2019 Garden Plan….at least I hope it will be.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of my goals for the winter was to do the advance planning for my vegetable garden. It’s nice to do it now rather than in the rush of spring. I have time to look at my journal from last year (yes, I keep a planting and harvest journal) and see what worked and what didn’t. Before I get into what I hope to have in store for this year….a little background is in order.

In the Beginning….

We moved into our current house in August of 2016. The big back and side yards were part of what attracted us to it. I immediately declared the south side of the house, a section hidden by fence, as the new “vegetable garden area”. The whole area is maybe 20’x 35′. It gets sun all day, but due to the mature cypress hedge on our southern border, part of it is sightly shaded. It was too late for a garden that year. So I sat, and I waited. Plotting and scheming the whole time. During that wait, I fell in love with the concept of Square Foot Gardening. At our last residence, I ignored conventional row gardening anyway and packed everything in as dense as I could, as a result I had some great yields. So this seemed like a logical step forward to me.

Spring arrived and I came out of the gate hard. I built nine raised beds, 3’x 6’x 8″ out of pressure treated lumber. I used fence boards to make it more economical as they are pretty cheap and the beds wouldn’t be that high, so sides collapsing wasn’t a concern. And I ordered up a load of topsoil. Here is where it went bad. The topsoil was nothing more than this real fine, screened clay. I cut it with compost and as much organic matter I could get my hands on. But it wasn’t near enough. That first season, I had serious compaction and drainage problems. Everything was stunted and only a few of the real hardy things did well. I was expecting some problems, just not to that extent.

Next season I added manure and raised bed soil to all the beds and mixed it in as much as I could. I also noticed last season that the beds have a nice worm population which I took as a good sign. Things were much better last year. I planted a ton of different stuff. I had zucchini and cherry tomatoes in such quantity, that I was sick of them long before the season ended. I started a bunch of stuff inside from seed and that gave me a nice jump on a few things.

This time around

So here we are in 2019. What is my plan this year? This year I am going to start replacing a few of the beds with something a little more hardy. I plan to keep the same size as it is good for working. I just want to use some sturdier lumber and build some cold frame tops for a few of the beds. As for Square Foot Gardening, I am going to stick with it, but ease back on the density just a bit. Especially with beans. I think it will help improve yield. I also plan on adding more organic matter to all of the beds this year. probably more raised bed soil and maybe a little composted manure.

I plan on having a good variety of stuff again this year, just at a more manageable level. So here it goes:

Green Beans and Yellow Wax Beans: I will plant half a bed of each. I prefer bush beans to pole beans, just easier to work with. The dog does too, because she likes to steal them when I am not looking. I have a lot of “Provider” Green Bean seed left over from last year. So I just need to buy more yellow. And I will stagger the plantings by a few weeks.

Red Butter Lettuce and Romaine Lettuce: I had these in beds previously, this year they go into pots on the deck. Too many critters having their way with them last year. Plus then in the heat of the high summer, I can move them to partial shade to help get a handle on bolting.

Swiss Chard: I suddenly can’t get enough of this. I planted Rainbow Chard last season and it went nuts, and I went nuts for it. But I will scale it back to three plants instead of the six I had last season. Not everyone feels the same way about it as I do so I had problems trying to give away the excess.

Zucchini: Okay, so last season I had about 6 plants…..I didn’t have the heart to toss the extra seedlings so I found them a home. My freezer is still stuffed with vacuum sealed bags of zucchini. This year…..1 plant. Maybe a second later in the season, we will see.

Yellow Squash: See Zucchini…..same story just a different colored vegetable.

Potatoes: One of the beds I plan on re-building is the potato bed. This way I can make it deeper. I plan on half a bed of Pontiac Red and half a bed of Yukon Gold. Last year I got a lot of earlies which was great.

Tomatoes: I have been a tomato junkie since I was little. I love them. I planted a few oddballs last year just playing around and grew a lot of Romas. This year I plan on scaling it back a little. No Roma. Just Cherokee Purples, Sweet Cherries and some Brandywines. I am also trying a new seed by Burpee, called “Steakhouse Hybrid”. It’s a giant indeterminate Beefsteak type with fruits upwards of 3 pounds. I like odd things, what can I say.

Cucumbers: These are my wife’s favorite an one of mine. I grow them every year. This time I plan on trellising them in a bed along my deck. I have doe it before with decent success.

Peppers: I tried a ton of different varieties last year. I had great success with Aji Dulci’s, but I will not be repeating that. I gave most away. This year, Green Bells, Red Peppers, Ancho Chilis, Jalepenos and a variety I discovered last season called “Sweet Chocolate”. Dark chocolately flesh, very sweet.

Kale: I have been growing Tuscan Kale for several seasons now. I does great in upstate New York. It really gets it second wind in the fall with the cooler nights.

Broccoli: I haven’t had a lot of luck with it the past few seasons. This year I plan on just a few plats, but growing them in pots . This way if I fail again, I haven’t wasted precious bed space.

Carrots: The bed for carrots is the second bed I plan on re-building this year. For the same reason as the potato bed. I want more depth. Like the beans, I will stagger the plantings a few weeks apart. They store good in the ground, but they are vulnerable when out there. So I would rather have a fresh batch every few weeks and take them direct to table.

Corn: Last year was a corn fiasco. I started a batch inside. Got the seedlings outside and they never really progressed. So I started over from seed. Good germination and the corn got about 5 feet tall, then the wind storm came after a few days of heavy rain and put a hurting on it. On top of all that, the deer ravaged the corn patch. So….fencing this year. Plus some tall stakes and guide lines to keep the corn straight.

