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March 2020
Cleanse & Renew

February 23
They say that spring is the season of renewal. Then late winter is the time for cleansing. Today, I began the rite of cleansing the line of pines by the road. Fallen branches and a multitude of gnarly twigs lay scattered among them, on the roadside shoulder and scattered in the field. This gorgeous day was made for dragging eight-foot branches down to the wild area beyond the field past three newly discovered groundhog holes. I tossed the branches, javelin-style, into the brush.

Iris germanica is looking green. Daffodils and Star-of-Bethlehem rise. When I was five, I lived next to a small patch of woods in a one-road neighborhood on the outskirts of the developing Levittown, Pennsylvania. There, I picked handfuls of Star of Bethlehem and sold them door-to-door for a nickel. Who knew?

March 9
Spring has beat the calendar. My Ballerina rose, unpruned last year for lack of time, is bursting forth with young leaves and red buds. It and my head both need a haircut. Will do on Wednesday, guided by Jeff Van Pelt’s excellent advice from an interview long ago.

Two variegated Daphne odora oreomarginata, spent winter in nursery pots under my deck, found new homes today in huge ceramic pots, soon to be accompanied by either portulaca or other sedum so they can all stay fairly dry together.

Two days later, Ballerina took revenge for my negligence. However, now she stands naked and regal, soon to be a blossoming beauty. I raked my neighbor’s leaves from around the bulbs in the central 9x30-foot garden, removed last year’s flower stalks except echinacea with a few seeds left, and pruned the white buddleia down to the lowest green buds.

March 24
My house, central garden and garage run parallel together down a fairly steep slope. The garden is divided into three 9x10 “squares.” Hydrangea ‘Pink Diamond,’ roughly 9x9 feet, lives in the lowest bed. I bought it 20 years ago to live on my deck and haven’t pruned it since. It’s time, now, for its first pruning – but what the heck to do? Deciding its future size and shape is step #1.

Contemplate: it’s invading a 50+ year old mock orange and shading it out. It's covering tall fritillaria and allium; growing into my cherished Bloodgood maple and has formed a barrier over the slate path through the garden! The decision was easy. The pruning was hard.

Two days later, I took down a bunch of autumn olive and mulberry saplings with hand saws between the row of pines. Beware the thorns of Elaeagnus! Medusa-like, they will find your bare skin! I dragged them down to the cornfield and threw them like spears onto others. Still, several remain for another day with last year’s goldenrod.

I am happy I have this time to take care of my property.

Jeff Van Pelt's rose-pruning advice here.

by Mary Jasch

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April 2019
My Neighbor’s Leaves

Last fall, my neighbor’s leaves from four oak trees blew out of his yard, across the street and straight into my yard as they do every year. They swirled around my house and coated my lawn, blew down the hill, around my garage and dog pen, crowded under every shrub and mulched my garden beds. A “gift” from a man who mows his lawn three times a week.

First, I thought I’d knock on his door and ask him to come rake them up. Then I thought I’d fill some large leaf bags (courtesy of Julian and the City of Scranton) and would ask him to dispose of them. (No leaf pick-up here. It’s “country.”) Then I asked a county road crew who was out trimming trees along utility lines if they would put up snow fence in my neighbor’s yard. They said I had to call the boss. Then I asked the guy in charge, “What would you do?” He said, “Run over ‘m with a mower.” I said, “I’d like to but I can’t do that. I’d get arrested!” Hours later I realized he meant the leaves!

Last week or so, I saw tips of daffodils and a few tulips breaking through the matted leaves. I had to help them! From one 10 x 12-foot bed I raked three bulging tarp-loads of oak leaves and dumped them on my brush pile down in the back near the corn field.

When I finished I swear that the yellowed suffocating daffodil leaves had become green and even grew an inch while I raked.

There are still lots of leaves caught in the centers of perennials and shrubs, plus more garden beds and areas where they settled. I decided to leave my neighbor alone. I feel now thankful for the leaves in the garden beds that protected the plants all this frigid winter. And it’s good to see the bulbs springing up green and happy.

by Mary Jasch

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February 2019
Spring in My Mailbox

The first sign of Spring has arrived in my mailbox amidst single digit numbers!

Seeds for the garden arrived on February 3. Thank you John Scheepers for your much enjoyed and appreciated Kitchen Garden Seeds catalog and eight packets of seeds!

