California agriculture

Excellent article by Natasha Geiling, “California’s Drought Could Upend America’s Entire Food System“:

In 2014, some 500,000 acres of farmland lay fallow in California, costing the state’s agriculture industry $1.5 billion in revenue and 17,000 seasonal and part time jobs. Experts believe the total acreage of fallowed farmland could double in 2015 — and that news has people across the country thinking about food security.

“When you look at the California drought maps, it’s a scary thing,” Craig Chase, who leads the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture’s Marketing and Food Systems Initiative at Iowa State University, told ThinkProgress. “We’re all wondering where the food that we want to eat is going to come from. Is it going to come from another state inside the U.S.? Is it going to come from abroad? Or are we going to grow it ourselves? That’s the question that we need to start asking ourselves.”…

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Plant reviews: Blanket flower and Lobed tickseed

Last fall I took some notes on what worked and what didn’t in the garden.  My focus is native plants and cultivars.  (My wife handles the vegetable garden.)   My first two reviews follow below.  (Musical accompaniment here.)

Two things that have done well and I’d plant more of:  Gaillardia ‘Arizona Sun’ and Coreopsis auriculata ‘Nana’.   Gaillardia (NB:  not to be confused with giardia) is also known as blanket flower.   I didn’t snap any pictures of ours so here’s one gleaned from the web:


We’ve had ours for probably three seasons now.  It has a long bloom season – at least two months – and the blooms are long lasting – didn’t write it down but I’d say at least a couple weeks before individual blooms fade.   I originally planted them in a partly sunny area but then transplanted them to full sun two (?) years ago.  They’re happier in full sun than part sun.   I know, they’re not New England natives but they are native to the U.S. and the bees seem to like them.  That’s good enough for me.

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2015 Mass Aggie Workshops

Email received yesterday:

The 2015 MassAggie Workshop Series line-up is now available.

This year’s topics include:

  • Pruning Apple Trees
  • Healthy Seeds
  • Growing & Pruning Blueberries
  • Growing & Pruning Raspberries and other Bramble Fruit
  • Growing & Pruning Grapes
  • Invasive Plants
  • 100′ Fruiting Wall!
  • Fruit Tree Pest Management
  • Healthy Soils
  • Native Pollinators

All workshops are hands-on and will give attendees a chance to practice new skills and/or take home something they can use in their own landscapes or gardens.

If you’re interested visit for more information or to register.

Click here for a copy of the event flyer.

Dave Epstein and NEWFS, Native Pollinator Plants for Container Gardens

As part of his “Growing Wisdom” series Dave Epstein did a few episodes at New England Wild Flower Society’s Garden in the Woods.   Here’s the second of three:

Three cheers for butterfly milkweed and mountain mint!

PS  Garden in the Woods has a nice garden shop.  You can probably obtain all three species mentioned in season.  If you can’t, and you’re willing to do mail order, then I recommend Tripple Brook Farm.   I’ve gotten a fair number of plants in our garden from them.  Their prices are very reasonable and everything we’ve gotten from them has been very healthy.   (You can stop in as well as do mail order.  Once upon a time pre-kids my wife and I rented a van and drove out to pick up a 12′ sassafras tree.  One of the owners was kind enough to give us brief tour of the grounds.  They’ve got a nice set up.)

Invasive plants: “Know them. Don’t grow them.”

The New England Wild Flower Society puts out an excellent three-fold brochure on invasive plants common to this region.  They list species and provide some background on why you should care:

Some non-native plant species become “overachievers,” thriving in their new habitats without the insects and diseases that would normally control their growth.  Once established in natural areas, they outcompete native species and become a major threat to native habitats. Some invasive plants have escaped from our home gardens and public plantings into natural areas and cause profound environmental and economic damage.  Each state has developed a list of problematic plants.  [Ed.:  See MA’s list of  invasives and potential invasives here.]  Some are even illegal to sell. Please learn about the species considered invasive in your area, generate a list of the invasives on your property, and create a plan for eliminating them.
It also describes means of control.  For invasives which are frequently found in suburban yards and gardens the brochure recommends some native alteratives, e.g., red maple to replace Norway maple, highbush blueberry to replace burning bush, blue flag iris to replace yellow flag iris, inkberry holly to replace privet hedge, and serviceberry to replace non-native bush honeysuckle.
Get a pdf of the brochure here – Invasive Brochure


“Summersweet” is the common name for Clethra alnifolia.  It’s relatively small shrub that likes swampy areas but will grow in a wide variety of environments.    They’re abundant in the swampy areas along my main route to and from work.   They’re in flower now and the aroma is great – very rich perfumy.   (The origin of “summersweet” is apparent.)  I put the windows down when I drive by to take it in.


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John Smelser, A Personal View on Sustainable Gardening and Going Green

Excerpts from John Smelser’s post on the Missouri Botanical Garden website, A Personal View on Sustainable Gardening and Going Green:

Compost or mulch-mow lawn clippings

Americans toss approximately 32-36 million TONS of lawn clippings into landfills during the course of a single growing season. We do this even though lawn clippings are a terrific source of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium; fertilizer elements essential to the maintenance of a healthy lawn… You can save a great deal of money and a great deal of space in your landfill by throwing all those lawn clippings into a compost pile instead of the garbage. If you don’t want to manage a compost pile, you can use a mulching mower to shred the material finely enough to leave in the lawn itself… Using a mulching mower would amount to applying hundreds of pounds of fertilizer-rich material to your lawn each growing season… Contrary to all those myths you have heard, the immediate recycling of lawn clippings into the lawn itself does not contribute to thatch. Lawn clippings consist of 75% water content. They decompose readily and add nothing more than nutrients to the soil. Thatch is a build-up of shoots and stems and, in some cases, roots; not grass clippings.

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