Category Archives: Horticulture

Art by Garden Club Members Celebrates “Cathy’s Meadow”

Detail from photograph by Dorrie Bernstein

Nature is always our inspiration, our muse. And this year, our muse has been the meadow at Greenburgh Nature Center (GNC) which was dedicated on October 23 in honor of the force behind its creation, our longtime member and GNC board member, noted local conservationist Catherine Ludden.

Cathy was the mover and shaker behind the design, planting, and funding of the two-acre meadow.

 

Previously infested with invasive weeds, six years later it is home to pollinator insects and a diverse array of the native plants that support them. And it’s a serene, beautiful place for learning, contemplation and enjoyment — just off Central Avenue in Scarsdale, one of  Westchester County’s major commercial thoroughfares. “One person made all this happen,” reads the Certificate of Recognition presented to Cathy. “Cathy Ludden, past president, major donor, passionate volunteer.”

The members of the Garden Club of Irvington agreed with the leadership at GNC: let’s honor Cathy as well as celebrate our new partnership by mounting an art show in honor of Cathy and the Meadow. We got to work. Making and framing art, hanging it and decorating the Manor House. And of course we attended the dedication.

And now all the art is for sale!

James Blann, Board President of Greenburgh Nature Center, presents the new signage to Cathy Ludden.

 

Cathy is congratulated by Alix Dunn, GNC Executive Director.

 

The signage features a map of Cathy’s Meadow designed by GCI member Ellen Shapiro. This original watercolor by artist Steve Stankiewicz highlights the meadow’s features: Stone Classroom, Butterfly Arbor, Beehives, and Oak Circle, plus the correct species of airborne pollinators and most significant flowering perennials: Joe Pye Weed, Goldenrod, Milkweed and Echinacea.

 

After the dedication and a tour of the meadow, the party moved indoors to GNC’s Manor House, where members of the Garden Club of Irvington hosted a reception that featured their flower arrangements on the tables and their original art—most of which was created for this show—on the walls.

All the art shown here (except for the map, which has been installed on the site) is for sale. If you are interested, please use the contact page to get in touch.  We will connect you to the artist.

 

At the art show, GCI Co-President Renee Shamosh with five of her oil paintings celebrating the meadow.

 

The title of this 24 x 30″ painting by Renee Shamosh is “Cathy’s Meadow.”

 

Botanical artist Nora Galland with her display of original watercolors and giclee prints.

 

On the mantle, three posters by graphic designer Ellen Shapiro and black-and-white photograph by Harriet Kelly

 

Work by members of our Photography Committee: Dorrie Bernstein (top row) and Edna Kornberg (bottom row). Photo by Veronica Gedrich, second from right, bottom row.

 

Watercolor by Lisa Maxwell, “Dering Harbor Magnolias”

 

Botanical art by Lisa Maxwell

 

At the reception, members and guests raise their glasses to Cathy, the Meadow, and the Garden Club of Irvington’s partnership with Greenburgh Nature Center.

 

If you would like to contact the artist about purchasing any painting, photograph or posters, please use our “Contact” form and we will put you in touch with the artist.

Filed under Botanical Art, Conservation, Greenburgh Nature Center, Horticulture, Landscape and Garden Design

Our 2022 pre-Mother’s Day Plant Sale & Garden Fair Sells Out!

GCI members Dori Ruff, Cathy Ludden, Cena Hampden, and Nora Galland with annual plants they are readying for the sale.

Raindrops and chilly weather did not keep our members from setting up and managing our Plant Sale and Garden Fair at Greenburgh Nature Center on Saturday, May 7. Shoppers came to enjoy and buy. We were totally sold out by 2:00!

The annual flowers in the greenhouse were exceptionally beautiful. Just outside, there were  Sun Perennials, Shade Perennials. Sun and Shade Perennials, and Native Plants. All in fabulous condition and exceptionally well priced.

Garden Club members helped everyone choose the right plants for their personal garden needs and offered expert advice. “Our goal is to help you make your garden a  more beautiful and environmentally friendly place,” said event co-chair Cena Hampden. “And we loved helping children pot up a flowering annual to decorate and take home for Mom.”

