Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hummingbirds in the Garden

Just wanted to share some pretty photos of the ruby-throated hummingbird in my garden. She loves the bee balm planted in the front garden (actually preferring that to the feeder I have in the bed as well). She visits on a timed schedule, making her rounds around the neighborhood and being back on our property within a 10 minute time window.

Monarda (Bee Balm) "Raspberry Wine"

Verbena bonariensis attracts butterflies also.

These photos were taken before I put the hummingbird feeder out front. For the solution, I take 1 cup of granulated sugar with 4 cups of water.  I bring this mixture to a light boil and then take it off the heat to cool. In the hot summer it's necessary to change the sugar syrup regularly so mold doesn't grow inside. An ant moat hanging above the feeder helps to keep the ants away.

Who visits your garden?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Now's the Time to Look for Caterpillars

Last weekend I discovered six little black swallowtail caterpillars on my fennel plants. I was excited to find so many at once and decided that once my busy weekend was over, I'd bring them inside to watch them grow. This was Saturday night.

By Monday morning, all the caterpillars were gone. I don't know what bird/insect got them, but I was really disappointed. I shared my frustration on Facebook, and one friend who regularly checks for caterpillars in her garden sympathized. When you consider how six caterpillars were gone in less than 48 hours, it's downright amazing butterflies survive at all. (Hence the "scary" appearances of monarch and spicebush caterpillars to birds.)

So after checking the fennel at least three times with no results, I decided to check my flowering carrot plants for black swallowtail caterpillars. (Black swallowtail butterflies will also lay eggs on dill, parsley, parsnips and rue. The life cycle is explained in brief here.) I found three little caterpillars. This time, I wasn't taking any chances, so I snipped off the carrot flowers they were on, along with some fennel, put them in a mason jar filled with water and brought them inside.

They have remained under my (dormant) growlights all week and have continued to grow larger. I feel bad about the six I lost, but at least these three will have a chance.

Photo taken this morning with my iPhone.

Two caterpillars resting this morning.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Floral Friday

Apparently I do not shy away from bright colors. I know many gardens feature soft pastel flowers or only plants in the same part of the color wheel.

But when you look at my garden, I think you can see not only my impulsiveness, but my "reckless" combinations. One daylily began to bloom and I was even surprised at how hot pink/hot orange it was. But I liked it.

To me, a garden is a portable canvas. I used to paint when I was younger, but after I was introduced to the darkroom, I lost the patience that is required when painting in acrylics. Everything was instant - and that was before digital cameras became as good as they are today. Now I don't even need to wait for the film to come back from the lab or process black and whites in the darkroom myself.

In the last two weeks, the garden went from muddle greens to an explosion of purples, pinks, blues and yellows. My goal is to have the garden blooming its head off without a period of green downtime after the spring flowers are finished.

The best part about the garden is that it can always change. If I don't like how the orange flower looks near the pink, I can move it. It's living art and an expression of each gardener's creativity and you can tell a lot about the person who keeps the garden. I'm a little carefree when it comes to my plant choices. And a lot of my plant pairing accidents usually work out really well.

I digress. Here's what is blooming this week.

What's blooming in your garden this week?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Recipe: Garlic Scape Pesto

Garlic scapes in my kitchen.
Garlic scape pesto is a great meal component that is easily grown in the garden.  The garlic scape is the flower stalk from a garlic bulb, and they usually start appearing in June here in Connecticut. The curlier the garlic scape, the more tender it is. I cut my scapes before they begin to straighten out. They can remain in a pitcher of water out of direct sunlight until you get to them. (I am pushing my luck this season - they have been in the pitcher for 2 weeks but are still fine.)

I like to freeze my garlic scape pesto in little batches so I can enjoy it when it's not in season, or if I need to throw together a quick dinner.* There are lots of ways to make garlic scape pesto. Here's how I make mine:

10-12 garlic scapes
Roughly half to 3/4 of a pound of Romano cheese (Parmesan can be substituted if you prefer)
4 oz of walnuts (optional)
Olive oil, to taste

Makes about two cups of pesto.

