The Glory Has Departed


Norma Boeckler, Artist in Residence

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Seeds and Plants Provoke Comments and Questions


When I posted this photo of Bee Balm on Facebook, one classmate wrote, "That is a hybrid."

She is a fan of native plants, so I asked her, "Do you eat hybrid sweet corn or Indian maize?" No answer has been posted so far. I am waiting patiently.

Another classmate said she grew Bee Balm once, but it was covered with a white powdery growth. I guessed it was mildew from being crowded, and she said, "Yes, it was crowded next to another, bigger plant - in a corner."

Bee Balm likes air circulation and plenty of sun, but hers was planted where it would get neither, so mildew had a chance to take over.

Peas love the cold and sweet soil, and they have shallow roots. I once grew them where we had gravely soil because it did not run counter to their needs. They can be planted as soon as the soil can be dug, not on Good Friday, the common day used (but one that varies wildly from year to year).

Once they are done, beans can take over and growth

Plants that love cold generally do poorly in the heat. Spinach and lettuce are best growing in cold rainy weather and bolt (go to seed) in the hot sun. Spinach grown on hot days is just terrible, bitter and tough to eat. Early spring spinach, planted in the fall, is crunchy and 10x better than the best in any grocery store.

When the spinach fails in the heat and sun, many substitutes can be eaten instead - such as goosefoot, Malabar spinach, dandelion greens (without herbicides, thanks), and beet greens/Swiss chard. Chard is a beet, and growing it is a snap.

Some plants get sweeter or better from the cold - carrots and some root crops, plus Brussel Sprouts.

Weeds, Plants, or Mulch
A patch of soil is either going to grow plants or weeds, or be mulched. If the sun strikes it and rain falls, something will grow.

In the desert, some seeds do not germinate until the rare summer when a lot of rain falls. Then oceans of wildflowers rise up to bloom fast, set seed, and die again. References to plants dying fast in the New Testament are examples of desert growth - flowering fast and dying soon after.

In the rest of the country, something is always ready to grow in a given area. The previous generation lined up their rows of plants in their gardens, used posts and string to mark straight rows, planted them like soldiers being reviewed like soldiers, and hoed the weeds all summer, removing those dastardly weeds and throwing them away.

Some used soil as a mulch, effectively breaking up the fungi strands that were trying to feed the roots. And still the weeds grew.

One alternative is to plant wide rows, crowding the plants. They become a type of mulch, shading the soil and preventing a place where weeds and grow. The same area can produce a lot more food per square foot. Weeds are cut to add to the mulch between rows.

Ruth Stout and Mulching
Ruth Stout promoted the idea of heavily mulching the garden, which creates compost on the spot, holds moisture in the soil, blocks most weed growth, and feeds all the soil creatures and fungi. Moreover, the birds will see a mulched area as a perfect place to feed on bugs.

The mulch has to be thick or be fashioned as Jackson Mulch, starting with a layer of newspapers. Otherwise the weeds are halted at first, then rear up as on steroids, fed by all the goodness of mulch.

Last year we began Jackson Mulch as the solution to planting roses in the lawn. Rototilling was fraught with problems and digging up the whole area was daunting. So we planted roses in the lawn, covered all the grass with newspapers and added wood mulch on top. We enjoyed beautiful roses, almost no weeds, and no insect damage worth mentioning. No spraying, no weeding, no fertilizing except through mulching on top of grass.

Weeds Are Overly Feared
So many gardeners are afraid of weeds. We planted tomatoes and sunflowers in the sunny garden and used wood mulch right on the grass - no newspapers. Yes, the crabgrass roared through it in time. Tomatoes kept growing in the crabgrass and we pulling many good ones out of there. Some pumpkins were planted too later, but they grew happily in the bed of crabgrass. The sunflowers grew, bloomed, and went to seed. I did not like it fancy (but weak) variety and decided to buy the giant sizes ones for the next crop.

When one patch of the rose garden developed a patch of weeds, since we expanded hastily, we added bags of mulch on top of some additional newspapers. We did get some short-term slime mold, nicknamed "dog vomit" because of its looks. But that went away quickly.

Wood in all forms will promote fungi growth, and fungi are good for the soil and plants. The Queen of England's private garden aims at promoting fungi growth for that very reason. Mrs. I says she understands my British heritage better whenever a gardening show is on. Where else can one find 700 year-old lawns and organic gardening expertise?

Seeds Are Arriving
Amazon sells seeds, so it is easy to find rare kinds and get a shipment for a few dollars. I will use the hardware store for ordinary plants, but the right seed is hard to find at any given location. Supplies quickly fade from the Net, too.

Doubtless I have ordered too many seeds, but that will only mean sharing them with others. Who does not want to grow 15 foot sunflowers? Or a few pumpkin vines? Or strange looking gourds?

My most interesting case of the new happened when I bought true Snow on the Mountain as seed, because I wanted to compare that to Goutweed, which many call Snow on the Mountain. Gardeners were always offering me Goutweed (sometimes called Bishop's Weed) because it grows and spreads in the shade. I had my packet of seed of the actual flower (not the shade-weed) but did not plant it. So I opened it and threw the seed into an area where bulb flowers were growing. Later, the most beautiful and delicate flower rose up next to the garage.

Goutweed is found on lists of hated, aggressive plants. Many pass-along plants like Goutweed are shared because they are easy to grow and therefore difficult to eradicate.