Winter Pruning Workshop Part II With LUrC

Aside

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Happy March folks!

Welcome are the longer days, the squishy ground underfoot, the dank, deep smell of impending bud-set, and OH! Speaking of bud-set, welcome are the days when we start thinking about caring for the health & future of our trees!

And who better than to do it with than our good friends from LuRC (The League of Urban Canners!) at our Second Fruit Tree Pruning Workshop in Central Square in Cambridge, MA. We were fortune to have a clear day, a lovely homeowner and a pack of enthusiastic and interested LuRCers, looking to develop some awesome (and necessary) pruning skills to keep Cambridge and Somerville’s fruit trees healthy, blooming and fruiting!

                   H e r e   a r e   s o m e   s h o t s   f r o m  t h e  d a y !

IMG_1344Thanks to the 16ft bike trailer from the awesome people at Bikes at Work, we don’t need a stinking truck. 🙂  And neither did the LUrCers also arrived on-site with bikes & backpacks and peniers full of pruning saws and hand tools! (I’ve made note of this fact before and I’m proud to say it again: These folks harvested over 4THOUSAND lbs of urban fruit last fall in Cambridge & Somerville alone without using a single BTU to do so!) Goooo BIKES! We were pumped & excited to get started on the day.

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First thing’s first when it comes to pruning:  Site assessment. Looks as if one of our front yard apple trees is making some unwanted advances towards it’s neighbor.

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Ned and the group point out potential limbs to be pruned. Reasons include but are not limited to death, decay, infection, superfluous or crossing limbs, energy restoration & overall aesthetic.

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We noted signs of rot, damage from plows and garbage trucks, cankers and open wounds due to rubbing branches. We also found some new and lovely watershoots which we will work with in the future AND we spotted the sweet hints of impending flower buds!

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A severe canker spot.

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Seemingly Nefarious Ned going over the rules of thumb in regards to pruning tools, safety and proper tool maintenance (and looks damn going doing so!)

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Sharp as nails. Ned demonstrates the proper way to hold and cut with a pruning saw.

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…And time for the fabulous LuRCers to to take a stab at it!

Like all good things in life, angle is key.

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You can never be too young to start caring about the health, longevity and care of your local trees.

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In action!

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Assessing and diagnosing areas of rot on the tree. There’s so much beauty in nature, even in decay!

IMG_1338It was, of coure, another fabulous day of laughing, talking, learning, teaching, networking, sharing, and just really enjoying the company of all the LURCers! By the end of the session, nearly everyone was able to try their hand at a cut (not to be confused with cut on a hand) and they walked away more confident in their ability to properly prune fruit trees! YeeHOO!

IMG_1342Street hasslin’ with the local fuzzes….

IMG_1343As Ned and I headed back to Porter Square, jonezing for that nice hot cup-o-joe, we discussed how excited we were to work with such a COOL group of people who are sincerely and actively interested in sustainability and about how lucky we are to work in a field in which most people share that common and very real goal. So thank you LUrC for this opportunity for us to share our knowledge with you, to learn more about your goals for this coming season and for some of the most delicious homemade apple sauce and apricot jam we’ve ever had! MM.

Also, If anyone out there in the Boston/Somerville/Cambridge area is looking to have their trees/shrubs tended to, we are happily for hire! OR if you are looking to learn a useful new skill, we would be thrilled to give pruning lessons either one-on-one or in groups.

XO and so excited for spring!

Be well,

Jen

Shoot us an email: jenandnedgardeners@gmail.com.

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Permaculture Design Course 2013!

IMG_1134How excited were Ned and I about our Introduction to Permaculture Design Short Course?

*swoon*

*smile*

REPEAT

We’re brimming with motivation & excitement. Our brains are turned on, tuned IN and we are ready to put our hearts, hands and hippocampi (sure, let’s say that’s the plural) to work this spring! Boston, we hope you’re ready.

Thanks so much to the lovely, brilliant and oh-so-evocative Lisa Fernandes, president and organizer of the Portland Maine Permaculture and Resilience Hub in Portland, ME for composing such a comprehensive, digestible, inspiring & interactive class. Heck, we were so blown away by Lisa’s energy and passion during this intensive two-part short course, that we registered for the FULL Permaculture Design Certification Course this coming season- all the way up in UNITY, ME. If that’s not love & commitment, I don’t know what is. : )

This 6 month long intensive will teach us a range of skill sets, methodologies, practical applications and the benefits of sustainable living, natural building and energy descent, along with urban/suburban farm applications and design practicums along with a slew of guest lectures, field trips, inspirations as so on!

