Monthly Archives: April 2009

Composting Lesson

Any Connecticut gardener looking for down and dirty, hands-on advice on composting should consider heading to Ballek’s Garden Center in East Haddam this Saturday, May 2 by 10 am … directions here.  Ballek’s is a family owned nursery and landscaping business with owners and staff who offer a wealth of information to anyone who asks.  I rarely leave Ballek’s without learning something, getting an idea on how to use a plant, or feeling invigorated.  Any seminar they offer is likely to be entertaining and informative.


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Filed under Garden Centers/Seed Suppliers, Gardening, Techniques

The big ‘O’

The big ‘O’ has finally reached the Big House and seems to be spreading to landscapes beyond.  The big ‘O’ I refer to, of course, is Organic.  Gardeners who have used organic gardening practices in their edible and other landscapes were heartened to hear the First Lady announce her big ‘O’ plan for the White House edible garden.  Then we learned of the Earth Day unveiling of the People’s Garden plan for property surrounding the Whitten Building – headquarters of the US Department of Agriculture in Washington D.C.  The People’s Garden will serve as a model for how to incorporate sustainable gardening and landscaping practices to all who visit.


peoplesgardenlogo-smThe People’s Garden plan involves a redesign of lawn, trees, and shrub areas to include an organic garden that will go through the official 3-year designation process to become Certified Organic.  The People’s Garden will also include a Potager (French for kitchen garden) design that incorporates edible and flowering plants into pleasing garden beds, and a Pollinator garden filled with flowers that attract bees and other pollinating insects.  The People’s Garden honors Native American tradition through a Three Sisters Garden – the Native American tradition of interplanting corn, beans, and squash (beans provide soil nitrogen for heavy feeding corn, corn provides stalks for beans to grow up, and large squash leaves hinder weed growth).  Additionally, the People’s Garden will display crop rotation methods required to transition from so-called ‘conventional’ gardening/farming to Certified Organic in Transition Field Plots.  The People’s Garden plan will also incorporate stormwater collection using porous paving and bioswales to filter and infiltrate runoff; rain garden depressions that capture stormwater exiting from bioswales and allow excess water to more easily soak into the ground; bat houses, green roofs, and the use of urban grown wood from trees felled by storm or old age to create steps and raised bed planters.


The areas are to be maintained by USDA’s landscape contractor, a non-profit organization created to serve individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, but UDSA employees may also work in the gardens.  Additionally, USDA Secretary Vilsack challenged USDA employees at other facilities to create sustainable landscapes, thereby launching the People’s Garden Initiative.  Read more about the People’s Garden and follow its progress at the USDA website.  Finally, it seems government agencies are focusing on sustainable gardening and landscaping practices – this big ‘O’ project is going to be a blast to watch.

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Filed under Edibles, Gardening, General, Techniques, White House garden

Quick notes …

Gardening Oops – Damn-I-wish-I-hadn’t-done-that Day – GOOPs for short – May 1.  As previously explained, this Friday I’ll share one of my gardening gaffes and you can do the same, either in entirety in a comment or as a GOOPs teaser that links back to your own blog’s complete GOOPs post.  Maybe we can turn our own damn-I-wish-I-hadn’t-done-that GOOPs into each others’ PHEW-I’m-glad-I-didn’t-do-that!


The chance for frost exists Wednesday night in Connecticut – temperatures could fall into the 30’s over the entire state.  Cover any tender or just transplanted plants in outdoor exposed areas.  Use old sheets, upside down baskets, or other covers that will prevent frost from settling onto tender leaves, but won’t crush the plants.  Protect houseplants moved to outdoor locations for hardening off with either a cloth or bring them back inside for the night.


Remember Project BudBurst – my observations include dandelions’ first bloom which occurred on April 4, and the April 25 leaf out of my tulip tree.  I’ll continue to watch for tulip tree flowers, and for my other observations.


