Monthly Archives: November 2010
But is it Art?,   Taking Your Gardening Dollar

Calling All CraftyPersons

So there's been a discussion on Facebook with a certain artistic garden writer about how she really must make her beautiful artwork available for sale as holiday cards. She's promised us that she will, and that got me thinking:  Who else makes cool stuff that holiday shoppers might want to know about?

In particular:

Garden photographers, artists, etc with 2011 calendars to sell

Or greeting cards to sell (especially with a winter/holiday theme)

Fabulous handmade garden-ish gifts on Etsy, eBay, or your own site

Etc, etc.  If you make it, we want to flaunt it!

Post a link to your online store in the comments and we'll do a holiday round-up soon. If you post a link, we assume we also have permission to grab an image of your stuff and run it here on GardenRant in our post. Feel free to write a little something about what the thing is or how you make it if you feel readers would want to know that.  (i.e, "I make this soap with milk from my own goats and olive oil from my own olive trees."  Could happen, right?)

And if you're not making your wonderful art available for the masses, why not?  Check out Zazzle, CafePress, and Blurb to find out how to put your designs on everything from iPhone cases to yoga mats to coffee table books.

Posted by on November 17, 2010 at 9:21 am.   This post has 24 responses.
Unusually Clever People

Wicked Plants at the Tucson Botanical Gardens

The Tucson Botanical Gardens has taken this Wicked Plants thing one step further and created not only an exhibit, but a character named Dr. Ergot Ratbane and a mad scientist laboratory.  How's that for a good gig–playing a mad scientist at a botanical garden?

Meet Dr. Ratbane here, and go check out the exhibit if you're in the area.  I haven't seen it myself, but I'll be there March 11.  The exhibit runs through April.



Posted by on November 17, 2010 at 5:55 am.   This post has Comments Off on Wicked Plants at the Tucson Botanical Gardens.
Taking Your Gardening Dollar

Snow stories and the equipment to go with them (contest)

I am in this picture. Somewhere.

When you’re snowbound for a week or better, as in ’77, you remember it. But a lot of snowstorms—even ones that seem spectacular at the time—can fade into the mist. It melts. And all the storms melt together as the years go by.

Recent winters have not been remarkable for big storms. There are two I remember, however. In 2000, the Monday before Thanksgiving, 24.9 inches fell in one day, most of it falling just before rush hour. It took everyone by surprise—by the time we all shoveled our cars out of the parking lots and headed for home, it was too late. Streets were impassable and everyone else had the same idea. It took me 9 hours to make a normally 20-minute commute, and even then I didn’t quite make it. By the time I reached my neighborhood, cars were abandoned in the middle of all the narrow streets and I had to leave mine by the side of the road and struggle home on foot. The next day it was amazing to see the silent streets, cars strewn everywhere. We immediately went to the nearest liquor store and grocery store and stocked up, then played pool at a neighbor’s. It’s nice to be snowed in sometimes.

Photo by Bruce Jackson.

In 2006, we had another early storm, with not as much snow, but disastrous results. It was October, and the trees were still fully leaved. The snow was wet and heavy. Branches broke, trees fell down, and the electric wires went down with them. Half of Western New York was without electricity for up to two weeks, and we lost thousands of trees, which we are still replacing. Arborgeddon, indeed.

I haven’t seen 2 feet of snow fall in one day for some years, and I wonder if I will this winter. It seems so unlikely, but I'm sure there will be enough to need one of these:


The contest!

How about you? Got a snow story? Leave it in comments and you could win either Troy-bilt’s 3090 XP 2-stage (heavy-duty) or the Flurry 1400 (compact for milder climates). Troy-bilt is sponsoring the giveaway, and, as you know, occasionally provides equipment to me for review. I will announce a winner Tuesday, November 23, 5 p.m. EST. 

 I am being sent a 3090 for review, which I am giving it to our neighborhood association for official snow removal. I'll see how it works for that and report.

Posted by on November 16, 2010 at 5:00 am.   This post has 31 responses.
Bloom Day

November Bloom Day Reports

Maryland gardens hang on well into November, so I've got a couple of Bloom Day Reports for ya -  here on my blog and here on the Homestead Gardens' blog.  And thanks again to Carol for making us see the beauty all year long, on the 15th of every month.

