Fishing, Gardening

“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” How true, also in gardening. Not to mention the emotional and intellectual gratification, the “companionship with gently growing things . . . [and] exercise which soothes the spirit and develops the deltoid muscles” (C. D. Warner, 1870).

Let’s take teaching the man — or woman — to fish one step further, gardenwise. Lot’s of people wow others with the expertise they have allegedly accrued as evidenced from the mere fact that they’ve spent a number of years, perhaps decades, with their hands in the dirt. I roll my eyes. Flowering plants originated at least 130 million years ago, which is plenty of time to let the trial and error of evolution teach them to grow. Tuck a seed into the ground and it will probably grow.

Better gardening comes from having some understanding of what’s going on beneath the ground and up in the plant. This comes from growing and observing a variety of plants growing in a variety of soils and climates — which is more than is possible in a lifetime.Gardening books

There’s a shortcut: books, a nice adjunct to getting your hands in the dirt. All of which is a roundabout way of my offering recommendations for books about gardening. The right book is also a great gift idea.

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Great Gift Ideas! Gardening books, of course. All available from the usual sources as well as, signed, right from me, here.

Weedless GardeningNot only weedlessness; also lots of information on drip irrigation, making or buying compost, cover crops, timing and details for individual vegetables, tree planting, fertilization, and soil testing. Weedless Gardening, coverI’ve used this weed-less system for over 25 years! $10.95


Growing Figs in Cold ClimatesFive methods for growing figs in cold climates, pruning techniques, best varieties, harvesting, and Fig book coverways to hasten ripening. $24.99


The Pruning Book: Reasons to prune, tools of the trade, how plants respond to being pruned, and details on just pruning just about every plant you can imagine,The Pruning Book from ornamental trees and bushes, to fruit and nut trees, to houseplants and perennials. A final section delves into specialized techniques such as topiary, bonsai, and espalier. $29.95

Landscaping with Fruit: How to choose what to grow depending on your region and particular pest or climate problems, and details for individual plants Landscaping With Fruit(the ornamental value, how easy they are to grow, what they taste like, varieties). Also a chapter on landscape design basics. $19.95

A Northeast Gardener’s Year
: Month by month, chapter by chapter, in the garden. Each chapter begins with a snippet of borrowed poetry to set the tone, followed by a A Northeast Gardener's Year covershort description of what is going on plantwise. From there we are left to the whims and vagaries of the weather and the weeds, the unfolding of blossoms and ripening of fruits, perhaps the cry of a plant begging to be repotted — any and all topics gardenwise. $17.00

The Ever Curious Gardener
: Using a Little Natural Science for a Lot Better Garden:
An irreverent romp through the natural science of plants and soil, ideal for The Ever Curious Gardenereveryone from newbies to experienced gardeners whose curiosity at the wonders of cultivation grows deeper and stronger with each season. How to maximize flavor and nutrition; how to help plants outwit drought; making the best sse of compost; etc, etc. $18.99

Grow Fruit Naturally
: How to successfully grow fruits that are delicious and nutritious without toxic chemicals. Covers planning, propagation, pruning,Grow Fruit Naturally pest control, storing your bounty, and growing fruit plants in containers. Details on over 30 fruits and how to reap their bounty. $24.95


Compressed Gardening Experience

People are so ready to sit at the feet of any long-time gardener to glean words of wisdom. I roll my eyes. Someone who has gardened for ten, twenty, even more years might make the same mistakes every year for that number of years. I, for instance, swung a scythe wrong for 20 years; I may have it right now. Even a wizened gardener who has evaluated and corrected their mistakes has garnered experience only on their own plot of land; these experience may not apply to the differing soils, climates, and resources of other sites.
Lineup of my books
When I began gardening, my agricultural knowledge and experience was nil, zip, niets, rien, nada. But — and this is important — I had easy access to a whole university library devoted solely to agriculture. Hungry to learn, I read a lot. (I also was taking classes in agriculture.) In one year I was able to garner years of, if not actual experience, much of the knowledge that comes with that experience. And my garden showed it.

I’ve now gardened many decades and still gobble up the written word.

All of which is to say that reading reputable sources about gardening can make anyone a much better gardener and do so quicker than by gardening alone. “Reputable” is a key word in the previous sentence. So here’s the, to use the phrase of Magliozzi brothers on the radio show Cartalk, Shameless Commerce Division of this blog: a plug for my books. I stand firmly by anything I’ve written and am open to criticism.

