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Floating row cover is a simple tool to keep the garden going

Written by Doug Oster on .

blog greens under floating row coverThese mustard greens and Swiss chard should go all winter under a floating row cover. Photo by Doug Oster

Tomatoes, peppers and vine crops look tired as they patiently wait for the first frost. But even though this is the end for them, it's just the start for other plants.

I don't know what it is that makes gardeners like myself want to extend the season. I know plenty of people who are happy for a well deserved rest as tender plants fade.

I can't do that.

By choosing plants which enjoy growing in cool weather, the garden can be productive most of the winter.

Niki Jabbour, author of The Year Round Veggie Gardener is a kindred spirit, her book is the definitive work on the subject.

She's much more accomplished at growing 365 days a year than I am, and she's gardening in Nova Scotia! I've learned a lot from her and love to keep harvesting into the winter.

My garden is planted with carrots, Swiss chard, mustard greens, lettuce, kale, tatsoi, radishes, spinach and more.

Each bed is covered with a floating row cover. It's a spun bound, translucent fabric which acts as a greenhouse. It can be used for a few seasons if handled with care. The row cover is usually sold in 25 to 50 foot rolls and comes in various widths and thicknesses. It can be found at any good nursery or garden center.

I use 12 gauge wire to support the row cover which I find at my local hardware store. The fabric is so light, the plants themselves can support it, but I've found making hoops with the wire keeps the snow from crushing the plants.

It's not too late to plant if you can find some greens at a nursery. I've seen them locally at Hahn Nursery, Chapon's Greenhouse and Best Feeds.

I put down a couple bags of compost, tuck the plants into the soft soil and then protect them with the floating row cover.

What I love about gardening this time of the year is I don't have to worry about weeds, pests or watering.

There is something magical about going out to the vegetable garden, brushing off the snow and picking something wonderful and fresh from the garden.

 

 

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Garlic rules! Enjoying raw cloves on TV!

Written by Doug Oster on .

blog garlicNothing can compare to home grown garlic. Photo by Doug Oster

It's garlic planting time. This week's segment of Pittsburgh Today Live breaks down just how to plant it. Then I enjoy a raw clove of garlic with Jon Burnett and we both breathe on Kristine Sorensen, to her horror!

“It would be a sad world without garlic,” says my friend Johno Prascak. The Pittsburgh artist shares my obsession with garlic from the garden.
This is the perfect time to plant.
The first step is to start with the right garlic. It needs to be hardy for our areas, so farmer’s markets, local nurseries and garlic farms will well you the right thing. Most of the grocery store garlic isn’t hardy and is treated to retard sprouting.
I know for sure Hahn Nursery and Chapon’s Greenhouse has garlic for sale. But you’re favorite nursery might too.
Bob Zimmerman from Bobba-Mike’s Gourmet Garlic Farm in Ohio told me he has lots of ‘Music’ left. That’s my favorite variety, I’ve been ordering from Bob for over 15 years. The folks at Enon Valley Garlic have plenty of garlic left to order too. We’ve also become friends and they sell locally at the Sewickley, Ellwood City, Market Square and Chippewa farmer’s markets.
Once you have the right garlic, separate the head into cloves. Plant the biggest cloves three inches deep, six inches apart in good soil. I save the smaller cloves for the kitchen.
These garlic seeds are tasty. The only way to get any is grow your own.
In my garden, I mulch the bed with straw. Now all we have to do is wait until spring. Garlic growers get four harvests, not just one.

The first happens early in the spring when the greens sprout. They can be harvested lightly, remember the greens provide energy for the bulbs. But those early fat little sprouts sharing their show with the crocus signal the start of the season are delicious.
In early June a seed head called a scape will emerge. It must be removed so the bulb can reach its potential. They are a delicacy, I use them for pesto or grill them.
I leave some of those scapes in the garden. Even though they are no longer attached to the plant, the seed head will continue to swell and grow little bulbets that are a clone of the bulb.
When more than 50 percent of the greens turn brown in July it’s time to harvest the bulbs. They can be pulled out or gently coaxed with a garden fork. If you’re growing bulbs to store all winter they will need to be cured in a warm dry place for three weeks. Garlic lasts longer if the stalks are left attached.
There’s nothing like garlic from the garden, the fresh stuff is filled with oils that will make any recipe special. I even know a gardener who eats raw cloves out in his garden, guess who?

