Reining in the Tumbling Floral Chaos: Mid-Summer Garden Maintenance …

July 29th, 2011 § 6

Summer’s Wild, Tumbling Jumble (Juniperus squamata ‘Holger’, Hydrangea quercifolia, Amsonia hubrichtii, Adenophora confusa, Rudbeckia hirta, Sedum, Hosta and Adiantum pedatum)

While out enjoying a morning stroll around the garden, taking in a blissfully cool and misty start to my day, a few flower stalks and juniper branches caught my attention by snapping at my ankles and tickling my knees. Ah, the tumbling jumble of summertime garden chaos! I do love a lush and laid-back garden, but every year at about this time, I embark upon a bit of disciplinary activity in my flower beds and shrub borders. After all, there’s a fine line between beauty and beast in the garden!

I begin my annual, mid-season grooming by pulling out a pair of hand-shears and bypass pruners —giving them a quick once-over with a whetstone and oiled rag— and heading out to the garden with my mobile beauty-salon (a basket filled with rags, oil, rubbing alcohol, natural twine and a few bamboo stakes). Like many seasoned hairstylists, after years of experience, most of the tasks I perform are so instinctive to me, that I fall into a state of gardening-zen while giving late July haircuts. But now that I’m doing more teaching and garden coaching, I’ve started to actually think more about the how and why of this horticultural beauty routine, in order to communicate the process to others…

Agastache, a bird, bee and butterfly favorite, always benefits from a mid-summer haircut. Shearing the spent flower heads from this plant now encourages a second wave of bloom later in the summer. Because this is an aromatic plant, it’s quite a pleasant job. But try to do this very early in the day, in order to avoid disrupting foraging bees.

Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’ is still in full bloom on the Wildflower Walk. As the flowers fade, I will leave most of the seed heads standing for finches and other small birds, as well to enhance the winter-garden. But if flower stalks fall into the path, tripping or whacking passers by, I will cut them for vases to keep the walkway clear.

The ever-narrowing Secret Garden stairs! Time for some haircuts! Heuchera and Adenophora self sow, and cutting them back early will prevent their spread. Spent blossoms spilling into the stairs are snipped off at the base. However, I happen to like the excess, so I allow those flower heads to the sides of the steps to multiply as nature intended. Prickly new juniper growth is cut all the way back to the main branch. Remember to clean pruners with rubbing alcohol between specimens

If you are relatively new to gardening, probably the most important thing to remember is that getting to know the plants you care for —their identities, growth habits and blooming routines— is key to making them look their best in your garden. Think like Edward Scissorhands for a moment and imagine vegetative growth as hair. Ironing curly hair straight may be fun once in awhile, but when it comes to day to day style, the best looks work with nature. What’s true for people is also true for plants. If you need help identifying the plants in your care, a good encyclopedia —like this one from the American Horticultural Society— is a great garden-library investment.

Once you are familiar with your plants, it’s much easier to decide how and when to spruce them up. Some plants need very little tending. In fact, many perennials are best left to do their own thing until they finish blooming, or until they are cut back to the ground in early spring. For example, after Hosta finish blooming, I remove the spent flower stalks to keep the plants looking tidy. However, I leave the seed heads of most Echinacea and Rudbeckia standing, in order to provide food for birds. Actaea simplex is left to do her own thing in the garden, while Asters are Chrysanthemums are pinched back until mid-July in order to encourage fuller, more floriferous plants (but never later, in order to avoid nip by early autumn frost). Nepeta, Veronica, Agastache and Geranium are sheared back after blooming to encourage a second wave of blossoms, while Aruncus dioicus and Valerian are cut back simply to make the plants look tidier. Many annual flowers, particularly those in window boxes and hanging baskets, also look best when given a mid-season haircut (and remember to keep fertilizing weekly for best bloom). Miss any opportunities this season? Remember to make a note of it in your garden journal for next year…

Veronica spicata –a pollinator favorite– is a long-blooming perennial. Because of its front-and-center location in this border (backing up Rudbeckia hirta and dancing with the slender blades of Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’) this plant is a very good candidate for mid-season maintenance. Shearing the top blooms off this cultivar, V. spicata ‘Sunny Border Blue’, will help keep the plant tidy, and encourage another full wave of bloom in a couple of weeks.

I try to leave flower heads standing as long as possible in the garden, even if they seem a bit faded. Flower nectar and pollen still provides sustenance to garden guests —like this bumble bee— even though blooms may be past their prime. Later, seeds of this Echinacea, and many other flowers, provide late season food for finches and other small birds.

When cut back after flowering, Geranium ‘Brookside’ will look tidier and often produce a second, if slightly less lush, wave of bloom in autumn.

Learning to work with plants and maintain an attractive garden is a life-long process for all gardeners. Most experienced green thumbs are happy to share their knowledge, and many local garden clubs, botanical gardens, greenhouses and nurseries offer free or low-cost workshops and seminars on garden maintenance. When working with perennial gardeners at all experience levels, I often recommend two excellent books for further study and reference. First, The Well-Tended Perennial Garden by Tracy DiSabato-Aust (pictured and linked below) is a classic how-to and when-to manual for every gardener’s bookshelf. And last year, while reviewing gardening titles for Barnes & Noble, I discovered Nancy Ondra’s The Perennial Care Manual (also pictured and linked below) which I now consider the definitive plant-by-plant guide (includes an encyclopedia with many of the more popular perennials) to perennial maintenance. The macro-photos in this book include pruning details, pest ID shots and clear pictorial guides to division, propagation and more. This book would make a great gift for new gardeners, mid-level perennial enthusiasts and experienced horticulturalists alike!

Garden looking a bit loose, shabby, blowzy? Pull out the shears and pruners, a tarp or wheelbarrow and channel your inner Edward Scissorhands! Have a quick question? Feel free to drop me a line in comments and I’ll pass along what I’ve learned. Have fun out there…

My top recommended how-to with great pictures: Nancy Ondra’s The Perennial Care Manual

A classic for every gardener’s bookshelf: Tracy DiSabato-Aust The Well-Tended Perennial Garden

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Here Comes the Sun, Doo’n Doo Doo: Gettin’ Started with Seed Starting…

February 10th, 2011 § 3

On your mark, get set…

Twenty degrees fahrenheit. Ow… That’s nippy! Yes, the outside temperature still says ‘winter’ loud-and-clear, but the good new is that the days are getting longer, and the sunlight is getting stronger. That means it’s just about time to get a jump on the growing season by starting seed indoors. At this time of year in Vermont, I’m already sowing chives, onions and hardy herbs indoors. Cold crops like lettuce, spinach and arugula are now growing within the spring-like climate created by the hoop houses in my vegetable garden (click here for more information on how to build your own). I’m looking forward to an even more productive potager this year, with more home-grown gourmet vegetables started from seed.

Why start seed indoors when you can just pick up vegetable six-packs in early spring at the garden center? Well, first of all, it needn’t be either/or. Even though I still buy organically-grown vegetable starts from Walker Farm (by the dozen), I have plenty of reasons to start some seed here at home. Starting seed indoors gives me a jump on the growing season; allowing me to plant certain crops outdoors, and harvest before the local garden centers even open. When I start my own seed, I also have the option of experimenting with unusual, gourmet vegetable crops. Seed catalogs (and Seed Saving exchanges) offer far more variety than any local greenhouse can possibly supply (see sidebar and links below for some sources). And if you don’t have an organic grower nearby, starting your own plants from seed insures that your produce will be raised to your own high standards: you control the quality right from the start. Although there is an initial investment in grow lights and other gardening supplies, starting your own seed indoors can save quite a bit of money over the long haul. But the best part? I get to see the entire, magnificent process of life right from the beginning. If you have children, this is a great opportunity for teaching, and a wonderful experience to share.

A fine-textured medium (growing mix) is essential for seed starting. Regular potting soil is too heavy, and won’t drain efficiently. Buy or make your own seed starting mix for best results.

Seed Starting Basics

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Start your new plants the right way: Purchase fresh seed from a reliable, organic source, near your region. Seed collected close to your own geographic area tends to perform best. Farmers in my area (New England), almost always buy their seed from New England sources. And although I do buy seed from elsewhere (some from as far away as California) I purchase the bulk of my vegetable seed packets from suppliers in nearby Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont. And when choosing germinating mix, remember to always use an organic seed-starter with very fine, loose particles. Never use regular potting soil to germinate seeds. Why? It’s much heavier and it won’t drain well. Seedlings need moist, but not water-logged soil.

Select your containers and trays: Many garden centers and online suppliers have plastic or peat cell-packs available for purchase. These packs are handy, because they usually come with plastic tops to keep the starter mix moist while seeds germinate. But, you can always use plastic wrap for ths purpose if you make/recycle containers. Some of my gardening friends like to make their own biodegradable starter pots from newspaper. You can also recycle old plastic six-packs or other containers, but you must sterilize those reused pots properly with warm, soapy water and a bit of disinfectant (bleach) to prevent the spread of disease. You will also need leak-proof trays to place beneath the seeds, in order to water them from the bottom (prevents washing the tiny seeds to the side of the pots and/or disturbing delicate roots). Whatever you choose to use, get everything ready —in one place— before you start.