Here’s the book list, all available from the usual sources or, signed, from me through this website (good gift idea, also):

A Northeast Gardener’s Year: A month by month romp through all things garden-wise, what to do, how to do it, and when to do it.
The Pruning Book: Plant responses, pruning tools, how to prune just about every plant (indoor, outdoor), and final sections on specialized pruning techniques, such as scything and espalier.
Weedless Gardening: A four-part system, emulating Mother Nature and based on current agricultural research, that makes for less weeds and healthier plants, along with other benefits such as more efficient use of water and conservation of humus.
Landscaping with Fruit: Following introductory chapters about designing your landscape is a listing of the best fruits to use for “luscious landscaping” in various regions and how to grow each of these fruiting trees, shrubs, vines, and groundcovers.
Grow Fruit Naturally: Describes multi-faceted approaches to growing fruits without resorting to toxic sprays, starting with selecting kinds of fruits and varieties and moving on to encouraging natural predators, beefing up the soil, and more.
The Ever Curious Gardener: Using a Little Natural Science for a Much Better Garden: Knowing some of the science behind what’s going on in the garden can make you an even better gardener; here’s how.

Vegetable Finale

And now, on to some gardening . . .

I’ve said it before and Yogi Berra said it before me, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” Last night’s temperature plummeting to 18°F was still not enough to put the brakes on the vegetable garden. Beneath their covered “tunnels,” arugula, mustard, endive, and napa Chinese cabbage still thrive. Along with mâche and kale, which aren’t under cover, all these greens are looking as perky as ever and, most important, taste better than ever.

Interestingly, temperatures I’ve measured within the tunnels are not that different — actually, not different at all — from temperatures I’ve measured outdoors. But something’s different. The increased humidity under the tunnels is probably at least partially responsible for the fresh tastes and appearances.
Endive in tunnel
It’s a wonder that these tender, succulent leaves tolerate such temperatures. You’d think the liquid in their cells would freeze and burst the contents to smithereens. That would have been the case if the 18°F had come on suddenly, without any precedents. 

Plants aren’t passive players in the garden. Increasingly cold weather and shortening days acclimated these plants to cold. (A month ago, temperatures dropped one night to 16°F.) Plants move water in and out of their cells, as needed, to avoid freezing injury. And increasing concentrations of dissolved minerals and sugars in the cells make the water freeze at lower temperatures. Perhaps that’s one reason why these vegetables taste so good. The tunnels also slow down swings in temperature, giving plants time to move water in and out of their cells and whatever else they do preparing for and recovering from cold.

Too many people, even gardeners(!), consider endive as nothing more than a bitter, green leaf best used as garnish. Reconsider. Given close spacing so that inner leaves of each head blanche from low light along with cool and cold temperatures, and endive takes on a wonderful, rich flavor. Blanched interior of endiveOnly the slightest hint of bitterness remains, enough to make the taste more lively — delicious in salads, soups, and sandwiches.

Fruit Finale

The last fruits of the season, Szukis American persimmon, were harvested last week after over a month of eating them. Definitely the easiest fruit I grow. No pruning, no pest control. And definitely one of the tastiest: imagine a dried apricot soaked in water, dipped in honey, then given a dash of spice.
Persimmons on tree in December
Fruits were very mushy for the final harvests — perfect for a jam. Squeezing a bunch of the fruits in a mesh bag (such as used for women’s “delicates” in a washing machine) pushed out Making persimmon jamthe pulp without seeds. No sweetener needed. Just jar it up and refrigerate (keeps about 2 weeks) or freeze. Delicious.



How Cold? How Humid?

Do you want to send a really good gift to a really good gardener? (Perhaps that gardener is you.) Problem is that most really good gardeners have pretty much everything they need except for expendables like string, seeds, or potting soil (unless they make their own. Don’t despair; I’ve come up with a few items many really good gardeners with (just about) everything they need might find useful.

At the top of my list is a nifty, little device with the odd name of Sensorpush. It’s not much bigger than an inch square pillbox, less than 3/4 inch thick, that you place wherever you want to monitor temperature and humidity — from your smartphone, via bluetooth.

Sensorpush, graph of the week's outdoor conditions

Sensorpush, graph of the week’s outdoor conditions

Sensorpush, screen shot of current readings

Sensorpush, screen shot of current readings

Couple it with the WiFi Gateway and temperature and humidity can be monitored from anywhere on your smartphones. I periodically checked on my greenhouse and the outdoor temperatures here in New York when I was recently thousands of miles away in Israel.

