Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Maine potatoes

One of the problems with buying seed potatoes at local nurseries is that you never really know where they came from, or if they are even suitable varieties for raising in our New England conditions.

Maine is definitely potato country (so is Long Island) and it's here that you'll find the organic WoodPrairie Farm in Bridgewater. If it is organic, locally grown, farm-direct seed potatoes you want to raise in your garden this year, you'll be pleased with the quality and selection of potatoes WoodPrairie offers. From Swedish Peanut to Cranberry Red, the company offers an extensive list of potatoes that are not only delicious, but grow very well here in Connecticut.

You can purchase potatoes at www.woodprairie.com, or call 800-829-9765 to order a catalog. Potato planting is still several months off for us gardeners here in New England, but you can order now and have them shipped to you at the proper planting time.

A harbinger of spring

The majority of the bulbs potted up last October have had sufficient cold weather conditions for to allow them to bloom indoors. A week in the unheated garage and a drink of water are the first step.

After that, the pots are brought into the warm basement and placed near a light source. Root growth that ceased during the cold months has now begun to resume and within two weeks the first top growth will begin to sprout. The first bulbs to be brought indoors are the hyacinths and the daffodils. Tulips need a bit more time out in the cold before they'll be ready to be brought indoors.

Every two weeks another set of pots will be moved indoors, with careful attention paid to timing flowers into bloom for Easter. What a delightful way to bring in some early spring color in the middle of winter! After the flowers fade, I'll compost the entire remains, although many gardeners have success planting the bulbs back in the garden for future blossoming.

A midwinter splash of color for spring is not confined to just forced bulbs. Cuttings of forsythia give impatient gardeners like myself a much-needed boost this time of year. It's also an excellent way to trim off congested branches or poorly placed ones, as forsythia has a tendency to become rather tangled. It certainly is easier to do the pruning now while the shrub is dormant.

All you need to do is place the cut branches into a vase of water. The indoor room temperature will force the buds to swell into long-lasting flowers. The yellow flowers pack a powerful punch and remind us that spring is just a mere ... 47 days away!

From the mailbag

Q: Every spring I notice some of my radish crops turn dark gray and rot. Would you know what is causing this condition?

J. Day, Easton

A: It's probably either rhizoctonia or fusarium root rot. These two conditions are fairly common fungal diseases that thrive in moist conditions often present in spring. They really do have similar symptoms, so it's hard to tell exactly which disease is troubling your radishes. It might even be both. A crop rotation that avoids planting cruciferous and solanceous vegetables will help greatly. If the problem is severe, plant root-rot resistant radish varieties such as Red King and Fuego.

A few tips for winter gardening

It's been a long time since we've had a winter like this one. The snow blanket is generally a good insulator to help protect vegetation from cold and wind.

But there is a danger if the snow is too deep. The excessive weight of snow and ice on delicate shrubs and trees can damage them. I've witnessed quite a bit of this sort of damage, but there's not much that can be done, other than trying to shake off what snow you can.

Snow cover can lead to other problems, such as snow mold on lawns and burrowing rodents that look for the young bark of fruit and ornamental trees to gnaw upon, but in general its benefits far outweigh any minor drawbacks.

By month's end the average temperature will have risen nearly eight to 10 degrees, and though we can still expect several more rounds of wintry weather over the next six weeks or so, the backside of winter is here and visions of spring are becoming brighter.

Meantime, indoors we'll need to get seriously busy this month sowing seeds and raising plants that will eventually see the light of day in the open garden.

Long-season leeks

Leeks are known as the "gourmet's onion" because of their subtle and milder flavor when compared to onions. Leeks are also easier to digest and enhance and bind flavors together as few other ingredients do.

Leeks can be outrageously expensive in stores and are often impossible to thoroughly clean. Homegrown leeks, despite their long occupancy in the garden, have superior flavor and are so trouble-free that no garden should be without them.

My fascination with growing leeks began more than 20 years ago when I watched Jim Crockett, from the popular television show "Crockett's Victory Garden," harvest leeks that were as big as baseball bats in length and girth. I couldn't believe how he had to dig down almost two feet into the ground to unearth the silky white stalks that make up the most edible part of the leek.

Normally, I plant leeks by the third week of February. However, the last few years I haven't been really happy with the size of the transplants that go into the ground in early April. Even with the head start, the leek seedlings were barely the size of a strand of spaghetti. The small seedlings often had trouble surviving torrential spring downpours and their small size made them especially vulnerable to hungry crows that easily plucked them from the soil.

I've changed my leek indoor planting schedule to the first weekend in February, give them more room to grow in larger pots, and continue a regular liquid feeding regimen every two weeks while indoors.