Delicata Squash: I am trying this out for the first time. My plan is to grow it in this huge pot I saved from a fruit tree I bought. I am a huge squash fan and everyone raves about these. Plus,they are pretty pricey if you want organic. So I can hopefully get a good yield and feast cheaply.

Melon: I am trying a new hybrid of cantaloupe called “Mango hybrid”. I have a little spare bed space, so I plan on giving it a lot of room and see what it can do.

Brussel Sprouts: I may try these….not sure yet. I have been eating a lot of them lately, so I thought why not give a stab at growing them?

And although not vegetables, I plan on adding some Blackberries along my southern fence. It seems like a good use of space and I love blackberries. Hopefully my blueberries will come back a little harder this year too. Last year they performed poorly.

Lastly, I found a northern hardy fig. It’s a bush, not tree,, and I have a spot in full sun in the back yard where I have the remains of a stump to pull out. This wold be the perfect spot for it. It’s a variety called “Violet de Bordeaux”.

So that’s the plan. Seems aggressive doesn’t it? It’s a lot of growing in a little bit of space, but that is the essence of what suburban gardening is all about. How much can I produce? If I can make the soil a little better and fertilize when I am supposed to this season, who knows how much I will get. I do keep a harvest journal. I weight everything as I pick and compare it to what it costs at the local grocer. Last season I grew just under $400 worth of produce. This year I want better yields, and my goal is $600 or more.

So that’s it. Any thoughts comments or experience would be appreciated. I enjoy hearing the wisdom of others. I would rather learn from your mistakes whole I have a chance. Just like I invite you to learn form mine.

Up Next, The Great Winter Lettuce Experiment…..

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The Do’s and Don’ts When Seeking Design Help

Some backstory is in order here

I have spent a lot of years in retail nurseries, big box Home Improvement stores and as a business owner helping people design gardens and landscaping. All manner of people have come to me seeking various levels of help and guidance. Nervous new homeowners, people disgusted with what they currently have at their house, amateur gardening “masters” who want me to buy off on their ideas,  the list goes on.

There are tons of reasons why someone seeks out help with landscape and garden design. Many of us will go it alone when it comes to decorating the inside of the house. But that line stops at the front door. For many people. the great outdoors is a mystery best left to those cargo-short, floppy hat wearing individuals at your local nursery. Strutting around, pruners holstered on their hip like some strange modern version of a cowboy, or cowgirl (I never wore the floppy hat..).  Chances are, since you are reading this, that you have sought out design help, or are contemplating doing so. So what I intend to do is give you some advice that can make this visit seem less humbling, much more productive for all involved, and help you realize your vision.

Do Your Homework

I can’t stress this enough. I am not saying go out and become a Master Gardener before you embark on this process, but do some homework. New homeowners especially need to realize that time is on your side, and not rush the process. It’s not like a couch that you can just return. Once stuff is in the ground, you own it. But where to start?

Start by learning about your area. Walk around your neighborhood and other neighborhoods. Different neighborhoods were generally built up at different times, so the landscaping preferences of the designers will be obvious. In my neighborhood, almost everyone has Honey Locust trees, and some type of evergreen foundation planting. Not so across town where the houses are packed in tighter and thick privacy hedges are in style. Chances are good that somewhere in your area is a public garden, park, or arboreum. Here you can find typical specimen trees for your area, see plant combinations and start to get a feel for what you like and don’t like.

There are a ton of other good resources: such as the library; the garden section at a bookstore; the internet, or even just wandering around your local garden center. After all, questions are free. Check social media as well for local garden groups. Many will tell you where to go to see good stuff and some do periodic garden tours or walks. What you want to do is fill your head up with potential ideas. Take and save pictures of things you like, especially if you don’t know what they are. It will pay dividends later on.

Try and Be Unique

Your house is a reflection of your personality. The outside is no different. If you want to have what everyone else in the neighborhood has, there is nothing wrong with that. What has been done up and down your street has been proven to work, and is always a safe choice.  If that is what you want, there is no point in seeing a designer. Just go out, buy what your neighbors have, plant it like they did, and celebrate your victory. This is the first question you have to answer. Do I want something unique? I bet you want something unique.

Next, consider the outside of your house, just as you would the inside. By that I mean, don’t just see it as one giant area, but rather different sections that should be considered separately in terms of function. Just like rooms in a house have different purposes. The professor who taught our initial Landscape Design Class hammered that into us. I will use my house as an example. I have a big front yard. It’s the showpiece. Large expanse of grass, ornamental plants, not a lot happens there except lawn mowing and raking. My southern side yard is the vegetable garden area. Fenced in area with a compost area, raised beds and an area where stuff is stored. It has a character all it’s own.

The backyard is more functional and built for socializing, with the deck and lower patio area. A large grassy area for dogs and humans to run around. The beginnings of a rose garden along the garage. And a big saucer Magnolia with a 20 foot tall cedar hedge ensure a little privacy.  Each area has it’s own distinct character because each area has it’s own purpose. So consider what your needs are and use that as a starting point. This does not mean that your property has to have 3 or more distinctly different themes. You can still have one contiguous theme even though you have a play area, a Japanese garden and a traditional cottage garden around your front porch. Once you know what each area will be used for it helps a lot with plant selection, placement of hardscapes such as walkways, patios, decks and arbors and you will end up with areas that are built for use. You bought the land along with the house, might as well get some mileage out of it.