Set up grow lights: While it’s true that you can start seed in a brightly lit window (I do this with some windowsill herbs) you will get much better results (stronger root systems, stems and overall growth) if you use grow-lights positioned close to the seed trays. You can use regular florescent shop-lights, or you can purchase grow-lights (available at many garden centers and online suppliers). If you are serious about starting seed indoors (or growing tropical houseplants) grow lights are a great investment. If you already own grow-lights, clean them and check bulbs and timers before you start your seed. Most vegetable seeds do not require heat-pads for germination. But it’s always a good idea to check the back of seed packets before you start, to be clear on requirements. Grow lights work best when they are raised up as the seedlings develop, keeping them close to (but not touching) the leaves. Crafty gardeners can try to construct their own systems, but grow-light systems —either floor or table mounted— can be purchased at all price points. Aim for durable, quality construction – with stands built to last.

Quality grow lights (like the one above, from Gardener’s Supply Company) are a great investment if you are serious about getting a jump-start on the growing season.

Time your starts: Check the back of your seed packets for the number of days to germination, and the start date. Usually the packet will list the start date by referencing the number of weeks prior to the last frost date. Do you know your last frost date? Check with your local USDA cooperative extension service (click here for interactive map) or, the awesome, easy-to-use table for common vegetable start dates on The Farmer’s Almanac website (Just enter your city and state in the pace provided – love the Farmer’s Almanac)! If you live in zone 4 or 5, February is a good time to start onions, leeks, chives, celery and hardy herbs. Later this month (or early March) you can begin cool-season crops like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages and brussels sprouts. Unless you are located in zone 7 or warmer, wait to start warm-season crops (like tomatoes, peppers and eggplant) until mid to late March, or even early April.

Moisten the starter mix and fill containers: One the best ways to insure that your seedlings have plenty of moisture is to soak your germinating mix overnight prior to planting. I like to wet the mix in a big tub the night before planting; adding enough warm water to make it damp, but not soupy. I know the starter medium is ready to use when all of the water is absorbed and the mixture is moist like a fresh cupcake, but not wet and gloppy like mashed potatoes. If you try to form a ball it should crumble apart, but still feel moist to the touch (just like natural garden soil at planting time, remember how great that smells?)

Hello baby!

Plant your seeds in the containers: Plant two to three seeds per cell (you will thin the plants later) Not sure of how deep to plant? The back of the seed packet should list planting depth. But if it doesn’t, aim to plant the seed three times as deep as it is large (measuring by diameter).

Cover the seeds and wait for germination: Once all the seeds are planted and set in their trays, cover them with the plastic tops, or loosely with plastic wrap (to contain moisture and raise humidity) and place them in a 60-75 degree (fahrenheit) room. Be sure that the catch trays are filled with water, and check the seed starts daily to insure that the soil remains moist. A plastic spray-misting bottle can be useful in the early stages of seed starting to insure that the surface of soil remains moist. Seed trays can be placed beneath grow lights, but you won’t need to turn them on until the seeds pop out of the soil. Again, unless the seed requires warmer germination temperatures (or if you are starting plants in a cool/dark spot like a cellar) you won’t need heating pads for the trays.

Sunflowers are an exciting and easy crop for youngsters to grow in recycled milk cartons. But wait a bit longer on this crop. February is too soon to start sunflowers in New England…

Light up their life: As soon as the seeds germinate, they’ll need at least 12 hours of light per day (and for many vegetables 14-18 hours is even better) In these northern parts, this is where grow-lights come in. Remembering to turn lights on-and-off can be tricky at first, and an inexpensive timer can really be your best work-buddy!

Feed me Seymour!: Once the seedlings have a set of “true” leaves (as opposed to the tiny seed leaves, which emerge first), give them their first meal: a bit of dilute, organic fertilizer (I use a very weak fish emulsion solution, diluted in water).

Biodegradable pots allow room for root development, and can be popped right into the soil (no struggling to remove tiny plants without damage!)

Transition time: Once spring closes in, seedlings will begin to really take off. As certain young plants grow, they will need thinning and perhaps later, transplanting to larger pots before being “hardened off” (process of bringing seed outdoors for short periods of time to adjust to outside temperatures and light). We’ll talk more about this process later. In meantime, If you are starting many seeds, it’s also wise to invest in a fan for air circulation. Check with some of the seed supply sources linked here for more information, or visit your local garden center. It’s also helpful to have some larger sized pots and regular potting soil on hand for later. Peat pots (or other biodegradable containers) are particularly good for the purpose of transplanting, because they can be placed directly into the soil. This reduces root-disturbance and makes for a swifter, stress-free transition into garden soil.

And although we are all anxious to get back out in the sweet earth, resist the urge to rush tender plants into a cold garden. Unless you have hoop houses, row covers, cloches or other protection for your crops, it’s too risky to push them out before the recommended date (again refer to the links at the top of this post). I’ll be writing more about the process of seed starting over the coming weeks and months.

For more information and seed sources, please visit previous posts, linked here!

Here comes the sun! It may still be a little early for most vegetable starts, but growing windowsill herbs (like chives and cilantro) is fun and easy anytime…

Special thanks to Tim Geiss for his fantastic seed starting photos. Visit Tim’s site here.

Product images are the property of linked online retailers.

Article and noted photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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Joyful New Beginnings: Bright-Green Herb Seedlings Emerging from the Soil…

February 3rd, 2011 § 1

Seedlings in the Morning Sun:  Johnny’s Herb Disks in the Windowsill Garden (Coriandrum sativum)

Lately, the weather in here in Vermont has been a bit challenging (to say the least). Even we native New Englanders start to groan when back-to-back blizzards deliver multiple feet of snow and there’s nowhere left to pile it! Three feet, four feet? With all of the blowing and drifting and snowbanks everywhere, I’ve lost track of the total accumulation here on my hilltop. Let’s just say that you now enter the house through white tunnels. Enough said…

Coriander (Cilantro) Seedlings Emerge from Johnny’s Herb Disks in the Windowsill Garden (Coriandrum sativum)

If you live in a northern climate like I do, then you are probably beginning to tire of the big storms and the endless shoveling, and you may be wondering if spring will ever come again. Yes, yes she will. I promise. And while we gardeners are waiting, there are a few things we can start to do. If you live in zone 4 or 5, you will want to start gathering your seeds and checking on start dates. Over the next couple of weeks, you can begin setting up grow lights (full spectrum), and sow onions, leeks, celery and hardy herbs indoors (for tips on starting onions & leeks visit this post here)…

Pots brushed with Primary Colors Add Life to the Kitchen Countertop

Of course, round ’bout February, most kids will be starting to get stir crazy indoors. Plus, those mid-winter vacations are coming up soon… Aren’t they? This simple project is the perfect way to introduce seed-starting to little gardeners and to help keep those tiny hands occupied. Even if you don’t have children, these seed disks make starting herbs indoors simple and quick. I love fresh cilantro (coriander) leaves in my guacamole and I use lots of fresh basil, and other herbs in my kitchen. So last year, I decided to give Johnny’s Seeds pre-prepared herb disks a try, to see how they would work in clay pots. And the results: totally fun and easy project!

Seed starting disks from Johnny’s Seeds fit perfectly inside these brightly painted, 6″ tall clay pots

All you need to do is purchase seed-starting soil (a well-drained medium with super-fine soil particles) and fill appropriately sized pots near-full with the mix. Moisten the soil thoroughly and lay a seed disk atop the soil (pots with a 4.5″ diameter at the top work perfectly for Johnny’s Seed disks). Cover the disk with soil to the recommended depth (varies depending upon the plant – check instructions of the back of each packet) and moisten again. Line your herbs up in a brightly lit window, water regularly with a fine mister and wait.

Depending upon the kind of herbs you grow, within a few day to a couple of weeks, you should begin to see bright green seedlings emerge. Be patient, though! Some herbs take quite a bit of time to germinate. Parsley seedlings, for example, can take a month to emerge. Once the seedlings have popped through the soil, keep the herbs moist, but not soggy. Be sure the pots are located in a warm spot with good light and air circulation. One the first set of true leaves appear (as opposed to the tiny seed leaves) you will want to mix up a weak solution of organic fertilizer (I use fish emulsion), and feed your herbs every-other-week. Rotate the pots once a week to keep seedlings growing straight, as opposed to leaning toward the light. For best results, you want to start your seeds beneath full-spectrum grow lights (keep the light source very close to the plants and raise it as the seedlings grow). The nice part of using prepared disks is that the seeds come pre-spaced. Of course you can always start seed without disks; planting them in trays filled with starter soil mixture. If you do this, you can thin the seedlings of herbs and vegetables later on (see photo below).

I will be writing much more about starting seeds indoors and out over the coming months, so stay tuned and think spring!

Is there anything more hopeful or uplifting than fresh green seedlings emerging from damp soil?

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Article and Photographs are copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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Marking Time’s Passage in the Garden: Beautiful & Practical Journals…

December 2nd, 2010 § 3

Keeping a permanent record of your garden is one of the keys to horticultural success! I keep records for both my vegetable plot and my ornamental gardens

December 2010. It’s hard to believe that another year is drawing to a close, isn’t it? While flipping through my garden journal last week, I couldn’t help but marvel at how different the weather and crops were in 2010, compared to 2009. I just started a new section in my blank book to record observations on my winter vegetable garden (crops grown beneath hoop houses as well as horticultural pursuits indoors), and to make plans for spring 2011 planting.

