Winter in the Northeast

It is winter’s like this where I practice reminding myself that  I get to grow and enjoy the plants we have BECAUSE it snows and gets really, really cold. For 2014 I am continuing to re-landscape our home with edible plants. Winter gives me an opportunity to look differently at the land around me.


Puget Gold apricot tree. Planted in the spring 2013 and it grew!


Southwest corner of the yard, looking up.


Southern side of house. Big maple trees provide summer shade, winter sun. Haven’t quite figured out what to do here. Very underutilized.


Northern side and area of most experimentation with permaculture concepts. Of course, southside would be better. But this area is not on view as much and I feel more free to experiment. Just about where Luna stands I am hoping to build an archway this summer.


Another view of north side yard. Echinacea left for birds to enjoy. Hoops are over blueberry bushes.


New garden window. I can keep herbs close and growing year round! Inside, thyme, lemon verbena, bay.


Passionflower overwintering. Last summer it grew like crazy up the deck railing and into the sugar maple. I have had very little luck with getting it to bloom though.



Late spring garden

I have spent every free moment I can working outside this spring. I harvested and ate broccoli, delicious, but with heads so small I appreciate even more my CSA! My sugar snap peas are just now fruiting and have grown above the fencing I put up for them.

Red currant, jostaberry, red currant bushes

I planted red currant bushes, a black currant bush, jostaberry; siting them in areas of part shade.

Black currant bush

I am experimenting with Iroquois Cantaloupe from Hudson Valley Seeds and Marketmore 76 slicing cucumber from Fedco Seeds. I realized I had all this space in front of my still small but growing ELDERBERY bushes! I planted  melon and cucumber in front. They sprouted and are just getting their true leaves! I planted sunflowers in between the elderberry bushes which, if the birds have not already eaten all the seeds, might just grow…

I started tomatoes: Yellow Pear cherry, Amish paste, Goldie and Black Krim. All from Hudson Valley Seed Library. AND I LOST MY GARDEN NOTEBOOK!!! So I do not know which tomatoes are which. Most are all in various large sized pots, some are in the ground.

I bought pepper plants, just a few… Sprouted Kentucky Wonder Pole beans.

I have taken creative license with my yard. Planting where I find sun. Mulching like crazy with the three yards I mulch I had delivered from our local compost facility. Now, if I could just find that darn notebook….

Sweet beginnings

My small orchard collection from Fedco Trees arrived! One long, 40 pound box, filled with bare roots plants. It was two weeks earlier than expected, so I rearranged my schedule and spent every extra moment, preparing soil, digging and planting. It was physically exhausting and exhilarating all at the same time.

I couldn’t plant the trees that day, but I was determined to get them in within 24 hours. I really could not believe how anxious I was about the whole thing. I could hardly sleep that night. I actually GOT UP in the middle of the night to make sure the roots were still moist since I knew that the MOST IMPORTANT THING was that the roots not dry out!

I had been reading about planting trees and placement since January. I probably read too much because you start to find contradictory advice, like how deep to dig a hole, how much to amend the soil, how much pruning to do.

What if everything died? I have been gardening for a number of years. I have had things die. I have read about gardening. In retrospect the anxiety was also a fear of actually successfully seeing something thru. It’s one thing to dream, to plan, to dig. But to put it all together seemed huge to me. I am sure I imagined there was more riding on this then there was.

What would my neighbors think? I have enjoyed telling them about my plans since I am out in the yard so frequently, we live on a corner lot and lots of people like to walk.

What if it becomes really weedy and ugly?  This was a fear of my husband’s too. Lots of mulch for that. And, the yard has gotten overgrown and neglected the past two years anyway.

So, I dug in and 6 hours later had many plants in the ground.

First tree planted. Dwarf Mesabi Cherry.

Dwarf Cherry Trees: Montmorency and Mesabi

Dwarf apple to, hopefully, espalier.

Elderberries in the lasagna garden

I did amend the soils some, with Espoma Tree Tone and garden lime. I also added, towards the top of the hole,  a combination compost that O got from my local compost facility, and Pro-Mix. Then I  mulched with mulch I collected from work, a maple tree that had needed to be cut down. Good stuff! I also used pea gravel around the cherry trees to prevent any rot. Much of what I went with came from the book, The Holistic Orchard: Trees Fruits and Berries the Biological Way, by Michael Phillips.


Lasagna gardening in process

The unusually warm spring weather gave me a chance to get outside and do the yard work I did not do last fall. We have a large oak tree and a few maple trees so I had a HUGE pile of leaves. I used some of the leaves in the compost and anticipated having to bag the rest up for the town to pick up.

