Seedlings on the Rise


Yesterday I managed to plant some lettuce, arugula and beets. Due to our Mother’s Day activities I had to get to the garden beds late in the day. I ran out of time to plant carrots. The garlic is going gangbusters and the spinach is leafing out nicely.

Inside, tomatoes and peppers and basil are reaching for the sun in the windows. Onions and leeks are ready to get outside. Things are growing nicely.

I am a little behind since I want to spread some beneficial nematodes. My official workplace is right near a garden supply store where I can order some of these handy microscopic critters, but since I usually work out of my home, I have not had the chance to get there in far too long. Before I plant cucumbers and pumpkins and melons I would prefer to work on reducing the cucumber beetle situation. I am not fond of those attractive little pests. They do a number on the fruiters.

This year I have planted a good number of flowers, however. Sunflowers and bulbs and annuals. I don’t usually get to those so I can say I am proud of myself for that. Every year I have the ambition to keep up with all the amazing landscaping that came with the house. That has not happened. Maybe this year. But don’t hold your breath. Of course, I would not recommend holding your breath for much, except maybe the paper mill in Rumford, Maine, so maybe that advice isn’t worth much.

I hope this week to make more progress on the nematodes and then the rest of the crops. And the garden will grow.

Thinking About Spring Already

Leafing Through the Catalogs and Guides

OK I know, we just got our first winter snowfall to speak of and I am thinking about spring already. But the time has come. I mean, it is January 17th. Last year I busted out my seeds and seed catalogs a week earlier. I pulled the bin of seeds from last year and years before that, spread out the seed catalogs and started doing some planing. I got interrupted several times so it took me most of the day, but I I figured what I need to order for our 2012 garden.

I have plenty of seeds, but I can’t use them all. The Danvers carrots from 2007 are just not reliable. Some might sprout but most likely will not. Lettuce seeds from last year? Might be good, might not. Pumpkins seeds on the other hand, saved even from 2007, will probably be OK. The big ones last longer. I had to determine what I want to plant, then go through my inventory, then decide where to purchase seeds I don’t have but want.

Mostly I plan to order seeds from High Mowing Organic Seeds. They are fairly local, so if they can make it grow, I probably can as well. I will also order some from Seed Savers Exchange. I love the work they do and they always have something new and different. I prefer to plant open pollinated varieties rather than hybrids, so it is fun to try something new each time. Potatoes, especially, are fun ones for me when it comes to experimenting. They are pretty easy to grow, and any variety will taste good one way or another, so why not try the pink ones? Of course, I have tried some varieties of vegetables that were not the greatest–red zebra tomatoes looked great but just didn’t taste as zowie as I wanted them to taste, and some carrots are so not as sweet as others–but mostly you can’t go wrong with food you grow yourself.

I had hoped to order seeds today but that will have to wait until later in the week. I had way too much playing outside with my daughter to do. The kids were outside a ton yesterday and today, despite the frigid temperatures (yesterday never got above 7 degrees and today the wind chill was below zero in the afternoon). I was proud of them. I didn’t want to be left out. And I do have time. I will likely plant some seeds indoors in March, which isn’t that far away, but I don’t need to order anything two-day shipping at this point. But still, it is hard to resist thinking about summer when the temperature is in the single digits and the wood stove is eating up logs.

So here’s to seed catalogs and the companies who print them! Thanks for bringing me a little summer today.

Wild Parsnip

Wild Parsnip

Up Close

I first noticed it in 2006, a tall yellow flower growing in the field. It was just one of several other plants, including Queen Anne’s lace, a couple varieties of goldenrod, and all those grasses I can’t identify. I looked it up. It wasn’t easy to find in the Vermont flower guide but I did find it in the edible wild plant guide. And I thought: Wild parsnip, huh? Interesting. Edible roots, related to carrots and cultivated parsnip. Worth trying one of these days?

But this plant has a nasty side. Rub up against it and get its oils on your skin, then hang out in the sun and watch out. Sunlight brings on burns and blistering because the plant goo is photoreactive. The result is ugly and painful. Not a plant to mess with, especially in summer. Unfortunately, that is when it grows. And grows.

Last summer the stuff took off. Road crews mowed less, so it grew more than usual, and it just had a banner year. This summer it has taken over roadsides and fields pretty much anywhere that isn’t cut. It grows tall, too–taller than me. Over six feet sometimes. There used to be a mix of plants, but where this grows it seems to dominate. Queen Anne’s lace just can’t compete. Late in summer its seeds will spread all over and it will grow even more next year.

That is one reason we want to cut our own field more often–to get rid of this plant. We can’t let it go to seed, that is for sure. The field was cut last month and it still is coming back, stretching its yellow flowers above everything else that is growing. We need to cut again soon to repel it once more.

So, yes, apparently, one can eat the roots–boil them up and have oneself a meal. It would feed many people, the way it grows around here. It isn’t native but it sure has made itself at home. I like to be welcoming, but I wouldn’t miss this plant if it decided to take up and move away. At least purple loosestrife has beautiful flowers and doesn’t cause wounds (except when I try to pull it up by the roots with bare hands). Wild parsnip is a fine plant, I am sure, once you get to know it. If it were not so aggressive I might even appreciate it. This bully, however, needs to keep it in check and learn to play nice.

