“There’s a deer in the hummingbird garden,” our intern said in a stage whisper. “It’ll probably be gone by the time I get there,” I said, as I grabbed the camera and made a dash for the door. Lo and behold, the deer stood there, ripping through our hosta as though it was so much buttercrunch lettuce, completely ignoring me as I stepped closer and closer snapping one shot after another.
While this certainly gave us a wonderful wildlife encounter, it isn’t really the type of wildlife we want to see in our butterfly and hummingbird gardens. Already it has pruned the hollyhocks, and who knows what else it will munch on next. We’ve had little problem with deer before now, but once they’ve discovered the choice produce aisle, it is hard to keep them away. What is a gardener to do? » Continue Reading.
While hustling a group of first and second graders along the trail to get them back to their bus on time, I hit the breaks when my eye was caught by masses of white fuzz in the alders along the boardwalk. I zoomed in on the fuzz, with the kids right beside me. What could it be? When I got close enough, I knew what we had: woolly alder aphids (Paraprociphilus tesselatus). Usually we see these insects in late summer and early fall when the bits of white fuzz start flying around. They are kind of pretty, in a fluffy faerie sort of way, with just a hint of pale blue showing through the fuzz. But, they are aphids, after all, and we all know that aphids tend to be bad news for plants.
In preparation for writing this post, I read up on woolly alder aphids, and it turns out that, like so many things on this planet, they are pretty interesting characters. For example, let’s look at that glorious white fuzz. It’s more than just a pretty covering. This cottony fluff is actually a waxy substance that the aphids exude to protect their juicy grey bodies from predators. After all, if you were looking for a mouthful of tender insect, and instead you got a mouthful of waxy fuzz, you might think twice about snacking at this location.
But every problem has a solution, and indeed there are two major predators of these aphids: the larvae of green lacewings (Chrysopa slossonae) and the caterpillar of a butterfly appropriately known as the Harvester (Feniseca tarquinius). This caterpillar, by the way, is one of the world’s only predaceous butterfly caterpillars. Both these predators adapt a pretty interesting hunting strategy: they cover themselves with the aphids’ own waxy fuzz. Thus disguised, they become veritable wolves in sheep’s clothing, hunkering down among the aphid colony and munching away.
But wait…the story doesn’t end here. The disguise adapted by these larvae isn’t so much to hide them from the aphids as it is to hide them from the aphids’ body guards. Like many aphids worldwide, woolly alder aphids have an arrangement with Ant Protective Services. If you find a colony of aphids, look closely and you will surely find ants nearby. These ants may look like simple shepherds, herding flocks of aphids and “milking” them for honeydew, but the arrangement isn’t quite so bucolic. Sure, the aphids squeeze out droplets of super sweet liquid (a by-product of the sap they sucked from the plant – more on this in a moment) when stroked by the ants’ antennae, and the ants then tote these droplets home for dinner, but in exchange for this the ants protect the colony from all intruders. Go ahead and stick your finger among the aphids and see what happens. Quickly your finger will be attacked by the nearest ants. So the clever costumes used by the lacewing and butterfly larvae do a pretty good job of tricking the ants. If you don’t believe it, consider this: some researchers introduced undisguised larvae to an aphid colony and the ants patrols effectively removed them from the scene.
The aphids get an additional benefit from the “milking” process mentioned above. As we all know, a steady diet of sugars isn’t nutritionally balanced; even aphids need some protein, especially when it comes time to reproduce. In order to acquire the necessary nutrition (nitrogen), the aphids consume more sugary sap than they need. Their systems then separate out the minute traces of nitrogen and excrete the excess sugars (honeydew). The nitrogen is then utilized in making the necessary proteins for reproduction.
And this brings us to the life cycle of the woolly alder aphid. When you gaze upon a colony of aphids coating the twigs and branches of your alders, you are looking naught but females. There won’t be a male in sight. This is because these insects reproduce asexually, via a process known as parthenogenesis. This system of reproduction is actually a lot more common than you’d think. Unlike many insects, the virgin female aphid gives birth to live young (no time and energy wasted in making eggs), all of which are daughters. In almost no time at all, the daughters are squeezing out girls of their own. This reproductive strategy has the advantage of producing individuals perfectly adapted for the host plant and its immediate environment. Some researcher with nothing better to do once calculated that one female aphid could give rise to over 600 BILLION clones of herself over the course of a single season! Thank goodness for predators, parasites, diseases and limited numbers of host plants, eh?