Now You Are Ready

Why did I ask you to go through all that? Simple. A designer is not a mind-reader. Don’t expect that because they have education and experience, that telepathy is included.  They will have a ton of questions. If they don’t, be wary. If you walk in the door with at least a working knowledge of what you like or don’t like  in terms of colors, textures, what the purpose of each area is, and maybe even a few plants that you saw and really liked, you will be far ahead and more likely to get something you really love with a lot less hassle.

Bring pictures of your house or the area in question. It helps a designer to know what parts of the house or property you like and those you want out of sight, out of mind.  You might have a huge bay window in the front you want to frame, or maybe that spigot around the front corner you wish to conceal.  You will also know by now if you prefer evergreens to deciduous shrubs.

Those initial likes and dislikes, goals and purposes you give to the designer are what they use to give you a preliminary drawing. The more you can articulate, the better off you will be. The designer is going to begin with the end in mind. It’s what we do. We are putting together a puzzle with all the pieces you are giving us. But it’s a puzzle with multiple possible outcomes. Some other relevant things to consider that you need to communicate are; how much work you are willing to put into this when it comes to maintenance; do you have kids, if so what ages; any outdoor pets? And last, for all you northern folk, anywhere you intend to shovel, blow or plow snow, and any walkways that you salt regularly, speak up! You don’t want to wait until the following spring to discover all the grass and expensive perennials along your front walk are dead from salt. Or in the teeth of winter you discover that all that snow along the garage could be easily blown aside, if only those huge shrubs weren’t planted there. Begin with the end in mind.

Be On The Same Page And Stick To The Plan

This part applies to all you couples. This whole learning process needs to happen together. You don’t want to find yourself having an argument in public in front of a complete stranger, because you want that country cottage looking she-shed, but your partner wants a water garden in the same spot. Discuss everything beforehand this way you are both aligned. The whole process of learning and planning needs to be a group activity. Otherwise you like it, he hates it and that’s a recipe for disaster.

A savvy and opportunistic designer, especially if commissions are involved, is still a salesperson. Their job is to sell you a lot of material. Stick to the plan when you go in. Don’t let them sell you stuff you aren’t crazy about.  You will have no way of knowing if the designer is really that in love with Dwarf Korean Lilac and wants to share that love with you, or the nursery manager accidentally over-ordered and they are trying to unload it. Stick to what you like, be aligned, and don’t go rogue on each other.  Don’t be afraid to say “NO” if you don’t like a recommendation.

So there are my tips to help you succeed. This is not the “be all and end all” list by any stretch of the imagination. But I have seen all of it happen. These tips can hopefully help you get exactly what you want and have a green space that you want to spend time in; one that people stop to look at when they walk by. I want you to go in there and make the designer sell you your own idea, tempered with their professional knowledge of design and plant materials. And I want everyone involved in the process to come away happy.

Not too much to wish for.

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An Introduction is in Order

Welcome to my re-purposed blog.

Previously, I was just posting about random stuff, trying to have a purpose….and it just wasn’t doing it for me. I like to write. But, I like to write most about things I am passionate about. That was the driving force for the re-purposing. The whole time I was blogging before, it felt too much like work. Like I had to keep doing it, but I could never truly answer the “why?”.

Now I feel I can.

I have always had an interest in the outdoors, gardening, landscaping, and horticulture in general. I went to college and studied Ornamental Horticulture and Landscape Design. I spent tens of thousands of hours working in Garden Centers, home improvement garden departments, nurseries, commercial landscaping, and consulting. At one point, I even found time to have my own landscaping business. Even after all that, there is still a enough I don’t know to fill a set of encyclopedias. The green world is vast, and even a lifetime spent in it, only shows you a very narrow piece.

Here is my space to share my piece with you, and hopefully you will share a little of yours. Bringing the green world into our lives makes us happier, healthier, more self-sustaining, and builds a better word for the rest of us. A greener world is a better world by far, and no one could really challenge that statement. Don’t think this means I am advocating for getting rid of cars or plowing under civilization only to return the modern world to pasture. But I feel we can integrate the green world into our little corners of civilization and sort of “take the edge off”, if you will.

I plan on covering a range of topics, from product reviews and gardening tips, to more educational stuff like soil science, design elements, site selection, common landscaping problems, and sharing my landscaping and gardening trials and tribulations. In return, I would love it if people would comment and share their experience, advice, etc. With my education and experience, I am still by no means an expert compared to some. Everyone should bear in mind that I live in upstate NY. So my preferences and experience are based around being in USDA zone 5/6.

Even though we are staring winter in the face here, there is still much to do and even more we can talk about. All winter long we wait for spring, then when it comes we never seem to be fully prepared! But we love it all any way. So welcome. Pull up a seat

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Growing Degree Days: Unlocking The Timing Of Nature

Adopt the pace of nature; her secret is patience.    (R.W. Emerson)

I want to take a minute to talk about a little known and seldom used topic: Growing Degree Days (GDD). A new topic for many, or an old topic just called something else depending on where you live. We all  know at least one piece of folksy garden wisdom such as putting down crabgrass preventative when  the forsythia bloom.  There are tons of little “tips” like this out there. Most of them actually based on science, even if most of us didn’t know it. So GDD is worth taking a minute to talk about.

So What are they?

