Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Water, germination, stealing, raspberries

Fred says my watering over the weekend brought on the rain of yesterday and the day before. I think he is overly complimentary, but he helps me from kicking myself about all that unnecessary work. Yesterday I even used the watering can on the newly planted places in the evening, and then... What wind and rain! It even knocked over a tomato cage I thought was stable. I have tied them together now, so they are less likely to lose their moorings in the next wild wind.

The beets I sowed on Saturday have germinated abundantly! That's a surprise. The arugula, turnips, and lettuce are more leisurely, as I expected.

A lot of thievery has been going on in the garden, and yesterday I actually saw a woodchuck in the back of the yard. (A neighbor did the day before.) Then today as I was working around carefully, I'm sure I touched the electric fence. Nothing! Oops. Maybe that's my problem. Stephane had warned me that plants could short the fence, and Fred assures me that wet plants are fine electricity conductors. The weeds on the neighbor's side of the garden had gotten out of hand, and may be the troublemaker. It's not easy to weed between our fence and theirs, but today the weeds are so big that I was able to pull out most from the top. I have some more to remove, but I think I can... I think I can... I think I can.

Yesterday's promising raspberries were mostly gone this morning. The plant had bent low, and I suspect the woodchuck. Last year I saw one nibbling on raspberries, but that was when I had lots on top and didn't mind.

I haven't seen any catbirds since I came home, so here's hoping there will be good raspberry picking on Sept. 17, the next open garden. Trina and Una still plan to have a butterfly tent in the front yard, although the monarchs are having a bad year. They have friends who may help them have enough for folks to enjoy in the tent. My garden will be open only from 2-4 PM with nobody allowed in the back yard after that, but the
butterfly tent MAY still be around in the front yard if they haven't opened the door to allow the inhabitants to fly south.

Happy summer eating! I hope you are harvesting some yummies despite the competition.


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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Watering, catbirds, raspberries, woodchucks, harvests, sowing

I watered my garden yesterday and today! I oppose watering with a hose on lawns (mine looks no worse than most now), but when I came home yesterday after five days in the North to see a celery plant turned brown, I decided it was time for artificial help for my plants. It's the second time in four years.

Someone asked for advice on catbirds. I too am interested, but empty-handed. Mine may have flown away while I was gone. If so, I'm grateful. The second crop of raspberries is looking more promising than the first ever did. Maybe I will have lots to share at the open garden 2-4 on Saturday, Sept. 17! I'm cautiously optimistic.

What is certain is that it is time to cut away the dead wood of the raspberries, a major job. As I finish, I put lots of dead leaves to nourish the young 'uns, the only fertilizer my raspberries get. This is a major reason that Fred brings me a ton of leaves each fall. Raspberry bushes live only slightly over a year, and then humans must remove the dead ones on residential properties to make room for the next crop.

When I came home yesterday, I discovered that someone had eaten almost all my plentiful lettuce. I wonder if my woodchuck has decided, as I have, that an occasional shock from the electric fence is acceptable. He also apparently nibbled on collards and zucchini leaves (what mammal would want THEM!), but it wasn't as devastating as the lettuce.

We'll have our first fresh eggplant parmesan tomorrow for dinner. We had our first 2011 fresh pepper last evening. Yum! The cucumbers also seemed to want water, but the Marketmores have bravely continued to bear. Basil is doing okay, but it too politely asked for water. The pak choi is falling over, so we had it this evening for dinner, and will eat it up before long. Zucchini remains delicious.

I had prepared soil before I left and last evening after I returned I sowed beats, arugula, small turnips and summer lettuce. These will need to be watered frequently with a watering can until they are established, which is why I didn't sow them last week.

Tomatoes these days are abundant and delicious. July is nice... although this one is a bit hotter than optimum.


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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Corn, zucchini, aphids

Win some, lose some. It appears I won't have any corn this year. The one ear that rises confidently above my bush beans doesn't have enough grains on it to qualify. I didn't fertilize it when it needed it, but why it is alone is beyond me. Most years I have at least a half a dozen ears for three delicious July meals.

Gordon Keil, however, has corn to admire in Montclair. I noticed it from the street next to the first building next to Bloomfield Avenue on the east side of South Willow Street. (My husband's favorite repair shop, Mac's Automotive, is in that building, so I'm there occasionally.) He has a truly amazing set of corn stalks rising up on the south side of the building. He tells me that a closer look reveals Sunflowers, tomatoes and miniature pumpkins there too, but I didn't get that close. You can see a lot from the sidewalk any time you like. Perhaps nobody would object if you slipped into Mac's parking lot on the south side of Gordon's garden.

