Friday, October 31, 2008

Japanese Beetles

Friday, October 31, 2008

It was apparently a quiet night here on the mountain. Apparently. A beautiful starlit night, motionless air and 16 crisp degrees suggesting the distinct possibility that the prediction for a +50 degree, snow-melting day would occur. That apparition dissolved about 4 am when Karl the Wonder Dog, premise protector extraordinaire, life buddy, home security chief, flew out of slumber like one of those vertical take off jets, ending a dream I'll never get back to. As I left the dream, I thought I heard someone at the back door so I stumbled in that direction, ungratefully cursing while simultaneously begging Karl to calm before three zombies were fully awake and bouncing off the walls for the balance of the night.

When I got to my office and flipped on the outside perimeter light, the tracks in the snow below the window made the problem obvious. I got dressed and leashed up Karl and we headed outside. The sow bear and two cubs had been standing on the back steps getting ready for one of those Goldilocks maneuvers as they went from place to place in the yard, turning over stacked plant crates and five gallon buckets looking for breakfast.

Karl is a strange security officer for sure. He stops abruptly and snorts hard like a musk ox or a pawing bull but one always wonders what he'd do if large, physical danger approached. I knew that the bears had heard his noise long before I pulled on my boots so the only fear I had was how I'd make it through the rest of the day without enough sleep.

We circled the yard and tracks were everywhere. Two days ago I had spread a little cracked corn on a platform bird feeder and then the rain came and the birds left. That provided sufficient smell that the bears bent over the steel pole and licked off the little corn that remained. Once again my eagerness to enjoy birds out my office window disrupted my sleep. I know better than to do this but I messed up again. In a forgiving way, I was thankful that Karl's auditory perception was so clear. When he finished pulling me around the yard, we returned to the house and he was fast asleep almost before I got my boots off.

Something that is really more troublesome to me than bears is Japanese beetles. A month ago I wanted to mention beetle control as I have that one figured out. I've written about this before and I guess that's a sign of how important I think it is to get control of this beetle. There's plenty of information on the Internet about how the beetle got to America but less obvious info about milky spore. I swear by this bacteria and suggest that you do some quick research and consider it. If your soil temperature is already below 50 degrees, it's too late to apply this year but just the same you can get prepared for next spring. Several companies manufacture it but here's an example of what I purchase from the garden section in Vermont box stores. It's about $25 to cover 2500 square feet. Give it some thought, it really works!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the stars switch has been turned off for the night and I have to get to work!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Shade Garden Construction Continues

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A quiet morning here on the mountain. 37 degrees which is the warmest in a few days. A front is approaching with rain by noon and heavy rain by tonight. Predictions are from 1 to 3 inches by midnight tonight so there's lots to do this morning to stretch the day as far as possible.

I took off most of yesterday from my regular job to work on the new shade garden. This is a big project which Gail had her doubts about me completing, actually even starting, this fall. Good gardeners have goals and one of mine was to get the designated area cleaned up and rototilled for next spring. This had to match the declining night time temperatures and my need to get the tractor home and get next year's wood supply out of the woods before the snow comes. As of this morning, the project has a bunch left but is on target to be completed. It was "close" a couple days this week because night temperatures in the low twenties froze things solid and thaw didn't occur until late afternoon. This is a characteristic of this portion of our new land. It lays in a hollow, bordered in the back by the Winooski River for some warmth but low enough otherwise to frost up first when other areas are warmer.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, our hosta collection is not big by collectors standards but hidden away here on the hill are over 400 varieties. We actually have more but unlike some gardeners we don't maintain an Excel spreadsheet with everything in the collection. If we grow for sale, we know what we have for stock but probably half what we grow has not been put into sales yet. The only excuses for that is developing salable numbers or finding the time.

This new garden intends to recreate the shade garden in the old barn foundation here on the hill. For many people, no matter how nice it is, it won't be the same. I agree, but also guarantee that in a couple years, the garden will be a destination for those interested in shade plants including hostas.

The soil at this site is alluvial clay washed there annually for years as the spring river flow went over the bank and covered the area several feet deep. There's not a rock, not a pebble to be found. Just before we came to Marshfield in 1989 the river was reconstructed a bit and the spring flows began going where they should. This summer's rain was a good test to how much water that river can hold and save for debris damming it up, we have no worries.

