I planted sugar snap peas on St. Patrick's Day this year, and four days later it snowed. It wasn't what we'd expect of the second day of Spring, but the weather this year has been anything but common. The pea planting was as much a hopeful gesture as anything else - a way to reassure myself that something edible will indeed emerge from the ground again, just as we will emerge from this heavy dose of winter.
The mailmen may be the only people in Arlington who know it's time to start thinking about the garden, as they deliver seed and garden supply catalogues to frozen gardeners who have probably forgotten how to call a spade a spade. But all it takes is a quick daydream about the taste of a fresh summer tomato with basil to get me to load soil into peat pots and start raising this year's vegetable garden. I claim complete amateur status when it comes to gardening, but that's the main point: it didn't take much effort to get myself up and going and self-sufficient with vegetables for two from June through September. Hopefully it'll inspire some similar experiments around Arlington.
One of the first things I did after moving here a few years ago - long before the furniture arrived - was to dig up the yard. I am not a huge fan of grass and am definitely not a lawn guy, particularly because they require attention but you can't eat them. At first I had plans to turn the entire place into a big terraced garden complete with paths and maybe a fountain or two. Then I discovered how hard it is to dig well-established grass, and my grand visions shrank. A lot. I started with two 11-foot by 6-foot raised beds, which I staked out, dug, and framed with untreated spruce 2X12s from Home Depot. In the second season I added a third.
I filled the beds with a few cubic yards of compost from Boston Bark that were dumped smack in the middle of our driveway. I was pleased until I discovered that the dump truck hadn't been cleaned out before it was loaded with compost, and so right at the center of the magnificent pile was a full two cubic yards of concrete mix. Boston Bark did come back, shovel up the mess, and provide a new load sans concrete but I would have rather seen them get it right on round 1.
The arduous digging of sod.
The compost - with a special concrete filling.
While this was going on, the seedlings watched from inside. Although I'd raised the odd cactus or two in my day, this whole vegetable thing was new territory for me. I tried all sorts of containers, from peat pots to cardboard egg cartons to old yogurt containers. In the end, although they're a one-shot deal, I like peat pots the most because they can be placed in a waterproof dish and watered from below. The peat will soak up the water and dampen the soil, which is a great way to avoid abusing your seedlings during watering.
Another suggestion is to label your seedlings clearly with something other than a post-it note. It's a bit of a surprise when you separate a bunch of tiny tomato seedlings only to find out later that they were actually...basil. In the first year I pre-seeded tomatoes, zucchini, kale, leeks, broccoli, parsley, and basil indoors on April 1st. Later I planted beans, swiss chard, marigolds, and a bunch of salad greens right in the garden. I liked this initial set, with the exception of the leeks, which looked like blades of grass when I transplanted them into the garden and took forever to mature into pitiful stalks.
All of my seeds came from Seeds of Change, which I chose because they are from organic plants. I've generally liked their supply, but their seed packs are pretty expensive and I've had problems with items backordered (summer doesn't wait around for the seeds to arrive) or canceled altogether (a couple of times without any warning).
The first set of seedlings.
A tomato gets a transplant.
All planted and ready to grow (Bed #1).
Tomatoes and salad greens (Bed #2).
My first year was the summer of 2009 when everyone's Ark filled with water from June 1st to July 15th. Irrigation wasn't necessary, and the cool-weather crops such as lettuces and broccoli did well. I did install a soaker hose (seen in the photo) but used it rarely, and found that by September it had rotted and had several holes, making it completely worthless. In 2010 I sprung for a drip irrigation system from a company called Irrigation Direct. The weather was warm and dry and with the system on a timer, all I really had to do was harvest, eat, and repeat. (Less work is always good, because unfortunately I am not a full-time yard gardener.)
I'm a fan of planting densely because it means less weeding, and this appears to work as long as crops are rotated from year to year. I border the beds with marigolds, which help deter pests, and interplant a lot - one plant of this, one row of that, and so on. The only pesticide I use is Bt, which stands for Bacillus Thuringiensis and is a naturally-occurring bacteria that takes care of cabbage moths on the kale and broccoli. In June the basil has been decimated by June bugs (go figure) so I cover them at night - problem solved. I was told that nocturnal investigations are the best way to figure out what's eating your plants, and this has been mostly true. Neighbors come in handy, too: ours told me he spotted a squirrel running away with one of my tomatoes in its mouth. I considered it my contribution to the squirrel fund in exchange for free acorn cleanup services the fellow provides in the fall.
From seedling to garden jungle in a matter of weeks.
Rows offer the illusion of order and method.
The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and even though many of my techniques were experimental and haphazard, when the sun shines in Arlington things really start growing. We had more salad greens than we could eat, and managed to can a bunch of tomatoes in the form of salsa. Butternut squash has lasted through the winter in the basement, and I think there's a loaf or two of zucchini bread still in the freezer.
It may seem a long way off, but soon we'll be in shorts and t-shirts and I'll be feeling lucky that there are 200 fewer square feet of my lawn to mow than when I moved in. If luck smiles on me again this year, I'll be feasting on another chaotic pile of plants that are as local as it gets.
1 ½ lbs of zucchini.
A late-season harvest: tomatoes, squash, beets, and everything else.
Summertime on a platter.
