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