Harvest begins

My summer food garden is moving quickly into full production.  I’m picking a handful of green beans every morning (which really adds up), the cherry tomatoes have been giving me sugar for weeks and I picked the first of my large tomatoes today:  a small Brandywine, a damaged Virginia Sweets and a good looking Black Krim.  Although all have turned color, they will benefit from a day or two on the counter.  The chipmunk(s) got the first of my crop.  They seem to have a sixth sense for when a tomato is going to turn color and eat it before I can.

I was feeling a little sorry for myself until I stopped at a nearby farm stand and saw the Heirlooms priced at almost $5 a pound.  I’m rich!  Also asking the age-old question, how do you know when a green tomato is ripe??  (A:  When the chipmunks eat it.)

One small head of Piracicaba, can more be far behind?  I’ve eaten a couple of Zephyr summer squash; this variety keesps me from having to choose betwen growing yellow ones or green ones, and both the small yellow cukes and Sweet Success main crop cucumbers will be ready to pick within days.  Everything has grown into a solid mass of green and I have to tiptoe between the beds to pick.  My meal plans focus on, how can I use…?[oqeygallery id=16]


Hydrangea Let's Dance Moonlight
Hydrangea Let's Dance Moonlight

July is when I realized that I was insane.  Or at least that my decision to keep up with the weeds in the rose bed without mulching must have been made in a moment of insanity.  My father told me that roses did better with bare soil but now I remember that he said that when he was fully retired and could tend to his roses (and the weeds) every day. 

To mulch or not to mulch is a serious question.  Here in the North, mulch has a number of negatives, especially the typical bark or wood chips that are so widely used.  These mulches can:

  • Raise the acidity levels, and most New England soils tend to be a bit too acidic already.
  • Tie up nutrients as they decompose, at least right where they touch the soil.
  • Keep soil cool, and I’m always running around in the spring with a soil thermometer, willing the soil to heat up!  Heat up!
  • Prevent repeated applications of composts, manure and other soil amendments, throughout the season.
  • Bring their own fungal diseases or weed seeds.
  • Create considerable expense.

So why mulch, I asked? And with that long list, you might also.  Well, here’s my story from this summer, with the plants I raise.

  • Tomatoes:  I don’t have enough space to rotate, and that’s fallen out of favor as people learn more about micro-organisms that live in the soil and have a symbiotic relationshp with specific plants.  However, other diseases overwinter in the soil and get transferred to the plants when water splashes them onto the leaves, so mulch can minimize that.  See my post on Mainely Mulch.  I was very disappointed that it wasn’t free of crop seeds as advertised, but the truth is that even the heirloom varieties that are vulnerable to soil borne diseases are looking good for late July.
  • Dahlias:  I’m a novice with these.  Told not to put them into the ground until the soil warmed, I planted them out in a new bed with soil purchased from a local farmer and thought that the sun warming bare soil would be a good thing.  But when I asked some questions about plants that were wilting and failing to thrive, See pictures in Dahlia Problems.  I was told that it was probably verticillium or fusarium wilt, the same soil borne problems that tomatos have!   Further, because of questions from a gardening freind in Arizona, I learned that dahlias have shallow root systems that don’t like too much heat.  Southerners who want to try to grow them should apply a thick layer of mulch to keep the soil cool.  It’s all relative, I guess.  But I can report that after a thick layer of mulch in July, all of the plants in the dahlia bed, even the healthy ones, perked up and started growing faster.  (No, it didn’t save the plants that were already sick.)
  • Hydrangeas:  This spring, I planted a couple of small “Let’s Dance Moonlight” hydrangeas (picture above) that I’ve been growing in pots into a bed that’s not realy finished.  I wanted to continue to reshape the area and add amendments and other plantings before I mulched.  The hydrangeas were doing very well except that they would wilt badly in the heat of mid-summer sun.  I was wondering if I had to  sacrifice their lovely blossoms for this season, to let them develop deeper root systems.  But first I thought I’d try mulching them.  Since this section of my post is talking about why I do mulch, you know what happened; they thrived. 
  • Roses:  Yes, personally, I’m sad to say that I can’t keep up with the weeds without mulch.   Even with mulch, I have to weed.  Lots of vining or plants with runners (strawberries, e.g.) don’t need bare soil to settle in.  And mulch should never be applied right against the stem of a plant, which creates opportunities for weeds.  Especially with roses; they do much better if there is plenty of air circulation around the bud union.  That means no mulch but also, no weeds.  