But, even this sort of perfection has its limits, and towards the end of the summer, the host plant may be weakening, or the colony just needs to move on (perhaps the host is getting too crowded). Things become stressful and suddenly a generation is produced that has males. You will know this has happened when the formerly stationary insects have produced models with wings. The resources are now available for sexual reproduction, which results in the mixing up of genetic material. This in turn produces offspring that may be better able to survive conditions in other locations, so off they go. Natural selection will then determine which ones will survive.
What an amazing world we live in. Every time you turn around there is something new to discover. Who knew that white fuzz on a shrub could turn out to be so strange and exotic! I love science fiction, but part of me really believes that we don’t need to travel the expanses of the universe to find bizarre lifeforms: they are already here and living among us. So go forth, ye citizens of Earth, and see what fantastic lives you can uncover right in your own back yard!
“Eat your carrots – they’re good for your eyes.” What mother hasn’t intoned this mantra to her children? Well, I’ve always loved carrots, and yet I’ve worn glasses since I was in third grade. Go figure. Still, carrots are good for you, and, even more importantly, they are easy to grow in the Adirondacks! One of the things that makes the Adirondacks (or at least a good chunk of the region) ideal for carrots is the loose sandy soil. Root veggies need loose soil so they can grow big roots. If you suffer from heavy clay soil, you will have a tougher time growing things like carrots and beets, but with plenty of soil ammendments, you can still make a go of it. Afterall, my parents’ garden had terrible clay soil, it made weeding a misery, and yet we grew plenty of carrots and beets every year.
When it comes to picking out what carrots to grow, it can be difficult to choose. I tend towards heirloom varieties, partly because they have neat names, partly because they have some unusual colors, and partly because I like to support the folks who are protecting our seed diversity. I don’t particularly like the idea of one or two companies owning the patents on produce and making it illegal for folks to gather their own seeds from these plants. But that’s another story. This year I have Scarlet Nantes, Red Cored Chantenay, and St. Valery among my carrot selections.
Now comes the “hard” part: planting the seeds. Carrot seeds are tiny. Carrot seeds are light-weight. Planting on a windy day can be a disaster. They say to plant your carrots in rows two inches deep. This is difficult to do if you aren’t planting in rows. I mix my carrots with my onions – onions supposedly keep carrot pests at bay – but this means that I’m not planting in rows. So, I end up scattering my seeds on top of the soil and then raking the soil over the top. The trick then is to keep my shallowly-planted seeds wet enough to germinate.
Once they sprout (which takes a while), I discover that my scattering technique needs work. Vast areas are carrotless, while small patches are thick as turf. This leads to the next chore with carrots: thinning them out. I have always hated thinning my veg – it seems like I am wasting food! However, if you don’t thin, then you end up with runty carrots. Runty carrots are difficult to peel, although they make great snacks for the dog.
So I’ve come up with an alternate solution to thinning: transplanting. I tried this last year with some success, so I figure I’ll give it a go again this year. The goal is to take those thick clumps of carrots and spread them out into the Spartan spots; carrot seedlings are so much easier to handle than those weeny carrot seeds. All I have to do is gently remove the clumps, separate them into individual plants, and carefully stick them back into the ground, doing as little damage as possible to the root.
It’s worth the extra time and effort, however, when late summer and fall roll around and the time has come for the carrot harvest. They say that the later you harvest your carrots the sweeter they will be. Some even suggest you leave your carrots in the ground all winter, digging them as you need them. These pundits obviously don’t live in the snowbelt like we do. Dig them in winter? With what, a jackhammer? Nope, I’ll dig mine before the snow flies, thank you.
The final decision is what to do with your carrot crop. My family always froze our veg, so that’s the route I usually take. Still, I do like the idea of fresh raw carrots in January and February, and with a little planning, you can store your carrots all winter to use as needed. All you need is a deep container of damp sand. You fill your container partway with the sand and then lay down a layer of carrots. Cover with sand. Add more carrots. Continue until container is full. When you want a fresh carrot or six, you simply dig them out of the sand.
OH, and you’ll need a cool place to store your container(s), like a root cellar. I don’t have one of those, so I will stick to freezing my carrots.
