Garden

Garden Alert! Before The Storm…

alliums on table/movable objects

How many things can you find in this picture that ought to get put away?

Not much can be done to protect the garden itself – but a quick patrol may well uncover potential missiles.

Put inside:

Flowerpots, empty or full

Birdfeeders

Solar lights (even with spikes in the ground; heavy rains can loosen them enough for a wind gust to pick ‘em up)

Birdbath bowls not attached to strong bases (also the bases if just standing there)

Thermometers and rain gauges not securely fixed to strong supports.

Statuary, gazing balls, any ornament that weighs less than 40 lbs. (or more, if winds are expected to gust over 75 MPH).

Reduce hazards from:

Tuteurs – if possible to turn on their sides without destroying vines, do that. If the vines are annuals, consider saying goodbye and bringing the supports in.

Wheelbarrows – turn upside down

Tables, chairs and benches – if there isn’t room inside, turn tables upside down; put chairs and benches in the lee of a building with the least wind-catching side up.

Flapping doors on outbuildings – if you have a door with loose hinges or a slider, be sure it’s secured.

I’m sure I’m forgetting something, please add to the list!

Crapaudine Beet (the Lady Toad), a Root to be Reckoned With

crapaudine and mango salad

Salad of Crapaudine beets, endive and mango, with (optional) sweet cicily

As I see it, my unseemly craving for Crapaudine beets can be blamed squarely on heirloom tomatoes, the gateway drug of historic vegetable addiction. Growing these famously delicious “unimproved” varieties isn’t all that easy,  but it’s not difficult, either, and the pleasure payoff is immense.

So you go along with the tomatoes for a while and then you try maybe a special snap bean saved by somebody’s grandmother. Good! Onward to Black Mexican corn, introduced in the  late 19th century, then lettuce that Thomas Jefferson grew…

In other words, you’re hooked, – or at least I was –  easy prey for a weird beet that was already being called “one of the oldest varieties” in 1882 (in Les Plantes Potagères, translated as The Vegetable Garden, by MM. Vilmorin-Andrieux, a seedsman whose company was founded in 1742).

Crapaudine beet with greens

Crapaudine beets (lady toad is a rough translation from the French), even look pre-modern, from their fat carrot shape to their rough, barklike skin. The triple top on this one is unusual, but the rest is pretty true to form – including that dancing auxiliary root; Crapaudines often fork somewhere, independent of the stoniness of the soil.

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Breeding Peonies the Easy Way

single red peony - from seedling

One of the peonies I bred myself (sorta)

Breeding peonies the way the pros do isn’t hugely difficult, but it takes a lot more care and attention than what might be called the

Go With The Flow Method of Breeding Peonies

Step one: Don’t get around to deadheading everything.

Step two: Don’t get so enthusiastic about weeding you inadvertently pull up the self-sown babies.

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TOMATO AND POTATO BLIGHT ALERT – with organic management tips

for anyone who lives where it has been raining rather a lot lately. All this dampness, combined with cool temperatures, creates a perfect environment for the spread of Late Blight, Phytopthera infestans.

Just to refresh your memory, that’s the disease responsible for major crop devastations from the Irish potato famine of the 1840s to the Eastern US tomato catastrophe of 2009.

Although Late Blight isn’t a fungus, it’s like a fungus in that once you’ve got it, you’re cooked.

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On Starting a Garden

truck garden

Our garden is big. Yours doesn't have to be to yield lots of great food and flowers

I did not hear this in person. Bill did (on Marketplace Money on NPR last Friday). But he couldn’t resist telling me about it, chortling loudly the while.

As well he might. According to him, a garden advisor – whose name he didn’t catch – had pronounced that “if you can’t keep your room swept, you shouldn’t try to garden.”

This struck me as so wildly improbable I thought he must have heard wrong, so I looked it up.

