March 26, 2021 by Jeanette Mac Kenzie
Crocuses are in full bloom, daffodil buds are visible, Japanese andromeda shrubs are in full bloom, pussy willows are opening and earthworms are squiggling in freshly turned soil. Spring has sprung and gardeners are looking forward to warmer weather.
It’s not too early to begin spring clean up of our yards and gardens. Start by cutting back dead perennial stems of flowers and decorative grasses and raking up the fall leaves. But then, what to do with all of it? Don’t take it to the transfer station ….USE IT. Start this organic material on its way to becoming “Black Gold” commonly called COMPOST. My dictionary describes compost as “a mixture of various decaying organic substances used for fertilizing land”.
The ingredients for your compost pile are any readily available organic materials such as leaves, weeds, grass clippings, seaweed, hedge trimmings and in the late fall annual plants. Daily contributions from the kitchen could include vegetable and fruit peelings, eggshells, citrus rinds, and coffee grounds. Other ingredients include shredded newspaper, sawdust, lobster-clam and oyster shells, wood chips, cardboard and wood ashes in moderate amounts. Don’t include dairy products, meat, fat or bones as they will attract animals and don’t readily breakdown.
To make compost 4 types of components are needed: carbon, nitrogen, water, and oxygen. The brown-dry items such as leaves and wood chips supply the carbon. The green plant items such as weeds and grass & kitchen scraps supply the nitrogen. As you add layers of brown and then green material add water so the pile is slightly damp. Eventually you will want to start turning the compost pile which will incorporate air.
Manure from herbivore animals such as chickens, rabbits, sheep, cows and horses will also supply nitrogen needed for the bacteria that work in the decomposition process to do their job better. Don’t use cat or dog droppings.
Years ago when the circus came to town they set up in the field surrounded by the library, pool and school building. On the last evening they were in town, I went to see what animal manures might be there for the taking. After much shoveling I came home with a truckload of steaming elephant manure! I placed a few compacted bowling ball sized elephant contributions of ‘you know what’ around the property, mostly on the steps so family members would be sure to see them on the way to school and work. Families of gardeners soon learn to have a sense of humor. Later I was surprised to see oats growing out of the compost where the elephant manure was concentrated. Adding manure to the compost isn’t essential but it helps speed up the breakdown process.
There is more than one way to contain compost. Some will build bins made of wire or pallets. As the compost breaks down it is turned from one bin into the next. There are also various types of commercial compost containers. On a very small scale an old basket or a bucket with the bottom cut out can be used. Easier methods are just a big pile or a long row if you have lots of ingredients. For the long row method the compost is turned from side to side or the row moves forward and back a couple of yards with each turning of the compost.
Why bother to turn the compost? The composting process is aerobic meaning it needs oxygen for the aerobic bacteria to do their job of breaking down all the ingredients. Oxygen is incorporated into the pile by turning it with a garden fork. The turning process will also expose all the material to eventually be in the center of the pile where decomposition is most rapid. As you turn the compost you know it is really cooking when the exposed center is streaming or you can feel the heat it makes from the decomposition process. If you have a really big pile don’t attempt to turn it all at once. Instead of going to the gym turn compost for a set amount of time each day.
The compost is ready to enrich the garden when it has changed into black, fresh, earthy smelling soil often full of earthworms that have aided in the decomposition process. Compost will enhance any soil it is added to. When planting or transplanting vegetables, flowers, shrubs or trees, first put a shovel full of compost in the bottom of the hole. Compost can also be used as summer mulch for both veggies and flowers. There is no such thing as too much compost. If you don’t already have a compost pile now is the time to start when you are cleaning up your garden areas for another season of gardening.
Jut follow William Shakespeare’s advise:
“DO NOT SPREAD THE COMPOST ON THE WEEDS”
GLOBAL SEED VAULT
Here's a great article about the seed vault:
January 2021 by Jeanette Mac Kenzie
Seed, plant and gardening paraphernalia catalogs arriving in the mailbox are welcome in these cold days of winter with the quiet isolation due to Covid-19. The enticing pictures and vivid descriptions of what this year’s garden could look like set our minds to daydreaming. Keep in mind before you order one of everything, what your time, energy, available space and budget restraints might be.
