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Fall is Prime Planting Time

September 3rd, 2014 | Posted by Claire Sommer in Greener Living - (0 Comments)

Here’s an essay on making the most of the growing season still ahead.

Don’t put away the shovels and trowels just yet. Warm days without sizzling heat make for perfect planting days. Whether you plant fall lettuces to be enjoyed now or bulbs for spring—get out and enjoy your garden.

Plant new vegetables

If fall vegetable gardening is new to you, it’s a great way to edge into new gardening skills with low risk. Homegrown fall greens are a wonderful complement to hearty autumn meals.

The easiest bet is to let someone else get them started for you. Calls around to see if your local garden center has  fall lettuces and vegetable starts.

For seed growers, there’s time still for fall lettuce and radishes that are ready for harvest in four to six weeks. Major online retailers like Burpees.com can get seeds to you quickly. If you are using leftover seeds from spring planting, sprinkle seeds generously to ensure a good germination rate. Keep fall seeds well watered.

Work in a few handfuls of compost to your spot or pot to add nutrition to summer-spent soil. Try container plantings that can be moved around to capture the most sunshine.

Between the seeds I started last month and transplants I picked up locally, I have enough to fill in spaces vacated by faded cucumbers and squashes. This weekend I planted red and green leaf lettuce that can be cut and enjoyed a little bit at a time, kale, spinach, Swiss chard, collard greens and good-sized Chinese cabbage.

The pole beans I planted in early August are six feet tall and in full flower, providing needed shade for the foot-high snow pea vines growing up among them.

If you can’t find fall vegetable starts near you, be sure to let your local garden center know for next year.

Plant new trees and shrubs

Major plantings like trees and shrubs are significant investments in time, money and space. If you are planting yourself, talk through your choices with the experts at your local garden center or landscaping service.

Rutgers Cooperative Extension offers two helpful brochure: Transplanting Trees and Shrubs and Tree Problems Caused by People in the Suburban Landscape.

My fall plans include replacing a boring yew with a New Jersey-native flowering and berrying shrub. The job is small enough that I feel confident I can do it myself.

Plant spring bulbs

Planting spring bulbs in the fall is an optimistic act. There’s plenty of time and selection of spring bulbs available at local garden centers and from mail-order retailers.

Plant summer garlic

Garlic is one of the nicest, easiest crops to grow and is vastly superior in flavor to supermarket garlic. Buy garlic bulbs that are specifically meant for planting in the garden. You’ll only have to make this purchase once since next year’s planting cloves will come from your first harvest. Choose “hard neck” varieties if you want delicious spring scapes. Amend your garlic plot with compost and plant according to directions. If you plant in the next few weeks, your garlic will be a few inches tall before the ground freezes hard.

The summer harvest season is all about taking, so think about fall as a time to give back by planting something new.

Marking Mid-Winter

January 29th, 2014 | Posted by Claire Sommer in Green Living - (0 Comments)

We’re halfway there.

To spring.

On Feb. 2, prognosticating rodents are hauled out of hutches and held high, their gloved handlers grasping them tightly around their furry mid-sections. Assembled crowds will wait to see if the groundhog casts a shadow, thus sealing our fate for six more weeks of winter or granting us an early spring reprieve.

The modern celebration of Groundhog Day, for all its silliness, coincides with solemn faith tradition observances including the Catholic celebration of Candlemas and the Wiccan observance of Imbolc.

For me, it marks the half-way point on the gardening calendar between the darkest night of the year — the Winter Solstice — and spring’s official start on the Vernal Equinox.

Even as the temperatures remain stubbornly low, the real story is more sunlight. Six weeks ago, on the Winter Solstice, sunset was at 4:30 p.m. Today, it is at 5:10 p.m. The midday sun appears a few degrees higher in the sky and feels warmer on my face. We’re picking up one more minute of sunlight daily. That rate will double to two minutes daily by the end of February.

A gardener friend told me about her grandmother’s traditional Groundhog Day garden walk, during which her grandmother would “wake up” the trees and plants with a gentle tap from her walking stick.

When I heard this folk tradition, it made sense to me as gardener wisdom.

Inspecting each plant and tree carefully gives the gardener opportunity to observe disease or damage and make plans for pruning, repairing or transplanting.

Groundhog Day also ushers in the sugaring season, when maple trees (other tree species work too) can be tapped with a spigot and the flowing sap collected with no injury to the tree.

It’s nice to imagine that a hard rap could wake up a sleeping tree and make the tree’s sap drip faster.

The truth is that sap flow is triggered by increased sunlight plus warmer days and cold nights. Maple sap looks and tastes like water, with only the slightest hint of sweetness.

It takes about 40 gallons of collected sap boiled down to produce one gallon of syrup. I’m looking forward to helping some friends tap their maple trees this month.

