Saturday, May 28, 2011

Fruit, Seedlings

We ate an abundance of strawberries on our breakfast this morning! It's been over a week now that I've been harvesting. Before we left for VA last Friday, I picked three. On Monday I cut the senior just-ripened one in thirds. "Yum!" said my son with gratifying enthusiasm. "Yum!" responded his wife and son when I fed them theirs, not to be outdone in appreciation for a third of one strawberry.

I've had MUCH more abundant crops since I began mulching them each winter with straw. That English name, centuries old by now, is well chosen. Since suburban people began putting straw on the curb after Halloween, it's easy to get straw in Montclair.

Then there is the goal of preserving the strawberries for human consumption. I'm a speciesist when it comes to my garden. I've discovered that if I pick them when they first turn a rosy color and put them on my kitchen counter, they taste much better than anything in the stores within a day or three. And humans get to eat them!

My red delicious apple tree has a surfeit of baby apples. The late John Lohman, who once had a tree farm at 222 Grove Street, Montclair, told me that if you don't thin apples and pears to 6" when they are small, the tree will rebel and not bear any the following year. I've found this to be true, and explains why some people think apple trees bear only every other year. So I conscientiously edited my red delicious tree this spring.

I thought the Macintosh was taking its year off, but then I discovered some on the opposite wide from its colleague -- the north side! My Bartlett pears have not been nearly as prolific since the tree was struck by lightning, but it is still setting forth some every year.

Does anyone know if similar thinning is need for peach trees? If so, I'd better get to it! After years of mildew, I used copper spray several times this year. Wow, do I have promising peaches! How many dare I hope to harvest? Advice welcome on thinning. (Last year I checked with both the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Organic Consumers' Association and they both said copper spray is organic.)

The raspberries are "setting" and look like they will come about as the strawberries end. It's nice to eat fruit from one's yard, but it's a lot more work than vegetables (except raspberries).

The growth this year is unprecedented, but I hope soon to plant the entire garden and show that lawn where it belongs. A neighbor has brought me wonderful grass clippings that facilitate this.

Yesterday I gave up on enough eggplant and pepper seeds germinating (after 3 months of waiting!) and went to Bartlett's and bought some seedlings. Mr. Bartlett told me that with this warm weather, they will begin. This morning I had three new tiny pepper seedlings and four new eggplants! It's about time, but...

Life is endlessly surprising, and somewhat humiliating too. However, those strawberries, peas, and lettuce are delicious!


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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Harvests, big mistake

I had a delightful long weekend in VA with family, and was delighted to find a full-grown broccoli head when I first got up yesterday morning, the first in three years. Bless that electric fence! I picked two of the outer flowerlets for dinner (one for Fred and one for me) last evening, but served collards, which are flourishing. I try to serve us one fresh vitamin-packed leafy dinner every three days year round, the winter crop being the Chinese cabbage from the cold frame.

Maintaining my fetish to have vegetables as fresh as possible, I waited until late this afternoon to pick the broccoli. Bad move. Actually, the really bad move probably was leaving the electric fence off while I wasn't in the yard. I need to turn it off when I'm working near it, but that isn't long. I had developed a habit of saving the energy
while I'm in the yard, but that was silly yesterday and today. How could I? It's hard to remember to turn it on when I leave. I'm always thinking of the next project, not the last, which has its merits, but... I guess I can't trust myself to do this, so I'll have to risk touching it occasionally. The punishment is not terrible, but I wince every time I think of those boys who liked to annoy their mother by touching Their electric fence in her presence.

The good news is that the collards and lettuce are still thriving, and the damage to pea vines was minimal. I can't see any other damage.

I picked my first Sugar Ann pea yesterday, and shared it with Fred for dinner. We eat the entire pod, of course. Dividing a pea seed would be challenging indeed! Today I picked seven pods, for a more substantial flavoring for our salad. The lettuce is abundant, and the arugula is fine too. So harvest time is here!

Life is good in the spring. Isn't this weather delightful? Time for daily baths again! Isn't modern plumbing nice?


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Tuesday, May 17, 2011


I do not advise trying carrots until your third year of digging the soil loose, but I've had good success with them for many years. THIS winter Fred and I had carrots for every home dinner from January into April! I dig them weekly, which this year was more of a project than before.

Each spring I scatter seeds on a sizable part of my garden and then cover them with floating cover so birds and bugs don't eat them. This year, for the first time, wild winds tore up the FC. I replaced it, but soon noticed that weeds were growing abundantly under it. It's not easy to replace, so I ignored the problem until after Saturday's open garden. On Sunday I saw not only lots of weeds, but 2" carrot seedlings in tight bunches. Apparently the carrot seeds blew around too, along with the weed seeds. I started taking out the weeds and started transplanting the seedlings into the many large empty spots.

It seems to be working! Transplanted carrots have never grown well before, but this weather is ideal. They get plenty of moisture! I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I'll have the usual abundant carrot harvest this winter.


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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Yesterday's Open Garden 5/15/11

I had a great time, as usual, at yesterday's open garden. There were fewer people here than expected, but that meant I could spend more time per person, which was satisfying. Collectively, they took only three of the five available 4-packs of tomatoes. In recent years I've given away close to 100 tomato plants. I have lots volunteering in the garden now. Is anyone else interested in picking up some free tomato plants from the steps of 56 Gordonhurst Avenue? I can't guarantee what kind they are, but I suspect they are sweet-100, small red tomatoes. I can easily compost them if nobody is interested. If folks express interest, I will keep them on the right side of the steps for a while, replenishing as needed.

My visitors asked many questions, some for the first time that I can remember.

"What do you recommend beginners start with?"

