What Spring?

>> Sunday, May 18, 2008

According to the calendar there are four clearly defined seasons and the calendar photos show scenes depicting each. If asked, each one of us can recite the distinct feel of each season just as we know the individual behaviors of each of our good friends. But, there is a change taking place that is squeezing Spring onto an ever smaller piece of real estate on our calendars.

It seems that just one week ago our trees here at the five thousand foot altitude of north central Utah were bare and now every tree is in full leaf, and as for those flowering trees, their blooms popped open overnight and are beginning to fall off already. The high temperature is predicted to be in the 80s for the next week after being in the high 60s just a couple of days ago.

Spring used to last far longer than it has the past year or two. For beach goers I suppose the quick onset of summer weather is great news but for those of us who garden, spring has always given us plenty of opportunity to give transplants a chance to adapt to being outside. Moving plants from the protection of our cellars, coldframes and greenhouses right into 80 degree weather is not easy, nor advisable. But what choice do we have without the gentle transition we once looked forward to?

My Forsythia barely had time to show off their golden yellow dress that used to last several weeks, and has become a great ‘alarm clock’ for when to start so many other garden chores, when suddenly the fruit trees and dogwoods had already bloomed and their blossoms are falling to the ground.

My bulbs barely had shown their various colors when the blossoms are shriveling up and will need to be soon pulled and divided. It seems to get earlier every year.

I love summer, but giving up most of Spring is not something I would have chosen.

Soon only one photo of spring will adorn our calendars and maybe two for fall.


Urban Farming: A Local Food Revolution

>> Thursday, May 8, 2008

Excellent example of how ingenuity and necessity come together to turn unused, wasted space into a healthy money making venture.

From the Urban Farmers’ file: cultivated plots are appearing in the least likely of places, such as a New York City vacant asphalt-covered ball field. A community group called East New York Farms sold fruits and vegetables grown by locals in small plots within their own neighborhoods. Last year the group sold more than $25,000 in goods.

A nonprofit project in Philadelphia grows salad greens in a half-acre plot and sells them locally raising $67,000 last year.

The Milwaukee nonprofit, Growing Power, grossed over $220,000 from a one acre farm selling lettuces, winter greens, sprouts and fish to local restaurants and consumers.

Local nonprofits have been providing land, training and financial encouragement in urban areas of Detroit, Oakland, Milwaukee and other cities and those people who have the courage to exhibit their ‘farmers gene’ are making it work.

This is a great illustration of how locals working through community groups in cooperation with local governments can raise awareness of where our food comes from, how food is grown, develop the entrepreneurial spirit as well as teaching self-sufficiency.

The fact that many of these city-farmers want to raise their produce organically is very encouraging. It shows that our tolerance for chemical fertilizers and pesticides is fading to the point that people who rarely garden are not falling for their false promises. City composting programs are helping too. Trucking home decomposed leaves from the Starrett City development in Brooklyn and ZooDoo from the Bronx Zoo’s manure composting program is helping teach healthy habits for maintaining a healthy environment.

This whole process is cultivating pride in their community which is a priceless commodity.

Attitudes toward urban farming have come a long way. John Ameroso, a Cornell Cooperative Extension agent who has worked with local farmers and gardeners for 32 years, said that when he first suggested urban farm stands in the early 1990s, city environmental officials dismissed the idea. ‘Oh, you could never grow enough stuff with the urban markets,’ he said he was told. ‘That can’t be done. You have to have farmers.’

Holly Leicht, an associate assistant commissioner at the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, helped provide two half-acre parcels of city land last year. One became Hands and Hearts and the other is in Ocean Hill-Brownsville, Brooklyn.

With more training and incentive programs like the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, a supplement to the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and senior nutrition programs urban farming is bringing food closer to our tables. It not only tastes better, it saves huge amounts of oil, keeps money in your local economy, and makes us less vulnerable to large-scale food contamination. Eating local is the easiest way to eliminate suspect food from your diet. It's also the easiest way to cut processed foods with added fat and sugar out of your diet, since you'll be buying more fresh fruits and vegetables.

