31 July 2007

back at 'em

July is on the books as the busiest month of the summer so far. We had weekend guests beginning 5 July when Stephanie, B's friend from work, spent two wonderful days with us. Then my sister and her family dropped by to deliver some family furniture the next weekend. B's niece and her husband visited the next. And then last weekend, three friends from New York City drove up and treated us to a day at the races at Saratoga, including the Whitney Handicap, the result of which (it was won by Lawyer Ron) made our friend Martha very happy indeed. What a ball!

We didn't get a whole lot accomplished on the gardening front, as you can imagine, but it's clear that B and I must have done some pretty fancy weeding early on, because the beds are still looking good. Flowers are a-blooming, we’ve eaten our first tomatoes from B’s vegetable garden, and the potatoes are about ready to be dug. Actually, B dug a few volunteers on Sunday that we will eat this week.

* * *

On the Fourth of July, I woke up early, dragged bags of old leaves from the basement bulkhead where I’d lugged them last fall (to insulate the water line between the well and pump), dumped them out onto the ground, and went at them with the lawnmower. I’d read about doing this in a book called Notes from the Garden: Reflections and Observations of an Organic Gardener, by Henry Homeyer. Great book. It’s a series of short essays on all subjects related to gardening in zones 3–5. It’s organized by month (a device I really like) and is full of useful advice as well as interviews with other organic gardeners.

When Homeyer visits Sydney Eddison (who wrote another book I love, The Self-Taught Gardener), he says, “I nearly swooned when I put my hands in the soil. . . . There had been no rain in six weeks, yet beneath a layer of leaf mulch the soil was dark, fluffy, and slightly moist. It looked good enough to eat with a little vanilla ice cream. Really.”

Turns out that Eddison’s husband rakes the leaves in the fall, runs over them with the lawnmower, and then bags them up for the winter. In the spring Mrs. Eddison spreads a three-inch layer of leaf salad over her gardens, and as they break down, they enrich the soil. Homeyer writes: “Earthworms love to munch on them, breaking them down and moving around this nourishment for plants.” Imagine a family of earthworms frolicking in the leaves and then dragging them underground to eat. I like this image.

When one runs a lawnmower over a pile of dried leaves, one expects a little compacting action. I had 12 bags of leaves to use. To the left is a picture of the contents of one of these bags, pre-mowing.

I didn’t bargain on the volume reducing quite as much as it did, however (Wow! See picture at left.), so I wasn’t able to spread a three-inch layer over the flower beds. I did manage to cover all the exposed soil, though.

Earthworms: Rejoice, for your munching is nigh.

This fall I’m going to start raking early. I may even climb the trees and coax the leaves off with a stick so that I can have more to use in the gardens next year.

Send all your extra leaves to me.

03 July 2007

feeding time

Just checking in. Okay, so I dug in more rose food today (3 July). Are the roses benefiting in a way that I can actually see? Not so certain of that yet.

02 July 2007

edge effect (with apologies to meresy_g)

Today was edging day. Things look better with an edge, don't you think? Up early, oatmeal and coffee and a shower, and then at 'em!

The peony bed is beautiful almost as is, but I have been frustrated with it because it seems so weedy all the time, and the non-peony plants are too close to the edge . . . Solution: A nice solid edge behind which no weeds will be allowed, and wide enough to allow some extra plantings. So edge I did, and then unpacked the three blue fescue (Festuca cinerea "Elijah's Blue") that Alan gave me because he wants the pots for other purposes.

These three plants didn't come back after the winter as quickly or as nicely as Alan expected. He wondered whether they could be potbound, but that just didn't seem to be the case; the roots weren't coming out of the bottom of the pot. Did they simply not overwinter as well as normal? Alan didn't know, and neither did I. So he slipped the plants from their pots, put them in plastic garbage bags, and I loaded them into the back of our car Butch and drove them up to Pleasant Hill. After I edged the garden, I thought a few little "sea urchins" would look nice at the end of the bed, so I got 'em out of the bag and began to see what I could do to save them.

First on the list was taking care of the dead leaves. One I cut back hard, so it looks a little like I planted a Marine in the ground; his blond crewcut poking out of the top of the hole. The other two I manhandled a bit, raking out the old leaves with my fingers.

Then I investigated a little further and discovered that the three were, in fact, completely potbound. What looks like a nice dirty old rootball is actually a mass of roots on roots that have covered the shards of pottery placed in the bottom of the pot to help with drainage.

So I teased the roots from around the shards and dug my hands into the rootball to aerate it a bit. Finally, I replanted the three tired little plants, digging lots of compost into the bottom of the planting holes, and watered them deeply.

It took me a while to figure out exactly how to position them. You'd think I'd have no trouble planting three of the same kind of grass. But they look like such social creatures that I wanted to group them conversationally. Actually, the way it ended up, two are having a nice little chat, and the third is coming around the corner to join them. Or maybe he's a little standoffish. I can't tell which.


In the course of widening the bed and digging nice deep holes for the blue fescue, I uncovered some mammoth rocks, one of which I left in the bed for a little added visual interest (you can see a hint of it around on the right, behind the fescue with the crewcut. (meresy_g's edge effect blog is here)