End of Year Punch List



My carpenter friends, near the end of their projects, have their “punch lists” to serve as reminders what odds and ends still need to be done. I similarly have a punch list for my gardens, a punch list that marks the end of the growing season, a list of what (I hope) will get done before I drop the first seeds in the ground next spring.

(No need for an entry on the punch list to have the ground ready for that seed. Beds have been mulched with compost and are ready for planting.)

Hardy, potted plants, including some roses, pear trees, and Nanking cherries, can’t have their roots exposed to the full brunt of winter cold.plants, almost ready for winter I’ve huddled all these pots together against the north wall of my house but soon have to mound leaves or wood chips up to their rims to provide further cold protection.

I’ll save some leaves to protect strawberry plants. Their insulating blanket won’t go down until weather turns colder, with the soil frozen an inch deep, or else their evergreen leaves will rot beneath the leaves.

I’ll be digging out or cutting down a number of woody plants, some even 10 or 20 years old, in the next few days or weeks to make way for better ones. (Ruthless!) Anna hardy kiwifruit, short for Annanasnaya, grows very well but ripens a bit late and doesn’t have quite as good flavor as my other varieties: Geneva, MSU, and Dumbarton. So out it goes. The same goes for Mars, Concord, and Cayuga White grapes; their flavor isn’t up to snuff. And Halle’s Giant, Lewis, and Clark filberts, except that their shortcoming is their susceptibility to the disease filbert blight.

A 5 gallon bucket filled with equal parts sifted compost and soil will be ingredients for any potting soils I’ll need for seedlings from midwinter on. For the finished potting soil, I’ll mix in another 5 gallon bucket with equal parts peat moss and perlite.

One sunny day soon I’ll lean pitchforks, rakes, and shovels against the garden carts and brush them with linseed oil diluted with equal parts paint thinner. Tool handles, readiedAfter the handles have been wiped down, 10 minutes later, they’ll be in good condition for at least another year.

Pruning hardly needs to be added to my punch list. I’m reminded about this annual job every time I look out the window or walk out the back door.

Deer at Bay

Protecting some of my trees and shrubs from animals doesn’t make it to the punch list either — because it needs to be done by now! Young pears (Concorde, Abbe Fetal, and Lady Petre) and apples (Liberty, Macon, Hudson’s Golden Gem, Ashmeads Kernel, and Pitmaston Pineapple) already have their hardware cloth and/or plastic collars protecting their bottom couple of feet of growth.

What about branches higher up, the ones the deer would find tasty. Thanks to fencing at both the north and south ends of my property, a couple of Deerchaser battery-powered repellants, two outdoor dogs, and vibes from me, deer rarely venture on site. But, as I discovered this past summer, just one deer on just one night can do a lot of damage to a young tree.

So this year I’m putting 5 foot high by 3 foot diameter cages of 2×4 welded wire fencing around my young apple trees. Deer protection, high fenceThe pear trees, close to the house, don’t get bothered. The problem with such cages is that it’s a hassle to weed or prune within the cage — both very important for young trees. Two metal stakes, each a 5 feet length of EMT electrical conduit, woven into part of fencing on opposite sides allows me to slide the fence up and down to get inside a cage to work. These trees, which are replacing my very dwarf apple trees, are semi-dwarfs which can fend for themselves once they get above 5 feet. Then I’ll remove the cages.

Memorables, for Vegetables

And now, some notes for next season’s vegetable garden . . .

Reduce the number of pepper varieties to those that perform and taste best here: Sweet Italia,

Italian Sweet peppers

Italian Sweet peppers

Carmen, and Escamillo. And stake them right from the get go.

Plant a greater proportion of tight-necked onions, such as Patterson, New York Early, and Copra, to avoid bacterial diseases.

Plant less bok choy; no need to be inundated by them just because the space is available.

Keep an eye out for whiteflies and caterpillars on cabbage family plants; act sooner rather than later to keep them in check.

