Monday, December 21, 2009

The true holiday

For me, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s roll into one big holiday on the winter solistice, time of the shortest day and longest night, after which days start getting longer again. In other words, “here comes the sun”!

This occurs regardless of what religion you ascribe to or calendar you follow, as it’s a phenomenon driven by the Earth’s axial tilt. Almost all cultures celebrate the solstice in one form or another and have done so since the beginning of human time.

Solstice is my Thanksgiving, when I wallow in gratitude for being warm and safe and fed and loved while winter rolls up its sleeves and gets down to business—leaving many a creature cold, endangered, starving, and alone.

Solstice is my Christmas, when I celebrate the ultimate gift—the return of light—and our creator, the universe, which is utterly reliable, relentlessly beautiful, and infinitely wondrous.

Solstice is my New Year, when I toast with loved ones the rebirth of the natural cycle, and make resolutions for the next round of seasons.

So Happy Solstice, everyone! May the new year bring peace and prosperity around the world.

Carolyn Haley

Author: The Mobius Striptease (e-novel, Club Lighthouse Publishing)
Open Your Heart with Gardens
(nonfiction, DreamTime Publishing)
First-year blog archives at

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Winter finally arrives

Apropos my most recent posting about a late-arriving winter, a friend and colleague has written a lovely piece about the first snow.


Saturday, December 5, 2009

A late winter

Living in the Northeast at 43+ degrees N latitude and 1200+ feet altitude puts us square in the snow belt. By now we usually have a layer down atop frozen ground, but this year the season has arrived late.

We got our first dusting in October, which is pretty much normal; our first measurable snow (a whopping 1 inch!) in early November; finally, today, our first shovel-able snow, just a few wet inches. This time, however, the subsequent weather will remain cold enough to keep it, and winter will finally be underway.

Its late arrival has been a blessing for some and a curse for others (such as regional ski areas, which have been unable to open and missed the Thanksgiving weekend for the first time in decades). For our household, a blessing. We have so many outdoor projects, and make such a mess all summer and fall, that it's always a race to get cleaned up and buttoned up before snowfall, which freezes everything in place for up to 6 months -- one year, even 7 months. This year is the first time we've gotten everything done.

I've appreciated having an extra month to enjoy the outdoors without hats, boots, and mittens, and to drive on dry pavement. Had I known the mild stretch was coming, I would have done more transplanting and garden prep.

Now it's time for indoor projects, and I welcome weather excuses to travel less. Winter, after all, is hibernation time for many species. I wish we could hibernate, too! But I'll settle for a chance to lie low for a while . . . even though I'm already counting down to the solstice, when the days start getting longer again.

Carolyn Haley
Author: Open Your Heart with Gardens
First-year blog archives at

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Big, black birds

Crows and ravens
Ravens and crows
What's the difference between them?
Nobody knows!

Not true, of course -- that's just a little ditty off the top of my head to express the challenge in identifying these species from afar. They look so alike, I've had to learn them by voice and behavior. The first raven I saw, out West 15 years ago, matched the picture and description (huge, coarse, shaggy) in my Eastern field guide. But our local ravens look just like the glossy, sleek crows.

Recently I got a chance to see them together. I went outside one sunny, crisp morning and heard a cacophony round back of the house, in the woods up the hill. What seemed like dozens of giant blackbirds were screaming and flapping around an area I couldn't see. Their mobbing suggested either a territorial dispute or the presence of a predator. Since normally a half-dozen crows and a pair of ravens live in amity around our neighborhood, I deduced that they had cornered a hawk.

While waiting for the cause to reveal itself, I studied the blackbirds. Clearly, some were bigger; clearly, their caws and yells differed; clearly, their wing size, tail shape, and flight maneuvers jived with voice and size per the guidebooks. And, clearly, more crows and ravens live around here than I thought!

Presently, in a rioting crescendo, the mob swung in my direction and a red-tailed hawk emerged amid them. No question about identity there: The sun lit up his fanned tail in a brilliant russet. He perched deep in a tree while the hecklers continued until satisfied they had cowed him. Then the ravens circled away in pairs while the crows flapped off in groups or solo, and the land became quiet again. The hawk didn't dare move for a while.

