Mother and baby are doing fine

DSCN1476

About ten days ago we noticed a great deal of robin activity in a large elderberry close to one end of the patio. A pair of robins was taking turns on a nest. A couple of days ago we got our first glimpse of this little guy (or gal). The parents are even more active now, flying in and out to feed their baby almost continually.

The goldfinches are here, even though there don’t seem to be many seeds for them yet. They rear their young late because they are almost exclusively seed eaters. We generally see them in late summer when the Rudbeckia and perennial sunflowers have set seeds. Neither has even begun to bloom yet, although the Rudbeckia subtomentosa is showing large buds.

6/27/14: In the garden this week

DSCN1468

The garden is becoming colorful! In this picture you see yellow sundrops (Oenothera fruticosa), which has been in bloom for a couple of weeks, and pink beebalm (Monarda fistulosa), and orange butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa), which have just begun to bloom–a bit late this year. The very tall plant on the left is sweet joe pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum), which will be in bloom very soon. Usually my garden turns pink around June 10, when the beebalm, queen of the prairie, coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), and red milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) all come into bloom together. Everything is still a bit late this year.

keep newly installed perennials and woody plants well-watered throughout the growing season. The recommended amount is 1 inch per week during dry spells. The storm on Wednesday night brought between 1 and 2 inches of rain to my garden, so there should be no need to water this week. Established plants should not need supplemental water.

do not do any pruning except removal of dead or diseased material while woody plants are in active growth. They are using all their energy to accomplish the vital tasks of blooming and setting fruit. They have no energy to spare for making scar tissue. The next window of pruning time will come in midsummer.

– for better bloom next year, remove the flowers of spring-blooming shrubs such as lilacs and mountain laurel after they finish blooming. The exception, of course, is fruit-bearing shrubs such as native dogwoods and viburnums.

monitor the vegetable garden for pests and diseases and take action immediately. In particular, remove plants affected by borers and wilt, and hand-pick to keep pest populations low.

water tomatoes deeply (up to 2” per week) until fruit begins to ripen, then cut back to 1” per week. Remember to take rainfall amounts into account when determining how much to water. Water in the morning, and water deeply. Continue to stake and tie tomato plants and to remove suckers.

– pick peas while young; cut down basil plants to  make pesto before plants begin to flower, remove early spring greens and lettuce when they bolt. Most vegetables taste better young.

– perennials should need no care except pinching to promote bushy plants and keep plants short when necessary

— lawns should not need watering this week because we’ve had ample rain, and they need no fertilizer until early fall, if then. Mow with a mulching mower and leave the clippings on the grass. Remember that the more you water, the more you have to mow.

Here’s the red or swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) in full bloom yesterday:

DSC_6347

 

A native annual

DSC_6237

This is Erigeron annuus, or daisy fleabane, a native annual that pops up in my garden most years. Usually there are one or two plants in otherwise bare spots in a garden that gets about half a day of sun. The leaves look very much like those of the volunteer goldenrod in the same garden (not sure of the species, it’s hard to differentiate the many goldenrod species). This Erigeron may be a mere 1′ tall or it may grow up to 4′, depending on what’s around it. This year it’s tall, because it’s competing for sun with the sweet joe pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum) that has spread through the same bed.

Why are there so few native annuals? I know of only a few: this Erigeron; two lovely Impatiens species, orange and yellow spotted touch-me-not, that grow in wet places; and two species of ragweed (Ambrosia). I’m sure there are more, but the vast majority of our native forbs (herbaceous plants) and grasses are perennials.

The answer is rainfall. An annual is a plant that completes its entire life cycle, from germination to seed production, within a single year. Annuals must work fast: the time from germination to death may be only a few weeks. Annuals tend to be plants of dry climates, where rainfall is sudden and unreliable. Typically, annual seeds remain dormant until it rains; then, under favorable conditions, they germinate and grow, and for a short time, the desert blooms. Annual plants have small root systems–they don’t have time to grow big ones. In contrast, perennials develop large root systems that allow them to wait out short periods of unfavorable weather. They don’t need to wait for favorable conditions to germinate or grow.

6/20/14: In the garden this week

DSCN0424

Summertime finally kicks into high gear in my garden when sundrops (Oenothera fruticosa) and new jersey tea (Ceanothus americana) bloom together, attracting gazillions of pollinators to the garden (which is probably a great help to the robins nesting in the nearby elderberry). This bed also contains little bluestem, junegrass, and several other perennials.