We also offered a Garden Journal filled with garden tips for each month, plenty of space to write, with original photography and botanical art by Garden Club members.

Our annual plant sales are the perfect place to get gifts for Mom as well as plants for your borders and containers. We always have many varieties of coleus and pelargoniums (geraniums), plus annuals you may not find everywhere — like hyacinth bean vine, plectranthos, streptocarpella, and cleome — all in beautiful condition, at great prices.

 

Event co-chair Dori Ruff is one of the many members who worked in the greenhouse to grow these healthy annuals.

 

Nora and Cena demonstrate the TLC that each plant is given.

 

Healthy perennials under the Greenburgh Nature Center tent.

 

Get inspired and keep track of your garden triumphs and tribulations in the new 74-page Garden Club of Irvington Garden Journal. It’s packed with garden tips and photographs and botanical drawings by Club members. There are four lined pages per month to write notes, scribble drawings, or paste photos. At $20 per copy it’s a perfect gift, plus get one for yourself.

 

In addition to the annuals, each Garden Club member donates at least five perennials from her own garden. Here, new Club co-President Renee Shamosh digs Sedum ‘Autumn Joy.’

 

Each perennial offered is potted and ready to transplant into your garden. Watch the 3-minute VIDEO on our Horticulture Tips tab!

 

AND… there is always bountiful selection of pollinator perennials — like this echinacea — produced by the same professional grower who supplied the plants at the Greenburgh Nature Center pollinator garden.

The Garden Club of Irvington is delighted with our new collaboration with the Greenburgh Nature Center, located at 99 Dromore Road, Scarsdale, just off Central Avenue (north of Ashford Avenue).

Watch for announcements for the 2023 sale on local town and village websites and on NextDoor.

 

 

Filed under GCA Events, Horticulture, Plant Sale

Seed Saving, Sharing, and Planting with the Garden Club of Irvington

“For many annuals and perennials, propagation from seed will provide a profusion of new, beautiful blooms that might otherwise be unavailable. I always think of a plant grown from seed as a little miracle,” says Renee Shamosh, Horticulture Chair of the Garden Club.

Under a redbud tree in a member’s garden, Renee demonstrated practices for saving seeds from perennials, annuals, and vegetables. Members brought seeds they’d collected from pollinator plants.

Saved seeds must be kept dry, so when it began to rain the group protected their collected seeds under a table set for tea and cake. The rain did not dampen the enthusiasm.

This seed-saving workshop included a demonstration of how to save heirloom tomatoes. One of the varieties Renee propagates was saved by a friend’s 98-year-old aunt. In the method shown under the “Horticulture Tips” tab (scroll down), the seeds are scooped from ripe tomatoes onto absorbent paper towels, then dried, labeled, and stored in a basket until spring planting time.

The members discussed the importance of identifying which plants are best grown from seed; which, like hostas and astilbes, are better propagated by division; and which, including Columbine and “see-through” Verbena (Verbena bonariensis), will self-sow, that is, spread their seed without any help from you.

The group traded seed pods from plants that are best grown from saved seeds, including butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), false blue indigo (Baptisia australis), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), coneflowers (Rudbeckia), and zinnias.

This seed pod of milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is ready to disperse in the wind or share with others.

Perennial seeds can be planted in fall or mid-spring, depending on whether they need to be stratified (kept in cold, dry storage in order to germinate) or left outdoors in cold weather. They can be broadcast into a prepared area of loose soil (not lawn or hard ground) that’s clear of weeds, or they can be started outdoors in containers.

The meeting included a plant exchange, so everyone left carrying flats of plants dug and divided from their gardens, as well as with envelopes of seeds we hope to grow in the coming seasons.

One member has already had success with her Baptisia seedlings that are growing in containers.

Following are specific instructions [adapted from Hudson Valley Seed Company] for sowing milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), which can be applied to many other perennials.

Method 1: Sowing in Containers in the Fall

By sowing in containers, the seedlings will be able to grow big and healthy before transplanting. In order to become well established and come back year after year, each [milkweed] plant should grow to about 24″ high, allowing it to form a healthy rhizome, which it needs to overwinter before transplanting in the garden.

