26 December, 2010

Looking Back To Move Ahead

The 2010 garden season ended several months ago and the calendar 2010 is ending as well. It is now a good time to look ahead to the next garden year and look back on the current one. Another example that gardening should not be a mad dash in April and May is the fact that the garden year ends quietly and starts later than the calendar year in these parts. What other clue could anyone want that gardening is a fun PASSIVE activity. In fact gardening is the number one outdoor activity in America followed by bird feeding and bird watching. One can combine these two in one massive........passive activity and get the best of both worlds. Color from flowers and sound and color from attractive songbirds.
First a review of the garden season that was 2010. Tomato blight that devastated the 2009 season was almost extinct this year. A few cases did show up in the Hudson Valley but remained isolated. Another sign that buying local is better than buying from a huge provider located in another state. It was still a strange year for tomatoes however. I had no tomatoes at all for the second year in a row. Neighbors just a few mile away had hundreds. I am beginning to think they stole mine and tied them to their the plants in their garden. I will try many methods of growing them this year to discover the secret. None will be in raised beds. They will all go into containers enriched with my secret blend of compost, weird strains of bacteria, humates, endo and ecto things that I am told will not only grow really good crops but may glow in the dark. I will settle for a tomato that glows in the day time at this rate.
Peppers did incredibly well last year. Helped by the warm weather, unpredictable rain and a new plot to grow them in. Chiles did well especially in my outdoor hydroponics pots. I will use the same esoteric strains of soil" amendments" to grow more chiles in  for 2011. And maybe just maybe et to sell something at a farmers market come summer. My favorite pepper this year was the marconi Italian frying pepper. Long and beefy is the best way to describe what is looks like. About as long as a good bell pepper is tall but not fat. Maybe 4-5 inches across. Marconis are great to stuff with cheese, sun dried tomatoes in oil, sausage, and even eggs. Cook the eggs and sausage before hand to make sure they are cooked through. Then stuff the peppers to the gills and slow roast them on hardwood charcoal using the indirect method. My recipe is called "sausage IN Pepeprs" instead sausage and peppers. This way you can skip the carbs on the hard roll and enjoy slicing a pepper and munching on the goodies inside.
Broccoli and cauliflower went bust in my yard this year. After growing broccoli and cauliflower the size of basket basketballs in '09 I was excited to see what would happen this year. Nada, no, nothing. Small florets that blasted way to soon even when it was cool outside. I think the tomatoes and cauliflower were in a scheme to deny me a salad this year.
As always I am planning on a bigger garden for next year. I planned on that for this year too. Did not happen. Don't know if it will in 2011 either. But at least I am admitting that early and not getting my hopes up. I really have no excuses though. Plenty of compost is ready and more is being placed in the bin though frozen solid toil spring.
As for 2011 here is what I see happening as I not only read the tea leaves but drink them as well. Homemade herbal tea of course. I have no idea what the exact ingredients are as to the proportion but suffice to say not enough lemony stuff as the tea is more like a grog or potion than tea. But that is how I like it. I just do not think a nice tasting blend of lemony stuff fights colds and flus like a bitter tea. We'll see. So far no bronchitis like I always get! Thank you horehound!
Urban farming will continue to grow, pardon the pun. the only thing standing in the way of more urban farms in inner city areas are the city officials themselves. Now that folks have found uses for empty lots the powers that be feel the need to impose regulations upon lettuce farmers. Even worse in some cases community gardens are being run by what I call "Garden Owner Associations" akin to home owner associations in condo and vacation communities. GOA's have gone so far as to tell plot renters what to grow and what they cannot grow.
Urban farming involves small farm animals like chickens and rabbits. after all it is farming. As long as the powers that be understand this urban farming will bring healthy food to inner city areas that have little access to fresh veggies. It is less expensive to allow urban farming than to coax supermarkets to downtown with hefty tax breaks.
Organic gardening will continue but has reached a sustainable pace. So to say the band wagon has become mainstream and sensible. In fact we are already moving to the next more mature stage of organic gardening and replaced it with the buzzword sustainable. What that means to gardeners is there are times when organic growing is more detrimental to the overall environ men than some traditional methods. It may not seem so when looking at the crop one  is trying to grow but presents itself readily when considering the overall footprint, carbon or otherwise, an organic method leaves behind. If you add up the total "cost", again economically and environmentally, there are times when the natural methods incur more costs than non standard ones do. For instance in the case of a sudden huge infestation of pests. I will use Japanese beetles for example. There just is not a quick effective natural control for them. By the time you add up the cost of materials, packaging, shipping, manufacturing costs and water to mix a natural spray that cost is much higher than a quick effective standard pesticide.  
Vertical gardening will be everywhere roof gardens and rain gardens will not. Vertical gardening on walls, in homemade PC pipes, and commercial devices will be everywhere. Vertical gardening works as a space saving logical way to grow more stuff in smaller places. It works because folks are moving in to retirement communities with small yards but plenty of wall space. It works because you do not have spend all day bent over weeding. It works because you can see the garden easier in a vertical planter than an in ground bed. I will also add elevated garden bed contraptions to the list. Picture a 3x5 wood garden bed supported by three or four foot tall legs that a wheel chair can pull up to! No bending, plenty of room to grow real gardens. You cannot grow real gardens in an average size window box.
Rain gardens came about as a secondary trend in 2010. the idea behind a rain garden was to create a garden at your downspout that would filter out contaminants before the water entered storm drains or percolated back into the water table. Nice idea but not reasonable or productive. They are not cheap to build and only work when it rains. In order for them to survive they need a lot of water to maintain the wetlands environment during dry spells. So in the end the amount of water needed to maintain an artificial wetland may outweigh the amount of filtered rainwater. If you have clay soil that can hold plenty of moisture during dry spells a rain garden makes sense. Also if you have a sump pump like I do and clay soil better yet. The cool thing here is my "rain garden" has been in existence since my home was built 25 years ago. Water being pumped out of my basement and deposited outside has created an environment on it's own. Cat tails, iris and other wetland plants started growing there because of the ample supply of moisture. My point. If you have an area that is subject to constant runoff leave it alone. In time if there is enough moisture running through it a natural "rain garden" formerly called bogs will develop on its' own.
Micro farms will continue to replace large farms and diversify the agricultural treasures of the region. While large dairy farms are going away smaller specialty dairy farms are thriving. They supply natural hormone, BVG and steroid  free milk to producers of speciality diary producers that make products from ice cream to cheese.
Indoor gardening will explode with the advent of indoor growing systems that no longer look like laboratories but resemble fine pieces on furniture. Smaller more energy efficient LED lights are already hitting stores. Check out the cool new trend called window farming. Homemade systems that "hang" in windows to grow greens and herbs all winter long. Often these hanging gardens are made from two liter soda bottles.
So there you have my look back while looking forward to the next gardening season. I feel a cold coming on so enough reading the tea leaves...it's time to drink them!

