The story begins with well-intentioned advice from an expert horticulturist friend who suggested Canadian anemone for my backyard Food Forest.“Yes, it’s a little invasive, but it’s such a great plant for wildlife!” (As I remember her comment.)
And her assessment has proven at least partially true.Not only do the white blossoms attract diverse insect pollinators, but the roots provide an unusually hospitable home to worms, millipedes, and, no doubt, trillions of other creatures (food to the aforementioned invertebrates) visible only via a microscope.
( Canadian anemone looking innocent)
I observed some of this soil life cornucopia as I tried to pull out proliferating Canadian anemone, which wants to pop up everywhere it’s moist.When it can, it tries to squeeze out any competitors with a thick, fine matt of roots that covers every millimeter of soil surface; with a Cape Cod scraper it comes off like a soil-infused, hairy human scalp.The moist root mass and regular root die-off probably explains the thriving microbe-to-worm food chain.So, while I was aggravated by the plant’s aggressive spread, I was delighted by the rich soil it left behind.Talk about tilth!
( What’s left after weeding Canadian anemone: beautiful soil)
Remembering the permaculture mantra “The Problem is the Solution”, I resolved to keep some Canadian anemone and use it as a nutrient factory for a deeper-rooted plant—the goji berry bush. The roots don’t compete and the anemone root nutrients would trickle down. And, in fact, the combination planting caused an explosion of goji berry production.When lecturing our various permaculture classes, I liked to pull out this home-developed solution to illustrate permaculture principles in action.
Alas, even permaculture principles have their limits.I never found enough time to keep my Canadian anemone under control.My Food Forest floor was overrun.It was either get rid of Canadian anemone once and for all or sacrifice too much space to a non-edible, aggressive invader.(I’ll have to find some other productive ground cover for my goji berries.)
That’s what I’m doing this August. Elimination, of course, requires multiple passes as the Canadian anemone rhizomes refuse to die off.But, by September, I think they’ll be gone or, at most, require occasional plucking.
( Canadian anemone returning for a second try.They’ll be gone soon!)
One silver lining:the beautiful soil they’ve left appears ideal for planting shade-loving salad greens.Witness my happy new komatsuma sprouts.
Stinging Nettle: A Potential Frenemy Becomes a Generous Friend.
I’ve had better luck with stinging nettle.It could have become annoyingly aggressive, but has pretty much stayed along the south edge of my raspberry patch.There it accumulates calcium and magnesium, among other minerals, which become more easily available to other neighboring plants.Thus, its frequent inclusion in lists of superior companion plants.
But stinging nettle is good for us, too. According to Martin Crawford, author of Creating an Edible Forest Garden, stinging nettle contains approximately double the nutrients of even our most nutritious annuals like spinach.It is also tasty when cooked. (That’s when it also, conveniently, loses its chemical sting.)
(Stinging nettle and mushroom omelet)
In growing it, I’ve discovered one other benefit: cutting the fresh young tip—the sweetest and most edible– causes the plant to respond with three more of the same! Production triples and, with further cuttings, sometimes even more.
(a second flush of stinging nettle leaves)
Unlike my Canadian anemone experiment: a clear winner!
Watching the seasons unfold this year after the unusual spring weather has been exciting and puzzling.
Going back four winters, I am reminded that 2013-14 and 2014-15 were very difficult in terms of extreme and sustained cold. Many plants that had survived in my garden for decades were damaged severely by the first of these winters. The second dealt a glancing blow but it did not do as much damage.
As an example my fig trees which had been in the ground for twenty years and had produced five hundred figs in the summer of 2013, were knocked to the ground. They produced new branches but no figs in 2014. Last year, 2016, I had a few dozen figs and this year my considerably larger trees are covered with baby figs, much earlier than usual, on their way to ripening in the fall. Everything in the yard seems to have come in two to three weeks early.