How to start: Fill 4″ to 6″ plastic pots with well-drained potting mix. Sow 5 to 10 seeds per pot, spacing them evenly, about 1/4 inch deep. Press into the mix and water well. Place the pots outdoors—on a porch or at the side of a house is ideal—and leave them to overwinter. In the spring, when temperatures warm, the pots should be moved into full sun to germinate in a spot protected from wind and hungry predators.

Method 2: Direct Sowing into Prepared Garden Soil in the Fall

The ease of this method is appealing. And it’s most similar to how milkweed propagates itself in its natural habitat. To be successful with this method, however, you’ll need to plan the location of your spring/summer patch now, in the fall, when most garden chores have ended. And if you broadcast, Renee warns, don’t walk away and assume that nature will work its wonders; some weeding will be required. The seedlings will also be susceptible to pests, perhaps even some very hungry caterpillars, which can keep them from surviving over the winter.

One member collected seeds from just one pod of what she believes are Echinacea Big Sky ‘Harvest Moon,’ which grow nearly four feet high in her pondside garden (where all the shorter varieties are eaten by groundhogs). She plans to try several sowing methods and see which works best.

Method 3: Sowing in Containers in the Spring

This is almost the same as Method 1, except you’ll need to “vernalize” the seeds, as follows: Eight weeks before the last spring frost—just after March 1 in our area—start the seeds in 4″ to 6″ plastic pots, as directed above. Water them well, cover them with plastic wrap, and place them in a refrigerator for 2 to 4 weeks. Then proceed as above. You can also start the seeds in cell trays, but larger pots are preferable because the root systems will have more room to develop.

Method 4: Direct Sowing into the Spring Garden

This is almost identical to Method 2, except you will sow the seeds in early spring, when nighttime temperatures are still in the 30s. The seeds can be sown later, though you might see decreased germination as the weather warms.

Happy growing!

This sweet red pepper was grown in a pot from seed. 

Renee with her bounty from the workshop.

Filed under Horticulture, Landscape and Garden Design, Zone 7 Native Plants

Check Into a Pollinator Hotel

Perhaps the most fascinating exhibit on the grounds of the O’Hara Nature Center in Irvington is the “Pollinator Hotel,” a structure that supports cavity-nesting bees and wasps. Made of logs with holes drilled in them and of dried stems of perennial plants, it might be the ‘greenest’ recycled housing project ever: stems are saved from Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium fistulosum), Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), and Cup-plant (Silphium perfoliatum) and repurposed into nesting material.

It’s also a work of art.

Please watch this short explanation by the ONC’s resident horticulturist, educator, and designer of educational materials, CJ Reilly, in which he explains that bees and wasps that are solitary, that don’t live in colonies, are attracted to holes in natural materials, in which they lay their eggs and then fill with grasses and other nutrients. Up to a year later the eggs will hatch, creating a new brood of insects ready to pollinate native plants.

CJ 3

Need to know more? Here is a link to some educational material. And you’ll just have to visit on your own.

 

Filed under Horticulture, Irvington Garden Club Events, Irvington NY, Nature Photography, NY and CT Public Garden Tours

A Tour of the O’Hara Nature Center

Early fall. It’s still warm and there are plenty of opportunities to visit the Rivertowns’ outdoor treasures. One of our most treasured is the O’Hara Nature Center, located in 400-acre Irvington Woods at 170 Mountain Road, just off the Saw Mill Parkway.

Over the last five years, resident horticulturists CJ Reilly and Peter Strom have worked with the Irvington Recreation and Parks Department to design the ten demonstration gardens that work harmoniously with the  environment, preserve water resources, and increase biodiversity by providing natural habitats for pollinators.

Members of the Garden Club of Irvington enjoyed a recent tour. Here are a few highlights:

After an introduction to the ONC’s history and programing, Barbara Defino, an active member and past president of the Garden Club, received an award for her devoted and ongoing support. Flanking her are CJ Reilly and Peter Strom.

The ONC building is a model of attractive, energy-efficient, green design. Custom bookshelves were made from a sassafras tree that grew in Irvington Woods Park.

