Archive for the Gardening Category


Posted in Cooking, Gardening with tags on November, 2013 by melendwyr

Over the weekend, I braved the cheerless cold and wind of the end of autumn to harvest some tubers.  Dahlia tubers.
Not many people realize that this cherished flower was originally bred for consumption by the pre-Columbian Mexican peoples.  It’s as though the potato were never eaten and instead grown competitively for decoration.

The primary problem with the plant is that the various animal pests infesting the local community garden have no prejudices about strange foods.  I pried about twenty pounds of tubers from the ground, stretching my supply of available carrying containers to the limit, but I had to throw away between a third and a half of the tubers because they’d been partly gnawed by voles.

They’re remarkably tasty things, like a cross between a potato and a peppery celery stalk.  I suspect that the cultivar I possess is the ‘Wisconsin Red’, known for its prolific production.  When you consider that three plants produced roughly thirty pounds of edible tuber, you can see why I’m interested in developing it further.  Alas, my clone doesn’t seem to self-fertilize no matter how many bees are about, so experimenting with cross-breeding will require growing and testing more cultivars.

Out of Season

Posted in Doom, Gardening with tags on April, 2012 by melendwyr

It’s been sunny and warm – even a bit hot, when the winds aren’t blowing.  And everywhere I go, people keep telling me to enjoy the beautiful weather.

These are the same sorts of people who think that southern California has the perfect climate – lots of sun and it ‘never rains’.  Of course, that’s because much southern California is scrubland desert naturally and is lush only because we drain several major rivers to irrigate it.

But such unseasonable conditions are a nightmare for people who care about plants.  Many home garden crops that are appropriate for this time of year can be set back, or even injured, by warm temperatures.  The adaptations that make them cold-hardy also make them vulnerable to heat.  Even worse, because we’ve had occasional frosty periods at night, the buds and blooms that confused plants are putting out too early can be blighted by unexpected cold.  And while I’ve seen some bees and other pollinating insects taking advantage, many of them just aren’t ready yet, so the pollination that is the whole purpose of flowering often isn’t taking place.

I’m told that the Washington D.C. cherry blossom festival took place on schedule this year, despite the fact that the flowering cherries blossomed early and had mostly fallen by the traditional date.

One swallow does not a summer make, and I know perfectly well that we can’t detect global climate change in one year’s unusual weather, or even an observed tendency to peculiarity over several years.  But I can’t help but wonder if this weirdness is the new, horrible normal.

Chickpea Victories

Posted in Gardening with tags , on June, 2010 by melendwyr

Over the years, I have occasionally tried to plant garbanzo beans (AKA chickpeas), but with extremely limited success. It’s not that they wouldn’t sprout – even planting material purchased from grocery stories grew vigorously, as long as it was given initial cool temperatures and sufficiently high moisture. But rabbits mostly ate the seedlings to the ground, and when the survivors set pods, they ate off the pods too. So I could never harvest enough seeds to recoup my planting requirements, much less have an excess for consumption.

I have, however, made a discovery. The standard type I planted – known in India as Kabuli – is the large, round, white chickpea with white flowers. There’s another, closely related and native to India, known as Desi – which means ‘country’ or ‘local’ in Hindi – that has notably more pigmentation in the flowers and leaves, a bitter seed coat, and a smaller, coarser texture. But the rabbits won’t eat it – not one bite. Not the seedlings, not the mature foliage, and so far not the pods.

They seem so unappealing to rabbits, groundhogs, and other plant predators that I’m giving serious consideration to using them as a repellent border in next year’s garden.

My planting stock came from an Indian grocery store, labeled as ‘kala chana’. They’re the main ingredient in chana dal, only with the seedcoat removed and split (which makes it impossible to plant them).

Aargh, Weather

Posted in Gardening on May, 2010 by melendwyr

The 90% percentile date for the last spring frost for my region is April 27th, so the actual final frosty night usually isn’t until the middle of May.

But lately the 80-90 degree Fahrenheit days everyone was getting used to have reverted back to 40-50 degree days and cold, cold nights. We had one night go down to the 20’s – the very same day that my watermelon seedlings finally sprouted.

The transition from winter to spring to summer has gotten a lot more chaotic these last few years. Last year we had a major frost June 1st, and the shifting from warm to cold weather caused a lot of perennial damage, especially among trees. I suspect we’re having the same pattern again this year.

Climate change, or just bad luck? One swallow doesn’t make a summer, but how many aphoristic avians does it take before we can draw the obvious conclusion?