Keeping a permanent record of your garden is one of the keys to horticultural success -and it’s also fun! I have a practical garden calendar/record (day-runner type with 3-ring binder and handy pockets for seeds and tags) where I keep dated notes on seed sowing and vegetable/fruit harvests, crop rotation maps, location records/photos, pest notes, fertilizing reminders and so on. But I also have a more traditional free-form journal (pictured above and just below) for thoughts, observations and sketches. This is the time of year when I usually order new inserts for my three-ring binder garden calendar/record and replace my free-form journal if necessary. Sure, I keep notes on my laptop and iPhone too, but I enjoy the process of sketching and writing with pen on paper.  And over time, I have learned the hard way that electronics, mud and water aren’t really the best of companions.

Planning 2011 Seed Order (Botanical Interests 2011 Seed Catalog)

In addition to laying out next year’s vegetable garden —rotating crops helps prevent repeat insect infestations and diseases— I’m also planning what varieties to plant based on past seasons. I have limited space in my potager, and I want to get a head start on orders before companies sell out of the choicest seeds. The Botanical Interests 2011 seed catalog arrived in my mailbox last week, and I have been circling items to order both for holiday gifts and for my own spring garden. My journal is helpful with this planning and ordering process, because I have written down which varieties of vegetables and herbs performed well in my garden, which did not, and which varieties I would like to try based on friends’ success. Every year, some companies discontinue seeds and others offer new varieties. So, as seed catalogs arrive, I scan lists to see where I can find and order my favorites (or, make a note to save my own seed when possible).

Garden Journal, Leather Cover Exterior (refill annually with a separate 5 1/2″ x 8 1/2″ calendar/journal)

A durable and beautiful garden journal makes a great gift for a new gardener —or any gardener not currently keeping one— particularly if it’s personalized with a few favorite seed packets, photos, notes, web-links, or even a gift certificate to a local garden center or online retailer, like Gardener’s Supply Company. If you —or the gardener you are shopping for— have a large garden, then consider a 3-ring binder type of journal cover and fill it with a calendar/notebook. A beautiful leather journal cover can be re-used from year to year, and makes a great gift. There are literally hundreds of notebooks, calendars and covers to choose from, but when you are shopping for a horticultural journal, keep in mind that for most serious gardeners, an easy-to-clean cover in leather or vinyl is really essential. Replaceable annual-calendar inserts make sense, as do extra plastic pockets. I like the day-timer style garden journals because they are flexible and can be used/filled anyway you like. Mine is the ring-binder type with plastic pockets and zip-lock pouches for seeds, tags, business cards, etc.

Garden Journal, Leather Cover Interior (free form style will fit any kind of notebook within the size constraints. This one has useful pockets for plant tags and seed packets)

This Garden Journal Leather Cover is nearly identical to the one directly above it, but it has a handy metal binder for loose leaf paper, calendar inserts and additional plastic pockets. I prefer this kind of journal for my day-to-day record keeping in the garden, because it keeps everything together. If I need to add more plastic pockets, I just swing by a local office supply store and match the stock to my binder.

Pretty, Simple and Inexpensive: Blossom Journal (Magnetic Closure). I’d choose this type of journal for a more meditative garden-writer or someonealready in possession of a task-oriented horticultural binder.

If the gardener you are shopping for tends more toward free-form record keeping or simple journaling, then a blank book would be a good choice. This type of journal is usually less expensive than zippered, three-ring-binder calendar/journals. A good, heavy cover is still important, although choosing a blank book with a pretty botanical theme seems right. I just ordered two journals (the one just above and below) as gifts. Will I keep one for myself? Hmmmmmmm….

Tree of Life Leather Journal (lined)

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Please note: The Gardener’s Eden is not an affiliate of Botanical Interest Seeds, but Michaela is a long-time, happy customer!

Article and Photos (Excepting Linked Product Photos) are ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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“He Who Walks Behind the Rows”… Lost in a Labyrinth of Stalks & Tassels: Exploring the Art of the Corn Maze

October 23rd, 2010 § 2

“He Who Walks Behind the Rows”…

Clouds gather, dark and low on the horizon. The daylight is fading. You’ve been driving through miles of cornfields and back country roads. Suddenly, something  —a child?— darts across the cracked pavement and into the corn rows. Immediately, you pull over and step from the warmth of your car. A rush of cold air scrapes across your face; the rustle of cornstalks rising and dragging behind you in the wind.

Tentatively you call out, but there’s no answer. Were your eyes playing tricks on you after hours of travel? Why hadn’t you stopped for a break? Wait… What is that sound? You step from the grassy roadway margin, into the long, shadowy corn rows. There —there it is again— off in the distance. Is it a cry, or is it laughter? The voice of a child or an animal’s wail? Once more it rises from the stalks —pitching higher now— calling up from beyond the swaying tassels. And then… Silence. Your hair rises at the back of your neck. You pause, and —in a moment of instinct— rush breathlessly down the narrow pathway —heart pounding into your throat— racing against the twilight…

A quarter mile in, you hear a crack and you call out into the empty field – but there’s no answer. Turning toward the sound, you dash through the stalks to the left, then to the right. Racing down a wider path —breathless— you suddenly stop; eyes stinging from the rising dust. This must be a main corridor, but there’s no end in sight. There, blowing across the ground on the pathway ahead, you spot a piece of paper. As you unfold it —examining the wobbly dotted line— you wonder: is this a child’s drawing, an attempt at simplistic map? You clutch the torn paper —palms clammy-cold— and press forward. The map seems accurate, but then, there’s no indication of what lies ahead: a divide in the road…

One side seems smoother and a bit wider. Slowing down, you begin to stop and start; futile attempts to get your bearings. The sky is growing darker, and the path narrows again. All around you —above and to the sides, before you and behind— there is nothing but hollow stalks of corn. Then, straight ahead: an improbable staircase. Quickly, you scramble to the top…

As you near the highest point of the platform, your heart sinks. Taking in the monochromatic vista, you suddenly realize that your car, the road and the surrounding landscape have completely vanished. As far as the eye can see, there is nothing but an endless expanse of bleached stalks —knocking  to and fro — rattling like bones in the wind. Is there no way out? Will you ever be found? Wait. There it is again. A low and plaintive cry. Something is moving out there. Something is calling for you. Is it… Malachai ?

Inspiration: The 1984 film, Children of the Corn, based on Stephen King’s short story by the same name

All photographs in this story were shot especially for The Gardener’s Eden by Tim Geiss at Poltergeiss.com. Images were made on location at Sauchuk Farm Maze in Plympton, Massachusetts. For maze and farm hours and directions, visit the farm website by clicking here.

The  Story  Behind  The  Story:  Those  Amazing  Corn  Mazes  &  The  Farms  They  Help  Support

Gaines Farm, Haunted Corn Maze in Guilford, Vermont (Aerial Photography ⓒ Michaela at TGE)

Mazes (sometimes called corn maizes or, historically, labyrinths) are believed to have originated in Europe, where they have been a popular form of amusement for centuries. Although mazes and labyrinths may be constructed using various materials —from grass and clipped hedges to earth and stone— most modern mazes are created with corn. In mid to late May, corn —usually special varieties selected for stalk strength and height— is planted in rows and later (usually in June) cut or tilled into patterns; creating elaborate designs and pathways in fields. Many years ago, patterns for labyrinths were drawn out on paper and cut by hand with sythes. Today, most mazes are cut with tillers or other machinery when the corn is knee-high (some farms use herbicides). Some modern maze designers use computer graphs and GPS coordinates to create elaborate grid patterns. However, many mazes, such as the walking puzzles pictured here —created by the MAiZE company based in Utah— continue to be designed and cut by hand.

It all begins with corn kernels in May…

My closest maze is located at the Gaines Farm —the bicentennial dairy farm pictured in the aerial photograph above— in nearby Guilford, Vermont. The Gaines Farm corn maze combines a MAiZE Co. designed labyrinth with haunted hayrides and other Halloween attractions every fall. Corn mazes are fun for kids and families of all ages, and visiting one is a great way to help support your local farm. Autumn corn mazes have become an important and growing source of revenue for small farms and agricultural communities throughout the United States and Canada. Maize labyrinths also continue to be popular in Europe —particularly England— and are a growing trend in other parts of the world as well. To find and experience a corn maze near you, try searching the MAiZE Co. database online, or this puzzle listing on About.com. If your local maze is not listed on the About.com site, be sure to submit it so that others may enjoy the experience!

John Deere Tractor at Sauchuk Farm

Sauchuk Farm’s “Walk Around the World” Corn Maze in Plympton, Massachusetts Photo: Sauchuk Farm Website

Please help support your local farming community by attending harvest-season events!

***

Photography in this story (exceptions as noted) ⓒ Tim Geiss at Poltergeiss.com

Article and other photographs (as noted) ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Closing the Circle: Save Your Seeds! Special Guest Post by John Miller ….. Plus Seed Saving Books & Resources

September 6th, 2010 § 2

It may only be September, but guest-blogger John Miller of the Old Schoolhouse Plantery is already thinking about next spring…

Come January, the main horticultural activity for many gardeners —myself included— is thumbing through the newly arrived seed catalogues; dreaming of warm summer days and freshly-picked produce from the garden. A trip to the supermarket in January —where almost all that is on view in the produce section is vegetables and fruits shipped from far around the globe— leaves me pining for those wonderful varieties selected for their bouquet, taste and texture, rather than varieties that will withstand —on average— a 1,200 mile trip to the display shelf. Many of the finer varieties of produce —grown primarily for epicurean qualities— are difficult to find, or completely unobtainable commercially. The supply of rare fruits and vegetables continues to be maintained by seed-saving enthusiasts, who distribute their treasures at swaps or passionately give them away.

Heirloom ‘Red’ Cucumber (brought to the US with the diaspora of the Hmong people from Laos. It proved to be very popular at the Farmers Market. Note to self  is so that I would not inadvertently pick it!)