You want to order from a catalog that tells you the information needed to grow particular plants: maturity date, disease resistance, hybrid or open pollinated, are seeds treated with a fungicide, height & width at maturity, light needed, # of seeds in a packet, spacing when planted. Some of these criteria are more important to know when planting vegetables. To order a particular flower, shrub or tree it is important that the botanical name is stated not just a common name that could refer to any number of different plants. Many catalogs have excellent information about how to grow & when to harvest particular food plants. For heirloom plants it is more interesting to find out about their history.
As each catalog arrives, I go through it and make notations of particular varieties I am interested in with page number, ordering code, price and number of seeds per packet. This list is attached to the outside of the catalog along with the shipping price and shipping costs. Then I can narrow down my choices to fit my garden space and the amount of time I plan on tending my garden. If you have been ordering seeds via catalogs for a few years, you probably have already narrowed down which catalogs you prefer. Of course in recent years many seed catalog are available to order on line.
A few things to pay close attention to:
1. Be wary of descriptive terms like vigorous grower or slightly intrusive. These plants might take over your garden.
2. When buying mail order plants try to get them from nurseries close to your growing zone. Duxbury is in Zone 6b. Plants grown in Texas or the Carolinas may not do well here in New England.
3. The latest spectacular hybrid may be on the cover or in first few pages. Unless it is really important to you, wait a year or two for the price to drop and the plants/seeds to be more readily available.
4. Avoid buying seeds/plants just because you want them with no idea where they might be squeezed into the garden landscape plan appropriately. I must admit I am guilty of this one. A woman whose garden was on a tour years ago in Hanover had a similar situation. Her whole property was covered with assorted size and shaped garden islands tied together with rambling pathways just big enough for a lawn mower to get through.
5. Enjoy your catalog browsing but get you orders in early if possible. Apparently many more people have taken up gardening since last spring possibly due to the Covid epidemic. Some of the seed companies have been swamped with orders, run out of a few varieties and even closed down for a time to catch up with shipping orders.
Happy Garden Planning
Out of the Past
January 2021 Jeanette Mac Kenzie
Fifty years ago Celia Houghton, known by her nickname Kiki, was president of our garden club. To educate the club’s members about gardening, several ways were discussed. It was decided to write a book. The horticulture expert of the group was Rozmond Truden. “She spent hours in research and study preparing each article, and it shows - - not only in the written word, but in the improved gardening methods and achievements of her readers.”
Years later Roz Truden gave me an autographed copy of GARDEN GLEANINGS, the book she and the club created. 50 years ago. The following is what Roz wrote in the late winter chapter.
“ SUGGESTIONS FOR GROWING PLANTS FROM SEED.
“In order to get a head start on the growing season hereabouts annual flower seeds may be sown indoors beginning in late February and continuing through March and April. Biennials and perennials are more successfully started in late summer to become mature and well established before winter. Successfully producing your own seedlings cannot only be extremely rewarding, but the horticultural knowledge gained from trying, whether successful or not can be invaluable. The seed catalogues begin to arrive in January and early February so as you peruse them let yourself be tempted to send for a packet or two of your favorites. Choose varieties that will grow in whatever garden exposure you have to offer, as a plant needing plenty of sun cannot do its best in the shade.
Germination is most successful in a sterile medium as the warm moist conditions favorable to seed germination are also favorable to a fungus commonly referred to as “damping off”. The sterile media suitable are vermiculite, perlite, milled sphagnum moss and sterile sand. A mixture of these in equal parts is highly recommended by many seed growers. Some have success with packaged soil mixes.
Containers should also be sterile and at least two and a half to three inches deep. Makeshift containers such as soup cans, aluminum foil pans and coffee cans (shallow size) should be perforated with a can opener or screwdriver so that they may be watered from the bottom before sowing the seeds.
Large seeds may be poked into the medium. Smaller seeds should be sprinkled over the medium, then the container tapped lightly and the seeds will be sufficiently covered. Water again from the bottom and cover with a plastic bag or piece of glass. Place in a warm seventy to seventy-five degree location. OUT OF THE SUN, as sun through plastic or glass is burning and drying. Check your container from time to time to be sure the medium stays moist. When germination has started, remove covering, place in sunlight and be sure to keep seedlings moist. The sunny location chosen for the growing seedlings should be a cool one, as in a cooler location the seedlings will grow stronger, not spindly and weak. Keep turning the container to prevent the seedlings from leaning toward the sun.