My hardy orange trees, Poncirus trifoliata have a lot of fruit now…small so far, fuzzy green oranges, the first since 2013. There were flowers last year but no fruit. Again, they flowered a few weeks earlier than usual.
Looking at my other fruit crops, black and red currants started ripening in mid June,weeks ahead. Raspberries were similarly ahead.
I have been doing some research online and asking friends from OSU to find some explanations for the patterns which reflect the weather conditions in this part of Ohio this spring. The mild winter, second in a row, is the foundation of the story..very warm temperatures in January and again in February started the ball rolling. Plants that had completed their chill hours…needed to set them up for their normal spring routines…were thrust into advancing buds which formed last summer and fall early. Maple trees started to open their signature red flowers a month earlier than usual. Soil temperatures rose early (get a soil thermometer if you want to be on top of this) and crab grass was ready to germinate in early to mid March (time for pre germination treatment) earlier than usual. Growing degree days (http://www.oardc.ohio-state.edu/gdd/ moved ahead quickly by March. Then some cool and cold weather slowed things down. May have produced some very cold weather (not unusual) which damaged various plants, especially those that had started to open buds or were in flower. The damaging cold was defined by temperatures at or below freezing for many hours. Michigan as well as Ohio received a cold spell on May 8 and 9. But depending on the specific place, its altitude, proximity to water, etc.,the results were varied.
Depending on your garden niche, proximity to the cold lake, how far to the east or west and how high above the lake, snow cover…all of these things contributed to the damage or lack thereof to our plant material.
Friends have observed a good crop on their berries, and also on hibiscus, roses, and many other flowers and shrubs and trees.
I am speculating that the two mild winters, generous amount of rain this spring compared with the three month drought last year…plus the recovery of many plants after two damaging winters..has resulted in this year’s bounty.
In my yard, I see very little damage after the cold spells in March and May which included freezing and snow after many plants had been exposed to the warm air and warm ground earlier than usual. Magnolia stellata had buds covered in frost. Daylilies were bent to the ground as were hellebores
and many other perennials. Yet my magnolia blossomed well, and the hellebores were very floriferous.
On the whole it seems that the outcome has been favorable despite the gyrations and surprises of the spring. Cannot wait to see what is going to happen next year!
It’s not just our trees that are dying but trees everywhere, headlines an article in The Guardian (issue of 19 September 2016, written by Oliver Milman in Oahu and Alan Yuhas in San Francisco).
In Hawaii, on the big island, in 2010, the iconic ohi’a trees – a rainforest evergreen — started dying at an astonishing rate. After almost six years nearly 50,000 acres of native forest on the big island are infected, and there is the potential for major deforestation to a whole family of metrosideros trees and shrubs of the Pacific. It is caused by a beetle carrying a pathogen (dark creeping shades of Moana!).
In other areas of the tropics, disease threatens banana plantations, coffee growers are dealing with fungal attacks that reduce yield and kill the plants that produce the coffee bean, and citrus greening is a threat to citrus growers worldwide.
In California an invasive pathogen called Sudden Oak Death – distantly related to the cause of the 19th century Irish potato famine – is infecting hundreds of different plants, including redwoods and ferns (but …but…it’s called oak death): 66 million trees have been killed in the Sierra Nevada alone. SOD is caused by phytophthora ramorum. Despite its name the pathogen slowly saps the life from oaks over two to five years. It is spread mostly through water, like rain splashing off an infected leaf, or wind driven rain that can carry the pathogen for miles. Whole mountainsides have died.