All this I was able to observe without binoculars. So now, thanks to an accident of timing, I know the differences between ravens and crows.

Carolyn Haley
Author: Open Your Heart with Gardens
First-year blog archives at

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The other November

Yes, November can be blear and drear. But it also has another face, caused by the same forces that often make it bleak and depressing.

The tumultuous skies and low sun angle sometimes combine to light up the world with gold and drama. Some of the most gorgeous moments of the year occur early or late in a November day. The starkness of the landscape, when illuminated by sun flaring below the cloud cover, looks more like a painting than reality and takes my breath away. Drab colors become vivid, clothing the naked world in beauty. Sunrises and sunsets take on hues not seen any other time of year.

Though temperatures drop below freezing at night and struggle above it during the day, the air is crisp and vivifying. It's the best time of year for outdoor work and play. You can exert without overheating, so your energy stays up for hours. And because nothing is growing, yet the ground hasn't frozen, you can undertake yard and garden or construction projects that would be miserable any other time of year.

If not for these benefits, I would dread November. Each day is shorter than the last, and the annual, expensive drudgery of keeping warm dominates daily life. But the onset of holiday bustle and the race to get things done before snow make the calendar pages flip by quickly. When the month is gone, I look forward to it coming around again just to experience those fleeting, gilt-edged moments that only occur in November.

Carolyn Haley
Author: Open Your Heart with Gardens
First-year blog archives at

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

These simple words from Thomas Hood, a British poet and humorist, say it all:

"No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruit, no flowers, no leaves, no birds--

Carolyn Haley
Author: Open Your Heart with Gardens
First-year blog archives at

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The tidy bear

Back in the spring, my 11-year record of feeding the birds 24/7/365 came to an abrupt end, when I awoke one morning to find my feeders ravaged. My fault: We live in bear country, though we've never seen one, and nothing, not even a raccoon, has ever touched my compost pile or garbage cans, and deer walk right by my vegetable garden.

OK, I learned. I repaired or replaced the three feeders and have brought them in at sunset every night since. Well, not quite every night . . . I forget now and then. And 5 weeks after the first incident, the same thing occurred.

That first time, the bear demolished the hanging tube of nyjer seed (leaving a big footprint in the soft soil beneath it); bunted and emptied the triple-tube feeder of sunflower seed after breaking the pole supporting it in half; and ripped the suet feeder, which hung from an iron bracket screwed to the front of the house, right off the wall and made off with the whole suet cake in its metal cage. The second time, the nyjer and suet were untouched but the triple-tube was shattered. In both instances, many pounds of seed were vacuumed up without a trace.

Thereafter, we conscientiously brought in the feeders, and when we traveled we didn't put them out at all. When one of us traveled, the one staying at home brought them in -- until this month, when I was out of town and my spouse dutifully retrieved and rehung the big feeder each day but overlooked the nyjer tube. When I got home I noticed it missing and asked where he'd put it. Last seen hanging on its usual hook on the apple tree. But now, not there.

No debris, no tracks, no sign of disturbance anywhere in the yard. Hmmm. You don't just lose a full bird feeder! I replaced it yet again, this time with a little mesh seed sock instead of a pricey feeder. Then I went out of town again. He forgot again. And the nyjer sock disappeared again.

No debris, no tracks, no sign of disturbance anywhere in the yard.

So either some human is running around rural backyards stealing nyjer feeders, or some animal is lifting mine with human-like ease. The spring bear was a smash-and-grabber; is this a different bear, a tidy one, with prehensile paws? Or one who perfected its technique over a summer of practice elsewhere? Or do we have a particularly agile raccoon?

Regardless, the raiding should end soon -- both species hibernate for the winter, and the general consensus is that bears are down by November. I should be able to relax vigilance for a while. But they also say that bears have terrific memories for food sources, and we've just proven to be a reliable seed repository. So I'd better keep up the habit of bringing in the feeders every night if I hope to still have them in the spring!

