Neighborly Garden News
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8 Reasons why growing a vegetable garden can make you happy and healthy!
There are so many benefits to starting even the smallest garden. A study by Dr Bradley Wilcox from the University of Hawaii has shown that in the 5 Blue zones of the world; places where people are renowned for their longevity, share a certain commonality, they garden well into old age: 80’s, 90’s and even older. Let’s try and nurture our green thumbs and live a long and healthy life!
- Gardening creates a sense of accomplishment. With the world around us so chaotic, we can bring a feeling of order to the garden, even for the afternoon. Looking at a neatly weeded and mulched garden creates its own sense of reward for a job well done. Providing fresh and healthy vegetables for your family is a wonderful accomplishment.
- Fresh Food. Nutritionists say adding more fresh fruit and vegetables to our diets is the best first step for a healthier life. There is nothing better than eating vegetables harvested the same day. Growing your own vegetables also allows you to try new things, and they taste 100% better too.
- Mental Health. Garden chores can be thought of as meditative practices. Simple garden tasks give us the time and space to calm down, decompress and help free your mind from stress. Just sitting and observing your plants, watching the busy pollinators can be very therapeutic.
- Exercise. Gardening can be as strenuous a workout as you make it. Dig and turn soil by hand instead of using a rototiller. Carry loads in two buckets instead of using a wheelbarrow. Rake leaves in place of using a leaf blower. Manual labor was the ‘workout’ before gyms were in fashion.
- Saves Money. Growing your own organic vegetables will save you a bundle. Have you seen the prices for quality produce these days?
- Peace of Mind. Being in control of where your food comes from, and how it was grown means you won’t have to second guess the safety of your food. Knowing that your food is not being trucked long distances, is also reassuring.
- A Family Affair. Kids are more likely to eat their veggies if they participated in growing them. It’s also important for kids to learn where their food comes from. Getting kids involved in the garden will help them learn some beneficial life skills, and hopefully they will grow up to be good stewards of our planet.
- Nature’s Classroom. We can help keep our minds sharp by closely observing the natural world of the garden. Which plants attract the most pollinators? What will the weather do to change the garden? There is seemingly always something new to see in our gardens each day.
March’s ‘to-do’ list
It always feels like an accomplishment, getting through a New England winter, even in a typical year. This winter we have had good snow cover, and I’m grateful that we won’t be headed into warmer weather with a water deficit. We have not experienced the extreme low temperatures as in years’ past. I’m hoping it was cold enough to kill some overwintering pests, we have seen causing problems. Unfortunately, the deer tick is not killed by cold, and our warming weather will bring them out of dormancy. Prepare for the start of another tick season. Ticks that cause Lyme disease will become active when temperatures are above freezing, and the ground has thawed. Ticks will aggressively seek out a host upon awaking from winter dormancy, and lurk in areas most likely for us to encounter them, during our yard and garden activities. Wear protective clothing, and use insect repellent when you plan to be outdoors. Get in the habit of inspecting yourself, and your pets for any ticks that may have attached themselves to your clothing or their fur; before ticks can attach themselves to you!
If your garden beds are dried out enough to walk on them, you can begin spring clean-up. Wet soil is very susceptible to compaction, so be prepared to wait until the soils have drained sufficiently to walk on.
Raspberries are so pricey at market; you might want to try growing them in your home garden. Raspberries are valued for their delicious flavor, and ease of picking and preserving. I freeze my fresh, unwashed berries on cookie trays until solid, and then put them in storage containers for later use.
Prune out and remove any Raspberry canes that bore fruit last year, and also prune any canes that are thinner than a pencil in diameter. Cut the remaining canes back by at least 12”, and make repairs to their trellis or fence as needed. Wait to apply fertilizer, until you see some new green shoots, after the ground has warmed up.
Prune your ornamental and fruiting trees and shrubs now, while they are still dormant. Prune summer and fall blooming trees and shrubs like: Roses, Hydrangea, Rose of Sharon and Buddleia; now until late spring. Wait to prune spring blooming plants, like Lilacs, Azaleas and Forsythia, until directly after flowering. If you are considering moving any mature shrubs or trees, it will be less stressful to the plants if you dig and move them soon, before they leaf out. Pruning while the plant is dormant prevents loss of plant fluids (sap) and allows you to best observe the structure of the plant. This past winter’s severe winds wreaked havoc with many older and weakened plants. Look for any broken branches and make a clean cut on anything left ragged or torn.
As spring bulbs begin to emerge scratch in some organic bulb fertilizer around them, to give them a nutritional boost. ‘Bulb Booster’ fertilizer typically has a 9-9-6 ratio of elements. Use of bone meal is discouraged, as it can attract unwanted animals. Spring bulbs are usually very cold hardy and occasional spring snow and cold weather won’t kill them. If you find you have more leaves than flowers in your bulb borders, it is sign that the bulbs are too crowded, and need to be divided.
Mid-March is a good time to begin sowing early veggie seeds; to be ready to set them out 6 weeks later. These would include the Cole crops: Cabbage, Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and their relatives. With cooperative weather, planting peas on St Patrick’s Day is an old tradition. Plant them ½” deep in cultivated beds, then lightly firm the soil. Shallow planting in cold soil, helps them germinate better. You can also grow garden peas or snow peas in a pot; just look for the shorter or bushier varieties, and grow in a sunny spot.
If you keep bird nesting boxes, now is a good time to clean and disinfectthem, before a new tenant starts making a nest. Wear gloves and a dust mask to protect you from any pests that may be living in the old nesting material.
