We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Our Recent Essays Behind the Front Page
Sunday, May 26. 2019
Some varieties of Serviceberry, more commonly known as Shadbush up here because it blooms during the Shad run, grow in most parts of the US and southern Canada. Some grow as shrubs, some as small trees. If you spend any time tramping outdoors, you will see them.
Some varieties are used as landscape plantings (I have used them) but most grow wild, especially in brushy edges.
The berries look somewhat like blueberries, and range from red to purple to black.
Depending on the variety, the berries can be sour or sweet. All are edible raw, and you can make jam with them too.
Serviceberry is not to be confused with the Huckleberry, also a common wild plant. Huckleberry is a common meadow edge plant.
Tuesday, May 21. 2019
Thursday, May 16. 2019
So every couple of years I order 2500 of these rapid breeders. If you have decent soil, to a decent depth, regularly replenished with good mulch and fallen leaves, these guys will do a good job for your borders and other gardens while feeding the worm-eaters.
All of my shrub, lawn, and vegetable gardens have been carefully prepared. No pesticides, etc, with good deep loam fortified with maure, etc. I let grass clippings lie, and fallen leaves too (until autumn). Feed the worms!
How can you tell whether your soil is lousy? If you dig up a shovel full of earth and do not find 5 or 6 wigglers, it's either not very good or it's been a rough winter for them.
Sunday, April 28. 2019
Saturday, March 23. 2019
St. Patrick's Day is a traditional time to plant peas around here. Sometimes you have to scrape snow off the garden. Sometimes the seeds never germinate. Still, tradition. I'll try to do it today if 1/2 inch of soil is soft.
I don't grow them for the peas. I grow them for the early sweet and crunchy pea-pods. We just eat them raw usually, while checking out the garden.
Tuesday, December 4. 2018
It's the time of year when people begin forcing bulbs indoors, especially Paperwhite narcissus but other bulbs too.
The trick we learned but keep forgetting from my garden club Mom was to regularly give those forced bulbs a shot of cheap vodka or gin.
Paperwhites and Amaryllis benefit most from some booze. I don't know how it works, but they grow stouter, somewhat less tall and tippy stalks that way. No effect on the blooms.
We rarely have hard booze in the house, but I'll pick up some cheap vodka to keep the bulbs happy and strong.
Sunday, August 12. 2018
Serious commercial farms don't have many earthworms: The Coming Worm Apocalypse Should Terrify You. Gee, I am not terrified.
People with serious, large compost piles often throw in a pile of Red Worms, but I like Nightcrawlers for my vegetable garden and flower borders. Of course, they spread into turf and shrub areas too if the soil is nice. If your turf is lousy, with clay and no food (ie no lawn clippings or shredded leaves), they will not go there to do your aeration for you.
You can buy them here, and other places. They will work hard for you, and reproduce quickly. Release them at night, preferable on recently weeded or tilled soil.
Sunday, July 15. 2018
And if you are out there in your gardens, now is a good time, and the last chance, to shear back the late summer and fall-blooming perennials that you don't want to grow too tall and scraggly, eg Asters, Daisies, and Seaside Daisies.
It's been a cold Spring in New England. Tomato plants aren't growing vigorously. New England is marginal for tomato compared to New Jersey or South Carolina, but home-growns are so tasty that we persist anyway. We really only get a crop in July-Sept while in south Jersey they can be harvesting garden tomatoes June-October. Unless you have a greenhouse. Some days, like today, I wish I had one. But naw, not really. Who wants the hassle?
Saturday, June 16. 2018
Lawns are foolish things but unless you live in the woods, a desert, or a beachy place, they are sort of expected.
A lawn is a certain sort of constantly-cut garden, copied from the estates of England where sheep kept the grass neatly cropped and sheep poop kept it fertilized. (Thus putting greens.)
If you want a happy lawn, I recommend aerating a lawn every two years with a coring machine, in late Spring. Or now. Every year, if it is used heavily by kids, animals, sports, or heavy mowers. If you have bare patches, overseed before coring.
At at about the same time, you topdress the grass with compost, manure, sand, or mixes of those. It works as mulch, fertilizer, worm food, microorganism food, etc. Health, because lawns are not natural and you have no sheep.
You can rent a coring machine anywhere for a day or two. Leave the cores on the grass. They disintegrate fast.
For large lawns or golf courses, large machines almost like farm manure-spreaders do the topdressing, but you can spread good compost mixes with a fertilizer spreader or with shovel and rake.
Around here, you can have a pleasant and useful lawn without irrigation and maybe only once or twice/year organic fertilizing if you treat it as the garden that sod is. You have to assume that lawns will brown up in the greatest heat of summer, but it's only a few weeks. That's natural grass dormancy. It bounces right back.
Irrigation and nitrogen fertilizer are like photoshopping a lawn. Fake. An important garden lawn might need irrigation though, to look Spring-like during the late summer weeks.