Riverbanks are notorious for their collection of weeds and shrubs. They contain wide samplings of about every plant that lies upstream from the point you are working on. In this part of Vermont you can be assured that you'll find wild hops growing up the alders, Joe Pye Weed, Jewelweed, Forget-Me-Nots, Ground Ivy, Vetch, Burdock,Canada Thistle, and Japanese Knotweed in abundance. There are tons of matted Goldenrod woven into a terrible mess with a variety of 5-6 foot tall grasses. On any perimeter where there is a little sun, poison ivy is guaranteed and smattered here are there are wildflowers, in this case trilliums, Lilium canadense, Purple Fringed Orchids, Red and also White Baneberries. The mix creates a challenge for the gardener as members of this offering belong to the "Wish I Never Saw You" Collection.

As of last night I am down to two truckloads of top growth to load up and bring back here. I'm filling in a couple areas in a back field here so I can get the material off the nursery land and put it to use. I have now rototilled all the new areas over a dozen times and with each till I am getting a little deeper into any remaining root systems I missed earlier. The three yellow "x's" mark large groups of Spotted Joe Pye Weed which I have left for their height and shade. The large yellow spot is a wet area which will be dug out a bit next year. I have lots of left over clay piled up and the plan is to dig out the wet area and drop in some loose clay so hold the water in that area better when it rains. Earlier this week there was one night of rain and I can't work that end again this year because it is saturated. My plan is to surround that area with various Ligularias, Rodgersias, Astilboides tabularis and similar plants that are large leaved and like their feet wet. Then I'll add giant swaths of various astilbes. Each tree will be surrounded by swaths of the same hosta and somewhere, yet to be determined, will be a network of stone paths.

If you look at the picture with a little imagination you can see a slight definition above the truck and tractor that represents an old road. It comes down behind the tree line and is more noticeable on the right side of the picture above the pond location. I have already cleared this and tilled it. It is directly in front of the fence and now represents an elevated walkway. My plan is to have a stone path come down the perimeter from the right of the picture and then extend across through the trees so visitors can view the gardens from above. I'll probably need a bridge of sorts to keep people out of the seasonal muck that predominates above the pond location but for next year that may be a couple elevated 2 X 12's.

Next spring after the summer planting is done, I'll go through this whole piece, free it of weed plants I have missed, rototill it again and then begin planting. The soil is so good that I really think the plants will catch on quickly. It is a work in progress no different than the foundation garden we have left behind. If you travel Route 2, glance down the bank and you'll see a garden that will be worth stopping to visit!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the only noise this morning is my stomach suggesting breakfast is in order, two cups of coffee doesn't cut it!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Monday, October 20, 2008

October Skies

Monday, October 20, 2008

I woke up early this morning with pins and needles carpal tunnel hand and a hope that the day would be kind to me. Karl the Wonder Dog sat up and whimpered which is his cue for going outside. He knows that on Mondays I start a week of different behavior but he didn't care this morning as he wanted to go out. I think he slept through the part of the Red Sox game just before I gave up last night and neither of us made the last call of the night.

I got dressed quickly and headed for the back door. Karl was obviously more awake than me as he already wanted to play a "try to catch me" game which didn't really tickle me all that early in the morning. I latched onto him and snapped on the leash with a couple non- dog expletives and away we went into the cold.

This time of year caution is the word on the first step. That's when you find out how thick the frost is and whether you will dance to the ground or not. Karl was away after some scent before I could get organized and before I knew it I was looking at a star-filled sky and a large meteor plummeting down. I must love that dog for what I go through.

Forty minutes later I was out the door and heading to Waterbury to work. Tired, lame and too cranky to pick up the pot of Aster 'October Skies' that I had knocked off the steps. Asters are a great fall plant, a good grower and an easy plant for color no matter how cold it gets. I almost like its color in contrast to the reds and yellows of the maple leaves and the bright yellows of tamarack needles. But for today, it was off to work, enjoying what was to become a gray clouded day with little warmth until after 4 PM.

Hope your fall days are going well and that you have had a chance to plant some spring bulbs. If the Farmers Almanac is correct again, spring bulbs and color will be in order when Vermont welcomes in May 2009.