Carolyn Haley
Author: Open Your Heart with Gardens
First-year blog archives at

Friday, October 16, 2009

To pine or not to pine

I have a love/hate relationship with pine trees; specifically, white pine, which grows like a weed in my yard.

Love: They offer year-round food and shelter for many bird species.

Hate: They offer year-round food and shelter for squirrels that ravage my bird feeders.

Love: They grow fast and tall, adding evergreen majesty to the landscape.

Hate: They shed vast amounts of copper pine needles twice a year.

Love: They contribute lightweight, hot-burning firewood.

Hate: They aren’t profitable enough in the marketplace for people to cut them down for you for free.

Love: They provide useful emergency survival food for humans.*

Hate: They get infested with pine borers for all the months the logs need to dry before burning.

This love/hate relationship has developed over the years I’ve been raking needles off the lawn and sweeping them off the deck, and plucking them out of my vehicles’ ventilation systems and interior. Previous owners planted a half-dozen white pines too close to the house, so that we now have 100-foot monsters tilting menacingly toward us while cracks slowly split their trunks. The clock is ticking . . . Will we find the money to have them removed before a high wind, saturating rains, or heavy snows bring them crashing through the roof?

(We can’t cut them ourselves because they’re too big and too close—a “technical” drop for which professional tools and skills are required. And I refuse—I absolutely refuse!—to spend a season cleaning up the overwhelming debris.)

The sad thing is, as much as I want those sun-blocking, needle-shedding, grass-smothering, sap-dripping trees removed, I’m already mourning the birds that will go away with them. One of my greatest pleasures is the avian traffic right outside my windows all four seasons. With the pine trees gone, those birds will not only lose great habitat but also have to fly across significant open space to reach the feeders. Many of them will move elsewhere, I suspect. So I’m hoping the trees stand indefinitely while I mutter curses below them.

Meanwhile, the clock ticks . . .


* The new shoots, inner bark, young male cones, and needles are all edible. Needle tea, in particular, contains 25 times more vitamin C than the equivalent a mount of orange juice. Various parts have medicinal properties, too.


Carolyn Haley
Author: Open Your Heart with Gardens
First-year blog archives at

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The survivors

Gardening season in the Northeast has once again ended. This closure is usually marked by the first hard frost but also in general by the calendar. Nonetheless, certain plants hang on long after they should, providing a bonus of delight and color.

Looking back on the season, I have to say it was the worst I've experienced in 10+ years of gardening. I'm not alone -- the trouble was region wide, and I daresay many areas of the nation suffered similar disappointment, owing to extreme weather. In effect, our Vermont summer was three weeks long instead of three months!

But the late warm, sunny spell revived many tender annuals. My morning glories, for example. Back in May, I planted an entire seed pack; only 10 germinated; of these, only 5 survived to climb. By early September they had achieved waist height. I was therefore astonished when these feeble yet heroic vines one day produced a single trumpet of Heavenly Blue. Then another, one a day for two weeks. After the first frost (when I optimistically protected them with a sheet), the blossoms turned dark blue, almost purple, a color I'd never seen before. They have since survived two uncovered frosts (owing to proximity to the house), and a coronet of buds is in the queue.

Far from the house, near the now-frost-blasted vegetable garden, I planted half a dozen Mammoth Giant sunflowers. Just 4 of those germinated, and only 2 survived. I had to transplant them away from some perennials that were overtaking them. But the only free location was in poor soil. I amended it best I could, and the pair endured. Now, instead of the 12-15 feet they're supposed to grow, they have achieved chest height and each produced a big, sunny flower. The bees have been on them daily ever since.

The bees themselves staged a comeback. Early season, we saw so few of them that we worried that the bee plague we've read about had truly decimated the population. But by end-August, it seemed they were everywhere, merrily pollinating the thriving perennials and rallying annuals. The bees, too, have made it through several frosts. Although the migratory birds have moved on, the bees are still abundant in the clouds of blue and purple asters that peak about the same time the fall foliage does.

A big temperature drop is due later in the week, so this might be the last hurrah. But I'm betting something will keep blooming until the first snow.