*again, with the swoons*Screen Shot 2013-02-06 at 7.55.56 PMSo friends, come April, be sure to check out our BLOG for musings, tips, design ideas, positive solutions, favorite edibles, photos, and other glorious et ceteras as we document our Permaculture experience because (eloquently speaking here) this course going to be more fantastic than an impromptu parking lot discotheque and we are excited to share what we’ve learned!

Here’s to 2013!

Jen

Urban Domination Through Eco-Beautification!

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Where once was an urban jungle, full of the most foul & invasive weeds (you know the type- they strangle everything beautiful, rob the soil of beneficial nutrients and can even rip up the shingles of a home), the most infertile and trash-ridden dirt/sand (cigarettes, glass, condoms, needles and other urban treasures), where there was no life, no beauty and folks who resided here would hurriedly rush into their “Area 4” apartment here in Cambridge MA…

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…turned into this sweet flora scape of explosive color, texture and _holy wow_ some of the sweetest scents you’ve ever sniffed. For two years I made this front “yard,” my front “yard” a personal project as I could not accept living in a space that suffered so much neglect. I honestly felt as though I was contributing to the decline of the neighborhood if I didnt take action and put my heart into this tiny postage stamp of earth. So, I cleaned out all the rubbish, dug down deep with my trowel, shovel, pickaxe, saw & hacked, cleared, weeded churned and worked in a nominal amount of compost to make the soil have even the slightest chance of supporting any plant life .

At the time, I was working for a larger gardening company in Cambridge that would often toss plants that no longer stood up to their high standards (due to a brown leaf or slightly wilted disposition) and would happily kidnap these little orphans (2 or 3 brown leaf bags at a time) and ride them home on my bike, messenger bag full too.  Each plant was a prize to me! I would love to shuffle the perennials around to make sure each new one was placed in a grouping just so- with it’s colors and textures working and blending, swooping and bending.  Eventually, even after only a few months of care, I created a front yard that hosted a myriad bees, earthworms, BUTTERFLIES and (however lured by the Catmint) the snapping spot for the neighborhood cat!

The most beautiful and rewarding part about this installation was obviously the outcome, but what really turned me on, were the looks of awe and joy that swept across neighbors’ faces. I was taking care of and cleaning up their neighborhood. Taking care of their street. Their home.

Often, I would offer clippings for propagation, split plants and swap with women a few houses away, talk to the little girls walking home from school as they reached through the chain link fence (which I wish I could have torn down!) for a daisy, aster or iris.

I would work in the garden on rainy days (my post man thought I was crazy) covered in mud, crap & god-knows-what, reaching deep down into the soil to remove every speck of Black Swallowart root because I knew that it’s easier to get at the hell of a plant when conditions are moist. And yes, maybe I was crazy-I did get a lot of laughs and, “Girl you must be MENTAL!” as I would grin with slop mud and plant matter all over my face and butt.

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But that’s great! Because looking back, (I no longer live there) people noticed & that’s what I wanted.  I wanted them to know that they, too, deserved to see something sweet and beautiful on their walk to school or home from work and that someone actually cared to make it happen. Folks often peeked into the garden because they knew it was always changing, growing, shifting & popping with new colors with the changing of the seasons.  I also noticed that people (mostly) stopped littering into the garden because, as I said, they knew someone actually CARED about it (and because they were frightened by how tough I look out there in my big goofy hat.)

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It sounds silly and maybe even too personal, but even though I lived on the third floor of this rundown apartment, I would swoon over making breakfast for the ones I loved & balance coffee, plate, OJ etc. down the stairs and “stoop it” on the front steps.  We would sit with our humble bounty and strange morning humor and share our energy (“our” as in us as people + the garden) with everyone who passed by.

Heck, we even had a few evening parties that transitioned to the “stoop” and I would be overly elated to think that it had something, anything even a micro-thing to do with the beauty that spilled out of the flower pots that lined the edge of the stairs or the sweet and humming flora bursting out and onto the soil.

Anyways.

I love gardening and I honestly believe that the feeling we all get from looking at a beautiful flower transcends time, ethnicity, culture, class, gender and so on, and that we need to start appreciating ALL of our remaining green spaces with respect, love in care- because really, it’s a reflection and projection of how we care about ourselves and the ones around us.