Good gardening wishes from a tired gardener,

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Constructing A Shade Garden

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A quiet night here on the mountain. Gail is reading, Alex is grouching away at a home school project and Karl the Wonder Dog is in front of the wood stove, almost motionless with only an occasional rise and fall of his ribs. Dogs apparently mellow out better than humans when they are relaxing....I should be so lucky!

It's quiet outside too with everything well dampened from a full day's worth of heavy rain. The foliage season had never been so good until this morning. It has been going strong since about the 22d of September, with bright reds and strong yellows, greens and browns. Many of you have asked for more pictures but I have had so much work at the nursery to finish up that camera clicking has been off the list. Here are a few shots in haste on my part. Just click to enlarge if you're so inclined.

As for today's topic, return to the introductory photo at the top of the page. If you have followed this blog, or The Vermont Gardener, or have checked out our old but good website, Vermont Flower Farm, or if you have just plain visited us at Peacham Pond Road before our move, you will have an understanding of our love for shade plants. We maintained (past tense) a beautiful garden within an old barn foundation and by it's virtues it had become a destination for many gardeners.

This summer we moved to our new location and placed a few thousand hostas and shade plants in and around a couple shade houses. One house was 20 by 30 feet and the other was 20 feet by 60 feet. The plant quality was as superb as ever but the displays, no matter how often they were changed, just weren't the same as the real thing.

Moving and developing new gardens in the same summer is an impossibility without a bundle of money. As such we progressed as best we could and we're proud of what we accomplished. A 10 foot by 200 ft garden breaks the entrance to the nursery from the plants themselves. It's weedy but plantings held up well and will be completed next spring. The "stone bones" of what will become a certified daylily display garden are set. Other gardens have been started and the 5000 daylily plants in various garden plots is a good start by itself. Just the same, the shade plants hadn't received any real attention.

Gail had herself convinced that I would not get to a hosta and shade garden this year and perhaps not until later next year. Let me just say that she does not know me as well as some that work with us. Three days ago I began what should amount to about 40 hours of tractor work excavating a site a little over 300 feet long and 10 to 100 feet wide. If you enlarge the picture at the top, you will receive a sense of the proposed garden.

To the left of the picture you'll note a piece of the Winooski River which winds behind the garden. The couple house roofs suggest where the village of Marshfield commences. The new garden is only scratched out in the land as I used the tractor bucket to skim off all the weeds and then began the process of rototilling back and forth, back and forth. The soil is free of as much as a peeble and being close to the river it leaches water at a depth of about 10 inches on down. The end on the right is lower and a line of heavy clay forms an underground dam and holds water at that end as it seeps through the bank and into the river.

A little more than a week ago, George the geologist came by and sampled the area. The proposed area was covered with weeds at the time but now its nakedness confirms the samples. It is at least three feet deep in alluvial soil deposited over the years during various floods. Although this soil type is devoid of organic material and although the top dries to dust in 2-3 days, it's all fixable, it's easier to improve than clay and it's perfect for shade tolerant plants like hostas.

Riding around on the tractor is great fun for some but it wears on my back and legs after a bit. Just the same, one look at what I have done so far is sufficient encouragement to keep at it. My goal is to have it ready to plant before the snowflakes get too deep. That will give me the days of winter to design what will go where, bring in the rest of the hard scape and order up trees and shrubs. I know the single picture lends little direction to where I am heading but bear with me. This new garden won't be able to replace the old barn foundation, but it will be a shade garden you'll want to walk through....time and again, in peace and tranquility. Be patient. Plan a visit.....

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where large flocks of Canada Geese flew high
during Tuesday and Wednesday nights moonlit skies. Cars now come with built in GPS's but geese always had them.

With cool garden thoughts of fall chores,
Gardening wishes,

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Monday, October 13, 2008

Blog Action Day: Poverty 2008

Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Blog Action Day

Some of you may have noticed a banner on the right side of my Vermont Gardens blog. It mentions Blog Action Day and makes a commitment this year to the topic of poverty. I've already written about this at The Vermont Gardener but the topic is dear to me so here are some different thoughts.

For most people in America, getting old means learning to live with less. Although we live in an affluent country compared to some, most people find that by the time they retire they have not saved enough and inflation or health issues have created uncomfortable pressures. Some folks do better than others but conversations about "making do" are not uncommon.