The flowers are: Zinnias – The Queen Lime Zinnia Mixture of 3-foot mostly lime-colored with accents of red, blush pink, orange and pure-lime; Split Second Morning Glories with shredded pink and white petals forming 2-inch puffballs on 6-12-inch stems; Xsenia Cosmos, 2-foot tall pink and peach petals and mustard centers; Bloody Mary Nasturtium Mix with streaks and blotches of cream and red, pot perfect at 1 foot long.

The Queen Orange Lime zinnia is gorgeous and I can’t wait to grow it.

“It is downright DREAMY,” states Michelle Gervais, Flower Bulb Fanatic & Seed-Savvy Gardener at Kitchen Garden Seeds. “I thought I couldn't love a zinnia more than I love Queen Red Lime, much less love an orange flower, but it makes me swoon!”

And now for the veggies: French heirloom Oxheart Carrots; Lisboa Slicing Cucumbers, long, slender and almost seedless; Dutch heirloom Speckles Loose-Leaf Lettuce; and Dragon’s Tongue Bush Beans, a stringless Dutch heirloom with edible raw, purple-streaked pale yellow pods.

All eight flowers and vegetables are new this year at John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds. On order: Thunbergia 'Blushing Susie,' pink Daucus carota Dara, and Love Lies Bleeding.

Despite recent single-digit day temperatures, there is hope with the gift of seeds. I know now that Spring is on its way! Thank you John Scheepers for warming my day!

John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds:

by Mary Jasch

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November 2018
Sweet and Savory Memories

The garden is wrapped up for another year. We dug up the rosemary plant in an attempt to transplant and grow it in my unheated, glassed-in porch that faces south east. I’ve never had success with growing rosemary indoors, but this time may be the winner. If not, I’ll dry the needles for using this winter.

We cut back the thyme and are drying it on paper towels indoors, removing the leaves once they’re dry. But what to do with basil, parsley and other delicate-leafed herbs?

Cris Spindler, owner of Peconic River Herb Farm in Calverton, New York, has the answers!

Basil is best preserved in pesto, she says. Put it in a blender with garlic, Romano or Parmesan cheese, walnuts or pine nuts and extra virgin olive oil. Then freeze it in ice cube trays or little deli take-out cups with lids. You can get them at a party goods store.

For strong, tough-leafed plants such as rosemary, sage and oregano, drying is the best way to preserve them. Rosemary doesn’t do well indoors, she assures me, because there is no direct light indoors and it belongs outside, so once its leaves are crispy, dig it up. She recommends growing just enough rosemary to get you through winter.

Sage doesn’t like the cold, wet winter. It’s best to harvest when lush and nice. Some marjoram is cold hardy and dries fairly successfully.

Chives dry somewhat successfully, she says, but its tender leaves lose their flavor when dry, as do tarragon, parsley and basil. They are all better used in pesto or vinegar. Or make herb salt: Combine fresh herbs and sea salt, lay the combo out and let it dry. Chop and blend the herbs with sea salt and lay on a cookie sheet in a dry place such as an oven with just a pilot light.

What to do with my Hungarian paprika chiles and cayenne peppers? Chiles dry laid out in the air in the kitchen, Cris says, or string them up using a large-eyed needle with fishing line right through the stem. This is called a “ristra.” Dried whole chiles turn brick red; black spots might be mold. Dry them whole or, if large or thick, split them open to let warm air circulate through, then, when dry, grind them up and store as chile powder.

I planted garlic this fall for my friend Ursula. Some of the Spanish Roja and White German hard neck cloves came off the head without skin on them, so I was reluctant to plant them, thinking they would rot. I later learned that growers plant the naked cloves anyway. But Ursula had given me the garlic. Now what?

Cris suggested a mix of garlic, ginger root and lemongrass – roughly equal parts but a little heavy on the lemongrass. I cut the lemongrass in half-inch pieces and pounded them with a hammer, then tossed all in a blender, then froze as pesto.

“It ends up being a super flavorful addition to anything,” says Cris who makes and sells her own herb blends. “Just pop it out still frozen and use it.”

Julian and I made lasagna for Thanksgiving dinner. Julian made the sauce and cooked the pasta; I mixed the ricotta using Italian parsley picked from our garden that morning – the last of the fresh herbs. The parsley, especially, will be missed.