Basically, they are a measure of heat accumulation to-date for the growing season. It is a tool used in phenology, which is basically the study of plant and animal life cycles. Tracking GDD allow you to predict plant, animal and insect development. These things are biologically timed to enter certain stages at certain times, often based on GDD. So forget about your calendar. Nature has it’s own, and it cares not for our man-made creations.

Growing degrees are calculated when the temperature goes above the base temperature, usually 10 °C. The actual formula is a little more complex because it requires taking into account the high and low temperatures. Then there are formulas for determining cumulative GDD, not just for a single day. The good news is , you don’t need to do math.

seed

Why Use Them?

If you are a serious gardener, urban homesteader, or even someone just getting started, tracking GDD is something you need to consider. Why? Because as I mentioned earlier, nature keeps it’s own calendar. Some people may go out and do the same things at the same time every year, and get lucky as a result. But why not do things at the proper time, when conditions are optimal and you get the best results? From an integrated pest management and organic gardening standpoint, it’s worth it. Using GDD to time fertilizer and pesticide applications maximizes results. That saves you time, money and reduces chemical usage.

Getting it right the first time is important with plants. As many of us know, depending on what you are growing, you only get one chance to stop an infestation, block a fungus, or correct a nutrient deficiency. Watching your GDD, and knowing what is coming next can really give you an advantage.

caterpillar

Where Does One Get This Helpful Information?

I told you earlier, you won’t need to do math. You can if you want to, but there is an easier way. For those of us here in the states, it’s simple. Every county has an extension service , every state has its own friendly department of Agriculture who track this data for local farmers. But this data is just as helpful to the gardener as it is for the farmer.

This is the web page for the station nearest me, our local agricultural service has a monitoring station at a local apple farm. Here I use a “base 50” scale. Which calculates GDD using a base temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit:

NEWA Cornell at Orbaker’s Apple Farm

I visit this page weekly through mid-season. They have some helpful guides as to what pokes it’s head up when. So I know when to start looking for certain pests. The best defense is when you know exactly what the offense is going to do.

So take advantage of the hard work others are doing. Most of it funded by your tax dollars anyway. You will be the local garden wizard who always seems to know what is going to happen before it actually does. Whether you choose to share your secret is up to you.

Happy growing!

 

 

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Growing Lettuce Indoors: The Basement Lettuce Experiment

My experiment with growing lettuce indoors from seed is progressing nicely. I posted once before about why I decided to do this, so I won’t go through all that again. I am happy with where things are right now. So far it’s been pretty easy.  I feel I should have done this much sooner.

So everything has been transferred to clay pots for a few weeks now. The romaine has started to darken a little and is now starting to show some size. It’s about 5-6 inches tall now. The red butter lettuce is starting to spread out a bit. I have never seen it mature. When I planted it last year, the critters got to it. So I am not sure of the final size, although I must admit I bought it on a whim just to have a little variety and didn’t do much research. I do have one stunted plant. Not sure what’s going on there. I gave it a little tug to check root development and it didn’t seem to develop the roots the others did. It’s still hanging in there, so I won’t get rid of it yet.

I think I am to the point now where they can come out of the basement and up to a sunny location. Outside is not an option for at least another 4 weeks, a little less if I protect it somehow. The trick is to find a spot in the house with enough sun, out of reach of the dog. She has a taste for romaine and pretty much any leafy green.

While we are on the subject of plants being started in my basement, I would like to introduce some new members of the 2019 Garden family, just arrived from Burpee.

On the left of the first photo is a Bristol raspberry, to the right of it, a Violette de Bordeaux fig.   The photo on the right are a variety of heirloom raspberry. A quick word on the fig……It’s supposed to be hardy for my growing zone. It’s a bush, not a tree, that grows 6-10 feet tall, is supposed to be a prolific fruiter after a few years growth, and the fruit is reported to be very sweet. A caution should be sounded here, that Burpee recommends netting to keep the birds off it. Now, look at the little tiny rooted cutting in the 3″ pot Burpee sent me. That cost $20.00. I would have sought out a better option had I known that is what I would get. Here is a fully grown specimen:

Violette de Bordeaux

I think it may take a little bit to get there. But I want to see how it goes. I may end up planting a few since I have a big open sunny space. Excess fruit can be dehydrated so I don’t worry about overproduction.

Well, that’s it for the update. Greener days are coming. The warmer weather has me aching to be outside. I caution myself with the fact that we were blanketed with snow when I got up on April 1, so conditions are still subject to sudden change here.

If you like what you see here, subscribe. Spring is in the air and new material will start coming faster now that there is so much good green stuff to go see and do. And for those of you who have already, thank you.

The Case for a No-Mow Lawn

If you own a home, to some extent you have a lawn. For many of us, a lawn is a source of pride. Here in the suburbs, rows of manicured lawns lend consistency to our shady, tree-lined streets. The front of the house has always been a sense of pride for homeowners. It’s our showplace. We manicure the turf, weed, spray, edge , mow, trim and otherwise fret away our summer Saturdays making sure everything is squared away. Your front yard is your first impression. It can say a lot about you.

But what about that one person down the street? You know the one. Where the lady in the straw hat and crocs is always weeding some patch of flowers, in that jungle she calls a front yard. As much as it bothers you, it most likely bothers you because it isn’t the same as all the rest. Not because it is ugly, but because it isn’t. Some people it seems, are willing to break the mold. To boldly go where no one mows anymore. I am talking about the no-mow lawn.