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The last rose

Written by Doug Oster on .

blog the last roseThe last rose bloom of the seasonf rom 'New Dawn.'. Photo by Doug Oster

Last winter laid waste to climbing rose which had thrived on an arbor for 15 years.

I replaced it with 'New Dawn' an heirloom climber with a long bloom season of fragrant flowers. Eventually it should reach nearly 20 feet high and seven to 10 wide. This season it started to climb, but won't reach maturity for a few more years.

One pink bloom is all that's left after its first year in the garden. It represents the ephemeral nature of gardens.

The entryway to the vegetable garden is flanked by the arbor and I had always dreamed of it covered with the flowers of climbing roses. That dream came true only a few short season after the initial plantings. I would sit in the garden on warm summer nights and marvel at the prolific plants covered in blooms.

On one side was 'Seven Sisters' on the other 'Zephirine Droughin,' which also bit the dust at the hands of the polar vortex. I found another at Hahn Nursery and it's doing well too.

Seeing that last rose, ready to bloom as November looms, reminds me of a "unique" season, filled with challenges brought on by a tough winter and a wet summer.

Both roses are on their own for the winter, no extra protection except some crossed fingers.

Their fate is with Mother Nature, just like everything else in the garden.

Hopefully spring will bring with it new buds and fast growth to cover the arbor again.

 

 

 

 

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Leaves equal compost, don't throw them away

Written by Doug Oster on .

blog red leavesFall leaves are a great resource for the garden. Photos by Doug Oster

A soft breeze is all it takes to separate deep red maple leaves from a tree. When it falls to the ground it will eventually decompose and feed that tree, it's the cycle of life and something gardeners can mimic in their own gardens.

blog more leavesMaple leaves will decompose quicker than oak.In the old days we did everything we could to get rid of leaves, burning them and sending them to the landfill. Today, most municipalities will collect leaves and make compost out of them. That's a great way of recycling, but it can be done at home too.

Since I live in an oak forest I understand the challenge of getting the leaves off the lawn, garden, patio, deck, driveway and every other conceivable place. But if you can find a place to pile them up, the leaves turn into a pH neutral compost which plants love.

Someone has been throwing leaves over a hill at my place since 1939 and when I need compost, I'll just dig down in one of the big piles to get the good stuff.

I leave a big pile of shredded leaves near my compost pile. Whenever I add things from the garden or kitchen, a layer of leaves are added. Building those different layers helps the compost decompose and has the right balance of ingredients too. Mixing the leaves with other organic matter speeds up the process too.

Leaves can be run over with the lawnmower or can be thrown into a trash can and shredded with a string trimmer.

The smaller the leaves are, the faster they will decompose. Shredded leaves make a great winter mulch too.

Don't throw your leaves away, use them as a resource for the garden. Mimicking nature works!

blog beech leavesSaving leaves and composting them mimics nature.

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Bugbane provides an annual surprise of fragrant, beautiful white blooms

Written by Doug Oster on .

blog tight flowers bugbaneBugbane produces white spires which are aromatic. Photos by Doug Oster

blog white flowers bugbaneThis plant grows in a neglected woodland bed, a testament to the toughness of bugbane.

There are things in the garden which surprise that shouldn't.

Cimicifuga or bugbane has been blooming yearly in my garden for 15 years, but it's planted in an out of the way place. It grows in a neglected woodland bed I created early on. Since then, the bed has been left to the wilds of nature. It became clear somewhere in those first couple seasons, I wasn't going to be able to keep up with the area.

That's certainly a testament to the toughness of bugbane. The dark purple foliage emerged in the spring and inconspicuously prepared for its fall show.

As I planted violas, greens and flowering kale yesterday I got my surprise in the form of the beautiful sweet smelling, white blossoms. How can something surprise you after 15 years? It's hard to explain, but everyone loves surprises and the garden rarely fails to offer something unexpected.

Bugbane is a great pollinator plant for beneficial insects, providing nectar and pollen during a time in the season when both can be scarce.

It's indestructible, will grow in shade under trees, is long lived and can be planted right now.

Best of all it's the star of the woodland garden when most of the plants are fading away, preparing for the end of the season.

It's fun to get an annual surprise as strange as that sounds.

blog really tight whiteGetting close to the flowers reveals their true beauty and sweet smell too.

 

 

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