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So, what do I really want, garden-wise?

Hello again. Now,as I sit here, looking out the window, with the snow all around, my thoughts hover closely on this spring, summer and fall and what I want to do in the garden (as do we all). And like all projects that are really long-term, it’s difficult to think so many months ahead, not knowing what the weather is going to be like, what sots of problems we might meet and so on.

But, that’s what we have to do, because the best way to end up with what you want to go into the fall and winter with in the garden is to start thinking about it now. I’ll use lavender as my example because that’s what I’ve got pictures of.

Last year, we started growing a lot more (or, what seemed to me to be a lot more) lavender in one of the beds out at the farm. I wanted plants to sell and lavender to pick. I’d ordered lavender plugs (baby plants) from wholesalers, but again, I didn’t know how popular they’d be or how they’d do. And frankly, we ended up selling a whole lot of lavender plants and had a few of each sort in the bed come summer and the light bulb went off in my head at the beginning of August: I’d better start thinking about 2018: if I didn’t want to have to order more plants, I’d better take cuttings right then. (more…)

Old Wood Versus New Wood (SFW)

hydrangea1At all times of the year, we see questions on gardening/landscaping sites with regard to ‘when do I prune my flowering shrubs?’

The issue, people, revolves around — does the plant flower(that is, set buds which then open up) on ‘old wood’ or on ‘new wood’. Now, this is actually a lot more complicated than it looks, frankly, because you can’t give a blanket statement on this. But in general:
Old Wood: You have a shrub. It is now October or November. The growth that took place THIS YEAR, is now ‘old wood’. It’s brown on the outside/green on the inside. (more…)

This works: roses

rose1Over the years, your old Aunty has tried many times to root rose cuttings. I have what I’d call a ‘nostalgia rose’ bush at Chez Siberia. When the DH and I got married and rented our first house, my mom went out to the garden with a spade, whacked off a chunk of the old rose bush growing there (it was probably put in when the house was built in 1917 – a very old rose). No one knew what rose it was – it’s has flattish blossoms with a gillion little petals on it, once a year, in June. The fragrance is definitely ‘knock your socks off’. It throws off long canes with huge thorns. But they reminded me of home. When we move to Chez Siberia, we dug the thing up and took it with us and put it next to the deck. It’s not in a very good spot – it’s very exposed, so many times, if we have a bad winter, I end up having to prune it almost to the ground to get off all the dead stuff, but it comes back. (more…)

When it’s over…over…over

norwichgarden-end Well, with night-time frosts banging on the door, we harvested everything harvestable in the big garden (the test garden, which, if you’ve been following had four beds with different soil treatments: buckwheat, mustard, black plastic and nothing). And in the interest of completing as ‘scientific’ an analysis, the DH and I hauled out big cardboard boxes which I dutifully labeled and set them at the ends of the appropriate rows. Everything that got taken from the buckwheat row ended up in the buckwheat boxes and so on. When we got everything home, we washed it all carefully, counted items, weighed them and tabulated the results. (more…)

Something to relieve the boredom

rose cuttings1 At this time of the year, we’re either weeding, watering or picking veggies out of the garden. We’re inundated with hot peppers, sweet peppers, tomatoes and zuccini here at Chez Siberia and lots of what we put into the beds at the property to test out soil treatments (as you recall, we did four beds: black plastic, no treatment at all, mustard and buckwheat) are maturing. Frankly at this point in the cycle, I can say, without any hesitation that the mustard treatment won. Hands down. Now, it might be difficult to measure that, though I did get out there with a measuring tape and measured the corn and the sizes of the squashes and pumpkins. Every other bed is behind the mustard-treated bed. I’ll even forgive the deer (or the ground hog or whatever it is that ate half a squash that we discovered). But we now know that growing mustard, chopping it up, tilling it in and waiting two weeks after a rain just was fantastic – at this point, even though everything was planted the same way, on the same day, and treated the same way (that is, we watered everything in well on the day we put in the seeds), everything in the mustard-treated bed is bigger, taller, and more mature (like, the corn in the mustard bed has brown tassels and ears which are filling out – in the other beds? Meh). No way to argue with that.

But I’m sure no one wants to read about my adventures with weeding and shoveling wood chip mulch on all of my flower beds, right? Right? (yes, you in the back; no – I can’t think of any discussion more boring than mulch at the moment) So, instead, we’re going to take about taking cuttings. (more…)

Olla! Olla!

waterdivitYour Dear Old Aunty is getting mighty tired of reading headlines saying “Hottest (pick your month) Ever!”

Well, of course it IS. This is what climate change is all about. (more…)

Tool for the job

pruner2You would think that your dear old Aunty would never admit to doing this, but I did.