The Adirondack Farmers’ Market Cooperative (AFMC) is expanding with a new market for summer ’09 in Tupper Lake. Beginning June 25, The Wild Center will host a weekly Farmers Market where you can meet farmers and purchase local food grown in the Adirondack region. Market days will be held under a tent every Thursday from 11 am to 3 pm. The market is free and open to the public; museum admission is not required for market related events. The market grows out of an initiative piloted by The Wild Center and the AFMC last summer, which featured several market days throughout the season. Positive responses by attendees encouraged both organizations to move forward with plans for a weekly market this season. Shoppers found a variety of products – from honey, herbs and veggies, to baked goods, prepared foods and meats – and the opportunity to talk with local farmers about farming in the Adirondacks.
Special activities and attractions are being planned for Opening Day June 25. Herbalist Jane Desotelle will lead a Wild Edibles walk at 1 pm. Addison Bickford and Steve Langdon will play blues and old timey music 11:30 – 2. Local food will be available for sale from the grill, and hands-on children’s activities will be available at a kid’s craft table.
More stories from the Adirondack Almanack about Adirondack food can be found here.
Last year it seems my yard was the staging ground for every potato beetle in Newcomb. No other gardeners I’ve spoken with seem to have had any, yet my potatoes were covered and defoliated faster than my patrols could keep up. This spring I resolved that I would not fall victim to these insects. I ordered an organic-certified insecticide, and read that by planting my ‘taters later (say, mid-June), I could avoid an infestation.
Well, I went out in the garden the other day (after planting my potatoes…I just couldn’t wait another week), and found a Colorado Potato Beetle on a potato plant that had just emerged, a sprout from an overlooked potato from 2008. I crushed it beneath my boot. Then I found another…and another. A couple days ago I went back out and found that not only did I have adult beetles grazing on these resurrected plants (they are sprouting up all over the place – I must work on my potato digging skills), but they were mating and laying eggs. I smooshed several clusters of the brilliant orange eggs before I went inside and mixed up a batch of spray. Thus armed, I commenced my attack. Then it rained. » Continue Reading.
Most of us are familiar with monarch butterflies, those stunning Hallowe’en-colored insects that make phenomenal migration flights from the northern parts of North American to the hidden forests in Mexico. But if you mention painted ladies, people are more likely to think of old Victorian houses with bright new paint jobs, or women with questionable reputations, than they are butterflies. Likewise, thanks to ads for a popular sleeping remedy, luna moths are easily recognized by much of the American population, while Isabella moths remain mostly unknown (woolly bear caterpillars turn into Isabella moths). » Continue Reading.
Spring arrives and the garden beckons. The urge to plant seeds and pick flowers is strong. But first, the chores must be done, and the big garden chore that looms over all is preparing the soil for planting.
We open the shed and stare at the tiller (or we go to the garden store and stare at the tillers). Lugging the machine out into the yard we check for fuel, check for oil, push the lever to choke and yank on the chord. If we are lucky, it fires up with only a pull or two. If not, well, we stand back, glare at the machine, pull the chord some more, kick the infernal machine, push some levers back and forth, pull the chord, flood the engine, and lug the thing back into the shed.
There must be a better way. That was me last weekend. I had one bed that I really wanted to till up, but for the first time in three years I couldn’t get the tiller started. Not being mechanically inclined, I returned the tiller to the shed and grabbed my broadfork instead.
I discovered the broadfork three years ago, about the time I was really getting into my veg gardens. All the flower beds around my house I had dug by hand, and doing the same with the veg gardens was daunting, so I bought a tiller. After running/bouncing it over the lawn a few times, I still had to dig by hand to remove all the rocks and weeds and clumps of grass. What had been the advantage of getting this $300 machine that now stood idle in the shed?
I read through some of my gardening books and came across the broadfork in a book about Biointensive gardening. This method espouses double digging, in which the gardener starts at one end of a garden, digs down with a shovel one shovel length, puts that soil in a container, and digs down another level to just loosen the soil. This can be done with the broadfork – a tool that breaks up and loosens the soil without disrupting the soil’s structure (more on this in a moment). This tool looks exactly like its name: a fork that is rather wide. It has 6-8 tines attached to a horizontal bar, with handles emerging upright from the ends of the bar. One thrusts the tines into the ground, steps on the bar, and then grabs the handles, levering the tines through the soil. It’s a primitive thing, but it works great! You then back up and start the next row of digging. The first layer’s soil goes into the trough you just dug, on top of the broadforked soil. The second layer is now forked. This continues until you reach the end of your bed. After you broadfork the last layer, the soil you removed from the first row is placed on top – the loop is closed, the system complete.