So I hope this has offered some advice that you can adapt to your own plantings.  I do have a regular feeding schedule of balanced, slow release fertilizers for roses and other mulched plants to compensate for the little bit of nutrients that may be tied up in the decomposition process of the mulch.  And I amend the soil in flower beds to lower their acidity every spring and fall.  I’m trying to get competent with a soil test kit to make that more accurate.  If you understand the needs of your plants and compensate for the down side, mulch can:

  • Help with weed control
  • Keep soil borne diseases from spreading to new plants
  • Moderate soil temperatures

Canna at Applefield Farm

I have every intention of writing a more complete blog article about Applefield Farm in Stow, MA, one of my favorite, maybe THE favorite, of my 117 commute.  However, within the last weeks, I’ve had a couple of different conversations about their use of Canna in container arrangements.  A picture being worth many of the words in those conversations, I snapped a few shots on my way home from work.  Call this a “lick and a promise” as far as telling you about the farm market goes.

If you don’t know Canna, they are the tall plants with the banana-shaped leaves.  The flowers come in an incredible array of colors as do the leaves.  As you can see in these pictures, they make a very nice height component in a container and the effects last all season if you choose a variety for its leaves.  One of my favorites is “Bengal Tiger” (not shown here) but it’s day-glow orange flowers and chartreuse striped leaves don’t go with everything.  One of the nice things about this farm market is that you can buy the plants and combine them yourself, or they will create a beautiful container for you.[oqeygallery id=15]

S. Williams Garden in Central MA

Late last week I saw an invite for a Sunday garden club visit to a private garden in Central MA.  I had been planning to get in two full days of work on my own garden but the words, “formal vegetable garden” attracted my attention.   In addition, I considered how much my garden reflects my efforts to integrate what I’ve liked in other gardens with my own competencies and style.  So I visited this incredible place. 

Although the plantings were equal to many gardens that I’ve visited in France and other parts of the country, it has very much of a New England feel.  You still can see the farm in the garden, and the extensive use of granite and stone walls reminds us of the character of the natural place.  I was told that the pink granite used for the raised beds in the formal garden was from a nearby quarry and matched the granite used for the foundation of the house.

I was particularly impressed by the attention to detail.  Although the gardens, both formal and informal, extended over many acres, every plant was exactly where it was supposed to be.  Near the house, no crevice between stones was left bare, just the collection and use of small ground covers and plantings was impressive.  Critter sculptures added their humor, everywhere.

Rhododendrons extended for what would easily equal multiple city blocks, but were mostly over, and roses were tucked sweetly into mixed plantings or trained against the stone walls.  The roses were also mostly over, I would like to see them in June.  Impressive displays of daylillies, in masses the way that I like them; hydrageas; and hosta vied with rare specimens and dramatic designs for attention.

With so many lovely plantings, ironically, my favorite feature was the chicken coop!  The roof was actually a shallow pan, waterproofed, and holding a pretty collection of succulents.

My Roses this Spring

Gallery updated July 16, 2011 with three new shots from the rose ghetto.  I think the third shot, a hybrid tea, pink blend, is “Love and Peace” but I can’t find the purchase info! 

All of the roses have done their spring thing and some of them are over for the year or resting up for a late summer show.  Here is a gallery of my best shots.  As I looked through my photos, I realized that it’s heavy on the climbers and once bloomers, I’ll have to get more shots of the Hybrids in the rose ghetto.   These pictures do show why I love the once bloomers so much.  When they are in blossom they put on an impressive show.  The ones I’ve selected also smell heavenly, sorry I can’t share that with you.  The last shots are of Seven Sisters with Clematis Jackmanii.  They are still looking good.[oqeygallery id=14]

Happy bumblebee

[wpvideo HMOk2PVX]

I don’t seem to have a problem with pollinators like some people are reporting.  Although it’s also true that many of those I see are wasps or bumblebees, not honeybees.  I’d been tying up tomatoes before this photo was shot was working along side one of a bumblebee like this.  Their laid back nature is comforting to one who’s been stung many times by honeybees and wasps.  He’s working in rose “City of York”, one of the best smelling, ever.  I didn’t have to add music as he was making his own!