Tag Archive for gardens

The Wind Down

The end of the 2018 growing season is upon us here in Maine. The gardens are slowly growing empty. I removed the rest of the tomatoes at the beginning of September. The potatoes have been pulled, the cucumbers have slowed to a crawl, and the peppers and beans are beginning the dwindle down. Next will be the rush of buttoning up the gardens for winter, mulching down the beds to keep the more delicate perennials happy, planting garlic, and canning the last fruits of the season, predominately apples.

This time of year always reminds me of an old pocket watch, the type you have to wind in order for it to keep time. As the kinetic energy slowly slips from the movements, the hands slow down and time begins to feel like its moving at the pace of molasses. It’s a slow, steady, and sometimes boring pace, dragging you through the happiest moments until even they start to become dull due to simply overstaying their welcome. Inevitably, you wind the clock back up because things have gotten too slow, only to be shocked as suddenly the opposite emerges. Time feels like it’s flying by, faster than it ever has! The winds are blowing crisper than before, the leaves are piling up by the minute on the ground, frosts come in consecutive nights and then don’t leave at all, and the next thing we all know, the first blizzard is pounding at the door, demanding to share in the comfort of our home.

Yes, this is the slow time. The time to indulge and try to remember that in mere days, if we’re lucky, we’ll be back to the break-neck speed so many of us homesteaders have learned to love. 

The Bluebarb Patch

Roughly three years ago we used the money we got from selling an old chicken coop to pick up five blueberry plants. I planted them in a horseshoe around the antenna and planted rhubarb between them. The flower bed beneath the antenna is home to daylilies, tulips, and chive, making the little area a cute spot to sit and enjoy. Unfortunately the chickens have stripped the plants of foliage and mulch every year.

I’ve had it. I demand blueberries from my plants. This year we’ve decided to put up a temporary fence. The green garden fencing is new, but the posts are reused from another garden bed, one which will be seeing new fencing this year.

All the plants – rhubarb and blueberries alike – were treated with 3-4″ of aged chicken compost. The blueberries also recieved about 4-6″ of pine mulch. I’m hoping, between the mulching and fencing, we’ll finally see something from our bushes. There’s still some cleaning up to do, and I doubt the little flower bed will get much attention this year, but it’s a start!

The kicker is that I’ll have a poop-free spot to sut abd read this summer.

The “Cheerio Seeds” Scandal

PlantViewI’m sure most of you have seen that General Mills has been giving out free wild flower seeds in order to help save the bees. The long and the short of the issue is this: Handing out free seeds doesn’t make up for the refusal to stop using the chemicals that are killing bees in the first place.

Let’s back up and look at what glyphosate is. Otherwise known as RoundUp, glyphosate is an herbicide created by a Monsanto chemist John E. Franz in 1970 and was marked in 1974. Glyphosate is such a strong herbicide that it was also harming crops. This stemmed the research and funding for genetically modified plants that could tolerate the chemical in order for farmers to spread massive amounts of the toxin on their crops, killing weeds and not harming the crops at the same time. Eventually bio-engineers began designing “RoundUp Ready” crops which are now used extensively in the US and in a few other countries.

The severe drenching of fields with glyphosate and the engineering of glyphosate into crops has not been studied in full, but the amount of glyphosate “leeching” into honey is alarming, especially given that glyphosate itself has yet to be cleared of possibly be a carcinogen.  The EPA is currently researching this risk, but results won’t be available until sometimes this spring, at the earliest. Coincidentally (or not so), studies have also shown that glyphosate has drastically impacted bees’ memory abilities, hampering the ability to find food and return to the hive, and their appetite, leaving them starving while producing low amounts of honey and with no drive to collect pollen, which in turn means low pollination levels and poor crop yields.

(None of this post takes into account the other environmental impacts of glyphosate of the potential cancer risk, but we’re sticking to the topic of Cheerios and bees here.)

Cheerios has tested higher for glyphosate (RoundUp) than any recently tested food article, with levels over 1,100 parts per billion. Which means that the fields in which the wheat is grown for the cereal is drenched in the chemical. (The oats themselves do not contain glyphosate as there are currently no RoundUp Ready oats. However, General Mills does still produce other cereals with RoundUp Ready wheat.)

So what does the Cheerios branch of General Mills do? They launch a feel-good campaign, which is timed right in parallel with unsealed documents that have been discovered and which raise the question as to whether glyphosate is safe for use. Cheerios decides to give out packages of free wild flower seeds that consumers can plant to help the bee population. There are a few problems with these seeds:

1. The seeds are not marked as non-GMO/organic, which means there is a very good chance that they also contain glyphosate. Planting poison not marked as poison is still poison.

