Happy Memorial Day

Happy Memorial Day.  Thank you to all who have served our country.

I honor this day in a bit of a strange way.  I always plant my tomatoes on Memorial Day. What on earth might that do with honoring the memory of veterans, you ask?

Well,  for years, I used to plant tomatoes with my Dad, who was a World War II vet. Even after we gardened in different places, I still grew tomatoes for him and, if I had to,  I shipped them to him.

He will be gone 17 years this summer,  but the tomato planting always helps me to remember him–& all veterans.

As a bonus this year, my poppies opened this weekend too.  Very fitting.

So What if I Don’t Include Flowers for My Pollinators?

What are the consequences of leaving flowers out of the edible garden? Well, it depends.

If you have neighboring gardens with lots of flowers, you may have no consequences. Bees are amazing fliers and their territories can be as wide as 4 miles.

Further, it’s been shown that they are somewhat specific. So if a colony of bees is pollinating apple blossoms, they’ll come to your apple trees too, even if you do nothing special to entice them there.

If a colony of bees is pollinating everyone else’s tomato gardens, chances are they’ll stop by yours as well–even if you don’t have anything around to entice them like bright yellow marigolds or nasturtiums.

What is going to really mess things up for you? Pesticides! Pollinators are highly sensitive to pesticides! And remember, no pollinators, no fruits or vegetables. (Well, not exactly–we’ll still have lettuce and leafy greens, radishes and root crops, herbs–but many of our favorite summertime vegetables won’t be possible without pollinators–or be woefully stunted!)

On Monday I’ll talk about a story from my retail gardening days about just how influential pesticides are on crop production–and lack of pollinators.


Pollinators Are Great–but What if I Grow Edibles?

Okay, think about this for a moment. Food crops are the hottest “new” thing in gardening. It seems that everyone wants to grow them and everyone is trying to grow them creatively–in containers, vertically, in raised bed, or even in with ornamental plantings (a bit more about that on Wednesday).

And that’s great. I’m all for it. I’ve been growing fresh veggies and herbs for 45 years now. And for the most part, I’ve been doing it organically. Because after all, if you want vegetables that have been sprayed with chemicals, you can just go down to your market and buy those. Why go to the effort to grow them? Growing your own can be a bit of work!

But the payback is enormous, of course. Not only do you get delicious fresh vegetables (or fruits if you are growing those. I don’t talk much about fruits because I don’t grow many of my own. But the concept is identical), but you get the satisfaction of your own harvest, and the benefits of working in your own garden, no matter how large.

Just being outside, even if you are harvesting a few patio tomatoes from a pot on a balcony, puts you in touch with nature. I used to garden on a balcony in Hartford on the 7th floor of a condo. And the first thing I did every morning and the last thing I did every evening was to go outside on that balcony every single day of the year. It told me the air temperature, whether it was damp, or humid, I got to listen to a few moments of bird song (and car horns!) and I just generally got to experience nature. I faced south so I could see both sunrises and sunsets. It was lovely.

But no matter what we are growing, or where, we need pollinators. Nothing sets fruit without something to pollinate it. That’s why I encourage you, if you are growing plants in the ground, to include flowers in your edible garden. I always include alyssum, and I have plenty of herbs that flower for my pollinators: dill, fennel, parsley (not that that flowers, but the swallowtail caterpillars feast on it) occasionally cilantro, marigolds and nasturtium.

Not only does this make the pollinators happy, but it makes the garden pretty too. You should try it!

Garden Trends–Edibles

They say that everything that’s old is new again, and that certainly seems to be true with edible gardening. This was huge back in the 70s and it’s come back around again (maybe parents are teaching their kids–or their grand kids?)

What’s “different” about this trend this time around is that while we’re still growing tomatoes and basil and peppers and squash, now we’re growing lots more exotic veggies too–things that if we had mentioned them in the 70s, folks might have said “bless you!”

Today it’s not uncommon to find mesclun or leaf lettuces in lots of people’s gardens–I grow it in my own. If we were to dissect some of the different varieties of “leaf” in some of those mixes, we might find arugula, bok choi, red and green romaine lettuces, mizuna, totsoi, rocket and all manner or different things.

Broccoli raab, celeriac, edamame and kale are almost common place in the garden. And if one gardens in a community garden in an urban area, one is even more likely to be exposed to the vegetables and herbs of different cultures–all to our benefit.

And swiss chard–in lovely colors too–might be growing in your garden.

Another thing that is new and different from 40 or more years ago is the size of the plants we’re growing. The tomatoes we grew back then were almost all indeterminate–or vining–type tomatoes that needed a lot of support and a lot of room to grow. These days there are lots of determinate and patio type varieties that are suitable for smaller gardens, containers and even hanging baskets.

