. This sounds very expensive to me and unnecessarily consumptive of petroleum. I use only my own compost (from the garden and kitchen), the hundred bags of leaves that Fred brings me each autumn (as he drives around anyway, not using extra petroleum), and others' grass clippings that I use as mulch.

One person asked where I get the grass clippings. "From the neighbors." Nancy was next to me the first time this question was asked and observed with a twinkle in her eye that the gardeners on this block compete for the bags of grass clippings that appear on nearby curbs. I nodded, grinning back. It can become quite competitive, but we have several successful organic gardens on this block. Sometimes I wheel in grass clippings in my garden cart from nearby blocks.
Twice (the beginning and the end of the time) people asked, "Don't you care about the pesticides on the grass clippings that you pick up?" Yes, I care very much in the large, but in the small I figure that by the time the pesticide has been washed into my neighbor's lawn, and the residue into my garden, what grows in that soil is lots better than anything I can buy -- especially if freshness counts. "I live in the metropolitan New York area on planet earth. I'm not going to get perfection."

Both my parents were chemistry majors in college. Shortly before she died 25 years ago, my mother mused, "When we were young, we thought chemistry would save the world. Now we wonder if it has destroyed it." My father lived 14 more years and was less articulate, but he would occasionally blurt out, "These chemicals are dangerous! Dangerous! People don't realize it, but they are dangerous." Yes, I do care -- very much.

This afternoon my email included a message from the Pesticide Action Network of North America, and I signed their petition at because of the following statement.
"Thanks in part to our advocacy efforts with partners, EPA is currently considering three related actions that would go a long way towards addressing the realities of pesticide drift exposure in farming communities: stronger buffer zones, better drift labeling, and updated risk assessments. Arcane? Yes. And meaningful, too."

So my visitors' questions have caused me to mix the personal with the political. Yes, I use my neighbors' grass clippings, ignoring what was put on them and commenting that the perfect can be the enemy of the good. But yes, I care very much about the pesticide issue, and more generally the effects of chemicals on modern human life.

I enjoy showing how easy and pleasant it is to grow food without intentionally using any chemicals. And today was a fun time of sharing lots of ideas with great people!


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Sunday, February 14, 2010


The lettuce I sowed in my kitchen windowsill in January is now being harvested there, and yum! On Tuesday I had the foresight (snow being correctly predicted for Wednesday) to harvest lots of carrots, which I am now cleaning and eating, and to cover my Chinese cabbage cold frame with plastic, so we did indeed have fresh stir-fry for dinner Friday. I also planted out some of the smaller January lettuce seedlings into the other cold frame and they look happy there now. It's a good time to sow lettuce seeds either in the cold frame or under floating cover for an April harvest, so I did that too. For many years before I had cold frames I sowed lettuce seeds in January or February under floating cover for successful April harvests.

Ah! The peaches. Jerry wrote that I won't have mold disaster this summer if I spray them this month with either sulfur or copper spray. Skeptical, I checked with the Organic Consumer's Association, and they recommend these and say they are organic. Alas, I don't see either in the Garden's Alive catalog. Does anyone know where one can buy them either around here or from a catalog?

[2/18 comment: Helen pointed out Soap Shield "liquid copper fungicide" from Gardens Alive is available at I phoned 513-354-1482 this morning and ordered a pint of #8066 for $13.95. It claims to do all the things for fruit trees that my peaches need. We'll see if I get a peach harvest this summer!]

My pruning and spraying was coming along nicely until Wednesday's storm. Maybe I can do a bit more later today while wading in the snow. We'll see. We usually have more snow-free days in February for happier pruning.

I had an unprecedented event this week, a common occurrence for a gardener. My first full-sized daffodil appeared to be about to bloom, but only the top half was there when it did! It has only the tree top petals, and the cup looks as if someone cut off the bottom half with a razor. I'm innocent. Has anyone else seen anything like this? What causes it? Life is mysterious.


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Seed ordering and starting

Happy Valentine's Day! Isn't this a nice pick-me-up in mid-winter?

It's a good time for settling in with seed catalogs and deciding what your 2010 crop will be. Fedco, by far the cheapest source of seeds, will take orders only up to March 19 -- including mailing time. The sooner you get them ordered, the sooner the seeds will come.
Is there any hurry? It occurred to me that our last frost MIGHT be only about six weeks away. Last year's was about April 9, but the previous three years had no frost in April. The official frost-free day is May 15 in this region, and that was legitimate when I started gardening, but if you delay your planting until then, you're more of a climate-change-denier than I'm used to associating with.
That six week horizon makes it a good time to start broccoli and early tomatoes, which I did this week. The broccoli will do fine, woodchucks willing ( :( ), but the tomatoes will need serious protection or large pots indoors by early April.

Back to seed ordering...

From Johnny's Selected Seeds I recommend hakurei turnips, which are better than radishes and have much the same growing habits, and nufar basil, which claims to be wilt-free, and I have found it so. Three years ago all my basil wilted, but the past two years I've had great harvests. From Burpee's I recommend 2-season hybrid Chinese cabbage, which I have been eating this week from my cold frame, green goliath broccoli, which does better in my garden than other
varieties (woodchucks still willing), and Burpee's supersteak tomatoes, which I make into sauce and freeze and which had a glorious harvest last year. Enjoy those catalogs, and maybe some sowing of seeds!


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