Looking ahead


As we head into August, the Island setting welcomes a whole new cast of characters and a wholly different feel in weather, light, and garden atmosphere. August visitors traditionally expect blue skies and sunny days associated with high pressure — ‘Fair’ weather. Summer is surely charging along towards its climax. Inevitably, morning mists and evening chill signify that the dewpoint is dropping; the first intimations of autumn are in the air.

Meanwhile, July has been an oppressively hot month, not only here but throughout the East. Lawns and containers are tired and heat-struck, even with the recent rains. As are gardeners themselves: we are not really confident that our gardens will have any more color or oomph, since so many plants have already bloomed.

What to do? Informal surveys yield one word: dahlias. And in more general ways: soil improvement (relentlessly), as a bulwark against heat and drought. Daring chopping in June may reward its prescient practitioners in August.

Plantings rich in foliage effects, such as variegated or colored foliage, may hold an answer for this new paradigm. Mixed borders containing shrubs, such as compact forms of crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia), buddleia, hypericum, and panicle and oakleaf hydrangeas, may be another avenue to late color in the garden.

Why not rework containers? Replace items in your pots or window boxes with different plant material or color combinations. Consider even replacing the soil: if soil-less container mix “fries” one time too many, it may shrink and not re-hydrate properly. Pay a visit to the various garden centers where annuals are now two-for-one, and seasonal plants, such as ornamental peppers, asters, and mums, are being groomed. Trimming back annuals may produce encouraging results when followed by a liquid feed or renewed application of time-release fertilizer granules, plus conscientious watering. Cut back lavender and passé daylilies.

“BioCycle” news

Probably few Island residents read the industry periodical “BioCycle (Advancing Composting, Organics Recycling & Renewable Energy),” so let me condense some of the scintillating info from the June issue. From a news item entitled On-Farm Energy Production Survey: “The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) is conducting its first-ever survey focused on renewable energy. The On-Farm Energy Production Survey is gathering information about energy production on America’s farms and ranches, including the use of wind turbines, solar panels, anaerobic digesters, and other alternative energy sources….

” ‘This is a valuable opportunity for producers to highlight the steps they are taking to reduce agriculture’s carbon footprint and promote a healthy and sustainable environment,’ said a NASS news release. Survey results will be available in February 2011 online at www.nass.usda.gov.”

Composting & Soil Workshop

“The award-winning Maine Compost School, part of the University of Maine Co-operative Extension, presents a two-day composting workshop August 16 and 17 geared toward schools and public institutions. The workshop takes place at Highmoor Farm in Monmouth, Maine, and the cost is $250. Teachers and instructional staff, food service providers, custodial staff, administrators and school volunteers are encouraged to attend…. For more information, contact UMaine Extension Educator Mark Hutchinson at 207-832-0343, 800-244-2104 or mhutch@maine.edu.

And finally, speaking of relentless soil improvement, “BioCycle” covered the establishment of an urban, 550 tons/day composting facility within the Wilmington, Del., city limits that could provide the blueprint for many other such essential facilities, in “Urban Facility Delivers Food Waste Composting Capacity.” The facility takes in unwanted waste streams and delivers black gold: quality compost

Nelson Widell, a partner in the Peninsula Compost Group, LLC, is also a partner in a separate company, Waste Options, Inc. It has developed a number of municipal solid waste composting projects, including, like an unobtainable El Dorado just over the horizon, the successful operation on Nantucket.

The Wilmington operation represents the future of composting, according to Widell. It accepts source-separated waste streams: Food waste that is often 20 to 40 percent entrained with paper/cardboard; clean wood debris; processing byproducts from the regional poultry industry; and spoilage from such imports as bananas entering the area ports. It uses bulking agents such as sawdust and ground yard trimmings. The operation is oriented in the direction that material flows and must support itself from the tipping fees it charges. Then, at the end of the day, sales of quality compost are “icing on the cake.”

Widell, referring to the trial-and-error, hit-and-miss 1980’s — “every step of the way you actually had to do something to learn” — is quoted in the article as saying “It’s like the movie ‘Groundhog Day’ — you keep doing it until you get it right. We think we got it right.” He and his partners have additional projects planned on the west coast of Florida, New Jersey (two), Massachusetts (three), and Chicago. I envision one for us here, right next door to Nantucket.

Fall garden: orderly transition

Spaces have opened up in vegetable gardens where earlier crops were harvested. Harvested, or soon-to-be harvested, rows in many gardens: onion patch; potato patch; garlic patch; early broccoli; miscellaneous lettuce, cabbage, and kohlrabi. How are you going to utilize all that space productively?

Open areas could be cover-cropped with buckwheat or other warm season cover crop. Remember, soil improvement is never a waste of time or effort.

Alternatively, with practice and foresight you can have flats of second crops ready to go into these vacated spaces. Mastering this small feat is gratifying. I have already planted, or sown in flats/cells: beets, cucumbers, broccoli, summer and winter squash, leeks, bush beans, radicchio, and sugar snap (mange-tout) peas; carrots are best direct-sown.

First however, spread organic low-number fertilizer and the summer’s compost complement over the entire plot and broadfork it in; then cultivate. Now you are ready to make succession plantings.