[pitcher plant, cotton, last bagged grapes]

In? Out? In? Out? I can’t decide where to grow the two pitcher plants that I got at Broken Arrow Nursery a few weeks ago. One of them, purple pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea), is quite cold hardy so could — should — survive outdoors in the ground. The other, Scarlet Belle (S. wrigleyana), is less cold hardy, but could probably rough it through our winters. Both plants, and especially Scarlet Belle, with pale white leaves having prominent, deep-purple veins, are so spectacular that I’d hate to lose either one.

These plants are as fascinating as they are attractive. Their leaves are long, vertical tubes that, with their purplish color and nectar, entice insects within. Once inside, insects can’t climb out because of the stiff, downward-pointing hairs on the sidewalls. Eventually the insects drown in the pool of water that collects inside the tube, to be digested by enzymes from the flower, helped along, especially as a leaf ages, by resident bacteria, rotifers, and other organisms. Once everything has been pre-digested, the plant can eat.

So, where to plant these gems? Indoors, in pots in a cool, sunny room? Or outdoors, in the ground?

I think my two plants will be happier outside as long as I long can find the proper spot for these rather site-finicky plants. Their needs: full to partial sunlight and a very acidic soil that is consistently wet, high in humus, and low in nutrients. Well, that turns out to be just the conditions in the bed along the east side of my house that is home to lowbush blueberry, lingonberry, mountain laurel, huckleberry. and rhododendron.

The bed is not quite wet enough for the pitcher plants so I’m going to bury a saucer, such as used beneath potted plants, a foot or so in the ground beneath each plant. The saucers will act as in-ground reservoirs to collect and hold water. The veined leaves of the pitcher plants should echo nicely the speckled flowers of hellebore that bloom further back in that bed. Both kinds of flowers are eerily beautiful.


Call me a cotton pickin’ fool if you want. Yes, I did try to grow cotton in this cotton-unfriendly climate. I won’t admit to the “fool” part, but I surely am “cotton pickin”. Harvest has begun. Four plants, four ripe bolls. I could easily triple that yield if I brought the 18-inch-high plants indoors or into the greenhouse to finish ripening the rest of their bolls. And this is no fish story, of which cotton has had its share. In medieval Europe, cotton was imported but people had no idea from whence the fibers came. That was clarified in 1350 by John Mandeville, who explained: “There grew there [India] a wonderful tree which bore tiny lambs on the endes of its branches. These branches were so pliable that they bent down to allow the lambs to feed when they are hungrie.”

To be of use, my cotton will need to be processed. First, I’ll pluck out the seeds, something that would be easier if I had a cotton gin. I can do without; four bolls won’t be too much trouble. Then comes carding, to clean and align the fibers. Card clothing, as the tool for carding is called, is made from closely spaced wire pins embedded in a sturdy rubber backing. I remember, as a child, seeing women in white cotton caps pulling cotton strands apart with such tools at historic colonial sites. The wire brushes I have for cleaning sheddings from my dogs might the perfect stand-in for card clothing.

(Even more authentic would be to card using teasel plants, which occasionally grow wild along sunny roadsides. The word “carding” comes from carduus, Latin for teasel.)

Once carded, the fibers can be twisted and pulled into one, continuous strand. Finally, weave. Sounds like a lot of work for an organic, home-grown handkerchief!


Remember my bagged grapes, the ones in bags on which happens to be stamped the words “Fresh Delicious Wholesome Baked Goods?” Those bags have done their job well of fending off insects, diseases, and birds so the bunches can hang a really long time.

I thought the grapes were all eaten, but yesterday, discovered an overlooked, bagged bunch. The red Reliance grapes within didn’t have a lot of eye appeal, having started to shrivel and turned very dark. But their flavor was supreme, the result of being very ripe and, perhaps, exposure to a few frosts.


[first frosts, cool weather veggies, stilt grass]

Saturday night, October 9th, while I was enjoying myself at a friend’s party around a bonfire, my garden experienced it’s first autumn frost. Temperatures plummeted to about 28 degrees F. The frost was not unexpected, so basil and pepper plants had been draped with old blankets and other pieces of cloth, the two pressure regulators and filters for drip irrigation lines had been swaddled in additional scraps of cloth, and any tender houseplants had been brought indoors or moved to protected places.

My low lying patch of ground in the Wallkill River Valley is a particularly cold spot. Still, twenty-eight degrees was colder than I expected; many nearby gardens didn’t even experience light frost. Despite the covers, peppers and basil were blackened by frost.

Yet I wasn’t disappointed. On average, the first killing frost of fall strikes even earlier than October 9th around here. (The date for Albany, NY, for which temperature records have been compiled for decades, is around September 19th; adding a degree or two for my more southerly garden still puts the average first frost date back more than a week.) So my garden got an extra couple of weeks or so of frost-free weather.

Also, with cooler weather and lowering sun, peppers, tomatoes, basil, and other summer vegetables have been petering out anyway. I’ve had my fill of summer vegetables, helped along by knowing about 40 quarts of canned tomatoes, half a dozen quart jars stuffed with dried tomatoes, and the few quarts of canned salsa on shelves in the basement.


The garden is far from over. I’m now reaping what I sowed, beginning back in July and continuing into September, of lettuce, endive, radishes, turnips, spinach, and other vegetables that enjoy this cool, even frosty, weather. Last night we enjoyed a delicious stir fry including kale and leeks, and a salad overflowing with lettuces, arugula, radishes, parsley, and carrots.


The now sad-looking tomato vines, the result of the October 9th freeze, and another one on the 12th, just have to go. Not only do they cast a funereal pall on the otherwise lush scene, but also could provide inoculum for tomato diseases next year. Not the blackened vines per se, but any old tomato vines, leaves, and fruits.