Carolyn Haley
Author: Open Your Heart with Gardens
First-year blog archives at

Green can be mean

With all today's hype by corporations, individuals, and governments about "going green," you wouldn't expect to get penalized for recycling cardboard, would you? But that's what happened to me: I lost $50 because I brought a box to the transfer station.

It was the box our new cell phone came in. I'll skip the story about why we wanted to return this phone during the 30-day trial period; what matters is, we couldn't, because we didn't have the box. We did have reams of all the right papers with all the necessary account numbers, dates, sources, and fine print, and were inside the 30-day window. But the box carried a bar code, without which the phone could not be returned or exchanged, and a $50 rebate could not be processed.

I nearly burst a blood vessel!

Worse, both the salesman and my spouse had told me, "Be sure to keep the box." I heard those messages, but the first got lost in the flood of TMI (Too Much Information) involved in our purchase, which made my eyes glaze over; and the second got lost in the distraction of sorting and filing all the paperwork, plus the usual troubles of getting any new electronic device to do what you want it to do. So the box landed in the recycling bin and was duly sent where it could never be retrieved the day before we decided to exchange the phone.

Worse again, everyone I told this story to became an owl of wisdom before I finished telling. "Ohhhhh..." they said sagely, knowing what was coming. Somehow they had learned about the Box Thing, unlike poor little naive me. And none of them offered their own story of making a similar mistake. After a few noises of sympathy, they retreated from the conversation to avoid commenting on my carelessness.

Pah! I remain militantly convinced that this situation proves the hypocrisy of modern consumer culture. There are a dozen ways that anyone could lose a box; yet companies rely on boxes to be retained for future customer transactions then blame the customer when boxes go astray. Can you say "s-t-u-p-i-d"?

It can't be good business to create a situation that creates angry customers. I griped my way up the food chain but even the managers just shrugged and apologized, claimed there was nothing they could do. Unfortunately, we need to have a cell phone for various reasons, so I couldn't shove this one up multiple people's orifices. Now we're stuck with the same crummy phone, plus out $50, and will have to spend at least that much to get a decent unit.

All because I was trying to be a good green citizen and reduce, reuse, recycle.

Carolyn Haley
Author: Open Your Heart with Gardens
First-year blog archives at

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Plantly neighbors

What with a crazy schedule and the crazy weather this season, I've lost the habit of my daily walk.

Finally a break came and I had opportunity to stroll the mile out our country road and back on a beautiful day. It surprised me, though it shouldn't have, to find the same plants in the same places that I've noted on previous walks over ten years.

For some reason -- perhaps the volatility of yard and garden each year -- I expect the wild woods and edges to change dramatically in a short time. They do, superficially, and most evident in the cycles of foliage. Also in what flourishes or languishes in a given year as a result of weather.

But the established trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and escaped perennials hold fast to their positions, to the point where they form signposts along the road. I almost feel like waving as I pass, as if to neighbors sunning on the porch or working in their yards. Hello, myrtle-bed in the silo ruin, and pearly-everlasting community in the clearing. How ya doin', trilliums in the shady glen, now sporting bright red berries I've not seen before, like their brethren, the jack-in-the-pulpits popping up along the way.

There's the tree stump with the very low, very large hole drilled by the local pileated woodpecker (which hole a human neighbor -- a second-homer from the city -- thought was made by a bear!). And over here in the swamp is the blanket of forget-me-nots that surprises me each summer when I think it's too late for their bloom; while over there, in the heap of road scrum alongside an open field, is the strange-looking, strangely named viper's bugloss. And under there, lurking beneath one clump of foliage, is the only wild ginger in the area.

Other plants migrate but are always present during their season: various asters, black-eyed Susans, daisy fleabane -- and myriad daisies; Queen Anne's lace, milkweed galore, Joe-pye weed, goldenrod galore, and the tall spires of mullein. It's fun each year to see where these populations will spring up next.

On it goes, becoming more interesting and familiar as I learn the names of things, and their habitats. A mere mile along a country lane contains dozens of microclimates, so that many of my plantly neighbors can grow only in the pockets where I find them. Their permanence comforts me, and makes me feel plantlike in response; i.e., more rooted in my community. Simultaneously, they make me feel lonely, for I'm the only one of my species anywhere in the area who knows these plantly neighbors and where they live.