Dealing with Blight

Posted in Gardening with tags on August, 2009 by melendwyr

I’ve been doing some research.

The good news is that the fungus responsible for Late Blight doesn’t overwinter well. As long as there isn’t any infected tissue kept out of the weather, all of the fungal spores will be killed by cold.

The problem: it likes to overwinter in potatoes. And people grew quite a lot of potatoes this year. If they can all be encouraged to double-check to make sure that they didn’t leave any tubers in the ground, we’ll probably be able to grow tomatoes successfully next year.

Finding all of the tubers is hard, though. And just one infected potato is enough to destroy every tomato plant in our ninety-eight plots.


Posted in Gardening on August, 2009 by melendwyr

Due to the cool and damp weather, late blight has spread like wildfire through the community garden. Every tomato plant must now be pulled up and destroyed.

This is deeply depressing.

Relative Frigidity

Posted in Gardening with tags , on August, 2009 by melendwyr

This has been an unseasonably cool and wet year here in central Pennsylvania. Unexpectedly late frosts killed many people’s attempts to plant warm-weather vegetables, low night temperatures have held back the development of our tomatoes and melons, and at a time of year when we’re normally sweltering in great discomfort the weather is clement.

Not that the last part is a problem. But it’s very unsettling.

The damp, cool air is creating perfect conditions for late blight to spread throughout the community garden’s crops of tomatoes and potatoes. Plus, it’s encouraging the spread of mildew which is crippling my cymling squash and making my lavender bergamot rather unsightly.

The garden is still beautiful, though.

Timing is… Everything

Posted in Gardening with tags , , on July, 2009 by melendwyr

My aerial radishes have proven very popular. And prolific – now I wish I hadn’t planted so many seeds in such a small space, as the plants are falling over under the weight of their burden and covering adjoining sections of garden. I originally thought most of the seeds would die, just as most of the other seeds I planted early in the year did, and so was totally unprepared for the eventual abundance.

The key to successful harvest seems to be picking the seedpods before they begin to ripen. At first spicy and juicy like a cross between a succulent green bean and a mustardy jalapeno pepper, the pods turn woody and stringy as they mature.

At least I’ll have plenty of seed to offer the other gardeners for next year – there are at least several hundred pods that have gone past the edibility stage. I’m not sure whether I should refer to them as Rat-Tailed or Aerial radishes, though. Despite the resemblance, people seem put off by eating something called ‘rat’s tails’.

My Ancient Enemy

Posted in Gardening on June, 2009 by melendwyr

The leeks and tuber-rooted parsley I planted months ago have finally sprouted.

Now, the only problem is my ancient enemy: the slugs. The slugs.

Scattering pine and spruce needles has helped so far, but that will acidify the soil until they break down completely, and that could take years. Crushed eggshells are also an effective slug deterrent and also raises soil pH, but getting enough of them will be hard.

The best organic solution would be shallow bowls or saucers of beer. The yeast in the beer attracts slugs, and the alcohol poisons them. Obstacle: as the garden is on university property, we’re obligated to follow university rules, which includes a prohibition of alcoholic beverages. The intention was to prevent students from drinking, of course, not slugs.

I’ll have to see if there’s an exception for pest control.

Successful Foraging

Posted in Gardening on June, 2009 by melendwyr

A quick trip through the local nature preserve has some exciting results!

I’ve suspected for some time that asparagus grows wild throughout, but as much of the preserve isn’t easily accessible on foot (read: the paths don’t permit access to every square meter), I’ve been unable to confirm this.

Now passing by the garage in which the maintenance equipment is stored, I find a single stalk of asparagus, surrounded by half-a-dozen mown down stalks. I guess they thought they were a weed until it was mostly too late. I got some free stalks out of the deal, though, far later than asparagus is normally available. The bottoms are getting woody, and it would have been better to let the stalks grow to replenish the roots, but as they were already cut I might as well get some benefit out of it.

Another cluster of mystery garlic grows by a fence next to a pasture nearby. I’ll bet the herbicides sprayed to kill weeds hasn’t and won’t affect it much – and I can probably dig it up once the foliage starts to wither at the end of summer.

I’ve learned to identify ground ivy, and am considering trying an infusion – its scent reminds me of a darker and heavier sage smell, and the plant is supposedly rich in Vitamin C.

Oh, and I gathered a lot of dandelion greens. I need more leafy greens in my diet, I think. I just have to watch out for Vitamin A poisoning.