Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Yay! I have my own domain and blog space. Check us out at: The move allows for more of the functions I need as I try to report on some of the gardening and growing news in central pa. I'm hoping you like it too. I would so love comments.

I may start to use this blogspot page as a photo gallery since I am quickly finding that I have more photos than space much of the time. Or I may add another tab on the punk rock garden domain for a photo gallery. Thanks so much for visiting!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

So you don't think you have a space to garden?

We talk about planting in containers. We talk about small space vegetable gardening. My lovely friend Sue Tanner sent me this photo. She captured the work of a determined gardener growing food near Boyle Road in Adams County. This is truly punk rock gardening.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Inspiration from Above

By T.W. Burger

The great thing about epiphanies is that you just never know when they’re going to happen.

An expected epiphany would be a contradiction in terms.

So, on a recent Sunday, I stood, coffee in hand, looking out over the creek, the trees, and the critters I could see.

I had been watching a great blue heron in the bright sunlight, spearing his breakfast in the rocky shoals. Something caught my eye, a glittering movement, a bright sparkling thread of light, a chain of diamonds trailing from the branch of the big oak right outside the window.

First, you have to understand that I love nature writing. My shelves are crowded with books by Loren Eiseley, David Hopes, Henry Beston, Edwin Way Teale, Annie Dillard, and the like.

Through them I learned that as vast as the world may be, there is enough wonder and horror in the average back yard to keep me goose-bumpy and awake many a night.

Eiseley wrote of playing with a fox kit, and of dancing with, I think, a Sand Hill crane. Teale and his wife tracked all four seasons as they made their way across the U.S. Beston wrote stirringly that animals are “different nations” with attributes different and sometimes better than our own. Dillard wrote a passage about the death of a frog in the jaws of a giant water bug that gives me the willies just thinking about it.

Now, you would think that after so much reading about the finned, feathered, furred, hooting, clacking, chirping world would prepare me for just about anything.

That was before I saw the squirrel pee.

Yeah, I know, all God’s creatures gotta go. But you know it’s just not something one thinks about. Gathering nuts for the winter. Running helter-skelter into the paths of cars. Scolding the cats from the tree branches. Building nests of leaves in the branches of trees. Eating the stalks of my corn plants, (Which had me telling the cats that for all the free food they were mooching off me, they could try a little predation once in awhile. They just blinked and told me to talk to the shop steward.)

Nobody ever mentioned, well, squirrels’ bathroom habits.

But there he was, in full sun on a thick branch, letting go, his tail and head held high. He looked like he was smiling, but I may just be projecting. The, um, product ran off the branch and trailed off to the leaf litter below, making the glittering chain that had caught my eye.

He finished his business, flicked his tail a couple of times, and launched himself into the air to another branch. Back to work, scolding, nut-gathering, and so on. It’s a tough life.

I stood there, finishing my coffee, happy to be reminded that there is always something new to learn from nature. One just has to pay attention, to be still, and be open to new possibilities. Not a bad lesson on a Sunday morning.

I resolved to spend more time walking along the creek, and in the woods.

And to always wear a hat.

© 2005 Marsh Creek Media,
Gettysburg, Pa.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Plants Have thier Own Purpose

There are people gathered in Millersville right now who would be very comfortable with two concepts that recently sunk into my hard head.
Articulated by Doug Tallamy:

We need to abandon the idea that we are planting purely for the aesthetics of plants.

Landscapes need to be functional for nature.

Today, the Native Plants in the Landscape Conference begins. The conference, held at Millersville University, is a respected gathering for native plant exploration and education for home gardeners and plant professionals. I could not attend this year. But I will next year. One of the featured speakers at the conference is Douglas Tallamy, author of "Bringing Nature Home" and Professor of Entomology at the University of Delaware.

At the Manada Conservancy Native Plant Sale at Meadowood Nursery, I had the pleasure of hearing Tallamy speak. I also was able to walk the nursery with him.