Leeks develop especially long roots, so I use deep 8-inch pots filled with a soil-less planting medium instead of using flats. The deep pots will encourage plenty of long root growth.

I've grown the variety known as Giant Musselburgh every year, for more than 20 years, and I'm convinced they're the best type to grow. A packet of the shiny black seed is sown rather thickly, as leeks are notoriously poor germinators. A quarter inch of soil will cover the seed and a generous drink of water will get them off to an extra early start. I won't need to transplant them into a different container, because they'll go directly into the ground from here.

Coldframe device works

One of the problems with coldframes is that even on a cold winter day they can build up a lethal amount of heat inside when the sun is out. If you're home all the time I suppose it's easy enough to walk outside and lift up the lid of the coldframe when it gets too hot, but often that is neither practical nor possible.

A device which first came on the market years ago was an automatic hinge that worked on a gas pressure system that actually lifted a heavy coldframe lid up in the air and held it open until the coldframe came back down to the proper inside temperature. The problem was that the devices never gauged the right temperature when to lift or close the lid, nor could they really open heavy coldframe lids.

Well, lo and behold, after 15 years out on the market I think they've finally got it right. Lee Valley Tools (800-871-8158, www.leevalley.com) sells a heat-activated window opener that really works. It incorporates a gas-charged cylinder of adjustable volume. As the temperature rises, the gas expands; it will open a 15-pound window, more than adequate in coldframes and greenhouses. A simple adjustment lets you control the operating range. As temperatures fluctuate, the 12 1/2-inch-long unit will open and close a window as necessary to prevent disasters.

For $39, you can own this slick, nonrusting, anodized aluminum window-opening device that works, and works well.

Late tips for summer gardening

Late-summer gardening tips from Ann McCulloh, curator of plant collections at the Cleveland Botanical Garden:

-- Remove diseased leaves and stems to reduce the spread or recurrence of plant health problems.

-- Keep the vegetable garden clear of spent plants and dying foliage.

-- When possible, avoid watering plants from above. Many fungal diseases thrive on wet foliage. A better method is to lay a soaker hose at the base of the plants to soak the root zone slowly and conserve water.

-- Put a simple rain gauge in your garden to make sure it's getting about 1 inch of water per week. Check and empty it weekly, and give your plants additional water if warranted.

-- Collect seeds from flowering plants to plant next year. Leave seed heads on perennials to reseed and to feed songbirds.

-- This is a good time to move or divide many spring-blooming perennials, including iris, peony, Oriental poppy and Shasta daisy. Replant with added compost, humus or manure, and water well for the rest of the season.

-- Reseed bare spots in the lawn to give grass seedlings time to develop before winter. Seed according to package directions, scatter straw lightly over the seeds, and keep them watered.

Gardening gurus offer top tips to carnival visitors

GARDENING gurus will be blooming excited with the range of gardening tips and interactive workshop sessions available throughout this year's Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers.
Winning showpieces from The Chronicle Garden Competition and Toowoomba's Exhibition Gardens will provide the perfect backdrop for green thumbs to gain inspiration, tips and expert advice as well as the chance to speak with the city's gardeners.
This year's Ergon Energy, Flower, Food and Wine Festival will also host a number of interactive sessions and workshops so visitors and residents alike can learn from the very best in the horticultural and floral design industries.
Popular ABC Gardening Australia and radio personality Colin Campbell will undoubtedly be a drawcard to this year's event.
Applying his green expertise to a suite of interactive question and answer sessions, Colin will also hold his aptly titled "Ask It, Solve It" workshop on Sunday, September 20.
Other speakers include horticultural writer and presenter John Daly and Toowoomba's Brian Sams who will be sharing gardening tips and expert tricks within the Ergon Energy Flower, Food and Wine Festival's specially designed "up close and personal" speaker's venue.
In addition, Toowoomba Regional Council gardeners, the very people behind carnival's blooming success, will also host a series of Twilight Tours in Laurel Bank Park.
These tours will be enlightening to say the least.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Kate Hit, Remembered

The death of Katharine Hepburn, for most of us, meant a day of quiet reflection and mourning. For Pulitzer Prize winner A. Scott Berg, however, it meant a day to crook his arm and pull his fist back while making a noise like that of a cash register. His book Kate Remembered, which was finished in 1999 and sat in a vault counting the days until Berg's "friend" of 20 years Katharine Hepburn died, has just come out and is revealing quite a lot about the private life of this movie icon.

This article at CBS News gives the lowdown on the book and includes the following passage, which caught my eye for reasons that will become plainly obvious to you after you read it:

    Berg writes that there was one big reason why Tracy and Hepburn never married besides Tracy's Catholicism, his guilt over his son's deafness and his wife's refusal to divorce him:

    "I never wanted to marry Spencer Tracy," she told Berg...