Back in my own garden, I'm enjoying plentiful zucchini at last. Yum! I forget how much I enjoy fresh zucchini, having decided that frozen isn't worth the effort. Better than that, several seeds sprouted in the garden for a fall crop (after the current one succumbs to the bugs in August). The surprise is that NONE from the same package sprouted in the greenhouse window. Why would they prefer the garden to the window, which is warm and always moist?

I have at least one extra zucchini seedling nicely potted for the first person who tells me when they want it. Less desirable are some VERY little eggplant, pepper, and supersteak tomatoes that I've been speaking to nicely in the greenhouse window. I guess there is something there that isn't properly nourishing. Anyway, if anyone wants one or more of these for potential harvest LATE in the season, let me know. They all expect lots of sunlight and reasonably good soil.

In the front yard someone pointed out that some of my milkweed plants have a yellow covering. "Aphids!" was the response at the Cornucopia meeting when I told about this. Trina says she cuts off such stems and drowns the aphids in water. "They grow back," she observed. I have begun doing that. Another gardening project! Removing weeds around the yard seems to be a bigger project this year than most. Lots of growth!

In the garden I have several peppers that are almost achieving a diameter of one inch. One of the eggplant plants that I bought at the spring Master Gardeners' sale now has SIX little eggplants on it (!), one of which is two inches long. (Thank you, MGs!) I'm harvesting cucumbers and lettuce in abundance now. The supersteak tomato plants have tomatoes of respectable size, but they need to become oversized before they get red. Meanwhile, we're enjoying plenty of the little tomatoes.

It always makes me sad to take out the sugar snap peas in mid-July. I have plenty of other fresh things to eat, so I know I shouldn't be sad. Perhaps my conscience is pricking because I didn't sow them early enough. But the snow was there! And I had to prune the fruit trees in March instead of February because there was too much snow in February. Anyway, I think I've learned that sugar snap peas much be sowed in early March to get a good crop before the plants turn brown. I did freeze some this year and ate plenty.

A garden is surely a source of pleasure.


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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Harvests 7/7/11

It is indeed harvest time for garlic. Their tops are falling over, which means it's time to pull them and hang them up to dry. A friend told me last year the tricks for preparing them easily. Hit a bulb hard on the top and all the cloves fall apart. Hit a clove (this is harder) and the skin falls off. I use a rubber mallet since my hands aren't strong. Don't cut it into very small pieces. I've enjoyed garlic more since I learned this, and am savoring all I can grow. Long ago I bought ONE bulb, and I still eat its progeny, having given many away.

We had our first zucchini dinner last evening. Yum! It's late for zucchini, but very welcome for all that -- or especially?

I just picked our first cucumber, a Marketmore. The past couple years I've raised only the big ones, which are great for showing off, but they don't yield as early or last as late. I have other ways of showing off.

I picked enough basil for our first fresh pesto dinner of the year this evening. It's amazing how a LARGE container (6 quarts?) of fresh picked leaves presses into two cups when the stems are taken off and the air pressed out. I still have some frozen pesto from last year and have eaten it about once a week throughout the spring. Nice!

Fred just left for Toni's Kitchen with our first 2011 donation. At the end of March I despaired of having any extras this year, but gardens surprise one. This week has shown amazing growth. He took collards, pak choi, and lettuce. The chief chef always gives our fresh produce a warm welcome.

Toni's Kitchen is located in St. Luke's Episcopal Church on the corner of South Fullerton and Union Street in Montclair. They accept fresh donations 9-11 AM on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. They start serving at 11:30. Enter through the parking lot on Union Street, a good place to park. Once I met a woman on Bloomfield Avenue who said she lived in the homeless shelter in East Orange and walked to Montclair for her only meal of the day at Toni's Kitchen. If you have garden left-overs, this is a good destination.

It's also planting season. I planted summer spinach in the space I showed the tour guests last Saturday. I had cleared it from the first crop of lettuce and put some compost there from my pile. I then dig in the compost, rake it smooth, scatted seeds, rake it again, and water with a watering can. This time I'm watering several times a day. I like lettuce!

At another place where I've removed that abundant first crop of lettuce, I have planted some zucchini seeds. Typically, the first crop dies in early August, and I need a second crop to keep eating it. This year the seeds I sowed in my greenhouse window in mid-June didn't germinate... yet. The early ones took a long, long time to germinate too, but the fruit is just as good, if a bit late.

