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I would like to share this article with you.  Lovingly written, applies to all gardening!  Linda Buzzell, co-founder of Santa Barbara Organic Garden Club, has a true communion with plant beings, and I’m hoping we, you and I, will all work on bettering our connections with them as well.  Long before I started veggie gardening, less than a decade ago, I read Findhorn Garden and was impressed way back then, by the relationship the gardeners had with the land and the plants and how successful that was for them both.  Bless you for your kind attention. 

Mystic Rose at Rosaflora.net

A WINTER MEDITATION ON PRUNING

Linda Buzzell-Saltzman

Winter and early spring are the seasons when many gardeners, orchardists and farmers — fancying themselves surgeons — approach their trees, shrubs and roses with knives, pruning shears and saws in hand, seemingly unaware that these plants are, as the Buddhists would say, sentient beings.

Most pruning is less a conversation between two of nature’s creatures and more an act of ruthless domination under the guise of necessity.

For some reason over the last few millennia we have come to believe that plants are unable to survive, bloom and fruit properly without human intervention. And while much of the painstaking breeding and hybridizing by our ancestors has provided us with an extraordinary variety of edible plants, it may be time to question some of the time-honored Western methods of plant care.

What’s shocking to many people is that scientific research is beginning to reveal the utter lack of necessity for most of the one-sided surgery we call pruning.  For example, a British study showed that rose bushes pruned with hedge clippers yielded as many flowers as those carefully manicured with hand pruners – and that roses left alone yielded still more!

Where did we get the arrogant idea that we know better than the plant itself how to maximize its productivity and health? Such a strange notion, when you think about it… perhaps part of the larger delusion that nature is here merely for us to exploit without thought of the damage we may be doing to individual living beings or our biosphere.

So when might our pruning interventions actually be helpful rather than hurtful? And for whom?

The first principle of permaculture is “observe and interact” – admirable advice in the present instance.  Taking time to respectfully see how the plant itself intends to grow, bloom and fruit allows us greater insight into if, how and when to intervene.

Vintage Gardens Nursery’s Gregg Lowery, heritage rose expert extraordinaire, points out that mostly we prune for our own reasons that have nothing to do with the plant in question. It’s a one way conversation. For instance, we may prune to make a plant look better to our eyes, our sense of what’s beautiful or “tidy.” Or we may need to prune for space, when a tree or bush begins to outgrow its allotted place – probably because we made the mistake of not allowing for full, natural growth when we planted it – our error, not the plant’s!

Rather than remove such a plant entirely, we may need to first apologize, and then gently shape it.  Not just to suit our ideas of aesthetics (again, to please us, not the plant), but hopefully to benefit both the plant and our space needs.

If so, we might want to observe that traditional pruning times and methods were usually designed for Northern conditions, to protect a tender plant from winter frosts. In a warm-winter climate this isn’t necessary, and yet many of us who live in Mediterranean climate zones dutifully hack away at our roses in usually-wet winters, reducing them to stubs and weakening them with radical surgery.  In fact, it’s usually better to do any pruning for size in the summer if possible, when lack of rain may ensure more sanitary conditions.

This whole “do no harm” philosophy of pruning owes a great debt to Japanese philosopher-farmer Masanobu Fukuoka, author of a hugely influential book called One Straw Revolution, who advocated what he called “natural farming” or what some have dubbed “The Zen of Farming,” in which we refrain from digging, cutting or intervening unnecessarily in natural soil and plant systems which we truly don’t understand. We also may need to refine our view of what’s beautiful, to appreciate nature’s own gardening style rather than the control-heavy European aesthetic.

If we do prune, perhaps we might initiate a respectful dialogue with our plants and trees, rather than a monologue. What might be helpful to the plant?  Perhaps the removal of a dead or diseased limb?  A limb that is rubbing against another in the wind?  A sucker from below the graft (if we have a grafter plant) that is draining energy from the top growth?

Observation is the key. And listening.  If we take the time to really get to know our plants, they will guide us in our care for them.

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This is your last chance to plant more rounds of winter veggies you love the most, and the littles that grow year round.  Peas are especially heat sensitive, but we Coastie pea lovers can get one more round!  At this time be sure they are mildew resistant varieties!  But it’s really time to think in terms of those summer treats you love too!  Space is an issue now unless you have fields!  Those of us in 10’ X 20’ Community Garden plots need to reserve space and prepare those soils.  I plant some of the smaller border plants, like lettuces, where they will be on the sunny side, then add the bigger plants that need more heat behind them in March.