With this in mind, I always save seed from some of the vegetables I grow. Most of my collected seeds will be for personal use. Why pay a seed company 65 cents a seed for a tomato seed —yes, I did pay that price for a rare tomato seed this year— when I can save 100s for myself with just a few minutels work, and the excess I can perhaps swap with someone who has another rare variety which I would like to grow? There is also the huge satisfaction —with no fiduciary benefit— of completing the circle from seed to harvest and back to seed again. If providing an entire meal at this time of year with vegetables grown less than 100 feet from my back door, then how much more local —my passion for 30 years— it is to use vegetables where the seed never came from more than 100 feet away! My definition of an ideal summer is to make ratatouille with completely home grown vegetables, adding only Cabot cheese and olive oil from afar.

The 60 cent seed tomato: Chinese Heirloom Qiyanai Huang, and below, its seeds…

In western society, there exists almost a mystique about promulgating life; whether it be human, other animal or plant. With plants, the work is almost unquestioningly left to ‘experts’, even though the processes are natural and have gone on since time immemorial. I would be the first to admit that experts do indeed serve purpose: I use F1 hybrids to suit (see my previous post on semi-leafless peas) and I know I am alive thanks to the National Health Service in the UK. But when it comes to indulging in the incredible diversity of vegetables available, backyard seed-savers also deserve due recognition. When I look at my slowly ripening ‘Evergreen’ tomatoes —with all the splits and cat-facing— I know I will never see them on shelves of even the most taste-discriminating store. But what flavor I would miss if I didn’t grow them just for myself and save some seed, just in case they become unavailable.

Saving the seed from any heirloom vegetable is easy. If you have a favorite variety, or even just want to try seed saving for the fun of it, take a few minutes to learn about the process and give it a go. You may even want to take the procedure a step further and develop a totally new variety!

Heirloom Radish ‘Il Candela di Fuoco’. Above photo showing immature pod, mature pod and a split pod with seed.

Article and noted photos by John Miller 

Thank you John, for your contributions to The Gardener’s Eden! In addition to operating The Old School House Plantery, the Millers also grow and sell gourmet produce, including many heirloom vegetables. The Miller’s produce may be found in Vermont at The Brattleboro Farmers Market.

Save Your Seeds, Part Two – Useful Notes & Resources from The Gardener’s Eden

Many of us learn about the basic principles of seed saving in grade school. Kids are usually taught how to collect seed by drying and picking apart enormous sunflowers, shiny cobs of corn, or by threshing pods filled with colorful beans. These are all wonderful, hands-on projects for children, which teach practical, sustainable, real-world lessons. But as adults with busy lives, we often lose touch with many of the simple processes of nature. There’s nothing complicated about saving seed, but if you’ve never tried it —or if it’s been two or more decades since your last experiments— you may want to read up on the subject, or refresh your memory a bit before starting. Many seeds can be saved by simply drying, threshing, separating and storing them in a sealed jar in a freezer or refrigerator, or in a dry, cool and dark place in envelopes, bags or jars. Some easy seeds to begin with include all of those mentioned above, plus squash, pumpkin, melon, pepper and peas. Other seeds, such as tomato and cucumber, are most successfully saved using a wet-method (seeds are scraped with a spoon into loosely covered jars, where they are stirred for a few days – then rinsed of pulp, strained and dried for several more days on paper towels).

Dried Peas and Beans

Curious to learn more about the process of saving seed? There are some excellent resources for gardeners both in print and online. Two of my favorite books on the subject, Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners, by Suzanne Ashworth & Kent Whealy and The New Seed Starter’s Handbook by Nancy Bubel (both pictured and linked below) cover the basics for those just starting to learn about seed collecting. Great online resources include the fantastic Seed Savers Exchange, which in addition to providing information about how and when to collect and save seed, also publishes wonderful blog-articles like this one on planning your garden for seed saving (click here). The Seed Saver’s Exchange is a non-profit which began in 1975, collecting and selling an enormous variety of heirloom seed through their wonderful catalogue (which you can download from the site). Another good resource is the non-profit Organic Seed Alliance, which has an abundance of free and useful information, including downloadable seed-saving publications and instructions, available online. I also enjoy the useful and free International Seed Saving Institute, which has a handy, detailed list of how to save seeds organized by plant. A very useful chart for seed saving is available online, free of charge, from Fedco Seeds here.

Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable GardenersBy Suzanne Ashworth & Kent Whealy

The New Seed Starter’s HandbookBy Nancy Bubel

Seed Saving Notes & Resources and photos as noted are ⓒ Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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Sweet Summertime Risotto with Zucchini, Basil & Golden Peppers & Cultural Notes and Tips from the Kitchen Garden…

July 22nd, 2010 § 6

Summertime Risotto ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Endless summer. Between the deep green leaves in my kitchen garden, zucchini plants offer up their tender, young fruit and bell peppers glisten in the morning sun. Green and purple basil plants —pinched to form bushy mounds— brush my ankles, scenting the air as I walk along the pathways. Sungold tomatoes drip sweet from their vines and haricots verts fill my harvest baskets.

This certainly is the season of abundance, and one of my favorite ways to enjoy it is a simple summertime meal of risotto and garden-fresh vegetables. There are many, many wonderful possibilities when it comes to cooking risotto, and I like to use whatever is plentiful and freshest at any given moment. This week, another half dozen zucchini seem to present themselves every day, and the first ripe peppers have just begun to appear – what a delightful combination with a handful of basil leaves and freshly grated parmesan…

Summertime Risotto – Photograph ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Summertime Risotto

Ingredients: serves 4 moderate dinner servings or 6-8 as a starter. Double recipe to increase portion size or quantity

2          Tbs olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

3          Small zucchini, washed and  diced (4-5 inch freshly picked zucchini for best flavor)

1          Orange or yellow bell pepper, washed, seeded and diced

1          Clove fresh garlic, chopped fine

1          Small to medium sweet onion, chopped fine

1 3/4   Cup Arborio Rice

3          Tbs dry vermouth or dry white wine

3 1/2    Cups homemade or high quality vegetable broth, on simmer

1           Tbs unsalted butter

1/2       Cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese – plus extra for serving

1/2       Cup of fresh basil leaves, washed and torn into small bits. Plus a few whole basil tips for garnish

Directions:

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil on high heat. Add zucchini and orange pepper, quickly sautéing (about 2-3 minutes) until gold. Lower heat and stir in garlic. Cook for another half a minute or so, stirring constantly. Remove and set aside to a plate.

In a Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil on medium. Add the onion and cook until soft and translucent (about 2-3 minutes). Toss in the rice and cook another 2 minutes, coating the grains in oil. Add the vermouth while stirring. Immediately follow with a ladle (about 1/2 cup) of stock, stirring constantly. When the stock is absorbed, add another ladle, stirring steadily. Continue to ladle in stock as the rice absorbs the fluid. After about 20 minutes, taste the risotto. It should have a very creamy, but firm to the bite, consistency. At this point, stir in the butter, reserved zucchini and peppers and their juice. Add the torn basil and grated parmesan and stir gently. Remove from heat. Drizzle with oil and serve hot with a sprinkle of parmesan and a garnish of fresh basil.

Summertime Risotto with Zucchini, Basil and Orange Bell Peppers – Photograph ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Cultural Notes and Tips for Growing Great Zucchini – From the Kitchen Garden

My vegetable garden is growing and producing well this year, but I still keep a watchful eye for signs of trouble. In high-summer, when the weather in New England tends to be quite humid, I apply a homemade, organic fungicide to prevent powdery mildew on cucurbits (this plant family includes zucchini and other squash, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins and more). This simple remedy (see recipe below) is mixed fresh in a pail and applied when the air is still, with a hand spray-bottle. Try to water the garden in the morning, focusing the shower at the root zone. I also patrol the garden for squash bugs (they attack all cucurbits, including cucumbers) removing them by hand when I spot them and applying insecticidal soap to plant leaves. Mint, oregano and nasturtiums are good companion plants for deterring squash bugs, though you may wish to contain aggressive mint —and rambunctious cousin oregano— in planters. Keep in mind that zucchini and other squash should be picked daily to promote fruiting and avoid the dread “door-stop zucchini”. Try to harvest small fruits (4-5 inch long zucchini have the best flavor and texture) in the morning.  Squash are heavy feeders, preferring compost-rich soil with a high nitrogen content. I plan ahead by amending the soil in next year’s squash bed (rotate to prevent disease) with ample compost and dried blood. If the soil in your garden needs work, then squash will benefit from supplemental feeding with fish emulsion during the growing season.

Homemade Anti-fungal Baking Soda Solution

3 Tbs baking soda

2 Tbs vegetable oil

3 gallons (plus) warm water

In a medium sized kitchen bowl, combine 3 tablespoons of baking soda with 2 cups of warm water. Add the oil and whisk together. Pour the mixture into 3 gallons of warm water. Transfer to spray bottles and use immediately, spraying the undersides as well as the tops of leaves. If any is left over, store in the fridge and warm in sun before using.

Use on cucurbits during warm, humid spells and at first sign of powdery mildew. This remedy is also useful for black spot.