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Filed under Gardening, General, GOOPs-Gardening Oops, Project BudBurst, Seasons, Techniques

Save the Frogs Day – April 28

Garden bloggers are full of information.  I, for one, had no idea of Save the Frogs Day until I read Susan Harris’ post on Garden Rant.  Simply clicking on the highlighted links will provide you with ample history, information, and wonderfully musical sounds.  I’m fortunate enough to live in the midst of a hardwood forest, and therefore can frequently enjoy similar frog serenades, but my interest in frogs, toads, salamanders and the like grew when my little brother wanted to keep the toad he found in the yard as his pet.  I obliged by helping him build a shoe box home complete with a water dish, moss, and small plants.  We committed to catch live insects for Mr. Toad every day, and to let Mr. Toad go back home in a week.  We learned that toads absorb water by resting in shallow pools.  They sit and wait for prey … if you blink you’ve missed the meal.  We also learned that toads eat many more bugs than we had time to catch.  When we returned Mr. Toad from his/hers –its gender remained a question – forced ‘vacation’ we found toads do not stray too far from home.  We were able to continue our observation of Mr. Toad’s life throughout the summer.


To this day I enjoy watching toads in my gardens to see where they rest during the heat of the day and where they hunt for prey.  I do my best to maximize their presence by gardening organically, insuring toads have ample places to hide, and treading carefully to avoid disturbing their homes.  In return, toads – and their cousins – help keep the insect population in check and remind me that gardeners do best when we acknowledge the benefits we gain from sharing our space with other creatures.


To see actual photos of adult and non-adult toads, frogs, salamanders, and newts common in Connecticut visit John Himmelman’s Connecticut Amphibians website.  Some photos have links of Connecticut’s frog and toad songs … thanks John.

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Filed under Creatures, Gardening

Hardening off plants

I’m not the first to note that, when gardening, patience is a virtue … in fact it is often a necessity.  This is especially true when moving plants from indoors to out.  It is so disheartening to see a house plant that was beautiful through the winter months, sitting out in the sun with burned leaves, particularly when a little bit of patience would have prevented the damage.


So here’s your reminder: once the risk for nighttime temps below 40 degrees F passes, slowly expose houseplants … even those that like full sun … to outdoor direct sunlight.  A covered porch with bright, but not direct, sunlight is perfect for acclimating plant leaves to the increased intensity of outdoor sun.  Alternatively, use an outdoor umbrella to your advantage by placing plants in the umbrella’s shade.  Try keeping plants out of direct sunlight for a few days, then slowly increase direct sun exposure to those that will live in full sun.  After about a week or so, plants should be ready to move to their permanent outdoor spots.  Still, even after a week’s acclimation, plants going to full sun locations are best moved to these spots on cloudy days.  Plants that prefer shadier locations can go to similar spots outdoors once acclimated to outdoor light.


Use similar tactics with flats or pots of purchased plants, especially those purchased from within a greenhouse.  Also, step up the watering to account for your plants’ increased growth.


Yesterday I moved my two rather large hibiscus plants, a pineapple palm, and lemon grass to the shade of an umbrella.  I also moved pots of tomatoes to a shaded shelf in my outdoor mini-greenhouse.  But I’m watching the nighttime temperature forecasts closely to make sure I’m not jumping the warm-weather gun.  If temps fall back to low 40’s, I’ll either cover the plants or move them back inside.


Filed under Gardening, General, Techniques

Herb Highlights – Cilantro

In my southern Connecticut garden, cilantro is an easy to grow “annual” herb.  Cilantro is the leafy portion of coriander – making this herb doubly useful if you are also looking to harvest coriander seeds.  Generally sowed in early spring, this 18 inch tall – or so – airy plant quickly provides enough greens to add a fresh zip to salsas and Latin dishes but, like dill, it does not take up a lot of space.

