Monday, September 22, 2014

A Lifetime of Gardening in a Concise Memoir

Book Review

Courtesy Macmillan Publishers
To Eat: A Country Life
By Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd

To Eat is co-authored and the last title to be published by both authors (Winterrowd passed away in 2010). The chapters are presented in plant or animal categories and offer up advice, anecdotes or history on the topic at hand. There is a noticeable difference in the narrative toward the end of the book, presumably when Eck had to complete the book without his partner, but even though the stories are more concise, they are still informative.

The stories skip around from memories where the pair lived in Boston, Copenhagen, the Berkshires and finally to their farm in Vermont, where they finally had land to call their own.

There were many specific plant varieties listed in the book that I found myself writing down to try in my own garden. Examples include growing Yellow Peach tomatoes (because of the author's testimonial of their sweetness) or Paprika Alana peppers (that can be ground into paprika for kitchen use). I felt an urge to find my own Yellow Transparent apple tree so I could bake "fine pies" as the authors reference. As an admirer of Queen Anne's lace, I wish to try White Belgian carrots, which originated in Belgium in 1839 and the authors say are the "most fragrant of all carrots." There are suggestions for how to properly grow crops such as rhubarb, and a handful of recipes including carrot cake and pizza dough.

The only part of the book I found squeamish were the references to animals raised on the farm that were eventually killed for food. I realize this is typical farm life, but it was a little unsettling to read, though it was not graphic. At least the duo believed in treating their animals well and used humane methods to put them down.

The afterword is short but heartfelt, in which Eck writes about gardening - and living a life - without Winterrowd. Every gardener will gleam some techniques that are tried and true by the authors while reading this memoir.

To Eat: A Country Life retails for $25.00 and is published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Garden Puts Out the Welcome Mat for Butterflies

Cohen Woodlands Butterfly Garden in early September.
COLCHESTER, Conn. - Cohen Woodlands has gone to the butterflies.

The butterfly garden, originally installed 15 years ago as a University of Connecticut (UCONN) Master Gardener project, is getting a facelift thanks to a local garden club president.

Katherine Kosiba
"It was basically a big oval and over the years - because there wasn't a maintenance plan - the town continued to mow it smaller and smaller and smaller to the point where there was a little bit of an area around the sign, and there was a little circle about 10 to 15 feet away that basically had three rose of Sharons, milkweed, daylilies, and a variety of other weeds," said Katherine Kosiba, advanced master gardener and president of the Colchester Garden Club.

"It has been on my radar for four to five years ... my feeling was that, this might be a really good year to get approval to renovate that butterfly garden," she said.

After the town approved the renovation project in March, Kosiba worked through the spring to recruit volunteers. In June, not only did Kosiba have four master gardener interns sign up, but also four volunteers from the garden club and one from the town. Even the local Girl Scout troops came by to plant zinnias.

Kosiba partnered with the town's public works department, which provides mulch for the garden and removes garden debris. The town also agreed to include the butterfly garden in a soon-to-be installed walkway to the adjacent pond. "The town has been an awesome partner with us," said Kosiba.

Zinnias planted by local Girl Scout troops.
The garden, once neglected, began to flourish under care. "I'm just thrilled that the pieces have fallen into place," she said.

Create an Ecosystem 
Growing up, Kosiba came from a gardening family. "We always had a lot of bees and butterflies. We would catch them with Skippy peanut butter jars, look at them, and let them go," she said. "... You just don't see them [anymore]."

"Because of all the changes in our state, with development and losing natural habitats for native plants and the increase of invasive plants, a lot of landscape has changed. There's not enough plants to support the web of life," she said.  "The environment is changing. In the field [adjacent to the butterfly garden], there is a lot of milkweed, but not a lot of chewed leaves, so there are no caterpillars in there," she said. (The Cohen Woodlands property was certified in 2009 as a wildlife habitat through the National Wildlife Federation.)

People need to look at their property as their own little ecosystem, said Kosiba. "Everything is so interconnected. Even if you don't garden for wildlife per say, leave a little piece of your property for them, so as wildlife goes through, they will have a little haven to get by on."

Making the Garden Butterfly-Friendly
Now that the structure of the garden is in place, Kosiba plans to add the finishing touches to make it a haven for butterflies. Butterflies need a body temperature of 85 degrees to fly because they are cold-blooded, so Kosiba plans on adding a collection of rocks which will provide a place for the butterflies to land on and warm up while visiting the flowers.

Rose of Sharon
The garden will also include at least two puddling stations on either side of the garden, which consists of playground sand, manure, a little soil in a container at least 16 inches wide. It needs to be kept consistently moist to attract butterflies.