Oh (NO!) Tannenbaum

Ok, so, Christmas is over (a universal congratulations to all!) and you now find yourself staring at that once lovely, sparkly, Olfactorily stimulating fir tree looking a little dry, a little dusty maybe even a little bit sad over there in your living room. There even may be a ring of green needles expanding from radius to perimeter. Poor guy.

Ok, so, yes, clean-up is going to be a little messy- just like every other year. And I feel like I can sum-up what most peoples’ reaction to this post-holiday burden tends to be (a deduction based on 6 or so years of observation), “I DONT CARE HOW WE GET IT OUT OF THE HOUSE, JUST GET IT OUTAHEAH.”  I can only imagine this declaration with overly dramatic gesticulations, flailing arms & teeth grinding due to the (I’m sorry to say) irrational, Blasphemetic & holy-crap-so IGNORANT practice of:

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gross.

putting. a. tree. in. a. plastic. bag.

I pause.

…longer…
…ever longer still……

And now for some deep breathing.

My apologies for getting so worked up about this, but seeing beautiful trees wrapped in these offensively huge plastic bags really chaps my @ss.  Not only are you purchasing a HUGE plastic bag, but you are also wrapping up a natural, decompostable organism, that has the potential to enrich soil, protect plants and at the same time, house & feed wildlife. (I guess some “overly dramatic gesticulations, flailing arms & teeth grinding” is in order at this part of my post.)

I understand that clean-up can be a little overwhelming (you should have seen my landlord the other night- WOW) but that’s nothing a hot-toddy and some Django Reinhardt can’t turn into a good time with the one you love.

Now, perhaps folks just don’t think about this as being an issue. To a certain degree I can understand (?—maybe…), as we are all feathering back to earth from this post-holiday exhale. But I honestly believe that there should be a certain level of common sense amongst all of us here in the Commonwealth concerning this issue. But there isn’t. So I exclaim!: Buck-up and get your nudie trees outside.

Here’s why:

The CITY OF BOSTON will pick up your sexy, naked trees and turn them into even sexier mulch. This mulch is packed with beneficial nutrients and has the potential to be spread in city parks and other local gardens, providing a place for kids to play, a tree root protector or for weed suppression. These uses should also deter folks from spraying trees with longevity or scented chemicals, white frosty paint, etc….

Thank you Boston, Somerville & Cambridge for this service! (NOTE: Tree pick-up lasts until the end of the first two weeks in Jan.)

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Now, for all of you out there who are looking to get a little bit more life and/or meaning from your lovely Christmas trees, I have a few little hints, tips and ideas to keep the spirit of the tree still tingling:

  • For gardeners! Using your pruners, you can cut each branch back to the trunk and lay them over delicate root bases (ie, roses) and other perennials. These will protect plants from heavy snow loads and will also help enrich the soil come spring.
  • Fun with kids (or not!) Take your tree outside (stand and all) and wrap it with a string of popcorn, or dried berries or peanut covered pine cones. Birds will have a field day and your cats will make that cute little coo-ing noise at the window for days.
  • Land owners! Just throw your tree into the woods and let it decompose naturally. Creatures will also have a sweet little house to nest in and feed from.
  • Land owners with ponds! Fallen trees are essential for aquatic habitats. Lay your tree into the wetland and let it provide shelter for fish and beavers, etc.

If there are any of you out there who love love love the holiday, love the decorations but don’t want to deal cutting down or killing a tree (me) or deal with any of the mess (errr…me again) there is still hope and fun and creativity to be had!

A few suggestions:

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Get outside and peek around your backyard, local park (shhhh) or outdoor space. Search for a large fallen and interestingly shaped branch. When you get home, mount it and let it swoop and bend along the curve of your wall. Dress it with a few of your favorite ornaments and string of lights as a cool focal point.

Be creative with plants and tables and other doo-dads you have around the house. Throw some lights on them and BAM.Image

Or, maybe you needed to do some pruning around your property anyways in preparation for another brutal New England winter storm. Saw off a limb, a superfluous branch, mount it and have fun!

Either/Anyway, let’s remember to always be conscious of what we uproot from the soil and to make sure that we take responsibility for giving it back. And for us to try to reduce the number of trees that we cut down each year (25-35 million). We have awesome brains, wicked crafty hands and an endless supply of recyclables. Use em.