Posted by on November 15, 2010 at 11:05 am.   This post has Comments Off on November Bloom Day Reports.

Wicked Bugs: The Video

If you want to read the book, you’re going to have to wait until May 2011. (Actually, I’m sure we’ll give away some galleys before then.  Garden bloggers, start your engines! More soon on that.)

But for now, I’m happy to share the Wicked Bugs cover and the official Wicked Bugs video!

I’m lucky to have a brother in the film industry who not only has the skills and the technology to make a video, but who also understands the difference between a book and a three-minute video. He gets all the credit for this thing; I just showed up and did what I was told.

This one was a hoot to put together.  I was sitting in front of a green screen in his childrens’ bedroom, which had been mostly emptied of its toddler beds and toy boxes for the shooting of the video.  I had a general idea of what sort of footage might be behind me in the final video, but for the most part, my job was to sit there and read off the news, which is about all I’m capable of doing in front of a camera anyway, having no idea how the whole thing would look in the end.

He gets most of the credit for the script, too. As you can imagine, for the entire weekend we walked around saying, “You ever feel a tickle up your nose?  There’s probably maggots in there.” This cracked us up, and the four year-olds in the house liked it, too.

So here it is.  I do hope you will grab the embed code and post it on your own blog, share it on Twitter and Facebook, comment on YouTube, and otherwise share the love!




Posted by on November 15, 2010 at 3:27 am.   This post has 21 responses.
Designs, Tricks, and Schemes

Lawn-Mower Pollution Truisms Fact-Checked

Thanks to Straight, whoever that is, for investigating the "Mowing for one hour is equivalent to driving an SUV 300 miles" factoid we've all read a million times, or some version of it. Gas mowers ARE extremely inefficient, but it's nice to get the actual numbers right.

Via Kathy Jentz.  Photo by TuxStorm.

Posted by on November 14, 2010 at 12:14 pm.   This post has 12 responses.

So a Funny Thing Happened at the Bookstore Last Week

And it involved a plant! Read all about it in the New York Times.

Here, in case you're interested, is a link to our bookstore's website. Where we sell books and only books.

And here's a little more about the novel that inspired the whole thing.

Posted by on November 13, 2010 at 7:03 pm.   This post has 15 responses.
It's the Plants, Darling

Houseplants get the love in NYTimes—but will they love you back? Maybe.



It’s a short story. If you’re not willing to pay some minimal attention to your indoor plants at least every couple weeks or so, they will die. I don’t care what kind of plants they are or how foolproof they are supposed to be.  Even with maintenance, some of them will falter, get buggy, or just die for no apparent reason. Like any plant, indoor or out.

However, there are (almost)foolproof houseplants. Some of them (draecaena, phalaenopsis, spathiphyllum, aspidistra) were mentioned in a NYTimes article Thursday, but many were not. And some of the ones that were listed in the piece are not exactly foolproof—I'd consider them intermediate-level plants at best. I would be hesitant to recommend hoya carnosa or asplundia to the beginner, for example, and frequent Rant commenter Mr. Subjunctive, who is featured in the article, agrees. “I wasn't told that the aim was to come up with ‘hard to kill’ plants. Any plant is easy to kill if you're trying hard enough,” he comments in a post aimed at visitors from the Times.


I can completely understand why the Times piece did not mention such obvious choices as sansevieria, saintpaulia (African violet), or any of the philodendron or pothos. I can see where these would be considered too commonplace or too frequently mentioned. But they’re that way for a reason. Sansevieria is really difficult to kill. I don’t even think I could compost it unless I ran it through a chipper, which it might break.


As for the philodendron and pothos varieties, these are handsome plants, resistant to everything, and easy to propagate. I would also have mentioned the zygocactus, one example of which I have had for over 20 years; saintpaulia, which flower all year-round; and cyclamen, which flower profusely in season, but whose foliage is almost as pretty. Pedestrian or not, they’ll work hard for little return in the way of maintenance. They’ll also improve your indoor air quality, an important fact the Times writer does not mention.

And that alone ought to be enough for houseplants to cease being a punchline in so much of the gardening world and start being a necessity.

The images here are from last year's houseplant census, except for the African violet, which I took today.

Posted by on November 13, 2010 at 5:55 am.   This post has 11 responses.
Eat This

Lotsa Name Calling

Last week, I posted about the joys of experimenting with different seeds in the vegetable garden.

This week, somebody tipped me off to the hair-pulling and biting surrounding the non-profit Seed Savers Exchange, a pioneering organization that recognized very early the importance of preserving the genetic diversity of our food crops, given the ruthless way industrial farmers and seed companies were shrinking our culinary horizons.

Seed Savers Exchange keeps a large collection of open-pollinated seed varieties donated by its members and publishes an annual yearbook to allow them to sell seeds to each other.  All seemingly wonderful, if you have the patience to deal with that code-ridden yearbook, which I don't.

All seemingly wonderful until Seed Savers Exchange founder Kent Whealy, who was forced out of the organization in 2007, gave a speech this September at the Land Institute basically accusing the board of getting in bed with corporate interests.  This because the board sent some of the Seed Savers Exchange's collection to the doomsday vault, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault on an island off the coast of Norway.  The vault represents last-resort storage of proven old varieties of food crops for all humanity–in the event that we fry the planet or provoke some nuclear-winter-like ecological disaster, a la The Road.

Whealy argues that the seed at Svalbard falls under the provisions of a treaty that makes it possible for corporations to use Seed Savers Exchange seed, carefully preserved by families for generations and shared with the world through Seed Savers, to create patentable seeds that they will then own. He calls it "biopiracy."

I'm not an intellectual property lawyer.  I have no idea of the legitimacy of Whealy's claims.  I was, however, really glad this month when the Justice Department said that genes should not be patentable, because some companies have been using such patents to corner the market on certain aspects of Mother Nature and to limit the sharing of knowledge that I always thought was a basic part of the scientific endeavor. (Here is a coherent and interesting paper on the subject: Download 03_Eisenberg)

Again, not a patent lawyer.  But I have been making my living as a speechwriter for years, so I am qualified to say something about Whealy's rhetoric.  When you are trying to make an important argument, it's a bad idea to stoop to name-calling like this:

Amy Goldman has traded Seed Savers Members’ Seed Collection for an international photo op in the permafrost beside the Svalbard Doomsday Vault. For three long years her misuse of SSE’s nonprofit resources has been legally enabled and empowered by Neil Hamilton, while Cary Fowler is lying his way towards a Nobel Peace Prize.

In Whealy's defense, however, Seed Savers Exchange doesn't seem to have a very professional board.  Check out Amy Goldman's immature and irrelevant "response" to this attack, which ends breathlessly …

Even though I am separated from it by time and space, and I've visited only once, I can imagine what the Svalbard Global Seed Vault looks like right now, at the height of autumn in New York. I cherish the thought: a modern-day ark set amidst the majestic white craggy mountains, all alone, in the dark Polar Night, devoid of people. I know it is guarding its treasures, almost like a woman who holds our lives in her womb and hands.

Huh.  Disturbing to imagine a woman doing both at once.

And check out fellow board member Cary Fowler's less pleasant response, which includes mentions of Whealy's messy divorce and wealthy new wife.

Seriously, doesn't anybody pay for PR advice any more?

If your mission is to make sure humanity can feed itself in future, and if you really believe that the opposing party threatens that mission, you have to refrain from foaming at the mouth yourself.  Take the high road, please!  Make the other guy seem crazy!

Posted by on November 12, 2010 at 6:29 am.   This post has 13 responses.
Shut Up and Dig

Does Anybody Handle November Well?


For most of October, I was a whirlwind of activity: harvesting, cooking, canning, raking leaves, planting bulbs.