Before the tour, Peter Strom carefully relocated a confused bumblebee to its rightful home, a Goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens).

The tour was led by the ONC’s Education Director CJ Reilly, a graduate of Teachers College, Columbia University, where his field of study was data visualization and educational development — skills he uses for the benefit of all visitors. “This is an example of true community partnership,” he said, explaining that the Village of Irvington, the School District, the Eagle Scouts, the Parks and Recreation Department, members of the Garden Club, and many volunteers have worked together to conceptualize, build, support, and maintain the facility and the grounds. It is also an example of bringing new life to a community devastated by a tragedy: the crash of TWA Flight 800, which killed three members of the O’Hara family.

This structure, a “bee hotel,” supports a diverse array of solitary cavity-nesting bees and wasps. Dried plant stems such as hollow Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium fistulosum), Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), and Cup-plant (Silphium perfoliatum) stems are saved from the gardens and repurposed into nesting material. Here is a link to CJ’s educational materials that explain the process in detail. (More photos and details to come in the next post.)

During our visit, a grass-carrying wasp (Isodontia Mexicana) returned to the hollow Joe Pye Weed it filled with grass and other reserves for its brood inside.

CJ described the 25 heirloom grafted apple trees in the ONC, including all nine varieties that were grown at Washington Irving’s Sunnyside.

He then introduced the step-by-step educational materials that guide ONC visitors through the apple-tree grafting process. Similar materials, which explain horticultural processes in detail, are posted throughout the site.

The ONC has two outdoor classrooms for the school and community educational programs it hosts.

You don’t have to be on a tour or in a program to enjoy these facilities. Just walk in, it’s free… and enjoy the beauty around you. (And perhaps stop to read the educational materials or admire an insect in its rightful habitat.)

Filed under Conservation, Horticulture, Landscape and Garden Design, NY and CT Public Garden Tours, Rivertowns Westchester NY, Tarrytown NY

A New Native Plant Garden at Greenburgh Nature Center

Planted in one intense day in early June, the Native Plant Garden for Pollinators at Greenburgh Nature Center is already in bloom and thriving. It’s a gorgeous tribute to the Garden Club member who inspired it, Gerrie Shapiro.

 

400 plants native to our region, purchased with contributions to the Gerrie Shapiro Memorial Fund, were staged in Cathy Ludden’s driveway prior to planting at Greenburgh Nature Center.

A Garden Imagined — and Planted

 

The garden was imagined, planned, sketched, and planted by Cathy Ludden, GCI’s conservation chair from 2012–2016 and the Garden Club of America’s 2021 Zone III (New York) Civic Improvement Award winner. She’s perhaps better known as a longtime Greenburgh Nature Center (GNC) board member and its immediate past president. Since retiring from corporate law, Cathy has devoted herself to conservation matters, especially the benefits of native plants to the environment. She began the project last year by planting a small pollinator garden and GNC as part of the Town of Greenburgh’s Pollinator Pathway project. This June, GCI co-president Anne Myers worked with her to significantly enlarge it to frame the woodland path leading to the existing Native Plant Meadow.

Made possible through the generosity of friends and family in memory of Geraldine “Gerrie” Shapiro, the new Native Plant Garden encompasses more than 800 square feet at the sloping woodland edge of the Great Lawn near GNC’s honeybee hives. Working with landscape designer Bill Boyce and colleague Guy Pardee, Cathy created a path to circle the beds so that the garden’s native grasses and perennials—which provide nectar and pollen for pollinators including bees and hummingbirds—can be viewed up-close and from various vantage points.

It was “all hands on deck” to get more than 400 plants—which had been collected and staged in Cathy’s driveway—in the ground and to keep the beds weeded and watered. Although the planting was completed in one hot, intense day, maintenance is ongoing by volunteers including GCI members and GNC staff and interns. Educational signage about the importance of pollinators, native plants and native bees will soon be added.

On a hot Friday in early June, Cathy Ludden (left) planted the 800-sq-ft garden with the assistance of garden guru Abel Racinos; Jim Blann, current GNC board president; and Anne Myers, GCI co-president.

 

The design was laid out with a curved path to allow viewing from many vantage points.