Though many tomatoes rotted before they ripened, and squirrels literally ripped off the sunflower heads, we enjoyed the fresh rosemary, peppermint, thyme, Italian parsley and Thai and Genovese basil. The Tasmanian chocolate and Pompeii tomatoes were superb - better than the heirloom Pineapple, which grew slightly healthier than Cherokee Purple or Old German. Hungarian paprika peppers and cayenne thrived (some cayenne and Thai basil self-seeded from last year). Beets were pretty and delicious and marigolds shone. French red leaf lettuce and Black-seeded Simpson couldn't have been better as well as the kale that grew in the ammo box on the porch, while thunbergia on the lattice out-flowered and ran rampant over the runner beans. And the Orgegon Giant peas were deliciously sweet raw - the way to eat peas!

Our little 8-foot square garden and several pots of surprises and pleasures brought much joy and dinner.

by Mary Jasch

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July 2018
Spring Jumps into Summer

July 26, 2018

Three weeks have passed since I wrote the piece below. Computer death and overnight trip planning minus my trusty technical side-kick took its toll but not on the garden! Veggies, herbs and flowers have exploded with all the rain and Julian's TLC in the Scranton garden and my love and attention for my Jersey pots.

A few casualties: Fava beans, planted too late and stunted, blossomed and a few beans grew. Spanish Musica beans were too old (2013). I have grown them many times and know they are lush delicious - a favorite. Okra never appeared. In its place, branching sunflowers grow.

We ate all the snow peas - or were they sugar snap? right out of the garden and in salads. Even fully developed, the peas were sweet and tender raw. We just harvested our first three French squash and I'll stuff and bake them with Julian's delectable tomato sauce. Coming up next time!

July 6, 2018

We enlarged our Scranton garden in Julian’s backyard this year to 8 feet x 8 feet and planted seeds and seedlings in May. Julian fenced it in with a double row including chicken wire to save our goodies from marauding groundhogs.

We are enjoying the bounty already. Last week we made Pasta Primavera using bow ties, heavy cream, Locatelli Pecorino Romano cheese, garlic, thyme, yellow crookneck squash and from our garden – sweet and crispy snow peas, Genovese basil, Italian flat leaf parsley and green cayenne pepper. A bit unconventional but scrumptious!

We still have our balcony container garden, which provides kale for smoothies and lettuce, arugula and chervil for salad. Thunbergia and scarlet runner beans are a delight to watch grow on the lattice.

The mixed crop of tomato plants are loaded with flowers and some have fruit. Most plants were started from seed from California-based Renee’s Garden online and were either direct planted or personally grown as transplants.

In my New Jersey sidewalk container garden, poppies are popping and going to seed, cayenne grow huge, and red French lettuce is providing its last sweet, delicious leaves. The gorgeous lettuce and new hybrid French marigolds make a magical display of electric color. Two heirloom tomato plants, given by a friend, have several fruits already. And in the fifth planter, Thai basil and petunias have reseeded themselves for the third year!

Here is what we are growing: (Renee’s Garden seed –R; Organic – O)

‘Pompeii’ Roma tomatoes – R
‘Tasmanian Chocolate’ heirloom container tomatoes – R
‘Pineapple’ heirloom tomato seedling – friend
‘Old German’ heirloom tomato seedling – friend
‘Cherokee Purple’ heirloom tomato seedling – friend
‘Hungarian Magyar’ paprika pepper – R
‘Orange Balboa & Red Yardenne’ sweet bell peppers – R, O
Cayenne – nursery seedlings
‘Red Baron’ Dutch beets – R, O
‘Spanish Musica’ early pole beans – R
‘Oregon Giant’ edible pod snow peas – R
‘Robin Hood’ English fava beans – R
‘Jambalaya’ garden okra – R
Cosmos ‘Sensation’ & French marigolds – nursery seedlings
Songbird/Pollinator flowers, the Birds & the Bees Sunflowers - R
Genovese basil, lemon thyme, peppermint, rosemary, Italian parsley – nursery seedlings

Renee's Garden:

by Mary Jasch

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February 2018
Don't Mow Your Lawn

While Julian and I start to plan our veggie garden at his place, I think about my meadow - once kept regularly mowed but now let to grow and flower. At times it is splattered with the yellow blossoms of dandelion and hawkweed and purple and white violets, waving grasses, swooping swallows, butterflies and birds.

I am happy to hear that world-renowned jazz trombonist Ray Anderson and lyricist Jackie Raven offer sage sustainable advice and encouragement in their tune: Don't Mow Your Lawn!

Lyrics by Jackie Raven after listening to a lawn devotee mow for six hours when it should have taken 40 minutes! Famed trombonist Ray Anderson put it to music. Here he sings it (and plays at the end) with the George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band at Jazzwochethe, an international jazz festival in Burghausen, Germany.

