Authors Posts by Abigail Higgins

Abigail Higgins

Abigail Higgins

Somewhere under all that snow, there are daffodils. — File photo by Steve Myrick

I risk provoking ire when I mutter “weather weenies,” but let’s get a grip: we used to have winters like this every winter. Snow: we get it, we get rid of it — and then we get some more. From the gardener’s viewpoint snow is a good thing. “Poor man’s fertilizer” and an insulating layer are two benefits, and the accompanying cold is welcome as a disinfecting control for soil-borne and insect organisms.

Islanders are eager for spring, the above notwithstanding. Pre-breeding season birdsong has begun; the woods, otherwise quiet and shrouded in cold and snow, are full of it. It is an early sign, as is the flowing of springs and streams, freed from the stasis of winter, and the coloring of twig tips.

Groundhog Day (February 2) has been observed across the northern hemisphere as Imbolc, St. Brigid’s Day, Candelmas, and others, since long before recorded history and religion. Observing the timing of the seasons has been crucial to survival over the ages, especially to people living more intimately and entangled with nature than we are.

Imagine wintering over as an early human 900,000 years ago, as I attempted to after reading a “science/environment” item in the news recently.

Erosion from storms in May 2013 had revealed human footprints in ancient sediments along the Norfolk seacoast of Britain, estimated to be between 850,000 to 950,000 years old. They were dated from the overlying sedimentary layers and glacial deposits and from the fossil remains of extinct animals.

Paleo-archeologists, working flat-out between tides, photographed and took casts of the prints before the waves erased them.

These are the oldest human traces ever found outside of Africa; they date to a time when it is thought the British Isles were connected to chilly northern Europe by a now-vanished land bridge. In an existence and world almost impossible to imagine today, the small party of adults and children left their footprints in what was once a muddy estuary.

In a cold climate, they walked through a mysterious landscape vastly different from today’s: “a river valley grazed by mammoths, hippos, and rhinoceros” (press release, BBC). We can only imagine how welcome the coming of spring was like for these unknown individuals.

More winter interest: green

In the previous Garden Notes I wrote about perking things up in the winter garden by adding shrubs with brightly colored stems, but if you are the understated type, you might wish merely for more green.

Laurel-3.jpgDue to warming winters an array of note-worthy plants, previously thought to be marginally hardy on the Island, appears to repay the risk. The small list here is of interesting “laurel-like” evergreens. Use the Plant Lust web site,, (“56 plant catalogs in a single search”), to source less common plants.

Distylium, in the Hamamelidaceae (sometimes known as winter-hazel, or evergreen witch-hazel) an attractive broadleaved evergreen with about ten species native to China, is beginning to create a stir in this country. Two species at least are available from U. S. suppliers.

D. racemosum is a slow-growing, upright shrub to small tree with lustrous elliptical foliage. It prefers moist, acidic soil in partially shaded, sheltered woodland, with some protection from strong winds. Due to its slow growth rate (8”) it seems like a good choice for more confined sites, or small gardens. The “Manual of Woody Landscape Plants” lists D. racemosum’s eventual height at something over ten feet; compact selections are available.

D. myricoides is a spreading shrub of mounding habit suitable for low hedges, foundation planting, or mixed beds. The arrangement of lustrous blue-green leaves upon the arching branches is said to have great visual appeal. D. myricoides has a very slow growth rate too.

I have previously mentioned Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis (sweet or Christmas box), thought to be the most cold-hardy sarcococca, in this column. It makes a creeping groundcover, with inconspicuous, fragrant flowers in early spring. S. confusa, a slightly taller and less hardy species thought to be even more fragrant, is a good substitute for the sometimes funereal cherry laurel. It is more cold-hardy than it is given credit for, 6A-9B.

Danae racemosa  (Alexandrian laurel) is “an elegant, refined… slow-suckering shrub that grows 2 to 4’ high and wide in shady spots with even moisture. The habit is gracefully arching…glossy green leaves are handsome throughout the year.” (Dirr) The fleshy orange-red fruits persist into winter and are attractive. Hardy from 6A-9B.

In the garden

Check for damaged branches, particularly on evergreen plants such as hollies and inkberries, prone to holding onto their snow and ice loads, maybe because they are often planted in shaded locations on north sides of buildings. Trim away as cleanly as possible and remember to make undercuts on larger branches.


It is time to gear up for seed sowing and acquiring supplies – trays, modules, etc. – especially if one plans to shop locally, because selection will suddenly diminish.

However, check cultural directions on packets for time to plant. It is difficult to maintain plants that grow over-large before outdoor planting time arrives, and plant quality diminishes if they are kept overlong in modules.

Avoid seeding in ordinary soil, which carries many pathogens, but instead purchase a fine-textured seed-starting mix that holds moisture and promotes good root development. For organic vegetables, Vermont Compost’s Fort Vee works well as a seed-starting mix.

Shallow flower pots, pie pans, and trays of various sorts are all good for starting small seedlings, which are then transferred individually into their own separate modules. Larger seeds may be sown directly into modules, and those with longer roots do well in Rootrainers, deeper cells, or four-inch plastic pots. Fine seeds as a rule are sown at or near the surface, but all others are covered enough to retain the moisture needed to germinate. Provide light and warmth, preferably from below.

— Photo by Susan Safford

While shades of brown, and grey, and white snow, are subtly — truly — beautiful in nature, one can revel in them for only so long. They make a drab garden.

In my imagination I create a mass planting, a wonderful grouping of shrubs with brightly colored stems, in a spot where the afternoon winter sun strikes my garden. When I say brightly colored, are you aware that there is a plant category that supplies almost garish winter color, as if spray-painted with acrylic paints?

But what are they? Since I have not actually planted them, but only sensed their lack, there are several possibilities, all candidates for alleviating the winter blahs. The young growth of various willow and shrub dogwood cultivars supplies color ranging from citron through burgundy. To maximize it, cut them back hard in spring.

Selections from the willow, Salix alba, are used this way: S. alba ‘Britzensis’ (orange to red); ‘Tristis’ (golden, weeping); and ‘Vitellina’ (egg-yolk yellow). Several similar species of dogwood, are the source of glowing color.

