Mary’s gardening columns were originally published in the Roane County (WV) Reporter and Times Record. Support local journalism! Subscribe to your local newspaper. Note: Mary’s column is still being published weekly in 2023 – we hope to have all 150 or so columns posted here by the end of 2023.
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What to Plant Now
If your garden is ready, there are a few things you can plant now: spinach, peas, lettuce and radishes. Also, garlic if you didn’t get that in last fall. Now is when it pays off to have raised beds, as they dry out earlier and can be worked earlier than flat ground.
I garden organically. What does that mean? First of all, let me clarify that the USDA has created a seal which farms can use on their produce if they are certified and inspected, adhering to a long list of practices; this is expensive and time-consuming and many farmers don’t bother with it even if they choose to grow organically.
Permaculture is an approach to gardening, farm layout—and life—started by two Australians, David Holmgren and Bill Mollison. There is at least one book on permaculture in the Spencer library, so you can delve deeper into these ideas; here I’m just going to give you a first taste of what it’s about.
Starting Your Garden Indoors
If you have a greenhouse, a cold frame, or even a sunny windowsill, you can start your own vegetable plants in late winter and early spring, ready to transplant into the garden in April or May.
My whole purpose with this column has been to persuade you to grow some of your food, and assist you in doing so. Nonetheless, this week, just once, I’m going to step away from the garden and into…the flowerbed.
Caring for Fruit Trees
I’m doing this column now because one of the key tasks in the orchard is pruning, and I do most of that in February. For most plants, this is the best time—after the worst of winter is over but before the plants break dormancy. Some ornamental trees, shrubs and vines benefit from pruning as well.
Smut in the Garden
There is a fungus that attacks corn, called corn smut, which erupts from an ear or stalk as a solid gob in dark grey and white. I saw it once in my garden, years ago. But this column is not about that fungus. It’s about plant sex.
Maple syrup may not be produced in a garden, but it is food you can produce on your homestead…as long as you have some maple trees. Ideally this means sugar maple trees; red maples and silver maples do produce sweet sap but it has a lot less sugar in it than sugar maples have.
Using Your Produce—Celery and Onions
Maybe you still have celery in your vegetable bin, and onions in net bags or hanging braids. How to use these lovely paragons of homegrown nutrition? First I’ll mention a couple of things I’ve recently read about onions.
Using Your Produce—Carrots and Parsnips
Another column on using your harvest; this time we’ll talk about carrots and the similar parsnips. First, the parsnips; these are like paler, yellow carrots but can get much bigger. Typically, you plant them in the spring, ignore them all summer, and you can harvest them in the fall but people usually leave them in the ground because they get sweeter after a frost, and will keep till spring.
Using Your Harvest—Sweet Potatoes and Winter Squash
Last week I talked about ways to use potatoes, an excellent storage crop. This week we’ll get into a couple of other good keepers—sweet potatoes and winter squash. I don’t think these are closely related—one’s a fruit and the other a root crop, or tubers to be precise—but both are cucurbits, vine plants.
Using Your Produce—Potatoes
Now that we’re into winter, and having already discussed ordering seeds for next year, there isn’t too much to talk about involving gardens… except how to use the produce you hopefully have stashed in your pantry, root cellar or garage, freezer or fridge.
Deciding What to Grow
What do you plan to grow in next year’s garden? If you ordered from catalogs this year, you should be starting to get 2021 catalogs in the mail now. If you didn’t, you can ask, and any company you’re interested in will send you a free catalog.
As we move into late fall, and soon, early winter—I see snow in the forecast!—there isn’t much to do in the garden. But that makes it a good time to curl up in a cozy chair with some seed catalogs, dreaming of next year’s garden.
A guest column by my neighbor, Master Gardener Robin Wilson. Honoring, building and protecting our soil brings us healthy vegetables, lessens floods and droughts and protects against erosion. Our best teachers in soil care are our woodlands.
Gratitude in the Garden
This is a time when we think about giving thanks for our blessings, a wholesome thing to do whether or not you see it in a religious light. When I worked at Westbrook years ago, two of their psychologists gave a talk in which they discussed the healing power of gratitude, especially for depression. I guess it amounts to focusing on what’s good in your life rather than what’s wrong…
Threshing and Winnowing
This week we’re going to look at some crops in which the edible part of the plant is the seed. Sometimes it’s a challenge to get the seed out of the pod or husk; methods people have come up with to accomplish this on a small farm scale are called threshing and winnowing.
Shopping for Seeds
Soon the seed catalogs will be arriving in your mailbox, if the seed companies have your name. One way some of them make extra money is by selling your name to other companies. If they send some you don’t want, you can call and get your name removed from the list. If you are new to gardening and don’t get any catalogs, you can call and request them.
Next Year’s Garden
First of all—in case you didn’t read my first column back in April—here’s a refresher on why you might want to plan on a garden next year, even if you didn’t plant one this year. This column focuses on vegetable and fruit growing, not ornamentals, and the top reason for a garden is to have fresh food you know has had no chemicals sprayed on it.
Protecting From Frost
As I write this, the forecast is for potential frost tonight. Since my garden is on the ridge, but not quite the highest point locally, it may well escape the frost even if other spots are hit. Nonetheless, I will cover some things.