Overwintered cilantro by April

Overwintered cilantro by April



Sow seeds directly into the garden in early spring, keeping the soil evenly moist while waiting for the seeds to sprout and the plants get established.  Then water regularly and thin out plants (using any tiny thinnings in the kitchen) so they are about 4-5 inches apart.  As the plants grow use the leaves as much as possible before the temperatures warm and the plants go to flower.  Snipping the tops of the plants slows flowering, but only somewhat.  Once the plants decide to set seed, I leave a few in place to allow seed heads to ripen to a light brown and harden. Then I sprinkle them in assorted bare spots in the garden and water/watch until they sprout.  These late sown plants provide a late summer harvest, but I always save some to overwinter under a cold frame.  As the weather chills in early fall, I transplant small cilantro plants into pots (to keep them from becoming vole food), sink these in the ground, and cover the area with a small cold frame.  I water these plants about once a week or as needed until the real cold sets in.  Then I forget about the plants, only checking on their need for water during winter thaws.  When spring nears I pick up on the watering and vent the cold frame so the plants don’t cook on warm, sunny days.  Once nighttime freezing temperatures stop, I remove the cold frame to allow the plants’ rapid growth.  The overwintered plants provide an even earlier supply of cilantro than their early spring-sowed cousins.


Even with limited edible gardening space, I have yet to plant too much cilantro.  Any freshly harvested stalks not immediately used will store well with stem ends set in a small amount of water in a refrigerated container.  Alternately, washed stems and leaves can be loosely rolled in a paper towel and stored in a plastic bag in the frig (this method works well for most small leaved herbs).  When left to go to seed, dried coriander seeds are also easily stored and supposedly make nice additions to chili and homemade soup, but mine never make it this far as I cannot resist spreading seeds throughout the garden in hopes of a bumper cilantro crop.


Cilantro ‘Delfino’ (Coriandrum sativum), a 2006 All America award winner, grows well in my garden.  I cannot attest to whether or not deer forage on cilantro since I have always planted it in a fenced edible garden where I’m sure to closely watch for flowering.

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Filed under Edibles, Gardening, Herb Highlights, Techniques

I Hate Moles Because …

Attention all Carl Spackler worshippers, underground varmint haters, and people who live with the antics of those obsessed with ridding their lawn of moles, their gardens of voles, and their life of like creatures.  Here’s your chance to portray your experiences.  That’s right, Sweeney’s, a St. Louis-based company that sells traps, repellants, and poisons aimed to eradicate tunneling creatures from America’s lawns is holding its third annual contest seeking “I Hate Moles Because …” submissions (essay, poem, video, cartoon).


If, like Caddyshack’s Carl Spackler (Bill Murray) your montra is “I gotta get into this dude’s pelt and crawl around for a few days,” or you’ve found yourself saying “How about a nice, cool drink, varmints?” as you stuff a hose fully loaded with water down a tunnel that has marred your perfect lawn, this is the contest for you.  And, as the New York Times reports, you can even watch your nemesis on Mole Cam … REALLY!


I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with moles in the lawn.  On late summer mornings you’re likely to see me taking baby steps around my front yard in bizarre patterns as I stomp down the previous night’s mole tunnels.  But my larger problem is with voles – the mouse-like creatures that eat vegetation.  What voles left of my crocus they rearranged in a most unkempt manner, and they’ve had some mighty good meals of my perennials (phlox, ornamental grasses, hosta, coneflowers, sedum, daisies, iris) and small shrubs (bayberry, roses, Rose of Sharon).  And last year they fed huge populations of relatives on volumes of my vegetable plants (Thinking outside of the plot).  I’ve tried traps, solar sound deterrents, stinky garlic and egg mixtures, castor oil pellets … all with minimal or no impact.  I may have even emulated Carl now and then in one of my rants over finding an empty hole where a plant used to be.  Still, I’m no match for past winners and runners-up, these people are serious!  Carl would be proud.


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Filed under Creatures, Gardening, Uncategorized