The containers of seeds may be set on a heating cable, covered with gravel, or on any other device supplying bottom heat. This will hasten seed germination. The seedlings can benefit from bottom heat also but should be in a cool room to prevent weak, stingy growth as stated above.
Among the slower geminating seed to be started in late February or early March, or eight to ten weeks from sowing to planting and outdoors, are the seeds of the petunia, verbena snapdragon, ageratum. Quicker germinating seeds or six to eight weeks from sowing to planting outdoors, are the seeds of marigold, zinnia, cosmos, aster and calendula, which may be started after the middle of April. Whatever seeds you choose read the back of the seed packet carefully.”
October 2020 by Jeanette Mac Kenzie
It’s that time of year again. Most of the rusty-blonde evergreen needles (leaves) have fallen from the trees. Different types of evergreen trees and shrubs will drop their needles over different time periods: larch and cypress -yearly, spruce & firs- every few years, pines -2-3 years and cedars -3 years plus. Evergreens keep their green color year round as the falling needles are located in the interior branches. Because there are so many white pines in our area and each tree is on its own drop schedule there always seems to be lots of needles on the ground in Sept & Oct. Because pine needles beak down at such a slow rate they have little effect on the soil pH so can be used for mulch or as a compost ingredient. Also the needles are great for making pathways in the garden.
In the autumn, as the daylight lessens a bit each day and temperatures start to drop, chlorophyll production also slows down. This decreases the green pigment in the leaves. Soon shades of yellow, orange, brown, from carotenoids, which have always been present in the leaves, begin to show. However, the red shades of anthocyanin are produced in the autumn. It is believed that this pigment plays a role in readying the tree for next spring.
At the spots where the leaf stem meets the tree/shrub a layer of cells begins to form slowly severing the tissue that supports the leaf and causing dehydration. The tree seals the area off until the leaf detaches and falls to the ground.
Now if you and/or neighbors have lots of deciduous plants, soon your ground is covered with colorful leaves. In times past we would rake the whole area into a huge pile and all the kids and a few adults would jump into the leaves. Soon the air was filled with the smell of burning leaves, as this is how we disposed of them. This practice is now frowned upon and illegal in many places.
Rather than transporting the leaves to the Transfer Station there are ways of using the leaves on your property.
First of all they can be used to add to your own compost pile. Compost is a partially composed of carbon materials/brown matter such as leaves, conifer needles, small twigs, shredded paper & cardboard. The pile should consist of about 2-3 parts of carbon material to 1 part nitrogen material. The nitrogen matter or green matter ingredients are grass clippings, weeds and spent annuals and perennial trimmings, sea weed and some kitchen ingredients such as vegetable and fruit peelings, egg shells, coffee grounds If you have LOTS of leaves the extras can be bagged and saved to add to grass clippings next summer. You can just let the pile sit there and it should be useable in about a year. However, it will decompose much faster if it is forked over, which adds oxygen. Also add water when there is little rain. If your compost pile is large, you may want to just spend a few minutes daily to eventually get the whole thing turned over. It counts as part of your daily exercise routine!
By first running them over with the lawn mower, the shredded leaves will break down faster when added to garden. This will help attract earthworms and beneficial bacteria and enrich the soil. Shredded leaves can also just be left on the lawn where they will break down over the winter providing nutrients for the grass as well as shading the soil to help prevent weed seeds from growing. The shredded leaves make great mulch for shrubs, trees, perennials and veggie beds. Add 2-3 inches deep making sure that none of it touches the stems or trunks of the plants. As the leaves break down they add nutrients to the plants.
There are numerous sources in “computer -land” that show many ways of using autumn leaves for decorating and crafting.
If you are a kid at heart or have young ones in your family you may want to just jump into a big pile of raked leaves on a sunny brisk autumn day. Then…….. head for the kitchen for a cup of hot chocolate and popcorn.