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Climate Change News
Feb 20, 2019 | 06:45 am
Study finds rising temperatures feed more energy to thunderstorms, less to general circulation. Climate change is shifting the energy in the atmosphere that fuels summertime weather, which may lead to stronger thunderstorms and more stagnant conditions for midlatitude regions of the Northern Hemisphere, including North America, Europe, and Asia, a new MIT study finds. Scientists report that rising global temperatures, particularly in the Arctic, are redistributing the energy in the atmosphere: More energy is available to fuel thunderstorms and other local, convective processes, while less energy is going toward summertime extratropical cyclones — larger, milder weather systems that circulate across thousands of kilometers. These systems are normally associated with winds and fronts that generate rain. “Extratropical cyclones ventilate air and air pollution, so with weaker extratropical cyclones in the summer, you’re looking at the potential for more poor air-quality days in urban areas,” says study author Charles Gertler, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS). “Moving beyond air quality in cities, you have the potential for more destructive thunderstorms and more stagnant days with perhaps longer-lasting heat waves.” Gertler and his co-author, Associate Professor Paul O’Gorman of EAPS, are publishing their results this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Read more at Climate Change Makes Summer Weather Stormier Yet More StagnantRead more...
Climate Change News
Feb 20, 2019 | 06:00 am
In increasingly arid regions such as the western U.S., water managers are learning that careful management and restoration of watershed ecosystems, including thinning trees and conducting prescribed burns, are important tools in coping with a hotter, drier climate. Long before an aspen tree fell on a power line in New Mexico’s Jemez Mountains in June 2011, triggering the biggest wildfire in the state’s history, fire managers knew that New Mexico’s forests were vulnerable. Climate change-induced drought and higher temperatures had dried out the trees and soil. And after more than a century of fire suppression, areas that supported 40 trees per acre in the pre-European era now were blanketed with up to a hundred times as many. This profusion of trees — as many as one per square yard — weakened all of them, and rendered them defenseless against megafires. Even so, the fire managers weren’t prepared for the astonishing power of the 2011 conflagration, known as the Las Conchas Fire. During its first 14 hours, it sent walls of flame hundreds of feet high as it consumed nearly an acre of forest per second and threatened the city of Los Alamos. By the time it was extinguished five weeks later, it had burned an area nearly three times as big as the state’s largest fire before it, and left behind nearly 100 square miles so severely burned that even seeds to regenerate the forest were destroyed. But the fire’s full impact didn’t register until nearly two months later, when[…]Read more...
Climate Change News
Feb 20, 2019 | 05:10 am
As warming brings earlier spring rains in the Arctic, more permafrost thaws, releasing more methane in a difficult-to-stop feedback loop, research shows. Increasing spring rains in the Arctic could double the increase in methane emissions from the region by hastening the rate of thawing in permafrost, new research suggests. The findings are cause for concern because spring rains are anticipated to occur more frequently as the region warms. The release of methane, a short-lived climate pollutant more potent than carbon dioxide over the short term, could induce further warming in a vicious cycle that would be difficult if not impossible to stop. "Our results emphasize that these permafrost regions are sensitive to the thermal effects of rain, and because we're anticipating that these environments are going to get wetter in the future, we could be seeing increases in methane emissions that we weren't expecting," said the study's lead author, Rebecca Neumann, a civil and environmental engineering professor at the University of Washington. The study appears in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. Scientists specializing in the thawing of the permafrost have been warning for years that this kind of feedback loop, which both results from and accelerates global warming, has not been taken into account in the comprehensive climate assessments that drive worldwide climate policies. As a result, they say, the Paris climate agreement signed in 2015 was probably not ambitious enough in its goals for avoiding the worst effects of warming. Read more at Arctic Bogs Hold Another Global Warming Risk[…]Read more...
Climate Change News
Feb 18, 2019 | 07:30 am
Because "present and future on this planet are at stake," say teen climate activists, "we won't be silent any longer" The world may be edging toward "environmental breakdown"—but 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg sees signs for hope. Pointing to global walkouts planned for March 15, Thunberg—whose "school strikes for climate" helped galvanized similar actions worldwide—said, "I think what we are seeing is the beginning of great changes and that is very hopeful." "I think enough people have realized just how absurd the situation is," she told the Guardian. "We are in the middle of the biggest crisis in human history and basically nothing is being done to prevent it." In a sign of that realization, thousands of students from dozens of communities across the United Kingdom skipped class on Friday to join the ranks taking part in the weekly climate actions. In fact, it's "incredible" that the movement "has spread so far, so fast," she told "Good Morning Britain." Read more at 16-Year-Old Greta Thunberg Cheers 'Beginning of Great Changes' as Climate Strike Goes GlobalRead more...
Climate Change News
Feb 18, 2019 | 06:45 am
Understanding carbon cycle feedbacks to predict climate change at large scale. Thomas Crowther identifies long-disappeared forests available for restoration across the world. He will describe how there is room for an additional 1.2 trillion new trees around the world that could absorb more carbon than human emissions each year. Crowther also describes data from thousands of soil samples collected by local scientists that reveal the world's Arctic and sub-Arctic regions store most of the world's carbon. But the warming of these ecosystems is causing the release of this soil carbon, a process that could accelerate climate change by 17%. This research is revealing that the restoration of vegetation and soil carbon is by far our best weapon in the fight against climate change. Read more at Predicting Climate ChangeRead more...
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Poster of the Week - Adults Keep Saying We Owe It To The Young People To Give Them Hope, But I Don't Want Your Hope.Climate Change News Feb 18, 2019 | 05:27 am Read more...
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