Sunday, September 20, 2009

Dealing with Frost in the Adirondacks

Last night the Weather Gurus predicted a low of 25 degrees Fahrenheit for Newcomb. Brrr. In anyone’s book, that is chilly. Thanks to a wet growing season, followed by a very dry September, I find that my garden has needed very little in the way of frost protection. With the exception of a couple pumpkins, this year’s garden is unconcerned with crisp weather.

But perhaps your garden is a different story. Are you one of the lucky few who have tomatoes? Perhaps you have squash and corn still ripening. Or maybe you put in some late season veg, like kale or other greens. If you fit into this category, then you’ll want to be alert for freezing forecasts and ready to ward off Jack Frost.

Some veg are hardy and can take the cold. In fact, there are veg that improve with cooler temps, like carrots. Many a gardener has claimed that carrots only get sweeter with the cold. I’m testing this theory this year by leaving most of my carrots in the ground as late as possible. But other veg are more tender and in need of some TLC if they are to survive.

Over the last couple of years I’ve invested in floating row covers. These fibrous white sheets come in varying thicknesses depending on the amount of protection you desire. The thicker the cloth (heavier the weight), the more protection. This is beneficial for frost protection. Row covers also reduce light transmission, so in the springtime lighter weight material might be preferable so that the plants can get enough light to sprout and grow.

A cheaper alternative to agricultural row covers is bed sheets. Sheets, towels and blankets sprout in many a garden with fall rolls around. Like row covers, they are draped over plants and pots, keeping the frost from killing tender leaves and fruits. A key to remember here is that you don’t want your cover to touch the plants. The cover is acting like a roof and walls, keeping the warmer air of the day trapped around your plants, and keeping the cold air of night away. If the cold air can get under your blankets, or if your sheet is touching the plant beneath it, the cold can still cause damage.

Usually, though, I find that by the time killing frosts arrive, the thrill of the garden has faded somewhat. The novelty of picking beans and making tomatoe sauce has worn thin. I go out and drape tender plants with sheets, row covers, blankets, using clothespins to hold them all together, but if the frost sneaks in and kills the beans and tomatoes, I find I can get over it pretty quickly. Usually it’s the still unripe winter squash and pumpkins that that merit the most attention.

You could go the route of The Fan. The idea here is that the fan draws the warm air up from the ground and sends it out over your plants, displacing the colder night air. Or you could try misting your plants before night settles. There’s a claim that misted plants will develop an outer layer of ice crystals that will protect the rest of the plant from damage. Hm. Then there are smudge pots. These essentially create localized smog, which traps heat and keeps the plants from freezing.

If you have only a few plants that need protection, there are some nifty options out there that you can try. One is called a water wall. This plastic device is essentially a plastic cylinder that you place around your plant. The cylinder is made of pockets/tubes that you fill with water. During the day the water absorbs heat, which at night is released slowly, keeping the plant within its embrace nice and warm. At about $12 a pop, this can be expensive if you’ve got, oh, say 90 tomato plants to protect.

We used a similar but much cheaper option in the greenhouse where I used to work in New Jersey. We brought in our empty milk jugs and filled them with water. During the day the heat of the greenhouse warmed them up, and at night they released that heat, keeping the inside temps relatively steady as the outside temps fell. I’m sure it would work just as well in a garden, especially if you covered the plants and sun-warmed jugs with a sheet.

Straw bales can also provide your garden with some protection. Stacking up bales around your sensitive plants will block the outside air. Toss a blanket, or old window, or a frame covered with plastic, across the top and you have a temporary greenhouse (or cold frame) that will serve you well.

Gardening in the Adirondacks can be tricky even in a good year. With frost possible in June and August, we are left with only a few short weeks to breathe easily in the belief that our plants are safe. But with some careful planning (the selection of seeds and plants, the layout of the garden, the construction of cold frames, a collection of plant protectors), we can extend our season and eke a few more days or weeks out of our harvest. And if you really want to get into it, you can build a greenhouse, or a high tunnel system, that will permit you to have harvests all year ’round…but that’s another story.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Another Invasive in the Adirondack Garden

“What have you got that the deer won’t like?” I asked the dude at the garden place. This was my favorite nursery, and over the years I spent hundreds of dollars there. I liked the people, I loved their display gardens, and their plant selection was terrific. Unfortunately, they included several invasive species in their stock and promoted them for garden plantings.