Over the years, my garden reading has come across many justifications for not tilling the soil. I first learned of no-till agriculture in a conservation class I took many years ago in college. We were reading about the Dust Bowl and how the advent of no-till farming helped cut down on soil erosion. In today’s gardening world, however, the idea of no tilling has more to do with “being green” – not polluting the air with gasoline fumes, cutting down on our carbon footprints. But it’s more than that – it’s also about preserving the vitality of the very soil itself.
As soil develops, layers are built; this is the soil’s structure. But the structure is more than mineral and organic layers; it is also the layers of living things: the worms, the beetles, the fungi, the bacteria. All these things work in concert to create a healthy environment in which plants can grow. When we run through this carefully balanced system with our rototillers, we mix everything up, disrupting the health and balance. Can your plants still grow in it? Of course, but the soil’s vitality has been reduced. By using the double digging method we preserve the soil’s structure. We are essentially fluffing up the soil without turning it on its head.
So I took my broadfork to this final garden and applied it. I was anticipating a struggle with hard-packed soil, but to my pleasant surprise the soil loosened up with hardly any effort at all. Maybe this is because last year the bed was built without any tilling: I layered tons of newspapers on the lawn and covered them with compost and manure. I was expecting the soil this year to be hard – that preparing the bed would have me digging down through the hard lawn under the papers (hence my initial attempt at using the tiller). As it turned out, the layers had successfully (for once) smothered the lawn underneath and all was cool, moist and soft – the easiest veg bed I have ever prepared.
Last summer I grew some amazing sunflowers – they must’ve reached ten or more feet in height and over a foot across the blossom! I also grew some smaller sunflowers, in all shades from a chocolaty red to a brilliant yellow. My sunflower bed became one of my favorite gardens, especially last fall when the chickadees came to steal the seeds (afterall, I planted the flowers to provide food for the birds). Then I discovered The Great Sunflower Project (http://www.greatsunflower.org). This outfit’s goal is to sign up folks around the country to plant sunflowers and monitor them for bee activity. It’s kind of like the Lost Ladybug Project I wrote about earlier, except this time it’s bees that are in the spotlight. (The photo is from their website, by the way, taken by Ginny Stibolt.)
Most of us have heard about the crashing honeybee populations, better known as Colony Collapse. There are many theories out there as to why it’s happening, but I don’t think anyone has nailed down THE reason yet. Honeybees, however, are non-native insects, brought over to this part of the world for their honey-making skills and pollination efforts. That said, North America is home to many native bees (over 4,500 species of bees, according to the Great Sunflower Project’s website), most of which are important pollinators in their own right.
But even many our native bees are having some difficulty surviving these days. One reason, according to the website http://nature.berkely.edu/urbanbeegardens, is how we are gardening. The latest gardening fad is mulching, either with natural materials like wood chips or with synthetics like plastic or landscaping cloth. Mulching is touted for its weed-suppressing, water-conserving qualities, something every gardener appreciates. These ground covers, however, make it nearly impossible for ground nesting bees to find ground in which to nest. And in urban areas, which already have a surplus of impenetrable ground, thanks to roads, driveways, parking lots, lawns, etc., this can spell doom for some species of bees.
So, the Great Sunflower Project is recruiting gardeners, students, teachers and general nature nuts like me to survey our gardens for bees. If you sign up early enough, they send you a free packet of seeds (this year it was Lemon Queen Sunflower seeds). It’s too late now for the freebie seeds, but you can find Lemon Queens at many seed shops or catalogues. You plant your seeds, they grow and bloom, and then you watch for bees, timing how long it takes for five bees to show up at your plant(s). You send your data to them and that’s about it. But they aren’t looking for just any ol’ bee. Specifically, the sunflower folks want to know about bumble bees, carpenter bees, honey bees and green metallic bees. A quick buzz through their website will provide you with ID info for these species – it doesn’t get much easier than this!
Perhaps you don’t have sunflowers, or maybe you aren’t a sunflower fan. Not to worry – you can also monitor bee balm (if you need some, see me – I have a surplus of the stuff), cosmos (great companion plant for your veg garden, by the way, because it attracts these important pollinators), rosemary, tickseed and purple coneflower.
Maybe you are hesitant because you are afraid of getting stung. Did you know that bees are really quite shy and mostly are just too busy going about their own business to worry about you? About the only time most bees “attack” is if their nests are threatened (and by the by, male bees lack stingers). So if you are just puttering around your garden, taking notes on bees, they will happily ignore you and continue collecting pollen, sipping nectar, or looking for mates.