"Through evaporation, there are a lot of minerals that will come to the top," she said. "Male butterflies come to [the mud puddles] in order to get the minerals that then help with sperm production which then helps with the mating cycle," she said.

Most butterflies only survive for two to four weeks, said Kosiba, unless they are butterflies that can overwinter as adults, such as monarchs. During their short life cycle, butterflies seek out nectar to drink and host plants to lay eggs on. "Butterflies can tell what type of plant they land on by their feet. When their feet hit plants, they know if it's a host to lay eggs or if its a plant that contains nectar to continue on their journey," she said.

"The critical part in any butterfly garden is having nectar plants [and] having host plants where they lay their eggs. When the caterpillar emerges from the egg, they have a plant source to eat in order to go into the chrysalis phase," she said. "If they don't find host plants, they don't lay eggs, which leads to no butterflies," she said.

In the Cohen Woodlands Butterfly Garden, Kosiba has planted asters, coneflowers, heliopsis and agastache. "The zinnias are an annual but they're doing fabulously," she said, adding that the plant will be considered for next year's planting.

"We left the Queen Anne's lace. We put in more daisies. There's tons of milkweed in the open field" adjacent to the butterfly garden, she said. Milkweed is the main host plant for monarch butterflies.

Native milkweed pods from Cohen Woodlands.
"Milkweed has an incredible fragrance and pink, dangling flowers," she said. "They will shoot right up. If they like the place, they will just take off." To successfully grow milkweed, Kosiba recommends growing it by seed. "Wait until the pods are brown and split open for viable seeds," she said. Finding out how to certify the garden as a monarch way station is also on the to-do list.

She will be adding more bronze fennel next year, because caterpillars will not only eat it, but will also construct their chrysalis on it for overwintering. Butterfly bushes are also being considered for the garden, despite their recent negative press for being a potential invasive plant.

Adjacent to the butterfly garden is a field filled
with milkweed and goldenrod, both beneficial
plants for butterflies.
"There is a a lot of controversy with butterfly bushes. Some put out a lot of seed ... it can become aggressive in the right environment," she said. "The public is going to expect to see a butterfly bush in a butterfly garden." However, newer strains of butterfly bushes either produce sterile seeds or very little seeds, so it's important to look at the tag to know what you are buying, Kosiba said.

The Girl Scout volunteers will be returning in the upcoming weeks to help with passive garden preparation for future garden beds.

"Rather than digging up the grass and the weeds ... the passive approach is putting down cardboard, then putting down chopped up leaves or grass clippings, and putting mulch on top of that," said Kosiba. By "leaving it for four to five months ... by the time you come back in the spring, all of that should be decomposed. You just turn it under, rework the soil with shovels, and then you plant. Your soil has been enriched and you didn't have to do all that extra bed preparation."

The new garden beds will make the existing garden larger. Since butterflies do not like wind, Kosiba plans to add shrubs and a fence along the garden's border along the pond to block the wind that comes from there.

"We will put in black eye Susans, threadleaf coreopsis and sedum. Catmint is a great nectar and pollinator plant. It's going to be nice."

Katherine Kosiba at Cohen Woodlands.
Kosiba's tips for attracting butterflies are easy to implement in your own garden. "To attract butterflies, you need a 'swatch' of flowers, at least 3 feet by 4 feet of the same type of plant. One plant alone won't do it," she said. "You need sunlight and a good mix of nectar plants."

"Get a package of parsley (or dill) seeds, and throw it in between your garden plants," she said, noting that both are host plants for black swallowtail butterflies.

Most importantly, watch what you put in the garden. "Cut down on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, otherwise you won't get butterflies," she said. "Butterfly gardening is a wonderful way to enjoy wildlife on your property," she said.

Funding for Kosiba's renovation has come from the Connecticut Master Gardener Association as well as the Colchester Garden Club. Kosiba is hoping to finish the garden by spring 2015.

For a list of recommended native plants by region and state, visit The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Author Explains How Gardening Never Goes Out of Season

HAMDEN, Conn. - Cooler temperatures do not mark the end of the gardening season.

A slide from Roach's presentation showing part of her
garden in upstate New York.
"People say, 'it's over,' and I say, 'no, no no,'" said author Margaret Roach, calling fall a rich and wise time. "It teaches us the most important garden lesson of all: nothing lasts."

"I encourage you to be a part of your garden every day of the year," Roach said.

Roach recently visited Broken Arrow Nursery to discuss 365 days of gardening and show examples from her own garden. Her popular garden blog, A Way to Garden, has 250,000 followers per month. (It gets its name from her first, and now out of print, book.)

When visiting garden nurseries, Roach said to look for plants that look good in early spring and fall to extend the life of the garden. "Go and buy things that look good in February, March and November. Don't shop the obvious route," she said.

Roach, who has an extensive editorial background ranging from The New York Times, Newsday and Martha Stewart Omnimedia, lived in the city but purchased a home in upstate New York. "It was a long-distance romance," Roach said, referring to her weekend gardening. In 2007, she decided she had had enough of the hustle and bustle of the city and moved permanently into her "weekend home" of more than 20 years.

During Roach's lecture, she provided examples of plants that do well in her garden. Her color palette concentrates on many red and gold-colored plants.

"I always have a lot of yellow - maybe it's too much." (One of her favorites is the gold hinoki cypress.) Roach recommends utilizing "every category of plant you can to indulge your color palette," which can include ephemerals, plants with a long season of interest and late-show stars.

"If someone tells you it doesn't go together, [that's] ridiculous. Tell them to look at a sunset or the plumage of a parrot," she said. "It's your place. It's your garden."

Designing from the Inside Out
When it comes to garden design, Roach said most gardeners are not likely to step back and "see" the garden when they are outside, due to garden maintenance and other distractions. Roach advised gardeners to go inside their homes and look out the windows to "see where your garden belongs."

"That's how I designed the whole garden: from the inside out," she said. She also recommended looking for "spectacular light opportunities" to showcase plants.

Book cover from the publisher.
"I feel like the garden is beautiful every day," said Roach. Even in the winter time, there are "incredible sensual shapes the snow makes."

"We need to adjust the way we look, not just with our eyes, but with our heart as well," she said. "Look for more subtlety besides the show-stopper stuff."

To Roach, gardening is not a hobby, but has a more spiritual nature. "We grow together, the garden and the gardener."

A main part of being in balance with nature and the garden is not banishing wildlife from the garden. The cover of her third book (at left) is taken from a photograph in her garden of a tiny frog whispering into the ear of her Buddha statue. "If we are in too much of a hurry, this is what we miss," she said, describing moments in nature.

She has counted 62 species of birds that visit her garden and attributes some of that success to providing water sources. "Water 365 days a year will change your garden," she said. If adding a pond to the garden is not feasible, Roach recommended the use of container water gardens, in which she uses large glazed ceramic pots with duckweed and fairy moss to shade the water.

Welcoming wildlife to the garden also provides natural pest control. "People often ask me how to get rid of slugs. I tell them to 'get a frog or a snake.' People look at me like I'm crazy." Letting nature provide the checks and balances for pests also contributes to healthy soil for plants to grow in.

"We - as gardeners - our primary job is to be stewards of the soil. If you are thinking of taking care of your soil ... don't kill it off with chemical fertilizers," she said. "Let's love our soil - let's love all invisible things. Suppress the urge to squish the caterpillar munching on your leaf."

Margaret Roach will be participating in Open Gardens Days on Saturday, Sept. 20. For details, click here.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Floral Friday: Cooler Temperatures, Autumn Flowers

Keeping it short and sweet this week: the detail of a late-blooming sunflower (it was sown so late I didn't think they would even flower) along with beautiful mums picked up at the nursery.

It's official: cooler temperatures means fall has arrived.

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What is blooming in your garden this week?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Butterflies in the Garden

I've been noticing more butterflies in the garden lately than the usual cabbage white.

First up, the tiny, but beautiful Silvery Checkerspot butterfly. This butterfly treats black eye Susans (shown below), sunflowers and wingstem as their host plants to lay eggs on. It's on the smaller side, but very beautiful.

Click to view larger.

Next up, the black swallowtail butterfly. These are the easiest to raise from caterpillars to butterflies. I've blogged in the past about these beautiful butterflies. They treat carrot tops, dill and fennel as their host plants. Below is a male butterfly that greeted me yesterday when I came home from work. He was in his chrysalis for about two weeks in my kitchen.

Click to view larger.
And of course, who can forget the monarch? They use milkweed as their host plant.

Click to view larger.
What butterflies are you seeing in your garden?

Friday, September 5, 2014

Floral Friday: Welcome, September

I really can't believe that summer is over. Thankfully, I have many "heavy-hitting" fall perennials starting to bloom. Every fall, I'm reminded that I need to buy more asters, more mums and more ornamental grasses.

This week I'm not only highlighting the flowers, but the beautiful fruit and vegetables in my garden as well.

The Joe pye weed was covered in bees when I took this photo. I lost count at 20.

One of the pretty low-growing asters.

One of my favorite flowers: sweet autumn clematis.

The Kieffer pears are starting to change color... and the branches need support.

This anemone reseeded itself everywhere! I didn't have the heart to pull it out this
past spring, and now I'm glad I didn't.

This rose is reblooming in front of the sweet autumn clematis.

I love the way the light plays in this photo.