“The Japanese Barberry would be great – we have two colors, green and rose. The rose-colored one will look great next to your pale yellow house.” » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Adirondack Harvest Celebration Events

Adirondack Harvest, the community-based farm and food development and promotion program, is welcoming the fall harvest season with a week-long Adirondack Harvest celebration. the events offer opportunities to meet farmers, visit farms, taste products from local farmers, chefs, and markets. Here is the complete list of events from Adirondack Harvest:

Farm Tours on Saturday, September 12:

Black Watch Farm. 9:00am to 4:00pm. 56 Elk Inn Rd., Port Henry. 546-3035. Come visit this 1860’s civil war era farm located on 60 acres. Primarily a horse farm offering riding lessons Black Watch features Connemara ponies originally from Ireland. Their vegetables garden is laden with pumpkins, gourds & cornstalks. Delicious homemade jam for sale as well. A walk through this farm will bring you many photographic opportunities.

Adirondack Heritage Hogs. 10:00am to 12:00pm. 26 Clark Lane, Lewis. Adirondack Heritage Hogs currently has 20 pigs of varying ages, sex and breed including a litter of 5 that will be two weeks old at the time of the tour. They also have some pigs on pasture, and some in the woods as well as free range turkeys, laying hens and meat chickens. In addition they are nearing completion on a custom butcher facility and operate a sawmill on the premises.

DaCy Meadow Farm. 10:00am to 2:00pm. 7103 Rte 9N, Westport. 962-2350. The Johnston family at DaCy Meadow Farm raises British heritage livestock, sells natural pork and beef, and has an agricultural themed art gallery. They also host special events, business meetings, educational groups, and serve farm to table meals.

Uihlein Maple Research Station. Tour at 1:00pm sharp until about 2:30pm. 157 Bear Cub Lane, Lake Placid. 523-9337. The core of the Cornell Sugar Maple Program, the Uihlein Field station’s sugar bush of 4000 taps is used to demonstrate the merits of new technology and proper forest stewardship to visiting maple producers and landowners.

Ben Wever Farm. 2:00pm to 4:00pm. 444 Mountain View Drive, Willsboro. 963-7447. Heart and Harvest of the Adirondacks. Working with previous owner and “senior agricultural consultant emeritus” Ben Wever, the Gillilland family has given new life to an old family farm creating a diversified operation specializing in grassfed beef, pork, chicken, and turkeys. They also sell eggs and honey and have a picturesque farmscape scattered with beautiful horses.

Crooked Brook Farm & Studios. 4:00pm to 8:00pm. 2364 Sayre Rd., Wadhams. 962-4386. Come experience the famous Mongolian barbeque! Bring your own veggies and meat to throw on an original hand-forged grill. View oil paintings and monumental sculpture by Edward Cornell.

Adirondack History Center Museum on September 12 & 13: Daily 10:00am to 5:00pm. Court Street, Elizabethtown. 873-6466. During a year filled with celebratory events, the 2009 Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentennial Commission has inaugurated the state’s first Heritage Weekend on September 12 and 13. Visitors are welcomed free, or at a reduced rate, to many museums, historical societies, and heritage areas in the Champlain Valley, the Hudson River Valley, and New York City. The Adirondack History Center Museum in Elizabethtown is offering free admission on Sunday, September 13 for Heritage Weekend and in celebration of Harvest Festival week sponsored by Adirondack Harvest and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Essex County. For further information on Heritage Weekend sites, visit the New York Heritage Weekend website www.heritageweekend.org.

Cornell E.V. Baker Research Farm Tour on Tuesday, September 15: 10:00am to 12:00pm. 38 Farrell Road, Willsboro. 963-7492. The Cornell University E.V. Baker Research Farm serves to connect Cornell University faculty with important agricultural issues facing northern NY farmers including best management practices for perennial forages, tillage and soil health interactions, wine grape variety evaluations, small grain variety trials and season extension using high tunnels and other studies.

“A Taste of Essex County History” on Saturday, September 19: Crown Point State Historic Site and Campground, Crown Point, NY. Part of a day-long celebration of the Crown Point Lake Champlain Quadricentennial event re-dedicating the Crown Point Monument & Rodin Sculpture. Adirondack Harvest will have an agricultural history display on site as well as a market devoted to serving local foods and offering farm fresh items for sale from Adirondack Harvest members.


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Adirondack Autumn: The Raking O’ The Leaves

Ah, fall. That time of year that brings amazing colors to our lives, and tourists to our towns. For many it is the peak of the year. For others, it signals one more chore: The Raking of the Leaves.

Have you ever really thought about leaf raking? Why do we do it? Are those leaves a threat to our lawns? Or are they merely an eye sore? Do we do it because “someone” (probably a Victorian, and probably the same person who invented lawn mowing) decided it should be done and now it is accepted as another rule we must follow? (Personally, I suspect it is all a plot of the Lawn Worshippers.)

