Thursday, December 31, 2009

The year in gardening 2009/Resolutions for 2010

My plot back in early September

The past year may go down in history as one of the worst years in gardening, at least in the past decade. Above-average rainfall and below-average temperatures during the crucial months of the growing season resulted in a below-average yield, especially with tomatoes. In November, I abandoned my experiment of determining how much I benefited monetarily from planting and harvesting edibles, reporting a negative balance. And on some days, I spent more time clearing out infected fruits and vegetables than harvesting healthy ones.

The Minton Stable Garden in bloom, August

However, I still find gardening to be a satisfying act, providing physical and emotional benefits to those who participate in it. Another year at the Minton Stable Community Garden led to more friendships with gardeners and other Steering Committee members. A community of bloggers provided advice and ideas for improving my garden practices as well. And the rain had some advantages, including a lower water bill for the community garden (only $141.82, down from last year's $203.40). As long as I have my 140 square feet in JP and land at home, and Massachusetts hasn't yet disappeared under rising sea levels, I'll continue gardening. Here is my second annual set of lists, with items not in any particular order.

Top 5 successful plants:
1. Kentucky Wonder pole beans
2. Fiesta organic broccoli
3. Forellenschluss Romaine lettuce (grown in Minton Stable Garden)
4. June-bearing strawberries (before the botrytis set in)
5. Volunteer raspberries--they liked the fall conditions

Top 5 failures:
1. All tomato varieties (except volunteer cherry tomatoes)--due to below-average temps and late blight
2. Anything I tried to grow in my backyard--too shady
3. Spinach after the invasion of leaf miners
4. Irises I tried to transplant to a sunnier location in front yard--maybe they'll bloom next year
5. Zinnias--planted late and not given enough room

Resolutions for 2010:
1. Continue growing the same volume of tomatoes, trying some different varieties, but make a point of pruning them to strengthen plants and ensure that they get more light.
2. Grow more varieties of broccoli, like Piricicaba and broccoli raab, and other plants, including kale and other greens, coriander, parsley, and other herbs, carrots, and cauliflower.
3. Reduce the size of the strawberry bed to make room for the raspberries.
4. Keep trying to achieve that fall crop of greens, perhaps by planting better varieties sooner, starting some indoors in August so they can grow out back under row covers, or by some other means.
5. Be more aggressive in thinning out perennials, to avoid diseases like powdery mildew or to keep them from taking over my MSG plot. Black-eyed susans, anyone?
6. Take better photos, including sharper close-ups and documentation of the garden over time.

Happy New Year! I'd be curious to read the resolutions of other gardeners.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas day in the garden

At a gathering of family and friends that I had on Christmas Eve I was asked if I'd be posting photos of the Minton Stable Garden on Christmas day. After all of the holiday preparations, including buying gifts and getting ready for the party, I was overdue for a visit. We never host anything on Christmas Day, so it's a time to exhale, enjoy the quiet morning, and take our time making our way over to my in-laws'. I stopped by on this white Christmas, which has been statistically demonstrated to be a rarity, and took a few photos. I found few footprints past the garden gate, and though it was likely due to the cold that I didn't linger for long, I couldn't help but also feel that I had invaded a bedroom of sleepers who should not be disturbed.

My broccoli in the snow

The garden may be in hibernation, but in future posts I hope to outline the past year's successes and failures, provide updates on the possibility of keeping bees in the garden, and after the new season begins put up a few videos from 2010 garden events.

The John Carroll Memorial in the snow

One of the wildflower gardens in the snow

Monday, December 14, 2009

Still harvesting

"Why are you always taking pictures of broccoli?" my daughter asked me today. Anyone who has followed my Monday harvest updates (as well as the links at the mother lode, Daphne's Dandelions) knows by now that's all that remains in my Minton Stable Garden plot. I visited the garden last Thursday, the day after our snow/rain event, expecting to pull up the plants entirely, but the sideshoots are still loving this weather. We'll see how long that lasts as nighttime temps start dipping into the twenties. For tonight at home, I'll roast this week's harvest along with a chicken, potatoes, and whatever else in the fridge I can throw in the pan.The community garden is now in winter mode. Brassicas are mostly what remain. Mainly kale. The topic of many of the emails going back and forth among Steering Committee members has shifted from who hasn't completed their work hours to who has signed up for snow shoveling; we won't even convene again until late January. There will be many gardeners I won't see again until around April, when we have our general meeting. In some ways I feel a little sad about this, but I've gotten used to it. Spring will be here in no time.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Gifts you may or may not want

For the past week I've been chipping away at the holiday gift-buying expectations, and I must admit that up to this point, nothing I've purchased has had anything to do with gardening. Perhaps this is because the gardeners in my life are outfitted with everything they need--all the tools, grow lights, and references on their bookshelves to supplement their already-expansive working knowledge. Not to mention that my daughter and most of my eight(!) nieces and nephews are at that awkward age between curiosity about nature and mature reconnection with it, a period that can sometimes last more than ten years (okay, that might be a cynical exaggeration). And if someone mysteriously leaves you a garden gnome working on a laptop, which really happened to my parents right before Thanksgiving (they found it on a stone wall near their garden, but my father took it inside tonight to take this photo), then what else could top that?Having read an article in today's Boston Globe about the best and worst holiday plants, I got to thinking about what I might or could give that special gardener if the opportunity arose. Here is a very random selection of ideas. But first, I want to make it clear that there is no possibility at this time that I would need to disclose that I'm getting paid in any form by any of the vendors or manufacturers offering these items described below--not that anyone would suspect I'd be getting a kickback for my humble musings.

Winter is the time for planning next season's garden. A novice might need a hand in determining what to plant and when to plant it. For those with an iPhone or iPod touch, and if you are extremely cheap, you might want to check out the Garden Guide application; only 99 cents puts information about plants and their growing conditions at a gardener's fingertips. For the Luddite grower, there is the Clyde Planting Chart and its sliding adjuster, no computer required. Or better yet, pick up one of my favorite books, The Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch, which I often consult first for basic, straightforward advice.

Got a depressed gardener on your list? Maybe a Full Sun Grow Lamp is the answer. Not only does it offer a full spectrum of light, but could be used to prevent the onset of Seasonal Affective Disorder. It's a little small for starting lots of seeds but if you place it on your bedside table, it will be near enough that you can roll over and stick your head under it on those mornings you are so despondent that you can't get out of bed. And when a foam pad or folding stool just won't do, there's the Tractor Scoot. For $89.95, you can pull a swiveling seat around like a wagon. I predict a motor in the next version.

It's amazing what new accessories are available these days. I often find that what I grow is beautiful enough on its own. However, we have recently acquired a loved one who is deserving of a gift, and have found just the thing for him. Because everyone could benefit from a garden.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Another unhealthy tradition

Let's face it; every year there is some new revelation about the dangers of the holiday season. For a while, we were told to buy artificial trees to save our forests, only to learn later about some issues around their manufacture. In addition, stopping the flow of catalogs can require more effort than merely recycling them. This season, environmental officials in Massachusetts have issued a new warning: a couple of our most festive-looking plants are invasive and should not be used for decorating.

I remember taking the advice of a friend during my early lean years of living in Jamaica Plain: the bittersweet that grew freely on the fence of a nearby tennis court could be cut and made into a wreath or stuffed in a vase for some instant color. It was the perfect time of the year, as the red berries had popped out from their tannish-yellow casing, a nice two-toned effect. Well, in the process of using cuttings, those berries can drop, and spread across fields, forests, and yards, choking out other plants.I should know this by now. Although I haven't decorated with bittersweet since moving into our current home, we have been battling this nasty knot of it that has been clinging to the roof and side of our garage and along the driveway fence on and off for years. The problem is compounded by the difficulty in reaching some of it. Those branches hang over our neighbor's yard, and because our driveway is about 8 feet higher and the fence unstable, anyone trying to cut it down risks falling a dangerous distance. We tried to stay on top of it when our neighbors grew tomatoes in that part of their yard, but when they moved away and rented their house to non-gardeners we let things go.

I know now that simply cutting it back won't suffice, as the berries will fall and spread. Carol Stocker has recommended applying an herbicide known as Brush-B-Gon on cut stems, and as much as I have avoided using chemicals, I may have no other choice. Time to stop procrastinating and get up on that ladder.