Cornus alba, Tatarian dogwood, has many selections with red winter color in young stems, such as ‘Sibirica.’ C. sanguinea, the bloodtwig dogwood, includes ‘Winter Flame’ (apricot-coral); ‘Atrosanguinea’ (deep red); ‘Viridissima’ (yellow-green). Among C. sericea are the redosier dogwood, ‘Arctic Fire’ (compact apricot-coral); ‘Flaviramea’ (yellow); and ‘Cardinal’ (bright red).

Fiery colors are the most unmistakable way to supply winter interest in gardens, but do not overlook white or pale-stemmed plants such as birches and various brambles. Planted against the background of dark broadleaf evergreens, they too provide attractive variety.

“Abundance Doesn’t Mean Health”

The vociferous arguments Fred Fisher and I used to have when I worked for him in the Nip ’n’ Tuck dairy often come to mind. Fred was a fan of the Nixon administration’s secretary of agriculture, Earl Butz, who is credited with the cheap food policies that have been so injurious to farming and health in this country.

Although I myself was very influenced by Fred, one point I could never concede was when he would insist Americans were the best-nourished people on earth. Even as he damned “the American housewives [who] buy store milk, coffee whitener, and margarine,” he could not make the connection that ultimately it was Butz’s farm subsidies that were pushing margarine down Americans’ throats and sealing the fate of family farms.

New York Times food writer Mark Bittmann’s recent op-ed piece,  “Abundance Doesn’t Mean Health,” contains links and facts that confirm today’s woeful state of American food and nutrition. It is worth reading and makes the case for growing all you can and supporting organic and local agriculture to the extent your food budget allows.

“…the obesity-diabetes epidemic afflicts predominantly people on the low end of the income scale…” Bittmann writes. “With a lack of money comes either not enough food or so-called empty calories, calories that put on pounds but do not nourish.”

However, some people do eat very well in the United States; not all of them have money. Some of them have gardens.

Along with straightening up and cleaning growing spaces, it is time to survey what is on hand in the seed department. This represents the true girding-up for the coming gardening year.

Most gardeners discover that they have seed duplicates in certain vegetables, based on what they really like to grow, or notions of stocking up, or just plain inexplicable, how-did-that-happen? If this is you, please share them in your town library, work place, or other meet-up spot, along with surplus catalogues, while they are still viable.

In the Garden

I am arriving at the time in life when a full month to recuperate after the holidays does not seem unreasonable. There is not much to do or look at in the garden in January, but once it is past I am always cheered by the prospect of February. It is sunnier and more spring-like, the light has turned, and better days are just around the corner.

We experienced some seriously low temps in the past month, enough to make one chortle about its effects on ticks, spores, soil-borne diseases, and hemlock woolly adelgids. From the single digits to the 50s and back again is a big shift for a live plant to accommodate, one that layers of mulch can help buffer — three to four inches is considered effective. Up-and-down weather, however, such as the past month’s, constitutes one of the worst burdens of being a plant in a Vineyard garden, otherwise a fairly easy existence.

Under low-light conditions (around the winter solstice), most houseplants are semi-dormant and cannot utilize fertilization. While I have been giving limited water for a couple of weeks already, I wait until early February to resume fertilization.

With stronger light, and resulting new growth, there will inevitably be an outbreak of pests: typically white fly, aphids, or scale. This is usually precipitated, in my set-up, by heat build-up and inadequate ventilation. Better ventilation and repeat applications of insecticidal soap or horticultural oil usually keep things under control.

With the month of February come warm spells that are suitable for spraying orchard fruit trees with horticultural oil to control insect pests. Generally, a temperature of 40°F over a 24-hour period supplies the margin of safety. Combining hort oils with copper compounds, such as Liqui-Cop, is recommended for controlling peach leaf curl. Spray several times, ideally, before buds begin to swell.

Most ornamental grasses are looking bent and broken. They will not come back up and may be cut back to the base. In fact, the sooner the better: we often find signs of rodent damage to crowns when we cut them back.

Coming up

Polly Hill Arboretum Winter walk, Saturday, February 8, 10 am.


Sunday February 16, 3–5 pm. (Submit potato and onion orders by 2/8.)

Known and loved for their clown faces, barn owls on the Vineyard have fared poorly this winter. — File Photo by Ralph Stewart

High mortality among juvenile barn owls is causing concern among the Island birding community. Over the years much effort has been expended upon re-establishing the formerly widespread, beloved owls with quixotic clown faces. On the Vineyard in more rural times the many barns, haylofts, and farm outbuildings provided not only nesting sites but also prey.

So far, post-mortem examinations have shown that the deceased Vineyard animals died without food in their stomachs, seemingly ruling out rodenticide or disease as a cause of death. While there are several possible explanations, including the irruption of snowy owls into our lower latitudes, these will be dealt with at greater length by our knowledgeable Island bird experts.

My interest in the barn owl deaths is on behalf of many gardeners who have been plagued to exasperation by rampant numbers of voles in their gardens. Preferable by far is rodent control by natural means, in which birds of prey, including owls of all species, play a paramount role.

barn owl 1.jpgPreferable by far is rodent control by natural means, in which birds of prey, including owls of all species, play a paramount role. Suzan Bellincampi of Felix Neck directed my attention to an article titled “Poisons Used to Kill Rodents Have Safer Alternatives” by Ted Williams in the January-February 2013 issue of

Audubon Magazine ( detailing the pervasive ecosystem effects of, and potential harm posed by, the use of second-generation rodenticides.

At this point I must admit to my use of rodent bait packs in my efforts to limit rodent activity here at our place, where the number of linear feet of stonewall, retaining the slope of the property, provides superb cover for several different rodent species.

Since I keep chickens, I never previously gave rodent control a whole lot of thought. I was focused on eliminating vermin, not on the long-range effects on my local ecosystem. But we are also rich here in owls, alas — no coincidence when there is good habitat and a food-source for rodents — so, am I poisoning them?

It was thought the target rodents were becoming resistant to warfarin, the first-generation product. “Both first- and second-generation rodenticides prevent blood from clotting by inhibiting vitamin K, though the second-generation products build to higher concentrations in rodents and are therefore more lethal to anything that eats them.”

Furthermore, according to the Audubon article, in 2011 Maureen Murray, a researcher, “found rodenticides in 86 percent of the raptor livers she examined, and all but one contained brodifacoum, especially deadly to birds…. In California, the only state other than New York that has looked carefully, rodenticides showed up in 79 percent of fishers (one fisher even transferred poisons to her kit via her milk), 78 percent of mountain lions, 84 percent of San Joaquin kit foxes, and, in San Diego County, 92 percent of raptors.”