If you have any interesting ideas (and I know you guys do, I’ve SEEN them!), please feel free to show and/or tell!

Get Creative. Waste Less. Preserve More.

 

LOVEjen

Sometimes love can sting…

Every now and then i find myself looking back through space and time across the old pond, over yonder towards that beautiful, though somewhat soggy  jewel of a garden, called England.   For many years i lived in and around the city of Cambridge and for a while had the good fortune to live in the rather famous little village of Grantchester, with its gorgeous cow-filled meadows that dip down to the meandering river Cam.

Yes, it really is as quaint as you might imagine…

Lined with Weeping Willow and Cow Parsley, the river bank would open in areas allowing easy entry to the slow flowing water on those somewhat rare, hot English summer days.

I remember one fine day in particular when a new friend of mine, fresh from the US, went careering after a wonky frisbee throw, straight towards the lush, chest high, herbaceous river bank……  straight towards the waiting Stinging Nettles!

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You see, Tom had never encountered stinging nettles in his life and didn’t realize he was about to perform an impromptu song and dance for us all. We really did try to stop him… you’ll just have to trust me on that one.

In England you learn early about Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)  and about its compassionate companion, Dock (Rumex obtusifolius, Rumex crispus) the leaves of which, when rubbed over the effected area will help to neutralize the stinging compounds.

And some of us also learn that they are a wonderful medicinal and edible too, being high in vitamins  A and C,  as well as containing high amounts of  Calcium, with Manganese and Potassium thrown in for good measure.  A real clincher for me is their staggering amount of protein  : up to 25% of dry weight of plant can be protein when they are in the full throws of growth!! Rock on!

Medicinally speaking, it has a long history of use in the treatment of arthritis and muscle pain, gout, anemia, and enlarged prostate, as well as hay fever and urinary tract infections.

If you’re going to use them as an edible or medicinal, consider discontinuing harvesting them once they’ve begun flowering and thereafter, as they can be a possible irritant to the urinary tract at this stage, due to high levels of calcium carbonate (think “hard water” scale) in the form of gritty Cystoliths  developing in their leaves. If in doubt, go and talk to a good herbalist…

Outside of this time period, and particularly in the Spring… Gobble ’em up, i say!!

And don’t worry, a good long soak in fresh water or a quick blanching in simmering water is all it takes to disarm these prickly wonders…

Good for us….  AND good for our GARDENS too!

That’s right…. Now i know that most people wouldn’t consider planting stinging nettles in their gardens, fearing their tendency to be invasive, or not realizing that they shame the pale spinach into the shadows when it comes to nutritive value and, in my humble opinion, taste ( and, what better way to tackle a “weed” than by eating it?!) and i can understand that they may be a somewhat prickly customer for some……

…so,  seeking the middle ground i would like to suggest, rather strongly, that you at least consider using them in your compost piles. That is, once you’ve located a nice little nettle patch… They’re out there! I’ve encountered them…   AND  have recently discovered one a mere stone’s throw from my house. Consider it another excuse to get out and have a rummage about in the undergrowth! They like it fertile and moist and are fond of forest and field edges.  If they do pop up in your garden uninvited, consider it a compliment to your soil conditions.

Being high in nitrogen they make a wonderful compost activator and their high amounts of magnesium, sulphur and iron make them great for use as a fertilizer.

In England  folks are fond of pairing Nettles with Comfrey to use in compost piles or make liquid fertilizer with the two together.  (More about  the “Queen of the permaculture garden”, Comfrey, in an upcoming  blog…)

Making a liquid fertilizer of either of these wondrous plants  is an easy process:

  1. chop up some leaf matter of your desired super-hero plant (enough to fill your chosen container)
  2. pop it in your chosen container (bucket/barrel!!)
  3. fill with water, to cover super-hero leaf choppings
  4. leave until you obtain  (especially with Comfrey) a nice dark slurry… this may take several weeks… pour yourself a nice drink and watch a couple of sunsets.
  5. use liberally about your garden as a liquid fertilizer

Refrain from using as a cure for baldness as you may regret the hairdresser’s bills!

Me, i’m sold on eating it, making a nice cuppa out of it  AS WELL as loving my gardens with it. I can bear the odd sting here and there and don’t need much of an excuse to get outside and rummage about as it is.

Give it whirl and, at the very least, you’ll see great improvements in the health and vitality of your garden. And if uncontrollably healthy hair and a lack of interest in the imposter, spinach, is not for you (S. Baggish)… well, i’ll forgive you.