Happy leaf raking
October 2020 by Jeanette Mac Kenzie
First of all I am not talking about putting on an extra sweatshirt, sweater or jacket when the weather is cold but variable. In horticulture layering refers to a method of propagating another plant from a stem or branch while still attached to the parent plant. Some plants and shrubs will do this on their own.
Fall is the best time to do a simple layering one of the easiest methods of propagating some plants. Evergreens, however do better when the process is done in the spring.
Last October I decided to try layering a rhododendron. It was a good-sized bush with numerous branches already growing near the ground. I choose 5 branches to try the process on.
First I cut about half way through the stem, and then dusted the area with a rooting hormone powder. Next I inserted a small twig (toothpicks work well) to prop open the cut area. Carefully bending down the cut area into a dug trench in the soil, which was then covered with 3-4 inches of soil. There are special C shaped pins that can be used to pin down the cut stem in the soil. However being a frugal New England gardener I made my own with some heavy wire to hold the stem in place. On several of the stems I just put a brick or heavy stone to keep the stem from popping up. The area was then watered. During the following year I made sure that the area was kept moist. The buried stem will not root if the soil is dry!
A year later the rooting stems were given a bit of a tug to make sure they had developed roots. They had, so I cut off the new plants from the parent plant, dug and planted them in different areas of the property. Since the new root systems were still small,l the plants were staked for support.
Simple Layering is best used on plants that have stems that can be bent down to the ground. Examples include: Holly, Forsythia, Daphne, Camellia, Magnolia, Lilac, Viburnum, Witch hazel, Smoke Bush, Rhododendron, Azalea, fruit bushes, Maples, slow growing herbs such as rosemary, lavender, bay. Some plants will root in a matter of weeks such as tomatoes and tomatillos while others take up to a year.
The rooting hormone powder will give the plant a better chance of putting out new roots along the buried stem. Various brands are available at Amazon, Home Depot, Lowes, Walmart, Ace Hardware and most good-sized plant nurseries.
If you want some new plants, basically free, try your hand at simple layering. You might even get some to root and get potted up in time for our plant sale next spring.
The Stinking Rose Oct. 2019 by Jeanette Mac Kenzie
Some gardeners are happy when the season is over and their gardens are all put to bed for the winter. Others however still want to keep planting. If you are in the latter category this topic is for you.
I am referring to the STINKING ROSE commonly known as garlic. The term reportedly goes back to Greek and Roman times. If looked at from underneath, a garlic bulb does slightly resemble a white rose with the large ends of the cloves forming the petals.
Garlic should be planted anytime between mid Sept. to the end of Nov. Garlic likes a well-drained soil in full sunlight with lots of organic matter, so add some compost to the planting area. Keep the bulbs intact until you are ready to plant the individual cloves. I like to use a dibble to make the planting holes. Plant the cloves with the pointed end up about 6-8 inches apart then cover with 2 inches of soil. For a finishing touch add mulch. I prefer salt marsh hay, but straw, chopped leaves or grass clippings will also work. Garlic does not like any competition from weeds so the mulch will help with this problem next spring.
Next summer when about half of the leaves have died back, it is time to harvest the garlic. Using a garden fork or shovel loosen the soil around the plants then gently lift them out without pulling on the stalks. Shake off most of the soil then bunch 6-8 plants together and hang to cure in a dry, well-ventilated place such as a shed or garage. The curing process takes 4-6 weeks. The garlic can be used any time during this process but the flavor won’t be as strong.
Perhaps no other herb has been used for as long and in as many cultures as garlic. Its powers were often associated with physical stamina, endurance and strength. From the Pharaohs of Egypt to Chinese dynasties, there are references to garlic’s use as a food, as a medicine and as currency. In 2016, world production of garlic was 26.6 million tons, with China alone accounting for 80% followed by India with 5%.
UNDERSTANDING GARLIC VARIETIES: There are 2 main types both of which can be grown here in New England: soft neck and hard neck. Within these 2 categories there is a great variation in bulb size, flavor as well as hardiness, disease resistance and storage potential
SOFT NECK: This is the type best used if you like to braid your garlic, as the stem is more flexible. The cloves are smaller but there are more of them and they tend to keep longer. Most garlic found in a grocery store is soft neck. In general is NOT recommended to plant grocery store garlic as it is apt to have been heavily fumigated and sprayed. Soft neck garlic has 2 sub-groups namely SILVERSKIN and ARTICHOKE. Within each sub group there are numerous varieties.