Traditional turf has been replaced, and endless possibilities have been discovered. Instead of a traditional expanse of manicured green carpet, let stone, mulch, beds of flowers, clumps of perennials, shrubs and even vegetables rule the landscape. Your entire front yard is now transformed into a giant landscaped garden, as unique as the homeowner wants it to be. There are a few different paths to take here. Either just plain and simply stop mowing your existing lawn, or a least a part of it, and let nature take it’s course. Or your lawn gets turned into planted beds.

Standing Out

There are benefits to doing this. First, you stand out. If done right, your home will have “pop”. People will walk by, just to look at it. You get included in local garden tours, and it is just plain and simply enjoyable to look at, and ever changing as you progress through the season.

Conserving Water

Also, if you live in an especially dry, arid zone, an established no-mow lawn despite all its lush greenery, will require significantly less water. Which is very helpful if you have water restrictions and its also less work for you. Watering a no-mow lawn also produces much less run-off that just ends up in your storm sewer system.

run off
Irrigation run-off on a traditional lawn

Expand Your Growing Space

For all you avid vegetable gardeners who have run out of space, no-mow lawns present an opportunity: Front Yard Vegetable Gardening! A lot of vegetables, especially the leafy ones, make attractive landscape plants. Why not decorate with them? Move that Kale out front to make room for more potatoes out back. Rainbow Swiss Chard grouped together can make an attractive planting instead of hostas. There are lots of possibilities here.

Front-Lawn-Vegetable-Garden-Design.jpg
Edible front yard

So What’s the downside? There are a few, and carefully consider each before you dive headlong into something like this:

  • Work
  • Municipal issues
  • Impact on selling your home

It’s a lot of Work

sweatig 2

Despite it’s really cool appearance, in some cases it can be more work than the lawn was. It will of course take a lot of labor to establish. But the remember, unlike grass that you just basically mow, all those lovely perennials, bulbs, vegetables, shrubs and cutting flowers have individual needs. There are different times to prune, fertilize, pests to fight, watering and a host of other unique factors. If you like gardening, this is not much of a down side, and in many cases, much more enjoyable than schlepping a lawn mover back and forth. So I wold say this one at least balances out.

Municipal Issues

The nail that sticks out usually gets hammered. That’s true with your lawn as well. Check your town regulations. Especially if you want to just stop mowing all or a portion of your lawn. In most cases they can legally deem you a nuisance and fine you or more. I used to work for a landscaping contractor who did jobs for the town in those instances. If the town deemed your property a nuisance, and you did nothing about it, we showed up and did it for you. Then we billed the town, who in turn billed you. There are ways to get around this. But start by knowing your rules. The internet is rife with stories of this happening to people. 

no mow unique 3
These people had to fight the town to save their lawn

Impact on Selling

Not everyone appreciates the growing world as much as some of us do. If you plan on selling your house in the future, something like this may not exactly be a selling point. There are exceptions, such as a a Victorian -style house set close to the sidewalk. Something that is usually in keeping with several other houses in the neighborhood.

victorian

Most potential buyers may see an overworked, heavily designed front yard as a negative. Or at the very least use the potential cost of removal as a bargaining chip. But that is your decision in the end. Don’t let yourself be talked into it by a realtor as soon as they see your house for the first time.

My Approach to the Concept

I like this concept. But I am literally going to play both sides of the fence with this one. I have a nice front yard, and I sit on a corner lot. I even pay someone to care for it. My back yard is separated by a white picket fence. It is the back yard where I decided a while ago to apply the no-mow concept. Starting this spring, I intend to turn the back yard into a series of gardens and functional areas connected by a meandering stone pathway. A sizable piece of my backyard is already taken up by a deck, the vegetable garden, a brick patio that needs to be re-leveled, and a nice magnolia tree. I think those things make for good bones to design around. And I relish the thought of sitting on the deck on summer mornings, drinking a warm cup of coffee and looking out over the gardens, admiring their colors, textures and shapes. To appealing to pass up.

Seed Starting Update for 2019

The seeds have arrived. The plans are drawn up. And last week the first stage of the 2019 garden season began. I started seeds! I knew how many plants I wanted this year, so I made my list, and selected things for early starting that I knew needed to be started indoors, or were something I may have had a problem with in the past. My secret weapon this year is heat mats. I should have used them last year, but I thought my basement was warm enough and boy was I wrong.

So this year I ordered some off Amazon. I planted a week ago, and what a difference. I already have seedlings. If you were considerering using them, I would highly recommend it. They don’t cost much and the results I saw speak for themselves. Before I get into what already sprouted, here is what I started:

  • Swiss Chard
  • Kale
  • Jalapeno Peppers
  • Ancho Chili Peppers
  • Sweet Chili Peppers
  • Chinese Giant Bell Peppers
  • Intruder Bell Peppers
  • Sweet Chocolate Peppers
  • Olympian Slicing Cucumbers
  • Calabrese Broccoli
  • Mango Hybrid Melon
  • Cherokee Purple Tomatoes
  • Brandy-wine Tomatoes
  • Sweet Cherry Tomatoes
  • Steakhouse Hybrid Beefsteak Tomatoes
  • Green Gem Brussel Sprouts
  • Tango Celery

Seems like a lot doesn’t it? But I only planted 3 cells of most of those. I scaled it back based on my notes from last year. There is still an entire group that will be sowed outdoors in May, such as Sweet Corn, squash, beans, basically the easy fast germinating stuff. This year, because I ordered seeds, potatoes and some plants, the order is staggered. The seeds came about 10 days ago. I expect the tubers next, then the plants (raspberries and a fig), and last will be the sweet potato slips.