Soon I will sow more Roma bush beans under my peach tree. They seem to grow there in the shade better than anything else, and I like to have them when the crop next to the house wanes. It's still going fairly strong.

These days I garden only in the early morning and after dinner. The crops seem to like the hot sun more than most humans do.


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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Lawn Care: Whimsical

I received six responses to my posting about lawn care that seem worth passing along. The first five are practical, and in the previous post. While I'm at it, I'm passing along an old chestnut that has been gracing the web for over a decade but some of you may not have yet read. It presents some interesting ideas in a whimsical way.


Frank, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there on the planet? What happened to the dandelions, violets, milkweeds and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But, all I see are these green rectangles.

It's the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers 'weeds' and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

Grass? But, it's so boring. It's not colorful. It doesn't attract butterflies, birds and bees; only grubs and sod worms. It's sensitive to temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?

Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.

Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it-sometimes twice a week.

They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?

Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

No, Sir, just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.

Now, let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And, when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?

Yes, Sir.

These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.

You aren't going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it, so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn, they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. It's a natural cycle of life.

You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

No!? What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter to keep the soil moist and loose?

After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

And where do they get this mulch?

They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.

Enough! I don't want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you're in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?

'Dumb and Dumber', Lord. It's a story about....

Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.

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Lawn Care: Practical

I received six responses to my posting about lawn care that seem worth passing along. The first five offer advice that may be useful to some. The sixth is in the next post.


You can get a sharpener fron Planet Natural and sharpen your reel mower. I tried it and it was pretty easy: It's sharpens a lot of brands-reel mowers, but not all. Take care! I also used a Great
States non-power mower for years, and never had the blades sharpened, though it probably would have worked better if I did. Once or twice, over a dozen years or so, I got around to squirting some WD40 or oil on the moving parts. I'm pretty sure mine cost about $85 dollars, either Home Depot or American Hardware (the one on Watchung Plaza). I still remember at Home Depot how they had to lead me to the back, behind all the many power machines in front, for the non-polluting device that cost a fraction, the one I bought. There were two to choose from, both under $100, while there were at least 15 or 20 of the gigantic, gas-powered models that cost much more.
And there is definitely no time benefit to the gas-guzzlers. A neighbor with a same-size lawn used to mow when I did. Aside from having to listen to his machine, and breathe the poisonous vapors it was spewing, I noted time and again that he saved no time, and worked much harder shoving around this noisy behemoth, with its trail of
dangerous fumes.
I would add to this that the newest generation of reel mowers have blades that don't ever need to be sharpened. They are also so light that it feels like pushing one
of those old Bissell carpet sweepers. I have a Brill reel mower and it is MUCH easier than the gas mower and cuts really nicely (with a satisfying "swish swish" as the grass gets trimmed). My only complaint is that the highest setting provides a closer crop than I would normally want. But other models (this was a gift) probably have higher settings.
I've been using a reel or non-power mower for the last four years. Did a lot of research and settled on a Brill Razorcut 38, made in Germany. It's a bit on the expensive since ($209) but well worth considering it only weight 17 lbs whereas the typical reel mower you find locally weigh in 30-40 lbs. The light weight lets me finish my lawn quicker than what my neighbor can do with his self propelled gas mower in a similar sized property. A lot easier to carry in-out of the garage also.

Here's a good website - People Powered Machines - that compares reel mowers, this is also where I purchased mine.
When I was in Cuba in the 90s I was horrified at the state of homes and lawns as well as public gardens and surprised at the teams of men with scythes making hotel gardens meticulous, giving a whole new meaning to hammer and sickle. lol

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Monday, July 4, 2011

Non-Power Lawn Mowers: Buying and Sharpening

I've had enough questions recently about the acquisition, care, and feeding of non-mower lawn mowers that it is worth a general email.

I use a Great States mower that Fred bought umpteen years ago. He thinks he paid about $80, but neither of us trusts that memory. It is MUCH lighter than the antique in the garage when we bought the house in 1975 with which I struggled until it died. I like my Great States mower.

However, even more recent info about non-power lawn mowers are in the emails I compiled below from entries to the Montclair Watercooler three years ago. (Incidentally, the current phrase for non-power mower is "reel mower," developed to distinguish it from the "push mowers" that can now be powered and distinguishes them from sit-down mowers. I resort to "non-power.")