The rodenticides will eventually lose their effectiveness as the many generations that rats, mice, voles, and chipmunks are capable of speedily producing become resistant. Their predators, such as our owls and, yes, our chicken-killing hawks, must remain viable as agents of natural control. If we kill them off we will never maintain any degree of viable natural rodent control.


In the Garden

Snapshot of January since New Year’s: snow, dramatic rainfall in multiples of inches, spikes of high and low temperatures, lovely little January thaw. The time of sunrise finally peaked after the New Year at 7:16 am and is now regressing, by a minute every three days or so, until currently it is 7:09 am. In contrast, the sunset has been getting later since a few days before the solstice and is currently at 4:50 pm.

Buds are visibly swelling. The witch hazels began to bloom in the week of January 12. The tips of narcissi bulbs are showing; but before spring arrives there is likely to be much more wintry weather in store for us. Let’s not get too excited.

During spells of nice weather, get outdoors and have a look around. Processes of nature are underway, even if we prefer to remain inside ruminating upon seed catalogues. Dogwood — the native one, Cornus florida — displays prominent buds swelling daily, as do other flowering shrubs and trees, such as swamp maple (Acer rubrum), corylopsis, and honeysuckles.

However, do not be tempted to commence routine pruning associated with spring clean-up. Climate change and possible average warming are not likely to proceed in a smoothly upward-sloping trajectory, but rather in spikes and troughs, fits and starts. The term “climate change” itself connotes instability, in patterns with which we are familiar, or in changes that are unexpected.

Cold snaps or warming spells can be equally stressful to plants once they have settled into their winter routine. The old wood and dead herbaceous matter on sub-shrubs and perennials confers some protection against extreme fluctuations in weather conditions, such as freeze/thaw cycles. Removing it prematurely also removes that protective function. (Storm or ice breakage may be tidied up any time it is noticed.)

Blueberry twigs are reddening and the colorful plants, of great interest in the winter landscape, may be pruned now. Look to remove old, gnarled wood and to promote vigorous, reddish growth loaded with fat flower buds. Dried blood is one of the best fertilizers for blueberries. The old wood of Vaccinium corymbosum is hard and dense: good, clean cuts are best made with freshly sharpened pruning tools.



Homegrown met Sunday. Among topics discussed were soil testing and onion/leek seeding — do both now — and the establishment of a local seed library. Awareness of the importance of the native plant biome and an enduring food-crop germplasm collection is reaching new levels. A seed library is an interesting project likely to become a reality on the Island in the near future, with the possibility of a seed-school workshop being conducted in spring. The Homegrown group also looks forward to its establishing a Homegrown members’ forum (blog). Coming right up is the deadline for the Homegrown group potato/onion order, February 6.

New-fallen snow is beautiful, but it can hide potential hazards. Caution and patience recommended. — Photo by Susan Safford

Sad farewells to two respected members of our community, taken too soon, and deepest condolences to their families, bereft at the bleakest time of year. Howard Wall did his landscaping work with pride and enduring dependability, and encountering him was always a pleasure. While the rest of us whine about our petty annoyances, Howard engaged with mortal illness in the most resolute and manly way, an admirable example of dealing with adversity. A longtime client of Howard’s speaks for many: “I will find it so hard to be in Chilmark and not see him.”

John Varkonda’s sudden death leaves an enormous void within a young family and at the State Forest he shepherded and tended for 26 years. I knew him only impersonally through his highly visible role as the superintendent, but to those who worked with him, he left a deep impression.

“John represented the consummate professional, knowledgeable, hardworking, and always willing to accommodate questions and make an extra effort to facilitate our botanical studies,” said Tim Boland of Polly Hill Arboretum. “It is going to be very hard to replace someone like John. However, it is critical that the Island and regional community continue to take value in what I believe is the conservation gem of the Island.”

Winter: polar vortex

Some feel that part of winter’s function in northern climates is to serve up rest and quietude. That is certainly true in the garden, where the action has retreated below the soil surface. But let’s throw a little New England fortitude in there for good measure, because adverse conditions create toughness in the plants grown here, just as winter keeps people “grown here” on their toes.

Winter storms, although often over-hyped, interfere with mundane comings and goings and menial tasks. We are required to slow down. The account of the Island youths’ survival of a misstep at Tuckerman Ravine last week was fascinating to piece together; that the tale concluded relatively auspiciously is a huge relief. It drives home that winter plus one mistake can equal tragedy, even in familiar settings such as right here at home on the Island.

Much of daily life becomes that little bit harder, slightly more taxing — maybe even a little dangerous, if one’s attention wanders. Take it slow and steady and remember that a winter’s day is unlike a summer one. Driving an all-wheel-drive vehicle does not protect from being struck by another incompetent driver! Who needs a fender-bender stemming from an unnecessary errand? Eliminate trifling car trips when conditions are awful: let the kids take the school bus.

Keep a little more food in the pantry and fridge, and extra bread in the freezer. If you are feeding the birds, stock up on bird food. It is beyond cruel to get your local flock depending upon you and to then discontinue for any reason. A broom kept by the kitchen door is handy for brushing off snowy boots and the snow accumulations that break broadleaf evergreen shrubs with their weight.

Keep a shovel along with a dry bucket of ash and a bucket of sand on hand in an easily reached, frost-free location. As with summer tropical storms, drawing some water into jugs and buckets is a good idea, if ice storms/power outages are forecast.

Having made a few contingency plans, you are ready to let winter serve up that rest and quietude. While much of this seems obvious, instances of winter foolishness are always astounding to hear about. A word to the wise is sufficient (and a torrent of words is useless to those who are not).

At the feeder

I had the belated although apparently successful idea of hanging my bird feeders from the kitchen porch, instead of in thicket-y shrubs and holly trees as I have previously. The avian array is pretty much the usual for feeders stocked only with sunflower seed and beef suet: nuthatches, titmice, chickadees, paired cardinals, downy and hairy woodpeckers, paired red-bellied woodpeckers, paired bluejays, white-throated and song sparrows, a solitary wren — with juncos, a dove, and the occasional hen picking up the spill on the ground.

However, a strongly supportive winter environment for birds presages one that is equally rich in bird life during the active gardening season. In terms of ecosystem services, birds work for us for free in our gardens and deliver the goods, in insect control, in return for enjoying our premises.