HARD NECK garlic has a central stalk called a scape with usually one row of cloves around it. The scapes are often harvested and used in stir-fry or pesto. I like to use them in flower bouquets as they have an interesting curving twist to them. Hard neck garlic should only be grown in cold climates. Because the outer paper of the garlic bud is thinner, hard necks don’t store as long. Hard neck garlic has 3 main sub groups: PORCELAIN, ROCAMBOLE and PURPLE STRIPE. Like the soft neck garlic, there are numerous varieties within each sub group.
While checking the various sources of getting garlic on line I noticed that many are already sold out. Check out your favorite local sources for garlic. Your initial purchase of garlic bulbs can be a bit pricey. When you find a variety you like, each year save some of the largest bulbs for planting in the fall then you shouldn’t have to ever buy garlic again.
Did you know that garlic repels blood-sucking insects such as mosquitoes and ticks? Am not sure if you need to eat it or rub it on your skin or both. With Halloween coming up, keep in mind that it is also supposed to repel vampires and evil spirits.
On the next nice autumn day get out into your garden and plant some garlic.
Sept. 2019 by Jeanette Mac Kenzie
For thousands of years peonies have been cultivated in China & Japan, where some of the finest varieties come from. These hardy perennials bloom in the spring and early summer in every shade except blue. I wouldn’t be surprised if hybridizers aren’t working on that color. Peonies can stand the summer heat but need a period of chilling which our climate amply provides. Peony plants are very long lived some lasting up to 100 years.
As peonies symbolize “good fortune” and “happy marriage” they are a popular flower for weddings and anniversaries with their sweet scent. In Victorian times using the Language of Flowers they represented bashfulness.
Unfortunately their bloom season is less than 2 weeks. There is a new industry of growing peonies in Alaska as they are harvested in July and Aug when ours have all gone by. Thus cut peony blooms can be ordered over a longer time period.
Autumn is the time of the year to plant and/or divide peonies. Unlike most other perennials, peonies don’t need periodic division. Well then, why am I telling you this is the time to divide them! The only way to propagate a named variety of peony is by plant division. Growing from seed can take up to 5 years to get flowers but they won’t be like the parent plant. If you already have some peony plants that you like, why not divide them rather than buying more?
If you are going to dig and divide first cut the foliage back to an inch or so. Carefully dig up the whole root system with a spading fork. Shake or gently hose off the soil so the small pink buds at the crown of the root system are visible. These buds are the beginning of next year’s growth. Cut through the root system with a sharp knife, dividing the peony plant with 3-5 buds in each division. The roots them selves resemble carrots.
In a sunny area, with well drained, soil, dig a hole about 1 ft. deep and 2 feet wide. Prepare it by adding a light dusting of bone meal, limestone and either some well-aged manure or compost in the bottom of the hole.
Pay close attention to this detail. Plant the peony division so that the buds are only 2 inches below the surface of the soil. This 2-inch depth is critical – if planted deeper than this, the plant WILL NOT BLOSSOM. If you have peonies that haven’t bloomed in a long time this could be the problem or the plant isn’t growing in full sun.
For an established peony plant, you don’t plan on dividing don’t cut the foliage until late fall as it will continue to build strength for the next year.
For you floral arrangers, I have found that peony leaves are great as fillers for flower arrangements as they last a long time when cut.
Don’t worry if you see ants all over the flower buds. They are just after the sweet nectar that forms around the outside of the buds. Ants don’t do any harm to the plant.
If I have motivated you to considering dividing your peony plants do it before early Oct. so the roots have a chance to get established before the ground freezes. Once the ground does freeze, for the first winter, add a few inches of mulch but be sure to remove it in early spring.
Maybe at the next garden club’s spring flower show you might win a blue ribbon for your peony blossom!
Jeanette Mac Kenzie July 2019
This year we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of humans landing on the moon. To tie in with the anniversary is this article about MOON SEEDS you might find interesting.
500: Seeds flown to the Moon by Richard Hollingham July 17. 2019
Before he became an astronaut, Stuart Roosa had an even more dangerous job. He was a smoke jumper – a highly trained firefighter who would parachute into remote forest areas to tackle wildfires.