I cut the actual flower bud off, but will use the stem
below it and the green part above the bud.
I take all my garlic scapes and chop them into 1 - 2 inch pieces. It doesn't need to be exact. If the bottom part of the stem seems too hard or woody, I discard it.

Next, I take about a half a pound of Romano cheese and grate it. If you want a cheesier pesto, add closer to .75 pounds.

After that, I put the garlic scape pieces and the Romano cheese in the food processor. I add about a tbsp of olive oil to start, and then I turn the food processor on.

Pesto I made last year with less cheese (and more garlic scapes) and walnuts.

I keep adding a little bit of oil as the processor runs until I get the consistency I like. 

This year I added more cheese and had less scapes since I shared with friends. I also left out
the walnuts, and the pesto is bright green as a result.
I'll divide the pesto into the 1 cup plastic containers and put it in the freezer. Try to use it within a year. 

* I will take the small frozen batch of pesto out the morning I plan to use it and defrost it in the refrigerator during the day. At dinner time, after boiling and draining pasta noodles for dinner, I'll add the pesto to the pot and stir until it is well incorporated. Serve with a hunk of Italian bread. Yum!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Floral Friday

After a few greener weeks than I'd like out front, the summer perennials are now flowering. It started earlier this week with several daylilies, and now the coneflowers, shasta daisies, liatris, butterfly bushes and bee balm are all in bloom. 

Coneflowers and Shasta Daisy 'Becky' in the evening light.
Butterfly weed will bloom through most of July.

A coneflower along the front garden path.

Who says vegetables can't be pretty? These carrots overwintered and I love them.

It's hard to believe that in 2009, this front yard was all grass!
What's blooming in your garden this week?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Cricket Hill Garden Sees Future in Edibles

Quince growing at Cricket Hill Garden.
THOMASTON, Conn. - For Dan Furman, the future holds not only blossoms but also edible plants.

As co-owner of Cricket Hill Garden, the last 25 years of the family business has been spent finding and selling tree, intersectional and herbaceous peonies. In the last two years, Furman has cleared the hillside - that overlooks the peony garden - to grow fruit trees and other edibles.

"Edible gardening is a trend right now - a good one - and peonies have such a short growing season," he said, explaining his interest in growing edible crops. "Any future for the nursery business is in edibles. Gardeners today want to be a little more self-sufficient and know where their food comes from."

As Cricket Hill Garden begins to diversify its offerings to customers, Furman's main focus will be on offering unusual fruit and trying to grow them organically. For example, he already grows - and offers for sale - Asian pears, figs, pawpaws, quince and mulberries, to name a few.

Furman is also growing medlar, a plant related to Hawthorn that also has Shakespearean roots. "They're kind of ugly," he said. The green-brown fruit looks like a large crab apple, except its bottom end is open. "You harvest it like a European pear," he said. The Brenda Giant Medlar has its roots in the Netherlands and is used for sauces and preserves.

Edible plants grow along the hillside at the nursery.
Hardy Plants for the Northeast
Many of the foreign edible plants Furman is testing comes from his interest in the USDA's National Clonal Germplasm Repository in Corvallis, Oregon.

"There are pears you cannot import today," he said. "Three years ago I got a ton of material [to work with]."

"A lot does feel experimental," he said, referring to the lack of research of how these plants do in the Northeast climate. Varieties of plants that fail in his trial garden will not be offered to customers. "At least I can recommend stuff to customers that I will grow." For example, "Turkish quince is good for fresh eating." The Ekmek variety Furman is growing produces juicy, yellow pear-shaped fruit.

What's next? "One cool thing I want to do when I have older trees is multigrafted trees," he said, where different varieties can be grown on one. "You get to know your plants."

To view the edible varieties for sale, click here. To read the first part of this series, click here.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

July Garden Chores

Mid-summer in the garden (from 2012).

It always seems like the summer months go by faster than the winter months, at least for me. So here we are in July, with the heat of summer about to be a permanent reality in the Northeast. At first it may seem that this is the month to surrender to the heat and enjoy nature. But as I compiled this list, I realized there's a lot to do!

Here are some tasks I'm planning to keep in mind this month to keep the garden looking its best.