 

By mid-June, the plants were established and thriving.

Why Natives?

Cathy’s passion is educating and encouraging homeowners to plant natives instead of non-natives in their gardens. She speaks and writes about how native perennials, shrubs, trees and grasses can offer blooms early in the season and add dramatic fall color to the landscape. And, more importantly, that they offer specific, valuable benefits: they provide nutritious fruits for birds and other wildlife; contribute to biodiversity; flourish without pesticides; offer food and protection for wildlife; support beneficial insects that help control garden pests; contribute to clean air and water; and deter soil erosion. Most natives, when established, are drought and deer resistant.

The garden’s plant list includes nearly 50 species including the familiar flowering perennials baptisia, coreopsis, dicentra, echinacea, monarda, penstemon and rudbeckia—plus others that should become better known, like Waldsteinia fragarioides  and Zizia aurea.

By mid-July, the garden was in bloom, its tall native grasses surrounding flowering perennials including coreopsis and penstemon. (Photo by Dori Ruff)

Inspiration of Gerrie Shapiro

Geraldine “Gerrie” Shapiro 1932–2020

A woman of varied talents and interests, Gerrie served in many positions in GCI and actively volunteered her time and expertise to protecting and improving the quality of Westchester’s natural environment. After earning her certificate in landscape design from the New York Botanical Garden, she established an Irvington-based consulting business and designed public and private gardens in the area and served on conservation and gardening-related boards.

Planting native plants, supporting pollinators, educating the public and beautifying public parks are all activities consistent with Gerrie’s passions and of the values of the Garden Club of Irvington. Thus, GCI established the Gerrie Shapiro Memorial Fund in support the creation of this garden, dedicated to her memory. Many who knew and loved her gave their support to the project. Remembering Gerrie with this garden and honoring her devotion to nature and to beneficial gardens are fitting tributes.

Come and See

Earlier this week, Cathy Ludden led a tour for GCI members, who were delighted and impressed not only by the plants themselves, but by the droves of insects and butterflies who were buzzing happily through the air and alighting on the flowers.

Although the blooming season is at its height, the beauty and life of the Native Plant Garden for Pollinators will continue through the fall. We invite everyone to explore, discover, and connect with native plants and their pollinators over several visits to GNC. Attached is a PDF of Cathy Ludden’s “Plant This” booklet, The Beauty and Benefits of Native Plants,” which you can view or download via this link and which we hope will inspire you to plant natives in your garden.

Garden Club of Irvington members found the tour inspiring. We hope you will, too. (Photo by Ellen Shapiro)

 

Swarms of butterflies are busily pollinating GNC’s Native Plant Garden. (Photo by Renee Shamosh)

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Greenburgh Nature Center is located at 99 Dromore Road, Scarsdale, NY 10583, just off Central Avenue, north of Ashford Avenue.

Filed under Conservation, Garden History and Design, Horticulture

Cultivating a Beautiful Rose Garden

The Garden Club of Irvington has been restoring and maintaining the Rose Garden at Lyndhurst for more than 50 years. Club members, led most recently by Rose Garden Chairman Lou Zapata, plant, weed, prune, fertilize and generally care for a wide variety of roses throughout the year to maintain healthy plants and robust bloomers.

A Little History

We are fortunate to have as an active member a longtime rosarian and expert in growing roses. Josyane Colwell has been deeply involved in the Lyndhurst Rose Garden since joining the Garden Club in 1982. She grew up on a family farm in southern France with her grandparents, who cultivated roses for the perfume industry in Grasse. As a child, she learned every aspect of growing roses—and is not reserved in sharing that knowledge.

Josayne was featured in a 1986 cover story in the Rivertowns Enterprise about Rose Pruning Day at Lyndhurst, which is usually a public event at the end of March. We hope to be able to sponsor it again next year.

In addition to sun and water, roses need expert care to nurture new growth (the “baby shoots,” as Josyane calls them) and to help the plants survive the weather, pests and disease.

