It’s a tied score, 1 for the squirrels, 1 for me. At least since I started counting, which was last year. I had some squirrel issues in previous years, but last year is when all out war started. They cleaned out the raspberries and the gooseberries early in the season, and then started eyeing the blueberries. Anyone who reads “A Gardener’s Notebook” knows how I feel about blueberries, and the squirrels evidently picked up those vibes (with some ballistic coaxing) and left the blueberries alone. Not that they kept to their nearby forest homes; they scurried across the field in late summer to strip the hazelnut bushes of every single nut.
This year is different, very different. The squirrels didn’t eat even one raspberry or gooseberry, didn’t even eye the blueberries. And my harvest of hazelnuts is secure in bushel baskets.
In fact, I only saw a couple of squirrels the whole season. They were two young ones gamboling  in the tree tops, taunting me in full view from the back window of my bedroom.
A multifaceted approach is responsible for this year’s victory. Two excellent cats are one line of defense, although I can’t imagine how cats could keep squirrels at bay. Perhaps the squirrels also saw me practicing my marksmanship. And finally, I let the field in which I planted the hazelnuts grow up into an overgrown meadow. I’ve never seen squirrels in high grass and other herbaceous vegetation, probably because it slows them down too much. (Then again, perhaps I’ve never seen squirrels in unmown meadow because I can’t see them in unmown meadow.)
To reduce competition for water and nutrients to the hazelnut plants from the meadow, I kept vegetation scythed down in a circle around each hazelnut bush and accessed the plants via a mowed path that originates only 50 feet across mowed lawn from my deck. My two dogs, Leila and Scooter, spend a lot of time sleeping on that sunny deck, so it would take a bold squirrel indeed to make the journey across the lawn and then down that no-exit, mowed path in overgrown meadow. 
As for anyone who pooh-poohs my obsession with squirrels, mark my words: In a few years you’ll consider them much, much worse problems than deer. Some people tell me that squirrels are even eating their tomatoes. Fencing is, obviously, useless against squirrels.
Squirrels have never eaten my tomatoes. I’ve never even seen them in my vegetable gardens although black walnut seedlings that sometimes pop up here and there are evidence of their occasional trespass.
I wonder if squirrels eat lettuce; I hope not, because I have some nice heads developing in the garden and in seed flats. This is the time of year that takes advance planning with lettuce because, although the plants enjoy the cooler weather, it, along with shorter days, drastically slows growth. 
I aim to grow enough lettuce for salads all winter so must have enough plants started to slowly mature in the weeks and months ahead. If the plants are too small, they won’t size up when it’s their turn to be eaten. If the plants are too large, they bolt, that is, make seedstalks and turn bitter. Right now, I have two rows of mature heads in the garden and over 150 seedlings of various sizes. All those seedlings take up only about 4 square feet of space. The smaller seedlings will get transplanted into the greenhouse sometime soon.
Greenhouse lettuce can tolerate a little shade right now, but not in a few weeks. That works out perfectly, because right now the greenhouse is shaded by 3 large fig trees growing within. They are three different varieties, each loaded with fruit.
Kadota is the best-tasting of the three, with a sweet, rich flavor held in a chewy skin. The problem is that Kadota likes dry weather, as do all figs, to some degree. With the current humid weather and incessant rain, many of the Kadota fruits rot just as they are about to ripen.
My old standby, Brown Turkey, sweet, small, and dark purple, does better. The tree has been ripening fruits since about early September.
The best of the lot, in terms of flavor (not as good as Kadota but, still, very good) is Green Ischia, also known as Verte. This variety bears fruits on stems that grew last year as well as, like my other two varieties, stems that started growing this year. Green Ischia’s earliest figs ripen in July on last year’s stems, followed by more fruits, beginning in September, on this year’ stems. The figs are sweet and very large and juicy, so much so that they begin to burst open if harvest is delayed too long. My Green Ischia, by the way, is probably not Green Ischia; figs are notorious for having multiple names and for being mislabeled, as I think mine was in the nursery.
The fig crop will end in a few weeks, the plants’ leaves will fall, and I’ll cut back all stems, except for a few on Green Ischia for next year’s early crop, down to about 4 feet high. Greenhouse lettuce can then bask freely in whatever sunlight autumn and winter sun offers.


