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Leonard Moorehead, the Urban Gardener: Darkest Before the Dawn

Sunday, January 28, 2018

 

Urban gardeners do not hibernate. Perhaps amaryllis blooms on your windowsill? Do African violets offer cheerful purple, pink, striped or white flowers? Maybe you’ve picked up cyclamen near the produce section and enjoy their happy marriage of foliage and bloom. Or everyone knows the kitchen is the heart of the home and yours is full of robust flavors and nourishing food. Our small plots and pots support essential parsley, thyme, sage, rosemary, or uplifting chamomile, beebalm and lemon verbena. Food, drink, color and happiness are all within the urban gardeners orbit. Like Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, we are aligned. 

Gardeners never really have an off season. Dwarf fruit trees need to be sprayed with dormant oils to prevent fungal infections common to fruits. Spray fruit trees with biodegradable oils a couple times during the winter. Noxious fungus spores, insect eggs and larvae wintering on tree bark require air to reproduce, a few minutes spent spraying a layer of suffocating oils during winter will retard warm weather infestations. No gardener needs encouragement to get out into the garden. Try not to walk on mulched beds and confine your footsteps to pavement or grassy paths. Our body weight may seem insignificant but earthworms and microbes move and reproduce faster in loose, friable soils. Save much labor later by not walking on growing grounds. 

Time is never wasted perusing seed catalogs. Useful tips are often appended to seed descriptions. Consider the accessories: microbial inoculants are fine approaches to discourage beetles and improve soils bleached of life by past applications of herbicides, insecticides, or petroleum products. Nitrogen fixing bacteria for the peas and bean patches not only encourage vigorous growth but add vital nutrients from the atmosphere. The greater biodiversity within the garden at every level adds health and vigor to all crops and gardeners too. 

Beneficial insects such as Mason bees are helpful additions to our compromised environment. Sudden beehive collapse syndrome has reduced pollinating insect populations. Neonicotinoid poisons are widespread, silent killers they persist long after their targets have perished. Tobacco teas are a far cry but effective insecticide rather than the commercial gmo incorporation of nicotine within seed or plant genes. Read your seed catalogs fine print for varieties without genetic engineering. Not to be confused with selective breeding, nor established as harmful to those who eat or drink engineered plants, there are simple inexpensive approaches to weed and insect control without them. 

Praying mantis egg cases are typically found on milkweed stems and other roadside plants. Our native populations have included Asian mantis types for over a century. Like Ladybugs, mantis are superb insect predators. Few events are more fascinating than to observe mantis hatchlings emerge from egg cases, their appetites are nearly as ferocious as their behavior. Our collective ignorance of insects censors our appreciation for the myriad life cycles within the garden. Beneficial insects and microbes fall victim to poisons directed towards pests such as the common squash beetle or Japanese beetle. Re-introduce harmless life forms into soils bleached of life during past waves of manufactured cures. Healthy soils are not sterile, rather they are complex life affirming combinations of many codependent organisms. 

Vermiculture is an effective method of composting, some of us keep a bucket of red wiggler worms alive with vegetable peelings and leftover salads. Strictly vegetarian, red wiggler worms are often not winter tolerant in Zone 6 garden soils. They are lively earthworms and honestly earn their name. Introduce these rapid reproducers into your garden plot or compost heap, reserve a contained colony alive during the cold months in a well-drained five gallon bucket. Their castings are very fertile and encourage vegetative growth. 

Has cabin fever set in? Get out and visit flower shows. No gardener is immune to the plant collections, water features, gadgets, plants and perhaps a new hose. Bring children along for hands on appreciation of delightful spring gardens. Their enthusiasm will make whittling down the seed and bulb order a little easier. Come on, admit, gardeners don’t have an off season, our green thumbs survive all seasons. 

Leonard Moorehead is a life- long gardener. He practices organic-bio/dynamic gardening techniques in a side lot surrounded by city neighborhoods in Providence, RI. His adventures in composting, wood chips, manure, seaweed, hay and enormous amounts of leaves are minor distractions to the joy of cultivating the soil with flowers, herbs, vegetables, berries, and dwarf fruit tree. 

 

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