September song, or silence?

Think about garlic; try making vinegars.

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Japanese knotweed (Reynoutria japonica) along the Tashmoo overlook: beautiful, invasive, and medicinal. — Susan Safford

Late summer meadowsong, September’s insect chorus, is swelling. Its leitmotif surrounds us, day and night. Remove your earbuds and listen for it.

Uncountable crickets and katydids whirr and chirp their way toward summer’s end. The awesome dragonfly migration is underway; the magnificent insects’ aerial show arises over meadow and lawn. Early sunlight illuminates dew-laden spiderwebs and monarchs floating down from their tree roosts to forage.

Insects are the basic units of life. Beyond first-level plants, everything in the troposphere depends upon them, and yes, plants do too. 

Where have the billions of globally missing birds and bats gone (bit.ly/missingbirds)? What are the causes of the 2021 “mysterious bird disease”? Where are the insect-splattered windshields of childhood summers?

Is it in part because they, their food, and habitat are poisoned and altered?

People I know, who are friends, are in the business of spraying entire properties for insect control. This business opportunity and service is usually framed positively, and it is offered as such.

However, the “safe,” “plant-derived” permethrin products paralyze and thus kill all insects. This unintended goal of extirpating insect life (collateral damage) is the most unthinking one you can have.

Some landowners’ belief is that their needs supersede those of the natural world. (Indeed, Lyme is long-haul with me, since 1971.) The quandary cuts close, and it is uncomfortable to ruffle feathers, as one person puts it.

Human health and life on earth depends upon biodiversity. If you have decided, out of fear of nature or an unbridled need for control, to have your Island property sprayed for ticks, mosquitoes, spiders, “worms,” dragonflies, monarchs, or whatever — then you have played an ignoble part in destroying the balance of nature here, much as you may say “I 🖤 Martha’s Vineyard.” Tick check, every night.

In the garden

Mmmm, the mouth-feel of a sun-warmed raspberry on a black-shadowed September day!

It is becoming a bountiful year in the raspberry patch (‘Heritage,’ everbearing red raspberry), after a late start. Other years I have been able to enter raspberries in the fair, but nothing was ripe this time.

Everbearers typically continue to fruit and ripen well into fall, until frost, and provide reliable freezer crops. It is the easiest thing: Spread raspberries on a tray to freeze, and then load them dry into Ziploc bags for storage.

After frost, cut down canes. You can use a mower with a clippings bag, although the better eco-alternative is to clip, cut up, and then compost. You can apply a low-number organic soil food (fertilizer) and mulch (to suppress weeds in the coming year) to the bed then, but raspberries are undemanding and rewarding, even when neglected.

Speaking of raspberries, do you know they make intriguingly flavored vinegar? This would also be a good time to harvest herbs, such as tarragon, dill, lemon balm, and thyme, plus many others, for vinegars. Bruise herbs lightly to release more flavor, and add cloves of fresh garlic if desired. Cork in airtight containers, with no metal contact.

The five-plus inches of rainfall on August 25, and the 3⅝ inches on Sept. 9, have been frog heaven. Frogs, more noticeable in September, are all skin. Watch for them when mowing the grass, and refrain from toxic lawn products that can penetrate through their skin, and pets’ paws.

Order seed garlic now if you have not done so already. (Gilroy, Calif., the “Garlic Capitol,” is vulnerable to wildfires, as are other garlic-growing areas.)

I try to acquire a few shortcuts to reduce the time it takes to grow vegetables, one of the reasons I love the onion family. They are so indispensable to flavorful food, and so amenable to easy propagation. I leave leeks that have bloomed; by now there is usually a small forest of plantlets around the base of the stalk. Fork these up and replant in deep drills six inches apart: voilà! — your next leek crop.

Metaphorically speaking, gardening is about growing the person, not the plants. To become a better gardener, give up the illusion of control. Instead, learn patience and observation, and open your eyes to what is around you.

Japanese knotweed

It is everywhere. It is blooming. It is a threat. It is beautiful. It is a medicinal boon. In some places you can be heavily fined for spreading it. What is it? With the photo, most readers will recognize the plant without further description.

In one of the weird ironies of botanical life, the much-disliked, invasive Japanese knotweed of waste places is the major source of pharmaceutical resveratrol.

For wine lovers among us, the wine of choice might be red wine. Why is red wine highly touted, especially by men? Resveratrol! What, you may ask, is resveratrol? The shorthand answer relates to the blue lozenge-shape pill.

Even the botanical name continues to change for this invasive nuisance plant. Known as Polygonum cuspidatum, and then Fallopia japonica, Japanese knotweed’s identity has finally come to rest at Reynoutria japonica.

Also known by many additional nicknames, including locally as “bamboo,” Japanese knotweed first came to Europe, and thence to North America, through the collecting work in Southeast Asia of the great 19th century German physician, botanist, and traveler Philipp Franz von Siebold.

The plant was considered to be highly ornamental, and was propagated and spread for its beauty as a garden plant, having been introduced to Britain in 1850. It was not long before less admirable qualities emerged. It spreads easily by several means, and is almost impossible to eradicate.

Used in Japanese and Chinese medicine, Japanese knotweed is revered in its native ranges. The many uses include immune stimulant, painkiller, bee forage, and source of prized honey, and wild vegetable (used similarly to asparagus and rhubarb). When gathered for herbal use, the roots are higher in resveratrol content than stems or leaves, and have highest levels at the end of the growing season, according to Wikipedia.

 

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