Love and Nettley Tingles

Ned

Why Getting Busy Can Save Your Plants!

photo-34So, I recently received a question from a good friend and concerned plant owner, curious about her ailing Phyladendron:

“Girl… I have a plant, one very pathetic plant. It used to be a lush Phyladendron. It’s now a single coughing vine in a huge pot and I keep forgetting its there and then it catches my eye. What’s left of it. I want it, that last vine, to have a fresh start before I completely kill it. But I don’t know what to do or how. I never throw away plants unless All Brown… Thoughts?”

My first reaction is to respond to this question from a horticulturalist’s perspective: Cut the poor Phylo back to a healthy, low-on-the-stem node with a clean set of scissors. Be sure to keep the plant in a moderately well-lit and warm area, making sure that the soil is moist. These plants are naturally found thriving on the rain forrest floor, under a canopy of foliage, so they prefer this speckled sunlight. Since your Pyhlo is of the vining variety, I recommend inserting a stake into the soil, close to the plant so it has something to grab onto once it starts reestablishing itself.  Also, I recommend misting the surviving greenage as to mimic the Phylo’s native environment which is that of the tropical Americas. These steps should serve your plant well!

My second approach, however, would incorporate more of an alternative way of thinking about plants, an approach interested in new perspectives, creative sciences and bare with me, PLANT ESP- the ability for plants and other livings to communicate, GASP, outside of our 5 limited senses.

No, no, wait. Come back!

It sounds ridiculous, and hey, it just might be, but I recently stumbled across some preTTy interesting research compiled by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, exploring the notion of plants being regarded as sentinel beings. Yes, thanks to the findings based on a one mister Cleve Backter’s (a very dedicated ex-CIA Lie Detector Examiner) research, there has been ample evidence to suggest a recordable & remarkable link between plants and other living things based on a cellular-type consciousness and perceptiveness common to all life.  Long story short: We exist in a world of “Biocommunication,” a theory suggesting that plants exhibit awareness and empathy towards affected organisms: They react strongly to the death of other living cells. They go dormant when they are in the presence of ill will. There is a significant reaction on the Galvanometer in response to others’ stress, anxiety and elation- the list goes on! Hell, it might even be a good idea to grab a handsome, friendly farmer come spring for a little tumble in the tall weeds! All of that positive energy will result in spikes of cellular activity in the plant and will result in a healthy, strong and verdant crop!  According to Backster.

primaryperceptionclevebuu3So what does all of this vo-doo have to do with my friend’s sad plant? Well, Backter also suggested that plants are especially in-tune to their “owners” Psychic Energy, Attention and INtentions. For example, one of Baxter’s plants, upon having been hooked up to a polygraph machine, showed sharp amounts of reactivity to Backter’s THOUGHTS of setting one of it’s leaves on fire to see how it would react. It picked up on his INTENTIONS. There have been studies in which a plant was hooked up to one of these machines and it’s reactivity to it’s owners stress was still detectable even though they were half-way across the country (researches were able to correlate the time at which the owner’s plane took off and landed, and were able to match it to notable spikes on the graph.) Incredible.

There are a myriad examples I could and would love to introduce, but for the sake of time, I will keep this post relevant to the question after one further thought.  I believe there is some validity to Backster’s claims. I do believe that cells can communicate with each other (think about how perfect bacteria is. Our Immune system. Every single cell working in syncopation to  serve a function, to know when to defend, to communicate a range of information with the cells that worth with it and against it or are ambivalent. When those cells react for whatever reason,  a signal is sent throughout the system and can easily be detected by another living creature (fauna OR flora) that is free of our limited 5 senses. Valid.

So, to finally come back and tie all of this into answering my friend’s question, I’ll end with this: I love to know how much you care about your plant, and I’m glad you didn’t give up on it yet! My suggestion is to proceed with my initial advice: Node cutting, attention to soil moistness and light quality. And in doing so, I strongly suggest acknowledging the plant. Encourage and will it to live.  Do so with a full heart and let it know that you appreciate the functions it serves. Place the Phydo in a spot where it will be seen so you can be more attentive to it’s needs in the future and pass good intentions it’s way daily. Put it in the bedroom or another in another place where you do your smooching! *wink.*

Mombo-jombo? Maybe. But a little more sweetness, a little more awareness, and a little more care for all living things in this world couldn’t hurt. ❤

Jen and Ned Team-Up With LuRC!