Deadhead Flowers
This is a time-consuming but important task for a large garden. Deadheading makes plants concentrate their efforts on producing new flowers as opposed to seeds. (Of course, if you want seeds, skip this step.) I find that I am constantly deadheading roses, daisies, marigolds and zinnias this month.

Soil Tests
Is an established plant not performing the way you were hoping it would? Get your soil tested to see what nutrients it may be missing. The University of Connecticut offers a basic soil test for $8 for homeowners. Using a small trowel or bulb planter, take samples of soil from 10 different spots in the sample area. Mix the samples in a container and then take a one cup sample to send out for analysis. Once your test results return (the website estimates 7-10 days) you can use the information to determine what the soil needs for correcting. Most garden centers are willing to help you decipher the guidelines if it seems confusing.
Japanese beetles running amok.

Japanese Beetles
I hate these garden pests, as I've written about last year. The best way to get rid of them is by going out in the early morning or late evening, when the bugs are sluggish, and shake the branches over a cup of soapy water so the beetles fall in. Oriental beetles are also as annoying as the Japanese beetles. Together, they eat foliage and flower petals. I spotted a few yesterday in the garden.

Potted plants need the most fertilizer, vegetables after that. I like to use an organic fertilizer. So far this season I've had very good luck with Organic Plant Magic. I've also used a seaweed-based liquid fertilizer in the past. You should fertilize plants every two weeks. In a previous story, Michael Ruggiero advised to fertilize at half strength if you are afraid of over-doing it.

Harvest Garlic
Oriental beetles are also a nuisance.
By now you should have cut off your garlic scapes. Mid-month, it should be time to harvest garlic. I wait for half of the lower garlic stem and leaves to turn yellow. I then use a small hand shovel to dig them out (don't go to close or you may cut the bulb). I let them dry on my patio for the afternoon and then I shake off the excess dirt from the roots and hang them to dry. In my house, the coat rack behind the back door provides enough air circulation and keeps them out of direct sunlight. (It also appears that we are ready for a vampire invasion at a moment's notice.)

Prune Out Suckers on Tomato Plants
I found a lot of suckers (some already pretty large)  growing in the crotch where a branch meets the stem yesterday while checking my plants. These are important to remove because it helps the tomato plant have appropriate airflow to prevent diseases like late blight. Also, the more suckers present, the less larger fruit your plant will produce. Also, remove any yellow leaves from the plant.

Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labor
When it comes to harvesting fruit, such as raspberries and blueberries, pick regularly (perhaps every day) to avoid losing your crop to birds. If you don't harvest your vegetables regularly, they can over-ripen and begin to spoil on the stem. Many edible flowers can be harvested all summer long (learn more here). If herbs try to flower, pinch them off so the flavor is stronger in the leaves. The one exception to this rule I allow is oregano. I grow more than I can use, and the flowers attract bees like crazy, which help my other plants.

Plan Your Fall Garden
Growing lettuce, carrots, beets or more for the fall? Start planning now. I am planning to use my books (such as Niki Jabbour's and Eliot Coleman's) to do a better job of making my fall and winter gardens this year. Last fall I planted peas in my cold frame. The plants grew slowly over the winter with the protection (even with some of the coldest temperatures I've experienced in Connecticut since I moved here 10 years ago) and produced a spring crop of peas earlier then the peas I sowed in the spring.

Fruit Trees
Keep an eye on fruit trees that may have branches starting to sag from the weight of the fruit. My grandfather used to grow Bartlett pears and by late summer, his whole tree was propped up with stakes to keep the fruits from breaking the branches. This year I tried tying kitchen twine to sagging branches to the central stem for support. (My stakes kept getting knocked over, perhaps by the groundhog. Grr.) I'll have to remove the twine after harvest so it doesn't damage the growing bark.
Zinnia seeds sowed in late June.

Flower Seeds
There is still time to plant a last batch of zinnias, tithonias, cosmos and sunflowers, but get them in fast. I've had to hold off planting a lot of things I wanted to because I have a groundhog problem this year that I am still trying to deal with.

Remember to stay hydrated as you work out in the heat. As always, onward!