The only thing to do with perennials and native grasses all summer is to enjoy them and the wildlife they bring to the garden. If you have a little free time from all that dawdling around the garden enjoying the sights, you might consider the following:

keep newly installed perennials and woody plants well-watered throughout the growing season. The recommended amount is 1 inch per week during dry spells. Established plants should not need supplemental water.

do not do any pruning except removal of dead or diseased material while woody plants are in active growth. They are using all their energy to accomplish the vital tasks of blooming, and setting fruit. They have no energy to spare for making scar tissue. The next window of pruning time will come in midsummer.

– for better bloom next year, remove the flowers of spring-blooming shrubs such as lilacs after they finish blooming. The exception, of course, is fertile, fruit-bearing shrubs such as native dogwoods and viburnums.

monitor the vegetable garden for pests and diseases and take action immediately. In particular, remove plants affected by borers and wilt, and hand-pick to keep pest populations low.

water tomatoes deeply (up to 2” per week) until fruit begins to ripen, then cut back to 1” per week. Remember to take rainfall amounts into account when determining how much to water. Water in the morning, and water deeply. Continue to stake and tie tomato plants and to remove suckers.

— pick peas while young; make pesto before plants begin to flower, remove early spring greens and lettuce when they bolt. Most vegetables taste better young.

— perennials should need no care except pinching to promote bushy plants and keep plants short when necessary

We’ve had lots of rain recently, so you should not need to do any watering for a while. Enjoy the weekend!

Green magic

Surely basil is the most delicious of all culinary herbs, made more so by the fact that it must be used fresh, and, because it’s an annual, it’s not available year-round in most climates. So basil is something to long for and look forward to for a good part of the year. And surely pesto is the greatest invention that humankind has ever achieved. Tonight I made my first batch of pesto for the year. I was so excited, I forgot to take pictures.

Anyway, here’s how you make pesto: Around the end of May, you buy a flat of basil plants and plant them in the ground. Good, rich soil helps. These plants will work hard all summer. When you see that they’re beginning to bloom (that was yesterday), you cut the plants off almost at ground level (leave a pair of leaves so the plants have some energy to grow back). I cut 10 plants. leaving 6 so I can have fresh basil all the time. I can find a lot of uses for fresh basil.

Take the cut plants in the house, enjoying the heavenly aroma, and wash them well. Pluck off the leaves–only the perfect leaves, not yellow leaves or stems or flowers–and put them in a salad spinner. Wash them again, and spin to dry.

Peel three cloves of garlic and chop them in the bowl of a large food processor, using the sharp blade. Then put in the basil leaves (which should fill the bowl). Add 1/3 cup of pine nuts, toasted if you like (but not hot), and some salt and pepper. You can also put in some grated Parmigiano Reggiano (the best stuff only, not domestic or pre-grated Parmesan), but it’s not necessary. Run the food processor to chop everything together, and when the pesto is almost fully combined, pour in 1/3 cup of olive oil in a thin stream with the motor running.

Taste for seasoning, and freeze the pesto in little containers, each holding about 2 tablespoons, which is ample for a meal for two people. This recipe makes about 6 of those containers. When you serve pesto on pasta, defrost it and mix it in a big bowl with a little of the pasta water to thin it out. Then add the hot pasta and lots of grated cheese.

The best part about growing basil is that in about a month, the plants will have regrown and I’ll be able to make another batch of pesto. There’s nothing like taking a container of green magic–the taste of summer–out of the freezer and eating pasta with pesto on a cold, dark winter day.

Ladybug life cycle

One of my American plum trees (Prunus americana) is poorly sited–it doesn’t get enough sun. Consequently, it is attacked by aphids almost every year. (Plants that are happy in their location tend to be healthy and resistant to insects and disease. Poorly sited plants are much more likely to have problems.) Because ladybug larvae eat aphids, ladybugs immediately arrive to lay eggs on the plant. Most insects choose an egg-laying location where there is abundant food for their larval stage. The way I know that one of my plants has aphids is that I see ladybugs.

Right now most of the aphids are gone and the tree is full of ladybug larvae and pupae. Here are pictures of those two stages:

DSC_6088

Ladybug larva on plum tree leaf

DSC_6175

Ladybug pupae on plum tree leaves

I don’t see any eggs or adults anymore. No doubt the adults fly away as soon as they hatch to find mates and other insect infestations to clean up for some lucky gardener.

Elderberry in bloom

DSCN0385

The elderberries (Sambucus canadensis) are in full bloom, about a week later than last year. All this beauty, plus delicious elderflower syrup, and berries for the birds and for making jam in August. Seriously, why aren’t you growing elderberry? They used to grow abundantly in Bergen County. Let’s put them back and help restore the environment to its natural bounty