Carolyn Haley
Author: Open Your Heart with Gardens
First-year blog archives at

Sunday, August 16, 2009


I am amazed -- nay, astonished -- that despite disease and pests; despite too much rain followed by too little, and too cool temperatures followed by too hot; and despite my perpetual mistakes and neglect, I can go out to my tiny garden every other day and come back with a bucket of food.

"Miracle" is the word that comes to mind whenever I think of this. But what is a miracle, really?

I looked it up in the dictionary:

1. an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs
2. an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment
3. a divinely natural phenomenon experienced humanly as the fulfillment of spiritual law

Yep, I've got it right. By any of these definitions, a vegetable garden qualifies as a miracle, indeed!

Carolyn Haley
Author: Open Your Heart with Gardens
First-year blog archives at

Sunday, August 9, 2009

What grows best where

Each growing season is an experiment. Although I cultivate the same vegetables every year, I try different varieties in different placements to find what works best for our too-short, too-cool summers.

After 10 years I've learned that certain veggies do better in the ground or in containers of different types, regardless of weather, companion plants, or season extenders. From the tilled beds, raised beds, "lasagna" beds, large deep pots, long shallow pots, self-watering containers, hanging planters, and hay bales I've employed, I've compiled a list of which vegetables are happiest (or, at least, more reliable) in which locations:

* Lettuce = long, shallow planter on the deck or terrace.
* Bush beans = doesn't seem to matter.
* Pole beans = ditto.
* Bell peppers (red) = EarthBox self-watering planters.
* Carrots = deep planter on deck or terrace.
* Broccoli = variety seems to matter more than soil.
* Peas = doesn't seem to matter.
* Zucchini = tilled bed or lasagna garden.
* Cucumbers = deep planter or lasagna garden.
* Tomatoes = results differ so widely each year that I just put them where it's convenient, and cross my fingers!

The largest, most prolific tomato I ever grew was planted in a hay bale, but I've never been able to reproduce that feat. In fact, most years whatever I've planted in hay bales has struggled or died. One zucchini did well the same year as the monster tomato, but that was it. I've decided to discontinue that experiment.

Next year I will plant according to the above list and see if I can get similar results two years in a row. That would be an accomplishment!

But every year, the garden produces food -- for better or worse -- no matter what I do. I find this deeply comforting, and rely on that annual promise to get me through the long winters.

Carolyn Haley
Author: Open Your Heart with Gardens
First-year blog archives at

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Storing produce

This summer of wacky weather has made growing food more challenging than usual. If you're lucky enough to harvest enough to need storage before you can eat or process it all, use Debbie Meyer Green Bags.

These are translucent-green plastic bags treated with oya, a mineral related to zeolite, which is used to absorb gases. In this case, the bags absorb ethylene gas from vegetables and fruits as they ripen.

The vendor claims that produce stored in these bags stays fresh up to 30 days, or up to 10 times the normal shelf life of any particular food. While I can't verify these claims, I can say for sure that my produce lasts a heck of a lot longer in the fridge when I use these bags -- a boon when the harvest comes in all at once, and when store-bought produce must remain edible for a week or more. (Particularly helpful when you're single and need to work your way through a head of lettuce before it spoils!)

There's a catch, of course. Food must be dry before inserting. Hmm . . . that's tricky with fresh pickings or items refrigerated at point of purchase. I get around it by wrapping the food in paper towels and changing the wrap daily.

Storing produce in regular plastic bags also works (if wrapped in something absorbent) but the Green Bags give extra mileage. I use them all year but especially now, when the garden and the berry patch ripen faster than we can consume their bounty. Each Green Bag can be reused many times, and you get 20 for around $10. Given that I've bought $20 worth over 3+ years and still have half of them left, I guess we can call this a great deal!

Carolyn Haley
Author: Open Your Heart with Gardens
First-year blog archives at

Friday, July 24, 2009

Revenge of the raspberries

Our place came equipped with berry patches spread around the edges of several acres. Some are wild, others were once cultivated but since have run amok. Nevertheless, we have enjoyed an annual harvest of blueberries, raspberries, black raspberries, and blackberries, for better or worse depending on weather.