In the Midwest, from Texas to Minnesota and east into Ohio, trees are dying. Ashes succumb to ash borer, oaks succumb to oak wilt (as we know to our regret through the loss of old growth red oaks in Forest Hill Park), caused by the fungus Ceratocystic fagacearum, and to opportunistic insects like the Two-lined Chestnut Beetle.And now something is affecting our native beeches. Meanwhile In the Pacific northwest, bark beetles and pine beetles are killing trees. Five years of drought starved trees of water and weakened their defenses. The beetles that used to be held in check by wet winters now have more time to roam beyond their normal territories, expanding from British Columbia to the Yukon border. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the iconic English and European beech forests are also threatened by climate change, especially drought. For us here, weather – mild winters possibly? – may not kill off the two lined chestnut borers the way a bitterly cold winter would, hastening their spread.
What seem like small changes to us – the shift of a degree or two, the lengthening of fall and the earlier spring onset of spring by a just few weeks (which feels beneficial to us – who doesn’t appreciate a milder winter around here?) — can have profound negative cascading affects to ecosystems which depend for communal health on everything living in a balanced equilibrium of competing and cooperating interconnected organisms, both above and below ground.Events like a long and too-wet spring, followed by a longish period of drought, such as we had here in northeast Ohio last year, which affected the prairie states even more severely, stress trees, leaving them vulnerable. They live lives many times longer than ours, but are slow to adapt.
These changes to climate – that seem so unremarkable to us, or even good as we enjoy that mild winter day – naturally affect all components of an ecosystem, and there are parameters beyond which any ecosystem becomes destabilized and the natural equilibrium of the healthy ecosystem is sent awry. I believe we laypeople inadequately appreciate this. Probably new equilibriums will be established over an extended time, but we, personally, probably will not live to see it. Recent reports suggest as much as 80% of species may be on a path to extinction…. and we? We are who understand – we who care? Galadriels, sadly looking at the world we love, knowing that much in it that is wonderful will pass away.
by Elsa Johnson, Ann McCulloh and Catherine Feldman
This edition of Gardenopolis Cleveland marks our third summer on the beat. One of our first stories was about GardenWalk Cleveland …and here we are again! Last year there was no garden walk, but they were back up last weekend and even added an additional territory, North Collinwood. Your intrepid editors Catherine Feldman, and moi, Elsa Johnson, drove up to what felt to us like another country. …. perhaps somewhere on the Baltic? We got out of our car on a road where the houses all look out over a private park over looking our inland sea…breezes we’re blowing. It was a small place of summer heaven. A treasure! Why don’t more people know this is here? ! Enjoy,…
Our co-editor, Ann McCulloh also went on Garden Walk Cleveland, to West Park on Cleveland’s west side. But she also manned a table in North Collinwood, and had the chance to take in a few gardens…by luck, she saw the one we missed.
We’re sorry we didn’t see more of Garden Walk Cleveland…. it’s just so big and sprawly that — even though it is open over two days, the idea of seeing the whole thing is daunting. We wonder what it would be like to break them into groupings and spread them out over the course of the summer…?
Chaetura pelagica, voracious eaters of all flying insects, like mosquitos. These birds, native to the Americas, spend the winter (as I would like to do) in South America (northwestern countries), but breed in North America during our summers. Their range is from the Rockies eastward to the Atlantic and northward into lower parts of Canada. Like all swifts, they are incapable of perching, but instead cling vertically to surfaces. And this is where chimneys come in.
A swift spirals down to its roost opening from above. Originally these birds roosted and nested in trees. While they are diurnal foragers, able to stay afloat in the sky for hours, the time I am most aware of them is in the liminal hours of dawn and dusk. They are easily recognized, with their strange short, neck-less bodies, long slender wings, swift erratic flight and chittering call, but they are also easily mistaken for swallows (hence the name confusion). Able to drink and bath on the wing, they are one of the swiftest of birds.
They have extremely acute vision and interestingly, can focus with one eye or both eyes, and, like our native whippoorwill, which they somewhat resemble, they have a huge mouth gape — the better to eat you, little flying insect – but they are sociable rather than solitary, and many birds – sometimes hundreds – will share a roost.In that roost there is only one breeding pair, mated for life.