Berg should have included the whole quote, however, and I'm hoping that the misquote-catching folks over at Spinsanity give him what for. Here's the quote in its entirety:

    "I never wanted to marry Spencer Tracy because of his Catholicism, his guilt over his son's deafness and his wife's refusal to divorce him. Also, he was an abusive drunk who liked to backhand me in public. Plus, I have vaginal warts. Please don't tell anyone any of this, A. Scott Berg."

There are two things that I found incredibly interesting about Berg's book:

    1) Hearing Berg on NPR was how I found out that Hepburn died like two weeks ago.

    2) In researching this piece, I was reminded that Gregory Peck just died.

After I continued to dig, I found out that a book similar to Berg's Kate Remembered, but about Gregory Peck, had been released shortly after his death. It's called Greg: Finally Dead, So Here's The Book, and it was written by none other than famous movie actor Gregory Peck.

There were a few Katharine-Hepburn-level revelations in the Peck book. Among them:

    Gregory Peck, toward the end of his life, used to go to the grocery store sometimes as often as twice a week, just to have something to do.

    On the set of How the West Was Won, Spencer Tracy once gave Gregory Peck a dirty look, but it turned out that Tracy had just eaten something very sour.

    Peck used to mow A. Scott Berg's a. front yard in an effort to convince Berg to write a book about him. It didn't work, but Berg had the worst looking yard on the whole block.

    Peck originally died in 1998, but decided to try it again when his first death failed to make a splash.

    Gregory Peck was not gay or anything.

    On the set of To Kill A Mockingbird, Robert Duvall and Gregory Peck became close friends.

Whoa! Let's keep it clean, Peck!

Thursday, October 2, 2003

rock 'n' roll & news parody: both found dead. nation mourns, does not actually mourn.

Sorry for the light week this week. Two friends of mine both moved away this week (today specifically) which has meant a lot of staying-out-too-late and drinking-too-much. I've gone to more bars this week than I otherwise would have. Let's just put it that way, okay?

Also, I don't want to burn myself out before I take over blogging duties at Neal Pollack's site next week while he's on tour.

That all said, I've just got a few things to mention.

Rolling Stone takes on Canada's poor math skills.
Rock and roll apparently already successfully destroyed.

Thanks to Paul Serilla (currently piloting Whatevs) for mentioning a RollingStone.com contest whereby some lucky person can win a trip to New York to see the Strokes appear on Conan O'Brien's program. I entered the contest, partly because I do - no matter how uncool it is or how full of it they are - like the Strokes. Also I really like Conan O'Brien (now finally on at 12:30 in Detroit!), and I've seen his show before and it was a blast.

Anyway, as I was clicking through the rules, I found an interesting passage. It turns out that if a Canadian wins, things get a little more complicated:

    Canadian residents selected as winners will be required to successfully answer a time-limited, unaided, mathematical skill-based question prior to being awarded a prize, and failure to successfully answer the question will cause the prize to be forfeited and awarded to an alternate winner.

That's no-fooling straight from the rules. Can anyone explain this to me? I mean, I know as much as the next guy that Canadians have been getting a free ride for far too long and have simply relied on their American neighbors for arithmetic help, but why is this the proper venue for setting things straight? Do you think the Strokes added this rule? It would be so like them.

Or maybe this is a really common thing and I'm just an idiot. Someone set me straight.

Wednesday, October 1, 2003

happy birthday us

Two years ago, four brave men set out on a journey so daring, so grand and so wonderful that words can express neither the heroism of these wonderful men nor our debt to them.

I'm of course talking about myself and the other Editors (Matthew Tobey, Dennis Proctor, and Sam Forsyth) of Haypenny.com.

On October 1, 2001, the world got its first look at a Haypenny Feature. My Feature from that very first Issue, though not as good as something I might write today, still fills me with sorrow and regret - just like it did lo those many years ago.

I know I keep repeating it, but I think it's necessary that people understand since we started having Dailies (on October 15, 2001 - Daily Archive), we have never missed a weekday. Ever! Can any other site say that? No!

Here's a little-known fact about Haypenny: It was supposed to go live on September 1, 2001, but we Editors decided that we'd better wait, what with 9/11 about to happen and all. It's a fact!

Anyway, to honor myself and to justify some light blogging this week, I've penned a letter to the readers of Haypenny that you all can read too.

Also, don't forget that next week I'll be guest-blogging for Neal Pollack while he's on tour. Donnie Boman (from Left Pedal) is over there now doing a fine job. After me it'll be Monks, Popp, and then Tobey. Rock on.