Saturday, April 24, 2010

Open Garden report

Yesterday's organic garden tour was a glorious affair with the best possible weather (remember?) and about 80 delightful people. There were almost a dozen violators of the nobody-under-36-months-old allowed, but they were the best behaved bunch of toddlers and two-year-olds I've ever seen. Even that stereotype can be wrong! When a dog showed up, however, I did set limits. Back to the front yard!

Questions were asked about the soap, to which I replied that Irish Spring soap keeps away deer. One set scatted among the fences last year seemed to work for the whole season. In response to questions, I said that Malabar spinach seeds are available from Park Seeds and the cold frame kit from Johnny Seeds. I take it apart each spring and put it back together each fall.

Yes, I put orange and grapefruit peels in the compost heap. I mentioned buying citrus from the Glen Ridge Band Parents' Association each November. I keep meaning to tell this list about this great opportunity, but don't seem to remember at the right time. They deliver in early December and again in early February, and we love our winter fruit.

The groups' appreciation for my baby strawberries was gratifying. I think they are early this year, but that's not surprising. Nobody noticed any baby tomatoes (nor have I), but they did notice the many tomato flowers.

Many people dug my five offered freebees, and I'm grateful to their help in removing invaders. I dug a few more strawberry plants today, which are on the right side of the steps. On the left is a pot with mystery plants apparently left unidentified. Also, nicely identified but not easy to read after the rain, are calendula plants left by Helen. She tells me people eat the flowers in salads, as one does with nasturtiums. (I also eat nasturtium leaves.) Help yourself to anything on the steps, but don't take my houseplants or paper weights on the side!


Read More......

Saturday, April 17, 2010

What to see (and dig) in my Open Garden

Since people tend to see more when they know what they are looking for, and an April garden is a bit sparse, I thought I would suggest what you might look for next Saturday, April 24, from 9:00 to 11:00 AM at 56 Gordonhurst Avenue, Montclair.. If you want to "Oh, wow!"" come on July 10 and/or Sept. 11.

If you haven't been here before, be sure to notice the solar panels on the roof (which can be seen only in the back of the back yard) and the greenhouse window sticking out of our kitchen window. My brother-in-law installed it from a commercial kit 30 years ago, and I am very pleased with it. You may have a similarly talented relative, or I suspect handyman Stephane Mortier would be glad to help you install one.

A cold frame that you are not likely to miss holds Burpees 2-season Chinese cabbage, planted in August and harvested all winter, and lettuce at various stages. More lettuce has recently germinated in the opposite side of my garden, and mature lettuce can be seen in the greenhouse window, where it has been harvested all winter. More lettuce has volunteered near the entrance to the inner garden.

Floating cover that admits both light and water is over some crops. This is used to keep crops warm in colder weather, but is now being used as protection from pests. I am currently protecting mature collards that we are eating now in an effort to deter wayward woodchucks. There is also some over broccoli because apparently broccoli leaves have become rabbit food. I use it for a couple months each spring to keep more traditional pests (insects and birds) off the seeds and seedlings of root crops -- carrots, parsnips, and beets this year, all planted in April. That is my biggest FC.

Wall of waters (WOWs) are around at least one tomato plant. I would have taken these off, but I knew you were coming. You will see lots of tomato plants. I started the sweet-100s (red) in January and the sun golds (yellow) in February. They both have flowers! Can you see any little tomatoes?

Other veggies include: garlic in odd spots; one kale plant; hukarei turnips, both some of respectable size and some that just germinated; newly planted-out celery just inside the inner garden, abundant arugula that we do eat but are primarily there to keep woodchucks from broccoli, small pak choi plants inside the fence that were supposed to protect the climbing peas; sugar snap peas readying to climb the fence apparently faster than their protectors; and shorter, earlier peas next to the grape vine. With luck, some corn and beans seedlings will be popping up to their left, sown where I removed the primary cold frame. Celery seedlings coddled inside and not appetizing to woodchucks are along the inside of the fence, interspersed with parsley, which is woodchuck food.