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The folks refuse to let any of your lovely fruit go to waste.

Hey, have you guys ever heard of these folks? Nor had we, up until a few weeks ago. And holy crap, they are awesome.

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Ned and I were sitting outside Zing Cafe in Porter Square when a smiling cyclist rolled up with his son and enthusiastically inquired about our neat Jen & Ned Gardeners bike trailer (designed by the freaking awesome folks from Bikes at Work and assembled by the one and only Matt Budd of Budd Bike Works).

Sam, who introduced himself, as the founder of The League of Urban Canners (also known as LUrC), enthusiastically gushed over our green business model and soon-there-after began to blow our little minds with his successful, and dare I say fruitful organization of dedicated volunteers whose goal is to harvest a property owner’s unwanted fruit, can it and give 10% of the jam/jelly/magic back to the fruit tree owner! Pretty great.

This is an inspiring group of folks whose hard work not only benefits the people who own the fruit trees (fallen fruit is often sloppy, gloppy, stinky and attracts rodents) but helps build the honest sense of community that evolves through having a common and altruistic goal. Heck, being outside and learning about trees and how to make jellies doesn’t seem that terrible either! : )

Here is some more info about LuRC:

During fall 2011, LUrC canned over 70 pints of apple sauce and 50 pints of grape jam from local apple trees and grape arbors and returned 10% of the product to the owners.

This past fall, 2012, they harvested a staggering 4000lbs of fruit!    Yes, that’s right…. 4000 lbs!!

* They remove fruit before it falls in your yard and makes a mess.
* They give you 10% of whatever product they make from your fruit.
* They schedule the exact time of the harvest in advance.
* They bring a small team of no more than three experienced harvesters.
* They use all their our own tools.
* They clean up after themselves.
* They do not charge.

If you own a fruit tree or arbor and are interested, or if you know of a fruit tree or
arbor that is not being harvested, please contact them at urbanapplesauce[at]gmail[dot]com.

As the sun dipped West and the sky glowed that cold Autumnal blue, Ned, Sam and I exchanged information and bid each other a thankful farewell. We are excited to learn more about each other’s sustainable, edible, horticultural, green urban takeover-ical (ha!)  interests and plan on collaborating soon!

❤ and so much more,

Jen

Batty About Your Gardens

Aside

 

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Lasiurus Borealis.   Sounds like it could be a Roman put-down, or perhaps a mildly contagious sneezing disease that one contracts in more Northerly regions.   Eastern Red Bat     is another way of saying it,  and it was one of these little buggers that had me on my feet, spontaneously practicing my own colorful expletives early one morning last week. It had been roosting in an Astilbe only inches from the ground (yes, that’s right… an ASTILBE) and for some reason wasn’t really that happy at being suddenly man-handled and treated like a plant, even if it was doing a marvelous job of looking like one. Be careful what you ask for!  Ahem…

So, red bats like to make a song and dance at being disturbed, with lots of hissing and clicking, hence my sudden reluctance to be so close to the ground. Looking down, i was amazed to find a beautiful leathery winged ball of red fur, with a set of rather unsociable looking teeth glaring out from the middle of it all. Once we’d both calmed down a bit and had a good-hearted giggle at our overreaction to one another’s idiosyncrasies, we decided we quite liked each other and parted on amicable terms.

Oh, hang on, why on earth was the bat hanging out (poor, i know) in an astilbe? Good question… Red bats don’t really like freezing their wotsits off and so migrate to their southern range for the Winter. This being the case i reckon that old Batty was passing through Cambridge MA  on its way further South.  Also, they’re not house/cave roosters like Brown bats, preferring  a deciduous tree or hedgerow and have even been known to roost in leaf litter. And astilbes…

Now while they’re not the only possible surprise in store for us in a healthy garden, bats are among our best friends (or , perhaps, bouncers) cleaning up the night air of  literally millions of insects that aren’t on our guest list. It’s been estimated by Dr. Thomas Kunz of Boston University that one species of bat alone (Big Brown) is responsible for gobbling up 14 to 15 TONS of insects each Summer in its range, within the bounds of route 128 here in good ole Massachusetts!   And lots of that tonnage is made up of insects we like to label as pests. Hurrah for bats!