The protection of the porch seems to have upped the traffic at the feeders and now, from morning until dark, there is a constant flutter of activity at the feeders (all with improved observation from indoors, a side benefit). Gauging by the rates of consumption, more birds are feeding more often. It took a long time for this seemingly minor improvement to occur to me — and it makes one wonder, how many other small improvements of home and garden are staring everyone in the face?

For 2014

Catalogues are here, and to top it off, Swan Island Dahlias arrived today! So begins the season of Technicolor sensory overload, when all is hyperbole and potential. At this point, all I want in my garden is sweet peas, for their eye-candy images and descriptions in the various catalogues are irresistible.

SBS is stocking its racks with seeds from various suppliers for 2014.

On the negative side, garden publications are beginning to mention the effect of proposed European Union (EU) regulations governing plant materials’ registration, and how these would constitute a narrowing of choice in garden seeds and plants that would eventually affect U.S. gardeners. Although American gardeners have no say in the matter, British gardeners are being urged to voice their dire disapproval over the egregious burden the proposed regulations would impose upon the British nursery industry, which is globally unique in the depth and breadth of plant material produced.

Polly Hill Arboretum

January winter walk: on Saturday the 11th, join Arboretum staff to explore the grounds in the “off-season.” Tours are at 10 am and run for a little over an hour. Meet at the Visitor Center and dress for the weather. Tours are free, but donations are always welcome.


Homegrown meets Sunday, January 19, at the Agricultural Hall , 3—5 pm, to discuss what we learned from the NOFA Winter Conference.

A Vineyard garden in winter repose. — File photo by Susan Safford

The sun slows, dims, and hangs at hiatus, low in the December sky. The old year comes to a close and the age-old holy days of winter solstice engulf us. Introspection, rituals, music and poetry arrive with the season. They are the parts of us where we truly live, the things that are enduring, which make life rich and precious. While our year contains fifty-two weeks, these few, the holidays, are when we really think about things, our direction, “our hopes and fears of all the years….”

Many perceive upon reflection that everything that is necessary for life to succeed (indeed our very lives themselves) is a gift from the universe we now inhabit. The rest, as a famous personage (Gianni Agnelli, Italian industrialist and jet setter) once said of his material good fortune — youth, looks, health, fame, money — “It’s all on loan, all of it.”

Act locally

In this column I have a small platform from which I am able to reach many more in our community than those I know personally. I am able to share my views on gardening and similar aspects of living on the island of Martha’s Vineyard.

Today I ask all of us to cultivate our Island “garden” and work to practice the idea that “charity begins at home.” Why should the Heifer International model (“teach a man to fish” philosophy) apply only overseas, when there are families and many children on Martha’s Vineyard whose nutrition is inadequate?

In 2014 Island town governments could develop a comprehensive allotment garden plan to make vegetable garden space available to town dwellers and renters.

We could develop a food pantry model that enabled fresh or local foods to be incorporated into the groceries offered, instead of only shelf-life foodstuffs.

We could work more effectively and consistently to bring real Island-wide recycling and composting here.

We could act protectively for the world we inhabit and locally restrict the use of herbicides and pesticides that have a detrimental effect on our wild-grown meats, seafoods and plants, and eventually, on ourselves.

While basic necessities are in short supply, right here, there is a kind of willful blindness in donating to faraway places and institutions. Please take this time of year and look around you, at your town, at your various communities of shared interests, and at your local charities. Turn these “coulds” into “cans” to strengthen our Island into the model of a vibrant community.

In the garden

Beds and foundation plantings adjacent to walks and driveways will appreciate a substance other than salt for ice control. It is not only the disfiguring burns on the foliage that are problematic but also the persistent soil contamination, which is more long-term and harder to fix. Alternatives to sodium products include sawdust, sand, and fireplace ashes.

Keep deer spray current, or erect netting. Deer are coming closer to houses in search of forage such as yew, rhododendron and azalea, and even English ivy and bare twigs of hydrangea. Three “unpaid pruners” were working away at yew bushes not 15 feet from where my husband and I watched yesterday morning. The intermittent mild days that occur at this time of year are good opportunities for deer spraying, and also for horticultural oil application against insects such as scale on hollies or hemlock woolly adelgid.

The usual cautions pertain to indoor Christmas trees, both living and cut, and to holiday plants. Houses are dry and leach the moisture right out of living tissues. Check water level in the tree stand reservoir daily (pets seem to prefer tree-stand water to other sources). Keep live root balls damp; plan to plant outside ASAP into a pre-dug planting hole. Water cyclamen and amaryllis from the bottom and then empty saucers. Check paperwhites’ water levels daily, too. Keep citrus well-watered but do not over-water. As with cyclamen and amaryllis, do not let citrus stand in water.

More on beans

Having pre-soaked, cooked beans (their cooking liquid stored separately) in the fridge is convenient for many dishes at this busy time. An antidote to eggnog and rich desserts is a tasty bean stew: make lots and have it to pull out and heat up for unexpected entertaining. Most of the ingredients come from the home garden.

Christmas Bean Stew

1 pound cannellini or dried lima beans (or the equivalent cooked)

16 Tbsp. high quality olive oil

2 large heads of celery plus leaves, sliced into 3/4″ pieces

12 scallions, green part included, sliced 1/3″.

8 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced

2 tsp. caraway seed, lightly crushed

2-4 tsp. celery salt

1 qt canned tomatoes, or 1 28 oz can plum tomatoes, drained and chopped

5 1/2 cup broth or water, or some of each

oily black olives, pitted and chopped

1 lemon, cut into 1/8ths

If you haven’t already cooked the beans, do so.

Heat 12 Tbsp. (scant 2/3 cup) of the olive oil in a large pot over medium hot heat. When the oil is hot, add celery and stir until coated with olive oil. Cook for ten minutes, stirring. Add 2/3 of the scallions, the garlic, caraway, and a couple of big pinches of salt. Cook 10-15 minutes more, until everything softens and begins to caramelize slightly.

Add the tomatoes and 2 tsp. of the celery salt and cook for another few minutes. Add the beans along with 5 1/2 cups liquid and remaining 4 Tbsp. of olive oil. Bring to a simmer and taste for seasoning. Add more celery salt if needed. Let sit for a couple of minutes and serve each bowl topped with chopped olives, remaining scallions, and a squeeze of lemon. Serves 8-10.