The only care needed for a non-power mower (unlike those hungry ones that need to be fed) is a sharpening at least once a year. We've been taking ours to a place where they keep it for a week, so I was glad to copy this paragraph from the Watercooler this past spring:
"I had a reg lawn mower blade sharpned at schneider hardware on main stwest orange while i waited. Most other places send them out and you have to get up to a week later but gerald schneider sharpens himself. He has a sign in the shop that says we sharpen evrything from Axes to Zissors. He also has a lawn mower repair shop. I'm pretty sure he canhelp you out."

Today my long-term lawn mower dream came true when Fred noticed a sharpener truck on our block. I ran out and had my paring knife and lawn mower sharpened. I also got the card of Visidor DeCarlo, whose father was a sharpener before him. His rates are amazingly low. His telephone number is 201-936-5705, and his email is He tells me he comes to people who ask for his services. If you ask him to come, it might be nice to tell your neighbors about his availability.

Middle class lawns have only been around since the 1840's when lawn mowers were invented. Before that you had to have a team with scythes to cut your lawn, so only the very wealthy had lawns. By my childhood a century later, lawn mowing time was a child's time to be with her daddy. We loved to play around him and talk with him at that time.

Some people have decided that lawns are unneeded and find either more fruitful (or vegetable-full) ways to use their property or an approach with lower maintenance. When my mother saw my lawn disappearing, she plead with me to save some for children to play on. When the kids grew up, I needed other justifications for a lawn. The front yard is useful for my environmental "fairs" when I'm having an open garden in the back, and the way back is good for parties and for conversations amid the garden tours.

Still, I do not want to be perceived as advocating a lawn. IF you want a lawn, however, I advocate a non-power mower.

Happy Independence Day (from power companies)!

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sat, 20 Sep 2008 15:24:36 -0400 (EDT)
From: Pat Kenschaft
Subject: lawn mowers

We bought a human push power mower at the local hardware store ACE in Hawthorne NJ. Husband has had good luck with it so far. I think it was American brand made in China!
I bought a push mower from Sears, a while ago, maybe five or six years ago. I love it. It cuts very well. Don't know if they are still selling it, but it's worth an inquiry.
FYI, In 1999, we bought a push mower from Home Depot. It was a Great Eastern brand. It worked okay, though it needs sharpening every few years. It's a lot of work to push it over the grass multiple times so sometimes I use a scythe that I bought mail order from a company in Maryland. That takes some technique.
I've bought a number of manual lawn mowers over the years to take care of various properties I've owned, and my favorite model is the Sears Craftsman. I think it's actually made by Great States Mowers (just as Sears' "Kenmore" appliances are made by Whirlpool or GE) but the Craftsman model lawn mower I bought at Sears was nicer than the Great States I had bought a few years earlier at Home Depot. It has a wider track and an extra set of small wheels on it that seems to improve traction and cutting ability.

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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Yesterday's Open Garden

Yesterday's was my least attended summer open garden (at least for a long time), but was as delightful as all the others. The weather was warm but not oppressive and the people who come to these affairs always raise my hope for the human race.

"Does the electric fence work?"
"Well, maybe. The collards and pac choi have been left alone since it was there. Only one small part of the sugar snap peas were damaged from the inside. But the broccoli is taken, so something is getting inside. Yesterday Fred was coming around toward the back door from the driveway, and he met a woodchuck. It charged at him! He jumped aside. We aren't free of woodchucks, but except for broccoli, we are getting good harvests."

"I have holes in the ground in my garden."
"That's skunks. Bob McClean told me I should be grateful for them because they dig for slugs, which gardeners don't want. They are considerate in that they dig BETWEEN the plants, and rarely damage anything I care about. They do their digging at night, so it doesn't worry me directly." Occasionally, I smell signs of their wanderings, but we haven't had any skunk dramas in our yard.

"How do you fertilize the zucchini?"
This was in response to my reporting that I had fertilized my first female yesterday, which is VERY late for zucchini. Until last year I harvested my first zucchini on June 26; it was the most prompt crop in the garden. Last year it was very early, and this year it is very late -- more like a normal crop!
After hesitating with this question, I was taught the proper zucchini words. "I pick off a male flower, eat the petals, and put the pistol into the stamen of a female flower."

People told me they are having trouble with Malabar spinach this year. "You too?"
They always take a long time to germinate, but this year not as many germinated, either in my greenhouse window or volunteered in the garden. I will have a crop. I showed off my Malabar spinach plants, but people looked almost in distain at their small size. "That's all?" Others told me they had tried without success to germinate seeds, either those they took from me last year or those they had gleaned from their own plants.

Many years recently I've given away Malabar volunteer seedlings, but not this year. They are all salvaged for my own garden! There aren't many.