Which brings me on to my point…

Please don’t get all freaky with your cleaning in the garden! Actually, i highly approve of people being as freaky as they like in their gardens. Carry on!  What i mean is, don’t go cleaning your gardens up so much. Don’t think you need to get all of those leaves, especially that little pile there in the corner you’ve had your eyes on for the past few weeks. Guess what? So has somebody else! And they may have moved in. And be all snug and asleep. Our gardens are our chance to help create a healthy, vibrant patchwork of ecosystems right here in our towns and cities. We need as much diversity as possible within our gardens in order to maintain a healthy balance. And that means the so-called “Goodies” and  ” Baddies” that are out there.

That little wasp that may or may not sting you one day is, for much of the year, silently helping us all out by relentlessly hunting caterpillars and other insects in our gardens. This time of the year she may well be tucked up within a leaf pile or inside a half rotten tree branch lying there by the fence. So leave that stray pile ’till the Spring and perhaps don’t get all house proud on your garden this time around and you’ll be helping to create a more healthy and vibrant community in the long run. And if your astilbe hisses at you, don’t worry, just pour yourself another gin and tonic and carry on.

Ned

Battle of the Bulbs!

            BULBS. WE LOVE THEM!

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We love to hold them. Smell them. Lay them out and compare their unique and individual sizes and shapes. Plant them (get the KIDS!). And eagerly wait the winter through to see the tiny, soft fleshy green shoots crack through that cold, hard winter ground. I’m getting the willies just THINKING about it: That well deserved splash of color that lifts our spirits after every long (and very beautiful) New England winter.

AH! But as with most things of beauty, there is a threat!

But WHO? WHY? WHAT kind of monster would ever want to destroy such a poetic love story??

Hint:

 BAM.

Yes, he is cute. Yes, he is fluffy. Yes, he’s poorly Photoshopped! And yes, he has every right to scour this earth and excavate anything he/she can to store away for the cold winter months, but… damn you, I say, leave my bulbs alone!

That being said, here are a few very simple and ORGANIC, cruelty-free tips that will help you keep these pesky little fuzz balls from digging up, chewing, spitting out and/or relocating your beloved bulbs:

 

Get Spicy:

Graciously apply Cayenne Pepper, Cinnamon and/or Red Pepper to the inside of your dug-out holes. After bulbs have been placed and buried, sprinkle more on top of the soil, over which the bulbs have been planted.  The closer the squirrels get to these strong-smelling spices, the more it will irritate their noses and will hopefully send them on the retreat.

 

Plant Bitter, Ill Tasting Bulbs:

Yes, it’s true! There are some bulbs that squirrels can not STAND the taste of due to their bitterness or slightly poisonous nature.

Here is a short list:

– Daffodils

– Alliums (MY FAVORITE!)

– Fritillaria

– Winter Aconite (In Greek and Roman mythology, these early-blooming, toxic beauties were thought to be the saliva of Cerberus, the three-headed dog who guarded the Underworld and was subsequently used as a tonic to poison an enemy’s wine. But you didn’t hear that from me.)

– Hyacinths

– Crocuses (the Tommies variety, another favorite!)

If these bulbs are interspersed throughout your garden, they will act as nasty-tasting little landmines, that will hopefully send these little freaks into your neighbor’s garden. (Ahem…)

 

Laying Down A Chicken Wire Barrier:

For this fun little project, you will need to procure a roll of chicken wire and some irrigation staples. Plant your bulbs as you normally would at their recommended depths (deeper for larger bulbs, shallower for the tinies). After they have been covered with dirt, unroll the sheet of chicken wire and cut to the size of the newly planted patch of earth, making sure to cover the entire bulb area. At this point, secure the chicken wire into the earth using the irrigation staples (I recommend about one per every square foot), and finish by top-dressing the chicken wire with some of the beautiful LEAF MOLD MULCH you created from a few years ago (winks & hearts to you, Ned.) Wha-La!

 

Blood Meal:

*Here I pause. While I condone NOT the slaughter of any creature, I decided to post this as an option not only because it helps deter these fluffy-tailed friends from eating our bulbs, but more importantly because of all the added benefits Dried Blood Meal provides for soil and garden health. It adds a ton of Nitrogen (awesome) and a bit of acidity to your soil (which is also great for common New England plants, ie: Hollys, Azaleas, Rhododendrons, Phlox, Thistle, etc.) Blood Meal, even within the chatter of my own brain, is controversial, but I feel that there is no better honor for a “waste product’ than for it to have the opportunity to promote new life and to be directly reconstituted back into the terra-chain!

