Flower Committee Report: March 2011

March 9th, 2011

The Flower Garden Committee met in January, a time when gardeners are mostly dreaming about the future and lusting over seed catalogs. We did both – and came up with some new things to try:
• Using Corn Gluten Meal as a pre-emergent, to cut down everyone’s weeding time. (see “The Great Corn Gluten Meal Experiment“)
• Taking advantage of a generous grant from Queen Village Neighborhood Association specifically for beautifying the Christian Street face of the garden, we ordered seedlings of tall perennials — 42 each of Delphinium “Centurion Lilac Blue Bi-Color”, Echinacea “Double Decker”, and Verbascum “Copper Rose” and the equally tall bi-annual Foxglove “Candy Mountain.”
• Ordered vigorous climbing antique roses for the west fence (in an effort to be a good neighbor), and some lovely, fragrant, climbing heirloom musk roses for the PeePod (composting toilet). We also ordered some special clematis to climb in amongst the roses.
• Bought an organic pest control book – Good Bug/Bad Bug – to be kept in the shed
• We also discussed shearing back and/or dividing the tall grasses in the huge clump east end of the front fence. (Gwyn – update this item please)
• Depending on available funds, we may add some reblooming, brightly-colored bearded irises to our ever growing abundance of mostly-white iris.

– Linda Witt

The Great Corn Gluten Meal Experiment: A Memo by Linda Witt

March 9th, 2011

There are several NON-organic “weed and feed” products on the market – but not for this garden, thank you. Instead we’ve found a totally organic pre-emergent that is so non-toxic it can even be used in pet food. Developed by Nick Christians at Iowa State University, corn gluten meal is the starchy protein-rich part of the corn kernel leftover after corn starch and corn syrup are removed. It works as a pre-emergent, by keeping newly sprouting seeds from developing a root system, yet it poses no harm to perennials, bulbs, or transplants such as tomatoes. We are hoping that using it will reduce the time we all spend trying to eradicate weeds.

The yellow powder – of which there are now two 40 bags in the shed — is perfect for using on paths and other common areas where weed seeds are abundant. As a pre-emergent, CGM is works for 5-6 weeks, but it feeds established plants for several months. The N-P-K ratio is 9-1-0 or 10 per cent nitrogen by weight.

How to use it:

• Weed out any obvious weeds that have overwintered or already spouted, and sprinkle CGM in their place. Most annual and perennials weed seeds sprout in spring or early summer, but some winter weeds may already be in existence.

• Sprinkle CGM along paths and fences, in the orchard, and in established flower gardens — EXCEPT where you will be planting seeds. Supposedly CMG can prevent bindweed (field morning glory), tradescantia (spiderwort), and various grasses and other weeds from establishing themselves.

• If it does not rain within five days of applying, water it in with approximately .25 inches of water.

• If you miss some weeds in pathways or along the fences, pull them when you see them and then reapply CMG. Be aggressive and we may not have to be aggressive next year.

• Reapply CMG in late summer as needed.

– Linda W

Night gardening

January 6th, 2011

Here we are in the early moments of January and while I relish these winter days for hibernation and reflection, I can’t help but fill my thoughts with what’s to come for the new garden season. These thoughts are of course influenced by seed catalogs (thanks Barbara!) and the fact that I just dug up the dahlia tubers on the 4th of January! All in good shape I might add…except for those that met the mean end of the shovel. Oops. While I started this task in the light of afternoon, it soon became clear that I would be finishing as that light began to fade and quickly as it will in winter. Once again, on the verge of night gardening!

If you have ever found yourself in the midst of a project as the lights are going dim (gardening wise, of course), you know the joys and treacheries of this type of insanity, I mean gardening. As the light diminishes, the brain kicks into high gear and one no longer ponders what needs to be done, one just DOES IT! This can be refreshing as I know for myself I spend a good deal of time second guessing, when the first guess was fine in the first place.

The sights and sounds seem to rearrange at night as well. I notice the street noises and lights and the people sounds more instead of the birdsong and the sun of day. The greens are deeper and the reds and purples fade into the gray a bit while the white flowers glow and new scents fill the air.

Photo of the Moon flower from John K.’s garden

Even now, after the solstice as I visit the garden and my cold frame covered greens, often in the late afternoon, the change from light to dark is quite abrupt (and cold!) so I must admit I prefer the long and lingering light of the warmer months (though I am very thankful to have a garden to visit, mid-winter, in the dark). Not to mention the curious looks from our garden cats (winter or summer), no doubt peeved that someone is observing their antics after dark and tripping the motion sensor light on the shed. Serious cat secrets no human should observe…their words, not mine.

If you’ve never stayed to play in your garden after dusk, I highly recommend it, if not to garden then just to observe. It’s a whole new world.

Photo of Brugmansia,  Angel’s Summer Dream

– Gwyn MacDonald

Winter Dreams & Seed Catalogs

January 4th, 2011

Dreaming over seed catalogs helps gardeners survive January and February when it is too cold outside to garden. Here are some of my favorite seed companies — please post a ‘comment’ if I am forgetting one of your faves and I will add it to the list.

The most beautiful seed catalog ever is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Baker Creek is fantastic source of heirloom seeds collected from all over the world by founder Jere Gettle and his wife Emilee. They carry some truly unusual seeds — including 49 varieties of eggplant and separate sections on American, Asian, and European melons.

