Friday, October 31, 2008

Sustainable agriculture initiatives

I've been attending a Carolina Farm Stewardship Association annual conference this weekend (my first time attending). This year, it's nearby, and it's been quite interesting. The CFSA's focus is to promote local food producers, sustainable agriculture, and local food (of all sorts). This is their 23th annual conference -- remarkable, really for our region, which is just now getting on the local food/sustainable agriculture/local farm & tailgate market 'bandwagon.'

But it's welcome, to be sure, and I'm heartened by the numbers of younger people involved, as well as passionate folks of all ages.

I haven't thought a great deal about food security issues, but it's an important thing to consider. Why not support local farmers when we can and grow more of our own vegetables and fruits, if we can? Or Plant a Row for the Hungry? (This is a Garden Writers Association initiative). Many of us have space to do so. Or, why not participate in 'gleaning' networks, which harvest otherwise unpicked produce for food banks and 'soup kitchens'?

There are so many possibilities for those of us who are gardeners to reconnect to producing more of what we eat.

I'm envious of this wonderful native persimmon tree that we saw on a local farm tour (to Greenbriar Farms) this afternoon.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Fall color

Cold nights and sunny days have accelerated fall color in the last week. Yellows, reds, and oranges are becoming more vivid (and spectacular).

There have been pockets of frost in low-lying areas, but the freeze warning last night didn't materialize here. I harvested all the tomatoes and peppers yesterday, in any case, and have several large bowls of tomatoes on the kitchen counter.

Coming home this evening, the bottlebrush buckeye was lovely, and the color of the dogwood in front, backlit from the setting sun, spectacular.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Thanks, Margot

I lost a gardening friend today. I shared her with many others, who knew her much better than I did. I appreciated her willingness to extend her experiences and knowledge with others, and always felt her encouragement and support. I knew her as a garden writer, speaker, and fellow wildlife gardening enthusiast, whose gardening interests encompassed an exuberant lack of tidiness, as well as a love for flowers.

A recent talk focused on Flowering Shrubs: the Real Perennials, which embraced a transition to a vibrant, but lower maintenance garden as she approached her mid-seventies.

Time spent with her was always interesting. Her first book, Earthly Delights: Gardening by the Season the Easy Way, was a wonderful collection of essays honed from her gardening columns in The State (Columbia, SC) newspaper. Her second book is in press now. She was encouraging about my (small) book (written with others) about The Nature of Clemson, and always asked what my next book was. She was unfailingly encouraging about my gardening companion's efforts on his book, under contract to be published in a couple of years.

A hardy climbing rose, facing the first frost of the season tonight

I appreciated her interest in my writing - I'd never thought about myself as a (garden) writer before, in spite of a lifetime thinking, teaching, and writing about plants and nature. But that's what's wonderful about friends - they see and encourage you to be something different.

Thanks, Margot.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Saffron crocus

I enjoy the few Crocus sativus (Saffron crocus) that are planted near the kitchen door. I certainly won't be set for the year with my harvest of 15 (or so) stigmas, but they're so pretty in fall flower.

After a weekend in the mountains, I was surprised to come home and see them.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Japanese persimmon

We brought one tree to Clemson from our first house - a Japanese persimmon. I had admired several local Japanese persimmon trees, and had planted one.

It struggled for years after its change in circumstances, but has done remarkably well since. This year's crop of persimmons looks good, in spite of our drought (uh, I did water the persimmon every once and awhile).


Early morning color

We've had just enough cloud cover lately to tinge the early morning sky. The view of our side garden (from my study and out the bedroom door) is always welcoming.

But it didn't always look like this, and the power of gardening transformed it from a bleak view to one that soothes us.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Fall greens

Osaka red mustard

It's been busy this fall, so I've barely been able to get a few new beds changed out, and only planted some (purchased) collards and cabbage plants last weekend. I still need to get the garlic in, hopefully this week, since it's getting late in the season. But a woodchuck has reappeared, so I might as well write off growing kale and cabbage, until s/he is relocated.

Our drought continues, unfortunately. Lake Hartwell, next to campus, is remarkably low, and the Army Corps of Engineers announced recently that they couldn't mark all the hazards for boaters because of the low water.

But I was encouraged about how well that some of my 'donated' seeds have produced in the protected vegetable garden next to our visitor center (at work).

My colleague Kathy had reworked the beds, and recently sown collards, mesclun mix, turnip greens, red-striped mustards, and Osaka purple mustard. They all look great, and some are ready to harvest. She also has shallots, broccoli, and snow peas growing nicely.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

A watching hawk

I've seen a hawk perched up high in a declining oak in the early morning for some time. The tree is below our big parking lot (at work), but gives him/her a great view of the meadows in the morning. It's one of our red-shouldered hawks - we have two pairs, I think, at the Garden where I work.

Today I had my camera, so was able to 'see' a bit closer.

A mockingbird was singing nearby.

