Book Giveaway, Goji, and Gardener’s (Not) Delight

A book giveaway, a copy of my book GROW FRUIT NATURALLY. Check out my new video Life on the Farmden and reply to this post with what other plants, aside from those mentioned or shown, you think I should be growing here on the farmden. I’ll choose a winner randomly from all the replies.


Two plants have been disappointments this year.

Goji berry (Lycium barbarum), the first, has been touted as a wonder food, effective for diabetes, high blood pressure, poor circulation, fever, malaria, cancer, erectile dysfunction, dizziness, and ringing in the ears, and for reducing fever, sweating, irritability, thirst, nosebleeds, cough, and wheezing. It’s also used — this Chinese plant has a long history of use in Chinese medicine — to strengthen muscles and bone, and as a blood, liver, and kidney tonic. Wow!
As amazing as this plant is purported to be, it’s easy to grow. Too easy, in fact, which is one of the problems growing it. Lanky, arching, thorny canes grow from the base of the plant, taking root wherever they touch ground. Turn your back on a planting it soon becomes a tangled mass of thorny canes.
But that must be worth it, considering the miraculous benefits of the berries, right? Like so many miracles, this miracle is pretty much unsubstantiated.
The flavor, then, must make the plant worth growing, right? Wrong. The berries taste awful. Worse, they taste poisonous. And, in fact, like other members of the deadly nightshade family, which does admittedly, include tomato, pepper, potato, and eggplant, goji does contain some toxins that cause adverse reactions in some people.
Still, if you believe in miracles and happen to like the flavor, goji is easy enough to grow and bears the first season, so may be worth growing. Not for me, though.
Back in 1975. I wrote a short piece — my first garden writing, in fact — for Organic Gardening magazine about Gardener’s Delight cherry tomato. “It brings back the tangy flavor of [tomatoes of] a century ago,” I wrote (and it’s now a century and a quarter, and then some), “ . . . their tangy, sweet-tart flavor explodes in your mouth.”
Now, here in the 21st century, we have better tomatoes than were available back in 1975, mostly in the form of a lot of excellent heirloom varieties. And because of one relatively new, hybrid cherry tomato, Sungold, that tops all other cherry tomatoes as far as I’m concerned.
This year, after many decades without it, I decided to grow Gardener’s Delight again to see how it compared. The plants grew well and bore quickly. The fruits, however were awful, with mushy texture and bland, mushy flavor. “Blame it on the weather” would be a convenient explanation. In my experience, weather’s effect is not that significant on tomato flavor. My more discriminating taste buds? I don’t think so; the difference between what I remember (and wrote) and what I now taste is too great.

I feel bad, like an old friend has gone to pot.
One more explanation might bring hope. Gardener’s Delight is an open-pollinated variety. Whoever supplied the seed could have accidentally allowed some cross-pollination with another tomato variety. The tomato gets rave reviews from some web reports; other reports concur with me. I’ll try again, with a different seed source.
Every gardening season has it’s quirks, but this year has been the quirkiest yet, a perspective reflecting decades of gardening in four different states.
Oddly enough, the season started off being quirky by being so conventional, or, at least, by being what was supposed to be so conventional. That is, temperatures gradually and steadily warmed in spring, without intervening freezing or torrid spells.
Okay, cicadas were predicted. Still, they were strange and right here, at least, much more abundant than they were last time around, 17 years ago.  They’ve left a legacy of  browned ends of stems dangling from trees along roadsides. I look forward to not seeing that again for 17 years.
Japanese beetles are surely no strangers around here, making there entrance, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, just as the cicadas were making their exit. But the strange — and very welcome — quirkiness of this year’s beetle invasion is that it pretty much ended soon after it began. Stink bugs, likewise expected by now, have yet to make their entrance.
Perhaps this summer’s Japanese beetle quirk is related to the weather quirk. No, not the nice (for humans) spring temperatures which, being below ground, the beetles hardly would have noticed. Weather quirks included June’s incessant rainfall, more than twice the average, followed by July’s throbbing heat, more than 5°F above the average (which would have been higher had not the last week in July been so comfortable).
Another pest that hardly reared its head here was Mexican bean beetle, which I’ve battled for the past 20 or more years. The reason might be the biological sprays I tried, a mix of Entrust (derived from a bacterium collected from the soil of an abandoned sugar mill in the Virgin isles), Azamax (an extract from the tropical neem tree), along with commercial extracts of hot pepper and garlic. Dense bean foliage and my attempts to limit the sprays only to the bean plants made for less than thorough coverage, leading me to guess that something else might also be a factor. The weather again?
Another quirk: dragonflies. I’ve never seen so many of them as this year.
The final quirk concerns breadseed poppy, a self-seeding annual flower that has showed up reliably every year at various locations of its own choosing around my gardens and beyond. This year: almost none. My guess is that the reason has something to do with something I did. But what? Who knows?
The above observations are very casual and very local, mostly right here on my farmden along the Wallkill River in the Hudson Valley. I wonder: Cicadas notwithstanding, has anyone else experienced garden strangeness this year?

Beetles and Wheat

Just as cicadas are returning to their underground homes, Japanese beetles are emerging from these same quarters. (Do they nod to each other as they pass?) In contrast to the 17 year hiatus of the cicadas, Japanese beetles come up to cause trouble every year. Some years are worse than others, and the threat is hard to predict ahead of time.
Last year I was braced for an onslaught because of a moist summer the year before. Moist soil is ideal for the beetles’ egg-laying. Eggs laid later in summer hatch into grubs that feed on roots, especially grass

roots, and emerge the following season. (Beetle grubs are allegedly good eating as are, allegedly, cicada adults.) The beetle onslaught began on schedule last year, then fizzled out. I don’t know what to expect this year, except that I’ve already seen quite a few beetles.

I also don’t know what to do about them. Milky spore disease is a bacterium that specifically targets the grubs in the soil. That seems ideal, except “there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip.” Milky spore disease is more effective in theory and in the laboratory than out in real life. Beneficial nematodes are another potential fix for “beetlemania,” but nematodes are unfortunately also subject to that “slip.” Even if either beneficial organism was 100% effective, it would do nothing for the grubs in neighbors’ yards; those grubs morph into beetles that, once they spread their wings on neighbors’ lawns, could just fly over here.
I’ve tried Japanese beetle traps and they were effective in the early years of light infestations here. After awhile, though, the traps attracted more beetles than they trapped even though placed about 300 feet apart at either end of my property.
I’ve never tried, but like the idea of, strapping long, spiked soles to the bottom of my shoes and walking around spearing the grubs. It may be effective, but, again, does nothing about neighbors’ grubs unless you pace their yards also.
Hand to hand combat is most effect and satisfying. The beetles are sluggish in early morning and easily flicked off leaves into a jar of soapy water, the soap preventing their escape. The problem, for me, is too, too many plants for hand to hand combat. The organic spray ‘Surround’, nothing more than kaolin clay, is a deterrent, but again, I have too many plants to douse repeatedly with anything, organic or otherwise.
Good gardeners keep a close eye on their plants. Good gardeners also — I believe — purposely don’t always look too closely. I have a friend whose fruit trees look almost perfect, the result of lots of pesticide sprays. He could get by with a lot less spraying if a few holes in leaves or occasional wormy apples upset him less, which might happen if he looked less closely.
Plants tolerate a certain amount of insect and disease damage. More than that, plants compensate, ratcheting up photosynthesis in what’s left of their leaves following damage — up to a point.
Anyway, the last sentence is the rationale for my do-nothing approach to Japanese beetles. I’m also reassured knowing that, although the beetles have cosmopolitan tastes, they don’t attack everything. Two years ago, for some reason, they skeletonized many leaves on one hardy kiwi plant (Actinidia kolomikta) but left a neighboring one (also A. kolomikta) practically untouched.
Except for a few sparrows pecking at seeds, my wheat crop has been pest-free, even from Japanese

beetles. The wheat harvest came in last week. Lest you think that “came in” implies sacks of grain, the area planted was a mere 5 foot length of one of the 3 foot wide vegetable beds.

This wheat was winter wheat, planted last September. The green sprouts grew through autumn, went dormant in winter, then started growing again in spring, beginning to develop seed heads once the plants were a couple of feet tall.
Over the past few weeks the stalks rose to 5 feet high and the seed heads plumped up. Last week, rich soil, drip irrigation, and birds finally got the best of the upright stalks. Enough of them began to flop down and turn tawny that methought harvest was in order so we went at the stalks with pruning shears and threw them in a bucket. The stalks are now tied into small bundles that hang from a kitchen rafter to finish drying.
I’m planning to plant cabbage and broccoli transplants in the 15 square feet vacated by the wheat. I

could have planted right in the wheat stubble but decided, instead, to pull out clumps of wheat plants with minimal disturbance of the soil, spread on inch of compost, and plant. Grasses have extensive root systems (380 miles estimated beneath a single rye plant, another plant in the grass family), and all those wheat roots pushing and prodding the soil hither and thither left the ground in the wheat bed wonderfully soft and crumbly.

Once the wheat harvest is dry, I’ll thresh, winnow, and grind it, then report on the yield, in loaves of bread per square foot of growing area.