Flowers include bulbs and (probably still blooming) and lilacs. Columbine volunteers at odd spots. Shakespeare wrote repeatedly of "sweet
columbine." Bulbs were not brought from the Middle East until after his death, so I suspect columbine was the first flower he saw each spring.
Most exciting to me are the small red primroses in front of the holly tree and near to the curb, descended from those of my great-grandfather.

The anti-woodchuck plant (name unknown - can anyone inform me?) has planted itself in seven spots around the garden. Here's hoping it's successful! The Irish Spring soap stuffed in the fences keep away deer. successful this year! Vacant spots are still available for supersteak tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, zucchini, cucumbers, and basil. Their seedlings are now in the greenhouse window, but if you come back Saturday, May 22, 9-11 AM, you can see them planted in the ground.

Bring bag(s) and/or pot(s) if you want to dig and take home some strawberries, oregano, Dutch iris, fern, and/or periwinkle (aka myrtle, vinca) plants. You may bring digging tools, but I probably have enough for you to borrow. There are a couple of baby lilac bushes for the first-comers.

Helen wrote me the following on April 15. " has predictions for the next 15 days. The lowest they predict is 39 degrees on Sun 4/18 and Friday 4/23." I am getting nervy about planting things out!


Read More......

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Freebees, pests, frosts?

"A weed is something growing where it isn't wanted," is an old saw that I've been rewording this week into, "One person's pest is another's freebee." Strawberries are beginning to become a pest in my yard, but I look at the flowers that blossomed today with mouth-watering anticipation. Several folks pulled some strawberry plants yesterday, but there are more in a pot on the right of my from steps at 56 Gordonhurst Ave. Helpyourself to its contents. On the left side of the steps are two 3-paks of impatiens with 6 seedlings in each.

A much more serious pest is the woodchuck that my next door neighbor saw in his back yard. If anyone wants to take him, please feel free to do so. I watch my inch-high pea seedlings with entirely different emotions this year than ever before. I used to look at them with unmitigated joy, anticipating their growth and my harvest. This year I find myself wondering if I have committed them to a sudden early death. It occurred to me today that I don't have to put as many peas as usual into the soil this year. I don't HAVE to freeze 70 servings of sugar snaps. Brilliant insight! It reminds me of that old Pennsylvania Dutch saying my grandfather liked so much. "Ve grow too soon alt und too late schmart."

I used my newfound freedom this afternoon to dig compost into a plot, sow new lettuce and Hakurei seeds there, rake them in, and water it with my watering can. Much more satisfying than planting more peas!
Alas, the lettuce can fall victim to the woodchuck (or even a rabbit), but it's only a few weeks' eating, not the whole season. The Hakurei has been, apparently, molested by the skunks which usually dig between plants for grubs at night. They are very considerate with the tomato plants, but don't seem to perceive that the Hakurei turnips are there. Oh, well, I can transplant the overabundant ones to the empty spots.

At least I think those holes that appear in the mornings are due to skunks searching for grubs, which my garden is better off not having, because my mentor Bob McLean tells me so. Some of you have visited his garden diagonally across the street from mine. If you want to see it, you can ask during Open Gardens (9-11 on April 24 and May 22) and sometimes it is available. Bob told me recently that he began gardening in 1930, so he has lots of experience. (No, that's not a typo!)

We have not had frost later than this the past five springs. Does that mean I can take of the WOWs and plant out my other tomato plants? How I wish I had a definitive answer to that question! Alas, human perception of the future is imperfect.


Read More......

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Patience and Death in the garden

One of you wrote that the Malabar seeds she took from me seemed not to germinate. I should have mentioned that they take at least three weeks to germinate, and then sit at less than a half inch high for another three weeks. No wonder they aren't too popular with Americans! Delayed gratification is not our forte.

Actually, most seeds take more than a week to germinate. After my birthday week, I sowed quite a few varieties in my greenhouse window in my own potting soil (eschewing the commercial stuff this year) and was startled at how long they took to pop up. That email plus my potting soil insecurity had me worrying, but it seems all is well. The basil and impatiens seedlings are tiny and prolific, but took at least 10 days to
start. I found some 12-packs in my cellar, and filled 3 of them. 36 TINY seedlings in mighty small spaces!