Although originally cavity-in-tree dwellers, since the arrival of European colonists – and chimneys – these birds now almost exclusively use chimneys (and air shafts, isolated corners in lightly used buildings, and the walls of cisterns and wells). Here’s the catch, however: today many of us cage our chimneys, thus preventing chimney swifts/swallows from using them.
In 2010 the International Union for the Conservation of Nature changed this bird’s status from LeastConcern to Near Threatened. Its population has declined precipitously across the majority of its range. The causes of its population decline are unclear. There may be contributing factors besides loss of roosts.In the U.S, the chimney swift is protected and neither birds nor nests can be removed from chimneys.
How can you help? You can build a chimney ‘swallow’ tower.
This tall slender structure offers an alternative to chimneys. It is usually placed to allow easy maneuverability to descending birds, in an open field, or in a yard, in an open area…. but could also be placed, it seems to me, on a flat roof or deck. They can be big or small. As with chimneys, some maintenance is required. You can find plans on line; look for chimney swift houses.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but Mycorrhizal Planet, a new book by Michael Phillips, is a true breakthrough book, one that will provide new, valuable information for every serious organic gardener.The book describes how mycorrhizal fungi work with plant partners and gives detailed, practical information on how to maximize the power of fungi in all sorts of gardens—from backyard tomato patches to full-fledged agroforests.
The book combines a distillation of extensive scientific literature with decades of the author’s hands-on experience growing fruit and other crops. [As chance would have it, I just completed an Ohio State mycology course last fall and wrote my class paper on Maxmizing Positive Fungal Power in the Food Forest. So I know a little of the difficult scientific terrain Phillips had to traverse.]You would expect such a book to be densely packed, and it is. But it is also logical, good-humored, and down-to-earth, which should be more than enough to lead the committed gardener down a productive path toward a new set of best practices.
We need them.
The 20th Century produced some of the most brutal wars in history, but none so little noticed or comprehended as its War on Soil.Some background and at least a partial explanation of why the War on Soil was so unwitting:
Soil, understood as something orders of magnitude different than mere dirt, consists of minerals, dead organic matter, and multiple living organisms that are often measured, breathtakingly, in billions per teaspoon.Of these organisms, mycorrhizal fungi form the connective tissue on binds most plants. Their hyphae—microscopic filaments—exude chemicals that dissolve potential food—from minerals to wood to dead insects—and then capture it by forming the equivalent of a new stomach wall around it.See the graphic below where the red represents all the fungus’s external chemical activity. As its “stomach wall” expands, the fungus burrows its way tens of meters from its point of origin, all in the search for more food.
Much of the food it seeks, however, is not for itself, but for its plant partners.In return for the phosphorus, nitrogen and other elements our fungus gathers, it trades them in for plant sugars.These provide the fungus energy to expand and capture still more plant nutrients. Put simply, mycorrhizal fungi extend the reach of plant roots by factors of 10 or more—costing the plant far less energy than if they had to expand their root system to cover the same territory.
Fungally-derived nutrients are so important to plants that they may devote one-third of all the sugars they produce to feeding fungi. It is no exaggeration to say that this trading system forms the core of life on earth.It has been in place since both plants and fungi crawled their way out of prehistoric seas. The relationship is so tight that mycorrhizae and plants have evolved to cooperate at the cellular level with the most prevalent mycorrhizal type—arbuscular mycorrhizae—actually penetrating the cell walls of a given plant root.
But that’s only the beginning.Individual fungi merge with other members of their own species to further increase their reach.The resulting network forms microscopic highways for beneficial bacteria to travel the landscape. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AnsYh6511Ic And fungi emit a soil protein called glomalin which binds soil minerals and organic matter loosely together in a way that allows the overall soil complex to both breathe and retain water.We call the resulting aggregation soil “tilth” —-the exact opposite of that gardening curse: soil compaction.
Surprisingly, much of this knowledge has only emerged recently.Glomalin, for example, was identified by a U.S. Dept. of Agriculture scientist in 1996!
