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May 24th, 2011

What's Good for the Garden

dougIt’s raining today, following rain yesterday and the day before. When will it end?

Here in Emmaus we’re having a rainier-than-usual spring. The mud is slowing down my gardening projects at home. At the Organic Gardening test garden, we’re still waiting to till some new beds for squash, cucumbers, and melons. Turning wet soil is never a good idea; it damages the structure and porosity of the soil. Clods result.

As eager as I am to get on with the task of soil preparation, I have to remind myself that all this rain does wonders for plants. I can’t remember a spring when the tulips lasted so long, or the grass grew so lushly. It would be petty of me to grumble at the rain while surrounded by the beauty generated by all that moisture.

Gray skies and high humidity also facilitate transplanting. Two weeks ago I moved a foxglove that had already sent its flowering stalks 18 inches out of the ground, and it didn’t even notice. I couldn’t have attempted such an untimely transplant if the weather had been hot or sunny. Weeding is easier, too, when the soil is wet. Even weeds with long taproots slip right out of the oozy soil.

So bring on the rain. The tilling can wait.  —Doug Hall

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May 17th, 2011

Debunking a Pest-Control Myth

dougWill planting onions, garlic, sage, and marigolds in a vegetable garden keep insect pests away? That’s a question I was asked by a gardener at the Rodale Institute’s spring plant sale on Saturday. I had joined John Torgrimson, the executive director of Seed Savers Exchange, for the question-and-answer session. Our audience had lots of good questions, many from gardeners who were interested in learning the basics.

The questioner had seen books and magazine articles by authors who stated that certain strong-smelling plants, including herbs and onion relatives, repel insects from a garden. I’ve heard the same claims, but my experience doesn’t back them up. While the garlic, herbs, and marigolds may remain pest-free, other plants just inches away may be riddled with insect damage. The repellent qualities don’t extend beyond the pungent plants themselves.

But whip up some garlic and marigolds in a blender, strain the liquid into a sprayer, add a drop of dish soap to make the solution stick, and you can spread the repellent qualities of those plants throughout the garden.  —Doug Hall

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May 10th, 2011

A Misguided War on Chlorophyll

dougAs long as I’m griping about sustainability, here’s something else I want to get off my chest: I’m tired of sustainability being used as an excuse for creating landscapes that are heavy on the paving, light on the plants.

This weekend I picked up a new book that advocates an approach to home landscaping and gardening that the author labels “sustainable.” That’s an admirable goal. But the photos of gardens filled with rocks, pavement, walls, and gravel were depressing. Plants were an afterthought in these gardens, and used sparingly. Somehow the author had decided that living sustainably means eliminating water- and nutrient-using plants from our surroundings.

That’s not my vision of sustainability. Plants aren’t the enemy. The wrong plants, perhaps—plants that are incapable of thriving without regular irrigation, chemical sprays, or maintenance involving power equipment. Instead of paving the planet, let’s plant gardens that provide us with oxygen and food and beauty without guzzling resources.  —Doug Hall

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May 3rd, 2011

Sustainability Overload

dougI’m so tired of hearing about sustainability. At first I paid attention, especially when the term was applied to agriculture and gardening. Not any more. Sustainable has become a hollow buzzword, co-opted to sell products, to argue political points, and to promote all sorts of Earth-damaging practices. Now, when I hear the word, the attention button in my brain clicks to the off position—and that’s bad.

After all, our choice to live sustainably now—or not to—impacts future generations of humans as well as the health of the planet. We should all be participating in this conversation. Otherwise, the developers, marketers, politicians, and businessmen will decide Earth’s fate for us.  —Doug Hall

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