Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Gardening with our brains

After more than a month in Cape Town I came home to a late summer garden where beans were bristling from bushes and fence. Also a lot of weeds. Long, hot days, lots of water from the stellar watering team of Julia and Kirstin, and the weed seeds of years resulted in something close to a jungle. And then there is the Wisteria that Wants to Rule the World. It should work for ISIS.

So two straight days were spent gardening. I was eaten alive by striped-leg mosquitoes.

I admired the basil hedges. The Thai basil (left) arrived in a late winter packet from Grow Journey. Late winter is now a funny memory. The fennel is a row I made from many of the scattered volunteers that popped up late in early summer, dropped by my plants last year - the ones that moved with us from Harlem.

And then I picked all the beans, to make way for cooler weather crops to come (I left the climbing scarlet runners in hopes of luring those hummingbirds).

Grow Journey's 'Painted Pony' beans are surprises in disguise. Their slim green pods hide the real treat, which is the beautifully mottled seed inside. While we ate plenty of these beans fresh in July, I now have a pile which I am in the process of shelling. This is the first time I kept beans long enough to dry and harvest just the meaty seeds. They will be cooked gently with whole cloves of garlic and garden thyme, with a nod to Terence Hill, who will always be the best bean I eater I don't know. You have to watch My Name is Nobody to see what I mean.

Grow Journey's packets of Chinese cabbage, kale, and August subscription of bok choy and lettuce mixes will be planted, soon, and then there will the surprise packet of September. What will be in it? I have left rows open in anticipation.

I was thrilled to see a monarch feeding for a long time on the wild ageratum (Conoclinium coelestinum). I had cut quite a lot back in my gardening frenzy, but left plenty of flowers.

And now for a rant.

One of my (many) pet peeves is the thoughtless use, in smugly righteous but underinformed gardening circles, forums, blogs, and conversations, of terms like "chemical." It makes my hair stand up. "I don't use chemicals on my garden," or, "I won't eat food that is grown with chemicals."

Uh, yes, you do, and yes, you will.

For zot's sake. Everything is chemicals. "Organic" is chemicals. What you really mean to say is, I don't use synthetic fertilizers/insecticides." SYNTHETIC. The PR team for good science is about as efficient as Barack Obama's PR team. Which is to say, woeful. The failure in his presidency was his team and his party's utter failure at communicating its successes. Fire the lot.

The good stuff does NOT speak for itself. Good science and good leadership need as much PR as the total shite that is dispensed by people too lazy to read more than the headlines. In its absence crackpots flourish. In the garden, and in politics.

The Grow Journey blog, as always, provides excellent, thoughtful information about healthy growing practises. Problems are identified and sustainable solutions are provided. Aaron von Frank's essay on synthetic nitrogen and why you don't want it in your garden or in the edible landscape that grows the food you buy is essential reading.

As Aaron writes in the nitrogen piece, "some issues take longer than a tweet or a paragraph to explain." And if you are planting anything, or care about what you eat, it's on you to inform yourself. Read that article, and share it. It is fascinating, and important.

Finally, tip of the day, fairly new to me (someone on my Facebook page suggested it - thank you), from a Grow Journey post about preventing garden pests:

Got mildew? Break out the fungicides? "No! Not unless you want to also kill the beneficial fungi in your garden that help your plants," writes Master Gardener Eliza Lord. "Powdery mildew can be easily prevented using organic methods. The easiest, most proven method of treatment involves milk. (Yes, that white liquid from cow udders.) Make a mixture of milk and water (30% milk to 70% water is fine) and spray it evenly on the surface of the leaves of affected plants during the morning on a sunny day... In studies, this method has proven to be as effective as any synthetic fungicide in stopping powdery mildew."

Now: Got milk?

As always, you can sign up for a free 30-day trial of certified organic Grow Journey seeds (you pay $3.99 in postage).


  1. Welcome Back. I missed you.
    Yes, Yes, Yes, to the milk and water spray. I tell my customers to use the whey that collects in their yogurt--sour milk I think works best. Any ideas on what I may have done to cause my squash plants to make very high percentages of MALE flowers this year?

    1. Huh - they do tend to make more male than female flowers, and earlier, but was it different last year?

    2. I had few zucchini in late June / early July and than through the whole summer just male flowers... just now I'm starting getting female flowers again, so I hope to have few more fruits ;) ... and regarding the powdery mildew, last year it ate alive all my squash and cucumbers, I tried spraying milk and than someone recommended baking soda but neither worked ;( This year I used neem oil as soon as I started seeing signs of the mildew, it worked and my plants still look beautiful, I just hope they will produce again... I think the male flower dominance is because of the heat... can I ask what's your take on neem oil?

    3. Hi Kalinka - I have used Neem only for roses, (leaf miner) and it seemed to work. I don't spray much, with anything, so am not really an expert.

      Do you use your male flowers for anything?

  2. The milk does work on blackspot! Also, when I garden, I put a spot of Vicks vaporub on the front of my arm (elbow) and backof my arm and also on the front of my thigh and the back of my knee. No mosquito bites and they love me!

    1. Hmm. Vicks. Nice tip. I'll try it, thank you, Lisa!

  3. Thank you for the article link. Sounds like you have the Asian mosquitos. They are slow but big! I wear hospital scrubs when gardening and bought one of those electric zapper much fun hearing them electrocute!

    1. I would have a lot of fun with that racket.

  4. Thank you for the very pertinent rant! I have been sowing mache for the winter but for some reason it is not coming up this year. Maybe it is still too hot and dry, even with daily watering.

    1. My first batch of mache last year did not germinate. Not one. Then I read that nights should be below 50'F for germination. The second batch germinated better (60%?), and actually overwintered to flourish in the early spring.

  5. Thank you for reminding everyone that life is chemistry, and that everything is made of chemicals. Incidentally, I volunteered in the Plant Pathology booth at the MN State Fair yesterday, and so many people came to us with powdery mildew problems. They were quite astounded when we recommended spraying their plants with diluted milk! Other pests and diseases people in Minnesota are nervous about this year: apple scab, and emerald ash borer.


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