SensorPush in greenhouse

SensorPush in greenhouse

My original use for the Sensorpush was for the greenhouse, to alert me, which it can do, if  temperatures drop to a minimum that I set at 37°F. I now have another, outdoors, which alerted me to the one late frost (28°F) last spring which wiped out the crop on my peach tree. I may also put ones in my freezer and walk-in cooler. 

All past information is available graphically and can be downloaded to a computer.

Water is Important

Much, much more low-tech is my new favorite watering can. It’s not any old blue watering can, it’s the French Blue Watering Can. It has everything I would look for in a watering can: hold lots of water, in this case 3 gallons; good balance when being carried and in use; and water exiting in a stream that’s gentle but not too slow. For optimum balance, get two, one for each arm.
Watering can, French blue
Although the French Blue Watering Can now beats out my previously favorite Haw’s 2 gallon, zinc plated cans, which are, admittedly, more visually elegant, Haw’s is still in the running with their beautiful, copper-enameled, 2 quart watering can that I use mostly indoors. For indoors, it’s a good volume, and the long spout can reach in among plants for more pinpoint watering once its rose is removed.
Watering can, green Haws

Books, of Course

I can’t help but mention books. Those that I mentioned last week were general categories; the really good gardener has, of course, some very specific interests and expertises. And there are books for these (I’ll stay away from my special interests to avoid having to mention, once again, any of the books that I have authored). 

So, for instance, if you’re interest is in unusual vegetables, you could start with A. C. Herklots’ 1972 publication Vegetables of Southeast Asia. The book is especially rich in “greens,” including shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris), garland chrysanthemum (now Glebionis coronaria), and honewort (Cryptotaenia japonica). Also a slew of “Asiatic cabbages.” For something even less contemporary, there have been various printings of The Vegetable Garden by Vilmorin-Andrieux,scion of the famous French seed company. In addition to many common vegetables, of which many interesting varieties are mentioned, ferret around in the book and you’ll also find some unusuals: olluco (Ullucus tuberosus), rampion (Campanula Rapunculus), and seakale (Crambe mariitima).
Books, unusual vegetables
Eric Toensmeier’s Perennial Vegetables offers a much more contemporary take on unusual vegetables. Most of the vegetables mentioned are not really perennial in cold climates but they surely are unusual. The last I heard, very few people were growing nashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum), Chinese artichoke (Stachys offinis), chufa (Cyperus esculentus var. sativa), or winged bean (Psophocarpus tetragonobolus).

Tools and Plants

Finally, I’d like to give a shout out to the five advertisers on my blog posts (to your right). These are not just any old companies that choose to advertise. They represent businesses whose products and, in some cases, owners I know and trust (by experience) to offer the highest quality products.

Let’s start with the two nurseries. Looking for a place to buy high quality plants of pawpaw, persimmon, quince, medlar, or even more common fruits. Raintree Nursery is the one. I’ve even sent them stems from some of my more unique plants to propagate. Cummins Nursery is the go to nursery for a very wide selection of varieties of apple, pear, peach, and other familiar tree fruits on a variety of rootstocks. The rootstock helps determine such tree characters as size, adaptability to various environments as well as how soon and how much fruit you’ll pick.

(Incidentally, a nursery tree grown hundreds of miles away can be just as adapted to your site as one grown around the corner. Genetics is important, so an Ashmead’s Kernel apple grown in Washington is genetically identical to one grown in New York, or anywhere else.)

With all those new plants, some tools will be needed to help care for them. For everything from high quality soil sampling tubes to grafting supplies to hoes to tripod ladders (very stable, I own two different sizes), look to Orchard Equipment Supply Company (OESCO).

If you’re looking very specifically for cutting tools — pruning shears, pruning saws, loppers, pole saws, and the like — look no further than ARS. You can’t go wrong purchasing an ARS tool. After writing a book about pruning, I was sent many samples of pruning equipment; among the shears, ARS — specifically the VSX Series Signature Heavy Duty Pruner — is my favorite, with good weight, good steel, replaceable parts, and easy opening with just a firm squeeze of the handles. They slightly edged out my Felco and Pica shears.

Scythe Supply sells just one thing: scythes. But they offer the best of the best, as well as sharpening services and instruction. Don’t expect one of those picturesque, old scythes often turning up at garage sales, more useful for decorating a barn wall than cutting tall grass. Scythe Supply scythes are super light and well balanced with blades hammered razor sharp like those of Samurai swords. One-time Congressional candidate, homesteader, and swinger of a scythe into his nineties, Scott Nearing had this to say about scything: “It is a first-class, fresh-air exercise, that stirs the blood and flexes the muscles, while it clears the meadows.” So true. I use my mowings for compost and mulch.