Thursday, April 28, 2011

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pussytoes Surprise!

Walking by my pussytoes, I had another moment of *squeee!*

They are blooming! And the flowers are much prettier than I expected. (I grew these for the foliage, not the blooms.)

Aside from the slow growing, these were already my favorite ground cover. Now they are even more so.

Pink! Maybe it's something about having a baby girl, but I've never been quite so enamored of the color pink.

These are Antennaria dioica, I think. I should have kept that dang seed package.

And what a nifty five-sided shape. I hope I get seeds!

Monday, April 25, 2011


My two eenie weenie trilliums are guarded by a teepee of sticks. A determined deer won't be stopped by such a pitiful measure, but my hope is that this will prevent casual browsing.

The flower turns out to be a lovely, deep maroon.

Unless I am mistaken, which is a possibility, this is Trillium Cuneatum, also known as toadshade. I should have kept better records. But for all I know the seller didn't even know exactly which type of trillium they were selling. At the time I bought these, I didn't know how smarmy plant dealers could be. Most likely these were taken from the wild.

My mother bought trilliums recently. At three or four bucks a piece, she thought they were expensive. I had to be the one to give her the bad news: hers were likely dug from the wild, too. It takes years to grow these from seed, and no grower could make a profit at four dollars a pop.

Her anti-deer measures have got mine beat, though. She uses netting to wall off large swaths of her yard. I may try the same, eventually.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Skunk Cabbage Adoration

I go out every day now to watch my skunk cabbage grow. It's far and away the most lush thing on the landscape now.

As far as I know, all wetlands in this area are protected. Since there are strict rules preventing the development of land a certain distance from wetlands, it's not often that you get to walk right up to the edge of skunk cabbage swamp.

. . .at least, not without picking up ticks, and getting mud up to your knees.

I have a dry path leading out to a flat rock, where I can safely get a good close look at the plants.

Skunk cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus, only stinks if you crush it.

The plants are done flowering for the year, and are now vigorously growing their leaves to catch the sun before the trees shade them out.

The leaves unfurl in elegant curves.

Like lotus blossoms, they emerge from the mud sparkling clean.

My photographer's assistant, hard at work.

Skunk Cabbage

One of my favorite plants.

My hasty photos don't do it justice.

This was last week. It is already far greener out there.
This was a week ago.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Hurray! And *Facepalm*

Monsanto had it coming. They monkeyed up their own breed of plants, allowed their crops to contaminate and ruin crops on organic farms, and then abused the court system to complete the destruction of said organic farms. Small farms, mind you. The sort of farms that struggle to stay in the black while trying to produce healthful food in an ecologically sensitive manner. That's like kicking a kitten.

As of this point, I am under the impression that Monsanto has given up such efforts in order to not look so much like they are kicking kittens, but whether or not that is the case, their actions have come back to haunt them. Just like a super hero (or a super villain; take your pick), Monsanto has created its own enemy.

It would be so comforting to take the side of the little guys here. It's a darn good thing that these small farms are able to group up and use the court system to block the mega-company from pulling any more legal shenanigans - and I hope they win! But the sheer idiocy of some of their comments keeps me from being more completely on their side. For example:

Dewane Morgan of plaintiff Midheaven Farms in Park Rapids, Minnesota, said, "For organic certification, farmers are required to have a buffer zone around their perimeter fields. Crops harvested from this buffer zone are not eligible for certification due to potential drift from herbicide and fungicide drift. Buffer zones are useless against pollen drift.

Keeping a field of a crop a certain distance from another crop that would contaminate it is the traditional way of keeping crops from being pollinated by the wrong strain of crop. It should fall to Monsanto to maintain the necessary buffer zones, but that's not what she is saying.

"David Murphy, founder and Executive Director of plaintiff Food Democracy Now! said, “None of Monsanto’s original promises regarding genetically modified seeds have come true after 15 years of wide adoption by commodity farmers. Rather than increased yields or less chemical usage, farmers are facing more crop diseases, an onslaught of herbicide-resistant superweeds, and increased costs from additional herbicide application."

Monsanto insists that their crop yields have increased, and organic farmers insist that they haven't. One of these entities is wrong. One of these entities, or perhaps both, is bending the truth to prop up their view of reality. And in at least one respect, it is the organic farmers doing the bending. What got left out of the above list? That poisons now used to bolster production of GM crops are far and away less harmful than the poisons that they replaced, such as organophosphates and atrazine. Or that a crop can be certified organic but be more harmful to the environment than its conventional counterpart. Or that Bt, the poison that certain GMO crops have been induced to create on their own, is acceptable for use on certified organic crops, as well as routinely dropped into otherwise protected backyard wetlands by local governments in their attempt to keep the mosquito populations down.