Tallamy's book sheds light on the intricate web of nature and explains that native plants support insect life significantly better than alien plant species. Insects native to an area have, over time, become genetically predisposed to eat and utilize native plants for shelter and reproduction. Native Pennsylvania oaks, for example, host caterpillars which feed migrating birds. A strong argument is made for utilizing native plants in our suburban landscapes.

Gardeners, while often convinced of the importance of native plants, worry about tearing out their established gardens in order to replace their plants with natives. I asked him about the best plan for adding natives to your landscape.

"First, make sure there are no invasives , then replace your plants through attrition, " said Tallamy. Reduce the amount of lawn you have and plant your areas densely with native plants. " Almost everyone has more lawn than they need. " Gardens tightly planted provide food and shelter for insects and wildlife and can gradually allow nature to rebuild the food web. The hope is to create a corridor through suburban landscapes that allow wildlife to move freely and find shelter and food.

Gardeners nurture plants. So the idea of pulling out your hybrid tea to replace it with clethra feels a little counter intuitive to us.

"People need to know it's O.K. to kill a plant." said Lorrie Preston, President of the Appalachian Audobon Society. Preston and Tallamy have similar thoughts about integrating natives. She suggested looking closely and really thinking about some of our problem plants. Rather than babying a plant along with additives or keeping it in bounds with excessive pruning, take the plant out and replace it with a native.

"Plants have their own purpose. We have to understand and think about how a certain plant can serve nature." said Preston.

Plants Have thier Own Purpose

Doug Tallamy, author of "Bringing Nature Home" and Professor of Entomology at the University of Delaware, signs autographs after his presentation at the Manada Conservancy's Native Plant sale held at Meadowood Nursery, near Hummelstown, PA.

Luna Moth

I had the experience of seeing this beautiful moth at Meadowood Nursery recently.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Garden Yoga

Bending back and to the side to reach behind the japanese willow, I found myself as twisted as a Henry Lauder's Walking stick. I was trying to reach into the back corners of the garden while touching up the mulch. It occurred to me, while not as graceful, some of the silly positions I found myself in resembled yoga poses.

There is the "balance on toe to avoid squashing the sedum" pose. This move allows the gardener to step inside an established garden and mulch behind spirea.

The "crouch careful twist" is used to avoid rose thorns while smoothing shredded bark. Balancing on one arm, repeatedly wave the other arm back and forth across the top of the mulch while avoiding the rose bushes until you inevitably need to stop and get a band-aid.

The most often used pose is the "downward facing gardener". For this pose, shovel several good sized piles of bark in between plants. Place feet, slightly spread, in front of the echinacea, bend at waist and lunge toward the lungwort. Stretch to reach the piles and smooth. Hold pose until your back gives out.

Anyone heard of something called a rake?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Fresh Food for Health

Nevin Kreider and daughter Regina ,6, sell fresh tomatoes during Palmyra's Producers Only Farmers' Market in 2008. Kreider grows the tomatoes in his greenhouse in Elizabethtown and sells them at various farmers markets in the area. Kreider also sells tomatoes at the Farm Show Complex Farmers Market in Harrisburg.

Fresh Food for Health

Each time you choose locally grown organic foods, you are making an investment in your future health care said Jennifer Halpin, Director of the College Farm Project at Dickinson College. Sometimes you might have to spend a little extra. Or we might have to change our patterns a bit. But the effort is rewarded with food of greater value.

While she made many compelling arguments for buying local, healthfully grown food, Halpin's health based explanation held a special resonance. She was one of the speakers at the Carlisle YWCA Women's Symposium, "It's Easy Being Green."

When making food decisions, concerns about consumption of fossil fuels during long transports of cheap fruits and vegetables and possibly even concerns about the chemicals the food has been treated with, can seem abstract. Distant. Not part of our immediate concern. But Halpin made me think how much more value truly clean and nutritious food holds.