Get some inspiration! Click here.

by Mary Jasch

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June 2017
Into the Garden

At Julian’s balcony garden, we refreshed the pots containing Walmart “potting soil,” composed mostly of bark chips, with Fafard Container Soil mixed with Potting Soil for water retention.

We planted Renee’s Garden seeds of 2015 Dukat Leafy Dill and Dutch Darkibor Triple-Curled Kale, 2016 Organic Rustic Style Arugula and 2017 Heirloom French Chervil and Burpee Organic Salad Bowl Lettuce.

Our next project is to dig up part of Julian’s backyard and start an in-ground garden.

At my New Jersey country garden, I rolled tree-sized Vietnamese ceramics from the deck through the kitchen to the front walk where I planted them with 2017 Renee’s Garden Sugar Pod Peas, and 2014 Wild Garden Frills Heirloom Russian Kale and French Flounce Oriental Poppies with a centrally-located cayenne pepper. Strangely, white petunias grew from seed instead of poppies!

In one of two smaller, columnar planters a Cherokee Purple tomato grows. The other contains a burgundy grass, two marigolds, and bacopa that I hope can handle drying.

Since i posted this, we've harvested the Heirloom Russian Kale and Thai basil that self-seeded with the mystery petunias that grew in place of poppies and the tomatoes and peas have flowers.

Let the season begin!

by Mary Jasch

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August 2016
On Mushrooms and Soil

Critters aren’t the only invaders in our container gardens, now moved to ground level against the white stucco wall in the sun. This entails schlepping lots of water but such is the joy of gardening!

The critters referred to are of the fungi kind: a member of the genus Coprinus, the Inky Cap mushrooms, and quite possibly Coprinus plicatilis, Japanese parasol mushroom. According to The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms, this species is edible, though others range from poisonous to hallucinogenic and they are some of the most common urban/suburban fungi. Habitat ranges from decaying wood (trees) and lawns to garden soil bought at Walmart! (Why did I ever?)

Suffice it so say that everything has had a hard time growing in this soil, except for the mushrooms which appear every morning and die down by evening. They thrived among the kale and red French leaf lettuce. We eat both with no reaction, being careful to avoid the delicate fungi.

The tomatoes and peppers are catching up for lost time, though. Pompeii and San Marzano lead the pack, followed closely by poblano peppers and kohlrabi. Beefsteak tomatoes and cayenne are close behind and lettuce and kale and, finally, cabbage are bringing up the rear.

Parsley, Greek oregano and thyme are gorgeous, though one by one borage bit the dust after completely flopping every day, then standing back up again. We did manage to blend a bit in a smoothie, which was quite good.

by Mary Jasch

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August 2016
Roof-Top Critters

Just when you think it can’t happen here, it does. Interestingly, there are no deer here, being in the middle of the city, but there are squirrels, caterpillars, dogs, cats and birds.

First there was the feral cat that was set on a meal of baby starlings nested in the corner eave, just even with the floor of the balcony. The cat not only used a planter prepared with soil as a litter box, but one morning it leapt downward into the air at the birds’ nest, missed, and grazed the shoulder of a woman walking to her car as it fell to the ground.

Julian and I hurriedly filled the planter with oregano, parsley and thyme to keep the cat out, and Julian planted borage seed. The next day we found a few scattered feathers and an empty nest. No more cat – and baby birds.

According to a NY Times article by Elisabeth Rosenthal, the American Bird Conservancy determined nearly 500 million birds are killed by cats each year – half by pets and half by feral cats!

Cats aren’t the only critters that pester plants on roof-tops, as we learned one morning when I pulled a half-buried candy bar wrapper from out of the pot of dill. Was it a dog on this second floor balcony? A cat? Both were highly unlikely. It had to be a squirrel, of which there are plenty.

We soon noticed holes in cabbage, kale and kohlrabi leaves and, after a little research, hand-picked them off and drowned them in soapy water, thinking they were cabbage loopers (Trichoplusia ni), a.k.a. cabbageworms, also a.k.a. inchworms. But the questions were: how did they get up on a roof garden to eat our veggies and where did they come from?

(An inch worm memory: When I was 8 or 9, I found the biggest rock I could hold and threw it at an inchworm dangling from a low branch. In my childhood euphoria, I neglected to see the Studebaker behind the caterpillar as the rock whizzed through the air, missed the worm, and broke the car window of the “baddest man in the whole dang town.” As the other old tune went: “I ran all the way home.”)