Need more reasons to participate? The Urban Bee Garden website has some great tips for bee watching, including interesting bee behaviors you can witness. For example, some male bees actually sleep overnight inside flowers; if you get up early enough you can catch them snoozing in their blossom bowers. Other males are very territorial, protecting “their” flowers from other males. In truth, they are on the lookout for females and spend most of their time driving away potential rivals.
This weekend I will probably plant my sunflower seeds and brace myself for the influx of bees. I’ve already noticed bees of many stripes about my gardens, some at the flowering shrubs, others hovering over bare ground, no doubt testing its potential for a nest site. I know that my yard is a great bee haven, thanks to the many flowering companion plants I scatter among the veg, but also thanks to my lax gardening standards: mulch is spotty at best these days. Watching the flowers for specific bees will give me just one more excuse to stay outside and learn something new about my fellow earthlings; the vacuuming and dishes will have to wait for another day.
One of my favorite things to do during the summer is go to farmers’ markets. I’m especially connected with the one held on Wednesdays at LPCA in Lake Placid (between 11 am and 1 pm). I see so many people I really enjoy – visitors and vendors alike. You can listen to live music while shopping for veggies, flowers, plants, meats, cheese, smoothies, coffee and beautiful crafts. There are so many farmers markets in the park that I’m going to defer to Adirondack Harvest which gives details and times for all of them. Another won’t miss for me is the 2nd annual Irish Festival to be held at the Olympic Jumping Complex in Lake Placid. Shane O’Neil and John Joe Reilly are the founders and they have so much energy and love for the traditions in Irish culture that I’m sure with each year the event will grow. Great music provided by internationally known piper Micheal Cooney who, by the way, happens to live locally and Pat Egan, one of my favorite guitarists. Many other musicians and dancers will be contributing to the continuous sound. I even heard a rumor that The Dust Bunnies will be there – they’d better learn an Irish tune or two. The music combined with games (like tug of war and tossing a bale), good food and beer all make for an enjoyable two-day event. A perfect way to celebrate the end of summer.
A new for me event I’m very excited about is Childstock on July 18th in Malone, NY. This is a rain or shine grassroots festival started by two guys talkin’ over a beer – one had a band, the other land. Now in it’s fourth year Childstock has grown. There will be live music from 1 pm until at least 11 pm. The first half of the day is acoustic, including Eddy and Kim Lawrence, then electric, including headliner Raisonhead, to take you into the night.
With free camping, local food vender Shawn Glazier on the premises, a safe site (there will be underage wristbands given out as ID’s are checked) and coolers and grills allowed, there is everything you need to have a phenomenal Saturday.
Started by founders Ralph Child and Micheal Lamitie, Childstock is named for the farm that hosts the event. It’s located off of Route 30 as you head into Malone from the south. You turn onto Cosgrove Road (at Carla’s Greenery and there will be a sign) follow it to the end and make a right onto Child Road just for a moment before turning left onto Royce Road – parking will be on your left.
Here’s the acoustic line up though not necessarily in this order. There are a few acts from Malone: Liz Hathaway, a folk singer who does all of her own originals, Nick Poupore, a high school student who is reminiscent of Neil Young and Micheal Lamitie and Micheal Werhrich calling themselves Tadd Ruff, Saul Good and The Lou Daques, this band performs folk rock covers and originals. Eddy and Kim Lawrence from Moira and Mike Shepherd from Lake Placid.
Electric rock to keep you dancing into the night: Headliner Raisonhead is doing two full sets with these local acts in between, From Malone; Save The Humans and The Nebulons .
Families are asked to donate $25, individuals $10 and children under 12 are free. There is plenty of parking and there is a large tent and canopies if it rains.
Picture a vegetable garden full of bright flowers and variable foliage. Instead of a giant garden with straight rows of vegetables, you have many smaller beds, each a jumble of vegetables, herbs and flowers. A waste of space? Not at all! It turns out that vegetable gardens that exult in variety are inclined to be the most productive. Companion planting, folks – that’s the name of the game. A classic book in the lexicon of gardeners is Carrots Love Tomatoes. Since this book came out, however, many others have joined the bookshelf, and one of my favorites is Great Garden Companions by Sally Jean Cunningham. This book has almost become my garden bible because it is not only chocked full of great gardening advice, but it is immensely readable!