But it’s not just tomatoes where we have seen such a change. Almost all vegetables have gotten smaller, more compact and suitable for our smaller gardens (although you can still find the older varieties as well).

Why this change to more compact varieties? Well, first off, it’s not just happening among edibles. Plants of all sorts–trees and shrubs, larger perennials and even annuals have been becoming more compact for decades now. It suits our lifestyle–think back to where we started this “garden trend” series–the “tidy” garden.

And I hate to say it, but none of us is getting any younger. So many of us are downsizing our homes or gardens (or both). So a container vegetable garden allows those folks who grew up gardening to continue that without giving up what they loved when they owned a larger home. And it also lets them eat healthy produce.

So this is one trend that doesn’t show signs of slowing down. And I am happy about that. Because I am all about helping folks enjoy their hobbies as long as they want to. That’s what keeps folks young, after all!


Garden Trends–“Uber”-izing the Garden

This is a weird title for what I would call the subscription food movement–you know, those home meal service delivery options like Blue Apron and Home Chef (2 options in my area) as well as local CSAs (community supported agriculture movements where you buy a share of a farm harvest for a season–although these are usually pick up).

I suppose perhaps community gardening might even fit this movement not because the garden comes to you–although it does, in a sense–but because of the education value of the garden. Back when I belonged to a community garden, we shared lots of things: advice about how to best manage pests (most gardens are organic), seeds and plant starts, extra produce and ways to prepare it and, at the end of the season, a community garden dinner. It truly was a “community” in every sense of the word.

The subscription services, on the other hand, while they might allow you to prepare dinner for others, are not generally communal in this nature.

And some CSAs can be this way, but not all are–it depends on the farm (although most will at least share ways to prepare what is in the harvest that week.)

I guess it is all up to the particular gardener–and how social he or she wants to be–to take advantage or this trend.

Garden Trends–“Clean” Gardening

On Monday I talked about the first of the “garden trends” that the Garden Media Group and Grow 365 identified as trends for 2017.

I have to confess, I am a little bit puzzled by some of these trends. This trend, for example, that they called “clean” gardening. It encompasses “natural,” organic and even hydroponic gardening. It also encompasses free range!

First, that’s a huge range of different gardening styles and there are battles brewing at the federal level (and no, I have no intention of weighing in here, other than to say that for the moment hydroponic is NOT considered organic, and natural can mean a huge range or different things but is also not officially considered organic under USDA standards).

As long term readers know, I’ve been organic for over 20 years–since 1994, in fact–so “clean” gardening is hardly what I would call a “trend” for me. However, I am delighted to see it getting publicity and I am delighted to see everyone becoming aware of the variety of different styles of eating and gardening, whichever they ultimately choose to adopt.

One of the things I always try to tell people when I lecture is that they should try to keep their homes and yards as free from toxins as possible, particularly if they are growing food. I say that there are  a couple of reasons to grow your own food: to get varieties that you can’t find elsewhere and to know where your food is coming from (literally) and what’s on it.

I also say that if you are just going to put synthetics on it–and I mean synthetics of any sort, from fertilizers to pesticides–you might as well just go down to the supermarket and buy the food.

You don’t have to agree with me, but that’s how I feel. And as I always say, if we all “liked” the same thing, we would have a very boring world. But this trend, at least, seems to indicate, that more folks are “liking” food without synthetics (that was one of the characterizations of “clean” in the Garden Media Group and Grow 365 report).

My “Memorial” Day Garden

vegetable garden

I know–this looks as unlike an “Memorial” Day garden you’ve every seen. What on earth could I mean by that?

Long time readers know exactly what I mean and why I say this.  Every year, I plant my tomatoes–and my vegetable garden in general–on Memorial Day.   Why?

Probably a small part of it has to do with “memorializing” or remembering my heritage. All the old Italians say that it’s not safe to plant tomatoes or herbs in my region until Memorial Day. Since I tend to agree with that, that’s what I do.

But there’s a far more personal reason as well.

I grow my tomatoes–at least some of them from seed. I always have. But I don’t grow them just for me. I grow them for a neighbor who’s a WWII vet. I also grow peppers for him.

I grow them for our “work” garden.

And back when he was still alive, I used to grow them for my Dad, who was also a WWII vet.

So when I deliver the tomatoes and peppers to my neighbor this weekend, and plant my own tomatoes, it’s my small way of honoring and remembering the vets on Memorial Day. I can’t help but remember my Dad, who was the gardener in the family and from whom I got my love of gardening.

Unorthodox yes. But for me it works.