For a few years we pruned out the blackberry hedge bordering the backyard in hopes of improving yield. But it seemed that the more effort we put into it, the fewer berries we got. Finally we gave up and just let it go.

Meanwhile, way in the back of the "back forty," in a scrub area we ignored for 10 years, invisible things were happening. They made themselves known two summers ago, when my spouse's eye was caught by a red spot among a sea of green. Curious, he approached, and found a massive raspberry stand sporting perfect berries the size of his thumb!

Unprepared, we went on a picking frenzy. Not enough containers for them all, not enough time available every day for 3 weeks, and too many berries for the pair of us to eat, no room in the freezer, and no equipment for preserving. So there were lots left over for the birds, and bucketloads gifted to friends and neighbors.

The next summer, knowing the bonanza was coming, we did better: ate fresh raspberries in yogurt or sherbet every day, with plenty to give away and plenty to freeze. Still not enough containers or time in a day, but we harvested the lion's share and were happy. I marked the appropriate fruiting time on the next year's calendar.

So this year, we were ready. In May, I spent two afternoons cutting access paths through the awakening patch and covering them with thick bark slabs left over from wood-splitting. Cleared out everything Not Berry, including a gigantic rambling rose that had kept half the patch inaccessible with its brutal thorns. (Note: Raspberries don't have prickers; you can wade through them waist-high in shorts, and pick with short sleeves.)

I also stashed dozens of containers recycled from the winter's berries bought from the store, cleaned out half the freezer, and stocked up on Ziploc baggies. Made time in my schedule for daily picking.

And here they come! -- despite an abnormally cool and rainy season. I started picking two days ago . . . only to discover that the pathways have completely grown over, to the point we can't even find them. So much for preparations.

Picking continues to require awkward stepping and reaching and wriggling things out of the way, twisting ankles on invisible hazards, dropping the container when your balance falters so you lose half a pint to the undergrowth. The berries themselves are sassy flirts, showing perfectly colored ripe faces that mask unripe back halves, or some inedible blemish, which you don't discover until you've wrassled your way in and plucked them. It takes better part of an hour to fill a pint container -- with quarts and quarts left to go!

Don't get me wrong: I'm not complaining. This is a wonderful problem to have! It's merely another example of how Mother Nature triumphs over gardeners and makes us work for her bounty.

Carolyn Haley
Author: Open Your Heart with Gardens
First-year blog archives at

Friday, July 10, 2009

End of a tomato era

Yesterday I took down the tomato.

Not a tomato one would expect -- a sick or infested plant in the garden, like what happened with my beans thanks to slugs. Rather, this was a tomato I planted in the living room back in April 2008.

It began as a conventional nursery seedling, and aside from the trip home it never saw the outdoors. My aim was to learn whether my hugely windowed, south-facing living room could serve as a greenhouse; and whether tomatoes really are perennials, as I'd heard was true in their native tropical lands. (Not so here in Zone 3, with its 90-day growing season!)

After 27 months, I can claim Yes, tomatoes are perennials and they will grow year-round in my living room. There's a catch, though. From the start, the plant -- like the pair of red bell peppers that accompanied it in this experiment -- was weak and brittle, and the fruit small and sparse. Yet all three specimens grew enormous, and the peppers produced gigantic leaves.

All outgrew the space allotted to them months ago, but I persevered, until it became apparent that the plants are just plain tuckered out. Though still producing, their fruits started to grow deformed and often didn't survive to maturity. The older leaves looked dreadful. Now that new tomatoes and peppers are developing in the garden, I decided that the oldsters should move along to the compost pile.

Well, not quite. At the last moment, I decided to just cut them back to stubs. Way down low, the new-growth leaves looked healthy. So now we'll go around another year and see just how perennial these plants can be!

Carolyn Haley
Author: Open Your Heart with Gardens
First-year blog archives at

Monday, June 29, 2009

The eternal dance

For the eleven years I've been gardening, I've never had a slug problem. For the same period, I never mulched.