Here is a lovely post from the Scientist Gardener discussing a Big Ag discovery that greatly reduced fungicide use on rice crops. And would you believe it? Big Ag doesn't think that monocultures of crops are so great, either.

I get the feeling that too many on the organic side don't bother to do any research on what Big Ag is up to, outside of the nasty sphere of legal-system abuse. Big Ag has a lot of actual scientists on its side, and as a rule, scientists are smart and reasonably ethical people who know how to do their homework and who typically don't want to jeopardize their standing as scientists by being unscientific within their field of expertise.

Anyway, I'm getting quite ranty, so on to the next quote:

"Rose Marie Burroughs of plaintiff California Cloverleaf Farms said, “The devastation caused by GMO contamination is an ecological catastrophe to our world equal to the fall out of nuclear radiation. Nature, farming and health are all being affected by GMO contamination."

. . .

I would like to know if this statement was made before or after the current crisis in Japan. And I will now spare everyone the sounds of my gag reflex and move on. . .

Mark Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst for plaintiff The Cornucopia Institute said, “Family-scale farmers desperately need the judiciary branch of our government to balance the power Monsanto is able to wield in the marketplace and in the courts. Monsanto, and the biotechnology industry, have made great investments in our executive and legislative branches through campaign contributions and powerful lobbyists in Washington. We need to court system to offset this power and protect individual farmers from corporate tyranny. Farmers have saved seeds since the beginning of agriculture by our species. It is outrageous that one corporate entity, through the trespass of what they refer to as their 'technology,' can intimidate and run roughshod over family farmers in this country. It should be the responsibility of Monsanto, and farmers licensing their technology, to ensure that genetically engineered DNA does not trespass onto neighboring farmland. It is outrageous, that through no fault of their own, farmers are being intimidated into not saving seed for fear that they will be doggedly pursued through the court system and potentially bankrupted.”

Now this makes sense, finally. Of all the stuff the organic farmers are throwing at the wall, this will be the one that sticks. Good luck with the lawsuit, guys!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Unexpected Joy!

I had thought I would be too exhausted from baby #2 this spring to be excited by plants, but the plants have proved me wrong! I am so excited to see our common violets in bloom. These are some that I planted in the cactus bed. The cactus are still looking pitiful, and I believe the yucca are dead, but at least something is growing!

The spicebushes (Lindera species) in the woods are covered in delicate yellow blossoms.

But the real excitement is this: my ramps, Allium tricoccum, are growing! I bought these on a whim last year at Whole Foods. Out of the dozen I planted, eight have grown.

Well, six. One couldn't quite get its leaves up through the leaf litter, and the one on the left above appears to have been sampled by a deer. I can only imagine that the deer wanted some tums afterward.

Another unexpected delight: my two weenie little trilliums are growing! And this one has a bud!

And the other trillium is putting up two sets of leaves! I wasn't expecting it to do that. I wasn't expecting them to come back at all.

And my mayflower, Epigaea repens, is in bloom! I hope this is evidence that it is doing well, and not some last reproductive hurrah brought on in desperation.

I would love to be able to establish a big enough colony of this plant to be able to share it. Everyone in Massachusetts should have the Massachusetts state flower in their yard! Here's hoping.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Plow Legacy

Remember back before the snowmageddon sealed us in for the winter? A helpful plow driver had tried ever so nicely to clear the snow right up to our driveway. He took some of the garden with him.

. . .including the giant rock, which was pushed right across the driveway and up onto the pile of snow on the other side of the driveway. You can see it peeking out of the snow, above.

Once winter made its dramatic exit, we could see how the plow pushed rocks and plants into the driveway. The damage was minimal.

But the big rock was in the wrong place!

Oh well. I rebuilt the mailbox bed without it. This was my singular act of gardening while pregnant.

Chris rolled the big rock out of the bed to spare my plants, but I haven't figured out a new home for it yet.

Forbidden Fruit!

Chris isn't going to like this. It's a pro-genetically-modified food blog! Looks like some good reading over there. I can already feel some of my previous opinions on the topic crumbling. . .

