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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