This year, I finally decided to listen to the experts and mulch my vegetable garden. I used the scraggly hay left over from last year's haybale garden, laying it atop the lasagna garden last fall to let it start rotting in as the new top lasagna layer. At this spring's planting time, I merely scuffed it out of the way and tucked it back as needed.

Little did I know I was creating Slug Heaven! It took me weeks to recognize this, since the dastardly slimeballs only come out at night. I kept waking up to holey lettuce and bean leaves, and stripped marigolds -- too early for most of the leaf-chomping insects I'm aware of, and not the right damage for quadrupeds.

It remained a discouraging head-scratcher until a friend mentioned she's having a horrible time this year with slugs. Upon her advice, I laid out a saucer of beer overnight to lure them to destruction. All that happened was some nocturnal animal lapped up the treat. I switched to her exact technique -- catfood cans set into the soil so the beer was at ground level -- and again netted no slugs, only one empty tin and the other one, concealed from above by moth netting over my broccoli, disturbed in the soil (apparently a raccoon had reached through a split in the netting and tried to grab it).

So much for the beer plan. Prior to it, I had scraped all the hay out of the garden to re-expose the soil. Took somebody else's suggestion and placed collars coated with petroleum jelly around individual plants. This combination slowed things down a bit, but the slugs are still invisibly eating my veggies. I will keep trying other manual and/or nontoxic techniques to tackle this conundrum but suspect, at this point, I've already lost the war.

What steams me is the effect on This Year's Big Experiment. In previous years, the most challenging pest problem has been green worms in the broccoli -- a result, I've learned, of little white butterflies (the cabbage moth, I believe the species is commonly called) laying their eggs on broccoli and related crop leaves over the summer. I read about covering them early with a very light row-cover fabric to block access by the moths.

This created a lovely protective canopy for the slugs, who approach from below. And, as the broccoli grows, the canopy moves upward with them (I didn't buy a wide enough cloth so can't arch over the plants top to bottom, side to side), thereby allowing the moths to fly in from underneath. Yesterday I found 3 of them fluttering inside the netting. So I wrenched it off and released the slug-shredded leaves back to open air.

This morning I got out early enough to catch some slugs in action. Put that to an end with a satisfying squish. A few of the beans look like they might survive the onslaught, but half the broccoli looks awful, while the other half (still under cover) looks only lightly hit. Hopefully there will be some food left over for me at harvest time.

So . . . what's the moral of this story? I'm not sure, but it probably has something to do with balance, as well as environment: There's no sign of slug damage in my EarthBox planters, even though they sit adjacent to the garden, whereas the haybales on the other side have been breached. Birds frolic in the garden all day but apparently don't know where the slugs hide during daylight so they're not picking them off. I will remember all this next year winter when it comes time to design the season's plant layout.

In the meantime, if anyone knows a foolproof, nontoxic way to beat slugs, I'll be happy to hear it!

Carolyn Haley
Author: Open Your Heart with Gardense
First-year blog archives at

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Greetings from Zone 3


This new blog is a continuation of an old one, running since spring 2008 on another site which has since been taken down.

It began life as an addendum to my book, Open Your Heart with Gardens, and was hosted on my publisher's site as part of the publication and marketing process. Since then, it has expanded into a journal, the electronic version of the yard-and-garden diary I once kept on paper. So although the focus remains on gardening, it also embraces the critters that live in or pass through the garden, the climate that affects it, and the trials and tribulations involving all of these components. Hence the blog name: Adventures in Zone 3.

We live at 1200 feet altitude in south-central Vermont where the Green Mountains arise. It is a mishmash of microclimates that present endless challenges to making things grow. On the map, we're Zone 4 or, according to some sources, Zone 5; in reality, we have Zone 3 conditions, in which zealous and stubborn people strive each year to grow food and beauty.

Feel free to make comments or ask questions as this blog grows. I post once every few weeks, depending on what's going on.

To get a sense of what's come before, visit, click on the Blogs header, and use the pulldown window to select "Carolyn Haley."

Thanks, and happy gardening!

--Carolyn Haley