Comstock Seeds is New England’s oldest seedhouse, dating back to around 1811. It has a colorful history which you can read about in the catalog (for example, they were the first to package seeds in paper packets the way we buy most of our seeds today). The company is in the process of being restored to its former glory and the catalog has over 250 heirloom varieties which were offered by Comstock Ferre over the years.

Seeds from Italy is the U.S. mail order distributor for Franchi Sementi of Bergamo, Italy — Italian seedsmen since 1783 and the oldest family-run seed company in the world. They specialize in traditional heirloom Italian varieties, selected over the years for good taste & productivity. The majority of Franchi’s vegetable seeds are still commissioned and continue to be produced in their home regions. Specialty seeds from Southern Italy are supplied by a small company in Andria, Bari. Their online catalog also contains recipes to help you “think like an Italian cook.”

Johnny’s Selected Seeds, based in Winslow Maine, is an employee-owned company with a huge catalog of vegetables, fruits, flowers, farm seed, herbs and very nice tools & supplies (they even have Eliot Coleman designed tools). They specialize in “organic” seeds and plant breeding (they developed Bright Lights Chard). Johnny’s was founded by Rob Johnston in 1973. Rob called his company Johnny Apple Seeds until he discovered that another company had copyrighted the name. Many SWQV Gardeners order seeds from Johnny’s.

Burpee Gardening is perhaps America’s most famous garden catalog. Founded in Philadelphia in 1876 by W. Atlee Burpee, who later bought Fordhook, a farm in Doylestown, and transformed it into a world-famous plant breeding facility. I look to Burpee for new varieties and hybrids (like the fabulous Brandy Boy tomato), although it is fun to think that many of Burpee’s “new” varieties have now become heirlooms — like their Fordhook Giant Chard, introduced in 1934 & now sold by both Burpee and by Seed Saver’s Exchange.

Seed Saver’s Exchange in Iowa is also an excellent organization with a great seed catalog! Heirloom seeds from around the world. They grow out most of what is in the catalog and if you become a member you have access to seed savers and their treasures from around the globe. Very cool! [recommended by Gwyn]

– Barbara Mc

A Garden Bedtime Story

October 11th, 2010

Once upon a time, a long time ago, so long ago it was before DDT was even banned and before the Southwark Queen Village Community Garden was even a gleam in Libby’s eye, there lived two very interesting gardeners. They weren’t a prince and princess, but they had kingdoms they ruled wisely – they did it organically. One was a stubborn old Connecticut  garden writer named  Ruth Stout, who believed that mulch was the cure to just about everything in the garden,  as well as a great preventer of aching backs and repetitive motion disorders in the gardener. The other was Robert Rodale, editor of Organic Gardening magazine, which published Stout’s columns.

“The good gardener should be devoting a lot of time to his garden in autumn,” Rodale wrote in The Basic Book of Organic Gardening (1971).  To which she added in her book The Ruth Stout  No-Work Garden Book (also 1971), “Except for strawberries, putting the garden to bed is no job at all for the year-around mulcher.”

Both of them were staunch believers – nay, proselytizers – of “putting your garden to bed.”

“If you don’t believe it, turn to Nature. What is she doing…?  Look where you will, you will find that Nature is scrupulous in blanketing the earth against the rigors of wintertime,” rhapsodized Rodale’s book.

Stout was more methodical: “Decide where your tomatoes will be next season and put corn stalks, cabbage roots, etc…..”  In other words, drop your pole beans, chop the stiff squash vines, lay down your pepper plants, use all the organic detritus you have.  “Now spread hay thickly over this refuse. When you plant your tomatoes your soil will be soft, moist and weedless,” she proclaimed. “With a thick mulch (weeds) never get a break.”  And in the spring? “You just pull aside the hay and plant.”

Rodale was less sanguine about weeds. “One year’s seeding makes seven years weeding,” he quoted the old adage. But he, too, recommended planning your next year’s garden as you start putting this year’s garden to bed. Beans will grow in very poor soil, but some other crops – rhubarb, melons, asparagus – benefit from the addition of compost or manure to the garden detritus.  Then lay down that hay!

Stout  recommends eight inches  for asparagus –loosely  so the stalks can wiggle up  through it next spring. Thickly for everything  else.  And the strawberry exception? She recommends a light covering at first, to discourage any new growth if the weather turns warm. Then when the temperature hits 20 or less, she recommends a full ten inches, adding:  “How would you like to lie in bed on cold winter nights without a cover?”

Oh, and their gardens lived happily ever after.

– Linda Witt

garden revitalized!

September 25th, 2010

I love this time of year in the garden, middle-late September, the light is crisp and clear and all of the plants I thought had worn themselves out in the hazy days of summer start to perk up and say ” Hey, we made it!” The last hibiscus blossoms floating high above next year’s seed pods, a new crop of borage, the glow of the marigolds, and the Dahlias! Oh my, the Dahlias! My first season growing dahlias…and I’ve caught the fever! The Monarch butterflies are out in full force these past few weeks, what a lovely sight to see them floating on the breeze. And in case you didn’t know…bees love sedum!!! Honeys, natives, bumbles….all OVER our three giant, floppy sedums. I could spend hours watching them. Tempting photos to follow…don’t go away!