I didn’t need the house number to hone in on Bassem’s home in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania last Saturday. The Asian persimmon, pawpaw, and fig trees rising above the front hedge distinguished the landscape from those of the neighbors’ more conventional — and much less luscious — home grounds. Over the years, I have corresponded with Bassem, a fellow member of North American Fruit Explorers (www.nafex.org), and had planned to sometime stop by on one of my frequent trips to Philadelphia. Finally, I took that fruitful side step.
And what a fruitfully timely fruit step I hoped it to be: Fig season! Figs are a main interest of Bassem (http://www.treesofjoy.com/), who grew up in Lebanon. His quarter acre house lot, crammed with all sizes and varieties of fig trees, makes the collection of 35 varieties that I once grew in Maryland look like child’s play.
But figs were not all of it. Everywhere I looked was an interesting fruit plant. Hardy passionfruits (Passiflora incarnata), which I also grow, covered the ground among his foundation plantings, even sprouted up in the lawn. Did I write “foundation plantings?” Lest that conjure up an image of your standard junipers and yews, Bassem’s foundation plantings were more diverse and, of course, fruitful. There was the edible cactii (Opuntia spp.), a pomegranate with ripening fruit (the fruits on my potted pomegranates, which I mentioned early in summer, fell off), and, of course, many varieties of figs.
The backyard is home to a small greenhouse, in which Bassem overwinters some tropical fruits, and more fruit plants. A few large banana trees rose right next to the greenhouse — very decorative but not able, of course, to ripen fruit. They die to the ground each year and then sprout from overwintered roots each spring. An eight-foot-tall papaya plant, grown from seeds sown in spring, was expectantly flowering but likewise won’t have time to ripen fruits. Fruiting trees in the ground included quince (Cydonia oblonga), jujube (Ziziphus jujuba, yes, the original jujube candy was made from candied jujube fruits), and, in the back, more Asian persimmons and pawpaws.
It’s too cold here in the Wallkill River valley to plant outdoors much of what Bassem plants right in the ground even though our homes are separated by only about 80 miles of latitude. My extra few degree of cold are the result of my more rural setting, with less heat-trapping concrete, and my valley, into which cold air settles. Still, I couldn’t resist going home with 2 new fig varieties (Black Bethlehem and Pontlican) and a strawberry guava, both in pots that I’ll move indoors for winter. If the figs prove especially tasty, they might get planted in the ground in my cool temperature greenhouse.
Goldenrod in the south field has turned the landscape a glorious yellow color. The plants have been blooming there for weeks and weeks but the intensity has recently ratcheted up.
The reason for the increased color isn’t the weather; it’s the plants. There are dozens of goldenrod species not easily distinguished from each other, even by botanists. My field is, no doubt, home to a few species and the one now blooming seems to be the one in greatest abundance.
I mow most of the south field once a year, in spring, a schedule that suits the goldenrods well. Other parts of the field that I used to mow more frequently than once a year (for a volleyball court) are mostly grasses, Queen-Anne’s-lace, and chicory, but I see some goldenrod now finally creeping in. I keep a path mowed through the field that each year follows a different trajectory. The ghost of last year’s path is high with vegetation, but not goldenrod — yet. There’s even a tropical-looking patch in the field where the large leaves of sumac seedlings shoot skyward above the surrounding goldenrods. That sumac is the legacy of a brush pile that I burned there over 10 years ago. 
It’s all very interesting and pretty.
And, for a little more fall color: Persimmons. The orange fruits — persimmon orange fruits — are ripening on my trees and dropping to the ground. (Isn’t it odd that a color should be named “persimmon orange” when so few people know this relatively uncommon fruit? I helped remedy that situation by devoting a chapter in my book Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden to persimmons.)
The persimmon fruits, as usual, are delectable, with a taste and texture of dried apricots that have been softened in water, dipped in honey, then given a dash of spice. Something like Oriental persimmons but with richer flavor and texture.
The trees, as usual, are bearing an abundant crop. In over two decades of growing this fruit, the trees have failed me only 2 years, both from a very late frost that didn’t allow time for ripening. Few fruits are easier to grow: no notable pests; no pruning; just plant and pick.
Ripening is important with American persimmon because few gustatory experiences are as horrendous as biting into an unripe persimmon. The feeling is akin to having a vacuum cleaner in your mouth, and spitting out the fruit doesn’t help. Unfortunately, fruits from some wild trees of this native plant never fully lose that awful flavor, which is why I grow named varieties that are known to have excellent flavor. Over two dozen such varieties exist. 
This far north, we’re restricted to growing ones that taste good and will ripen within our relatively short growing season. Which is fine, because my two favorite varieties, Mohler and Szukis, are both cold hardy, ripen within our growing season, and taste as good as I would hope from any persimmon. Any fruit, perhaps. Persimmon’s botanical name, Diospyros, translates to “food of the gods.