Here is some of Josyane’s advice:

Pruning

The pruning season begins in late March/early April with the removal of dead wood from the winter, and the removal of old, weak or dying branches and crossing branches, particularly those that are crowding the center of the bush. Shaping of the plant allows for strong growth, good air circulation and an aesthetic appearance during the blooming season. Cuts are made at an angle just above an emerging bud. The cutting of large canes requires sealing the exposed surface with a sealant such as Elmer’s glue to prevent future rot and disease.

Clean lopping shears or a folding saw are essential for the removal of larger canes in order not to damage the plant.

Deadheading

Cut at an angle with sharp, clean pruners.

Deadheading, the removal of spent blooms, should continue throughout the summer and early fall to encourage repeat bloomers to send out new buds and shoots.

This is also the time for heavy pruning to reshape and rejuvenate the plants so they can harden up before winter. When deadheading, never cut straight across; always cut on an angle, which prevents water from resting on the stems and causing them to rot. The cut should be just above the second branch of five (not three) leaves down from the spent bloom. Pruning shears should always be sharp and clean so as not to damage the cane and spread disease.

When the plant is pruned and deadheaded, healthy “baby shoots” emerge and bloom all season.

Climbing Roses

The pruning of climbing roses on a trellis or other structure is always a challenge, but can offer a wonderful display for a long time. In the early 1980s Josyane and her Rose Garden co-chair, Natalia Schell, could barely walk under the overgrown trellises. They spent hours almost every day removing the dead and diseased canes and tying back and training the younger canes to encourage growth and blooms on the outside of the trellises. The taller Natalia, from Russian aristocratic blood, held the ladder while the more diminutive Josyane from the farm pruned and tied from above. This French-speaking pair found great joy together in restoring the beauty of the rose trellises. Because many climbers re-bloom, this process continued throughout the summers as well. However, the length of bloom is worth the effort.

Trellises with climbing roses enhance every tier of the Rose Garden at Lyndhurst.

Maintenance

Fertilizing in the springtime will encourage healthy growth and beautiful blooms. On the farm they used manure to feed the plants. Most nurseries carry manure or can recommend an appropriate fertilizer. Turning the soil in early spring is also encouraged to allow moisture to reach the roots more easily.

Black spot, left, is a fungus that occurs in extreme heat and moisture and where there isn’t sufficient air circulation. Rose-related diseases such as black spot should be dealt with by a professional. However, gardeners can help stem its spread by removing yellow leaves with black spots, both on the plant and on the soil.

The Results

If you follow these simple tips from a seasoned rosarian, you can achieve results as stunning as these!

 

Filed under Garden History and Design, Horticulture, Landscape and Garden Design, NY and CT Public Garden Tours, Rivertowns Westchester NY, Tarrytown NY

Window Box Herb Garden

Want to have your fun and eat it too? How about picking up a selection of herb seedlings and planting them in containers? You can plant them on your deck, on a sunny porch, right outside your kitchen window. Or as Garden Club member Cena Hampden demonstrates here, it’s easy to plant them in window boxes that allow you to reach right outside and harvest fresh herbs to snip on your pasta or add to your salads.

by Cena Hampden

Cena is the Greenhouse Co-Chair of the Garden Club of Irvington. She is responsible, with Dori Ruff, for ensuring a bountiful and healthy crop of annuals that our members grow all year in the Lyndhurst Greenhouse and sell at the plant sale held on the day before Mother’s Day. In this spring and early summer of Covid-19, Cena is turning her attention to delectable edibles that she harvests by reaching out her front window. She writes:

This year’s renewed interest in planting edibles moved me to think about how I could participate in the trend. Each summer, the window box spanning the front of my house has sported an array of colorful flowers. Lacking a yard with sufficient sun and protection from critters (not to mention my lack of desire to cultivate another garden) I can hardly keep up with what I have. So I eyed my window boxes.

I moved the window box liners to the patio.

I emptied half the old soil into a wheelbarrow, and with a small trowel mixed it with potting soil purchased at Reader’s Hardware in Dobbs Ferry. I set aside the other half of the old soil to use in the garden or to mix with new soil to fill other pots. Working on each liner in the wheelbarrow, rather than on the ground or on a potting bench, I was able to avoid extra cleanup of spilled soil.