Another wrote that her seedlings have germinated but then die. She didn't say whether some or all die, and I realize there is a big difference. I've decided there are at least four categories of death of plants, which is very different from death of a pet.
I remember a student of mine long ago who did terribly on a math test. Afterward he told me that his pet turtle had died that morning, and he was too emotional to think. The turtle had been given to him at birth and he was very attached to it. I've never been nearly that attached to a plant.

Some death in the garden is good. I'm busy now cutting down dead irises, astilbe, and autumn sedum from last year, and it feels good as I see the new life rising below.
Some death is just "Oh, that's too bad," like the two of the 14 tomato plants I put out last month that I pulled out this week and the pak choi that just disappeared. This happens so often I just take it in stride. This time of year I try to have back-up seedlings, or just decide I had more than I need, as in these two cases.
Some death of plants is upsetting, as when an animal or person uproots a mature plant. I've had remarkably little of that in my experience.

This year the Grim Reaper has taken on new meaning in the form of Fear of Woodchucks. For almost 30 years sugar snap peas and broccoli were essential of my all-year eating. Last spring the woodchucks decimated them. This is far worse than one plant! Two years ago I froze 72 servings of peas after given lots away and binging on them at home. Last year I froze 4 servings. Most years I harvest fresh broccoli almost until Christmas and then eat the frozen stuff in the winter. Garden broccoli, fresh or frozen, is an entirely different food than what you buy in a store or restaurant. When Marion Nestle said she had established that the freshest broccoli available in NYC stores was 10 days old, I understood why.
I discovered a generous patch of new strawberry plants where I planted zinnias in my front yard last year. If folks stop by between 9:30 and 10:30 this Saturday morning, you can dig them out and take them away. They won't bear this year, but you can have a steady supply once they start. Let me know if you are coming if you can.
I wish someone could tell me if we will again have frost. It doesn't seem likely today, does it? Still, the punishment could be high if I guess wrong.


Read More......

Friday, April 2, 2010

My lawn

When I was raising children (including teen-agers), lawn care seemed very unimportant. I mowed mine with a non-power mower, and that was that.
I thought it probably wasn't the worst in the neighborhood, a standard that was plenty good enough. My children and career were far more important.

The summer of 1987 was my empty nest summer. That August I took my garden cart to the front yard after dinner each evening and weeded. I got better acquainted with my neighbors and felt some zen. Each evening for about three weeks I filled the garden cart with weeds from my 20' x 45' lawn. After scattering a bit of compost on the bare spots, I sowed "Lawns Alive" seeds from Gardens Alive. The lawn has looked fine for 22.5 years. Some say it is the best in the neighborhood.

The reason I went through that trouble was that TWO landscapers had told me, "If you don't have weeds, you don't get any." I had been picking up grass clippings to mulch my garden and they had proudly said, "There are no poisons on those grass clippings." Their statement about weeds was in response to my question, "Why does the lawn look so good?"

That's when I learned that you don't have to use chemicals or pesticides to have a good lawn. If I once got the weeds out, I might have a model lawn without them.
Their promise wasn't quite true. I do spend five minutes weeding my lawn by hand about six times a year. I probably spend a total of a half hour a year weeding my lawn. That's not much more than some people spend putting down chemicals, including shopping time.

A passer-by who claimed to be a part-time landscaper said that landscapers hawk fertilizers because they can charge $40 an application, for which they pay only $20 and it takes them only a few minutes to put it down. I don't know how true that is, but I do know that if you don't have weeds, pesticides are a waste of money among other problems. They are also strongly associated with dog and child cancer. One study concluded that dogs who play on a lawn with pesticides develop seven times as much cancer as those who play on a pesticide-free lawn.

If a part of my lawn looks a bit tired, I put on gloves and hand-scatter compost on that part of the lawn. That's fine fertilizer and seems to cure diseases without asking questions.

I have never used any power machinery on my lawn, which maintains the micro and worm life. Folks who care about national security or climate change will abstain from power machinery. Many of us believe that person-power lawn mowers are just as fast (or faster) than machine power lawn mowers anyway. Leaf blowers are simply unspeakable today.