So yes, adding some Blood Meal or Bone Meal to a patch of land into which you will be inserting bulbs is also a great deterant, as squirrels find the smell of blood to be quite nauseating. Can’t really blame them there.

 

Plant Some Stinky Savories:

Incorporating bulbs such as Onion, Garlic & Chives into your garden will repel them as well. Also, mmmmm… Garlic <3.

We hope this info helps you out this season (you’ve only about a week or so left- so get on it!) and that you are able to thwart these industrious, intelligent and HUNGRY little creatures. And if, come spring, you find that you’ve been outsmarted, and you find a tulip growing out of a weird crack in a maple tree,  you can rest assured that you helped a cute little fuzzy family stay fed through out the winter.

As for me, unless you are that awesome little family of freaky white ones, you squrlies better leave my Alliums alone.

Thanks for reading.

XO

Jen

Gardener’s Gold: LEAF MOLD MULCH

Well then, they’re here again. Leaves. Everywhere!…

Image

If you’re anything like me then you can’t go out for a walk without hearing Bob Ross on the wind, oohing and aaahing over all the pretty little leaves and colorful shadows. Just me? Hmmm…

Leaves are quite remarkable things. Aside from all that wonderful color and voodoo magic they perform with the sun, they can go on to be one one your very best mates when it comes to improving the health and vitality of your garden. What i’m talking about, of course, is good ol’ LEAF MOLD. That wonderfully sweet, deep brown humic matter will work it’s own magic for you with only a little guidance and patience on your part.  And why would you want to use LEAF MOLD in your garden? Put simply…. because IT ROCKS!!

Let me explain: 

LEAF MOLD is one of the best and most readily available NATURAL soil conditioners you can use, it has remarkable moisture holding capacity, and is wonderfully friable (meaning it’s lovely and crumbly.) These attributes alone make it highly desirable as an amendment, especially in some of the heavy, compacted and polluted urban soils we have here in the Commonwealth.  That, coupled with climate change and drought, makes Leaf Mold all the more important to integrate into our gardens.

“So, how do I make Leaf Mold?” you might ask. The answer is simpler then you think:

Leaves(Rake ’em up)

Moisture(Make sure they’re damp- keep that fungus growing, baby!)

Containment(Put ’em in anything from perforated garbage bags to custom-built cages or boxes designed specifically for this purpose)

Time… (Leave ’em in place anywhere from 6 months to 2 years)

Ok, I agree, 2 years does seem like a long time to wait in order to start improving the quality of your soil. You can speed up the decomposition by SHREDDING your moist leaves (a lawn mover will do just fine).  Shredding will aid the decomposition process by increasing the moist leaves’ surface area and decreasing clumping (which, if not tended to, will slow down the fungal process). If you don’t have a mower, panic not! (Saving gas gets a thumbs up from us)  You can shake, turn, punch or wrestle your leaf-filled bags, or fork over the containers of leaves from time to time to keep them separated and active, making sure to keep an eye on the moisture levels. Might I suggest that you take a glass of your favorite tipple along with you and use a garden fork for these purposes, unless, of course, you are into bonsai and have a knack for self-torture.

So there you have it: In 6 months to 2 years: (Super-Duper) Local, Organic, Low Cost, Leaf Mold Mulch! Why pay to pollute the environment by having these beautiful leaves carted off in Old Guzzly Guts in the fall and then $pend again to have compost and mulch carted back in come spring? I don’t get it either…

Whether you’re a DIYer or would love to employ the services of myself and the beautiful Jen O’Donnell…   (who would of course be more than happy to not only help gather up those little buggers and build you a Leaf Mold holding pen/bin, but generally help you design and build a healthy and sustainable garden that will have all the men/women running your way/make you the talk of the neighborhood/get your neighbor jealous/provide nectar for local bee hives/put a smile on the face of even the most die hard cynic/grow you the weirdest looking vegetable ever/grow the hair back on your bald spot/make you taller/shorter/thinner/fatter/happier/help you achieve enlightenment.    *Ok, we’re still working on this last one. ..We can, however, guarantee levitation ,which will look cool at any party.)  

… you don’t know the meaning of ‘misty-eyed’ until you’ve let a handful of the “Old Brown Gold” flow through your fingers, dreaming, seeing and then loving what it has done for your garden beds and the earth.

-Ned