Groundhog Day is a time to spot spring harbingers. There might be early-blooming hellebores, snowdrops or early crocus varieties to see in sunny wind-protected spots.

Along my neighbor’s driveway, a witch hazel bush has tight, swelling buds that will unfurl into red, finger-like petals during sunny February days and curl back into a protective bud at night. If you look carefully, some maple trees already sport a red haze on their crown.

I’ll bring my garden notebook out to the yard this week and take a fresh look at each tree, bush and plant. I might even give them a rap with a stick.

All politics is local. So is climate.

The micro-climate of my backyard is a specific growing terrior with its own proclivities and advantages. My garden warms and cools and drains and grows in a way that differs from every other patch of ground on the planet.

That said, trends hold true. I might get lucky with overwintering a rosemary one year out of 10, but overall my Zone 6B location means it’s a heartbreak waiting to happen.

As my local garden grows, so goes our collective global garden.

Whether my rosemary dies or thrives, the time to argue whether the earth is warming (Or cooling. Or melting. Or experiencing extreme weather events.) is over. The worldwide scientific community is in consensus on these facts.

Likewise, there is broad agreement and understanding that human activities are accelerating climate change.*

We can argue till the cows come home as to who set the fire, but in the meantime, let’s work together to put it out.

When I encounter people who want to deny the facts in front of them (see also: Confirmation Bias), my next line is inquiry is to follow the money (see #3).

While there may be short-term financial gains for climate change denials, in the end we’ll all lose.

*Bonus Climate Change Acronym: AWG (Anthropogenic Global Warming, meaning human-caused)

Three links:

1. Via OmniClimate: The Climate Change Consensus – In Five Points

2. Via Wikipedia.org: A starting point for major points, players and positions

Global warming refers to the rising average temperature of Earth‘s atmosphere and oceans, which started to increase in the late 19th century and is projected to keep going up. Since the early 20th century, Earth’s average surface temperature has increased by about 0.8 °C (1.4 °F), with about two thirds of the increase occurring since 1980.[2] Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and scientists are more than 90% certain that most of it is caused by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases produced by human activities such as deforestation and burning fossil fuels.[3][4][5][6] These findings are recognized by the national science academies of all the major industrialized nations.[7][A]

3. Via Treehugger.org:  Leaked Docs,  Reveal How Top Think Tank Turns Oil Money Into Climate Denial

We’re halfway there

On Feb. 2, prognosticating rodents are hauled out of hutches and held high, their gloved handlers grasping them tightly around their furry mid-sections. Assembled crowds will wait to see if the groundhog casts a shadow, thus sealing our fate for six more weeks of winter or granting us an early spring reprieve.

The modern celebration of Groundhog Day, for all its silliness, coincides with solemn faith tradition observances including the Catholic celebration of Candlemas and the Wiccan observance of Imbolc. For me, it marks the half-way point on the gardening calendar between the darkest night of the year — the Winter Solstice — and spring’s official start on the Vernal Equinox.

We’ve been enjoying some unseasonably mild temperatures, but the real story is more sunlight. Six weeks ago, on the Winter Solstice, sunset was at 4:30 p.m. Today, it is at 5:15 p.m. The midday sun appears a few degrees higher in the sky and feels warmer on my face. We’re picking up one more minute of sunlight daily. That rate will double to two minutes daily by the end of February.

A gardener friend told me about her grandmother’s traditional Groundhog Day garden walk, during which her grandmother would “wake up” the trees and plants with a gentle tap from her walking stick. When I heard this folk tradition, it made sense to me as gardener wisdom. Inspecting each plant and tree carefully gives the gardener opportunity to observe disease or damage and make plans for pruning, repairing or transplanting.

Groundhog Day also ushers in the sugaring season, when maple trees (other tree species work too) can be tapped with a spigot and the flowing sap collected with no injury to the tree. It’s nice to imagine that a hard rap could wake up a sleeping tree and make the tree’s sap drip faster. The truth is that sap flow is triggered by increased sunlight plus warmer days and cold nights. Maple sap looks and tastes like water, with only the slightest hint of sweetness. It takes about 40 gallons of collected sap boiled down to produce one gallon of syrup. I’m looking forward to helping some friends tap their maple trees this month.

Groundhog Day is a time to spot spring harbingers. There might be early-blooming hellebores, snowdrops or early crocus varieties to see in sunny wind-protected spots. Along my neighbor’s driveway, a witch hazel bush has tight, swelling buds that will unfurl into red, finger-like petals during sunny February days and curl back into a protective bud at night. If you look carefully, some maple trees already sport a red haze on their crown.

I’ll bring my garden notebook out to the yard this week and take a fresh look at each tree, bush and plant. I might even give them a rap with a stick.