Plant more Shirofumi edemame; 30 feet of bed should be about right, they need a long, hot season.

Try King of the Garden Limas again, but plant even earlier indoors. 

Get Out!

Okay, time to get outside to work on my punch list before any snowfall limits the possibilities.


“Grass-fed Vegetables”

    With gardening activities grinding almost to a halt, I can take a breath and reflect on the past season — one of the best seasons ever. Of course, I’ll “blame” the bountifulness mostly on the weather. Maybe I’m also becoming a better gardener. (Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Though an old man, I am a young gardener.”)
    I wrote a couple of weeks ago about soil management here on the farmden. It’s simple and possibly sustainable. For the vegetable gardens: no digging, permanent beds, and an inch depth of homemade compost annually slathered onto those beds. For trees and shrubs, mulches of compost, wood chips or leaves, supplemented, if necessary, with soybean or alfalfa meal for additional nitrogen.
    My September trip to Maine afforded me two other perspectives on soil management. The first came from a presentation by, and conversation with, Jim Kovaleski, who farms in northern Maine. His system is also simple and possibly sustainable. His farm has 5 acres of hayfield that feeds 1/2 acre of vegetables. “Grass-fed vegetables,” as he calls it. All he does is scythe the hayfield portions and pile the mowings onto the growing areas, in so doing suppressing weeds, locking moisture within the soil, and feeding the ground with the decomposing hay.

Me, scything my field

Me, scything my field

    The question is whether or not the mowed portions can naturally regenerate nutrients through dissolution of native minerals and nitrogen fixation by microbes to keep up with the removal of mowings. Possibly, some essential micronutrient might be missing from that particular piece of ground. To avoid that possibility here on my farmden, I feed my compost a diversity of organic materials, from old Levi’s to orange peels, from Florida oranges, to neighbor’s autumn leaves, and, just to make further sure, kelp.
    I didn’t get to visit Jim’s farm, but did hear first-hand testimonials praising the quality and yield of his vegetables.
    Come fall, Jim moves his show south, with repeat performances at his mini-farm in suburban Florida, there using yard waste compost and seaweed he harvests to build and maintain soil health, sustainably.

Chicken-fed(?) Vegetables

    I did get to visit Four Season Farm, the Maine farm of vegetable guru Elliot Coleman. His system is to grow vegetables for a season, then till the ground and sow grass and clover, graze chickens on that piece of land for a season before tilling it again to grow vegetables. The chickens’ diet is supplemented with bought grain.
Eliot Coleman with carrots and broccoli    The bought grain reduces the system’s “sustainability quotient.” On the other hand, as Elliot emphatically pointed out, he is also growing chickens!
    It would be interesting to measure all the inputs and outputs from my soil management, as well as those of Jim and Elliot. And also to quantify any trends in measures of soil health (nutrients, organic matter, soil tilth, etc.) and quality of vegetables.

A Fruitful Year, Literally!

    As I drove the highways and byways of Maine, I was astounded at the number of wild, roadside apple trees, and their fruits’ freedom from pests. First, why so many wild trees? Does everyone there munch on apples while driving, then toss the cores out their windows? Why are there so few wild trees here in the Hudson Valley, a major apple-growing region?
    And second, why so few pest blemishes on the fruits? In the Northeast — nay, the whole eastern part of the country — pests generally run rampant on apples. Then again, apples have done relatively well, pest- and otherwise this season here in the Hudson Valley also.

Maine's wild apples

Maine’s wild apples

    For that matter, it’s generally been an excellent season for all fruits. Even black walnuts, whose nuts haven’t filled out for the past few years (a legacy from hurricane Irene and tropical storm Lee?) bore abundant crops fat with nutmeats this year.
    I had only one failure this year, pawpaws, and it was the first crop failure in decades. Why the poor showing? Again, I’ll blame it on the weather. But what about the weather could be to blame?