My wife commented at dinner the other night that everything we were eating had pretty much the same ingredients. The salad, besides lettuce, parsley, celery, olives, and dressing, had freshly sliced tomatoes, onions (as scallions), and peppers. Skewered and from the grill, were roasted eggplant and, again, tomatoes, onions (bulbs), and peppers. And our home-made focaccio was topped with – you guessed it – tomatoes and onions, in addition to garlic and fresh rosemary.

Not that either of us was complaining; the meal was delicious, and not by some culinary sleight of hand. The good taste came about because most of the meal came from our backyard garden. I had chosen flavorful varieties of each vegetable to grow and they all had been gathered within an hour of their being eaten. In the case of the sweet corn, also part of that dinner and almost every lunch or dinner throughout August and into September, we had the water boiling as we were picking so that the conversion of flavorful sugars to bland starches that occurs as soon as an ear is picked could stopped short.

These foods, day in and day out, don’t become tiresome. Earlier in the season, peas typically appeared on the menu almost daily; in a few weeks, the recurring vegetable du jour might be kale. It’s all good (and organic, local, sustainable, green, etc.)


If you buy corn at a farmstand or market these days, no need to have boiling water ready, as we did, to keep the kernels flavorsome. Two genes incorporated into modern corn varieties dramatically slow flavor decline. And, they also make modern corns supersweet to begin with.

Call me old-fashioned, but my favorite variety of sweet corn, the only variety that I grow, is the old variety Golden Bantam, which lacks those modern corn genes. Although not nearly as sweet as modern hybrids, Golden Bantam has a very rich corny flavor with – to some tastes — just the right amount of sweetness.

Golden Bantam was introduced into the seed trade in 1902 by W. Atlee Burpee Company, who got their original 2 quarts of seed from New York farmer William Coy, who had tasted and enjoyed eating some ears at his cousin’s house in Massachusetts. Long story short: Everyone fell in love with Golden Bantam and it became the most popular corn of its day. An article in The Boston Transcript of 1926 states that “In the twenty-four years since [1902] it has made more friends than anyone else could make outside the movies. Which proves that popularity does sometimes follow real merit.” It’s an odd way to compliment but you get the picture.

Golden Bantam did not rest on its laurels. Breeders sought to continually improve it, leading to other varieties such as Golden Bantam Improved, Early Golden Bantam, Extra Early Golden Bantam, and Golden Cross Bantam (an early hybrid corn that was resistant to Stewart’s wilt disease that devastated corn in the 1930s).

Which brings me back to last night’s dinner. My Golden Bantam is not one of the hybrid ones, so a bed planted at the same time shouldn’t all ripen within a narrow window of time. Yet hot weather has hustled ears in my bed of corn from pre- to post-perfection within a mere week or so. And beds planted almost 2 weeks apart are all ripening together. The upshot is that we’re picking an awful lot of sweet corn. They’re not all perfect, but, again, they’re all good (and organic, local, sustainable, green, etc.).


And now for an update on my dumpster dive of a few weeks ago, at which time I retrieved a forlorn looking, tropical hibiscus with braided trunks from Smith & Hawkens’ store dumpster. I repotted the plant when I got it home, kept it in partial shade for a couple of weeks, watered and fed it, and felt confident that the plant would regain or surpass by next year whatever former glory it had.

Surprise! My 5-foot-high hibiscus has already grown new, glossy, green leaves and is sporting a few coaster-sized, pink blooms. It’s a beauty.

Next year will be even better when a few pinches of new growth create a more bushy head and more, albeit smaller (but more proportional to the size of the head), blooms.


[hibiscus sawfly, wood sorrel, hardy kiwifruit]

Elegance doesn’t generally wow me in the garden (or in architecture or home furnishings); lack of elegance often does. A most inelegant, cheerful flower is now in bloom. The plant is hibiscus, not the tropical one with glossy leaves and coaster-sized flowers, but the hardy, herbaceous perennial ones now sporting dinnerplate-size, red-bordering-on-hot-pink blossoms. What fun!

Looking at my plant more closely, I see that chewed up leaves are making the plants look . . . okay, perhaps a bit too inelegant. The culprit is the hibiscus sawfly, which looks something like a housefly as an adult, except the body section right behind its head is orange-brown in color. The real culprits, though, are the young, the small green caterpillars, who do the feeding.

So here’s my reminder, for next year, to pick the caterpillars off the plants early in the growing season. The caterpillars are also susceptible to most pesticides, which could be a last resort option. The moms keep laying eggs during the growing season so handpicking or spraying has to continue throughout the season. I’ll also keep an eye out for the caterpillars on my hollyhocks, of which I have 20 seedlings that will be ready to plant out next spring.

Thankfully the sawfly doesn’t attack some other important members of the hibiscus (mallow) family, such as okra, rose-of-sharon, and the tropical hibiscus I rescued from the Smith & Hawkens dumpster a few weeks ago.


Incessant rain. Never-ending rain. Day after day of rain. And with it comes mosquitoes and weeds. If there were going to be one theme for this year’s garden, it would be “weeds” (particularly troublesome for the author—me — of a book boldly titled Weedless Gardening).

I do have weeds pretty much under control. In previous years that control, using techniques I describe in my book, required perhaps 5 minutes each week weed. Control this summer has required perhaps a half an hour per week.