Small in scale with foliage of different shapes, textures and variegated leaves, herbs seemed especially suitable. In addition to oregano, thyme and sage — perennials I can transplant into the garden —  I chose parsley, coriander, rosemary and arugula (not sure it qualifies as an herb, but it adds peppery flavor to salads).

For greater ease, I selected seedlings and plants rather than starting from seed. The seedlings came from Home Grown Nurseries, run by Nick Storrs who grows in the propagating shed at Lyndhurst adjacent to the one used for annuals by the Garden Club of Irvington.

After ordering online I was able to pick up the seedlings at the Hastings Farmers Market. The perennials were purchased at Westchester Farms. After only one week the growth was noticeable. I’m especially happy with the variegated oregano and thyme.

Now for the fun part! I can harvest the herbs while I’m indoors, and thanks to a generous roof overhang I won’t even get wet in the rain. I also look forward to those beautiful parsley caterpillars (black swallowtail butterflies) who will be sharing the produce.

 

 

Filed under Horticulture, Vegetable Gardening

City Pickers for a Suburban Harvest

Learn how one Irvington family is deepening their connection to the earth and each other (and having fun) by growing their own food — using some very interesting, rewarding, and easy-to-emulate methodologies.

by Gwen Merkin

Irvington resident Gwen Merkin, Program Manager for Corporate Sustainability at UL, has more than ten years experience in the fields of energy efficiency, corporate sustainability, green building, waste auditing, and city planning. She lives in a pondside house near Sunnyside Lane with her husband, Ryan Merkin, also a leader in building science and energy consulting, and their two young daughters. She spends her limited free time fostering connections between people and the Earth, and loves the magic of plants.

Throughout the quarantine, our family has found growing our own food to be incredibly soothing — from the bonding it brings as a family activity, to the wonders of nature and science, to the confidence of increasing self-sufficiency. We are feeling grateful for our deepening connection to nature.

Last year, after years of tinkering with vegetable gardening that resulted in very small yields, we bought three City Pickers, which are mobile, self-watering, raised-bed grow boxes. The plants live above an aeration screen that enhances the oxygen flow to roots and encourages faster growth. They worked really well for snap peas, cucumbers, arugula and kale.

This year, we bought two more City Pickers and seven Earth Boxes (a similar solution, made from recycled-content plastic), and decided to test a few more strategies to see if — on our 200-square foot deck and a plot in the back yard below — we can produce enough veggies to feed four adults and two children throughout the summer and early fall.

We started from seeds we’d been collecting over the last few years, plus a few purchased online from Seed Savers Exchange. We planted them in a combination of trays designed for growing seedlings, hydroponics (for lettuce), recyclable plastic salad containers (which are maddening as a single-use product), plus direct sowing into the 12 City Pickers and Earth Boxes. We borrowed a grow light to help expedite the process of turning the seedlings into viable plants.

We like this Parks’ domed seed-starting tray with 60 cells.

We use bagged potting mix — which is soil-less and designed to maximize growth in pots. The raised-bed systems require it — plus a blend of dolomite (crushed limestone) and organic fertilizer. We’re growing cucumbers, kale, mustard greens, arugula, lettuce, tomatoes, broccoli, carrots, cilantro, and basil. The ‘garden’ is up on our deck so we don’t create a tasty buffet for the abundant deer and geese.

The black plastic ‘mulch’ comes with the Earth Boxes. It helps retain moisture and keeps the weeds and critters out. In this box, we’re growing arugula and snap peas. You water the Earth Box through the pipe in the corner. The water is stored in the bottom of the container and the plants suck it in; you can’t overwater because the excess drains out through the bottom.

This is our electric hydroponic grow station, in which we’re growing butterhead lettuce. The dials on the bottom let us know if we need to add water or food. It took approximately three weeks from planting until we were able to enjoy the first crop (it was good)! The next round should be ready in half the time; the leaves are getting big again.

We put all our food scraps (except for meat, cheese, fish) in this FCMP Outdoor Tumbling Composter, and it makes amazing compost fertilizer. We start with an equal volume of leaves and vegetable peels and scraps. In spring temperatures it takes three to four weeks to make compost; it’s a lot slower in the colder months and faster in the summer. I also bury unfinished compost right in the backyard, and have seen it transform our clay soil into beautiful, worm-filled garden beds.