***

Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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Chinese Proverb: The Best Fertilizer is The Gardener’s Shadow…

July 18th, 2010 § 2

The Gardener and Her Shadow Delivering Fish Emulsion to Cippolini Onions… Photo ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Morning Chores After the Rain Storm. Photo ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

High winds, driving rain, thunder and lighting; a violent band of storms shook me wide awake last night and when I heard hail on the tin roof, I immediately began fretting about the garden. Fortunately, when I headed to the potager this morning to inspect the damage, I discovered but a few minor knock-downs and some torn leaves on the summer squash. A wren house, no longer occupied, fell to the ground, and my weeding baskets were tossed about here and there. Lucky this time, even the morning glories seemed to smile at the new day…

Morning Glories in the Potager ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

We gardeners can not control the weather, but there are some other hazards we can at least try to prevent. Fungal infections, insect infestations, excess competition from weeds; these are a few of the expected garden threats which I can control. I tend my vegetable garden daily, and by doing so, I keep my work load light. If the weather is particularly dry, I may spend most of my time watering the root zone of thirsty plants and potted herbs. And if things are wet and humid, evening hours will be occupied by plucking slugs from my broccoli plants and alpine strawberries. There’s always something to do…

Serenade Garden Disease Control from Gardener’s Supply Company Online

Serenade and Bonide organic disease and insect control products are also available to order online at Amazon.com and in most garden supply stores

Last year, much of the United States was troubled by late blight, causing the loss of tomato and potato crops, particularly in the Northeast. I was fortunate, and the blight missed my garden last summer, but I didn’t want to take any chances this year. There is no cure for late blight, and once infected with the disease, tomato and potato plants are doomed and must be removed from the garden and burned. Prevention is the key, and although there are no guarantees, OMRI approved copper fungicide has proven somewhat successful in keeping late blight at bay. I regularly dust or spray my plants with Serenade or Bonide (copper fungicide) and keep my tomato and potato plants clear of weeds and debris. Burpee also sells organic insecticides and fungicides for online…

Burpee Organic Fungicide/Insecticide

In truth, diagnosing a problem can be difficult without seeing, and learning to identify diseases first hand. Such skill comes to all gardeners eventually, with time, experience and education. Vegetable MD Online, the diagnostics page from Cornell University’s horticulture department, is an excellent, free online resource for all gardeners. Good photography combined with a wealth of great, up-to-the-minute information on plant disease and control makes this site my top choice for diagnostics. If you want to be a successful organic gardener, then learning natural ways to maintain healthy plants is key. The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control, from Rodale, is my favorite resource for the latest information on disease and organic trouble shooting. Keep in mind that even organic solutions can be harmful to beneficial insects, such as honeybees, when applied to plants indiscriminately. Insecticidal soaps and oils should only be used on targeted problems as they appear.

The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control

Weeding, pinching and pruning, mulching, dusting, fertilizing and harvesting; yes, my garden is frequently visited by the gardener’s shadow. But unlike Peter Pan, I haven’t quite figured out how to separate from my silhouette. If I could, maybe it would be willing to do half of the work…

The Ever-Present, yet Elusive Shadow ⓒ TGE

Disney’s Peter Pan

Hello Shadow, Won’t You Come Help With the Watering, Weeding and Harvest?

See these gorgeous steel baskets and more wire caddies, plus metal flower buckets and other garden treasures I have found online in The Potting Shed.

Inspiration/Image: Walt Disney’s Peter Pan

Article and photographs © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All other images are copyright as noted or linked.

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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The Pleasure of Growing Semi-Leafless Peas: Guest Post by John Miller of The Old School House Plantery…

July 10th, 2010 § 4

Semi-leafless Peas – Photo ⓒ John Miller of the Old School House Plantery

In this part of New England, peas are a traditional vegetable to serve with July 4th meals, as well as in various summertime bar-b-que and picnic salads. I am sitting here, having just picked my first pod of the year (the pea’s trip to my mouth was delayed only long enough to take the picture), knowing that I will enjoy fresh peas throughout early July. But I have more than that to appreciate. I take advantage of a quite revolution in pea growing that happened over 30 years ago. In the 1970s farmers were finding it increasingly difficult to find enough help to pick peas, one of the most labor intensive crops to harvest by hand. Unfortunately the peas grown at that time were not suited to machine harvesting so a whole new type of pea, but still recognisable as a pea, had to be developed. The end result was the “leafless” pea, although it is more correctly the semi-leafless pea.

The most noticeable characteristic of these peas is that they have very few leaves on them- hence (semi)-leafless. The upper leaves develop as tendrils, a trait that was bred into them from a particular wild type of pea cousin. The result is pods that hang in plain sight, at the top of the plant, making harvest really easy- no moving foliage around to discern green against green! An unintended benefit for me of having the pods so high is that the slugs can’t get to them first!

Pea Pods and Tendrils – Photo ⓒ John Miller of the Old School House Plantery

Because all the pods mature together, another trait required for machine harvesting, I will pick the entire crop in about a ten day period (I tend to get a few pods in the first pick, the vast majority in the second, and then a few stragglers on a third pick). This fits perfectly with my busy life as I won’t be going out over an extended period to pick a few pods each time and the garden space becomes available very quickly. Like most people I imagine I will freeze the bulk of the crop and enjoy them over the coming year.

I stopped growing peas for a while because I found it very difficult to open the pods of the traditional varieties. Broken nails abounded and it was just too time consuming- dexterity and I have never been close acquaintances. With these semi-leafless peas, the pods are just –literally– bursting to be opened -and no more torn finger nails! This trait was acquired from yet another pea cousin- one that is actually a disadvantage in the wild (the plants with this genetic flaw cannot develop mature seed as a result). I would also venture that anyone with an arthritic condition in their hands would find it possible to open these pods. But –there has to be a but– you ask, “What of the flavor?” I certainly like it. I cannot speak for others but if you have ever eaten a frozen pea from the supermarket and liked it, your question is answered…

Flavor to Savor – Photo ⓒ John Miller of the Old School House Plantery

‘Leafless’ Survivor Pea from Burpee – Photo courtesy Burpee

* Direct sow peas again in mid to late summer for a fall crop. Burpee’s ‘Leafless’ Survivor Pea, linked above, matures in just 70 days*

***

Article & Photos this post ⓒ John Miller of the Old School House Plantery
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All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Ruby-Red, Fragrant Fraises des Bois: Life’s Sweetest Little Luxuries…

July 2nd, 2010 § 5

Fraises des Bois, or alpine strawberries, offer a continuous supply of summertime fruit – Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Oh the magic of Fraises des Bois! To me, they look as if they belong at the center of a tiny table in an enchanted forest; one set just for leprechauns, fairies, nymphs and elves. Alpine strawberries (Fragaria vesca) are fragrant, delicious and easy to grow. Sometimes called ‘the wood strawberry’, this rose-relative is a separate species from the common garden strawberry, (Fragaria x ananassa), and is native to North America, Europe, northern Africa and some parts of Asia. Unlike their runner-forming cousins, these lovely mounded plants produce fruit throughout the growing season – spring to fall. Many cultivars are available, including the delightful red ‘Alexandra’ and ‘Mignonette’, and for the more kaleidoscopic plate, there are even white and yellow alpine strawberries! Strawberries of all kinds are best planted out to the garden in early spring – but it is important to prepare the site well in advance (unless you are growing in containers). So if you would like to grow alpines in your potager next year – read on….

Alpine strawberries are herbaceous perennials (the foliage dies back in fall and then returns from hardy roots in spring). Many cultivars are very cold hardy (some to -30 degrees fahrenheit) and they can be grown directly in the garden, or in containers – especially strawberry planters – on decks, patios, steps and terraces (if grown in containers, the berry plants are best moved indoors for overwintering in cold climates). Alpine strawberries are easy-care perennials, and they are usually propagated from seed (collected or purchased),  or easier yet, by division of plants. All strawberries prefer slightly acidic (pH 6-6.5), hummus-rich, well-drained soil. Growing strawberries on a slight slope  –raised bed or in containers– helps to provide both drainage and air-circulation. When grown directly in the garden (as I grow mine), spacing plants at least 16″ apart will result in best fruit production. Mulch is important both to protect the shallow roots from dehydration and temperature fluctuations. In winter, I heap mounds of clean straw over alpine and common strawberry plants, and I try to protect them from late spring frosts with removable row covers (though as patches increase in size, this becomes much less feasible). Alpine strawberry plants can and should be divided every few years – in cold climates this is best done in early spring so that the root systems will have time to establish. Early fall division is also possible, though much riskier in zones north of USDA 6. When the task is undertaken early in the season, the easiest way to make more alpine strawberries is through division of the underground stolons (though collecting and drying seed for germinating indoors works too, if you are patient). I fertilize all strawberry plants with good compost, and I regularly test the soil in all of my garden beds to assure a proper balance of key nutrients (particularly phosphorus)…

The jewel-like color of the fruit, sensational fragrance and sweet flavor more than compensate for the tiny size of alpine strawberries. Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Alpine strawberry blossoms ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Frais des Bois at harvest ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Competition for alpine strawberries comes in many forms; from weeds and insects to chipmunks, mice and birds. In my garden, the boisterous mocking bird clan living in the adjacent scrub seems particularly interested my strawberry crop this year. I do love their singing and bug catching, but I wish the mocking birds, robins and other winged-robbers would stay away from my strawberries! Now, don’t you feel too bad for my feathered friends – they have plenty of wild elderberries (Samubus canadensis), bramble berries and bugs to feast upon. If birds are snagging your berries, you can always cover them with safe Bird Netting, which allows air flow and pollinating bees to fly in and out. Alternately you could use insect pop-ups (such as those linked below) set in place when berries are close to harvest, and then removed at intervals for critical wind and bee pollination. Slugs can be a real problem during rainy periods (copper edged raised beds, beer traps and diatomaceous earth are some commonly used deterrents), and insects –particularly sap beetles, tarnished plant bugs and bud weevils — are always an issue with strawberries of all kinds. Never apply an insecticide, even an organic insecticide, during bloom periods, as you will kill beneficial insects (including our precious honeybees) along with the less desirable, ‘bad bugs’.  For backyard berry growers, I advise hand-picking insects and the limited use of row covers (see below) when berries are close to ripe.