Need a hand with spring clean up and garden chores? Give our office a call. (413) 458-5586 or email:
Rose growing takes on a new direction
I read a great interview by the NY Times journalist Margaret Roach, with the rosarian Peter E. Kukielski. Mr. Kukielski, the author of Rosa: the Story of the Rose, and Roses without Chemicals: 150 Disease-Free Varieties That Will Change the Way you Grow Roses, is also the former curator of Roses at the New York Botanical Gardens-the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden. He spent 6 years planting and trialing roses for disease and pest resistance. At that time, he said, there were not many choices available for disease resistant plants.
Roses have survived 35 million years of life on earth, but the modern era of rose breeding had all but wiped out the wild roses’ natural resiliency, in favor of hybridizing its shape into what we call the ‘classic’ tea rose form. When we hybridize, it’s possible to gain one trait, while losing another; we may discover a beautiful new color or shape, but lose disease resistance or scent.
Mr. Kukielski advocates growing roses with a mixture of companion bulbs, annuals and perennials to foster a healthy environment. Plant groups of flowers that will attract pollinators and insect predators: different species of Alliums, self sowing flowers and herbs like dill, cilantro and Verbena bonariensis (a butterfly favorite). He does not spray for insect pests, hoping to attract a combination of good bugs and bad bugs: insect predators will take care of the bad bugs. He believes that the interaction between good bugs vs. the bad bugs, the good will win out.
Another concept that has been utilized is matching Roses to the region they will be planted in. Breeders and retailers have developed tools to allow consumers to search for roses that are best suited to their particular growing challenges. Whether it is Northern states needing cold hardy rootstock or Southern gardens needing a plant that will survive the heat and humidity of the Sunbelt, there are now roses specific to those types of climates. ‘Buck’ roses developed by the Iowa State University and ‘Easy Elegance’ roses bred by Ping Lim are just two hybridizers of extremely cold hardy roses. There is also the ‘Sunbelt’ collection from Kordes, bred to thrive in hot climates.
Parfuma ‘Dark Desire’ Rose
Scent is the one trait that is difficult to achieve in resistant roses, particularly in hot and humid areas. Kordes has developed the ‘Parfuma’ line of roses with fragrance and resistance to fungal diseases. I currently grow two different roses in the ‘Parfuma’ line, Dark Desire and Summer Romance, and I can attest that they are wonderfully fragrant, and exceptionally vigorous.
Parfuma ‘Summer Romance’ Rose
The most unusual recommendation was to forego supplemental fertilization, he believes in feeding the soil, and not the plants. He follows the ‘Earth-Kind’ philosophy promoted by Texas A & M AgriLife Extension; which tries to emulate what happens in the forest. The forest is never fertilized; leaves fall and decompose, naturally fertilizing the plants. Mr. Kukielski eliminated applying fertilizer to the roses at the Peggy Rockefeller Rose garden; instead he laid down a 3-4 inch deep layer of mulch each spring. This mulch layer would break down by season’s end, improving the soil’s health. By the third growing season, he was able to see measurable improvements with the rose’s health and vitality. In his own home garden Mr. Kukielski allows the fallen leaves to decompose in place, and says he has not had to fertilize his soil in 4 years, only used diluted fish emulsion as a soil drench occasionally.
I love to grow roses, and have an extensive collection of heirloom, and modern roses. Unfortunately, I’ve been battling a nasty rose pest for about 5 years- the Rose Midge. It may have come in on a plant, or have been blown up here from a more southerly location (it can happen). It has required me to use some pretty strong pesticides to manage it, or not have a single flower all season. So I’m going to take this advice to heart, and try Mr. Kukielski’s suggestions and report back to you how they work for me.
Consider planting a fruit tree for Arbor Day, (April 30th 2021). Planting a fruit orchard doesn’t require a lot of space. Dwarf and semi dwarf fruit trees can be trained against a fence or wall, known as ‘Espalier’. With a little TLC, ultra-dwarf ‘patio trees’ can be successfully grown in pots. Growing fruit trees in raised beds can give you better control over soil and moisture, if these are a concern for you. Fruit trees offer beautiful springtime blooms, as well as producing healthful food. Fruit trees prefer full sun, and well-drained soil. Frequently another similar fruit tree is necessary for pollination. They need only be proximal to each other, and not next to each other. Perhaps your neighbor has a tree that could be the pollinator?
Honeycrisp Apples have become very popular for fresh eating and baking. Their crisp white flesh is the perfect combination of tart and sweet, and excellent for storing. Honeycrisp apples ripen mid- September through mid-October. Planting an additional apple variety for pollination, such as: Cortland, Empire, or Macoun, will promote better fruit set.
Reliance Peaches are super hardy to -25 degrees F! They are a full flavored, yellowed-fleshed variety with red splashed cheeks. The pit is very small and easily comes away from the flesh. Reliance peaches ripen in mid-August and are self-pollinating.
Moonglow Pears are an early ripening Bartlett-type pear; and have good disease resistance. These upright growing trees bear fruit at a young age and are very sweet. Most pears require another pear variety as a pollinator.
Pears trained as an Espalier
Lapins Cherries grow only 8’ tall, and produce buckets of Bing cherry-type sweet fruit without a pollinator. They are hardy to -20 degrees F, and are considered one of the best options for small spaces. Cherries may need to be protected from the birds, to save the fruit from being eaten.