Saturday, November 15, 2014


This past week, I managed to get the garlic planted and mulched, one day before we received a dusting of snow. I thought I was late, but my not-very-exact notes reveal that last year I planted garlic on November 19. Previously, I planted nine cloves per square foot, but this year I gave them a little more room, in hopes of getting larger bulbs.

Today I spent about two hours outside doing this and that: putting away the lawn furniture, mulching the strawberries and asparagus with straw (note to self: one bale is not quite enough), transferring leaves donated by my neighbor from one side of the yard to the other, cartload by cartload, to build up the garden beds. My method is not very efficient, but all those trips added about 3000 steps to my Fitbit.

Sometimes I imagine my neighbors looking out their windows and wondering why in the world I spend so much time doing yardwork. Except for mowing, THEY certainly don't and don't want to. I could try to come up with some deep philosophical explanation, but the truth is much simpler: I just like it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A new toy

Several months ago, I got a bug up my butt about being able to chip and shred yard detritus. I did not want to deal with another combustion engine, so purchased a LawnMaster FD1501 Electric Chipper Shredder from Amazon. Then the thing sat in its box for months. (In all fairness to me, I was distracted by major home remodeling.)

Several weeks ago, I finally pulled the thing out and actually *used* it. Fortunately, there was very little assembly involved, so it was up and running in minutes. I put it to work on the remainders of the lilac bush I whacked not that long ago.

It did okay. Some chipping occurred and some shredding. The branches were still rather green, so with the small stuff there was more shredding than chipping. And the shreds were rather long and stringy, and periodically had to be cleared from the chute. I haven't tried it on anything thoroughly dead and dry, but I expect it will do fine. Tim "The Toolman" Taylor would be unimpressed, but this machine suits my needs and skill level.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Not too clean

Last week I wandered around the yard, clipping and yanking the thoroughly dead, no possible winter interest leftovers from summer. Things like dry stalks from daylilies and hostas, entire blackened coleus (good thing I dug one up to serve as next year's mother plant) and frosted marigolds, done in zinnias, etc. You know the drill. The so-called experts exhort us to clean, clean, clean up the garden and flower beds each fall. I do some, especially in the front of the house, but not too much. There are living things that depend on leaf litter and dead plants, plus after a long winter, I am usually antsy to be outside before it is safe to do any digging or planting, so leave some clean up for early spring.

Even the yucca stalks can wait.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Plans, I has 'em

All year round, I find myself thinking about what I want to do next in the yard and garden, but never more than at the end of the season. With successes and failures fresh in my mind, I contemplate what to repeat, what to do better, what to abandon, what new thing to try. These daydreams always chase away any gardener blues I may succumb to now and then.

Before fall cleanup

Something I would really like to improve is weed control in the vegetable garden, especially between beds. I've tried mulching with this, that, and the other, with minimal success. For my next method, I will try mowing. Toward that end, my SO helped me shift the raised beds to make the paths wide enough to accommodate the Toro.

After fall cleanup (more or less)

Next year's big "something new" will be the mini orchard, starting with apples and cherries. I think. I get a little overwhelmed with the choices of fruit trees available, but am narrowing my first choices to varieties that are naturally resistant to pests and diseases, the better to ensure some success.

It's not just the backyard that receives my scrutiny. The bed by the front walk is filling in nicely, but I am discovering the arrangement of the plants is not the best. Specifically, some taller things need to switch places with shorter ones, and some varieties would benefit from clustering together rather than standing in isolation.

This summer I filled in a few blanks with marigolds, simply because I started more seedlings than the vegetable garden could accommodate. Next year I would like to use its cousin calendula instead, which should self seed. I hope that does not turn out to be a mistake.

I'm done with the old fashioned (i.e. mildewed) lilac by the driveway, so whacked it down; an almond tree may grow in its place. The burning bush will get a severe pruning, to give the gold mop a chance to fill in all around.

I'm also done with most of the ornamental grasses in front of the house - just too floppy - and plan to move them to the backyard. I think a maple leaf viburnum would be a nice replacement by the front porch.

This 'Hameln', however, gets prettier every day in the autumn. I think I'll keep it.

I visited a tree nursery several years ago in search of a tulip poplar. The owner shamelessly flirted while extolling the virtues of the sugar maple over a tulip tree. Yes, sugar maples are striking this time of year, but I like the tulip poplar I eventually planted. So much so, I want to plant another, to someday shade the deck.

The observant will notice some big blue stem in the photo above. It and its neighbors, a little blue stem and two varieties of asters, are destined to move to the back corner where they can spread out to their natural size. The plants I moved to the south side of the house this past summer will probably join them. Then I get to decide what to do with the newly vacated location. I get excited just considering the possibilities!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Garden cat on duty

Now that the bulk of the garden is done for the season, I'm leaving the gate open so Finn can hunt the wild rodentia, specifically voles. These little critters have ruined more than one crop in recent history. While I don't approve of the way Finn sometimes tortures his prey, I'm not too sad about their demise.

Salomon Farm is a city park near my house which, among other things, boasts a large organic garden. A good portion of this garden is completely unfenced. WTH? I fend off rabbits that girdle shrubs and trees, woodchucks that destroy sweet potato plants, tomato-sampling gophers, voles that wipe out seed potato plantings, pea-eating sparrows, strawberry-stealing robins, etc. Salomon Farm is a working 1930's farm, so maybe I need to replace my lawn with field corn and soybeans to lure the critters away from the garden.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Got pumpkin?

We've had a couple of light frosts, the last one damaging. That was good enough for me, so I harvested the squash and pumpkin. They are curing on the *new* deck. This isn't all of them - I've eaten a squash (in soup) and given away a squash and a pumpkin. I have to say I am quite pleased with the harvest, especially considering I don't usually have much success with these. My only complaint was the way the vines took over the garden, making other garden activities difficult. At least, that is my excuse.

Let them eat cucurbita

Waltham Butternut squash

Small Sugar pumpkin

Rouge Vif d'Etamps pumpkin

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Third Plate and a shifting paradigm

After hearing an interview with Dan Barber on the Splendid Table, I picked up his book, The Third Plate, at the library. Although written from a chef's perspective, this book is opening my eyes to a whole new way of seeing my yard and garden. I consider myself somewhat knowledgeable about organic gardening in the backyard, but now I realize I am "old school".

I am only partway through the book, but already I am newly excited about things like weeds. Yes, weeds. Not to eat, not to eradicate, not to hate, but to use as a means of truly SEEING the soil in my garden. As an example, one of my worst enemies is Canada thistle. No matter how hard I try to beat it into submission, it keeps coming back, stronger and stronger every year. Why? Because the heavy clay beneath my raised beds is the epitome of compaction. To get rid of thistle, I need to do something about the compaction, specifically plant cover crops like spelt and red clover; both aerate the soil and suppress weeds while the latter also fixes nitrogen. Winter rye suppresses weeds as well.

Healthy soil produces healthy plants which are naturally less appealing to pests and diseases. I saw that this year, when the zucchini just went on and on (and ON). In previous years, the plants would succumb to squash beetles and/or mildew about mid-season. Ditto pumpkin and butternut, neither of which I have successfully grown before. All that horse manure paid off. Unfortunately, it is also the reason behind the proliferation of certain other weeds.

My gardening mantra has been "Feed the soil and the soil will feed the plants" but there is more to healthy soil than what I have been doing. Different parts of my yard have different weed problems. I'm anxious to get a good weed reference and identify and correct those problems. Fun stuff!

Additional references:
Listen to Your Weeds
Cover Crop Planting Specification Guide