Right now I have sprouts on the kale, chard, brussel sprouts, tomatoes and cucumbers. So I am looking for a cheap source of small plastic pots to transplant them into. They will develop better i pots then left in the starter cells, even though I use deep cells.

20190317_074459My enthusiasm seems to grow along with them. One thing I did notice is that the heat mats require more frequent watering. Not a lot, but noticeably more than last year. I am okay with that. I tend to it all daily, like an impatient, hovering parent. I expect in another 10-14 days, maybe a little less, I will start seeing peppers. Peppers were a hard spot last year. It took a log time because my basement was so cool. The plants were small when I moved them outside, and were stunted for the season. This year I am hoping for bigger plats, for a bigger yield. .

20190317_075036So I am pleased that things are moving along. The warmer weather makes me impatient to get out there, so having something to do is a nice distraction. The snow is gone, the finches are changing colors, and in the mornings when I leave for work, I can hear birdsong. Now is also when I also start stocking up on supplies such as: fertilizer, copper fungicide for the squash, melons and cucumbers,  Epsom salts and calcium. I mix Epsom salts and calcium and give the beds with the peppers and tomatoes a good shot of that. That helps prevent blossom end rot and a number of other deficiencies they are prone to.  My raised bed soil is deficient in micro nutrients and last year I didn’t use nearly enough. I ended up having to foliar feed to treat symptoms and I would rather stay ahead of this time and have improved plant health in order to see increased yields.

20190317_074513That’s all I have to cover for now. In a few weeks I may update again, if some meaningful change has occurred. Until then, play for warmth.

2019 Rochester Garden Show

 

About this time each year, we here in upstate are pretty damn sick of winter.  Gardeners and outdoor enthusiasts more than most. Just when we can’t take it anymore, along comes an annual event that draws us like moths to a flame, and leaves us practically drooling for warmer weather, with our minds stuffed full of crazy ideas. Where did we get such fanciful notions?

The annual Rochester Garden Show, where else? The inside of a local indoor arena is turned into stone pathways meandering through some of the most fantastic and artistic landscaping displays you will ever see. Like a fashion show, designers throw out what’s practical, and instead show us what is possible. Displays of stone work, melded with water gardens, timbers, living walls, and much much more. And just when you think you have had enough, an area stuffed full of vendors with everything from hydroponics and tools, to seeds and statuary. So let me take you on a tour and show you what I love about this.

I will not attempt to go into detail on every single display. That would take a long time. Instead I will take you through my favorites, of which there were quite a few. The arena is round. So you have an outer ring of displays, then several throughout the center. This year’s theme was Enchanted Gardens.

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First up, was the display for the Monroe County Parks Department. Not something  I was expecting. However, after entering through a tunnel of birch and willow branches, I came across some very cool hand-made chars, a table and benches. As it turns out, the Parks employees made these, and there representative told me they were looking for a way to market them in order to fund projects. I thought that was a magnificent idea. No wonder why we have great parks with people like that.

 

Even though this is a Garden Show, the next display was actually requested based on the small display they did last year. The National Warplane Museum in Geneseo, New York’s Victory Garden. Last year they had a small victory garden display, hearkening back to World War 2, when people were encouraged to plant vegetables in order to help support the war effort. This year they added an iconic white picket fence, stars and stripes flying high and a larger garden. They also had a vintage Willy’s Jeep, and I got to register for a chance to go for a flight in a restored C-47 airplane that was actually used for the D-Day parachute drop. It was a touching display and just looking at it made me feel like I was looking at an actual 1940’s victory garden.

Right after that,  ran across an odd but cool piece by a company called GFNLA Plantgfx Gardenscape Pros (not exactly a catchy name). A giant stone throne/chair made for a giant, with a giant ax sunk into the ground next to it. Like Paul Bunyan himself was sitting there.

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I need this in my backyard. It’s just cool.

Fossil Rock Landscaping was up next. Their display was breathtaking in the level of detail, and that really made the design what it was. The display was titled  Enchanted Wedding Barn. It looked like something you would see in Country Living or Martha Stewart Living magazines. This was the People’s Choice Winner and Best In Show and I could easily see why. An open timber roof with nice natural looking stone, the structure was low, but that helped blend it into the surroundings. Country-style accent lighting, a really incredible dining area, and just behind the sliding barn door, an outdoor pub? They had me long before that, but that clinched it. If you had this in your yard, you would have nonstop garden parties, because …..why not show it off? It is by far, one of the coolest outdoor living designs I have ever seen.

 

I saw some interesting creations from  Westside Pro Landscapes, who used moss, woven sticks and flowers to create ladybugs, a giant dragonfly and a magical looking mushroom.

 

Next was the Fairy Land display. Fairies were snuck into displays, and while this didn’t have any, it was like you were walking down a long unused path in some old forest, and just stumbled upon this scene i a clearing.

 

As I finished my loop of the outside, the last display was the local Bonsai Society. The first part of the display was just a collection of Bonsai creations against a stark white back drop. It wasn’t exactly eye catching. But as you rounds the wall, it got much more interesting. Here under a stone and wood arbor, two gentlemen were working on some very cool looking specimens, and around them among the garden beds were displayed some incredible specimens. Comparing the first part of the display with the second part, really shows you why presentation is everything.