But NO. I was delighted/thrilled/amazed to learn that I can use all these leaves and MORE to create new beds for my much anticipated fruit trees and bushes. So, I  began with a horrendous back corner. I say horrendous not because there is really anything wrong with wild spaces BUT I had buckthorn and bittersweet galore. Left there they would have choked out the entire back corner. I love the bittersweet in the fall and so I had ignored it for a couple of years. But our yard really is not big enough for such a plant.

This project has been days in the works. First cutting back all the brush.

Then there was the incident with the sick skunk who decided to spend it’s last night on earth in this same space. So I left things along for a while and came back to put a layers of: cardboard or newspaper, bloodmeal, ALL THOSE LEAVES, compost. It was at this point when I realized how much compost I would need. This is more than a “buy a few bags at my local garden supply shop” kind of thing. This is a “have my friend  help me obtain 2 cubic yards from the local recycling/compost facility” kind of thing.

Of course I always require the help of my trusty dog!

White Pine and Peace

Growing amongst the overgrown hedge I had removed from the back corner of our yard was a white pine I wanted to keep. I wanted it freed from the cedars that crowded it. I love white pines.

When I worked as a reporter in Montgomery County, NY in the late 1980’s, I had the privilege of meeting Mohawk Chief Jake Swamp. Chief Swamp founded the Tree of Peace Society in 1984. For native peoples in this area the white pine was the tree planted to represent a peace treaty that brought together warring nations into the Haudenosaunee, also known as the “League of Peace and Power” or “Iroquois Confederacy” to us white folks. This story is referred to as the story of the Peacemaker.  Jake Swamp traveled the world sharing the story of the Peacemaker and planting this “tree of peace.” It is a story we need to keep telling.

This is what I love about this journey at home on this land.  I have not thought about Jake Swamp in a while. He passed away 1 1/2 years ago. Now, every time I am out in my yard, I see that tree and think of it as a symbol of peace and all that might mean.

Beginnings and Endings

Moving forward with my edible landscaping plans required, in my mind, removing five overgrown trees that were originally planted as a hedge. They were  close together and when the previous owner wanted to sell, they cut off the bottom branches so they looked more tree-like. It always felt like the northwest corner of our yard was blocked by these trees and indeed the entire corner had become an area overgrown with brambles and various “weeds” in the summer.

I wanted to “liberate” a white pine and make a magnificent magnolia tree more visible as well as a hemlock tree. I thought about this for two years. I found exactly the right person to help me.

But my beginnings were endings to my ten -year -old daughter. She was bereft that I cut down any tree. She is angry at me. She has said I “killed” everything that matters to her. This is a girl who wrote about Julia Butterfly Hill as her heroine. Julia Butterfly Hill wrote a book, The Legacy of Luna. Our dog is named Luna. My sixteen- year- old, who embraces change with the same enthusiasm that my daughter distrusts it said wryly, “she’s a pre-teen.”

I have no words to comfort my daughter. I tell her I understand, this was planned for years…. BLAH BLAH  BLAH is what she hears I think. I have the same impulses as she. It took me five years of living on this land to even get to this place. What to my daughter is things left as they should be, to my neighbors probably resembles a neglected yard.

I found comfort though in the first issue of a new magazine called Taproot. In it is an article by Ben Hewitt entitled ,”Something Borrowed.” In the end we are all just borrowing this land. We will pass on as will our children, our homes may crumble, be rebuilt, who knows? But then he says, “If any of this sounds depressing, know that it comforts me; I do not want the burden of the knowledge that my mark on this land is permanent.”

And so, I begin here.


Home Grown Community

So I have been obsessed  this winter reading every  urban/suburban farming book I can get my hand on. I am in the process of preparing some of my own suburban plot  to be an edible landscape with fruit and berries bushes and trees. This is what I have been  photographing and will be focusing on in the coming days.

I LOVE THIS LOCAL COMMUNITY I am watching grow up around me in the little corner of the world. I love realizing that these things I have felt alone in pursuing, and probably have not pursued half as well alone, are in fact  being done by all these people around me whom I have yet to meet but I am learning about through their blogs.

I read about making maple syrup this morning and realized the writer lived in a nearby city. A CITY, not a vast expanse of land filled with maple trees!

biking, but not writing

So I bought a bike, a Jamis commuter. My hubby and I spent our 20th wedding anniversary biking along Lake Champlain in June. Our first weekend alone since our kids were born, 16 years. Later, in the summer, we biked in North Carolina on Ocracoke Island. It was amazing.


