Garden Notes: Light-driven

The minutes of extra daylight affect plants and animals.


Each day now we receive about one minute more daytime at sunset. Sunrise is about to start earlier too. According to the adage, “as the days lengthen, the cold strengthens” — we are still waiting on that one.

If you are keeping chickens, the increase in light prompts increased laying. Adjust feeding from maintenance-type schedules to laying ones. Add completely dead ashes to henhouse litter for dust bathing. In winter, it helps poultry control parasites. (Use fire-pit ashes on icy walkways too.)

Likewise, increased photosynthesis means houseplants are able to make growth utilizing the increased light, so watering and fertilizing may increase too. Houseplants may seem to “spontaneously generate” indoor pests, the pests responding also to increases in light levels and new growth. Watch for them, and control with insecticidal soap and horticultural oil. Many will find sprayers such as this (see photo) more useful than larger pump sprayers.

Fielding the yield

Just before Christmas, it impressed me to see a continuous parade of Keene Excavation dump trucks loading and dumping dark, rich-looking compost on the Morning Glory fields just outside Edgartown.

The tally of compost produced, according to Morning Glory: about 213 loads x 20 cubic yards = approximately 4,260 cubic yards of compost. Congratulations, Moglo!

Why, you may ask, is that so impressive? There is a lot of it! To simplify perhaps too much, this is carbon management.

Primarily yard waste and organic material from Island farms, gardens, and landscaping, the compost — this dynamite product — will increase the fertility and moisture-holding capacity of Morning Glory’s fields, and the nutrient composition of crops grown there.

Furthermore, as a finite island, everything we import and then discard here has an impact on our surroundings. “Everything goes somewhere” — if we do not manage our waste where it is generated, we must pay for it to be delivered and managed elsewhere. The goal is that, ideally, each property should digest and absorb the waste it produces.

And should we add improper substances into our waste stream, then we afflict ourselves. This applies to toxic residues such as plastic waste (nanoparticles), pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals that are carried in runoff, seeking its own level in wells, brooks, ponds, and estuaries.

Meyer lemons* and more

Being a gardener and growing things allows me, and you too, to use what we produce to enhance our and our family’s life.

Not only do I love having citrus in pots, the flowers, the scent, the form, but I also love having the fruit. After harvesting the fruit of Meyer lemons, which usually ripen in December, prune the plants to shape them.

Like most fruit trees, citrus grow better-quality fruit with good light and air circulation through their centers, and like many other citrus that we grow in containers, Meyer lemons can have a somewhat awkward habit.

Personally, I find that what we produce shapes what and how we eat: our menu. It isn’t only the stocks, sauces, and vegetables in the freezer (I credit my husband here), but also the culinary elements that help us to cook nicer-tasting food all year long. Your own, whether storage vegetables, garlic, onions, or fresh herbs, helps make mundane dishes a little tastier.

For example, take celeriac (celery root): superb winter storage vegetable, seed available from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Territorial, Pinetree, and more. Grown much like celery, it needs compost-enriched soil and a consistent supply of moisture. I frequently use it in a salad with lentils, but there are many other ways to use celeriac throughout the winter. (Asterisks mark homegrown ingredients.)

Lentil-Celeriac Salad

2 Meyer lemons*
1 celeriac root*
1 lb. green lentils*
3 c. broth/water
1 red onion,* or shallot pierced with 2 cloves
1 strip of lemon (or orange) peel
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. salt
vinaigrette (see below)

Juice lemons; reserve peel. Peel celeriac and cut into quarters. Grate celeriac into a glass or stainless steel bowl using food processor with medium disc, or grater. Toss grated celeriac with lemon juice, and set aside, covered, 30 minutes or up to overnight.

Place lentils, rinsed and drained, in a saucepan with 3 cups broth or water; 1 small red onion or shallot stuck with 2 cloves; 1 strip of lemon*/orange peel; 1 bay* leaf; and 1 tsp. salt. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat; cook for 20 minutes or until soft, but not mushy. Drain lentils, saving any excess broth for soupmaking.

Dice red onion finely.

For vinaigrette: Whisk in the bottom of a large salad bowl 5 Tbsp. good olive oil; 2 Tbsp. tarragon* vinegar; 1-2 cloves garlic,* pressed; salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add red onion, celeriac, and lentils. Toss all well. Taste for seasoning, and adjust if needed. This salad is also good with julienned salami, or leftover cubed or julienned Christmas ham, added.

Permeable hardscaping

Returning to a problem subject: Greater attention must be paid to water management and runoff. We have all noticed the emerging pattern of droughty summers interspersed with heavy downpours. So it is dismaying to witness more and more elaborate hardscaping installed in built-up parts of Island towns. Impermeable cladding, plus dry, sunbaked soil that is not moisture-receptive lead to water accumulating in the wrong places, and property damage.

Instead of brick and Belgian block, how about designing permeable hardscaping, such as Turfstone (perforated precast concrete pavers) or other permeable paving?

In the garden

Order seeds early; there will be high demand in 2021. Cut down raspberry canes. Instead of raking, just collect leaves and debris from corners and other places where they lodge — let them come to you! Continue with cut-downs and tidying. For instance, dandelions may be more obvious now, and may still be dug. Stew them for a “dry January” liver and kidney cleanse. Look at trees and shrubs, especially fruit trees, with an eye for pruning.