Each season brings changes in the makeup of garden weeds, depending on the season’s weather patterns and changes, over time, in soil. This year’s most prominent weed is woodsorrel, a weed with yellow flowers and with leaves that resemble those of clover. There are two closely related species, an upright, bright green species, common yellow woodsorrel (Oxalis stricta), and a creeping form, called – you guessed it – creeping yellow woodsorrel (O. corniculata).

Both wood sorrels are having a field day in my garden this year. The upright woodsorrel is easy and very satisfying to pull out. I just grab the top and the whole plant pops out of the ground. The creeping woodsorrel is more problematic because roots sprout from the stems as they creep along the ground and the purplish brown leaves make the plant hard to see against the soil.

I’m careful and diligent about grubbing out woodsorrels because seedpods of both species readily pop open to actually shoot their seeds. I envelop as much of each plant in my hand as much as possible then keep my fist closed around what I’ve grabbed until I’ve shoved the offender down inside my weed bucket.


As with other plants named sorrel, woodsorrels are edible, with a lemony flavor. I don’t like them that much.


All is not caterpillars, weeds, and other pests in the garden. This week the garden offered up a bumper crop of hardy kiwifruits (Actinidia kolomikta), a cold-hardy relative of our markets’ fuzzy kiwifruits, which are not cold-hardy here. Hardy kiwifruits have the same emerald green flesh as their cold-tender cousins, but the fruits are grape-sized and, with their smooth, edible skin, can be popped whole into your mouth. The flavor is also sweeter and more aromatic than the fuzzies.

Now is not the first time this year that hardy kiwifruits have wowed me. The vine itself is quite a beauty with variegated, luminescent leaves that are especially so all through spring. The leaves are brushed with areas of silvery pink, sometimes leaving circles of green that seem to have been painted on with an artist’s brush (something I jokingly assert to visiting children).

Hardy kiwifruit is an uncommon fruit that’s ideal excellent for “luscious landscaping,” that is, the use of fruit plants a for their beauty and their bounty. Besides beauty and good flavor, the only care the plant needs is annual pruning. If you are willing to sacrifice some yield of fruit and convenience in harvesting, the plants hardly even need that.

You do need at least two plants to reap a harvest of berries, one female for fruit and one male to provide pollen so that the female (or up to 8 females) can fruit. The males aren’t useless except for their pollen, though. They have the showiest leaves.



[ducks and plums, bug baffler, rethinking doyenne de juillet]

My ducks are as useful as they are humorous. I’ve always appreciated their fast-paced, duck walk patrol of the grounds for various insects on which to feast. But this year I’ve had a bumper crop of plums, and the ducks are being a big help with them also.

The thing about plums is that a lot of them drop to the ground. Some of them – not too many, I hope — drop because they ripened before I got to them. Some drop because they have an insect developing in them, such as larvae of the dreaded plum curculio. And some drop because some disease has taken hold. With all the rain this year, quite a few are gray and fuzzy with brown rot disease.

I merely bemoan the loss of plums that drop before I get to them; my loss is the duck’s gain. Fruits that dropped because of some insect or disease, however, could provide the beginnings of next year’s insect or disease problems. Plum curculio larvae exit dropped fruits, burrow into the soil, and emerge a month later as adults ready for some more feeding until they find some place to hibernate for winter. So you can imagine how glad I am to see the ducks gobbling up whatever they can get at beneath the plum tree.

Brown rot infected plum fruits shrivel up to become brown “mummies.” On the ground or stuck on the tree, these mummies provide spores for infections next spring. Again, thank you ducks for cleaning up fallen, infected plums.

The ducks make a beeline for the plum tree as soon as they’re let out each morning, their heads and necks racing so far forward that the birds look like they’re about to lose their balance. Go at it ducks. Enjoy and entertain.


What a joy it is to be out in the garden in the early morning. Humanity is quiet, the birds are singing, air is cool, and a mist softens the brightness of rising sun.

Then come the insects, which are especially bothersome this year because of incessant rain. After the 15 minutes or so it takes them to pick up my scents, the bugs are swarming all around my head. They can definitely take the fun out of early morning play.

No problem. I could just douse my skin with either 2-(2-hydroxyethyl)-1-piperidinecarboxylic acid 1-methylpropyl ester) or para-Menthane-3,8-diol. Despite their horrendous sounding names, both these chemicals are quite safe to use, much safer that the commonly used DEET, whose real name, N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide or N,N-diethly-3-methyl-benzamide, is equally horrendous. Those two products I mention are not, of course, sold under those names, but as Picaridin (in, for example, ‘Natrapel’ and ‘Cutter Advanced Insect Repellent’) and Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (in, for example, ‘Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent Lotion’). Both these products compare favorably with DEET in effectiveness and longevity.

Still, I’d rather not goop anything onto my skin, unless necessary, in the freshness of the morning air. So what I more frequently turn to, and also highly recommend, is Bug Baffler, a mesh suit you just slide on quickly over clothes. A cap keeps the soft mesh away from my face.

Bug Baffler does have two drawbacks. One is that when the mesh is used to cover your face, it slightly obscures vision, especially if bright sun is shining directly on it from the front. And second, Bug Baffler makes me look ridiculous.


I’m beginning to rethink the value of my Doyenné de Juillet pear tree, about which I wrote last week. The pears do not really taste good, although waiting for the first drop before harvesting any could have caught her when she was already over the hill. La Doyenné gets one more chance, next year, and then if she’s not up to snuff, off with her head, and onto the waiting stump I’ll graft a different variety.

As for the remainder of this year’s harvest, the ducks, to whom I throw a few pears every day, seem to enjoy them as much as the much more delectable – to me, at least – plums.