But we're on the dark side now of Daylight Savings Time, and it's cold and grey, and there isn't much to do in the vegetable garden, and what I mostly want to do is to eat stew, find a nice cave, and hibernate until May.  Never mind that I still have 200 tulips to plant in the backyard before the ground freezes.  Never mind that there are still odds and ends that need doing, like a few final pots emptied and muscled into the garage, and the hose put away, and some dahlias and cannas lifted and put into tubs in the basement.   I'd rather be inside reading, thanks.

Of course, I'm too grown up to give in completely to my lazy impulses.  Even though there are 5 months of snow ahead of me, I am well aware that life is too short to spend 5 months of every year hating the calendar just because gardening season has ended.  Last year, my family and I took a trip to Quebec in January, and it was a revelation, seeing the way those Canadians deal with winter.  They get out into it.  They ski or sled or ice skate, eighty year-olds and eight year-olds alike.  They embrace it.

So, I embraced winter, too.  I got out almost every day at noon and ran when there was no snow on the ground, and snow-shoed when there was. I felt really, really good. Slush, chill, and darkness seemed like a mere trifle.

I'm sure I'll get there this winter, too.  But right now, what I mainly want is for somebody to pass the bonbons.

Posted by on November 12, 2010 at 3:40 am.   This post has 22 responses.
Guest Rants

A Tale of Tree-Dwelling Thieves

Here's a guest post from Zoe Poster, who blogs at Pearled Earth.


I am easily vacuumed into the dark vortex of anxiety created by Unwanted Chaos in My Garden (wild self-seeding of Eschscholzia amongst eggplants = good chaos; wild animals with giant gleaming teeth laying waste to my carrots and beets = bad chaos).

So I knew I had better enjoy the window of relaxation afforded me once my evil resident woodchuck had been captured and relocated. Fruit was ripening, and I was getting to eat it! Flowers were blooming. I knew it was the calm before the shitstorm, of course, because I am that kind of person. No one will ever accuse me of being oblivious to the fact that the next worst thing is out there, lurking.

Our prize crop, still ripening, was the organic espaliered apples – our first ever. Remarkably unblemished fruits, surprisingly bountiful. We were so proud.

Then a dark cloud passed overhead, and in its shadow I saw… A horde of ravenous squirrels.

They worked quickly, hauling Northern Spies and Crimson Galas up into the neighbor's maple tree, spinning single fruits rotisserie-style in oversized mitts, spewing juicy scraps of apple meat all over the place. Deliciously tart and puckery, I'm sure, being harvested so early.

Really, what claim did I have to the apple crop? Sure, I lovingly pruned, mulched, composted, and sprayed. But the neighborhood squirrels said: Big deal—we spent even more time cramming peanuts into holes in the dirt!

So, there you have it. I could not think of any conceivable way to rid my garden of squirrels. While we have a plumber friend with the impressive ability to simultaneously drink his morning coffee, smoke his first cigarette, pop off a few squirrels with a pellet gun, and hold a conversation with cellphone clamped between jawbone and shoulder… the truth is that I'd have cried if he shot my squirrels.


I resigned myself this year. If we couldn't have baskets of apples, we could at least have pictures of them before they ripened completely, as a sort of memorial to what might have been. I snapped a few photos. I sighed and shrugged my shoulders. One man's horticultural highpoint is another mammal's midday snack. That's just how it goes, in gardening.

Posted by on November 11, 2010 at 4:58 am.   This post has 19 responses.
Real Gardens

I Have a Caulking Gun, and I’m Not Afraid to Use It.

I live in a neighborhood that has pretty relaxed standards about landscaping and upkeep.  And personally, I'm charmed by flowers that find their way into cracks in the concrete and bloom there.  It's a metaphor for–something, right?  Urban beauty?  Bloom where you're planted?  Grace in the face of adversity?

Whatever.  Even I think this is a bit much.

Sidewalk crack

This is a common state of affairs in my neighborhood–this particular scene is just a few doors down from me.

Now, my sidewalk isn't this bad, but I do get plenty of weeds between the cracks.  I get out there a few times a year and go after them with the typical organic gardener's tools–boiling water, vinegar, little sharp tools.  It worked okay.

And then my neighbor introduced me to this bad boy.