Adapted from Hassan’s Celery and White Bean Soup with Tomato and Caraway in “Moro East,” by Sam and Sam Clark.

Dry beans can be shelled by hand, but there are other techniques — like whacking a burlap bag of beans. — Photo by Susan Safford

Continuing my commentary on creating winter oases of green, it is timely to appreciate holly, now that references to it are seasonal and frequent. “The holly and the ivy,” in the words of the ancient carol, offers up spiky, glossy, evergreen foliage, and red berries, a valuable asset to the winter garden and landscape, not to mention to the birds it shelters. The image the name conjures is the English holly, Ilex aquifolium, but the beautiful native, I. opaca, along with many modern hybrids, bestow their greenery upon the winter garden.

However, not all “hollies” belong to the Ilex family. The Oregon grape holly (Mahonia aquifolium, other species and hybrids), an evergreen that in my opinion is under-utilized here in Island gardens, sports not only spiky, glossy, evergreen foliage but also racemes of scented yellow flowers that transform into bloomy blue, possibly edible, berries.

Although now transferred by the taxonomists into the genus Berberis — over the objections of many — the Mahonias’ striking foliar resemblance to the true hollies remains unchanged. Mahonia is a genus of about 70 species of evergreen shrubs in the family Berberidaceae, native to eastern Asia, the Himalaya, North America and Central America. I was able to find a spot at home for an Asian species, M. gracillipes, purchased at Polly Hill Arboretum, with super long, holly-like leaves with white undersides, its most dramatic feature. I would like to add additional varieties.

Then there is the holly fern, or cyrtomium, another holly look-alike but this one only feet and inches above the ground. Previously thought of as a plant of southern gardens and not reliably hardy here, conditions have changed enough to permit holly fern to be grown in island gardens, when well sited.

The genus Cyrtomium contains, according to Wikipedia, “about 15-20 species of ferns in the family Dryopteridaceae, native to Asia, Africa (including Madagascar), and the Pacific Ocean islands (Hawaii). It is very closely related to the genus Polystichum, with recent research suggesting it should be included within it….” (Those taxonomists again!)

The cyrtomium that I planted here, C. fortunei, in some ways resembles a diminutive leucothoë in form and habit, with a similar vase-like form and lustrous divided foliage. It seems happy enough in deep fallen leaves in the humus-y soil and medium shade of the white oak woods behind our house, where it stands out dramatically from its companion ferns, the regal and ostrich; but each winter I hold my breath a little for its survival.

The necessity for gardeners such as myself with a limited budget is to acquire and then propagate these special plants relentlessly, to achieve abundant winter greenery; otherwise the effects are spotty and hardly look like an oasis of green.

What I learned about beans

Several seasons back I began to change the way I focused on beans in the vegetable garden. I placed a lot of garden space at their service, usually growing several sorts of bush beans and giving over space for pole beans too. Heretofore I had been a “green bean” thinker — you know, fresh green snap beans for summer suppers and plenty in the freezer, too.

Gradually though, I became more aware of the utility of dry beans: they are planted and then left to their own devices, to ripen and dry without all that bending and picking, processing and freezing. When the seeds rattle in the pods, they are ready. A friend in Vermont gave me seeds for a tan-seeded pole variety, Franka’s Italian Beans: these are very reliable. I decided, however, to add cannellini, the Italian white kidney bean of minestrone.

Once they are harvested, storage of the little protein nuggets requires nothing more elaborate than oven or wood-stove-top heating (insect control) and mason jars with tight lids. Baked bean casseroles and soups containing a bit of meat and the beans, such as minestrone and kale soup, are some of the most satisfying, nourishing, and simple of winter season meals.

There has been a learning curve, though: one year Himself harvested half the cannellini beans to freeze as green beans: that was a big uh-oh! This year the cannellini Lingot, supposedly a bush cannellini planted in rows, grew to become a trailing climber more suited to pole bean culture. They got in with the sweet potato vines and together romped all over about a quarter of the garden. It was such a tangle that the fall planting of cavolo nero, Tuscan kale, which as you know is tall, was completely engulfed.

While the beans were still in full-on growth, the surprise snow arrived, more or less coinciding with a planned six-day absence on the mainland. I learned the hard way that cold weather is not going to help cannellini bean culture and harvest. Now I know that all the plants should have been immediately uprooted and hung upside down by their roots in a dry place to cure.

Thinking it was more important to get out the sweet potatoes, I did that first. I then harvested the beanpods, some of which by now were decidedly schmutzy. I shelled them out anyhow; while I lost under-ripe ones, there is still a respectable yield of ‘Lingot.’

I have also learned several ways to thresh dry beans. YouTube videos display peoples’ clever little homemade threshing devices, books describe various methods, and antique bean threshers may be found. One simple method is to place all the dried beanpods inside a burlap or synthetic-weave fed bag and hang it up somewhere. Whack the bag with a stick until the pods have cracked open and released the beans. Then cut a small corner off the sack and let the beans fall out into a bucket, leaving the frass inside.


The December 15 meeting of Homegrown is cancelled due to the holidays.

Beautiful winter groundcover at Polly Hill Arboretum includes Carex morrowii ‘Ice Dance’ — Photo by Susan Safford

A mélange of brown, grey, and tan, the island winter landscape is generally a monotonous one, and the seasons that create it seem to stretch out over-long from the “front end.”

The greenery we add to our winter landscapes is an antidote to that brown and grey monotony, especially for C. Colston Burrell, a self-described chlorophyll addict, who lives and works in the Piedmont of Virginia, a plant hardiness zone not too different from the Island’s.

Burrell is an award-winning garden writer (among other books, “Hellebores: a Comprehensive Guide,” co-authored with Judith Knott Tyler) and landscape designer. On a recent trip we visited his garden, Bird Hill, in the deciduous forest of the Blue Ridge foothills. Almost entirely sited on sloping ground and surrounded by stalag-like deer fencing, it is a morning garden with a southeastern exposure. The pale, low-angle sunlight at the time of our visit highlighted the dull gleam on foliage of hellebores (as might be expected), epimediums, and other plants of great fall and winter interest.

The Bird Hill winter garden contains 350 or so varieties of the genus Epimedium, in addition to the countless hellebores (which self-sow and hybridize freely where happy), greenery such as ferns, sedges, hardy cyclamen, asarums, and much euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae, all at ground level or just above, not to mention taller sorts of evergreen winter interest, such as winter blooming camellias, azaleas, skimmias, and other broadleaf evergreens. Some of the monumental trunks of magnificent chestnut oak and tulip poplar are clothed in vines. Based on the enormous cold season variety on display, one can only guess at the breadth and extent of the garden’s warm weather character.