I know as a kid I loved raking leaves. They were dry, they were crunchy, they were light weight, and the piles were so much fun! You could jump in them, you could throw great armfuls at your friends and family (without anyone getting hurt), and you could stuff them into old clothes, creating scarecrows and porch decorations. But something happens when we grow up – seasonally fun activities like raking (and shoveling snow) become Chores. They are no longer fun. Instead, they are now Things That Must Be Done.

When I moved to the Adirondacks, I bought a house in a little “development.” My acre of property had exactly two deciduous trees, both black cherries that have seen better days. Sometimes I think they shed as many dead branches as actual leaves. For the first four or five years, I never even lifted a rake – there weren’t enough leaves to bother with. Since then, however, I’ve planted 11 apples, two pears, three crabapples, a red maple, a sugar maple, a couple elderberries, three dogwoods, three ninebarks, four serviceberries, three sumacs, three chokecherries, and two hawthorns, not to mention the grapes and hops. Admittedly, most of these are still too small to produce much in the way of leaves, but someday, should they all survive, I may be breaking out the rake once more. And I look forward to that day, because I need those leaves!

What in the world do I want all those leaves for? Unlike most Americans, I see leaves as Gardener’s Gold, not Yard Waste. When a tree sheds its leaves, it is also shedding a lot of nutrition. Well, maybe not a lot, but a fair amount. Leaves are the food factories of the trees. When fall comes, the trees (we’re talking deciduous trees here, not conifers) reclaim about 95% of the nutrition that’s left in the leaves, nutrition in the form of vital nutrients: potassium, nitrogen, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, et al. Still, that leaves 5% of those nutrients behind. In the natural world, the leaves fall to the ground, decompose, and voila! those nutrients are returned to the soil where the trees’ roots can absorb them the following year. Since I don’t have a ton of leaves smothering my yard, I feel perfectly content letting falling leaves lie, where they can decompose and feed my meager lawn.

But the ideal, for me, is to get those leaves into the garden. Most vegetable gardens are at least somewhat nutrient deficient. Sure, we could all go out and purchase bags of fertilizer and work it into the soil, but why not save some money and use the fertilizer that nature is already giving us? Instead of raking the leaves and bagging them for the dump (a concept that boggles my mind), take those leaves and pile them several inches deep in the garden. Give them a good watering, which will alert the critters in the soil that something is going on. Then take your hoe and chop the leaves into the earth. The worms will love you, having all this wonderful food available to them throughout the winter. You can even top dress it all with a few inches of straw, which will also decompose over time, providing even more nutrients for next year’s veg. Come spring, your garden will be ready and waiting for those seeds you spent the winter selecting from all those gardening catalogues.

But maybe you don’t have a vegetable garden and you find yourself swamped with autumn’s bounty. Consider donating your leaves to your community garden, or to your neighbor who gardens. You might even get some fresh zucchini in exchange!

As for me, I’ve been seriously considering two actions to boost my leaf intake this fall: posting “leaves wanted” signs around town, and clandestinely swiping bags of leaves from the curbs of Glens Falls. Maybe you could save me from awkward explanations to the police (“Honest, Officer, I was just collecting leaves for my garden”) by bringing your leaves to me.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

An Adirondack Poison: White Snakeroot

‘Tis the season for White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima). This pretty, weedy plant can be found blooming in many of our forests from late summer “until frost.” Hm…that could be any day now, if you believe the weather reports!

One of the nice things about white snakeroot is that it is one of our native plants. According to my field guide, it is classified with the bonesets and Joe Pye weed – a Eupatorium. However, botanists, like birders, can be found reclassifying living organisms on an almost daily basis, it seems, and now this plant is in a separate genus: Ageratina.

I think that because we are surrounded these days with warnings about non-native invasive species, we tend to slip into the idea that native plants must all be good. In one sense they are: they are good for the ecological niche in which they have evolved. But this doesn’t make them “good” plants, necessarily. White snakeroot is an excellent example of this, for it is poisonous.

Back in the 19th century, many many people died from a disease that was labelled “milk sickness.” It seems that some milk (and, it turns out, meat) was tainted with something that made the cattle ill and killed people. The disease was known to wipe out large portions of early settlements (Abraham Lincoln’s own mother was one of its victims), and it became such a problem in parts of Kentucky that a $600 award was offered in the early 1800s to anyone who could find the cause of the disease.

Although not officially identified until 1928, legend has it that Dr. Anna Bixby (1809-1869) identified the causative agent long before that. Supposedly many of her patients were dying from milk sickness, and, as was probably fairly common at the time, the disease was blamed on witchcraft. Dr. Bixby knew there must be a more rational explanation, and noted that the disease only turned up in late summer and into the fall, and it seemed to be based on something the cattle were eating. One day she met up with a Shawnee woman who told her that white snakeroot was the culprit. Dr. Bixby fed a bit of the plant to a calf, which promptly displayed all the symptoms. She had all of the plant torn out from the fields and forests where cattle were grazing, and remarkably, the disease went away. Sadly, she never got credit for this (nor did the Shawnee woman).