 

There was still more to see, and I have skipped over more than a few of the displays. I could write for days, and still not cover all of it. But I my intent is to just hit the high points.  So I will close with what was my second favorite display. A company I have never heard of called simply JOSH Landscape Company. Their scene titled simply Transcend was breathtakingly cool. High stone walls on the outside allowed them to slope down towards the stone path that led through the display. Huge trunks made of woven sticks and vines lighted on the inside immediately draw your gaze, and it gave it a very fantasy forest type of feel. But as incredible as it was, you couldn’t let that distract you from all the little details. Small deer topiary were hidden here and there, beautiful plant selection, and what I liked best, were the open books blooming from the landscape like flowers. It made the display like some literary dream world. Inviting you to come in and read in the garden. It was fantastic. I walked through it several times and every time  found something new.

 

After all that, I must admit feeling a little drained. It was a lot to take in. I wandered over to the vendor area and just cruised through that. Stopping to buy some variegated Caladium bulbs, a hydrangea and some spicy pickles from one of the food vendors. You can;t have an event without food, that just won’t do. It was everything I thought it would be and a little more. The awesome displays, the scent of new mulch and blooming hyacinth, and color everywhere you look sent me home with a smile. Something you don’t get much of this time of year.

I hope I could convey through word and picture just how excellent of a show this was, ad I look forward to next years being even better. My wildest dream is that somehow this inspires someone to start something similar in their community. Until next time…..

The Basics of Garden Design

Design can be intimidating. A lot of people try it, a lot of people fail. Many aspirants overlook the simplicity of it and try and get all fancy. In the end,  they often wind up with an unintentional, eclectic mess in the front yard. Mostly because they fail to heed the rules. Rules you say?  Yes, rules. There are rules to designing almost anything. Just because they change over time, doesn’t mean that design using growing things is the exception.

What’s that you say? You don’t like rules? You’re unconventional, a mold breaker, an innovator……you refuse to have your rampant creativity restrained by stuffy old conventions. To that I say “go for it”. Have at it. Please send me pictures. In the end, you will see what I mean. In this case rules are not absolutes. So stop thinking of them like a straight jacket. Think of them more as handrails, or a safety net. That by no means gets you off the hook for designing something so eye-shattering that the local town council deems it a public menace. Guidelines…just guidelines.

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You can follow the rules and still be creative and artistic. There are an infinite number of combinations of textures, colors, hardscape elements, specimen plants, and the like that you can incorporate. So think of these rules as the glue that holds all that together. Now you may finish reading this and decide that it’s not for you. You would rather leave it to a professional. That’s generally a safe move and can be much less aggravating. Then you are only responsible for whatever grand vision you tried to get them to translate into a drawing. But for those brave souls who want to try it themselves, or maybe you just want to have a finer appreciation  of how green spaces are intentionally put together, this may be for you.  You will also have a much greater appreciation when you tour horticultural attractions and you can sound super smart when you flippantly comment about how “the conflicting textures of the foundation plantings really anchor the structure to the landscape”.

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WELL, YES…

These rules can be broken down into two basic major parts. First, on a larger (think macro) scale are the design principles: balance, focalization, simplicity, rhythm and line,proportion and unity. You consider design principles when looking at the bigger picture, such as a large garden or an entire property. On the smaller (micro) , yet no less important scale are the elements of design: line, color, texture, form and scale. If these sound somewhat familiar to you, think back to any art classes you took in school. These attributes are not unique to landscaping and gardens. They are somewhat general artistic principles. You could just as easily apply them to a painting or a sculpture as you could to a cottage garden.

Now I could discuss each separate point in depth. and give you a complete informal education in one sitting. But that would require me to wear my fingers down to nubs typing. I have no wish to do that because I have a garden to plant soon. So, dear reader, this becomes a series. I will work through each of the design elements in more detail since each is worthy of it’s own post. Then I will move on to the design elements. Each of them deserves their 15 minutes of fame as well. I will keep it as interesting as possible and practical enough that anyone can follow along. I hope you will stay with me through this journey.

To be continued…….

First up: Balance

Mono Cultural Problems

Monoculture. My Plant Materials professor in college constantly warned of it and the dangers it brings. That same sentiment was echoed in my Integrated Pest Management classes as well. But my Landscape Design and Plant Propagation/Nursery Management professors were at odds with it. So what to believe? Is it good, or is it a thing to be feared?

This depends upon your school of thought. Monoculture is the cultivation of a single crop in a given area. In order to understand it and figure out how it fits in, and whether it is to be feared or not, is all a matter of perspective. So lets start with what it means on a residential level.

Elm-lined streets no longer exist thanks to Dutch Elm Disease

Landscape architects and city planners love monoculture. Elm lined streets were everywhere once upon a time. I can walk the streets of my neighborhood and count no more than 4 or 5 species of trees; Red Oaks, Silver Maples, Norway Maples, Honey Locusts and Plane-trees. The repetition lends a certain look and continuity to neighborhoods. Landscape designers favor it too. Every house on my street has similar shrubs, Arborvitae hedges, mature Rhododendrons…….and all that is fine. Until Dutch Elm disease wipes the shade form the neighborhood streets, Japanese beetles ravage the landscape, tar spot covers the colorful fall maple leaves with unsightly blights. You get the picture.

For you, the established homeowner, it gives you a heads up as to what to guard against. As a new homeowner, it is an opportunity to not have to suffer their fate. Monoculture draws pests. They go where the food is. The most food that will sustain the population. The denser the food/host source, the faster the problem will spread in that geographic area. Disease spreads right down the street with the wind blown rain, insects, wind, blowing leaves, etc. and you cannot stop the spread. It is almost useless to fight against it . As a home owner, you can spend thousands having you lawn treated, and your trees and shrubs sprayed to no avail. Because if the whole area isn’t on the same regimen, the pests or disease gain a foothold. Then the second you are off on your application timing, bang! Cedar apple rust, grubs, powdery mildew and all sorts of lovely and unsightly things come calling.