Gardeners are for the most part great sharers, pleased to support the efforts of those who lack experience. While visiting gardens of greatly skilled gardeners makes one realize one’s own deficiencies, the good news is that excellence rubs off, whether through visual stimulation, advice, or even the sharing of plants.

I return home and survey my mostly brown, fallen-leaf and undergrowth base layer; my paltry array of hellebores, epimediums, cyclamen; the single specimens of cyrtonium and Christmas ferns — mentally contrasting with what I have just seen at Bird Hill — and realize once again: all comparisons stink!

Brassicas: Cooking and Specialized Equipment

There is a lot of brassica coming your way, dietetically, if you desire to eat locally: it is a cabbage-y time of year. Broccoli, Tuscan and other kales, Brussels sprouts, and cold tolerant mustard greens appear on the seasonal table. I pulled four flat-head cabbage from my vegetable garden upon return from the trip to Virginia and made them into sauerkraut at once.

Where I formerly would have used my big, Amish-made “kraut cutter” to shred the cabbage into ribbons, I now use my Portuguese “maquina de corta couves” to slice it into threads that make a fast-fermenting fine-cut sauerkraut. The addition of a fermenting crock, or gärtopf, a Christmas present from my son, has simplified my sauerkraut making for many years now.

However you can, slice or chop up the cabbage and mix with kosher or sea salt in a large bowl until it tastes slightly salty. Either massage the cabbage with the hands, or pound it in the gärtopf with a wooden implement, in order to get the juices flowing. Pack into very clean glass mason jars, gärtopf, or crock. Repeat until all the chopped cabbage is packed. The juice should cover the contents. If cabbages are dried out, it may be necessary to make up additional brine by boiling one liter of water with fifteen grams of kosher or sea salt. Cool brine and add to cover cabbage.

The gärtopf comes with two stoneware weights for keeping the contents covered with its juice or brine; an airlock water channel the weighty lid sits in; and the lid itself, notched to permit the release of fermenting gases. I recommend finding one if a steady supply of fermented vegetables is part of your menu. However, stoneware crocks and mason jars with plastic lids may also be used to make sauerkraut.

It is likely that many families have streamlined their cooking chops into a standard family tradition for the Thanksgiving meal, no deviations permitted! However, with holiday gathering taking place, many of us entertain at other meals as well during the festive time. This great cabbage salad recipe comes from a longtime gardening client and utilizes my “maquina de corta couves” perfectly.

Savoy Cabbage with Pancetta and Gorgonzola

For the Dressing:

4 tsp. white vinegar

1 bsp. Dijon mustard

2 cloves minced garlic

1/3 cup olive oil

For the Salad

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1/4 lb. pancetta, cut into 1/8 ” dice

1 small head Savoy cabbage quartered, cored and very thinly sliced

1/2 tsp pepper

1/4 lb. Gorgonzola, crumbled (option: substitute feta cheese, crumbled)

1. To make the dressing, place the vinegar, mustard, and garlic in bowl of food processor and process until creamy. Drizzle in oil in thin stream.

2. To make the salad, heat the olive oil in a medium skillet set over medium high heat. Add the pancetta, stirring occasionally, until it is crispy but not darkly browned. Drain the pancetta, reserving 3 Tbsp. of the fat left in the pan and setting the pancetta aside.

3. Transfer the 3 Tbsp. of reserved fat to a large heavy skillet set over medium heat. Add cabbage and cook until wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Add reserved pancetta, pepper and dressing and toss and cook another minute. Add half the crumbled Gorgonzola and cook until the cheese just begins to melt. Divide the salad among four plates. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and serve immediately.

Our eyes love color: Japanese maple becomes glowing focal point in monotone autumn landscape. — Photo by Susan Safford

Last Thursday’s 1.4-inch rain was welcome; the gentle onset permitted maximum absorption. Deer are moving about as the rutting season is underway; be vigilant when driving at dusk and later. Adult deer ticks are prevalent just now, too. Strangling bittersweet vines hold onto their leaves later than surrounding vegetation, making them easier to spot and eliminate.

Color from small trees

Our eyes really seem to be addicted to color, by their physical structures and by our aesthetic preferences, and autumn gives it to us as a final, parting gift. In this northern temperate climate it is an extraordinary thing to be in a landscape becoming darker and more monotone daily, and yet to experience — just then — an entire shrub or tree that has transformed into a glowing focal point.

Inspired by an item in the Advice section of the October “The Garden,” I direct attention here to alternatives to the sensational but invasive “burning bush” (Euonymus alatus) to supply the color that our eyes crave. A small tree in the garden is a valuable addition, in some ways more so than a shrub.

Trees of small stature may be planted to anchor a bed and under-planted in the same space with compatible herbaceous plants; they may provide shade or strategic screening. Winter structure, bare of leaves, provides pleasing alternatives to leafed-out phases; several mentioned here feature interesting bark.

Small trees with differing forms may be chosen, such as single or multi-stemmed, weeping, columnar, and canopied. Habit many be single- or multi-stemmed. Colorful fruit could be an added bonus. For example, crab apples (Malus) are available in larger and smaller growing forms; red-, orange-, and gold-fruited; and weeping, spreading and columnar in habit; with bright yellow to blushed to orange fall foliage.

Cornus kousa ‘Satomi’ grows to about twelve feet with interesting form and excellent fall color. Sorbus species provide brilliant autumn color; “The Garden” item mentions ‘Joseph Rock’ and its sport ‘Autumn Spire,’ (although they may be harder to find in the US).

Maples (Acer) are automatically associated with splendid autumn color. Those of small stature include many Japanese maple species, cultivars, and grafted specimens, as well as the species maples A. ginnala; A. griseum; and A. maximowiczianum.

Falling somewhere between shrub and small tree are: Disanthus cercidifolia, a Joseph’s coat of pink-orange-burgundy; many cultivars of Lagerstroemia (crape myrtle) and our own two natives providing clear golden yellows: Chionanthus virginianum (fringetree), and Clethra alnifolia.

Brussels sprouts

Brussels sprouts are one of the best fall and winter vegetables, as are many other members of the large Brassica family. They are resistant to frost and actually sweeten up with it.