For more on berry growing, check out my review of Barbara Bowlings excellent Berry Grower’s Companion (linked here) available through Barnes & Noble online. And say tuned… More berry growing tips will be coming soon!

Containers with pockets, like the one pictured from Amazon above, are a great way to grow alpine strawberries.

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Article and photographs, (excepting last four by affiliates), © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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Growing Great Leeks and Onions the British Way: Guest Post by John Miller of the Old School House Plantery

May 20th, 2010 § 4

Triple Planted Lincoln Leeks and Savoy Cabbage,(with Garden Fork for Scale)

Triple Planted Onions

It’s the middle of May in New England and winter seems to be finally releasing its grip on the climate! Late last week I was planting onions and leeks and I invited Michaela to stop by as I knew what a leek aficionado she is and I knew she wanted some leek seedlings for her potager. I asked her if she knew about the hill or station planting method of planting leeks. She didn’t, so I promised an explaination. Here it is.

Traditionally, onions were ‘direct’ (sowing where they are to grow, in contrast to seed bed grown and transplanted) sown early in the gardening year, mid-March if possible. The grower then had to patiently wait for the onions to emerge to see what sort of crop he could expect. Patience was necessary as onions can take up to six weeks to germinate in open fields and in that time they were subject to the vagaries of the U.K. weather.  Despite its moist reputation, maintaining constantly damp soil for six weeks in the U.K. can be a problem!

Coincidental with me being in college, plug production, basically plants already growing in small pots such as those sold in six packs, for field crops was just being introduced. Using plugs a farmer could eliminate the wait time between sowing and emergence and start cultivating the crop as soon as the weeds emerged.

Multi-Sown Onion Plugs

Onions, and their cousins leeks, have very poor root systems so that a single seedling couldn’t hold together a plug very well. To overcome this onions, initially, but quickly followed by leeks, were multi-seeded into plugs and then the whole plug was planted out into the field. Initially 1 inch plug cubes were used and sown with five seeds so that the plug wouldn’t disintegrate during handling. I have slightly modified this system to suit my conditions. I use 1 inch round plugs, each 2 inches deep, sown with three seeds and then I plant the whole plug as a hill. The suggested planting density for onions is one plant every 4 inches so I put each hill out 12 inches apart in rows 16 inches apart. I just make a small hole in the soil and drop in a plug. This saves me time, fewer holes to make, and causes far fewer broken fingernails! This system also works really well if you are growing through mulch as you don’t have to tease the mulch apart quite as often.

Growing onions like this doesn’t give you as many big onions (how big is big? Last winter I did have Farmers Market customers asking me for smaller onions as some were too big for their needs) as you can get when they are grown individually. What will surprise most people though is that this system actually increases total yields compared to planting onions individually. Also, you won’t end up with misshapen onions, due to their being grown so close together, as the swelling bulbs push each other apart as they grow whilst still maintaining their shape.

Leek roots are adventitious – poorly branched

Single Leek Seedling Roots

Poorly Branched Onion Seedling Roots

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John Miller and his wife Diane Miller own and operate The Old School House Plantery in Brattleboro Vermont

Visit the Miller’s Etsy shop, Eclecticasia, for a selection of rare and beautiful plants.

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Article and photographs this post, © 2009/2010 John Miller

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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Native Plant Seminar Discussions: Viburnum Beetle Alert…

May 17th, 2010 § 2

Healthy Viburnum trilobum foliage and flower buds

Over the weekend, I presented a talk on native plants for ornamental landscape use to a fantastic group of New England gardeners, and some very good questions were raised about alien pests and diseases of North American native plants. One of the gardeners participating in the workshop mentioned die-back on the cranberrybush viburnum, (V. trilobum, as pictured above), in her yard. Without looking at the actual shrubs, it is impossible to know whether the die-back is being caused by viburnum beetles or by late frost or some other defoliating disease. However, at this time of year, I am concerned about the appearance of viburnum beetle larvae. It is very important for gardeners in the northern/north central United States and Canada to be on the lookout for small, greenish-yellow, caterpillar-like larvae on viburnum. If you grow shrubs in this genus -particularly cranberrybush and arrowwood viburnum- and you begin to notice skeletonization of foliage, check the undersides of the leaves -using a magnifying glass if necessary- for beetle larvae, (see Cornell University photos below). Spraying larvae directly with insecticidal soap at regular intervals will help contain the infestation. But be sure to avoid spraying beneficial insects, such as ladybugs, when applying any pesticide, including organic oils and/or soaps.

Photo Kent Loeffler/via Cornell University – click link here for CU article

The viburnum beetle, (Pyrrhalta viburni) -shown above in its spring larval stage- is a highly destructive, non-native beetle introduced to North America. In North America, the beetle was originally spotted in Canada, and it has been moving southward ever since. The beetle was first seen in the United States in 1994 along the New York State, US/Canada line. This voracious insect has been slowly, but steadily expanding its territory in the Northeast and the Pacific Northwest, and has now been spotted on viburnum, (particularly the native arrowood viburnum, V.dentatum and cranberrybush viburnum V. trilobum), in a number of northern states in the US. Both larvae and adult viburnum beetles feed on plant leaves, robbing the shrub’s ability to photosynthesize. Unchecked, this insect has the potential to destroy the native populations of a number of viburnum species throughout the North American continent. Arrowwood viburnum, (V. dentatum), and cranberrybush, (V. trilobum), fruit is an important source of food to North American songbirds. Horticulturalists hope that over time, our native viburnum will develop resistance to these insect invaders, though widespread destruction of wild viburnum populations is feared.

Some viburnum appear to be more resistant than others to this invasive pest. However, the shrubs most vulnerable to destruction are viburnum with smooth, broad leaves, including many natives. For more information on this beetle, including varieties most susceptible, and other ways to spot and manage the pests, visit the Cornell University “Citizen Science” Viburnum Beetle Information Page, linked here. If you suspect viburnum beetle in your area, be sure to report the sighting to your local university extension service, in order to help with tracking and management of these insect invaders.

No viburnum beetles have been spotted on my compact cranberrybush, (V. trilobum ‘Bailey Compact’), yet this spring, though the insect infestation is here in North America to stay. All gardeners should be on the look-out for this destructive pest, so that it can be properly managed.

I would like to extend a special thank you to this weekend’s seminar participants at Walker Farm for their great native plant questions. I will be posting more articles and information from the seminar over the coming weeks. Please scroll down the blog to find additional native plant posts, information and resources…

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Top photo is copyright Kent Loeffler via Cornell University Online. All other photos are copyright TGE.

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Love Me Two Times Baby: Extend Springtime Crops with Repeat Sowing in Timed Intervals – One for Tomorrow, and One Just for Today…

May 16th, 2010 § 2

My Second Spinach Crop…

Vegetable gardening tips from Jim Morrison? Well why not? When it comes to hedonistic behavior, I am all for taking his lusty advice in the garden: love me two times baby – one for tomorrow and one just for today! Actually, why not love over, and over, and over? After all, repeat sowing is key to extending the pleasure of springtime crops such as spinach, peas, lettuce and other leafy delights – including my favorite potager-hotties arugula and mustard greens. Love me three, four, five times I say!

With frost-hardy crops like peas, spinach, arugula and others, direct-sowing can begin as soon as the ground can be worked. And for continual harvest, repeat seed every 10 days or so until the last expected frost date, (in VT, that’s somewhere around Memorial Day weekend). As the cool season crops peter out, you can re-use that garden space for warm weather produce, such as cherry tomatoes or green beans. Then, when temps cool back down toward the end of summer, get ready for another love-fest by sowing cold weather crops again in empty garden spaces.

Who knew a long-gone, leather clad rock star could hand out such great gardening advice? Thanks Jim.

A Second Sowing of Snow Peas in the Springtime Potager at Ferncliff…

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I Welcome the Morrison Spirit of Hedonism in My Garden!

Article and photographs,(except the fab Jim Morrison photo, uncredited, via AP), © 2010  Michaela at TGE

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A Rhapsody in Blue: Selecting and Planting Vaccinium corymbosum, (Highbush Blueberry), Plus a Favorite Recipe for Blueberry-Lemon Bread…

March 31st, 2010 § 11

A Rhapsody in Blue 

What would you say if I told you that I know of an amazing cold-hardy shrub, with creamy, bell-like spring flowers, glossy green leaves, brilliant fall foliage, colorful winter stems and an attractive, well-rounded form? Interested yet? It may come as a surprise that the shrub I am describing is none other than the common highbush blueberry, (Vaccinium corymbosum). Of course, the highbush blueberry is widely cultivated for its delicious fruit, but it’s often overlooked as a useful addition to ornamental gardens. Native to eastern North America, this gorgeous shrub can be found growing wild in acidic soil from central Canada all the way down to Florida, with a western range from Minnesota, south to Louisiana. Typically reaching a mature size of 8-12 feet high and wide, highbush blueberries are most commonly found in USDA zones 3-7. Although lowbush blueberries,(Vaccinium angustifolium), are also a fine and quite hardy shrub -famously grown for fruit in the state of Maine- they too are are rarely grown in ornamental gardens. This is a shame, as lowbush blueberries make a fine ground cover, producing pollinator-friendly blossoms and very sweet fruit. They also display beautiful autumn color.