We are obsessed with watching the magical process unfold.

While our six- and eight-year-olds have not yet taken to eating salads (in a bowl, anyway), they love to pick leaves straight from the plants and pop them into their mouths!

 

Filed under Conservation, Horticulture, Rivertowns Westchester NY, Vegetable Gardening

Have You Tried Growing Potatoes?

By Isa Hetzel
Garden Club member Isa Hetzel is an interior designer who lives in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York

Digging up potatoes near summer’s end is one of the most rewarding, delicious, and surprising events in gardening. It’s bit like a scavenger hunt. You never know exactly where or what you will find. It might be a bunch of little ones all together, or a nice fat golden tuber in the dark earth.

Though not commonly grown in home gardens, potatoes are among the easier vegetables to try, with good results. “Seed” potatoes, the potatoes from which a new crop is started, are often bought from nurseries online and locally. Since this year presents a particular difficulty, you can try potatoes you have on hand or buy at the grocery store. I’ve done both with success. If you google “growing potatoes,” the ‘rules’ will tell you that store-bought potatoes are sprayed with sprouting inhibitor, but it hasn’t made a difference in my experience.

So, here is what you will need:

• A bag of potatoes. I like the very small ones, no larger than an egg; organic if possible. If you have larger ones, no problem.

• A sharp knife.

• Some compost if your soil is hard like clay. Potatoes prefer loose, loamy, rich soil with very good drainage. The amount of compost you might add depends on how much amending your soil requires. I use bagged Lobster Compost from Maine. The soil where mine are planted is loamy to begin with so I don’t need to add much.

• A little organic granular fertilizer.

• A digging shovel and a trowel.

• A small plot of ground. I’ve chosen a section that gets at least 6 hours of direct sunlight every day, and measures about 7 x 3 feet. You’ll need enough space around the plot to walk around and to reach the plot to weed and to dig up the potatoes. So plan accordingly. If you are doing a larger area, you might divide the planting into two sections, a couple of rows with space in between. They will need to be watered frequently in dry weather, so keep that in mind.

Order of Things:

First, dig up the ground about 8 to 10″ deep, loosening it and turning it over. Add compost and mix it up. You might want to add a little organic granular fertilizer. Even up the surface a bit.

Next, cut each piece in about half. Make sure that each piece you plant has an ‘eye’ or two, which will be the sprouting points. If the potatoes are quite small, you can use the whole potato. If they are rather large, you might want to cut them into half or in three pieces. Each piece may produce several tuber roots, which are the potatoes.

Using the trowel, dig holes roughly 6″ deep, drop in a potato and roughly cover it with soil. Do this in rows, which will help you keep track of where you have planted them, with the potatoes about 8″ apart in all directions. Smooth the top of the soil. By planting them this deep, the tubers will develop below the soil surface and won’t be exposed to the sun, which can make them green and bitter

You can cover the rows with mulch, such as straw, which will help retain moisture and keep the light off the tubers if they get too near the surface.

If the soil is not too dry and rain is expected, you can get along without watering. They will need less water at the beginning, since they are well below the surface, and the air will be cool. The idea is keep them moist, not soaked, and don’t allow them to dry out.

Sprouts should begin to emerge in two or three weeks, depending on the temperature and weather.

Once they are up and growing, make sure they don’t dry out. Keep the weeds down, and wait. And wait some more… maybe 10 to 14 weeks from planting. A couple of weeks after the flowers come, they should be ready to dig. If you wait a bit longer, they will have grown larger and give you a bigger crop. It depends on the size you want. You can always dig up a couple to satisfy your curiosity and check the size.

Dig them, wash them off lightly, and store them in an airy bag in a cool, dry, dark spot.
Then:
• Smashed potatoes with butter and garlic?
• Late-summer potato salad with dill, sliced hardboiled eggs and mayo?
• Lightly sautéed in a spritz of olive oil?
• Smiles all around.

 

Filed under Horticulture, Vegetable Gardening