For a fall and winter crop, Brussels sprouts are direct-sown in seedbeds in June and planted out in rows where they are to grow. They do best in soils that are about neutral or slightly alkaline in pH and high in organic matter, and can be intercropped with salad greens for space saving. Tall-growing varieties may need staking against wind-rock by November.

According to DK’s “Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,” spacing may be used to manipulate the results with Brussels sprouts. With close spacing of less than two feet in each direction, they can be grown to produce smaller sprouts of uniform maturity. Spaced two feet apart in the row with rows wider apart, grow them to produce larger sprouts to be picked in succession over a longer period.

Menu research is under way in many kitchens as the holidays near. Brussels sprouts are a fine, fall-garden harvest vegetable, but their drawback is that many, both children and growns, profess not to like them. Maybe this recipe is a mind-changer? It originally appeared in “Fine Cooking,” but I found it on the Internet and added my own twist.

For a family meal, use one pound of sprouts, and double all ingredients for a festive one. For the lemon flavoring I use a freezer-stored product that is a 24 karat culinary ingredient, frozen lemon powder:

Buy a nice organic lemon, wash and dry it, and place to freeze solid in your freezer. Then, using the food processor and the grating/shredding plate, grate the entire frozen lemon, skin and all. Store the frozen lemon powder in an airtight freezer container and measure out by the spoonful when bright lemon flavoring is called for.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

(with lemon powder and Parmesan)

1 pound Brussels sprouts

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, plus more if desired

1/2 tsp. salt

several grinds fresh black pepper

1-2 Tbsp. frozen lemon powder

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

optional: handful of rinsed, cooked garbanzo beans (chickpeas)

Preheat oven to 475F. Remove yellowed leaves and trim bases of sprouts. Halve lengthwise. In a large mixing bowl, toss the sprouts, salt, pepper, and olive oil together until well coated. Arrange cut side down on the baking sheet lined with parchment paper or silpat. Roast until tender and browned, 12-15 minutes.

Lift corners of silpat or parchment paper and dump hot roasted sprouts back into mixing bowl, add the frozen lemon powder, grated Parmesan, and garbanzo beans, and toss to combine. Adjust seasoning and add a little more olive oil if desired, and serve hot.

Seed garlic performs best if vernalized — being chilled for two weeks at 43 to 50°F before planting. Protective cloches are by Rob Phillips of the Glassworks in North Tisbury. — Photo by Susan Safford

The Island’s autumn beauty is displayed in the deep-toned array of grass and foliage spread across the landscape, and magnificent skyscapes of gigantic grey-bottomed cloud foretell winter’s approach.

The 20th annual Barn Raisers’ Ball, celebrating the Agricultural Society’s historic barn raising, is Saturday night, 7:30–10 pm, at the Agricultural Hall, with Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish. Bring a dessert to share, admission is free.

Garlic culture

In matters culinary, Martha’s Vineyard has come a long way. Back in the day, the post-war “Joy of Cooking” open in front of me listed just ten “Italian” recipes, nothing East Asian, and just two under Garlic, one of which was garlic bread!

If one was planning an “exotic” dish, one had to go to Bangs Market, or one of the other S.S. Pierce emporia on the Island, for those little gourmet oddments such as capers and other condiments. (I am not sure we knew the term “gourmet,” then.) No longer is it sufficient, the way it used to be when garlic was considered to be a socially embarrassing seasoning, to go down to the store and pick up a little box containing two dried-up heads of generic garlic when a dish of something exotic is planned for the menu.

The general consensus is that garlic growing has increased in importance both among Island growers and cooks. Here, where planting garlic is one of the final chapters of the vegetable garden year, when to plant garlic is often debated.

Since there is a wide array of opinion on getting the best results with the culture of this plant, I decided to read up on it and pass along whatever of interest I could glean. I consulted three vegetable-growing books, but many specifics come from two different editions of the Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener, Fall 2012 and Summer 2013.

In an MOF&G 2012 (Vol 40, no 3) article, Tom Vigue, a Maine garlic grower, says garlic does best when planted four weeks before the ground freezes, because root development begins in the fall. A critical humidity induces root growth, which typically begins one or two weeks after planting. Roots will grow for a couple of weeks more before soils freeze. If planting is too early, it may induce leaf sprouting; if sprouts emerge from the soil and are damaged by freezing, the plants receive a setback; loss of leaves reduces yields.

Vigne claims “the size of the seed bulb is many times more significant than the size of the seed clove in determining the eventual size of harvested bulbs.” Nevertheless, cloves from medium to medium-large bulbs make the best planting stock. Cloves from smaller bulbs will result in smaller, weaker plants, yielding smaller harvests; planting the largest cloves from the largest bulbs results in the greatest lack of uniformity in harvests. Vigue recommends planting three to four inches deep in cultivated and heavily composted soil; and then covering with six to eight inches of loose and fluffy mulch, with the expectation that it will compress under winter conditions.

The MOF&G’s 2013 (Vol 41, no 2) article offers comprehensive coverage of the garlic portion of MOFG Association’s spring growth conference. David Stern of the Garlic Seed Foundation recommends starting garlic culture by sowing oats at the end of August, in soils testing at pH 6.8-7. In October he mows and discs them, makes furrows, and plants and covers the garlic. Stern recommends placing the tip of the clove one and a half inches below the soil surface in furrows where soybean meal, supplying nitrogen (N), has first been laid. Oats reemerge with the first rain and later winterkill.

Growers experimenting with different spacing had differing results. Vigue prefers 5×8″ spacing. Slightly larger, 6×8,” produced slightly larger bulbs but total yield in pounds was lower. He found that scape removal produces larger bulbs and earlier sizing up, but he wonders about its effect on long-term storage. Stern prefers spacing of 6×6″ or 8×8″; closer spacing sacrifices quality. For row crop spacing, plant garlic 4 inches or more apart within rows, with 18 inches or more between rows. Double row planting involves two rows in a 6- x 6-inch grid, with 18 inches or more between the double rows.

Many additional factors are important in garlic culture, one of the foremost perhaps being storage qualities. It is desirable, obviously, for garlic to remain in good condition until planting and beyond, when the next crop is ready for use. About one pound of seed is needed to produce five pounds of harvest.