What happens is that cattle eat white snakeroot when there is no other forage around, so it’s not like it’s a primary food choice for them. The plant contains tremetol, which is the poisonous compound. Tremetol is stored in the meat and milk, and thus it gets passed on to people who consume these cattle products.

That said, according to Daniel Moerman’s Native American Ethnobotany, the Cherokee and Iroquois did use this plant for a variety of medicines, including treatment for urinary ailments, as a diuretic, and as a treatment for venereal diseases. He doesn’t say, however, how well the medicines worked.

Still, just because a plant is toxic doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it – just don’t eat it! As you walk through the woods, perhaps along a shady path, keep your eyes open for a scraggly-looking plant about three to five feet tall. The leaves are jagged, and the top has a flattened cluster of white flowers. If you are lucky, you may find some butterflies nectaring on it, for it is one of their foods. Take the time to get to know it, for it is a lovely plant. Then note where it is so you can be sure your cattle don’t graze upon it.


Monday, August 31, 2009

Hyde Museum Offfers ‘A Taste of Art’ Wine & Food Event

In conjunction with The Hyde Collection’s exhibition Degas & Music, the Museum (in Glens Falls) is hosting its 7th Annual A Taste of Art … A Wine and Food Experience on Friday, September 18 from 6:30 – 9:30 PM. In keeping with French Impressionist Edgar Degas’ lifelong interest in all things musical, the wine tasting décor will evoke the feeling of a 19th century ‘café concert’ – a popular form of musical entertainment of the period featured in the exhibition.

The evening offerings include a combination of various wines, complementary foods, and lively entertainment. Putnam Wine (Saratoga Springs) and Uncorked (Glens Falls) work together to bring in a wide selection of wines from New York and other US wine producing regions, as well as vintages from Europe, South America, and Australia. The wines are complemented by food samplings from a number of area restaurants including Adirondack Community College’s Culinary Program, The Anvil, Cherry Tomato, The Farmhouse Restaurant, Friends’ Lake Inn, Fifty South, GG Mama’s, Grist Mill, Luisa’s Italian Bistro, and The Sagamore. Davidson Brothers Restaurant and Brewery will host the beer garden in the Museum’s Hoopes Gallery.

Attendees will be entertained by two musical groups – The Dick Caselli Trio and Alambic, as well a silent auction featuring music, food, and art-related items.

Tickets for ‘A Taste of Art’ are $75 per person. Reservations are required and accepted on a first-come, first served basis. Those interested in attending should call 518-792-1761 ext. 23 or email bchildress@hydecollection.org. A special master class is open to Connoisseur Committee members (those contributing an additional $250 to the event). This year’s master class will focus on the wines which would have been familiar to Edgar Degas and his contemporaries. Because of the limited master class space, those wishing to join the Connoisseur Committee should contact the Museum at their earliest convenience.

All proceeds from the wine tasting event will benefit The Hyde Collection’s exhibitions and educational programs through the Museum’s Annual Fund.


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Growing Garlic in the Adirondacks

Whenever I mention growing garlic, I encounter people who tell me “you can’t grow garlic up here.” What? I’ve grown garlic successfully now for two years (can’t say as much for onions and leeks)! After conversations with folks, though, I think I have discovered the answer: timing.

Garlic is something you plant in the fall. Don’t try planting it in the spring with your seeds and transplants. You may get lovely stalks, but you won’t get bulbs. Once you discover this, you’ll find growing garlic is a cinch.

First, find some good bulbs. Around these parts, you probably should stick to hardneck garlic. The stuff you buy in the grocery store is softneck garlic, and it is comprised of a bulb that is clove after clove right down to the center (and it probably comes from China or India). Hardneck, on the other hand, has a hard stem in the center which is surrounded by six to twelve cloves, depending on the variety. You don’t get as many cloves, but you get something that is hardier and grows well in our northern climate.

You can purchase garlic from many gardening/seed catalogues. If you place your garlic order in February with your seed order, don’t expect it to arrive with your seeds. Any company worth its salt will not ship garlic until the fall.

I discovered, however, that catalogue garlic is really expensive. For a mere fraction of the cost, you can go to a garlic festival (like the one in Sharon Springs, which I just found out is cancelled this year) to purchase bulbs. This is what I did last year. The comparison is amazing. Catalogue garlic: get about 20 cloves, pay over $20. Garlic Fest garlic: get 100 cloves, pay about $8. It’s well worth the trip to a festival. The nearest garlic festival I could find this year is probably the Mohawk Valley Garlic and Herb Festival in Mohawk on 12 September, 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM.