Caulking gun 

That's right.  A caulking gun loaded with concrete and mortar filler.  It's quick, it's easy, it's cheap–and more or less permanent.  I waited a full year before following my neighbor's example so that I could be sure this stuff would hold through the winter.

And it did.  This is very easy to do once you've dug out the weeds.  Just load the gun and go.  The filler looks bright and lumpy when you first put it down (although my technique got better as I went on), but once it dries a little, you can push it down and level it out. 

This shows the before, during, and after stage of my recent sidewalk project. Not bad, eh? Somebody should put this stuff in the weed killer section of the garden center.

Sidewalk crack2

Posted by on November 10, 2010 at 5:26 am.   This post has 15 responses.
Designs, Tricks, and Schemes

Trees prevent break-ins. Or cause them. One of those.


A study by the U. S. Forest Service has found that certain kinds of trees can reduce crime in an urban neighborhood. Certain kinds of trees. It’s really interesting. I had heard this on NPR last week, but didn’t write down the reference and couldn’t find it on the site. Then I tried to google it and only came up with sites that said trees and bushes around a house attracted thieves. Then I gave up.

But a commenter mentioned it here on Sunday and then the article appeared in my Yahoo mailbox yesterday. The study looked at crime statistics in Portland from 2005–2007, focusing on types of crime, locations, and a number of other factors, including number and size of trees. It found that large trees were associated with a reduction in crime, while numerous small trees were associated with an increase. So, in addition to benefits from storm water reduction, energy conservation, cleaner air and increased property values, trees can cut down on crime—if they’re big enough. Watch for a similar study coming to a city near you.

The speculation is that large mature trees make a neighborhood look well-cared for and, because of their higher canopy, do not hide criminal behavior as well as a shorter tree would. 

Maybe. I think well-cared-for properties in general impede certain types of petty crime, but I also think that any property has break-in potential in a city. Or in a lot of suburbs for that matter. You have to be smart and follow a few precautionary strategies.  If there have been break-ins in your neighborhood, then get a security system, use house-sitters, and be smart about your lights. You should have trees anyway. I am also not sure that it would inspire homeowners to plant trees because they would not see the big tree benefit for decades. But if it does cause them to plant trees, then all well and good.

Speaking of trees, there is also an interesting discussion going on on the Garden Writers’ Listserv about using fruit trees as street trees. Apparently, Chico, CA uses citrus and Boston has fruit trees along a major artery. The fruit is welcome in both cases. We don’t do it here. I think it would work better in public community gardening spaces.

Posted by on November 9, 2010 at 4:40 am.   This post has 17 responses.
Gardening on the Planet

The EPA has it in for your lawn

Speaking of lawns, check out the big story in today's Post about EPA going after the pollutants that people dump on their lawns.  Also, probably requiring that homeowners and developers retain stormwater on site, or slow it down a lot.  There's talk of daylighting waterways that are now tunneled. 

And the blowback has begun – from developers, from the lawn service industry and from Big Chem, all of whom have lobbyists.  The environmentalists are unhappy, too, and email groups are buzzing with complaints that the article paints native plantings as scruffy and abandoned-looking, and overstates the cost of rain gardens.  (Guilty on both charges). 

Posted by on November 8, 2010 at 1:17 pm.   This post has 9 responses.
Gardening on the Planet

Landscape for Life – a Review

Fullscreen capture smaller

Remember the Sustainable Sites Initiative?  It set eco-standards for landscapes the way LEED does for buildings, and was a collaborative project of the U.S. Botanic Garden, Johnson Wildflower Center and ASLAThis post about it included the good news that a homeowner version was in the works – well, it's here and it's called Landscape for Life. So let's look inside, shall we?