Hugelkultur: the ultimate raised bed

Springing from the permaculture movement, an interesting development is called “hugelkultur,” or mound culture. It is a wild and crazy composting, where there is no need to worry about layering, turning, and all those other bothersome details of scientific composting: just pile ‘er up and after a month, plant right into the pile.

Due to various ailments that Island trees have fallen prey to, and ensuing breakdown and rot, woodlots are producing piles of rotting wood unable to qualify as firewood. Well-publicized concerns about its fire hazards make finding a use for it a win-win situation, although rotting wood does not generally burn well.

In hugelkultur rotten logs are prized, the bigger the better: it is essentially making raised beds filled with rotten wood. A framework of rotting logs is laid on the ground where the mound is going to be sited. Brush, sticks, dirt, more logs, compostables of all descriptions — all are thrown onto the pile and covered with soil. Some settling occurs, but in a month it is plant-able. The mound is self-watering due to the hydroscopic qualities of the rotting wood, and carbon is sequestered. For more information, go to

Though putting a garden to bed should actually begin in August, British garden writer Monty Don says that "...October is my gardening new year...Time to take stock, plan, prepare, and start again." — Photo by Susan Safford

Putting the garden to bed is actually a process that tugs in opposing directions. Sanitation is of great importance in vegetable gardens for disease and pest control. Wildlife support is the province of ornamental gardens. Many flower stalks are nowadays left for their seed value for birds (and other wildlife), to which gardeners owe a standing debt of gratitude for insect control. Whether you are a neat-freak or wildlife lover, it is your garden and you decide.

Cutdowns, starting with plants whose foliage ripens earliest

Putting the garden to bed actually starts in August when some annuals will be seen to have gone by and may be pulled to make room for other seasonal plant material. Debris removal and cutdowns are on-going: plants with foliage that yellows early or is diseased, for example, slug-damaged hostas; plants such as daylilies that will regenerate fresh basal leaves; clearing fallen leaves.

By mid- to late October

As the British garden writer Monty Don says of this season: “The beginning of October is my gardening new year…. Time to take stock, plan, prepare, and start again.” How you prepare now lays the foundation for success next year.

Much of the cutdowns have been done. Leave woody sub-shrubs, such as lavender, caryopteris, and perovskia, alone: cut them back in spring.

Eliminate unwanted plants, or transplant; divide overgrown perennials; find improved locations for plants that are too big or not doing well. Division is often the difference between, for instance, a Siberian iris loaded with bloom and one with scarcely any. This time of year normally you can move plants around with the expectation of autumn rains to keep them watered. Give beds a final weeding, and then top-dress with low-number soil food and layer over with compost or mulch.

Tuberous begonias and pelargoniums (geraniums) may be removed from pots and stored dry in a cool dark cellar. They are revived in spring by being brought into the light and repotted in new soil. Alternatively, take cuttings, using strong sprouts without flower buds, and root in fine, gritty potting mix.

Use a tarp or trash barrel to collect debris generated by clean-up, and remove it to the compost pile. If you have not previously composted, find a quiet corner of the garden, and bring everything there. Even if you do nothing, this will eventually turn into a soil-like product composed of your garden’s own elements, whose use improves whatever is grown with it.

Order spring bulbs and plant them. The various narcissi should be planted in October, ideally, but you may put off tulip planting until Thanksgiving or later on the Vineyard. Likewise, it is often well to naturalize narcissi, away from ornamental beds, unless their ripening foliage can be tolerated aesthetically, while tulips are best planted in beds.

Vegetable Plot

As with the ornamental garden, the vegetable garden starts acquiring its autumn character in early August (if not actually in July if one aims to continue production through the fall). Space left by harvested garlic and onions is freed for subsequent crops, which are direct-sown then. Some of these, such as carrots, beets, kales, and late leeks, may remain in the garden until the following spring when covered by some means of protection. Others, such as cabbage, greens and spinach, may also be finished with freezing weather.

By this time in October, it’s time to prepare the garlic bed: weed, cultivate, and fertilize. A quick cover crop such as buckwheat can be sown and forked in, if desired, as long as it has several weeks to break down before the garlic is planted. I aim to plant garlic in mid-November to early December.

As crop rows are harvested out, or as plants such as tomatoes and eggplant have finished producing, the debris is composted, open spaces or beds are weeded, and then sown with a cover crop. Cover crops are plants intentionally sown to add something to the soil, as green manure, and to protect the soil from wind and water erosion. Additionally they “cover the space” against seeding by weeds.

The harvesting of some crops, such as pumpkins, squash, and sweet potatoes, requires curing in a warm place for several weeks for optimum storage life of the vegetables. Likewise, dahlia tubers need to cure, although with them it is in the ground, for optimum storage quality. ID well and leave them for several weeks after frosting; then, cut them back, dig, and store wrapped in newspaper.


Acquire and compost manure any time during the fall. Manure of cows, with their unique fermenting digestion, has special properties that manure of horses lacks. It is a source of weeds from their grain/hay diet, so avoid it raw; but compost it or age it, and it is the stuff of gardeners’ dreams. Stable muck — not mostly shavings — is a nutritious winter blanket for fruit trees, roses, asparagus, and rhubarb, and conditions any soil superbly. Protect orchard trees from winter rodent damage with tree guards, which you can buy or construct from wire fencing.

Walkways and Terraces

Weed and rake walkways and terraces; they will remain in a mainly weed-free condition until next spring’s weed seeds germinate. Clear out, sweep, and replace items in garden sheds, then stow pots, stakes, plant supports, and hoses drained, coiled, and tied off. Store “like with like” and consolidate these items. Clean and store tools, and, if you are truly conscientious, oil the blades and moving parts. Sort seed packets and store in a cool dry place.

Lawn Care

Using a spring rake, rake the lawn. This always has a revitalizing effect on grass and the amount of debris it pulls out is surprising. Mow and edge the lawn, leaving the blade at a higher setting. Repair lawn bare spots: scratch up (scarify) soil and sow grass seed, lightly covering (again, with the expectation of normal autumn rains). Harvest fallen leaves frequently and add to compost. If you want to be truly ahead of the game, perform maintenance on mowers and weed-whackers, or take them in to the shop. Clean jerry cans.

Soil Testing

Take soil tests for lawn, vegetable garden, and ornamental planting beds: each has different requirements, so one soil test for all is insufficient. Specify that you practice organic management and follow up on recommendations. Get information, download forms, and get mailing directions, at UMass website