Once you have your garlic, wait until October to plant. The later the better. You’ll want to prep your bed, removing weeds, adding compost, etc. When the day arrives to plant, you’ll want to be ready, so have your bulbs sorted – choose only the largest bulbs and the largest cloves.

It’s planting day. Separate the bulbs into individual cloves. Press each one about two inches into your soil (with the pointy end of the clove upwards) and cover with soil. Space them three or so inches apart. When you have the bed filled, cover it with about six inches of grass clippings – good mulch. Last year I used leaves and I don’t think they worked as well. For one thing, they decomposed and blew away a lot more readily than grass clippings will.

Do not panic if you start to see green shoots poking out of the mulch before the snow flies. This is normal.

Next spring, the shoots will grow (or continue to grow). Just let them do their thing, making sure the soil stays evenly moist (but don’t over-water). Garlic is pretty low maintenance. As summer progresses, the tips of the stalks will loop around a couple of times and develop swellings at the end. These are called garlic scapes and they are quite attractive. They are also edible and are considered a gourmet item, but I I found I couldn’t give ’em away this year! No one wanted to even try them. You can steam them and serve with melted butter like asparagus, or you can cook them in a stir fry; I’m sure the internet is full of recipes just waiting to be tried. I’ve even read you can store scapes in a plastic bag in the fridge for up to three months. If you don’t plan to eat them, however, be sure to pinch them off. Otherwise, they will develop into bulbils, tiny bulbs, taking energy away from the main bulb underground. You want the plant to put its energy into the main bulb, so eliminate all competitors.

Sometime around mid-July, the stalks will start to turn brown. When the bottom three or four leaves are brown, but the leaves at the top are still green, it is time to harvest your garlic. You will want to stop watering a few weeks before this – this will make your garlic better for storage.

Pull up your garlic gently and by hand. You want to be careful not to bruise the bulbs, and don’t leave them in the sun. Trim the roots, and gently brush off the soil. Then you you need to place them in a well-ventilated, but out of the sun location to cure. Curing takes about two weeks and hardens the bulbs up for storage. After curing you can trim the stems and move the garlic into storage. Hardneck garlic doesn’t braid well, thanks to those hard stems. So, instead of long decorative braids, I cut the stems short and stick the bulbs in old onion bags I’ve scrounged from friends.

Never store your garlic in the fridge. Room temperature is good, or in a root cellar where temps are about 32-35 degrees Fahrenheit. Low humidity is also a plus. A fridge is simply too warm and may cause your garlic to sprout prematurely.

Garlic has a history that stretches back more than 5000 years. Coming to us from central Asia, this bulb is full of good stuff that our bodies need. You don’t have to go overboard like me and plant a couple hundred cloves, but everyone with a small garden should at least give it a try.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Asgaard Dairy Takes National and State Honors

Goat’s milk cheeses from Asgaard Dairy of Au Sable Forks collected second place awards in National and New York State competitions earlier this month. Such achievements in the first full year of production took owners Rhonda Butler and David Brunner and cheesemaker Kirsten Sandler by surprise.

At the National Cheese Society annual meeting in Austin, Texas, August 7, the dairy took silver for its goat’s milk feta. “It’s kind of like the Academy Awards of cheese,” said Butler. Last week at the New York State Fair in Syracuse, the placing entry was a fresh chevre with cilantro, hot pepper and garlic—all from the Asgaard garden.

Butler and Brunner, with help from daughter Johanna operate the dairy from the iconic Adirondack farm once owned by artist and political activist Rockwell Kent. They retail their cheeses and a new line of goat’s milk soap direct from the farm, at farm markets in Elizabethtown, Keene and Lake Placid, and at natural food markets in Keene, Lake Placid and Saranac Lake. Lake Placid Lodge also features Asgaard’s “Whiteface” chevre on its menu.

Looking forward, this year the family plans to add ten more milking goats to their herd of twenty. The sudden success arrives at a bittersweet moment: the family lost one of their original two goats—Kelly (pictured above with Johanna)—this spring.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Adirondack Family Activities: Producer-Only Farmers’ Markets

Tis the season for zucchini. Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la. It is only the closest of friends that can continue to pass out fresh zucchini like it’s a present rather than penance. Since I am in transition, my own garden has been put on hold and I rely on the kindness of others for my fresh veggies. Zucchini, on the other hand, has become the garden growers “gift with purchase.”

I was just given a secret at a recent trip to the Farmers’ Market that if I de-seed the giant green squash first and then chop, it will retain its sweet flavor without having to attempt to swallow seeds the size of cherry pips.