I've given away over 200 tomato plants (not quite the same!) and there are still some on the front steps if you want to come to 56 Gordonhurst to get them.

One family who had been here before in July agreed with me that raspberries are VERY different this year. There were some, but not many. "The other time we were here they were all over the bushes!"

All the volunteer misplaced raspberry plants were taken to welcoming homes.

Not all the oregano plants had such luck. If you are interested in oregano, let me know.

Life is humbling. If yours isn't enough so, just start a garden. For years I've said you can't pick raspberries before they are ripe, as I do strawberries, but in desperation, I picked some this year. Lo and behold! They are ripening on my counter! And they are quite good afterward. Apologies. If your catbirds or purple grackles are taking your red raspberries (as mine are this year), try picking them as soon as you can persuade them to leave their home. What's to lose? I apologize
for misleading you before.

One sad aspect of yesterday's event was the number of people who came JUST before the tour was ending. Poor Trina had the job of shooing the downcast eyes out of my back yard while I went in to rest. My body doesn't have the energy it did 35 years ago, with both the challenges of myasthenia gravis and old age. My doctor said if I don't slow down, I will die sooner than I need to. I really want to live (my life is so enjoyable now!), but I'm much more scared by my grandmother's example. She ignored her doctor's similar advice, despite the begging of my parents and others who cared about her, and she had a stroke that resulting her last 15 years being unable to walk or talk. Not walking is a big nuisance but not being able to talk is a great tragedy for someone with her personality or mine.

So my gardens will be open only two hours at a time EARLY in the tour period. Next time will be Saturday, Sept. 17, from 2-4 PM and there will be a butterfly tent in the front year. See you then!


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Friday, July 1, 2011

Weed-wacker recommendation and rant against other power machinery

One of you asked last month what week-wacker I recommended some time ago, and I just unearthed that email with help from my daughter-in-law. It is forwarded below.

Weed wackers, also called edgers, are defensible in that they do save time over hand tools. The only question is whether the process is worth the effort. I intend to trim the grass in my front yard this afternoon in preparation for the open garden tomorrow (9:00 to 11:00), but when I was raising children, such time-wasters didn't seem justifiable.

One of you asked this spring what I have against neatness. Nothing. However, there are other values that I cherish much more -- love, peace, learning, human happiness, and preserving the earth are five. If neatness makes you happy, I have nothing against it. If you want to use a weed wacker, I recommend Turnado.

I am much more strongly opposed to power lawn mowers. I'm not convinced they save time. One woman borrowed mine a couple of years ago and claimed it took LESS time to mow her lawn than the power mower because it is easier to go around the edges when YOU have total control. Another wrote and said that with her MS she isn't strong enough to handle a power mower, but can mow with a non-power mower. I've never tried a power mower so I don't know whether I could use one. I don't intend to find out.

Also, they make much louder noise than a non-power mower. They cause global warming and consume non-renewable resources. (Exception: Jose uses a solar powered mower, which doesn't have this problem.) One can argue they cause countries to get involved in wars to acquire energy; war is not healthy for children and other living things.

I feel MUCH more passionately against leaf blowers and strongly believe they should be totally illegal. They have all the disadvantages of power lawn mowers, but they also damage the soil by blowing hard on it, and they scatter pollen, dust, and feces in the air. My husband's allergies are kicked up by them, and at least one Montclair child has had near-fatal respiratory attacks when leaf blowers are in the neighborhood.
They are much louder than power lawn mowers and a terrible public hazard.

The idea that they save time strikes me as another corporate advertising myth. As an elderly myasthenic woman, I routinely rake leaves faster than young men can clear a comparable property with leaf blowers.

Jose has found that his team of three takes about the same time to clear an Upper Mountain Avenue property as a team of three with leaf blowers on a nearby comparable property. I really want Fred (and others) to live a long and healthy life. For his sake and that of other humans, leaf blowers should be banned.

Cheerily yours,


---------- Forwarded message -------------
When I was visiting my son, his neighbor came out with an edger, and I ran. I was startled when it began at how quiet it was. I now have the catalog; it is advertised as "pollution free" and "whisper quiet." The latter is an exaggeration, of course, but the noise doesn't bother Pat Kenschaft, which is remarkable. Unlike power lawn mowers and leaf blowers, I am willing to admit that edgers save time. If people would use Turnado edgers, I would omit them from my anti-power-machinery campaign (at least for quality-of-life issues).

It is item number F5-57337 from or 1-800-229-2901
and costs $39.99, including a battery recharger. It runs 40 minutes per charge.

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