Then, one a work-related trip I visited Portland! There were bikes everywhere.  ImageI did not bike, because I could take public transportation and walk, EVERYWHERE. I could take a rail line in from the airport. It was EASY. But I was thrilled to see the bikes, the bikes lanes, the bike culture.

And I didn’t write, but I biked along the Canal Path here, it’s a quick trip down to Lock 7 and an easy one with my daughter who is always up for the ride.

Mia was here!

When I began this journey in January, one of the first books I found was Mia Birk’s book, Joyride, Pedaling Toward a Healthier Planet. I loved it and took the advice to heart. So I felt it was really a matter of fate when I read that she was coming to speak at Union College as part of their Minerva series.

I marked my calendar months in advance, because this was something I was not going to miss. I sat with 100 + people and heard her talk this past Wednesday. Because I had read the book, I knew her story. The focus of her talk was not to reiterate her book, it was to talk about keys to success in the work of encouraging bicycling as a form of transportation a the local community. She was an excellent speaker and for the area in which I live I took away these points.

This will depend of a ground- up movement. I do not see political leadership in our area around this issue, which is really too bad. Lack of political leadership means less opportunities for funding and staffing which is important to really move this work forward.

We need more advocacy programs. Schenectady has almost nothing. Albany and Troy seems to be doing things with groups like the Albany Bicycle Coalition and Troy Bike Rescue, just to name two. Schenectady has people who ride. It has put money into and received grants for making areas more bikeable, and streets as “multiuse,” but we need to get to the “how” part. I think people generally get that biking is a good idea. We need to let them know how to do it. Mia called these “intensive encouragement programs.”

Loved this idea: Send out a survey asking if people are interested in biking opportunities locally. If they respond, you have a tote that you drop off at their house by bike that includes in it: a family -friendly bike map, leg bands, coupons for helmets and lights, a patch kit… I am thinking this would be great to try out through our town and maybe grow it from there.

I really, really wish we had a local bike shop that catered to commuter biking, a bike rescue organization and  a “Schenectady Bikes” advocacy group or Schenectady Bicycling Coalition. I occasionally fantasize about starting a website and getting bike shops and bike groups to post and maybe building momentum that way.

We need to create a plan and get community buy- in. We  have possible local funding  with a grant program called “Community and Transportation Linkage Planning Program.” So high on my to-do list is to follow-up with my contact in the county to propose this. Keeping track of numbers, counting, seems really, really important too.

After Mia Birk’s talk I spoke briefly with her and had her sign my book. I had planned to ask if I could get a photo with her to put in the blog, but at the time I became more focused on who I talk with in our community to keep these ideas moving forward. She pointed out two people across the room and at that moment it seemed more important to go have a conversation there and any notion of pictures fell out of my mind.

So the picture is Nott Memorial, a very beautiful building on Union college where Mia Birk spoke. Along with her excellent ideas I also took away this: any change requires a lot of work, a lot of attention to details and a “thick skin.” There will be push back. There will be resistance, that just comes with the territory.

Just Dreaming

I am so excited after our town’s Safe Routes committee meeting tonight! We had a new town resident come who works for a company on mapping and open source software. He had some of the same suggestions that I had been thinking/dreaming about for using open source technology to communicate with the group and get maps created and out..EXCEPT.. he knows how to do it! AND the company he works for was started by Mark Gorton, someone I have read about and who has been hugely influential in NYC’s move towards more complete streets.

I also biked to the meeting, which people always make a big deal about. But if I bike no where else, I need to at least do this. One other member biked and his trip was much more impressive because it’s farther, while mine was relatively short. Seriously, by bike it’s just under 1 mile. Like many of our daily trips. Biking does not have to be a big deal; it can be easy and feel good.

So my other dream, is a commuter bike. Something that comes with fenders, a chain guard, generator lights. (I just road home from my meeting tonight with an not bright enough for me head light) Something I can bike to work in wearing a skirt. After doing mostly online research, my dream, which is potentially in reach because it’s under $1000 is this…

It’s a Breezer Uptown 7. The closest store that sells them is 73 miles away, but I am thinking about driving there to test ride one anyway.

I have been checking local bikes shops and am looking at a Trek 7300 WSD or a Specialized Ariel. But both would need lots of stuff added and bring their total cost up to the Breezer. Breezers seem to have a really good reputation. And, I know I need to try them out anyway and see which one really feels like it fits.