And persimmons were ripe and ready to eat.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Fall color

A neighborhood black gum is putting on a brilliant show. I don't know why this tree is so colorful. It's a bit spindly, near the road, not looking terribly robust, but is gorgeous.

Ours isn't showing any color at all yet.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Monarchs heading south

Journey North reports that the first monarchs have just arrived in their wintering areas in northern Mexico as the migration here continues. I just saw four nectaring on the butterfly bush, and have been seeing them for weeks now. My butterflying friends tagged 50 recently as part of their Monarch Watch volunteer work. It will be interesting to hear how many of their tagged monarchs are recovered.

I even saw a hummingbird yesterday at the Garden, visiting a red salvia. The previous day, there were two in the same general area. Yesterday's date is the latest that I've ever seen the last fall hummingbird before -- but there are still plenty of flowers available! Hilton Pond's ruby-throated hummingbird site reports their last fall sighting on 18 October (1986).

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Growing food

Michael Pollan had an excellent piece in last Sunday's NY Times Magazine, an issue focused on food. He wrote a letter to our next president (here in the U.S., coming soon) which outlines what he needs to think about and act on.

Our 'food system' in the U.S. is definitely in need of reform, and I'm tremendously pleased to see a resurgence of interest in local food, home vegetable gardens, and 'growing your own.'

There's a wonderful initiative (that Pollan comments on) to transform one of the White House lawns to an organic food garden, just like Eleanor Roosevelt did with a Victory Garden push.

My gardening companion and I have an acre and a half of land in our (semi)-rural small college town. In these challenging times, why shouldn't I expand my vegetable garden (with rotations) and consider having 'city' chickens, even if they might have to be in a 'chicken tractor'.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

A Hunter's Moon

Tomorrow is a full moon, but it's been pretty glorious for the last couple of nights. It was rising behind the house, and the big trees in front, about 7:30 this evening.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Native perennials

I managed to get most of the native perennials in the ground today. A good friend and I put half of them in the pollinator border at the Garden on Friday; this afternoon, in spite of distractions, and wind, I put the rest of them in the front meadow.

They're all tough, and will hopefully flourish in the hot and dry conditions there.

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Ready for the last hummingbird

I saw a female ruby-throated hummingbird yesterday, and my gardening companion spotted another as we had lunch today (on the porch).

It's fairly late to see them; last year, it was Oct. 8 for us. And Bill Hilton, at Hilton Pond, reports that their last hummingbird sighting (monitored over a number of years) is Oct. 18.

But I'll leave up the feeders if there are any stragglers, and there are still coral honeysuckle flowers for them.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Fall evening

The light on an early evening in fall is great--illuminating the front meadow and our neighbor's big oak. The sprawling aster (probably a New England aster cultivar), is swarmed by bees, and the clumps of Indian grass (a wonderful replacement for non-native ornamental grasses for us) is spectacular.

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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Hmm, another happy herbivore

I'm quite familiar with squirrels having unusual interests in radicchio. Peculiar, given how bitter it is in hot weather.

But late this afternoon, I spotted this fellow (or gal) yumming up radicchio leaves around the old pepper plant cage. And, there was evidence that the red-stemmed chicory was next; the cut leaf remnants were clear. The picture is blurry, but the evidence obvious.

Uh, I thought squirrels focused on acorns and hickory nuts in fall, with an occasional mushroom or two. Clearly not.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Rain at last

After Tropical Storm Fay, back in early September, we haven't had a drop of rain. It's a normally dry time of the year, so not surprising, but still unsettling.

Thankfully, today we've had steady on and off rainshowers, and it's raining heavily now. The 'puddle' at the base of the driveway is full -- hooray!*

Coming home, the dogwood in front of the house looked perfect, with fall-tinged color.

*An addendum: it rained 2.4 inches, and more to come today...

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Wonderful red fruits

Our native Euonymus americana (Hearts-a Busting) provides a lovely red counterpoint to the stone wall below the porch.

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Monday, October 6, 2008

A crescent moon

Tonight's crescent moon is bright in the night sky, with a planet or star visible to the left. I wish I knew more about astronomy, planets and the constellations, but it's always seemed so remote.

August crescent moon

Plants, animals, forests, meadows, gardens, and streams seem so much more immediate.

I like to think, though, of the rhythms of people and wildlife that are much more attuned to the night sky than I am. Migrating birds and insects are able to follow cues detected from various sources, supporting their night journeys. People living close to the land, and not detached as so many of us are, traditionally observe not only the change of seasons, but the cycles of the moon.

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Sunday, October 5, 2008

Enjoying the garden

I had such fun today cleaning up some of the vegetable garden beds, preparing them for garlic and a late sowing of lettuce and Asian greens (I'm optimistic), or getting them ready for spring.

In the meantime, I enjoyed how lovely the fall borders look, and the wonderful fall light.