If you live in a climate with lengthy cool seasons, highbush blueberries are easy to cultivate either in the vegetable garden, berry patch or mixed border. This is a relatively long-lived shrub, with few pests and diseases. When provided with the proper conditions, blueberry bushes make fantastic garden plants. Although Vaccinium corymbosum are generally trouble-free, a few growing tips will help increase berry yield and plant health…

Vaccinium corymbosum autumn color

In life, I often find that a group of diverse, mixed company creates great culture. With blueberry varieties this is especially true. When buying plants, keep in mind that for best pollination and fruit set, you should choose two different varieties of blueberry bushes that bloom at the same time. If you would like fruit throughout the season, try growing several different varieties in the same patch. When choosing plants, ask a local grower which varieties grow and produce best in your area. Some excellent early to midseason varieties include ‘Blueray’,’Duke’ and ‘Berkeley’. For later fruit try ‘Jersey Blue’ and ‘Elliot’ varieties. Again, ask your local grower for some recommendations. Remember that every variety will have a slightly different flavor.

When growing blueberries, one of the most important aspects of cultivation to consider is soil acidity. All blueberry bushes prefer a pH below 5, with an ideal range between 4.5 and 4.8. Be sure to test your soil pH with a kit. If your soil is more alkaline (even neutral is too alkaline for blueberries) you may lower the pH by adding sulfur, pine needles and/or other naturally acidic materials both to the soil and as a regular top-dressing in mulch. Blueberries are shallow-rooted plants and they require moist, but well-drained soil. Unless your garden receives at least an inch or two of rain per week, you will want to water your shrubs. The best way to keep soil moist and plants weed-free is to apply a wood chip/pine needle mulch. When planting new blueberry bushes, be sure not to plant too deeply. Keep the top of the pot level even with your existing soil, and add 1/3 peat moss to the planting mix when you backfill the dirt. Be sure to saturate the soil and peat, as well as the planting hole, with water. Do not fertilize your blueberry bushes for 2-3 months after planting. Once the plants are established, use an organic fertilizer in spring at bloom time, and again 3 weeks later while fruit is setting. Plants should not be fertilized later than this, and never in summer  or fall as the shrubs may suffer winter damage on soft wood ….

Fresh washed blueberries from the garden

In general, when grown for fruit, highbush blueberries should have 5-10′ of spacing, (depending upon variety). But if you are planting in rows, space plants 4-5′ apart in rows with 8-10′ separation. Some growers recommend removal of flowers in the first season for a better crop the second year. This is optional. No pruning is needed in the first three years, but in the fourth season, thinning may begin during dormancy, (late winter/very early spring). Remove weak branches, and any branches restricting sunlight and airflow at the center of the shrub. If fruit is your primary goal, aim for 12 healthy, strong canes per plant. The younger wood will produce the best fruit, so choose a good mix of branches, removing older sections each year.

By following these simple tips, delicious and health fruit will soon be on the way! But beware: birds love to eat blueberries too. If you grow Vaccinium corymbosum solely for ornamental value, then maybe you will leave the fruit on these shrubs for our birds to enjoy. However, if you are growing blueberries as a crop -perhaps as a hedging plant in your potager- you must cover the shrubs from the time of fruit set ’til the point of harvest. My father always used tobacco netting on his highbush blueberries, and I tend to recommend it or the modern-day equivalent, Remay. Plastic netting is hazardous to birds and other creatures, and I find Remay or tobacco netting work as well, or better.

And now, what do you say? Shall we use up some of those plump and delicious blue fruits? Oh, of course! Why not? A couple of weeks back, I featured a favorite recipe for Blueberry Hill Hotcakes and Syrup. They are scrumptious. Over the weekend, I was feeling the blues again, (maybe it was all the rain?). So I took to the kitchen. But this time around, I whipped up my favorite blueberry-lemon bread. This versatile recipe can also be used as a muffin mix, if you’re in the mood for a tasty-treat to-go. The lemony-sugar-syrup is optional, but I find it provides an extra bit of moisture and an added kiss of sweetness – plus I love the shimmery-effect on top. And although frozen blueberries work well here… there’s nothing quite like the fresh berries we will be enjoying later in the year. On a quiet weekend morning, I’m always in the mood for a rhapsody in blue…

Blueberry-Lemon-Bread-Muffins-thegardenersedenBlueberry Lemon Bread / Muffins, photo © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Blueberry-Lemon Bread with Lemon Syrup (or muffins)


Ingredients for one loaf of bread or one dozen average sized muffins:

2          cups all-purpose flour

1          teaspoon baking powder

1          teaspoon baking soda

1/4       teaspoon salt

1/4       cup sugar

2          eggs

1 1/4   cup sour cream

1/4      cup melted butter

1          tablespoon fresh lemon zest

2          cups of fresh or frozen blueberries

Lemon Syrup:

1/2      cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

1/2      cup of sugar

4          tablespoons water

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375°. Butter one 9″ x 5″ x 3″ bread pan or two muffin tins.

To make batter: Toss flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, combine eggs, sugar, sour cream, melted butter and lemon zest and beat until well mixed. Add dry ingredients to wet and mix until just blended. Add blueberries and stir lightly to combine.

Pour the batter into the bread pan or muffin tins, (each muffin tin should be filled to 2/3 full). Bake bread for 50 minutes to 1 hour or until top is golden brown and a wooden stick comes out clean after inserted at center. If baking muffins, 15-20 minutes in the hot oven should do the trick.

To make the optional lemon syrup: combine the ingredients in a small saucepan and boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and set aside.

After removing bread or muffins from the oven, prick the top with wooden stick, (all over for bread, or in 3 or 4 places per muffin). Drizzle the lemon-syrup slowly over the surface. Allow the lemon-bread or muffins to cool for 10 or 15 minutes before slicing or removing from the tins.

Serve warm with Earl Grey tea and fresh blueberries if they are in season. If you skip the syrup, the muffins also taste great with a bit of butter and honey.

Mixy, mixy…

 For further inspiration, there’s always…

Gershwin: Rhapsody In Blue/An American In Paris

Photography & Text ⓒ Michaela Medina Harlow/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Think Spring: It’s Time to Start Sowing Early Kitchen Garden Seeds …

February 5th, 2010 § 1

The kitchen garden at Ferncliff, late May 2009 …

It’s always exciting when the first boxes of vegetable, herb and flower seed begin to arrive in the mail. I know, I know. I am a bit like a little kid – but I have to check the mail every day to see if there is something waiting for me in that big metal box at the foot of the hill. The Johnny’s package from Maine always arrives first, then Botanical Interests from Colorado, and then Renee’s Garden Seeds way out in California, (hello California, I miss you!).  The first thing I do is open the box and just pour over all the pretty envelopes. I have to get that part out of my system. Then I begin grouping the seeds in order of sowing. Since I will start the onions, leeks and herbs in a week or so, those will be bundled together in the front. The cabbage, broccoli and other cold-hardy crops will be started in waves. Some will go into the hoop houses and some will be started indoors this year beneath grow lights. Oh, so much potential. I can’t wait.

First seed packets arriving …

There will be much to do and talk about in the coming weeks. For now, I just want to go over some very basic information for new gardeners, especially for those starting their own seeds for the first time. Many seed companies also have tutorials on their sites, and I recommend you visit those pages as well. The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Ed Smith is an excellent resource for new gardeners, and a good reference book for more experienced green-thumbs…

Photo © Tim Geiss

1. Sort through your seeds: Check the back of the packets for planting information. Some seeds are best started indoors, (such as onions, leeks, tomatoes, peppers, etc), especially in cold climates, and some seeds are best direct-sown, (such as peas, beets, carrots, radish, etc). If you have left over seed from last fall, you can use those seed this spring. I have left over spinach and broccoli raab to use before I open the new packs later this year. Check expiration dates. You can and should try older seeds if you have them, but be aware that if your seeds haven’t been stored properly, (cool, dry, dark location), you may not have as much success with germination.

2. Gather free-draining containers and trays: You can buy starter cells, peat-pots or plastic cells online or at your local garden center if you like, but this isn’t absolutely necessary. Seeds can be started in empty milk and egg cartons, sliced up paper towel and toilet paper rolls, homemade newspaper pots, (more on this later), and recycled, (sterilized), six packs from garden centers. Starting seed need not be expensive or difficult. The most important thing is good drainage, so be sure to poke holes in whatever ‘pots’ you create from recycled materials. I absolutely encourage you to experiment with containers! I like to set my free draining pots in plastic or metal trays to catch water and provide moisture.

3. Purchase good quality, organic seed starting mix: It’s possible to make your own mix, of course, but if you are just starting out, I am going to suggest that you buy a good quality, well-drained  seed starting medium from a local garden center. This isn’t expensive, and starter soil is very important. Do not use regular potting soil, as it is too heavy, (doesn’t drain well), and will reduce your germination and success rate.

4. Time your starting: Look at the last frost date for your area and count the weeks back. If you live in New England, you will be starting things like onions, leeks and cabbage this month. If you live in a slightly warmer climate, you may be starting tomatoes and peppers this month. I like to use the Farmer’s Almanac online as a resource for last-frost date.