For my children a trip to the Farmers’ Market is a day out on the town. Not because it is errand day. More so because most open-air markets are designed for just that purpose, for people to stroll, smell and experience where food comes from. Sadly and not surprisingly some kids never know the vast amount of travel some of their vegetables have taken before reaching the table.

Lake Placid’s Green Market Wednesday is one of many “producer-only” farmers’ markets. The requirement is simple. The product is either grown at the vendor’s location or made from scratch. Vendors are not allowed to purchase products to resell to customers. This policy provides a creative atmosphere for local farmers and artisans to explore new possibilities with their produce and merchandise.

For us, we show up with little more than water bottles and pick our lunch like it’s right off the vine. Oh wait, it is! The kids weave around the various booths choosing a piece of fruit here and a piece of cheese there.

August 26 will be the last Wednesday Young and Fun series located at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts that runs in conjunction with this particular outdoor market. This is a Salute to Art Day! Clowns, musicians, face painting and crafts are just part of the family-friendly activities available.

Enjoy the market while the children are entertained. Buy a fresh meal while figuring out whether your zucchini toting neighbor is friend or foe.

For a complete list of all Adirondack and beyond Farmers’ Markets check out www.adirondackharvest.com. For a list of producer-only venues, see below.

Lake Placid Green Market on Wednesdays from 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Schroon Lake on Mondays from 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Plattsburgh Farmers Green Market on Thursdays from 3:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Essex on Sundays from noon – 4:00 p.m.
Saranac Lake on Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Queensbury on Mondays from 3:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Glens Falls on Saturdays from 8:00 a.m. – noon
Saratoga Springs on Wednesdays from 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Epsom Salts and Dry Milk in the Garden

My friend Edna shared with me her secret for growing tomatoes: Epsom salts and dry milk. The mixture is blended together and applied by the teaspoonful to newly transplanted tomato plants, and can be sprinkled on the soil at the base of the plants later in the season.

Hm, thought I. Maybe I should give this a try.

So last year I got out my carton of Epsom salts and my packets of dry milk and commenced planting about 100 tomato plants.

I didn’t have the actual recipe on hand, so I merely dumped Epsom salt and dry milk in each hole before I laid down the plant (I plant my tomatoes on their sides, so roots will form along the buried stem and the upward-growing bit is stronger). Despite my willy-nilly method, the plants did fine and I put up about four gallons of sauce by the end of the summer and gave many fresh tomatoes away to friends.

This year I mixed it up correctly…sort of. And this year my tomatoes are mostly brown and looking rather dead. Some have fruits, although most (all but one) are green and all are very small. The one that is reddening is also rotting.

Now, I don’t blame this on the homemade fertilizer (or my haphazard methods). Nope, the culprit, as far as I’m concerned, is this summer’s weather (and possibly the Late Blight I’ve been hearing about). Cool, damp weather does not make for healthy tomato plants (and I’m really glad I didn’t even attempt peppers this year).

So, the big question is: are the Epsom salts and dry milk actually doing anything beneficial for the plants, or is this recipe an old wives’ tale? I was determined to find out.

As it happens, Epsom salts (so called for the town in England where they were first collected) are actually beneficial to certain soils. A simple salt made up of magnesium and sulfur, Epsom salt is a swell addition if your soil is lacking these nutrients. Soil that is acidic is often depleted in magnesium, so a treatment of Epsom salts can be beneficial. If your soil is really depleted in magnesium, however, you are probably better off giving it a treatment of dolomitic lime. This compound will not only deliver the magnesium, but it will also help balance out the soil’s pH, which should make your plants happier all around (unless they are acid-loving plants like azaleas and blueberries).

The dry milk has been a bit more difficult to trace for relevance in the garden. One presumes this is to add calcium to the soil (at least that’s what Edna’s book claimed). And it seems that tomatoes really do like to have a good bit of calcium, and having plenty of calcium on hand helps prevent blossom end rot. Blossom end rot occurs when the plant’s demand for calcium exceeds the amount of calcium available in the soil. This could be caused by too much, or too little, water (excess rain or drought), not enough calcium in the soil to being with, or even an over-application of nitrogen fertilizers, which cause rapid vegetative growth and an increase in calcium demand. Putting a little dry milk in the planting hole may help, but it isn’t a long-term solution.

In the end, the answer is soil testing. If your soil has a good pH level (around 6.5), and if it is provided with proper drainage and watering, then regular amendments of good compost (and composted manures) may be all you really need. But that soil test is the key.