"Tomatoes! They grow almost anywhere and taste great. Woodchucks don't like tomato plants, although they will take a bite out of a handy large tomato. I think my small tomatoes are beneath their dignity, but if they are taking them, I don't notice because I have so many.
"Woodchucks don't eat garlic. Some people say garlic keeps them away, but it hasn't worked for me.
"Beans and peas are easy to grow, and taste good, but woodchucks can be a problem. It's less of a problem for low plants than the climbing ones, which the woodchucks tear down. It's too late to plant peas, but you can plant bush green beans any time from April through August. I like Roma beans.
"Leaf lettuce needs only six inches of good soil, and is satisfying to grow unless woodchucks eat it."

I'm a bit neurotic about woodchucks this year after my March 20 disaster, but the electric fence seems to be working. We had our first collards meal this evening, and it tasted wonderful to me. I noticed today that the second broccoli is heading.

"What do you do about skunks?"
"Bob McLean, who died this year but began gardening in 1930, said I should be grateful for them. They dig holes in the garden (and sometimes the lawn) at night and eat grubs. Bob said this is helpful. They are remarkably considerate. They dig BETWEEN the plants in the garden.
"This reminds me. Someone asked me at the April open garden what I do about grubs, and I said I don't notice any. I did spread around milky spore disease maybe 20 years ago, and the skunks seem to control the rest. I just put new mulch over the holes."

"How big must the plants be before you mulch them?"
"Look at this pepper that someone gave me! It's hardly more than an inch high. Grass clippings are not very thick. I'm careful to always have the major part of the garden plant showing above the mulch."
"I know some books recommend four inches of mulch, and as the season goes on, I try for that, but now the important thing is to protect the soil from weed seeds and keep in the moisture.

"Why do you have big brown spots in your garden?"
"I haven't gotten around to planting there yet. My peppers and eggplants are late germinating this year. Maybe it's the cold spring. We never heat our house at night, except when people are visiting. I've bought some seedlings for early eating, but I'm waiting for my own for inexpensive freezing, and there are more urgent things to do than prepare the soil where nothing nutritious is growing."

"Do you save water?"
"No, I'm not against it, but I don't feel any need to do it. I have used a hose only once in the past four years. If you keep a good grass mulch on the garden, you don't need to water much. I never water my lawn. Not watering is the easiest way to improve your lawn."

"Do you know anything about growing lentils?"
"I put some from a grocery store in my soil, and it grew a foot in a week. Now I'm wondering what to do with them." Any suggestions?
She also said the tomato plants I started in January and gave to her are now three feet high. Oh, my! I was feeling proud that one of mine is two feet high. Both of us have flowers. Hers have been growing in a bay window indoors, and mine grew in a wall-of-water, which is cooler.

"If you didn't have woodchucks when you started gardening, why are they here now?" Wow! I didn't know anyone thought I had that kind of knowledge. How flattering!
"They never told me. It may be that life is no longer so easy where they were. Or maybe it was very easy and there are too many of them now for that habitat. Anyway, it surely makes gardening much harder. When I was raising children and working full-time, I allowed myself a half hour a day for gardening. But now it takes more time, because of the woodchucks." Maybe the electric fence will change that.

"Do you notice any signs of climate change?"
"Oh, my yes! Anyone who claims the climate isn't changing isn't a gardener. The official frost-free day was May 15 when I started gardening in 1978. [One of you doubts the validity of this memory, and I acknowledge that human memory is fallible, definitely including mine.] This year and last our last frost was on March 26. The previous three years it was early April, but I think there were a couple before that when it was in March."
I don't have a written record, and I'm not even sure about this year, so one can legitimately be skeptical about my numbers, but the change is certain, as is the increased amount of rain (and snow) in recent years.

Still, I enjoy gardening VERY much, and I also enjoy having folks come, see, and listen. Happy planting!


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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Open Garden Sat., freebees, update

My garden will be open from 2:00 to 4:00 this Saturday as part of the organic vegetable garden tour sponsored by the Cornucopia Network of New Jersey. All are welcome who can restrict their movements to the green grass, the cement, and the gravel driveway. There will be displays in the front yard, and two other gardens open within American walking distance. Three others will require moving your car.

I'm having fun getting my garden ready and I think it will be quite presentable by Saturday. My eggplants and peppers have JUST germinated, so I went to Bartlett's today and bought some to provide good eating early this summer. I can wait longer for the large quantities I will freeze in the fall. I also planted out some basil, but I discovered lastyear that the plants I kept inside grew much faster than those I put out
early. This may not be "early," but my basil too germinated late this year. However, dozens of basil plants have germinated, and I will have plenty to put around the tomatoes to protect them and to make into pesto, a favorite winter dinner and the easiest item to take to potlucks.

Please don't walk between the sidewalk and the street. I have planted out zinnias and transplanted some Echinacea from a more shady place in the back, and they are vulnerable. Two of the cuttings of my great-grandfather's primrose are also there, and the plants my cousin gave to me three years ago still has impressive red blooms in front of the holly tree. Malabar spinach and tomatoes (that I assume will bear small
fruit, either sweet 100 or sun gold) are sprouting wildly, and I am beginning to pot them up for you to take. We'll see how much time allows.

I've had tremendously helpful guests this week who have neatened up my yard and take home lots of plants. The only thing remaining from last week's list still available is lots of myrtle (aka vinca, periwinkle) that would like to take over the back of my yard. Please bring containers and take as much as you like, trying to even out the lawn!

I will dig grass that is invading my garden to fill in the spaces where my helpers have already dug out other plants, as much as time and energy allow.

Also, I now have allysm sprouting all over. If you want to take that, please do. Leave me a little, but I have far more than I need now.

See you Saturday!


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