In that same vein, here is an article pointing out how very silly it is to use rain barrels. Sigh. . . it is so much easier to be uninformed and full of dogma.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Damminix Tick Tubes

Ah, here are the results of a large-scale study showing the effectiveness of the tick tubs we use. Their results: a 90% reduction in ticks. Which reminds me, I think we are overdue for putting fresh tubes around the yard.

Just about time, too, for Gabe to have his hair shorn totally short, so that I can check him for scalp ticks every night. Little boys and gardeners are in the highest risk category for contracting Lyme's, and we live on the edge of deer-infested wild land.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Thursday, April 7, 2011

American Chestnut Article

Whoops! I meant to post this some months ago. This is my Garden Geek article on American chestnut trees which appeared in the December edition of the Franklin Country Gazette.

The American Chestnut

At Idylbrook Field in Medway, an unmarked path leads through a meadow of wildflowers into rows of cultivated trees. A layman could easily overlook the site as a run-of-the-mill orchard if not for the sign explaining that these are Castanea dentata - American Chestnut.

If the words “American chestnut” don’t give you goose bumps, let me tell you why it should. Schoolchildren revere pandas and elephants and tigers, and most Americans have a soft spot in their heart for our bald national bird. The American Chestnut has similarly been pushed to the brink of extinction.

Castanea dentata is arguably more important a species than any of the charismatic fauna that top the food chain. A scant hundred years without American chestnuts has caused us to forget that East-coast forests used to be chestnut forests. These were New England’s sequoia. American chestnuts could average five feet in diameter and a hundred feet in height, but historic photos demonstrate that they grew much larger than that. On that sign in Idylbrook, a black-and-white photo shows three lumberjacks seated inside of the gash they have made in one tree - a trunk which is easily fifteen feet in diameter.

The chestnut was immensely valued for its wood. The trees grew fast and straight, producing hard wood that was so highly resistant to rot that there are still original chestnut barns standing. In Appalachia, they were known as “cradle-to-grave” trees, because the wood was used for everything, from fences to buildings, to cradles and coffins.

Unlike oak, which only produce a reliable crop of acorns every two to four years, American chestnuts produced copious yearly quantities of nuts. Not only were these a staple in the diet of Native Americans, but bear, elk, deer, turkey, doves, squirrels, blue jays, mice, and passenger pigeons were just some of the native animals that depended on the American chestnut to get through the winter. And Castanea dentata was a food source to hundreds of species of insects, which in turn were food for birds.

It was a fungus, accidentally introduced with an Asian chestnut, that killed the American chestnut. In 1904 the epidemic was first spotted at the Bronx zoo. This blight would kill a tree by forming cankers on the trunk that blocked the flow of water between roots and leaves. The fungus spread from tree to tree at a rate of fifty miles a year. The lumber industry reacted with a panicked spasm of logging that likely contributed to the loss of the few trees which would have survived the epidemic.

Within forty years, up to four billion American chestnuts were dead. Both North America’s ecosystem and the logging industry were irrevocably altered. The one paltry good came out of the tragedy was the passing of the Plant Quarantine Act of 1912, which has slowed, but not stopped other plant pathogens from wrecking havoc on other vital American plants.

There are now so few Castanea dentata remaining, numbering in the hundreds, and they are so widely dispersed, that without human intervention they would surely be the last generation of American chestnut trees. But enter the American Chestnut Foundation. This organization has been working for decades to raise awareness, identify and protect surviving chestnut trees, and most importantly, breed a hybrid American chestnut that retains just enough Chinese ancestry to be resistant to the blight.

To this end, TACF has hand-pollinated many of the remaining trees, carefully tending the resulting generations in test plots up and down the East Coast. This brings us back to Idylbrook. Here, six hundred chestnut trees stand in the sun, looking innocently healthy and inconspicuous, as if they were just another common tree.

The eldest of Idylbrook’s chestnuts have matured, and have begun producing nuts. In an act that seems cruel at a glance, this year these trees were deliberately exposed to the blight. At some point in the future, the three or four of the healthiest trees out of a hundred will be chosen as breeding stock for the next generation. The rest will be removed from the gene-pool with a chainsaw.

Someday American chestnut will again be a major part of both the logging industry and the ecology, thanks to the long-term efforts of TACF. This tree is a vital part of America’s landscape, and at Idylbrook, history is in the making. I urge you to go for a visit before the next round of culling takes place, and then get involved. Become a member, donate, or volunteer: volunteers will be needed when the trees are cut down, and are needed on a continual basis for weeding, watering, and other maintenance work. More information can be found at, and at, which is the local chapter of TACF.