Photo is a commercial aerator/corer. The ones you can rent are like heavy lawn mowers.
Saturday, June 9. 2018
For many purposes, I prefer these things to wheelbarrows - even to two-wheeled wheelbarrows. I have the smaller one.
Over the years, I have kept the wood waterproof because I store it outdoors.
Because they have narrow tires, they are not suitable for loads of rocks or heavy loads of dirt, but great for most outdoor purposes. At rural lodges etc. they are commonly used to bring luggage from boat docks, etc.
Friday, April 20. 2018
Sunday, April 8. 2018
Mints will invade everything. My Mom would just let it loose in a meadow. When the meadow was mowed, wow. Great smell. When you needed some for lemonade, it was out there.
Same goes for beautiful flowering vines like Trumpet Vine and Wisteria. Their desires to spread and metastasize via underground roots are relentless and close to impossible to prevent. My advice is not to plant them anywhere they cannot be mowed around.
Bamboo. Unless you have a good local Panda population, you will be sorry you even planted it. Agent Orange is one approach.
What sorts of garden plants have you had difficulty controlling?
Sunday, October 15. 2017
We go for natural or naturalistic plantings around here. Just a couple of perennial borders that we supplement with annuals. The fewer gardens you have, the less work.
Our best naturalistic plantings are a meadow hillside full of daffodils. At some point, you can just mow it with the tractor. We also have plenty of daylilies along walls. They make for an August delight.
Monday, October 9. 2017
No, you probably ought not to, and they are bitter anyway. Birds love them which is the main reason I have planted them.
They are known to like damp habitats or stream edges, but they grow well, and spread, almost anywhere. They like sun. I have found them very easy to grow, and highly productive of fruit in Sept/Oct.
What are they good for? Jam and pies. I have never had Elderberry Wine, and most likely neither have you. Why bother?
People use their flowers for flavoring things.
Saturday, September 2. 2017
A friend has a patch of Castor plants, self-seeding in the garden. 5-6' tall, dramatic foliage.
Shade plants, annuals in northern climates. They are the source of castor oil, also of the poison ricin. However, many garden plants are poisonous (eg daffodils).
I have a shady spot for a patch of these.
Sunday, August 20. 2017
A few years ago I posted a photo of a garden shrub that I see occasionally thriving on the Outer Cape. Many of our readers concluded that it was Mexican Sage. It is not. I wasted some money buying a couple of Mexican Sages online, and they will not survive my winter.
I finally got to the bottom of it today. It is Vitex (aka Monk's Pepper, or Chaste Tree). The leaves look like marijuana leaves.
Vitex can grow into a small tree or, if pruned, can remain a small shrublike perennial. In northern climes, it tends to die back to the ground in cold winters (like buddleia) but comes right back up in spring.
This site sells a dwarf version which is exactly what I have been seeking.
Give it a try in a perennial bed as a bushy perennial. Butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds like it. It blooms all summer.
Thursday, August 3. 2017
Lazybeds are the original raised-bed farming. On the Isle of Harris, where almost nobody bothers to farm or garden anymore since the Medieval Warm Period, remnants of old lazybed "farming" - more like heavy subsistence gardening - are often seen where there is enough soil to plant. There is not very much soil for planting, and peat bogs can not be gardened. However, raised beds with good drainage (always sloping how towards the sea), enhanced with seaweed as fertilizer, could grow enough peas and potatoes for a crofter (who also had some sheep and cattle). Maybe some oats or barley, but not much.
Like Ridge-and Furrow farming, Lazybeds date back at least to Roman times in the rough parts of the British Isles.
Today, on the islands, wool is the cash crop. The sheep just run wild until shearing time which is why so much of the landscape looks like a putting green. In fact, sheep originated putting greens. (The "rough" was, more likely than not, heather - which is very rough indeed.)
Below the fold, somebody in the Hebrides is still using lazybeds - and a view of what looks like a golf course with natural water hazard and sand traps
Continue reading "Lazybeds, plus a comment on golf"
Saturday, June 24. 2017
Such things should only be planted where they can be mowed around because they spread underground, or just spread, to the point of overwhelming everything in their vicinity:
I had a few more on my list, but I can't remember right now.
Saturday, June 17. 2017
Our friend Francis posted a photo of his wife's charming country garden (they also have a charming city garden). Along that garden path she has a wall of peonies and a row of nepeta. I wonder what they have for summer bloom.
I guess his photo gives me a little peony envy. We could use some peonies, but I don't know where I would put them.
Here is Planting Peonies
Sunday, June 11. 2017
Baptisia is an excellent 3+-ft. high border perennial. It's a late-spring/early-summer bloomer, likes full sun to half-day sun but can get leggy without enough sun.
It's a tough and vigorous perennial - once it is established. It grows deep roots, so it can unfortunately take a couple of years to reach its full effect.
The three new ones I planted in the fall are pathetic now, but next Spring they should be ready to show some vigor and bloom.
