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Rest Stops Along the Way

September 21st, 2016

Last winter I read about how planting things like tithonia and zinnias in the garden provided important rest stops for migrating monarchs and hummingbirds. This year I have a huge patch of both in the main vegetable garden behind the barn, planted just for this reason. I’ve been watching dutifully to see if the monarchs would stop by on their migration. Sure enough they have…
Not only are the monarchs and other butterflies enjoying this patch of flowers, the bees are loving them as well.
I’m more than happy to plant a large patch of plants to provide much needed sustenance for the monarch and other pollinators in the fall. It’s always a happy thing to see the results of your efforts, even on such a small scale. We can make a difference, even if it is just by planting a few late blooming plants in our gardens to provide much needed rest stops for migrating monarchs and hummingbirds.

Do you have any late blooming plants that the butterflies and bees are loving?

Friday Favorite: Springtime Cassis

September 9th, 2016

This spring, I started seeds for Springtime Cassis. They germinated beautifully and I had a mass number of plants to use in the garden. When they started blooming I loved their variety of colors.
spring cassis 1
spring cassis
I expected them to quit blooming once the hot weather and the drought hit, but they just kept on going and going. They’re still looking fantastic and blooming beautifully.
springtime cassis
Generally I’m not a huge fan of annuals, they’re a big showy and flamboyant for my tastes. These beauties are different, from now on I’ll be starting a flat of them every spring.

What’s your favorite annual for long term color?

Monarda (Bee Balm)

September 8th, 2016

I have a very large patch of monarda in the potager, in fact I keep splitting it to increase the amount that I have. It’s a lovely plant, drought tolerant, easy care, and beautiful. The pollinators love it more than I do, it’s a constant buzz during it’s long blooming season. Besides the lovely pink/purple blooms, my favorite quality is that it outcompetes weeds like no other plant. It spread vigorously, but is really easy to pull the offshoots if you want to maintain the size of the plant. Since I have a very large garden space, I’m not worried about the spreading. In fact, I’m thinking of dividing mine again so that it can fill a 1000 sq foot hillside that I don’t want to weed or mow.
butterfly on monarda
hummingbird on monarda (1)
With such a large patch, I’m now in need of companion plants, one, maybe two, that will combine well with the monarda. They need to be tall, my monarda is between four and five feet tall. Right now I’m thinking a large planting of ‘limelight’ hydrangea would be nice, and perhaps a variegated grass as well.

Dealing with Weeds in the Garden

September 6th, 2016

I get asked a lot of questions about gardening, they cover a wide variety of topics, but one that is asked over and over again “how do you deal with weeds in your garden?”. It seems that people notice that I don’t have many weeds, which I don’t really, at least in the actually garden areas. It’s not that I spend all day, every day in the spring/summer/fall weeding, but I do spend some time at that task. Over the years I’ve learned a few tricks to make maintaining a garden with fewer weeds possible without putting in hundreds of hours weeding. I thought a series of posts about dealing with weeds would be a valuable addition to the blog.
Main edible garden 2
There are weeds in the surrounding areas, the woodland edges, the driveway, in the lawn. But for the most part, the cultivated garden areas are maintained weed free with not a ton of time spent weeding. My time is spent in reducing weed seed load, smothering weeds, and mulching heavily to keep weed seeds from germinating. In this series, I’ll be talking about the various methods I implement to keep my garden mostly weed free without a ton of effort. Originally, I was going to follow up this post with a week of posts, but then I decided putting it out there for questions first would be better. That way I can try to answer your specific questions in the series instead of in the comment section.

What questions do you have about weeding and reducing weed load in the garden?

Grow Your Own Fertilizer

September 5th, 2016

I’m a big believer that as gardeners we grow soil more than we grow plants. That means most of my gardening budget is spent on soil amendments and good quality compost. I’m continually trying to come up with ways to lighten my work load and save myself money, so naturally this is one area I’m always trying to become more self-sufficient in. One of my favorite ways to save money is by growing my own fertilizers, mostly in the form of cover crops. Cover crops are great, but perennial dynamic accumulators are even better at maximizing time and money. Here’s a quote from an article I wrote about soil microbes for Northern Gardener magazine

“There is also a group of plants we can grow that are described as dynamic accumulators. These plants have deep roots that pull up macro and micronutrients from deep within the soil. Oddly enough, many of these have been classified as weeds, so pulling dandelion, dock, and other weeds and adding them to our compost piles is a great way to increase the micronutrient levels in our finished compost. There are a few dynamic accumulators that stand out more than others, comfrey is probably the most widely known and my particular favorite. I use it as a mulch, animal feed, and I plant it under all my fruit trees. Comfrey is a great source of silicon, nitrogen, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and iron. Other high value dynamic accumulators are: dandelion, eastern bracken, kelp, nettles, watercress, and plantain. Next time you see dandelions blooming in your lawn, think about all the copper and iron it is adding to your soil, when you see plantain, think about the calcium it’s adding.” 
Comfrey is my all-time favorite homegrown fertilizer. I have a few different varieties of comfrey and am working on collecting as many as I can. I use comfrey in a variety of ways, some are more labor intensive than others. The easiest way to utilize comfrey in the garden is to use it as a companion plant. All of my fruit trees have a couple comfrey plants under them. Comfrey is tucked into empty corners in every perennial border. As it grows, dies back, and compost into the soil, it adds valuable nutrients. The large leaves provide a weed suppressing mulch as well. It is important to note that some varieties of comfrey can spread when flowering stems touch the ground, but there are varieties that are don’t (Russian Bocking 14). I haven’t found the old fashioned varieties to be invasive though. The majority of my comfrey plants have been propagated from a root cutting I got from my grandmother’s garden (it was growing in the garden when they moved into the house when my mom was a little girl).
comfrey 3
comfrey bloom (2)
I harvest my comfrey plants through the summer, most of the time I simply cut the leaves and use them to mulch around plants that I think need a little boost. Some people make compost tea with the leaves, but it has a pretty foul smell, and it takes time to make. I find that cutting the leaves and mulching around plants provides the same benefit without the extra time, effort, and with zero smell. The plants can be cut all the way back several times each summer.
comfrey 2
This summer I’ve been doing experiments with my tithonia in the back garden. Several of the plants were mulched with compost, the other were mulched with other weeds and material. As you can see, the plants on the right are much taller and are blooming much better than the ones on the left.
comfrey 4
Another way to use comfrey is to put a few leaves into each planting hole. It really does make the plant establish roots quicker and grow faster than planting without. I haven’t tried experimenting with mulching around the plant vs. leaves in the planting hole. That’s a good project for next summer.
comfrey bloom (1)
In addition to being a fabulously useful plant, comfrey is a beautiful plant. It can be a real showstopper in the garden. It’s large, dark green, hairy leaves add a lot of interest. The purple flowers are loved by many pollinators, they seem to be a particular favorite of bumble bees. This summer I added a variegated comfrey to my collection. It’s the perfect plant to brighten up that slightly dark corner of a border.
comfrey bloom
comfrey 1
If you have a compost pile in your garden, surrounding it with a few comfrey plants is a great idea. Not only can you cut the comfrey leaves to add to your compost (they add extra nutrients and heat up the pile), they glean any nutrients that leach out of your compost pile into the surrounding soil. I’m always looking for nooks and spaces to add more comfrey, I find I can’t seem to grow enough of it here at Chiot’s Run.

Do you have any comfrey growing in your garden?

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but just recently moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine.