Archive for September, 2005

Protecting Tender Plants From Frost and Repelling Deer

* If you do decide to cover things, don’t forget that the purpose of covers is twofold: you want to prevent frost from forming on plant parts , and you want to trap the warmth that is stored in the ground. Covers that tent will be more effective than mere umbrellas, and the closer plants are to mother earth, the more protected they will be. In other words, lay those tomato vines on the ground and bend tall raspberry canes so the fruit is down toward the waist of the patch.

* Don’t wait to spray on repellent if that’s your preferred method of deer-deterrence Disgusting them when they take that first bite is the biggest key to success. If you don’t mind chemicals, or a slight veil of white over everything, try Thiram based Chew-nott -a local product, made in Dutchess county. One application lasts all winter. If you prefer familiar ingredients, and don’t mind having the yard smell like a candle store for a few days, try clove and cinnamon based Deer Solution. It’s good for about 2 months, in our experience, and it’s almost local – made in Danbury.

Time to Feed the Lawn, Attack the Weeds and Bring in the Basil

* There isn’t much point in transplanting full grown basil that’s flowering; even if you cut it back the new growth will be tough and strong. But if you planted a second or third crop, this is a good time to pot up young plants for another couple months of use. Basil grown in the house isn’t tasty – and is a major bug-magnet as well – but basil that can live mostly outdoors in fall is well worth having. Choose a big pot, and don’t crowd it too tightly. Bring it in on nights when frost threatens and take it back out in the morning.

* If it’s still dry where you are, hold off on fertilizing the lawn. Otherwise, anytime in the next few weeks is just about ideal. And rain or no rain, have a go with a low-toxicity (acid-based) weed killer on broadleaf weeds like plantain and dandelion. Established plants will regrow, but less strongly, and if you hit ’em again next month there’s a good chance you’ll starve the root enough so it can’t compete with late fall grass. To make sure the weed-killer doesn’t hit said grass, use an old paintbrush – or a sponge in a gloved hand – to target your death-dealing.

Fall Garden Shopping: Bargain Plants and Bulbs

* There are bargains to be had as nurseries frantically try to unload the last of this year’s perennials, but there are also dogs galore. Be sure to check the roots before buying. A bit of circling is inevitable and can be unwound or cut, but a tight net of thick, brittle roots is a guarantee of disappointment somewhere down the road. Keep whatever it is in the pot , where it’s easy to water, until the weather turns.

You do have to think of it in advance, but  mail order bulbs from places like Scheepers, and Brent and Becky’s are almost always larger and healthier than the ones that come prepackaged at supermarkets and garden stores. And they are more likely to be true to name than bulk bulbs, which would otherwise be fine. The problem is the customers, not the stores: I have with my own eyes seen oblivious jerks tossing rejects back into whatever bin was handiest.

Mid September Garden Report, with Lespedeza

In a normal year, the floral hero for early September is the brugmansia – or more properly the brugmansias, since there are 2 of them. By now they are usually 8 feet tall, very nearly as wide, and covered with giant white flowers that perfume the whole yard at evening. That’s usually. But usually, it rains once in a while.

Because it hasn’t, the brugmansias are less than stellar. It’s the lespedeza that makes you go Wow. Clover is admittedly tough, but it’s still a surprise to see the thing remaining green in every leaf and covering itself with blossoms. As the self is approximately 6 feet – in every direction – and the blossoms are like tiny magenta-pink sweet peas, the effect evokes every cloud clichaé you’ve ever heard or read. Bought it years ago from Plant Delights.

Vinnie the cat is trying his best, but we still see vole damage in the Swiss chard. There is huitlachoche ( aka corn smut) in the corn; blight has taken most of the heirloom tomatoes. Still orders of magnitude too much to eat, and too much to keep up with. Bill has been harvesting squash every day but I just turned over a leaf and found a zucchini as big as the Ritz.

Early September – Think about Bulbs, Start Garden Cleanup

* It’s time to haul out those bulb maps I was nagging about last spring, then – unless you are very well fixed indeed – you can start having an argument with your inner accountant. It isn’t time to plant yet, but by the time you make up your mind and make up your orders, it will be.

* There is still a great deal more to come from the vegetable garden, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start cleaning up. Look around for anything that’s hanging on by a thread, then get rid of it. Compost everything that’s simply dying of old age, send disease-victims to the landfill – or pile them up somewhere deep in the woods where there isn’t any underbrush. The assorted ailments that hit soft growth can’t get much purchase on tree trunks.

Late Summer: Heirloom Tomato Harvesting and Helping the Goldfinches

* It’s best to harvest big heirloom tomatoes like Brandywine and German Streak a little bit early: completely colored but not yet really dead ripe. This may sound nuts – why else are you growing your own – but most of these “unimproved” beauties are very vulnerable to cracking, even when there’s no last minute rain. Letting them finish up indoors for the last day or three won’t make them taste any less vine ripened; just be sure to keep them in a single layer, out of the sun and somewhere between 60 and 75 degrees.

* If you haven’t tested your soil for a long time – or ever – this is a good time to check things out and see if adjustments are called for. Organic amendments like greensand and lime need time to break down, so if you want their good effects next spring you have to spread them this fall.

* Goldfinches are very food-needy right now; they wait to raise families until wild seeds are ripe. Even if there are feeders around, your little black and yellow neighbors will be grateful – and gratifyingly in evidence – if you stop deadheading the cosmos.

Choosing Corn Varieties, Making Zinnia Bouquets

The first corn is disappointing, starchy and less sweet than it might be, and I think I know why. We used up some older seed for the first planting and when – no surprise – germination was lousy, Bill ( who is in charge of the corn) just bought some tasty-looking new stuff and used it to fill in the blanks. ” Is it the same type?” I asked. ” Got me, ” was the reply.
But if corn with one kind of sugar gene cross-pollinates another, neither of them is likely to taste as good as it should. Fortunately, there’s lots of old fashioned Stowell’s Evergreen, a late white corn that takes forever and a day so it never crosses with anything. It also often gets frosted JUST when it’s about to get ripe – I think of it as a sort of autumn magnolia – but it’s yummy when it comes through.

The annuals that got cut back hard at the end of July have responded with textbook zeal, even though they got a lot less water than would have been good. State Fair zinnias in particular. Great big flowers on gigantic bushes and for once more or less mildew free. Too bad the only bouquets you can put them in are big blowsy “everything but the kitchen sink it must be August” monsters. The “all one kind of flower” routine works pretty well, especially if you have a nice clunky vase, and it’s very much in fashion these days…but long about now I always remember last year’s vow not to grow them any more.