Plant LETTUCE, beets, brocs, cabbages, cauliflower, celery, chard, kale, kohlrabi, potatoes, radish, spinach, turnips.  Asparagus and artichoke bare-root.  Or put in asparagus from seed in March.

Clean things up.  Prune your trees, remove dead wood in your herbs.  Divide clumps of Society garlic.  On ground that needs more humus, lay down some bagged steer or well aged horse manure, let the rains wash the nutrients down, in about 2 months dig it in.

Continue with your harvesting, sidedress your producing plants, do your snail prevention.  After rains, foliar apply another batch of aspirin – stimulates growth, boosts the immune system, and baking soda and powdered milk to boost their immune system and act as a germicides.  Don’t forget to add a dash of liquid soap to make the mix stick!  Hold off on watering for a few days to let the potion do its job.  Your plants will thrive!

Select your plants Mindfully!  This takes more than a quick trip to the Nursery and buying whatever they have on hand.  But, hey, if that’s all the time you have, then go for it!  If you have the time, do some quick online comparisons at Universities that specialize in Mediterranean climates.  Check out this year’s All America Selections!  Ask at your local nursery why the varieties they have are their choices.

  • What pests or diseases did your plants have last year?  Select for resistance or tolerance.
  • Is that plant heat tolerant, bolt resistant?
  • What is the disease or pest cycle?  Can you plant at another time, just a few weeks later to avoid them?!
  • Is it a long producing pole plant, or a heavy one-time bush producer?
  • How much space will that amazing plant take up versus it’s return?
  • Is that variety better for canning or table eating?
  • Do you want a hybrid, or will you be seed saving and need an heirloom that plants true year to year?  In a community garden, with all kinds of plants close together, few true seeds can be saved.

Start Your Seedlings!  If you have a greenhouse, and it can be a very small humble enclosure, even a row cover setup, start your seedlings now to plant mid to late March!  At home?  Easy!  Use flats, peat pots, six packs,  punctured-for-drainage plastic containers reused from your kitchen.  Sterilized potting soil holds moisture and is easy for tiny roots to penetrate.  Put them in your greenhouse or with grow lights 7 to 10 inches above, on 14 to 16 hours a day.  Put a plant heating pad underneath, a heat cable, or a moisture protected 15/20 watt bulb in a ‘trouble light,’ for warmth, 70 degrees F.  For better germination, spray aspirin on your seeds before planting!  Another great trick is seed soaking and presprouting!

When they are ready, let them sit outdoors in the daytime shade for a week, then in the sun for a week, then all day the 3rd week.  That process is called hardening off.  The beauty of seeds is you can get the very best plants, and varieties your nursery doesn’t carry!

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Carpenter Bee - Male, AKA Teddy Bear Bee!

April 15, 2011 I had my first encounter with a huge male carpenter bee – see image! Awesome! They are all fuzzy and yellow (not all black like the females), sometimes called Teddy Bear Bees, and I could totally see why! They hover closely and look you right in the eye, buzz off and come back for another look! They are the largest bees found in California, don’t sting. What a pollinator!

Magic May, Mama Earth’s Bounty Month, It’s Cantaloupe Time!!

Keep planting your summer veggies and year-arounds! If you haven’t put in the summer heat lovers, do it NOW! That’s peppers, eggplant, okra, melons. Absolutely get winter squash in now. It takes time to mature and harden. Beans, beets, carrots, chayote, corn, cucs, summer lettuce varieties, pumpkins, radish, zuchs, chard, tomatoes, more tomatoes, turnips! Omigod, I’m hungry!

Harvesting is like pruning, no? So eat! Keep your plant producing by steady picking and plucking, no storing on the vine! Otherwise, it thinks it did its job, made those seeds, and folds up camp! Keep your broccoli harvested. If you see flower stalks, cut them off ASAP, back to where new shoots can come. If you are getting too many sprouts, cut them back further to slow them down. Eat those bitty zuchs, flowers and all! Use those herbs you planted – basils, thyme, sage, oregano. Just a few of their leaves rubbed, mashed, steeped, chopped, can add luscious flavors! Make pretty bouquet garni for giveaways! Parsley is SO good for you, and beautiful in your garden! Its second year it goes to seed, a biennial. Pull and cook the tasty roots in your soup, or let a plant or two go to seed to feed beneficial insects and reseed your patch.

Oh yes, and, of course, plant cosmos, marigolds, petunias, sunflowers, sweet alyssum, your favorite summer flowers!

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