The nice thing about living in a flood plain is its fertile, rock-free soil. Here on the flood plains of the Wallkill River, I can dig a 3-foot-deep post hole in about 5 minutes. The soil here also drains well, allowing me to plant even during heavy rains.

The problem with flood plains is that they flood. Hurricane Irene recently submerged the farmden here with anything from 4 feet of water, along the road, to no feet of water, in back, where the vegetable gardens are. The ground elevation also drops going into the south field, where I paddled along on August 29th in a kayak inspecting pawpaw and dwarf apple trees, and grape and hardy kiwifruit vines.
Thankfully, lives and homes here generally fared well through the storm; what of the plants? As I write (August 31st), persimmon, chestnut, black walnut, and filbert trees that I planted are still ankle deep in standing water. Farm fields a mile down the road also are still inundated or, at least, have soggy soil.

The combination of heavy rains and winds loosened the grip of tree roots onto the soil. Some trees blew over. Some are wobbly in the soil. It may be possible to right and stake the former, and just stake the latter, if the trees are not too big. After a year or more, new roots will grow to provide sufficient support without the stakes.

The other problem with wet soil is that the water displaces air. Roots need to breathe. Without air, roots don’t function. They then can’t even take up water so may show the same symptoms — leaves dying and drying up beginning at their edges — as do plants suffering from drought. Fruits also may drop prematurely and various nutrient deficiencies may show up in the form off color leaves.
So the faster the water table recedes down into the soil the better. I’ll be watching and waiting; not much else anyone can do.
The weird thing about hurricane Irene is the clear sunny days that have followed. Look out any rear window in my house at ground that wasn’t flooded, and it’s business as usual. The plants there got a good soaking and and then had bright, sunny days. What else could a plant ask for?
The bed with the last planting of corn needs to be harvested and cleared, as does a bed of bush green beans and edamame. Once cleared, these beds will snuggle in beneath a one-inch blanket of compost (yearly additions of which have contributed to the soil’s excellent drainage). They are then ready to be seeded for late crops of spinach, radishes, and lettuce, planted with waiting transplants of baby bok choy and lettuce, or planted to a soil-improving and protecting cover crop of oats and peas.
My vegetables were not exposed to flooding; not so in other vegetable plots. If the flooding was only from rainfall on-site, the only thing to do is to watch and wait for the water to recede and roots to take a deep breath. Flooding from overflow of streams and rivers poses other problems.

Think of all the detritus carried along by that floodwater. And then try to imagine some of the stuff you didn’t think of. The major problems I see are floating gasoline and diesel cans and the major problem I smell is of the stuff in those cans. What I don’t see or smell is whatever is running off farm fields and the overflow from sewage treatment plants, not to mention harmful chemicals and bacteria.

Any of these substances could contaminate flooded vegetables, especially vegetables that were ready to be harvested, by lodging onto leaves and fruits and working their way into pores. Root vegetables would be least contaminated. Hardest to clean and most subject to contamination would be leafy vegetables. Easiest to clean would be vegetables with hard skins, such as winter squashes. A warm solution of Chlorox in water used as a wash or a soak should kill surface bacteria of those vegetables that can tolerate such treatment.