I’ve been reluctant to get an official soil test done for my veg garden. I bought a home-testing kit when I started my garden and have used it a couple times, but I’m not so sure the results I got were accurate (this year’s tests said I had no potassium, no nitrogen, and no phosphorous at all in my soil). Considering some of the beds still have a sour smell to them, which is usually an indication of acidic soils, I may just bite the bullet and send in my soil samples for real tests.

When you get your soil test results back, you should also get amendment recommendations – suggestions on what you can add to make your soil better and your plants happier. By treating your soil as a whole, you are more likely to have success with your garden than you are with spot treatments of dry milk and Epsom salts.

That said, adding a little dry milk, or a sprinkling of Epsom salt, probably won’t hurt your garden. And if it makes you feel better by doing it, then go for it. Just remember: while a little may be beneficial, more isn’t necessarily better; all things in moderation.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Making Your Land Pay Program at Cornell Cooperative Ext

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Warren and Saratoga Counties will be offering an educational program on Saturday August 22, 2009 – “Making Your Land Pay” for forest and farmland. Those looking for new income opportunities to offset some of the costs of owning land will find plenty of suggestions. Some of the topics that will be covered include the importance of soils, natural resource enterprises, and places to find additional resources for land owners. During the afternoon attendees will be going into the field. The cost is $15 per person. For further information and to register for this program, please call Cornell Cooperative Extension Saratoga County at 885-8995.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Fooling Wasps in the Garden

“What is that green papery thing you have hanging next to the back door?” my mother asked. “It’s a paper wasp nest,” said I. An artificial wasp nest made of paper, as opposed to a nest made by paper wasps.

“What’s it for?”

“To keep away wasps.”

“Does it work?”

Ah…that’s the question. Several gardening catalogues sell these Chinese paper lantern type wasp nests as wasp deterrents, and others sell ones made of fabric. The theory is that you hang them in areas where you don’t want wasps. Supposedly, paper wasps are very territorial and will not build a nest in an area where one already exists. So, you hang up these artificial nests and voila! no wasps.

But does it work?

Well, I routinely had wasps build nests next to one of my sheds. And while I’ve come to terms with bees, I’m not so trusting of wasps. Some, like the bald faced hornet, are very aggressive and don’t need much (if any) provocation to attack. As soon as I would see the beginnings of a paper wasp nest, I would knock it down. Luckily, this worked, but I knew that the battle would only repeat every year unless I took some other measure.

Enter the fake nest.

I purchased a two-pack of paper nests a couple years ago. They lie flat and squashed in the package. All you have to do is stretch them out and lock the wire frame in place. Instant wasp nest. Then you hang it in a strategic location. I placed one next to the back door, easily within viewing distance of the corner by the shed. The other I hung inside the porch (a double assurance against wasps coming into the house – or at least this was the plan).

For two years I have followed this routine, and for two years I’ve had no wasps nests built near my shed (or anywhere along that side of the house). Could it be this really works, or is it merely coincidence?

According to www.wasps.net, fake nests are good for up to 5000 ft. away. The folks over at http://iberianature.com/britainnature/tag/fake-wasps-nest/ also agree: fake nests are an environmentally friendly way to control wasps around your house and gardens.

So there you go! A chemical-free, pet- and child-friendly, totally non-toxic way to control undesireables. If only every pest could be so easily fooled!


Sunday, August 9, 2009

Adirondack Garden: A Good Word for Weeds

I know that most gardening columns are filled with advice on how to get rid of weeds. But I want to put in a good word for them. I’m looking at one really huge one right now just outside my kitchen window: the Box Elder tree (Acer negundo) that is wildlife Grand Central Station all year long, right here in the middle of Saratoga Springs. Of course, that could be because of the seed and suet feeders we hang from its boughs, and the discarded Christmas trees we cluster around the trunk in the winter, and the birdbaths we keep filled in every season –- including a heated one providing liquid water through 25-below-zero nights. But I’ve also read that — even without our additions — the Box Elder tree is ranked among those with the highest value to wildlife.

That ranking is probably because of its seeds that, unlike those of other members of the maple genus, hang onto the boughs until well into the winter, providing food for squirrels and birds when most other seeds are gone. Another positive attribute is its ability to spring up from seedling to tree in a hurry, or as some might say, “grow like a weed.” That’s what our neighbor (who actually owns the ground this Box Elder grows from) said about this tree when he wanted to cut it down. “Just look at the mess it makes — bugs in the summer, seeds all over the place, leaves plugging up the gutters.” Well, we begged and pleaded and pointed out how its boughs provide privacy for his tenants, and he relented. Sort of. He cut down about half of it, but what do you know, it grew right back to its original height (and more!) in just about a year. Ha!