When he was assigned as command module pilot for Apollo 14, in January 1971, the US Forest Service once again asked for his help. Scientists wanted to see whether seeds would be affected by weightlessness.
Roosa agreed to take 500 seeds from American redwood, pine, sycamore, fir and gum trees. He carried them in his personal kit the 238,855 miles to the Moon, where he orbited 34 times, before returning to Earth.
The seeds survived the journey but during a decontamination process (part of the procedure to protect the Earth from possible moonbugs), the capsule containing the seeds burst open. Scientists feared many would be lost or damaged. Once they were planted, however, most of the flown seeds grew into healthy saplings, with no discernible difference between those flown to the Moon and regular seeds on Earth.
Trees grown from the seeds have become known as Moon Trees. They have been planted around the world, including at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and in the White House garden.
A Moon sycamore overlooks Roosa's grave at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. The trees and second generation Moon Trees, grown from cuttings carried by the astronaut, will continue to provide a living legacy of the Apollo missions long after all the astronauts have died.
by Jeanette Mac Kenzie
Unless you are a whiz at chemistry, you probably won’t recognize this as the formula for sodium bicarbonate, commonly known as baking soda. This has been used throughout history as a rising agent for baking. When mixed with acids such as chocolate, lemon juice, vinegar, cream of tartar, yogurt, baking powder, etc. it makes bubbles that cause dough to rise. It also has been used as a cleaner, and a deodorizer. How many of you have an opened box of baking soda in your refrigerator or have scrubbed a pan with burnt food using baking soda?
That is all well and good but what does it have to do with horticulture? Baking soda has many uses related to gardening.
· To clean clay pots or a birdbath just sprinkle some baking soda, scrub with a brush or damp cloth, rinse and let dry.
· To encourage better blooms on your flowering plants mix 1 Tbsp baking soda with 2 quarts of water and apply to the soil around the plants.
· To sooth itchy skin from bug bites make a paste from baking soda and water to apply to the skin. Let it do its job for about 10 minutes then rinse off. The itchiness will have subsided.
· Make your tomatoes sweeter by sprinkling a small amount of baking soda around the base of the plant. The powder lowers the acidity of the soil and thus makes the tomatoes less acidic and sweeter.
· Some garden plants are susceptible to fungus such as powdery mildew. Make a mixture of 1-teaspoon baking soda, a teaspoon of liquid soap, 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil and 5 cups of water to spray on both sides of infected leaves. This makes the surface less acidic and limits he ability of the fungus spores to grow.
· To prolong the life of cut flowers add a teaspoon of baking soda to the water in the vase.
· To kill weeds that grow in your sidewalk sprinkle baking soda on them. It will burn the leaves and the weeds will disappear in a few days.
ph Plant roots absorb nutrients from soil when they are dissolved in water. If the mixture of water and nutrients are in soil that is too acidic or too alkaline the roots aren’t able to uptake the nutrients even though they may be present in the soil. To get a rough idea about the pH (degree of acidity or alkalinity) of your soil try this simple test.
Get your kids involved in this bit of chemistry.
Collect soil samples from several areas of your garden and put in 2 separate containers. To one container add 1/2 cup of vinegar. If it begins to bubble the soil is alkaline meaning the pH level is above 7 which is neutral.
In the second container add 1/2 cup of baking soda and enough water to make it muddy. If this bubbles your soil is acidic meaning the pH is below 7. This just gives you a rough idea of the soil pH but isn’t as detailed as a pH test done with a commercial test kit. Soils in New England are more apt to be acidic. Free soil tests are offered by the Master Gardeners at the Hingham Farmers Market August 10 Sat from 9-1:00. at the Bathing Beach. If you can’t wait until then check out the University of Massachusetts Extension Service at http://soiltest.umass.edu . They charge a small fee but give you good directions on how to correct your soil pH if needed.
· When you gardening day is over, wash your grubby hands with soap & water, then again with some baking soda to really get them clean.
· 1. When using these home -made mixes, first test on a small portion of the plant to make sure there are no adverse effects.
· 2. Use suggested dosages as too strong a mix can burn plant leaves.
· 3. Avoid spraying on flower buds & stalks.