So one one by one I cut the vines free of their bamboo or metal stakes and toss every bit of tomato debris into the garden cart. The ground is littered with fallen and rotting fruits; they also get gathered up. Even any dried, old leaves that catch my eye.

The leaf spotting diseases, septoria and early blight, wait out winter on tomato debris — not tomato roots, though — and then awaken in spring to lob spores of these infections onto new plants. Besides a thorough cleanup, blanketing the ground each fall, after cleanup, with a 1 inch depth of compost also limits new infections by putting a barrier between spores and next year’s plant. And next year, as I do each year, I’ll plant tomatoes where tomatoes haven’t grown for the previous two years.

All these machinations do nothing for late blight disease, which devastated tomato plants throughout the Northeast last year. Spores of late blight hitchhike up here from overwintering sites in the South when winds, temperatures, and humidity are just right.


A new bad boy has turned up “on the block:” Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum). It’s been slowly invading the Eastern half of the country for awhile, first documented in Tennessee in 1919, probably after arriving from Asia in some packing material for porcelain.

You don’t have to search far to find this bad boy. Just look for a sprawling grass that typically grows on the edges of and within the woods. It would grow a couple of feet or more high if it didn’t sprawl. Look more closely and you’ll see that the 3-inch-long leaf blades each has a distinct, silvery midrib. Flower spikes rise in late summer, which is also when the whole plants begin to develop a purple tinge.

Stiltgrass is an annual (like beloved crabgrass, native to Europe) so one way to control it is by mowing in late summer, just when it flowers, to prevent its re-seeding. Mowing earlier in the season just lets it regrow and flower — and make seed — more quickly. In small patches, the plant is easy to just grab and rip out of the ground, especially later in summer.


[houseplant scale, bean beetles, orchid]

This year, I’m determined minimize the number of scale insects that hitchhike into my home as I bring potted citrus, gardenia, and orchid plants indoors. So beginning 3 weeks ago, every Monday I started dousing the plants with a relatively nontoxic spray, soap. (Nontoxic to just about everything except those scale insects, that is.)

Soap is a contact killer for insects, causing death by collapsing cell membranes, resulting in contents leaking out of cells and dehydration. Sounds gruesome, eh? It’s that or letting the scale insects weaken plants and drip their sticky honeydew, which they exude, on leaves, furniture, and carpet through winter. Fungi then move in to gobble up the honeydew, casting a dark shadow wherever it has dripped. Sounds worse, eh?

Scales are tough little critters protected for much of their life beneath a protective shell while they sit in place sucking the sap out of a plant. They’re most susceptible to the effects of soap before they find a place to settle down, put up their shell, and eat. That’s why I’ve sprayed every week. I want to get newly hatched ones while they are in transit looking for a new home.

Traditionally, gardeners have used various kinds of hand soaps for killing insects. Commercially available “insecticidal soaps” have a slightly different and more effective formulation. I couldn’t find my commercial insecticidal soap, so I just mixed up some liquid castille soap (similar to Dr. Bronner’s) at two and a half tablespoons per gallon and sprayed that instead. I finally found my container of commercial ‘Safer Insecticidal Soap’ this week and will use it for these last couple of sprays.

After the next spray, I’ll thoroughly drench the leaves and stems of the plants with water and then move the plants indoors. Scale insects are hard to eradicate, so I’ll keep an eye on the plants in the coming months and spritz them with more soap if needed.


Mexican bean beetles are one immigrant that should have been deemed illegal and not been allowed to cross our borders. Of course, beetles are hard to stop. And they’ve been around a long time — they were in the Southwest back in 1850 — so could be considered naturalized.

This year I may have neglected this problem, which shows up every year in my garden, for too long. Or, perhaps the beetles have been more voracious than most years. Either way, leaves of my bean plants are lacy from beetle banquets.

All because of the beetles, I had to give up growing pole beans years ago. Pole beans’ long season provided too continuous a food supply for the beetles. So these days I grow bush beans, making 3 or 4 plantings at intervals through the growing season, pulling out and composting older plantings as soon as they get too many beetles on them. This year’s especially bad infestations of bean beetles also might be the result of my sowing new plantings too close to older plantings.

Beetles notwithstanding, I have not yet had my fill of beans. It’s too late for another sowing, of course, but a couple of weeks ago thought it might still be worth trying to kill the pest. Back again to that ‘Safer Insecticidal Soap.’ The soap is most effective against soft-bodied insects so should shrivel up the voracious, soft-bodied yellow larvae. Perhaps it would also kill the adult beetles.

Too late. This late in the season, there’s not enough light and some days not enough warmth to get the bean plants to sprout new leaves and beans. Into the compost pile they go — along with the beetles.

One nice thing about growing a diversity of fruits and vegetables in a home garden is that, despite bugs, drought, or other agricultural calamities, there’s always plenty of something to harvest. Even with the worst case scenario of a beetle-induced end to this year’s bush beans, my scarlet runner beans, a different species of bean and planted mostly as ornamentals, are still bearing plenty of ugly but tasty green beans.


Some people are intimidated by orchids; I was once. Then, about 20 years ago, a local orchid enthusiast gave me some orchid plants, what must have been easy to grow orchids with the not so easy to

speak name of Odontoglossum pulchellum. Every winter, slender flower stalks emerge from among the fat pseudobulbs of these dainty plants, which I have multiplied over the years. Along those stems unfold elegant, small, whit

e flowers, fragrant and seemingly sculpted from porcelain. The flowers stay around to brighten up winter days for almost 2 months!

My orchids is just one of the over 25,000 species of orchids, from which there’s something for anyyone according to your floral likes and green thumb.