Here’s the thing: if you love the birds and butterflies and want to have them around, you just have to learn to love bugs and weeds. Some people think I’m kind of a nut about that. Two years ago, I led a wildflower walk in downtown Saratoga’s Congress Park, a park more known for its Olmsted-designed formal gardens than for anything allowed to grow wild. But (oh happy fault!) there are geologic faults that run right through Congress Park, creating the springs that Saratoga is famous for, as well as steep banks and marshy spots where the mowers just can’t mow. And there’s where the wildflowers grow, dozens and dozens of beauties most often overlooked: Birds-eye Speedwell, Canada Anemone, Willow Herbs Northern and Hairy, Buttercups, Forget-me-nots, Cuckoo Flowers, Cattails . . . I could go on and on.

And I was going on and on, extolling at length the virtues of one particular plant that spreads through the grass, Ground Ivy. I had read in a wonderful book by Hannah Holmes (Suburban Safari: A year on the lawn) that patches of this lovely little flower, as pretty as any orchid (click on photo above), are sought out by crows in molting, when their new feathers are poking through skin and causing them pain. Apparently, this Mint-Family plant has both analgesic and antiseptic qualities that soothe their pain and prevent infection, and the crows will roll around in it. Now, I found that pretty fascinating and was sharing my enthusiasm for Ground Ivy when I was interrupted by “Ugh! That’s Creeping Charlie! [Another name for Ground Ivy] I can’t get rid of it in my lawn! That’s a weed!”

Well, yes. It is. But such a nice one. I don’t think she thought I was nice when I responded to her revulsion: “Why would you want to get rid of it? Get rid of the grass instead.” Because, you see, that really is my ideal. Why would anyone prefer plain old grass to deliciously herby Ground Ivy (what a pungent, minty scent it emits when mowed)? Or to Speedwells of every kind, dainty little striped blooms in shades of blue from royal to mist? Or to Violets, white or purple or yellow? Or to Strawberries, Buttercups, Daisies, Clover. . . good lord, even Dandelions! All carpet the ground no taller than ankle-high, so they don’t need frequent mowing. All grow without needing to poison the soil with pesticides or chemical fertilizers. All thrive without being watered. All provide food for butterflies, caterpillars, ants, worms, birds, and bees. All are as pretty as pretty can be. And every single last one of them is a weed.

Let’s hear it for weeds!


Thursday, August 6, 2009

CCE Campaign Promotes Seasonal Recipes for Local Foods

Eat Well, Eat Local and Eat Together is the theme of a campaign by Cornell Cooperative Extension in counties across New York State, including locally in Warren County, that coincides with the local harvest season. Also known as Eat3, the program’s goal is to help families choose, prepare and enjoy healthy meals together using locally-grown produce.

Each month, from July through November, the campaign will feature one local and healthful meal that families can prepare and enjoy together. The recipes have been chosen to emphasize kid-friendly foods that take advantage of fruits and vegetables in season. For example, the Meal of the Month for July features Broccoli and Black Bean Quesadillas and Fruity Pops. The quesadilla recipe boosts the nutritional value of a traditional tortilla and cheese quesadilla by including broccoli and beans. The frozen fruit and yogurt “pops” uses seasonal fruits, such as berries and peaches, in an easy recipe that kids can make themselves.

Cornell Cooperative Extension is currently distributing recipes highlighting July’s Meal of the Month, as well as postcards and a colorful refrigerator magnet to remind families to Eat Well, Eat Local and Eat Together. Families are also being encouraged to visit and register at the Eat3 website, www.Eat3.org. Those who register on the website will be entered into a monthly drawing for a $50 grocery store gift card. Two gift card winners will be chosen each month. The website features additional seasonal recipes with nutrition information, tips, games and a chance to share comments and questions about the recipes and eating together.

Contact Alexis Flewelling at amf252@cornell.edu or at 518-668-4881 to request July’s free Meal of the Month recipes and magnet from Cornell Cooperative Extension of Warren County.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Late Blight: What Not to Do

A Wilmington woman who suspected her tomato was afflicted with “late blight,” a fungal disease killing area nightshade crops, put the plant in her car and drove it to the Hhott House garden center in Saranac Lake late last week to get an expert opinion.

The opinion was, yes, the plant did indeed have late blight, and now it had traveled through Lake Placid, home to Cornell University’s Uihlein Potato Research Station, which provides seed stock for much of the state. It had also come within six miles of Tucker Farms, a commercial potato grower in Gabriels, and, less important, within a block of my potato and tomato plants, the latter which are finally fruiting.

The plant was bagged and discarded in the trash, as it should have been to begin with. Late blight is spread by spores that can travel several miles on the wind. Here is a reminder from the Clinton Essex Cooperative Extension on what you should do if you suspect your tomatoes or potatoes have late blight.


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