Enter Peter Nitzsche, County Extension Dept. Head, Agricultural Agent, Rutgers NJ Agricultural Experiment Station, Morristown, NJ, who quickly enlightened me. They were “Imported cabbageworms” (Pieris rapae) – not loopers or “cabbage worms” – and he offered the best Integrated Pest Management methods to control them.

Cabbage loopers do not survive the harsh winters of NY, NJ, CT and Eastern PA, but the adult moths usually migrate here by late July/early August and immediately deposit their eggs, he says. The night-flying, dark, grey/brown moths with a silver V-shaped spot on each wing rest between the plant’s leaves during the day. The caterpillars have white stripes on sides and back and feed on the undersides and tops of leaves and bore into the cabbage heads sometimes making them unfit to eat.

Imported cabbage worms have visible legs and faint yellow stripes across the back but often appear just green. They too, bore into cabbage heads, leaving dark green lumps behind. The adult is the small, white, day-flitting moth that loves nepeta and other mint family plants, Russian sage, salvia, caryopteris. These plants may be pretty and are quite useful but don’t use them near the veggie garden!

Peter Nitzsche’s Recommendations

Put row covers on early. It’s too late now but netting can be used to keep the white cabbage moths at bay.

Inspect the plants daily and hand-pick the caterpillars and throw them in soapy water. As steward of the veggies, Julian inspects the plants every morning and evening.

Douse the plants with BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) a bacterium that comes as powder or liquid. It kills caterpillars of all types because they have alkaline stomachs, but it doesn’t harm birds, bees and humans because we don’t have alkaline stomachs. BUT, do not use BT on plants that you want for butterflies, such as milkweeds. Some labels say it may be applied up to harvest day, but then, why bother. You can just wash the leaves in the sink.

Another option: Spinosad, a new, organic pesticide discovered as a fermentation product at a rum distillery.

It is good to use companion plants that attract carnivorous insects and birds that are natural predators, but be careful not to use mints or other plants that attract those cute little white moths whose larvae will soon destroy your food. Try parsley, dill, fennel and coriander. Insectivorous wasps love them!

Harvest cabbage as soon as possible because Imported cabbagewoms are active all season. Bury damaged leaves of all cole crops. Treatment is the same for loopers and imports.

University of Florida articles:
Imported Cabbageworm
Cabbage Looper

Rutgers NJ Agricultural Experiment Station, Morris County

by Mary Jasch

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June 2016
Up on the Roof

Out in the dog pen, someone ate my snow peas first, then the fava beans then, after that, my ‘Rainbow’ chard among the roses and nepeta.

Getting older and being busy is a tough mix for clearing out an overgrown dog pen/vegetable garden so I took the easy way and started an off-the-cuff roof/balcony/container garden with the man in my life, Julian Sparacino, in Scranton, PA, with what is known as "found objects."

First item: a wooden end table with storage compartment found on a roadside. Julian removed the top and drilled holes, then planted Greek oregano, lemon thyme, and Italian flat leaf parsley that miraculously survived winter on the kitchen table, and borage seeds. Next we found wooden crates and planted poblano peppers, and seeds of ‘Rustic Style’ arugula and ‘Redina’ organic French red leaf lettuce.

From my garage, I enlisted an old wooden ammo box that once held ammunition during some distant war. Now it holds thriving young’uns of kohlrabi, cabbage and ‘Lacinato’ kale. We have enjoyed our first harvest of seeded ‘Regiment’ organic spinach and ‘Tuscan Baby Leaf’ kale that grow in a terra cotta bowl just outside the kitchen door. ‘Dukat’ dill in standard terra cotta grows beside it on the second story balcony.

Down on the ground against the white-washed building, ‘Better Boy’ and Siberian heirloom ‘Black Prince’ grow in pots abutting a colony of blooming Prickly Pear planted here 12 years ago in the crack between wall and slate path.

Meanwhile, ‘San Marzano’ and ‘Pompeii’ plum tomatoes, ‘Big Beef’ Beefsteak tomato and ‘Trieste’ bulbing fennel grow from a second seeding in a flat now under Julian’s care. It’s not easy riding in the back of a pick-up at 65mph and keeping your hat on!

Finally (for the moment), sunflower seeds will soon sprout against a sunny garage wall.

**All photos by Julian Sparacino
** All seeds from Renee's Garden

by Mary Jasch

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