My favorite things

  • Landscape for Life emphasizes all the ecological services performed by healthy landscapes – like storing water, flood control, and enhancing human health and well-being.
  • The website is pretty (though more photos of examples would be nice).  And the message is  pro-beauty, stressing that landscapes need to be good-looking. (Yes, it really says that!)
  • It encourages us to create outdoor spaces for games, for socializing, for quiet relaxation and for growing food.  It's all too rare to see human needs and desires mentioned in writings about "green gardening," so kudos!
  • It's very practical, even including advice about construction materials.
  • The section on pesticides is excellent, stressing that organic gardening means more than just switching to different products.
  • It encourages the use of native plants but takes an inclusive approach to plant origin (nonnatives aren't condemned). The right plant/right place philosophy is used here, with advice about matching plants to local precipitation patterns.
  • It advises choosing the RIGHT native plants, not just any of them.  "Be sure to choose native plants that match the specific conditions at the planting site.”  Which seems obvious to us gardeners but this sensible caveat is seldom included.  Ditto for the fact that native plants need to be tended.
  • It's easy to understand, which for an informational resource means it's very well written – by Janet Marinelli.

What I didn't know

  • The importance of biomass.  Why do we see so little mention of this?
  • Perlite comes from Greece!  Which is just one reason it's not considered sustainable, in addition to the energy required to create it.  Peat moss is also a no-no.  (See the section on sustainable potting mixes.)

Questions and suggestions

"State and local native plant societies are great sources of information on native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers that will thrive in your garden.”  Uh, I wish.  They usually just list ALL native plants, whether or not they're available or do well in landscapes.

And still on native plants, I have a question about this: “For the vast majority of native wildlife, most of the non-native plants we've favored in our landscapes for more than a century do not provide sufficient food, including the insects on which 96 percent of all terrestrial birds depend.”  But doesn't Doug Tallamy tell us that 50 percent of native wildlife are generalists?  

In "Green Your Lawn" (the site's weakest section), I found this: "Because lawn typically requires more water and fertilizer than other parts of the garden and mowing consumes energy and results in pollution, it's best to cut it down to size. Replace all or part of it with more sustainable alternatives." Which makes me wonder: Why not suggest we NOT water and feed our lawns so much, and switch to nonpolluting mowers?  When I had a lawn I watered it less than the rest of my garden, and never fed it. And not all mowers pollute.

In this anti-lawn vein, it's even suggested that lawns be replaced with hardscape, which seems to contradict recommendations elsewhere to beef up our yard's biomass. 

And I'd encourage the author to say more about fertilizing lawns than just “fertilize sparingly and less frequently”.  How about at the right time of the year (spring or fall, for cold or warm season grasses) and what to fertilize WITH, including great options like corn gluten, compost and mulching mowers.  There's no mention of soil tests, or the suggestion that we feed only if our lawn's looking thin and weedy.

In the discussion of alternative types of turfgrass, there's a nice mention of the Grassroots Program in California – it's part of the Lawn Reform Coalition and we love it.  But readers outside California could be helped by a link to the whole (nationwide) Coalition.

Finally, on the subject of finding alternatives to conventional turf-type fescues, we're advised thusly: “Contact your county Cooperative Extension office for more information on which alternative turfgrass varieties are best suited for your area.”  Again, I WISH.

Now readers, check it out for yourselves and weigh in – What do YOU think of Landscape for Life?  It's online, so changes could easily be made.

Posted by on November 8, 2010 at 5:52 am.   This post has 15 responses.
Gardening on the Planet,   Real Gardens

I think that I shall never see

We use an online form to request trees from the varieties offered, but this one is sort of faked; these addresses really do not need trees. But you have to give an address to get a tree.

Yesterday was tree-planting day in the neighborhood, fall edition, and it had its usual frustrations. This year I noticed that at least one tree that took me a good two hours to plant (getting through some old stump remains) had disappeared—that maybe it hadn’t even lasted a week after I planted it! And we saw that a couple property owners had taken it into their heads to blacktop their easeway/hellstrips/whatever, which is where we plant these municipal trees. And there were a couple difficult spots where a pickaxe had to be employed to clear some debris in the planting hole. Also, the city had not updated its online tree map, so we had to make our own decisions on where the trees were needed—and our own guesses where utility infrastructure had to be avoided.

Here's one we planted last year.

But it could be worse. I had an errand in the burbs after we planted and it took me to a little cul-de-sac where every lawn had the same closely-shaven appearance, there were few trees of any description, and there were no sidewalks. Our median strips might be a bit narrow, and it’s not exactly a blast to take shovel in hand on a chilly November air, but at least our neighborhood looks like a neighborhood and not some kind of Stepford bastion.  The urban tree picture is not perfect by any means—but the alternative is unthinkable.

This year—why not—I handed out bags of species tulips that I had gotten on sale and asked the planters to throw ten or so around every tree. They will provide some interest for a few years as the saplings grow. Also just for fun, here is an interactive project from my husband about trees (kind of). 

Posted by on November 7, 2010 at 6:40 am.   This post has 10 responses.

First-ever rap video about organic dairy farming

This rap commercial for an organic dairy in England is great – except for one flaw that I couldn't stop noticing.  The female in the video looks like a model, not someone you can imagine getting dirty, like the outdoorsy-looking men.  Via Grist.

Posted by on November 5, 2010 at 6:51 pm.   This post has 14 responses.
Eat This

Still Going Strong

No type of pundit is more annoying to me than the food "realists," people like the Freakonomics guys or this guy, who seem to know nothing about growing food and precious little about cooking or eating it either, but feel qualified to make statements like this one:

First, how practical is local food sourcing in a nation that enjoys a diversity of food? From a practical standpoint, there isn’t much that can be grown in winter in most parts of the country.

Seriously.  I garden in Zone 4–pretty damned cold.  It is now November.  Yet, I was able to harvest the following from my garden this week:

  1. Fennel
  2. Carrots
  3. Potatoes
  4. Arugula
  5. Parsley
  6. Turnips
  7. Kohlrabi
  8. Cabbage
  9. Kale
  10. Collards
  11. Brussels sprouts
  12. Leeks
  13. Scallions
  14. Celeriac
  15. Parsnips
  16. Radishes
  17. Bok choy
  18. Sage

Every bit of it, so fresh and delicious, that even a Freakonomics writer without much of a palate might notice the quality and range of the food, in the unlikely event that I'd ever invite such uncongenial grumps to dinner.

The Brussels sprouts and kale will be there in the garden until Christmas.  I've got a root cellar for the parsnips, leeks, and celeriac.  I have pumpkins and potatoes galore already in my basement.  I'll make sauerkraut with the cabbages.  I've already made some pickles and relishes and frozen loads of tomatoes and tomatillos.  And the mache is already germinating in my garden…just waiting for that moment in March or April when the snow disappears and it will turn into a perfumy salad.

And I am admittedly many steps behind someone like El of Fast Grow the Weeds, who has two big unheated greenhouses that convert a Michigan winter into a mere speedbump.

The local apple farm manages to store apples and pears beautifully all winter long. As long as we can still ship in coffee and clementines, I don't see much problem with eating locally in winter, even in the Northeast and Midwest.

Posted by on November 5, 2010 at 8:42 am.   This post has 23 responses.
Eat This

Give Seeds A Chance

I think of my vegetable garden as one big science experiment of the kind that I was not allowed to do at home when I was ten, on account of the colossal mess I generally made. (God, adulthood is wonderful!)

I'll plant a bit of the tried and true in my garden, but my real interest is vegetables so weird, some of them can't even be found in Elizabeth Schneider's great giant encyclopedia, Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini

Some of these experiments work. Some of them don't even bother to poke their heads above ground.  I imagine the seeds stirring briefly in the soil and then grumpily turning over and going back to bed, muttering, "This is not Sri Lanka! Are you out of your mind? This is upstate New York."

Fortunately, there are experiment enablers, seed catalogs like Fedco, Baker Creek, and the giant Seed Savers Exchange that allow me to come to informed conclusions such as, "Red eggplants are pretty, but too seedy to be really useful in cooking." (I tried three different varieties this year, including the extra-exciting but foul-tasting 'Cannibal Red Tomato Eggplant', formerly used to sauce cannibal meals.)

As much as I love my farmer's market farmers, I could not get information like this from them.  They are not mad scientists.  They can't be, really.  They have to grow what will sell.