It is this tightly-woven mineral/fungal/plant interrelationship that 20th Century agriculture and horticulture ripped apart.Tillage and plowing chopped up all those fungal hyphae. Artificial fertilizers fooled plants into happily dropping their partnership with living food providers (sort of like satisfying children with a perpetual diet of macaroni and cheese!).Disconnection from fungal partners, however, limited the availability of trace elements that fungi help scavenge.These trace elements—molybdenum, boron, etc.–are essential to full plant health. Fungally-trapped soil carbon also disappeared.All together, the negative cascade of disappearing nutrients left a void that growers filled with ever more fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.The ultimate result: ever less nutrition for both plants and their human consumers.
Phillips explains our downward agricultural slide in nuanced detail. But his greater emphasis is not on what went wrong, but how to make one’s own garden right. The three chapters (“Provisioning the Mycorrhizosphere,” “Fungal Accrual,” and “Practical Nondisturbance Techniques”) that make up the bulk of the book tell how to energize and expand fungal networks.
The committed gardener will find numerous possibilities for fungal enhancement of soil, ones that will require rereading and also rethinking of one’s approach to gardening.Out of dozens and dozens ideas the book offers, here are a few that I’m either implementing now or plan to in the near future.
Ramial wood chips.These are wood chips made from fresh twigs and branches, the ones where a tree’s most recent growth has occurred. As one might expect, such high growth portions of the tree carry the highest concentration of nutrients—calcium, phosphorus, nitrogen, etc.Fortunately, these young branches are often the ones professional arborists insert into their chipping machines and which they often have to pay to dispose of as landfill.So it’s easy to persuade neighborhood tree cutters to dump a truck load.I’ve done that and the chips have made my soil darker and richer and my plants happier.
Direct feeding of mycorrhizae by air-knifing holes in the soil under a tree’s drip line, then injecting (often proprietary) fungal food.I had this done last fall to reinvigorate what my arborist diagnosed as oxygen-deprived oak trees.The result: more vigorous-appearing oaks, but also a tripling (!) of fruit production of my pawpaw and peach trees planted under the oak’s drip line.
Planting of what Phillips calls “bridge trees.”These are trees planted specifically to connect more of the separate fungal pathways of a given orchard or food forest and thus, as fungal networks tend to do, share nutrients to those plants which need them most.Fruit trees typically work with arbuscular mycorrhizal partners, while oaks, maple and hickory work with ectomycorrhizal partners. Typically those two groups of fungi don’t “talk.” But a few tree species—willows, poplars, alders—partner happily bridge with both fungal communication gap. Within a broader landscape, they and their fungal partners open the possibility of tapping a much wider nutrient pool.So I’ve begun to encourage alders—already self-seeding to some extent in my food forest—by planting more in strategic locations.
As readers can now gather, Phillips goes into considerable detail.Yet what makes the appearance of this book especially exciting is how readablethe author is able to make it.
A typical passage will begin close to the “duh” level of simplicity; e.g. “Mycorrhizal fungi are the principal means plants have for obtaining phosphorus…the middle letter in NPK as represented by those three omnipresent numbers on a bag of fertilizer.”But then Phillips escalates quickly into a discussion of slow- vs. fast-release phosphorus and the relative “cost” to the plant of exuding organic acids to feed phosphorous-gathering fungi.Similarly, when Phillips must dip into scientific language—like “anastomosis,” the merging of separate fungi—he always defines it in understandable terms.
So, readable, yes, but also dense and complex.
Did I mention that this book is for gardening nerds?
13th Annual Gracious Gardens of Shaker Heights Weekend!
Presented by The Shaker Historical Society
The Shaker Historical Society is hosting its 13th Annual Gracious Gardens of Shaker Heights weekend June 16-18, 2017. This highly popular Father’s Day weekend event attracts more than 1,000 people from across the region.
