Author Archive | Jodi Cahillane

Feed Your Garden’s Soil and Your Garden Will Feed You

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When I moved to the Berkshires, I finally had space for a vegetable garden so I dug up some grass and planted one. The first year, the plants looked great and produced terrific vegetables with no pests. Joy! The next year, beetles arrived and the following year, aphids, cabbage worms and powdery mildew! Tomatoes had blossom-end rot. My vegetable yields went down.

I blamed myself—too busy, not weeding, not watering right. Then I blamed the weather—too wet, too dry, too cold or too hot—and rabbits! I didn’t think the earth needed extra help from me.

That first year of the beautiful vegetables was a result of growing in an untouched, nutrient-rich garden plot of living soil. No one had tilled it for years or stomped muddy paths through it. Previous residents had barely mowed it! The grass grew, and the grass was cut down; then, the cuttings broke down to enrich the soil with organic material for the next growing season.

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Some commercially available compost bins

I had removed the nutrient-rich vegetables but then hadn’t returned those nutrients to the soil for the next year. I needed a way to return organic matter, short of letting vegetables fall off the vines and rot on the soil.… Read the rest

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Gardening Beyond Labor Day

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Berkshire food gardening is a bit of a game to see how you can outsmart the seasons. If you aren’t completely exhausted from canning, drying or puréeing tomatoes, you could start some more garden vegetables and herbs even though it’s September. It’s also time to bring in the pots of patio citrus trees or herbs for overwintering.

Leafy greens start quickly in warm soils and you can keep them growing through frosts if you arrange a little protection.

Using flexible stems of red-twig dogwood or forsythia, you can form arches over the rows. Also flexible wire forms can be used. When temperatures start falling and frost threatens, you can lay spun polyester fabric or light cotton sheets over these hoops as protection. Just use landscape cloth staples/stakes to hold cloth against frame where it goes into the soil. This is easy to pull back to access your greens, and then return to position.

gardeningLaborYou can continue to sow these seeds in the garden:

  • Lettuce: Thin the plants when the leaves are big enough for salad so you don’t feel as guilty but let some grow on into large heads. Only cut the outer leaves and you’ll have a growing core to provide leaf lettuce for daily salads.
Read the rest
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Highbush Blueberry Muffins, Anyone?

Lusting for Spring, Summer & Fall

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Make your landscape do double-duty—looking great while tasting great, too! The highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) is an easy-care, multi-use shrub.

These attractive, well-behaved shrubs are rarely bothered by insects or diseases. In the spring, they are covered with white, bell-shaped flowers. Between July and September, depending on variety, mature plants produce hundreds of delicious berries. Then in the fall, the leaves turn a rich scarlet, orange or purple.

Blueberries grow wild over the eastern United States and are an important food for wildlife. To harvest your own crop of berries for fresh eating, baking and/or canning, you can choose varieties with different ripening dates, flavors and sizes. Then enjoy fresh-picked blueberries over a two- to three-month period!

In any case, plant two or more varieties to ensure good pollination and a larger crop. Ward’s offers, in order of ripening time, these highbush varieties: Blue Jay, Patriot, Blue Crop, Blue Ray and Jersey. Or, you might like the low-bush type, Vaccinium angustifolium—suitable as a groundcover!

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Tricks for Success:

Position shrubs in full sun for plentiful yields and plan for a mature size of four feet wide by 10 feet tall.

Blueberries require acid soil with pH below 6.0 and as low as 4.5.… Read the rest

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Choosing the Uncommon by Going a ‘Little’ Native

with help from the Staff of Ward’s Nursery & Garden Center

October offers a great opportunity to plant trees and shrubs because soils are warm and fall rains are usually abundant. Then by spring, the plant can break dormancy and be ready to fully “move in” to its new home. The time is right, so your next task is choosing the right plant.

Here at Ward’s, we have seen the popularity of certain trees and shrubs come and go, like so much fashion. For example, Burning Bush and Barberry, which we grew up with, were wildly popular landscape plants because they offered great color accents, were easy to care for (didn’t die) and were long-lasting property improvements.

Unfortunately, they were too successful. They flowered in all conditions. They produced thousands of viable seeds. Birds enjoyed the berries and spread them far and wide. Ultimately, these and other invasive plants have spread through our protected wetlands and hills, preventing native plant species (the hosts to our native birds, fungus, insects, amphibians, reptiles and mammals) from thriving in the landscape.

One way out of the invasive mess is to stop the sale and planting of these troublesome plants. And now, their sale is prohibited in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and State of Connecticut.… Read the rest

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