Many good things need patience. For instant color, go with annuals.
Sunday, May 21. 2017
In New England, with our relatively brief growing season, it is difficult to have a crop of tropical and subtropical fruits like tomatoes for more than several weeks - mainly August-mid-September. Unless you are on the coast, it is hardly worth bothering to grow tomatoes (other than cherry tomatoes which ripen quickly) from mid- Massachusetts, north.
Some people, with more drive than I have, construct polyurethane tents, like greenhouses, to give their tomatoes a head start on the season. It is of minimal effectiveness. Why?
Because tomato plants do not like to grow until nighttime temperatures are consistently above 60 degrees F. They might make an effort, but without vigor. Raise the night temperature and they grow like weeds.
That's why putting them in early doesn't make sense unless it's your only chance to get them in at all. Experienced gardeners around here aim for putting them in around Memorial Day and their crops are generally more productive than those who try to jump the season.
The domestic tomato was bred, probably by Aztecs in Central America, into a useful food (as they did with the tomatillo). A brief History of Tomatoes. The wild version of tomato seems to be the Currant Tomato, a perennial vine with berry-like green fruit. By now, that plant has so widely cross-bred with man-made tomato that the wild type may be extinct. All of the modern colors, including bright red, are relatively recent genetic inventions. Every tomato today (including "heritage") is a testament to GMO - the slow kind achieved by the Aztecs up through the 20th century.
Monday, May 8. 2017
Few shade garden plants are as sweet, subtle, and sentimental to me as the diminutive Lily of the Valley.
A clump of 20 in a dry shady corner or under a shrub will spread a bit via rhizomes, and, like Bluebells, create a patch of cheer in early May.
Sunday, April 30. 2017
Saturday, April 22. 2017
If I could only have one herb, it would be Thyme. Not Tarragon, not Rosemary. Certainly not Parsley which is pretty but has too little flavor. Thyme has the richest, earthiest, deepest flavor (technically, fragrance) of them all.
It's a Mediterranean plant (Thymus vulgaris) but the Romans spread it around and it can now be found growing wild in the US. At the Farm, it grows wild in dry, nutrition-deprived meadows and makes a soft and fragrant footing as long as you avoid the bees. Wild Thyme and garden Thyme are the same things. Around here, there is Creeping Thyme (good for between flagstones) and regular Thyme. It's evergreen, and has no problem with rough winters. All Thyme wants is bad soil.
There is no need to harvest Thyme except when you need some. Even in winter, it stays fresh and fragrant under the snow. I usually use whole twigs in a recipe, not leaves. You can pull the twigs out later.
This year I am growing more herbs amongst the perennial flowers as they do in Spain. I have figgered out how to help Sage survive feet of snow.
Tuesday, April 11. 2017
Spring is on the horizon up here. Snow piles are melting. Thoughts about the gardens appear.
I have always had a vegetable garden, as did my parents, as did my Grandpas. It's a guy thing mostly, symbolic providers only since WW2.
I had a couple of reasons for adding this hassle to my life: family tradition, tomatoes, and to teach and show my kids where food comes from. It is rewarding for kids to go out and pick a couple of cucumbers or peppers or summer squash, or a basket of beans to bring to the kitchen.
Except for tomatoes, in my view home gardening makes no sense unless you value your time at zero, which makes it pure hobby. Home-grown stuff, for the month or two it is available up here, may be marginally better, but truly marginally and often worse. And there are the bugs that eat everything.
If I were rational, I would stick with my fruit trees, tomatoes, figs, herbs, and rhubarb and forget the rest. Almost forgot my Mouse melons - they are cool. I gave up on raspberries because the birds ate them all. I gave up on the native blueberries too because they never thrived.
I have a pal who has a huge fenced and irrigated vegetable garden. Definitely one of his hobbies. He leaves bags of chard, peppers, and eggplants on my front porch. Much appreciated but I do not know where he finds the time.
With kids, definitely good to show them how to grow things, though. Kids love to dig and love to pick stuff. That's why I always grow some pumpkins.
With the inspiration of Mrs. BD (and my Mom), I have become more interested in flowering borders in recent years. Very rewarding and challenging without being edible, the bugs are no problem, and the hummingbirds and butterflies are good fun.
Do you enjoy weeding? I don't, but I enjoy the (fleeting) results. I use Preen on the flower beds, and it sort-of works for a while. I would rather take a long hike with Mrs. BD, or go to the city, or go fishing, or to the gym, than spend half a weekend day growing something I can pick up at the market for 99 cents.
Go ahead and argue with me -
Photo is a Rhubarb patch. I love rhubarb. You can even munch the stalks raw, and it never fails to come up strong. You often find a cute snake curled up in there, which makes it fun. It's a crop you can count on and do not have to do anything for other than throw a little manure or fertilizer on it in April. Do not bite into the Garter Snake because it will piss him off.