I was seduced (seduced! I say) by marketing copy and price. “These pruners are designed for comfort for people with small hands.”

Small hands.

Yes, they were comfortable and I do have small hands (not small for my size, actually – I’m pretty short and the hand size goes along with that). And I have to admit that they were referred to as ‘light duty’.

‘Light duty’ must have meant ‘trimming the spent heads off perennials’ of some such thing because as you can see from the photo at the top, they gave up the ghost.

For a closer idea of what happened, here is your requisite close up:pruner1Steel casting that just frankly got pushed beyond its spec. Which must have been something like 1/8″ in diameter.

OK, I admit it. I push tools long past their useful life. I have a tendency to ‘horse’ (as my dear departed father would express it) the thing around and then when the handle flies to pieces or something gets bent, well, I have no one to blame but myself.

So, I bought myself a new, bigger set of pruners (with the new! improved! rotating handles which will be so much better for my ‘small hands’), which are specified for 3/4″ diameter branches.

Do you have any idea who small a 3/4″ diameter branch actually IS? That’s smaller than the diameter of your thumb. 80% of what we have to cut back and cut down (fie, honeysuckle! Fie!) here at Chez Siberia qualifies as being over 3/4″ in diameter.

What to do?

Well, our next ‘weapon of mass destruction’ is the set of loppers. loppers We own a set of these and although they say they will handle anything up to 2″ in diameter, I have to tell you that anything over 1″ requires some rather interesting body mechanics on my part so that I can wedge both handles into my chest so that I can use the force of both arms. It works but it…leaves a mark.

Another option for the 2″ plus is a pruning saw, and we’ve found them to be both easy to use and very effective, even on branches which are 3″ in diameter. I happen to like the folding one (that is, the blade folds into the handle), which makes it easier to slip into a pocket. The teeth on these are rather impressive and we use them to cut right to the trunk, which makes pruning fruit trees a lot more effective.

Finally, I have to bring up the last and most destructive (and frankly, most dangerous) tool to cut off branches: The powered chain saw. There are models on offer which are so small that one might be tempted to try to use it one-handed (ack!). If you have a lot of nasty huge bushes (with big 6″ trunks to get through), a chain saw is your tool of choice unless you go for an axe (which has it’s own skill set and dangers as well). Anything with that level of power can cut off pieces of bodies very easily and if you are considering getting one, find a dealer which offers a workshop on using one safely. The DH wears a helmet (with a face shield, metal screen and ear protection) and Kevlar chaps whenever he uses our chain saw and I think everyone should wear safety equipment when they use anything like that. He also wears steel-toed heavy boots with thick soles and wide heels to give himself a solid position when he uses it.

In the end, however, the point is this: Don’t try to use a tool for other than its intended use and buy the size for the job.

Can out in the field can be put to use in the garden?

mustard1The DH and I went to a conference run by NOFA, the Northeast Organic Farmers Association. Are we Farmers? Not yet – but working on it. If you have the chance to go to a conference like this, I encourage it – it’s the fastest way for you to get immersed in information that might take you years to winkle out. We took workshops on growing grains, beekeeping, mushroom growing (yes!!), growing organic oats, organic orcharding, marketing and I’m sure I’ve forgotten the rest. One class I took which was completely fascinating was using mustard as a biofumigant for soils.

Seeds, glorious seeds

appleseed2The simple act of pushing a seed into some dirt, watering it and having it come up is still pretty much magic to me. Whether it’s from a plant where the seeds are so small that basically, you water the dirt first and then scatter them on top and hope for the best, or plain old bean seeds, the whole act of burying them in the dirt and then their coming up is really an unceasing source of rather childlike joy to me. (more…)

Water: Where the rubber meets the road

soil1 4-22 That’s the dirt in my garden. Right now. After two days of light rains here. Doesn’t look terrible, but it’s not great.

Climate change is not just ‘it’s a lot hotter now’ or ‘this month is the hottest xxx every recorded’ (and every month now is the hottest xxx ever recorded – get used to it. It is not going to change). It’s also ‘we’re not getting rain/snow the way we used to’. And for people who farm and grow gardens, this is a huge issue.

Soil is something that you can improve. If you have too much clay and what rain you get sits there in puddles, then you can put in compost (or barring that, put in bags and bags of peat moss); if your soil has too much sand (hello, Florida, New Jersey and Long Island, New York) and the rain just washes through, then you can put in … compost (sorry, but organic matter is the universal ‘fix-it’) or bags and bags of peat moss. Plants, like people, are mostly water. If there is not enough water, they won’t grow. If there is not enough water when they need it, even if they have grown, they’ll transpire whatever moisture they’ve got through their leaves and droop and perhaps die. The name of the game when growing plants is keeping the water in the soil so that the plants have access to it. (more…)

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