The produce grown and shipped to us from far away, is bred to ship and store well. It is not bred for nutrition or taste. Simply compare the nutritional value of grocery store ubiquitous iceberg lettuce to many leafy greens that are currently available in our farmers markets. Think of the red globes of cellulose sold as tomatoes compared to locally grown tomatoes. Cheap food is cheap in the worst sense. It has little value to our health or our enjoyment of eating.

We are lucky. We are surrounded by great markets and CSA's in this area. So finding healthy food is easier. We also have support in that search. Check out this site:

Buy Fresh Buy Local:

All you have to do is type in your zip code and they will help you find what your looking for. I entered my New Cumberland zip and excluded restaurants from the search and I found 30 producers in a 30 mile radius. They also have a social network component called "Good Food Neighborhood" which encourages sharing of local food experiences.

Another reason to be grateful we live in Central PA? A new farmers market is debuting next Wednesday, June 3rd. Called "Farmers on the Square", the market in Carlisle will run from 3pm to 7pm each Wednesday in front of the 1st Presbyterian Church on N. Hanover Street.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Bloom of the moment

Love the perky stems and bouncie bluish bloom. Baptista, False Indigo.

Spring Salad

Lettuce, chives, small strips of arugula, micro-green cuttings from radish with a few hot house strawberries and a vinaigrette and I'm happy. I'm even happier that all but the berries and dressing came from my back yard.

I'm also happy that interest in growing food is, well, growing. And any new gardener should be happy that it is truly easy to do. Decent soil, good sun, proper water and a little love keep your veggies happy. And, if you plant early to mature tomatoes or beans or squash, there is still time to try it yourself. You might squeak by with some lettuce. Especially lettuce that would get just a little shade during the hottest times of the day. We'll talk about late season planting, well, later in the season.

I covered my earliest veggies with row cover draped over simple bent pvc. I was able to safely start my crops that way about two weeks early. The best bang for this effort happened with the cold season crops. The lettuce, spinach, onion, cilantro all thrived. The lone tomato that I added to the box didn't die but didn't do much either. My inside tomatoes grew better.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Chic Chicken Shoulder Accessory

I've been spending all my time outdoors. I will reach a balance and start writing again soon. But for now, a little entertainment. I didn't know how hip I am. The Washington Post proclaimed backyard chickens "the chic garden accessory" of the summer.

Friday, May 15, 2009

PRG and Gardens Update

My garden is a symphony in spring. The bold notes of the white tulips are followed by the quiet low sounds of the trillium with a rumble of the pulmonaria, then the roar of the white iris. A high note of early lettuces for dinner dances across the top of the music. The crescendo of the new dawn heirloom roses is soon to explode to the first strawberries. After that, a lull. Perhaps an intermission.

During this intermission, japanese beetles take center stage for a moment. These non-native pests, the subject of this next column by our fabulous guest columnist Terry Burger, arrive and sadden us all with their pillaging.

To my knowledge, there is no good control of these beasts. I've heard reports that traps just draw more in from everywhere and milky spore is slow and only modestly effective. I suggested to a friend that she cover her roses with a crop cover during the bad beetle days. She said she grows roses for the ornamental beauty and covering them.... well... defeats that. For a few weeks at least. She's right. But I may still cover mine.

Thank you, Terry! Your column is a fun look at the frustrations that we all have when we see our beloved plants gnawed to nubs.

On another note, I am hoping to move this site to my own domain and start blogging on a completely redesigned page sometime around the end of May. I will let everyone know when I move. It will be: I may keep this site active as a photo gallery. I usualy have more photos than I have space. This time, tho no. But I'll post random images for some Friday fun. Thanks for visiting!

Cherry Tomatoes for Breakfast

My son eats a wide variety of healthy foods. His older sister, in contrast, needs most everything she eats to be fried or processed. I'm not sure, but I think it might have something to do with my son growing up being lugged through vegetable gardens. He loves to eat cherry tomatoes for breakfast.

I find this a great incentive to grow your own.