2. Seeds listed in the package are considered invasive in certain areas. The company’s response to this essentially equated to, “There’s still pollen, and that’s what the bees need.” Introducing invasive species only presents other problems. Please check the label carefully to make sure you’re not causing more harm! (For example, Forget-me-nots and California poppies – both in the mixture – are very invasive weeds in certain growing zones.

3. These seeds are not a promise from the company to end the usage of glyphosate. Anyone who has taken Advertising 101 or a comparable course can tell you that this is a “feel-good” campaign in order to raise customer satisfaction and to distract from the new information surrounding the weed killer General Mills uses on the grains that eventually become their cereal, which we in turn feed to our families.

If you would like to plant flowers for the bees, by all means, do so!

Fantastic lists of native plants to grow that will help increase pollination and bee populations can be found at The Xerces Society. Make sure that the seeds you are buying are from a reputable dealer who does not sell GMO seeds, or if they do, make sure it is from a seed company that clearly labels what seeds are GMO and are non-GMO. One great example of a company practising such transparency is FedCo Seeds here in Maine. Everything is clearly labelled in their catalogue and online.

Buy from local seed dealers who will know what will grow well in your area.

Aim for native plants if you are planting only wild flowers.

Grow non-GMO, organic crops if you are gardening.

Do good, but don’t by into the “feel-good” of a company trying to undermine you.

Spring begins…

 

Yesterday was Imbolc. I count Imbolc as the beginning of Spring, as do many pagan and heathen traditions. It’s the beginning of planting season for many, as we prep and start the seedlings and dreams will become this season’s gardens. It’s a time to fight back the cold of February by tending the fragile new life growing on your windowsill. 

What will you be starting in the garden? For projects? For personal growth? 

Gardens Continued: Companion Planting

Companion planting is a very natural concept. If you look out in the wild, you never see one form of plant by its lonesome. Daisies, black-eyed Susans, clover, and buttercups amongst others interweave into these communities of flowers. Maples, ash, willow, and pine mingle through the woods, rarely sanding aloof from one another. The plants that you do see by themselves look alone, deprived, and normally have a harder go at it than those mixed into a society of flora and fauna. Companion planting takes this idea that plants should not be segregated from one another and works towards growing plants with one another in a helpful, semi-self-sustainable type of gardening.

We’ve used companion planting – to a different degree each year – in all of our gardens. Sometimes companion planting works out well, other times, not so much. For example, it’s been a few years, but we did try a three Sister’s Garden of pumpkins, corn, and beans together. We didn’t have much luck that time, but I’m wondering if it was mostly “user error” as I didn’t look into the length of the growing season that the variety of corn I picked needed. (In Maine we have a very short growing season, so this is something to take into consideration.) I’m debating about trying the Three Sister’s Garden again this year now that I’ve had more time to reflect on what went wrong with that previous attempt.

Many people who now have gardens from our generation don’t know about the idea of companion planting simply because they grew up off from their parents and grandparents victory-style gardens that were popular starting in WWII. These gardens were functional and yet very carefully sculpted to fit the post-card time era that they were in. Companion planting went by the wayside at this time, but is now beginning to make a resurgence, specifically for those of us that have limited land space and prefer to do things without chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Below is a chart that I made for a post a few years ago talking about companion planting. It’s very basic and only includes the basic gardening selections, but it gives a great starting point for those new to the practice!

What we’re planting… What they can be companions with…
Potatoes Cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi , bush bean, carrot, celery, corn, dead nettle, flax, horseradish, marigold, peas, petunia, and onion.
Lettuce Dill, beets, broccoli, bush beans, pole beans, carrots, cucumbers, onion, radish and strawberries.* Lettuce needs to be kept away from cabbage as it will deter growth and mess with the flavor.
Peas Corn, bush beans, bole beans, carrots, celery, chicory, corn, cucumber, eggplant, parsley, early potato, radish, spinach, strawberry, sweet pepper, tomatoes and turnips.
Beans Carrots, celery, chards, corn, eggplant, peas, potatoes, brassicas, beets, radish, strawberry and cucumbers.
Corn Amaranth, beans, cucumber, white geranium, lamb’s quarters, melons, morning glory, parsley, peanuts, peas, potato, pumpkin, soybeans, squash and sunflower.
Pumpkins Corn, melon, squash, marigolds, and oregano.
Tomatoes Asparagus, basil, bean, carrots, celery, chive, cucumber, garlic, head lettuce, marigold, mint, nasturtium, onion, parsley, pea, pepper, marigold, pot marigold and sow thistle.
Jalapenos
Cucumbers Corn, peas, beets, radishes, carrots, radishes, and dill.