Recognize these? Everyone in my neighborhood planted them at one time. Why not? They look nice, they dampen road noise and they block your view of that junky whatever-it-is your neighbor has in her backyard. Alas, after a few years of harsh winters and overpopulation, the deer came calling to our neighborhood. With their preferred foods scarce, they ate their way up one block and down the next. They like the tender, new growth on the tips. Our mono cultural buffet attracted a herd of hoofed pests that to this day still come through nightly to see what’s for dinner.

So you homeowners need to be savvy. Plant a good mixture of stuff. Yes, you can use multiples of the same plant material. Before you consider it, see what your neighbors are battling and just choose not to have to fight the same battle if possible. Sometimes it means just switching to a cultivar that is more disease resistant to whatever the big problems are. And above all, a healthy plant is the best defense. So prune when you should, fertilize, make use of beneficial insects, try to use chemicals only as a last resort.

For you avid gardeners out there, take all that with a grain of salt. Gardening is all about monoculture. Modern agriculture gets by on it. Why? Because it simplifies things. For large farms, it limits the diseases and pests one has to deal with. It’s less farm implements required for planting and harvesting, it simplifies the economics and cost analysis and a number of other things. In short, you need it. That is not an excuse for not using Integrated Pest Management principles, or crop rotation, disease resistant strains and other sound practices. Rather, it’s an incentive if one wants continued success.

For you smaller, more realistic gardeners and homesteaders, you have other concerns. First, when possible select plants that are resistant. Be aware of what your neighbors are planting. A community garden group is a great way to do this, but I will expand upon that more in a post coming soon. Also, as an excellent free resource, do not overlook your local extension service. They generally track the bad stuff they are seeing in the area and can be a good form of intelligence against a coming invasion. They also offer practical solutions and their master gardeners are experienced and always willing to help.

Monoculture isn’t as big a problem for the gardener as it is for the commercial farmer, but to a smaller extent it can be a problem. Don’t settle for just one crop, which most of us don’t. I love tomatoes, but I don’t want to defend my entire backyard against horn-worms. So I plant a broad variety of things. And switch stuff up year over year. Including locations. Some things aren’t that mobile and moving to a new spot entirely may disrupt the process enough to break the cycle. Last year I had a problem with powdery mildew, mainly because I planted enough squash and melons to support a small country. This year, I moved their location and have scaled it way back to make the mildew easier to control. The general idea is to make it as difficult as possible for anything to gain a foothold. And remember, a pest, or disease may jump from one type to another. Japanese beetles don’t discriminate, neither does powdery mildew.

So there it is. Monoculture is a different problem based on your particular perspective. So be forewarned, think ahead and avoid it when practical. I would rather you plant nice shrubs, keep a nice lawn, grow huge tasty veggies for you. Not for deer, grubs, anthracnose, mildew, cucumber beetles and so on, and so on…..

Keep growing, keep enjoying.

Basement Lettuce

So I am sick and tired of Lettuce recalls. That’s how this whole thing got started. Remember earlier this year? The great Romaine recall? Well, welcome to modern agriculture. This is what happens when you have centrally located super-farms busy mass producing all manner of agricultural products, sharing water sources with other farms. Gut bacteria from animal waste gets into the water supply. That water gets spread around….and poof. E.coli is added to your nice healthy salad. Now I am not slamming modern agriculture. It does much good and this is an unfortunate by-product. But we can do better.

Well, after weeks jonesing for salad (worse because we couldn’t get any romaine and my local Panera stopped selling salads), I said enough is enough. I am a horticulturalist and avid gardener. I have grow lights, trays, starter packs, potting mix and lettuce seeds. So why am I not growing my own? Well, I am now.

That’s right, in the bowels of winter, in my not so well heated basement, I started some lettuce seeds. My intent is to grow my own lettuce pretty much year round. I do not have a greenhouse or sun room. So I will have to make do as things progress. I started the new category that you find this post in, and that is where I will post periodic lettuce updates so you can see my success and hopefully very few failures.

Salanova Red Butter Lettuce

So after just a about a week ad a half, I had some respectable lettuce seedlings. I let them go for a few more weeks until I could transplant them into pots. Here they will stay. I made sure to plant them far enough below the rim, so I could cut them just above the crown. That is far off, but this “cut and come again” method will allow me to keep harvesting them for quite a while. When the nights get warmer in early May, I will move them outside. Lettuce is pretty cold-hardy. So a late freeze doesn’t scare me too much.

If this works I will keep it going, starting new seedlings, the transplanting into pots. The benefit of pots is I can move them to shadier areas in the high heat of summer to reduce bolting.

Dragoon Romaine

All in all, I am excited at the prospect of nearly year round fresh lettuce. Obviously to get any quantity, I will have to expat the operation. But right now I am happy with the 9 plants I have and if I rotate what I cut , water and fertilize wisely, I should get fairly regular and consistent harvests.

Well, that’s it for right now. I will post another Lettuce update in a few weeks. These pictures are over a week old, and the plants are now starting to flourish so the ext update should show quite a bit more development. In the mean time, keep finding ways to be green. And to those of you who have subscribed since my past post, thank you. As time allows I will come check out your content and return the favor.

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