The fairy rose is still blooming!
What's blooming in your garden this week?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

BloomPucks Make Gardening Easy

An intriguing new product stands to make organic gardening easier for people who are short on time.

Think of a disc about the size of a nickel that already contains non-GMO seeds and organic fertilizer from vermicompost (compost made from worms). Simply plug it into the ground, keep it moist and watch it grow. As the plant grows, it feeds off the nutrients included in the disc.

Strong roots on this Sunblaze
BloomPucks seedling.
Photo used with permission. 
"All the nutrients the flowers need are contained in the BloomPucks which break down over time," said creator Steven Devloo of Stamford, Conn. "Our goal is to have more people plant organically and also sustainably using our BloomPucks - eliminating the need for chemicals that are detrimental to the health of our ecosystem," he said. Even the packaging is made from recycled content and printed with soy inks.

BloomPucks was an organic gardening product developed by his company, Earthworm Technologies. Devloo was interested in getting Americans more excited about organic gardening and finding a solution to turning food waste into something useful instead of sending it into the landfills.

Inspiration struck while walking in the garden with his (then) 2-year-old daughter. "We have since figured out a way to turn food scraps into organic worm castings that are all-natural and showing to be superior in many ways in the garden," said Devloo. "We also created a service that allows local area residents in Connecticut an avenue to recycle their food scraps with us."

Devloo also educates others about environmental and agricultural issues. "I even spent the day planting BloomPucks with four classes of pre-schoolers recently and talking about worms, organic gardening and having respect for nature," he said. "We find that many people and even life-long gardeners don’t even realize that some of the methods they are using are not sustainable or are bad for the environment."

With plenty of vermicompost on hand, Devloo wanted to figure out how to share it with the masses in an eco-friendly, cost-effective way. It had to be safe for pets and children and be easy to use. It also had to be "something that would help pretty much anyone who might not have the time to fully commit to gardening or needed some help with an instant garden design aspect and most importantly we wanted to do all of that organically, and so BloomPucks came to be," he said.
The BloomPucks product line. Photo used with permission.

Five Varieties to Start
There are currently five different BloomPucks available, and Devloo said the best seller is the variety pack. "A lot of customers want to buy all five BloomPucks types - some customers even buy the variety pack to keep some tubes for themselves and give others away as gifts," he said. The variety pack is conveniently priced to be the "cheapest price per tube."

The five varieties include Sproutz, Bumblez, Wingzy, Bedazzle and Sunblaze.

Bumblez and Wingzy are wildflower varieties, the latter being slightly more popular according to Devloo. Sproutz is a selection of three herbs.

"Sunblaze (premium variety of giant sunflowers) and Bedazzle (premium variety of zinnias) have both sold equally well. Customers have really appreciated the gardening design element of these two since we have color-coded these products so that you have three different varieties of the underlying flowers growing at different heights and colors in the garden," he said.

One orange and two red Bedazzle Bloompucks. Photo used with permission.
For example, in the Bedazzle tube you get nine BloomPucks that consist of three yellow pucks, three orange pucks and three red pucks. "You simply plant the three yellow pucks in the front, orange in the middle and red in the back of your designated planting area and spaced 1 foot apart. Now you have a 9 square foot pre-designed zinnia garden from one BloomPucks tube," he said. (The heights range from 1 to 4 feet tall, and the flower colors correspond to the BloomPuck color.)

"We’ve done all the hard work for everyone to grow beautiful gardens the right way," he said. "There’s no thinking, designing or stress involved in the process – one Bedazzle BloomPucks tube will give you a gorgeous organically-grown designed zinnia cutting garden of various heights and colors and you don’t even have to worry about fertilizing it throughout the season."

"The concept ... was to not only make the BloomPucks easy to use, organic and less expensive to the consumer, but now you also have the capability to create beautifully designed annual flower gardens without the cost of hiring a landscape designer."

So far, Devloo has received a lot of positive feedback from a variety of gardeners, including one mother who grew the Sunblaze BloomPucks with her 4-year-old son and has been sharing photos of the plants' growth on Instagram. "She never thought she'd be able to grow sunflowers on her fourth floor little apartment patio in the city," he said. 

What's in store for the next growing season? Devloo said customers have expressed an interest in a pre-designed shade BloomPuck, and he has a handful of other ideas up his sleeve. "New BloomPucks varieties should be on target for launch by next spring," he said. Gardeners are welcome to contact him through Facebook and Twitter if there is a particular item they are looking for. In the future he hopes to use his organic worm castings in other ways as well.

"The point is not just to grow your own but to grow your own organically and ideally sustainably, which is what we’re trying to encourage and make easier for everyone!" he said. 

* For more information on how to use BloomPucks in your garden design, sign up at the Earthworm Technologies Garden Blog.