5. Get started with planting:  Begin by filling your cells with moist starter mix. I like to moisten the mix first and then put it into the starter pots. This way, I won’t be washing the delicate seeds out when I add water. Read the seed packet to get the proper planting depth, especially if this is your first time starting seeds. I like to plant 2-3 seeds per cell, filling all the cells in my flats, and then I cover them, (but don’t smother, loosely cover above the soil), with clear plastic. You needn’t purchase special covers to do this, but it can be helpful. In cold, drafty homes a heating pad is very helpful to maintain the 70 degree temperature recommended for most seed germination.  Some seeds will germinate in a matter of days, and some will take weeks, (again, check the back of your packets). Be sure to keep those cells moist, but not soggy.

6. Provide light: Once you see seeds germinating, you want to immediately place the trays beneath fluorescent/full-spectrum light bulbs. The light will need to be within a couple of inches of the seedlings, or the seedlings will grow long and spindly as they reach for the light. The grow-lights should be raised as the plants grow, keeping the light source very close. Many gardeners purchase special grow lights, but once again, this isn’t necessary. I know very successful home gardeners using shop lights or other home-built contraptions, but please be safe. Lights can be left on 24 hours, and because many fires start electrically, I encourage you to use caution.

7. Water: Again, keep the seedlings moist, but not soggy. By placing your seed containers in trays, as I mentioned above, you can water from the bottom by adding water to the tray, reducing the risk of water-logging and wash-outs as the seedlings grow.

8. Fertilize: When seedlings develop their first real leaves, as opposed to the little, itty bitty leaves you see when the plants emerge from the soil, you can begin giving the seedlings an organic starter fertilizer or weak fish-emulsion mix. Look for either of these products in a local garden center.

9. Provide air circulation: Two things will be necessary as plants grow. First, thin your seedlings. Look for the strongest seedling in each cell and then with clean, sharp scissors, cut off the one or two other seedlings right down to the soil line. Be careful, but be ruthless! This thinning will reduce competition and improve air-flow. And speaking of airflow, it may help to have a small fan nearby and run this for at least a few hours every day. Air circulation is very important for reducing the spread of fungus.

Whew. Well, that ought to get you started! I will continue with tips for transplanting and hardening off in another week or so. But for now… enjoy looking over and reading those beautiful packets and all the promise they hold. Get familiar with your seeds – it will make you a better gardener !

Some of my favorites from last fall: Renee’s Garden Seeds – Long Standing Spinach and Broccoli Raab…

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All content in this article, (with noted exceptions), is © 2010 The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved.

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A New Year’s Resolution for Gardeners: Making Informed Choices About Gardening Practices and Products to Support a Healthy, Natural Environment…

January 5th, 2010 § 3

We  ♥ Mother Earth

The new year often brings about a desire for change and personal reckoning. We make promises, resolutions and plans to better ourselves and the world around us. Over the past couple of years, many people have committed to building environmentally conscious, self-sufficient lives. As a result, gardening, particularly vegetable gardening, has re-emerged as a popular interest and hobby.

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This return to the earth is a good thing. But it is important to remember that even in our backyard vegetable plots and tiny rooftop potagers, the way we garden, and the products and practices we choose for our gardens, all have lasting consequences for our environment. Every action we take in the natural world must be considered carefully. Words like “organic”, “green”. “sustainable” and “eco” are being tossed about freely these days. Buzz words can sometimes be confusing and misleading.

Perhaps the single most important thing we can do as gardeners is to educate ourselves. There are many websites, magazines and books written to help inform gardeners about environmentally sound horticultural practices. If you are new to gardening, or even if you have been tending a plot for decades, publications such as Organic Gardening Magazine, and books, particularly Linda Chalker-Scott’s The Informed Gardener, and Jeff Gillman’s The Truth About Organic Gardening: Benefits, Drawbacks, and the Bottom Line, are essential for up-to-date, accurate scientific information. I will be writing much more about this topic come springtime, but winter is also a great time of year to read and research these important topics, before you begin planting your garden.

If I can send one message out to new gardeners it is this: just because a product or practice is organic, it doesn’t mean that it should be applied or adopted indiscriminately. Take organic pesticides for example. Even OMRI, (Organic Materials Review Institute), approved substances such pyrethrin, rotenone and neem, can be harmful or deadly to beneficial insects, including honeybees and ladybugs. All pesticides, even organic products, should be used sparingly, and only as a last resort in gardens. The best way to avoid diseases and harmful insect infestations is to provide garden plants with the growing conditions they require, and to avoid mono-culture, (growing large numbers of only a few kinds of plants), and environmental stress.

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For new gardeners, I highly recommend learning the basics of vegetable gardening from respected teachers and authors. Edward C. Smith’s The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible (10th Anniversary Edition), is an excellent place to start. In addition, Rodale’s Vegetable Garden Problem Solver, by author Fern Marshall Bradley, can serve as helpful reference to all gardeners. Also remember to take advantage of free, reliable online resources, such as beneficial insect identification sites. Three great online pages: The easy and fun Insectidentification.org, the comprehensive Texas A&M University Vegetable IPM site, and of course Cornell University’s Vegetable MD Online all offer excellent photographs and descriptions to help gardeners recognize natural allies and pick up on small problems before they become large and unmanageable.

I am not a big New Year’s resolutions kind of gal, but January is a good time to turn a new leaf, (even if the trees are still naked). So if you are planning your first vegetable garden this spring, or even if you have been growing your own food for many years, I hope the first leaf you turn this year dangles from the tree of knowledge. Education is a life-long process. With the help of solid, scientific information, we can work with nature to cultivate a safer, healthier garden environment for all…

The Nasturtium Seat in the Potager at Ferncliff

Early Greens in the Potager at Ferncliff


The Informed Gardener by horticulturalist, Linda Chalker-Scott

Rodale’s Magazine, Organic Gardening (2-year)

Jeff Gillaman’s The Truth About Organic Gardening: Benefits, Drawbacks, and the Bottom Line

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Article and photographs are copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

This article originally appeared as a guest post at The Honeybee Conservancy Blog, please pay this important non-profit cause a visit !

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without express written consent. Please do not use article excerpts or photographs featured here without contacting me first. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Thank you !

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On a Cold, Wet November Morning the Red Twigs of Tartarian Dogwood are Still Burning Bright…

November 24th, 2009 Comments Off

red twig dogwood

Tartarian dogwood, (Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’), at Ferncliff in November…

There’s nothing like a dose of brilliant scarlet color to lift the spirits in dreary weather! On this damp, grey November morning, the twigs of Tartarian dogwood glow like red-hot embers in a bonfire. Isn’t it spectacular? Nature can be quite the artiste! This glorious woody shrub grows wild from Eastern Russia to North Korea and Northeast China. Here in North America, Tartarian dogwood is a well-mannered introduced species, hardy in USDA zones 2 – 7. Best massed for color-effect, each shrub will grow approximately 10′ high and wide. Although I occasionally use a single red twig dogwood in a small garden design, I prefer to see this beauty grouped, (as shown above), for a naturalized look.

Tartarian dogwood, (Cornus alba), is a close relative of our native Redosier dogwood, (Cornus sericea), and although they are difficult to distinguish, (even for trained horticulturalists), in this case I prefer the non-native species to our own. My favorite Russian native, pictured here, (Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’), tends to be more upright in habit than our native red twig dogwood, and to my eye, it is a bit brighter in stem color. The rounded form of the shrub is very attractive in summer, forming a natural looking, verdant backdrop for other plantings. In autumn, Tartarian dogwood holds its burgundy foliage until late fall. And when the leaves drop in late October, the stems shine brilliantly in the gloomy landscape. But this beautiful show is only just beginning! Come winter, the red twigs will make a stunning display against a backdrop of snow white. I like to cut about 1/3 of the stems to the ground in early spring, in order to encourage new woody growth. The younger stems shine brightest in the landscape…

red twig dogwood ll, march 19, 2009

Tartarian dogwood, (Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’), at Ferncliff in March…

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Article and photographs copyright 2009, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

Please do not take, use or reproduce my photographs or words without contacting me for permission.

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without express, written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Thank you !

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Discovering the Botany of Desire…

November 5th, 2009 Comments Off

The Botany of Desire

The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s Eye View of the World

Like most people, I am a fairly busy person, and I don’t have a great deal of time to wander about bookstores – especially during the growing season. In fact, most of my reading over the past few summers has been limited to the review of horticultural encyclopedias, manuals and periodicals – stuff only a plant-geek could love! Sadly, I sometimes miss a book when my desire to read it would be obvious if only it were known to me. So, I owe a big thank you to my friend and client Leah for placing Michael Pollan’s work in front of my nose. Leah graciously loaned me The Botany of Desire, which I rapidly consumed with great pleasure. I now have a copy of my own. Thank goodness for pollinating-friends.

If you haven’t read The Botany of Desire, you really owe it to yourself to make the time – especially if you, like me, are a hopeless hortimaniac. Pollan’s “plant’s eye view of the world” describes how, through selective evolution, the apple, tulip, marijuana plant and potato have used the desires of mankind for their own purposes. The book is beautifully written, and fascinating.

Although the PBS special aired for only one night on October 28th, the film is available on DVD –  it is as visually seductive as the book is charming and provocative. I thoroughly enjoyed watching it, and I have ordered a copy for myself. I also intend to secure a few extra DVDs to present as gifts this holiday season. Anyone interested in the natural world, and humankind’s role within it, will love watching this film…

The DVD is available through Amazon. It would make a great gift …


Michael Pollan’s book, The Botany of Desire, is also available in paperback …


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