The female hummingbird that's been hanging around visited the Salvia spp., the butterfly bush, and the coral honeysuckle, while bumblebees and honeybees mobbed the Salvia leucantha (Mexican bush sage) and the late Aster spp.


Saturday, October 4, 2008

Vegetable garden rotations

A brief mention of rotating vegetables in a talk yesterday morning encouraged a question about how to rotate garden crops -- important for a sustainable (organic) kitchen garden, simple in concept, but sometimes challenging in practice.

The principle is simple: rotate crops that are grown in a single area by plant family. There are a number of plant families represented in common vegetables, but not so many that it's easy to avoid repeat plantings.

Ground rules:

Don't plant tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, or potatoes (tomato family: Solanaceae) in the same area for 3 (preferably four) years, ditto with kale, broccoli, cabbage (mustard family: Brassicaceae). Alternate plantings with lettuce, chicory, marigolds (in the Asteraceae, or daisy family), carrots, parsley, fennel, or dill (in the parsley family: Apiaceae), onions, garlic, and shallots (in the onion family: Alliaceae), beans and peas (in the pea family: Fabaceae), squash and gourds (in the squash family: Cucurbitaceae), or beets, turnip, or chard (in the beet family: Chenopodiaceae). Wheat, rye, barley, and oats aren't commonly grown in home gardens, but make a great cover crop rotation, being in the grass family: Poaceae.

Some plant families are more disease-prone (because we grow them all the time) than others. Tomatoes, peppers, squash, and green beans fall in that category.

It's important not to plant vegetables in the same family year after year because of pest buildup-- soil critters like root-knot nematodes, fungal problems such as fusarium wilt, and presence of larval pests like squash-vine borers LOVE having their hosts there year after year.

I'm learning that lesson first hand.

My main vegetable garden isn't that big. It's basically a long row of five blocks (roughly 5 X 5 ft) loosely adhering to the Square-Foot Gardening principles described by Mel Bartholomew. They're a little bit too big to reach in easily, but simple to dig by hand. Each block is separated by stepping stones and a mulched path, and edged by gray fieldstone.

I like to play around with my beds and mix up different vegetables, herbs, and flowers, and do NOT have a great record-keeping orientation, so after growing tomatoes, peppers, and 'cole' crops in various places in the blocks, I'm starting to see a build-up of soil-based problems for these common species in the main vegetable garden after the 10 or so years I've been gardening there, root-knot nematodes and fusarium wilt (I think) in particular.

The satellite garden, started 3 years ago, provides a more expansive opportunity for rotations and cover crops (very helpful for soil replenishment and dealing with soil difficulties).

So, I'm planning on being much more scrupulous about rotations (I WILL keep a plan of what I planted, I hope), using cover (and trap) crops, and introducing predatory (supposedly) beneficial nematodes, in the coming months.

There are lots of sites that provide useful information about rotations. A quick Google search finds Yankee Gardener, an Iowa State University site, and a Texas A&M site at the top of the heap.

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Planting time

I'm definitely ready to get my hands back in the garden. I miss the grounding of checking plants, cleaning up beds, and sowing seeds after a couple of weeks of having my attention required elsewhere.

This perennial border appreciated Tropical Storm Fay's moisture a few weeks ago.
Three flats of native perennials are waiting to be planted. They're from a family-owned local native plant nursery (Carolina Wild) and are destined for the pollinator garden next to the Nature Center and in the front meadow at home. The nursery proprietors, both young and knowledgeable, grow an excellent selection of plants from locally-collected seeds and cuttings, most of which are difficult (if not impossible) to find unless you grow them yourself. I had pre-ordered a selection before her Garden program on Friday, but couldn't resist adding quite a few more.

I also have lettuce, chard, mustard, kale, and other greens to sow in the main vegetable garden (not to mention cleaning up the remnants of beans, squash, and cucumbers). It may be a bit late for some of them, but maybe frost will come late this year. And there are beds to prepare for the garlic and onion sets to plant towards the end of the month.

In the meantime, there are tomatoes, peppers, lagenaria and tromboncino squash to harvest, all pretty remarkable given how dry it is (and I had forgotten to leave watering instructions for my gardening companion while I was away).

We saw a hummingbird visiting the Mexican bush sage in early evening, monarchs nectaring on the butterfly bush, and the Japanese persimmons on the small tree that we transplanted from our first house have turned orange.

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

A fall morning

Brilliant blue skies, low humidity, and a temperature less than 50° F make a perfect fall morning. The last hummingbirds are coming through, taking a break at our feeders and the coral honeysuckle flowers.

Monarchs are traveling south too, visiting whatever nectar-rich flowers they can find as they head towards Mexico. The butterfly standbys of Buddleia and Lantana are dotted with orange in midday. I saw this monarch last year about this time.

A pair of bluebirds flew to one of the big oaks as I walked up the hill to the office this morning, along with the usual mockingbirds, blue jays, and brown thrashers.

And the leaves of red maples and sourwoods are turning red.

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