Unfortunately, as the world of flora goes, I don’t see that happening.

Purple Loosestrife

Purple Loosestrife (Caroline Savage, Saint Lawrence Centre)

Purple Loosestrife (Caroline Savage, Saint Lawrence Centre)

I noticed it two years ago.  The showy purple flowers, standing tall like spears amongst the cattails.  I knew what it was and thought, “I should get rid of that stuff.”  I pulled some of it, in the ditch next to the road, but the plants deep in the wet part of the field I just left.  Next year I would get it.

By this year it was well established.  It has really spread from the few plants I saw two years ago.  A few weeks ago I pulled some of it.  I tried to get all of it at one end of the field, where there were only a few plants.  I dug up a few more in the broad field and along the road.  Then I put it off.  That stuff is hard to pull out of the ground.  I got out there today and had some work to do.

Purple Loosestrife was brought to North America in the 19th century as a source for medicines and through ship balast.  It was further introduced when it was brought to gardens as a perennial flower.  Canals and roads helped it spread.  It is beautiful.  The flowers are tall and colorful and shine in the sun.  But it is also trouble.  The plant likes wet areas and can take over, outcompeting native plants and clogging the place right up.  It spreads underground, roots sprouting new stalks, and it also produces zillions of tiny seeds.  I had to take action.

Let me say right off that I did not get the job done.  I pulled some up by the roots, prying with a fork, but most of it I just clipped with pruning shears.  I would have preferred to yank it out but there is too much at this point.  I needed to at least get the flowers out so they don’t go to seed.  I clipped and dragged and pulled and piled for a while.  I got cut up and sweaty and tired and had three huge piles of stalks.  When I looked back, I could see that it at least was contained a little more.  I had kept it from spreading, a little.  If I can get out there again this week, the field will be better off.  If I can at least cut it all, I will have a head start next summer.

There is no way it is going away any time soon.  Even if I were to dig up all of it, it would likely come back sooner or later.  It is tenacious and voracious.  And we have a great spot for it.  I may be pulling it for as long as we live here.  Apparently one can use herbicides to control it.  I say no thanks to that.  And there are some insects that might snack on it, but I hesitate to take that route. One invasive species is enough.  If I can scale the plant back every year, there is a chance I might get rid of it eventually.  It will take some time, however, and a lot of work.  For our field to stay healthy, however, it needs to be done.  And ain’t nobody else taking on that task.

Tomato Update

A bit ago I posted about transplanting tomato plants from small to large pots.  One of them in particular was not doing well.  It sagged.  It hung low.  It looked poorly.  I thought it would kick it.  But check this out:


Limp No Longer

Limp No Longer

The plant on the left is the same one that was all droopy before.  A little water, a little sun and bam!  Healthy(ish) plant.

I still am not ready quite yet to pop them in the ground.  Rain showers are forecast for the next four days.  And it is cool.  These puppies like it hot.  Some time this week, hopefully, I will start exposing them to the outside air.  They need to get some experience before they get to the work of growing tomatoes.

I am hopeful that we will get some fruit off these bad boys.  If only it didn’t take so long.  I suppose, however, that that is part of the joy of it–watching fruit burst from a tiny seed.  So I can be patient, even though I can almost taste what will come.  A juicy red slice on a hot summer day?  Now we’re talking.

Fourteen Below and Thinking About Gardening

Garden Beds Waiting for Spring

Garden Beds Waiting for Spring

That was the temperature this morning–fourteen degrees below zero. You might say it was chilly. I wimped out on going for a run. I had planned to do so today but I stayed inside, stoked the fire, got some work done and even read a book. So much for training.

I have been thinking about the garden lately. January is the month to plan it out, to figure out what to plant, how much of it to plant, and where to fit everything. The corn can’t go where it went last year, but it can be planted with the squash. I look forward to sitting down with the legal pad and sketching out the garden plan.

Of course, it is way too cold to do anything with the garden at the moment. It sits under the snow, waiting for spring. I am glad we have snow cover. The blueberries and strawberries will fare batter with the insulation. And the snow adds an element of beauty.

The circle I carved out of the lawn for our garden feels like a work of both labor and art. I want to grow food that is fresh and tasty and that I can’t get elsewhere (Striped Zebra tomato anyone?), but I also hope it adds some pastoral artistry. I want it to be beautiful. That takes work and luck and a willingness to let things grow as they need to grow. Seeing what the plants will do with what they have gives me joy.

So I wait it out and dream of warmer weather. I love this cold snap we are having, even though I chickened out of running today. Winter just isn’t satisfying if we don’t have some days below zero. I have seen the mercury rise to six degrees today and now it is back down to four. Once the sun goes down, I am sure it will break through the zero mark again.

Maybe some of those cucumber beetles will take a hit from the cold. I won’t count on it, but since I am imaging a perfect garden, I might as well dream that too.