The key to a successful garden really is variety. You want to avoid the monoculture. When you plant expanses of just one type of plant (be it trees, flowers, or vegetables), you increase the odds that some disease or insect pest will find it and destroy it. If, on the other hand, you mix things up, garden survival rates soar!
But you don’t just want to chuck plants/seeds haphazardly into your garden; you need to follow a plan, you need to mix and match appropriately. For example, carrots and onions/chives are great companions. Carrots can be susceptible to carrot rust flies and onions/chives deter them. Onions are great for companions for many plants, actually, because of their pest-repellent qualities. Carrots also like caraway/coriander, calendulas and chamomile.
Beans and potatoes – these are a classic combo because the beans will help deter Colorado potato beetles. Here’s my two cents worth on this: bush beans yes, pole beans no. Make sure you use the right beans! Beets and onions are another good pair – alternate these root vegetables in your garden plots (I’ll discuss garden plots vs garden rows in another post). Your cabbage family plants (like broccoli) do well with aster family plants (like zinnias, dill and marigolds). Growing corn? Then you might want to try the traditional corn-beans-squash trio that many of our native people used (and still use). Plant your greens among your garlic, or under your cucumbers, or under broccoli and cauliflower, where the leaves will shade the tender greens from the harsh summer sun. Tomatoes do well with basil and peppers – all your pizza ingredients in one bed!
Nasturtiums, cosmos, calendulas and marigolds all feature prominantly in my veg garden – they provide wonderful spots of color, but also attract pollinators and other beneficial insects. Buckwheat is another great attractant for pollinators, and it’s also a great green manure when turned into the soil.
So break away from the boring vegetable garden. Turn it instead into a riot of color and textures. Mix and match your herbs and flowers and vegetables, and then see if your produce doesn’t do better for the effort.
Laurie Davis, Adirondack Harvest Coordinator, has announced a new opportunity to market local farm and forest products. Dave and Cynthia Johnston, owners of DaCy Meadow Farm on Route 9N in Westport, are opening a farm stand exclusively featuring Adirondack Harvest products. For a small fee ($5 for 2009) they are willing to sell your products at their stand with no markup and no profit to themselves; participants will receive full retail price for their product. According to Davis “their goal is to support Adirondack Harvest and our members while providing a beautiful farm stand for local folks and tourists.” The stand also includes an agricultural art gallery and hosts special events. They are situated along Route 9N – a very busy road near Lake Champlain. For more information contact Dave Johnston at 518-962-2350 or email via at email@example.com. While we’re at it, check out the new website developed by the North Country Regional Foods Initiative – www.nnyregionallocalfoods.org – which provides information on how to find regional foods and resources to help communities support and expand local food marketplaces.
The new website includes links to online tools designed to connect producers and consumers, research-based publications about North Country local foods, a calendar of local food events, and links to ongoing local foods work in the North Country.
The forecast says the low temperature tonight in Saranac Lake will be 22 degrees. The apple tree we share with a neighbor decided to bloom yesterday. What to do?
Since the tree has thrived at an elevation of about 2,000 feet for longer than anyone living in this neighborhood can remember, it must be a pretty cold-hardy variety. But a deep freeze at blossom time really threatens to thin the crop. So we called Bob Rulf, who owns Rulf’s Orchards, in Peru. He said it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to light charcoal in a couple of grills beneath the tree (this is a pretty big tree) and keep the smoke rising. Between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m. is the coldest part of the night, Rulf said. The temperature is only supposed to get down to about 29 degrees in Peru, the more-temperate apple basket of the Adirondacks. Cornell Cooperative Extension advises that when an apple blossom is tight and in the pink it can stand 30 degrees F for an hour; when it’s wide-open white it can stand 28 degrees for an hour, which seems counterintuitive, Rulf said.
His orchard is not equipped with wind machines or any large-scale equipment for dealing with frosts, so he’ll take his chances with the apples. However Rulf does plan to tow a furnace around the strawberry patch tonight with helpers riding along to blow hot air on that crop.
Believe it or not, some of your vegetables will benefit from the application of an innoculant. We’re not talking vine flu here, or spinach pox, but the addition of a few beneficial bacteria to give your veg an extra boost. And not just any veg: legumes.
