It is the end of January already. My goodness, moving right along. Get those seed orders completed and sent in. Commence indoor planting of early crops of beets, carrots, lettuce, spinach, celery, and onions.
The website for Johnny's Selected Seeds contains a library of over two dozen informative videos, johnnyseeds.com/t-video.aspx, and more if one clicks the link to their YouTube channel.
At the January meeting of Homegrown (third Sunday of the month, 3 to 5 pm at Agricultural Hall) we briefly discussed garden share options on the Island, and the possibility of creating a "real estate listing" to pair those in need of a plot to garden in, and those who have garden space they are willing to share. Please consider whether you belong in either of these categories and stay tuned for contact info.
The healthy household
Our houses are now much tighter, energetically and economically a good thing. Fewer people, I hope, find their boots frozen to the floor (as did a well-known West Tisburyite years back). Houses are aired out infrequently in cold weather; cooking smells, no matter how delicious originally, linger and turn stale; dust from stoves and dander from pets accumulates. Whatever we put in the household air - with cleaning, plant care, beauty products, or use of other miscellaneous household chemicals - tends to remain there.
The fewer household chemicals under the kitchen sink, the healthier the household. Its health improves with each cleaning product we eliminate. Baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) may be used to perform a variety of cleaning and polishing jobs, most importantly replacing silver polishes and creams. Many of these contain mercury compounds. Not only is the contact harmful to the polisher, but also the residue goes down the drain and eventually enters ground water, watershed, and the cells of fin- and shellfish. Baking soda may be purchased in scouring-powder style shakers for convenience.
Why do holly berries remain green?
The imposing 'Barnard Luce' holly, situated in the Holly Park at the Polly Hill Arboretum, is one of Polly Hill's introductions. A closer look at it reveals that many of its berries are green, when they should be red. Do you have a holly showing this anomaly?
The cause is a tiny insect parasite of American holly, the Holly berry midge. Asphondylia ilicicola is a minute fly that lays its eggs in the developing berries of female hollies in spring, even at the flower stage. As the maggot grows it feeds on the inner portion of the berry. The midges pupate and emerge as adults in spring, ready to repeat the cycle when the hollies bloom again.
The holly berry midge's reproductive niche would hit a dead end if the hungry flocks of robins, cedar waxwings, and bluebirds gobbled all the berries in sight, including the ones holding their offspring. These, however, are partially hollowed out and fail to develop normal red color. The hungry birds avoid green berries, so however it happens, the midges' little reproductive strategy succeeds.
Diazinon used to be recommended for control of holly berry midge, but is now thoroughly discredited and being phased out. Handpicking and destroying green berries in fall is the recommended control if the problem is not widespread.
Heartily sick of a string of undifferentiated days spent inside after the holidays and the flu, I took advantage of the break in the weather to get out in the fresh air. I had been staring at crossing branches in the Viburnum carlesii outside a living room window, jiggling and rubbing in the wind. Even though they had not been crossing last spring, by now, through growth, the weight of summer foliage, and, recently, probably the snow load, several layers of bark had been worn through and stems flattened.
This is a good time to spot these problems and deal with them. Take a walk around the garden or yard with pruners and loppers in hand. I spied suckers on the Hamamelis x 'Jelena': wrenching them off keeps my shrubs as 'Jelena' instead of becoming the understock. Bring a rake and a tarp too. At our place many more leaves have blown around, including where I had previously raked.
Some of the best material to use as top dressing or mulch, or as an ingredient in compost piles, is what comes off the lawn when one rakes. At this time it includes thatch, moss, acorns, twiglets and bits of leaf; it is damp and already halfway to being broken down. As long as there is nothing clunky or large-sized in it, rake it right into mulch rings around trees and shrubs in need of a boost. Pay attention to the stems or trunk of the plant and keep the mulch ring well away. Mulch is a comfy place for voles; they may gnaw the trunk's bark and girdle the plant if mulch is laid deeply around it.
Upon inspection, I found numerous small injuries on hollies and rhododendrons that a quick clip here and there with the felcos put to rights. There were also a couple of larger casualties. A large, storm-torn rotten limb had landed heavily across a large rhododendron, smashing it and the nearby arrow-wood viburnums. Cleaning that up required sawing and sacrificing some good-sized rhododendron "timber."
Heavy snow load had racked and twisted a branch, a strong inch in diameter, of the 'Nellie Stevens' holly mentioned in a recent column. A nine-inch split ran lengthwise down it. There was no wilted foliage. I hedged my bets, shortening the branch but not removing it. I took off quite a lot, pruning back to a good strong twig, to balance and lessen the weight so it will not rack in the future.