10 December, 2010

garden aticle

The sun is now setting at the earliest hours of the year for a while. I find the weeks immediately after the New Year the most depressing. After all the holiday season is over the college football season done and the Super Bowl is still a month away. I mean what is there to do when the ground is frozen, it's dark and little to do? The biggest tease to me is that during the first weeks of January the days are getting longer. But still it is dark before 5 PM. The joke gets worse later in the month when the sun is just above the horizon when I pull in the driveway. Then I get out of the car and BLAST! Cold winds being thrown down from the Catskills on us poor souls in the valley between the mountains and the river. I guess the "beings" in the mountains are getting us back or sharing with us the colder weather and shorter seasons they have. Small price to pay I say for the better view of the horizons east and west they have than we do.
There is a small glimmer of hope this time of year in the garden world. Your local greenhouse. The inside of you car is a nice warm place on a sunny day in January even without the blower scalding your knees or knuckles with the same scorched air from your indoor furnace. The difference is that in a greenhouse you do not need your seat belt and an air bag will not go off if you bump your shopping cart into a table of plants at 2 MPH. Insurance on shopping carts is also cheaper since they do not go as fast and you don't really own them but rent them from the shop owner. I say rent because when you buy a tropical plant part of the price goes to pay for the shopping cart you just rammed into the plant display. I am not sure how the damage to the display table gets paid for.  
Another advantage, the best of all, is the humid lung repairing air in a greenhouse in the winter. Cold winter air just hurts when you inhale deeply. Scorched air from a car heater or furnace also hurts when taken in deeply. There us just something calming about a tropical greenhouse in the winter. Whether it's the longing for return of summer weather or just a respite, however brief, from Old Man Winter, humid warm greenhouse air has a healing affect on me and others. Add to that a fountain or pond filled with swimming fish and it is irresistible. Madison Avenue could not come up with a better marketing plan than a greenhouse in January.
While not possible without large wads of cash and even bigger oil tanks to recreate the entire experience at home we can create a  small piece of a tropical garden in a room in our home. Most plants end up in living rooms. Not a bad place. But is the living room a place we spend a lot of time in in the winter? How long do you stay in bed in cold weather? Have you ever thought of taking the private sanctuary of your bedroom to the next level? A tropical paradise perhaps even with a table top fountain or at least a nature CD of waves, birds and moving water. 
You already have part of the equipment for complete relaxation away from the TV. A bed, huge comforters and if like me several pillows. Also nearby is a lamp to read by and a small bookcase complete with 6-10 books I am in the middle of reading. Most master bedrooms have at least some windows. These windows have at least a 50% chance of facing the right direction to support life (plant life).
Should you not have windows facing the right direction there are plenty of light fixtures that fit neatly onto bakers racks that can hold many plants all in one tidy garden space. Plants clean our air by filtering out toxins like formaldehyde. They also provide oxygen. No amount of houseplants will provide enough oxygen for our needs but they will give you fresh air like never before. Plants by their very nature have a calming and nurturing effect on people. Any doubters of this fact just need to visit a greenhouse on a sunny day in winter.
Smiles abound people slow down and enjoy the experience.
A simple primer on light for indoor plants. During the winter the sun is low enough in the sky so most any plant can handle direct sun. The best light for most of the year is called bright indirect light. This simply means as much light as possible without getting any direct sun. This is generally just to the side of south facing glass or 6-8 feet across the room from such facings of glass. The same quality light can be gotten directly in an easterly window or a western window that gets early evening sun.  
Medium light comes from  sitting directly in a northerly facing window. No room for error here. Moving to any side out of the northern exposure and you end up in the dark in most cases. Very few plants grown in dark areas.
Room color plays a huge role in lighting for plants. Brightly painted rooms scatter light all around offering up larger canvasses of bright light and limiting areas of medium or low light. On the other hand dark colored rooms limit dramatically the bright light areas as the darker colors soak up rather than spread light around.
And last and most important for "planting up" a master garden suite, always by the plant for the lighting you have or will provide. Do not buy a bright multi-colored Croton if you have dark walls and no plans on running plant lights 8 hours a day. Plant care tags should have the lighting and care instructions right in place sight. Often the light needs are color coded. Yellow usually means bright light and purple or dark colors indicate plants that will take lower light conditions.
So there you have it...........a remedy for the winter doldrums and a healthy start to the New Year.