Urban farming, such as these small-scale isolated examples, is a part of the growing phenomena of the local food revolution. But, small-scale isolated examples is exactly what the local food revolution is about.

In the last 10 years, interest in eating local has exploded, whether you count the growth in farmers' markets (roughly 3,800 nationwide, more than twice the number a decade ago); membership in Slow Food U.S.A. (13,000 members and 145 chapters just since 2000), the American arm of an international movement to defend our collective “right to taste” as well as local specialty food producers who bring us distinctive flavors; or the number of schools stocking their cafeterias with fresh food raised by nearby farmers (400 school districts in 22 states, in addition to dozens of colleges and universities).

It’s a winning situation for the environment and inner city dwellers.

For further information:

New York Times article

Urban Farming

City Farms

Urban Jungle

Beyond the Bar Code: The Local Food Revolution


A Year Full of Blues

>> Monday, May 5, 2008

My garden is beginning its second year of life. Its pretty barren compared to those of you who have been at this a little longer than I have. Since I started the garden with small transplants, they haven’t yet matured to the point that they toss very many seeds out to start new plants. It is in the creep phase of that ‘first year sleep, second year creep, third year leap’ scheme of things. Therefore, I don’t have high expectations of my garden fully taking off this year.

While I am waiting for the greatly anticipated full-on bloom of next year, I am left with some barren areas that although may be somewhat depressing to view they do present a great deal of potential. I could leave them be, in order to have room for these existing pants to spread out, or I could put in some blue flowering plants.

Searching the internet and garden blogs have resulted in quite a few nice surprises concerning blue flowering plants. If my plan is executed properly I can have blue blooms from March to October.

The earliest would naturally be bulbs, and there are many to choose from. Iris reticulata “Harmony”, Glory of the Snow (Chionodoxa), and Siberian Squill (Scilla sibrica) are considered minor bulbs in comparison with the tulips and daffodils. Planted in generous clusters of several dozen or more they should put on quite a display.

One of my favorite flowers is Iris so I can’t think of a better way to wake up the early garden than with Iris reticulata, the earliest of all Iris. It only stands just under 6” tall and according to Dave’s Garden will grow here in North central Utah’s zone 5-6. It blooms in March to early April.

Glory of the Snow often blooms while there is still snow on the ground. Talk about your early riser. The colder the weather, the longer they last. Like the Iris reticulata, these grow to about 6” tall with grasslike leaves. They are found in zones 4 to 8 and are very easy to care for.

The bright blue flowers of Siberian Squill are one of the first spring-flowering bulbs to brighten up the landscape. These grow in zones 2 to 8 and stand just 6”.

There are other blue flowering bulbs, the popular Grape Hyacinths, sometimes called Muscari, are found just about everywhere from late March through April if the weather stays cool enough. Wild Hyacinth (Camassia) or Quamash is considered a native bulb and blooms a little later and grows to two feet tall. Bluebells: English and Spanish (Hyacinthoides) naturalize easily in partial shade of trees and the flower garden. Then there is the traditional Hyacinth, providing fragrance and a larger flower head these bulbs range in color from mid blue to dark purple.

English Bluebells are fragrant and very easy to naturalize and last up to 4 weeks beginning in March in zones 5-8. These are members of the Scilla family and can grow up to 18” tall.

True blue is a relatively rare color among flowers, but the following flowers come close.

From late April in May there is the False Indigo (Baptisia australis) zone 3-9.

Larkspur (Consolida ambigua) zone late April thru mid to late June.

Heartleaf skullcap (Scutellaria ovata) zone 4-8 May and June.

Lilyleaf ladybells (Adenophora confusa) zone 3-8 May into July.

Aka False Campanula, grows up to 24” tall and 24” wide. They prefer light shade and may be invasive if given the right environment.

American bellflower (Campanula Americana) zone 4-8 late June into August.

This plant can be an annual or biennial growing up to 6’ tall. It prefers light shade to partial sun, moist conditions. The flowers attract bees, butterflies, and skippers.

Great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) zone 4-9 August into October.

Growing to 36” it brings color late in the season when mostly we see the reds, yellows and oranges of fall.

I think these plants should satisfy my thirst for blue. Can you think of any others to add?


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