By now, the value of keeping the genetic diversity of vegetables alive is well-established. And to a great extent, that will be up to gardeners. Seed banks, as important as they may be come the apocalypse, cannot possibly preserve every variety of every edible plant. Check out this great 2007 New York Times piece by Elizabeth Rosenthal about the struggle to save unique Italian varieties that threaten to die out with the elderly gardeners and small farmers who maintain them.  The scientific term for these ancient vegetable varieties developed over many generations without the assistance of lab technicians is "landraces."

Of course, I'm only really contributing to the cause of genetic diversity as a consumer.  I'm not out there collecting old varieties all over the world and saving the seeds of the best plants for future generations.  I'm in here in the kitchen, roasting or sauteing the diversity.

But I am supporting the people who do save these unique varieties.  And totally, totally amusing myself in the process.  The seeds of some weird unfamiliar vegetable?  Absolutely the most fun, legal or illegal, that anybody can have for $2.

Posted by on November 5, 2010 at 5:02 am.   This post has 14 responses.
Guest Rants

Bulb Fever Thwarted

Guest Post by Sandra Knauf of Greenwoman Zine.Chionodoxa forbesii 'Blue Giantsmall'

I've had my share of bulb fever over the years. It's always the same, coming on in late summer, intensifying  with fall, eased only by hours poring over full-color bulb-porn catalogs and long, excited lists. I've splurged a few times, putting in big orders that included the practical (species tulips, muscari, Darwins) to the extravagant (parrot, fringed, and peony tulips, Allium 'Globemaster' and shubertii.)

And, I have loved them all.

For me, it began sixteen years ago, during the first fall in the home we live in now, with my first real garden. I wanted bulbs and lots of them. Early in November, eight months pregnant with our second daughter, I planted 180 in one day; dozens of fancy tulips for the front of our bungalow (most lasted one season), King Alfreds by the street, drumstick alliums, crocus, and blue Glory of the Snow. I remember my sister-in-law Victoria's charming comment on how the husks enveloping the daffs were their "little jackets for the winter." She helped me dig big holes and instructed me in proper bulb planting–sprinkle the holes at the bottom with bone meal, add enough bulbs to make a nice show.

I ended the day sore and happy. The next spring, in a new home, with a new baby and so much floral beauty, was glorious.

Looking back now, with the girls mostly grown and nearly two decades of gardening behind me, I realize what made it glorious was not really the bulbs. What filled my heart was springtime itself, our young family (I see it now as a mirror image of the youthful abundance then around us). In a word, love. The bulbs were just icing on the cake. I know this because three years earlier I felt just as happy sitting on a small porch in May, with no garden to speak of, and our first baby in my arms. That spring I fawned over what grew in a section of our cramped yard–a few scruffy grape hyacinths (not planted by me), scrawny wild roses canes that came from who-knows-where, beginning to bud, and the antics of a single robin. Simpler but just as sweet.

That said, I know that hopping on the bulb-buying bandwagon is hard to resist. Gardening, for many of us, is a giving pursuit, and pleasure comes in delighting not just ourselves, but others. When I see a neighbor on our sidewalk, stopping, smiling, pointing at something I've planted, I am thrilled. If you are in the business, it's pretty much a duty to have a show-stopping garden and first-hand plant education. But for those of you who don't have money to spend on bulbs this year, and are feeling blue, to you I say, it's okay. Personally, my bulb catalogs are where they've been stashed for the last few years, in the "maybe" pile on the reading table, as in, if something happens where a ton of money comes my way, I'm gonna buy me a LOT of bulbs. It's not going to happen again this year, and you know what? It's fine.

When spring comes I'll enjoy those hardy bulbs that have persisted in my garden, grape hyacinths, the six 'Globemasters' that get smaller each year but are still fascinating, the few bright spots of Darwin tulips that always bring a glad surprise, and a patch of those prolific species tulips, the Tulipa clusianas. If I find I can't live without buying something this fall, it'll be a small purchase, maybe a box or two of those $2.99 bulbs I've been eyeing at the grocery store, or a fragrant hyacinth at the neighborhood garden center to force in a colorful glass (it is a lot of fun).  As the proverb goes, it only takes one to feed the soul.

Top photo by Paul Spielman; lower photo by Kim Gravestock.

Posted by on November 4, 2010 at 4:31 am.   This post has 17 responses.