The Friday evening Cocktails in the Garden Party is held at a private home with superb historic architecture and gardens. This garden has twice been a highlight of the Gracious Gardens of Shaker Heights tour and was featured in Fine Garden Gardening magazine for its “Curve Appeal.”
On Sunday, visit eight beautiful gardens that are sure to inspire you to create your own outdoor oasis like the designs you’ll see within the city of Shaker Heights.
As part of the Gracious Gardens Sunday tour, there will be an admission-free open house with lawn games on the grounds of the museum at 16740 South Park Boulevard, where people wishing to go on the Garden Tour can purchase their tickets, visit the museum and art gallery, and enjoy light refreshments.
The Gracious Gardens of Shaker Heights weekend is a major fundraiser that supports the Shaker Historical Society’s commitment to historic preservation, education, and community engagement. This event is also produced in partnership with Cuyahoga Arts & Culture and the Ohio History Connection.
Ticket and event information:
Cocktails in the Garden Party
Friday, June 16, 2017
6pm – 9pm
Tickets: $75.00 each
Private historic home in Shaker Heights
Sponsorships are available.
Includes cocktails, hors d’oeuvres,
and live music
Gracious Garden Tour and Museum
Sunday, June 18, 2017
12pm – 5pm.
Rain or Shine!
Advance tickets for Garden Tour: $20.00 each
Week before tour tickets: $25.00 each
Sunday admission to the Museum will be FREE. Tour the museum and art gallery, purchase your Garden Tour tickets and enjoy light refreshments!
Go to shakerhistoricalsociety.org or call 216-921-1201 for ticket information.
Ticket Sale locations: Bremec on the Heights, Gali’s Florist & Garden Center, J. Pistone Market, Juma Gallery, Shaker Hardware, and the Shaker Historical Society
While in DC for the march for climate action I also visited the Sidwell Friends School, where my husband’s cousin, David Mog (an ex-Cleveland-ite), taught math for many years. Though now retired, he is still welcomed back at Sidwell Friends, and so I got a tour of the school complex. David had told me about the waste water recycling project that Sidwell Friend’s installed several years ago and which I’d expressed an interest in seeing up close and personal (well – not too).
It is a complex system in which the water from toilets flows first into a sort of settling tank where the solids settle out. Then the liquids flow into a series of three hillside, heavily planted leach beds. As it passes through the plants of each leach bed it gets progressively cleaner. Supposedly after flowing through the third leach bed, it is safe and clean and can be recirculated.At Sidwell Friends it is reused again and again. By being circulated back to the toilets it proceeds thus in a continuous cycle. Impressive! There is really nothing to see – and definitely nothing to smell – except plants.
As part of the educational aspect a cylinder was installed at the top of the terraced slope that charts the flow of the water. This shows how the system works. Of course there is a good bit of unseen infrastructure of pipes, etc., in a basement which I did not visit.
In the same location, at the bottom of the slope is a rainwater catchment pond that captures rainwater off of the roofs of several of the more recently constructed buildings surrounding the site.The runoff rain water flows through a variety of runnels and tunnels, mostly aesthetic, and then flows into a catchment pond, which has fish. The day we were there I believe there was a problem with the filter and so the system was getting tweaked a bit by the firm that manages it.There was a young (by my standards) man working in the water and David had a good talk with him while I wandered around taking pictures.
The Sidwell Friends complex was also interesting for using its sloped site efficiently — putting playing fields, in one case, on top of a garage, and in another on top of the gymnasium.
After the visit to Sidwell Friends Elsa and David drove past the Kushener/Trump home which is in the same neighborhood as the new Obama digs (a few short blocks from each other), which we also tried to drive past, but the access road was (is) blocked as Obama is still heavily guarded by security, for his own safety. We did a little DC tour and talked about what may be Elsa’s next DC sojourn in September, the Interfaith March. We shall see.