Today six people came and removed over a foot-wide strip of strawberry plants that were invading my lawn. One of them asked what seeds I would sow in the empty strip. I told him that I haven't sown lawn seed since 1987. After my helpers left, I dug up the grass in the back yard that was invading my garden and transplanted it to the newly empty spot in the front yard. I hope to finish the job tomorrow. Strawberries win over grass, but grass wins over vegetables, so it's important to move things around if we are to maintain a suburban look.

My other advice in maintaining a lawn is to never water it. This is remarkably easy. Try it! Then your lawn's roots will go down deep. Your lawn will stay green when others are withering in a drought, no matter how frantically they water. After the water ban is lifted, your lawn will green up faster than the neighbors'.

Trina has converted her front yard to flowers and fruit trees, and that is nice. Another friend has shrubs surrounded by wood chips. You don't HAVE to have a lawn. When my back yard was being converted to vegetables, my mother said I had to maintain the front yard for children to play in, which made sense. Now I like having a lawn for the party-like "fairs" in the front yard during my open gardens. (The next will be Saturdays April 24 and May 22 from 9:00 to 11:00 AM.)

Also, it appeals to my educator instinct to show the world that you can have a lovely lawn with no poisons, chemicals, power machinery, or watering. Once established, it doesn't take much time. And it's fun!


P.S. Debbie responded to this with an email including the following, which I find extremely interesting. Why in the world would homeowners object to their landscapers using push mowers?
"I live on a street (in Livingston) with a sandwich shop on the corner frequented by many landscapers. A few while passing have given me the thumbs up and a few have stopped and said they wished their clients would allow them to push mow. It's much better for the grass."

Read More......

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Spring has sprung! Freebee plants to dig

Today I finished planting the peas around my circular pea fence surrounded by tomato plants. It's time to work hard this lovely weekend on getting all the peas planted. I hope I harvest many this year! (as I have every year except last year for decades... may the woodchucks spare us!)
The wall-of-waters around the tomato plants have withstood the winds remarkably well, but two fell over today! Fortunately the tomato plants, now about a foot high, are remarkably resilient to falling WOWs. Amazingly, I now have a tomato FLOWER!!! Can this survive? How early can fresh tomatoes be harvested in NJ these days?

The raspberry bushes are showing green tidbits, so it's time to cut off the rest, which has pronounced itself dead. The fruit trees are budding, and the Macintosh actually showed some red in its blossoms today. The fruits trees were pruned and sprayed in February, but picking up the fallen branches is a nice activity for these lovely days now that the snow is gone.

The strawberry plants inform me they think they will take over my front yard. I have other plans for the yard, and I need help in removing the strawberry plants. Digging them hurts my wrists, but last year I discovered that visitors are willing to dig strawberry plants for me if I will let them take them home. It seems like a good trade! They probably won't bear this year, but next year, if you put them in a not-totally-shady place, you will probably have the first of a mighty tasty crop. I discovered a couple years ago that if you pick them when they are just turning red-pink, they ripen almost overnight on the counter and are delicious -- and humans eat them instead of birds, slugs, and squirrels!

I plan to be available tomorrow morning from 9:30 to 10:30 AM at 56 Gordonhurst for visitors who want to take home strawberry plants. I will provide trowels and a shovel, but you should bring a container in which to take them home, either a pot or a plastic bag. There are some Dutch iris, given to me by Mrs. Stroili, in my back yard that can be dug up too if anyone wants them. They are much smaller than the big Siberian irises, but a pretty purple and a week earlier.

I still have five containers of celery seedlings on the left of the front steps that can be picked up at any time. I will probably put some garlic there again, if I get a chance to edit it. Someone told me that garlic would keep away woodchucks, so I scattered it around my garden. It didn't have the desired effect, but I do have lots of garlic descended from that one bulb I bought years ago! I suspect that each garlic taken may have similar potential for the future.

Alas, the leaf blowers are back, interfering with our beautiful spring. The users seem oblivious to the damage to the soil, the health and happiness of neighbors, or the future of the human race (pollution and climate change). As I try to enjoy this glorious weather despite them, I keep remembering Puck's observation, "Lord, what fools these mortals be!"


Read More......