Legumes are those vegetables that have nitrogen-fixing nodules on their roots, which enable them to access naturally occurring nitrogen much more readily than plants that don’t have them. Your basic legumes are peas, beans, peanuts, and fava beans. And with the probable exception of the peanuts, all can be grown here in the North Country. The bacteria in question is Rhizobia. It is a naturally occurring bacterium, but apparently it isn’t terribly active. In order for it to be of tremendous benefit to your plants, you need lots of it! This is where the innoculant comes in. Innoculant can be ordered from almost any seed catalogue. It does have an expiration date, so you should check to be sure that what you purchase is good for the year you want to use it. I bought some last year but never used it. I found it in a drawer of my fridge this spring and decided to see if it was still viable. I’ll let you know.
So, you get this little packet of Rhizobia (millions and millions of them in one tiny packet). How you apply it is up to you. You can shake it onto your seeds after you plant them, you can shake your seeds in a bag with it, or you can mix it up as a slurry and soak your seeds in it. I did the latter: 4.5 oz water and the bacteria. It was like mixing up mushroom spoors in water: a very fine black powder. If you go the water route, you must be sure to not let it dry out – use within 24 hours. Don’t let the wind dry your seeds, either. If the innoculant dries, the bacteria are dead.
The only real downside that I discovered in doing the slurry method is that my fingers and hand ended up coated with the black slurry of bacteria as well. Hm – I wonder if I’ll absorb more nitrogen this summer as well.
Do you have to use innoculant? Of course not. I never have before now, my parents never did, and I doubt my grandparents did either. But sources claim that you can have up to 77% more peas/beans/peanuts if you do use it! Hm. I picked an awful lot of peas last year. I planted even more this year, and I used the innoculant. I may be overrun with peas. Wouldn’t that be a shame?
At MFO training, agro-forestry expert Bob Beyfuss talked about income opportunities for forest owners that don’t include logging. Here are a few things folks can do according to Bob:
Recreation: hunting leases, cabins, and cottages for various seasons. Take a look at www.aplacetohunt.net and www.woodlandowners.org. Silvapasture is leasing for grazing or browsing. Although now somewhat limited for elk and deer due to Chronic Wasting Disease and it’s not for sheep or cattle (they cause too much forest damage), there are opportunities for goats. Goats love burdock, beech, and especially poison ivy. They still may need to be fed if they are grazing in strictly forested lands.
Maple syrup production – I’ve already covered that here.
Ginseng, goldenseal, bloodroot, black cohosh, ramp/wild leeks, and fiddleheads are just a few of the botanicals that can be managed on forest lands for profit. Contrary to popular belief, while nothing can be taken from state land, only ginseng and goldenseal are regulated on private land. Old ginseng can sell for $1,700 a pound. Other opportunities include native ornamental plants like foam flower, maidenhead fern, and a lot more. In 1900, there were 5,000 ginseng farms in New York State and New York was the leading producer.
Mushrooms: chanterelles and morelles can be gathered, but oysters and shitakes can be grown at home (shitakes can bring $16 a pound).
This spring has many of us North Country gardeners in a quandary: do I put in my peas yet or not? The rule of thumb here in Newcomb is not to plant before Memorial Day Weekend, but this year the weather has been so balmy so early that we are itching to get those early veggies started. Seed packets come with instructions like “Plant after all danger of frost has passed,” or “Plant as soon as the ground can be worked.” The latter applies to peas. And with the scorching weather at the end of April, it was really really hard NOT to plant – I had to keep telling myself, “It’s still April.” And even though peas and spinach are cool weather plants, killer frosts and even snow are not out of the question.
I ran into a neighbor that last weekend in April and we immediately started talking peas. He said that if he could get his tiller going that day, he’d plant his; I heard the tiller rumbling the rest of the morning. And I hear that the doctor over in Long Lake put his peas in, too. I decided to spend the day prepping my veg beds instead, getting ALL of them ready for planting a little later in the season.
Last Sunday, as the weeding continued, I uncovered a whole bowlful of leftover potatoes in one of the beds! Mmmm – fresh potatoes in May! I even have undug onions and last year’s leeks resprouting! We’ll see if they grow into edible bulbs.
Meanwhile, every day the tomatoes are getting a bit taller in the kitchen, and the squashes I started are, eh, doing so-so (I was a bit over-anxious and started them a wee bit too soon). The flower seeds I started a week or so ago are sprouting now, too.
So, we wait and practice patience. Still, there is something appealing in being able to plant the garden BEFORE the blackflies come out!
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