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Magnolias, Maple Syrup and Climate Change

No news that the weather is pretty strange lately and that includes in the Hudson Valley, where we’re amassing broken records at a record-breaking pace: the hottest March, the hottest first quarter, and most recently, the hottest April 15th, when it was 91. Another all-timer (at least at our house) is the annual magnolia trashing, this year the earliest by a country mile.

blooming pink  magnolia (soulangeana)

Magnolia in usual late April mode

The pattern itself is always the same: 1) multi-week warm spell, 2) magnolia blooms, 3) seasonally-appropriate frost comes, 4) flowers turn brown. But it used to happen between late April and early May. Then the whole sequence moved back to April.

In 2012, all March. Bloom started around the 10th and was thoroughly whacked when the temperature dropped to 25 degrees on the night of the 26th.

frost damaged magnolia soulangeana

April 18th, three weeks and change after the frost - just a few late-opening dots of pink.

Meanwhile, the combo of February and March was the 3rd driest on record and April is not shaping up well.

I could go on, among other things airing the usual caveat that this is weather, not climate. But I’d rather cut to this not-climate’s effect on the maple syrup industry, as described in the crop reports written by Arnold Coombs, a seventh generation maple syrup producer and packer in Vermont.

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When To Start the Seeds

seed racks at nursery

This picture (taken at Adams, in Poughkeepsie, NY) is actually a bit of a cheat - I buy almost all of my seeds online, from too many favorite suppliers.* But it does say "time to think about starting seeds” in an unmistakable way.

This year’s gigantic assortment of seeds has finally arrived, bringing with it the usual gigantic dose of buyer’s remorse. I had firmly decided against bulbing onions, for instance, having concluded that purchased plants  –  also available mail order, in convenient bunches of 50 to 75 –  do much better than the plants I start myself.

Yet somehow, mysteriously, here is a packet of heirloom Australian Brown storage onion seeds, roughly 700 incipient plants. Here also are 8 kinds of peas, most of them the kinds that require poles. We cut way back last year and they were sorely missed, but this does not explain where the hell I’m going to put them all. As usual, too many tomatoes, but on the other hand I’m not going to start any eggplants.

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Fragrant Violets

I heard a new term the other day: songworm, the tune you can’t get out of your head. Happened just in time; ever since Valentines Day I’ve been hearing Frank Sinatra singing I Bought You Violets For Your Furs.

purple fragrant violets, Viola odorata

A classic bouquet of violets, tightly bound stems, galax leaf frame (no doily, however)

If that sounds more than a little old fashioned, that’s because it is. The song is only in my head because my father used to croon it to my mother and whether he ever bought her any I do not know. They did court in New York City in the late ‘30s, when nosegays of fragrant violets were still a staple of winter romance. But by the time I grew up the whole tradition – along with the violets – was long gone.

Or make that almost gone.

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The New U.S.D.A. Climate Zone Map

lavender hybrid gladioli in a cutting garden

Zone 6 zone denial tip: standard hybrid gladioli are reliably hardy only to zone 9 - or 8b, maybe - but if you have well drained soil, plant them 5 or 6 inches deep and mulch heavily in fall (in this case before the ground freezes), there’s a good chance they’ll come back.

By now you’ve probably gotten the word: the long awaited, massively updated USDA Climate Zone map, the first revision since 1990, has finally arrived. And  – insert giant snarky “this is news?” – it shows large swaths of the country have moved up at least a half zone.

In 1991, when I got together with Bill and began gardening in the Hudson Valley, I could joke that my new life didn’t net me a single climate zone, even though the NY garden is about 300 miles southwest of the one in Maine. Until a couple of weeks ago, they were both in zone 5b. Now, while New York remains 5b – by the skin of its teeth, from the looks of things – Maine has been promoted to 6a.

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Twelfth Night – Time to Recycle the Tree

As a general rule, recycling the tree starts being an issue after the holiday, when a use must be found for a large, suddenly useless dead conifer. But this year we had a large dead conifer well before Christmas, thanks to the Halloween snowstorm that toppled the 15 foot arbor vitae in the southeast corner of the back yard.

Christmas tree with bird ornaments

Our holiday tree, 2011, aka the top of the former arborvitae. There’s a bucket of water inside the pedestal.

Putting it up was extremely easy; taking it down wasn’t much  harder and now we have the same pile of long branches anyone with a regular tree will have as soon as they saw them from the trunk, first step in successful home recycling.

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