My parents grew up during the Depression and they got by with all kinds of little phrases and thoughts that made them happier. They also did some things that were the direct result of living during tough times. My mother saving every Hellman's Mayonnaise jar during her lifetime in Vermont was such an example. Although my family had little, my Dad always said it was the little things that counted most and he often repeated "Please and thank-you don't cost a dime."

A few years back, Gail invited the local Seniors group to visit our flower farm for a little look-see after their meal at the community center. Gail had this thought that they would like to walk the gardens and see flowers that they may have planted and tended themselves during times when the earth wasn't so far away and when bending over didn't hurt so much. Looking back on the visit, Gail wasn't thinking about poverty when she made the invitation, she was thinking about the absence of something people probably enjoyed during earlier times of their lives. Just the same, for some people, poverty really does mean giving up what was meaningful and fun in the past for lack of health or resources in the present. Here's a picture of the group. Their faces portray the way the gardens temporarily erased thoughts of age and need. (click to enlarge)

A couple weeks back, our zinnias were in full force and were growing faster than we could sell them all. One Sunday night I picked a bucket full and dropped them off at the home of a local lady who manages and helps cook at the Senior Meals Program here in Marshfield. I suggested that the Seniors might like some flowers as zinnias appeared in about every Vermonter's garden in the old days.

It took me a few days to get the story about the impact of the flowers but the story made me smile. Essentially the flowers were spread out so everyone could make their own bouquet to take home. I guess the conversations complete with reminiscent garden stories was worth it's weight for all involved.

Today is Blog Action Day. One of the goals is that people stop for a minute and reflect upon themselves, their families, communities and world. Sometimes little things really do make a difference. There's plenty of time today to make a difference.


George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

PS Blog Action Day 2008: Poverty was a huge success. Check out

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Fall Colors

Wednesday, October 2, 2008

I've been away from Vermont Gardens for well over a week but only because I have been in the gardens working until the sun falls over Plainfield and the dew has become noticeable on the brim of my baseball cap. Days grow shorter now and despite a desire to keep working, I can't get excited about working by flood lamp to finish up the work. I have been logging long days and lots of miles at my regular job so I have to be reasonable at the nursery.

Despite the rain this summer, we had a great first season. The fall foliage has been spectacular and even after last night's inch of hard falling rain, the trees are holding tight to some nice color. When I returned from work today I cut wood for an hour and then asked Gail to come help pull cosmos and zinnias. To our surprise, the rain and warm temperatures for two days encouraged yet another flush of zinnias to bloom and the flowers were big, bright and flawless.

We pulled up all the cosmos as they had been nailed a week ago by a frost. Most were planted in a low spot at the bottom of the field and the frost settled in there quickly. We had planted these a bit heavier than usual so the plats were almost 4 feet tall and each stem was quite thick. They required a few bumps on the ground to free the clumps of dirt and then one by one they were tossed into the truck body.

The zinnias were a shame to leave tonight as frost is a possibility and there are thousands left. Gail picked huge bouquets for friends but we left behind some flower friends that may not be looking so good tomorrow. As a reminder to what you missed this year, here are a few shots.

But besides the foliage and the zinnias providing color, a different part of nature provided an attention getter which caught our eye today. The caterpillars that become swallow tail butterflies were obvious on the dill weed today. The late afternoon coolness slowed them to a standstill but that made careful observation that much easier. It was good to see three healthy caterpillars and a fourth (not so good) that was being devoured by a brown stink bug.

I am not keen on these bugs ever since I tossed one into my mouth with a handful of potato chips one day. I have read of a new, larger version called the brown marmorated stink bug
and although I haven't seen any reports of them in Vermont yet, I expect they are here based on an incredible smell that is obvious as I mow the field sitting on a 30 h.p. tractor. At any rate I can see no goodness in any of these as anything that eats butterflies at any stage in their life cycle is not my friend.

If you get a chance tomorrow or this weekend, get out and enjoy the foliage and the fall smells (except stink bugs and flattened skunks!) and sounds. Owl's Head in Groton State Forest remains open until Columbus Day so if you're in the area, climb the steps and enjoy the views. Cameras and a good field guide to birds are encouraged!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where Karl the Wonder Dog is snoring next to the wood stove that feels so-o-o-o good after working through the evening hours.

George Africa,
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm