It’s not the best harvest I’ve ever had. I had to toss a bunch. The ones that made it have spots. But late last night I was reading up (scanning, rather) on the viability of peaches with these dark spots, and learned that the peaches are fine to eat but that the tree itself should be treated to prevent a recurrence next year (and that repeated years of the brown spot blight are bad for the long term viability of the tree). (See below, for more on this). So, having learned in the middle of the night that my peaches were fine to eat, despite their funny look, I was out early this morning, grabbing as many as I could in the bit of time I have before rushing upstairs to log in at work. By this evening, there were only a handful left on the tree. Those will have to wait till the weekend, unless the errant squirrel I saw hovering on the fence near the peach tree has its way. In the meantime, I found a couple good sites with recommendations for preserving peaches, and several on what to do with too many ripe peaches. I’m planning to freeze mine, since I don’t have a dehydrator, and it seems like the easiest option. I will set aside a few to can as well but since I haven’t done it successfully on my own yet (despite a very helpful class from Red Garden Clogs), most of these are freezer bound…

As for the question of the dark spots, a slightly snarky but apparently well-informed poster on GardenWeb forum had the following to say.


Digdug:I believe your peaches have peach bacterial spot, although if you Google this term and “peach scab”, you will find the two diseases difficult to distinguish. After years of wrestling with this distinction, I more or less concluded that bacterial spots are usually spread farther apart, as yours are, often beginning on the lower part of the peach, and are darker in color. I believe that peach scab usually begins at the top of the peach near the stem, then spreads outward, eventually forming a solid mass.I have had both of these diseases many times, and both are highly damaging to peaches. Yes, you can still eat them, but it’s not much fun to do so, since you cannot even properly peel a peach with either of these diseases, which often affect the flesh to a depth of 1/4 inch or more. Many people peel peaches before eating, and peeling is standard procedure before freezing peaches, which is what happens to most of ours. While it is very important to try to prevent even minor damage to the fruits, in many cases the scab or spot spreads and stops growth of the peaches which of course is even worse.

I wish you would not require us to guess where you live, but from the size of those peaches I have to guess somewhere in the coastal or interior Southeast. The rainy spring weather and early warming of the entire mid-Atlantic favors both of these diseases. Once these diseases are established on peaches, there is nothing to be done, since prevention is the key here, not cure. Application of bleach would be very unwise, and sulfur would not help at this point either. In fact, I believe sulfur to be useless against these diseases at any stage.

Bacterial spot can also infect the leaves of peach trees, causing them to spot, turn yellow, and eventually fall off. The disease is also expressed by lesions on the limbs and twigs that exhibit sap leakage. Three or four years of unchecked bacterial disease can easily kill a peach tree. I have had pretty good luck with control of bacterial disease by applying two dormant sprays of a strong copper product called Kocide. Applications should be made in late fall, and again just before bud break.

The most effective preventative that I have found against peach scab, which you will also no doubt see sooner or later, is a good spray of Daconil fungicide immediately after shuck split, and another around a week later while the peaches are still very small. I have tried other fungicides, including Captan and Topsin, and they do not seem to work for me. No spray will be effective once the peaches begin to size up, because the diseases are already there, though you cannot yet see them.

You don’t mention the variety of peach you have there, but most modern peach varieties are bred to color up red well before they are soft ripe, and can hang on the trees for over two weeks while bright red and still not be soft and sweet enough to pick. Commercial growers have discovered that consumers prefer bright red peaches, but still need a hard peach to ship. Truth be told, many yellow peach varieties taste much better than the highly colored reds. Color is not a good indicator of flavor.

Finally, if keeping the “organic” faith is more important to you than growing good peaches, I doubt that you will ever grow decent peaches. There are some places in the country, mostly those that see warm dry weather during the growing season, that could pull off an organic peach, but not many of them are east of the Mississippi river. And so far we have talked only about diseases, not insects like the plum curculio and oriental fruit moth, which are normally present in the same areas that suffer from disease. Nor have we discussed brown rot, which often strikes later in the season. For the backyard orchardist, growing peaches is quite difficult, requiring all the help available from timely use of fungicides and insecticides.

Don Yellman, Great Falls, VA

My experience is consistent with what this poster has to say. Having a peach tree out back is lovely (and unbeatably beautiful when in bloom), but it does require a lot of care and maintenance, and might not be the best pick for a backyard organic gardener like me. I’ll have to make some decisions about whether to continue to maintain the tree or let it go the way of the mystery dogwood/elderberry bush. I’ve had the tree for a good 7 or so years, and it’s been having solid productions since it was about three years old. The last couple years, though, the harvest has been getting slimmer and slimmer due to attacks by various garden variety pests and disease. I am open to suggestions, here… Go ahead! Gimme the dirt.





The Perils of Gardening While Anaphylactic

It was curious to me that a creature that previously took little interest in me would suddenly swarm to me like my blood was manna.  I’d suspected, and read, that mosquitoes are partial to particular blood.  And, based on my experience, whatever the magic ingredient, my lifejuice lacked it.  So, it was striking to me that I was attacked the other afternoon by these ankle (and etc.) biters.  So much so that I posted about it to see if others concurred that Culicidae (yes, I looked it up) dinner parties are on the rise in Zone 7b.  Reveler Ralph, a frequent commenter (thank you, btw!) noted that his experience may be skewed from the fact that he gardens primarily on a deck.  He nonetheless offered several helpful pieces of advice, including throwing off mosquitoes’ scent trackers (which is what traditional OTC products are supposed to do) by using chemical-free natural soaps made of lemon or spearmint (or just rub spearmint right on the skin and wear it under your hat — an excellent idea, which puts mint on the list for next year’s garden).  Once bitten, twice iodine, according to our fellow reveler.  (Note to self: pull iodine out of the emergency kit in the basement; the emergency has arrived).  Check out more detailed suggestions in the comments to “The Perils of Gardening.”

As it turns out, however, I am no more attractive to skeetos than I was to various 7th grade crushes when I sported a back brace, glasses and an overbite.  I am fairly certain of this because, after getting all worked up and posting on the bevy of bites across my lower body, I braved the elements again to finish staking the plethora of tomato plants out back (the story of how my garden became a tomato refuge described in “The Perils of Overgardening”).  The next thing I knew, I was feeling the strange itchiness that accompanied the first attack.  (I had chalked this up to the sheer number of bites I had, but apparently it was indicative of something more).  Oddly, this sensation seemed to come from the inside out, like I could feel it traveling just beneath the surface of my skin.  This time, I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt, full pants, and rubber gloves to avoid a repeat of the earlier assault.  Suddenly, it struck me.  I ran inside and looked at my face to see the same welts as before.  This time, they were encircled with a ruddy reddish shadiness to the skin around them, and spotted my forehead, chin and neck.  They behaved the same way the earlier “bites” did: very pronounced at first and gradually fading in color and sensation until they were barely noticeable at all.  I had assumed this rapid disappearance was the result of my swift diligence with a plantain leaf.

Checking out my new war wounds in the mirror, I recalled the time I was 9 and we were painting a shed in the woods behind my house.  At some point, my body became fully covered with hives.  A bottle of calamine lotion later, and I was fine.  I do not know why I didn’t recognize that feeling sooner.  It is a distinct feeling, and I was beginning to get it while I was in the garden.  Like there was the presence near of something that doesn’t mesh so well your aura.  Maybe the 20 (or so) year gap in time made me forget what an allergic reaction feels like.  But I was acutely reminded last night.

Now, I suppose I should get to work on figuring out what was the cause of my body’s dramatic response to this presence.  A quick Google search and a scan of the corner of the garden I was working in suggests it may be the milkweed.  It’s always possible, but unlikely, it’s those weedy morning glories I fight back nearly daily.  (Unlikely because we’ve been battling since my occupancy here began).  I have a creeping suspicion it’s a tomato plant, but I dearly sincerely hope not.  Once again, the perils of overgardening are upon us…

The Perils of Gardening

Is it just me or are the mosquitoes particularly rampant this year?  I was outside today, weeding the garden from 4:30 to 5:00, and was well awash in Off, but it was no deterrent to the little demons. I came out of the garden with a bucketful of weeds and half my body covered in bites.  According to my partner, they have “mosquitocation,” and tell each other when and where to find fresh blood. They have also, it seems, drifted down lower on the anatomy. Despite the fact I was leaning down, with my arms well within their reach, I don’t have a spot on my upper body.  Maybe they are getting smarter and sense that arms are attached to hands, which with the power of the third sister Fate can swat the life out of you.

The only thing cut short was my gardening today.  I fled to the front yard to gather up some plantain to treat myself as quick as I could.  As I was plucking the plantain leaves, I saw my next-door neighbor who mentioned his mosquitoes are so bad, he won’t even go out back.  They must be aware of this, for they’ve migrated to my side.

QUESTION: how’s the mosquito population in your ecosystem this year? Have you had any luck with products or approaches to keep them at bay? I’m not crazy about using products that smell like they don’t belong on human skin.  Can anyone recommend some good natural products or, better yet, something that might be already available in the garden?  Also share any effective treatments once you’ve already been affected. I’ve found plantain leaves to work well but if you have a bunch of bites like I do today, it’s hard to get them covered quickly, especially since the treatment is most effective within the first few minutes of getting a bite.  (I typically just crinkle them up, and rub the juice on the bites).

So, any suggestions to combat this year’s most pesky pest? Go ahead, gimme the dirt!

What I wanted to get:


What I did get:


On Watering

Over-watering is one of the most common gardening errors.  Not only is it unnecessary to pour large doses of water on in-ground plants, but it also hurts the environment to water in-ground plants frequently.  Survival of the fittest plants produce the most useful produce.   Therefore, if you have a plant or two requiring lots of time and attention, it is okay (and good in fact!) to let it go.  Yank that whiny, pesky plant up out of the ground and toss it into the compost pile, where it will be put to good use.  I have had several tomatoes (I started late but they are starting to come up), but I am not yet harvesting the seeds because these tomatoes are not totally satisfactory.  Some have had a bit of blight (nothing serious), or they were not pickably ripe for very long.  Since I do not want these traits next year, I’m not bothering to save the seeds of those particular plants this year.  If I have learned anything so far this season, it is that I can save seeds and expect something to grow from them, and that I do not need to save every seed.   I may soon be overrun with tomatoes.  My problems could be worse.  I don’t mind the burden of abundance.  However, any of my plants that can’t stand the heat will have to be allowed to transition to the other side.  I am not a primping, preening, prompting gardener.  I admittedly want to put in as little effort as possible for the greatest harvest, and simply enjoy sinking my hands in the dirt to see what comes back up.

On the question of watering, remember that even house plants and potted plants are easily over-watered.  Use a gentle touch with them.  Do not doused or drown them.  Keep in mind that drowning is what happens when you give your plants too much water: you seal off the root ends which need to be open to receive nutrients from the soil.  Think of all the trouble you went to putting broken pieces of clay pots and other spacers for the roots to “breathe.”  Filling the root ends full of water defeats the purpose of creating pathways for the plant’s lifelines.  There is great variation in the amount of water plants need.  Fortunately for us, however, some of the signs they’re getting too much water are often the same plant to plant.  The following are a few such indicators.


1. drooping leaves all around and general wilted appearance

2. browning of young leaves

3. existing leaves turn yellow (or a shade lighter than their natural color), and wilt

4. the plant stops growing new leaves

5. the soil itself may have a greenish hue (this may be algae)

If your plants are showing these signs, take a break from watering for a few days, and see how they respond.  When you do water, as a general rule, it’s a good idea to check moisture at least an inch or two beneath the surface of the soil, since looks can be deceiving.  Some soil gets dry quickly on top but is masking saturated soil beneath.

QUESTION: do you remember the first time you watered a plant?  picked a flower?  became aware of the interdependence of people and plants?  Go ahead … gimme the dirt.

Seed Saving Simplified

The following site gives a good quick and dirty on seed saving, by plant. The seeds from the watermelons I had for lunch are drying as we speak. They’re from the CSA and perfect for seed harvesting since the melon was a little overripe – could be from the fridge losing its temp or just having been perfectly ripe when I picked it up on Wednesday. I will be reaching out to the Garden of Eve farmers who grew the yummy watermelon that was in my lunch today. I want to find out what kind of watermelon it is and where they got the seeds. I’m making more of an effort to keep a thorough history of the plants I’m growing (someyhing I wish I would have started long ago), since i want to get a local seed exchange going here in Brooklyn ( email me at if you’re interested in being a part of it), and also to just be more familiar with whats in my own yard.

Going back to the question of ripeness, I’ve been hearing that it’s best to get your seeds from ripe or over-ripe plants. I don’t believe a watermelon is a squash. It is described, generally, as a flowering plant (originating in southern Africa). However, I don’t know about its possibilities to cross-pollinate. I do not know, if it is capable of cross-pollinating, whether it might cross-pollinate with squash (I found conflicting theories in a quick search online)? I’ll probably play it safe next year by planting no other watermelons, or even any other squash, next year. One goal for the next growing season for me is to simplify, simplify, simplify. In that spirit, I refer you to the quickest and easiest reference I’ve found online for seed saving:

More on seed saving to come, later this week. In the meantime, here’s the

QUESTION: what seeds are you saving. What are some tips you’ve learned on saving seeds? Go ahead … Gimme the dirt!

Poopy Plant

Here is the mysterious bugger that appeared in my backyard two days ago, half past 9 (at least that's when I spotted it). Today, just as suddenly, he was gone. (I don't know why I'm assuming this one was a he - really I don't. I swear.) I'm not sure if he was placed here by aliens or removed by same, but it sure was a curious site out there, surrounded by nothing but a few flies. Oh, yes, that is poo on its, ah, head. I don't know whose - maybe the critter that released that seed in my yard. I'm aware all this is a bit much information (and if ever there was a time to revive the term "grody," here it is). Notwithstanding, here's my ... QUESTION: what the ???? Anyone ever seen anything like this before? Anyone know where it went?

How Could I Not?

This is a 20 lb. bag of organic potting soil from Long Island Compost. $2.99/bag at my local cheapo kinda dollar store, one of many on Church Ave., Kensington side. Of course I love the sunflower but the question is how’s the dirt in the bag. I will report back, and give U the dirt!


Forage for Borage

I had asked, if I had just one plant left to plant, what should it be and why.  An answer I received was borage.  Forage for borage?  I like the idea.  Here’s the comment, and why I will probably take the suggestion and plant with it…you can put it in a salad.  And it sounds a little different from your standard garden fare.  I think I will be planting this weekend, but I’m not sure whether I’m going to plant from seed or a small plant.  I’ve been wondering about the question at the end, as well, and what to hear from other folks whether you’re tending more toward plants or seeds.

Here’s Ralph’s comment…

Maybe take a look at Borage. An edible herb I use in salads- something of a cucumber taste. Small leaves are best since they are ‘hairy’ and it gets more like thin bristles on large leaves. They make small blue flowers which the bees seem to love- the reason I got it. They produce lots of seeds about 1/16 inch long so they’re easy to collect, or just let them fall as they may. Last year mine got about 2 feet tall, and they seem to grow pretty fast from seeds.

Check out red clover too. Another medicinal herb and it’s great for building up your soil. I put these in salad too and have it growing in the ‘wilds’ of my yard. While researching it a while back Sloan Kettering came up on Google. After accepting their disclaimer they had a section on herbs. Red clover was there and it said there is some evidence of it’s fighting cancer, but more research is needed. Gee, that’s one of the things herbalists use it for. What a coincidence.

I downloaded a free PDF of a 600+ page book out of copyright that’s about using various herbs medicinally. It’s from the 1880s if I recall. I wouldn’t use it (or anything else) without confirming what it says, but it is full of information on identifying and preparing herbs. If anyone is interested I’ll try to find a link to it.

[Here’s Ralph’s question …]

How is everyone starting their plants? I use almost exclusively seeds, my niece has great luck buying small plants. What’s your preference, why?

[Here’s my follow- up…

QUESTION: anyone else have any experience with borage?  I’ve been doing a combination of seeds and plants.  I was surprised that both beets and carrots sprouted up from seeds this year, as did my pumpkins, and they’re really taking over.  I have to start thinking more seriously about seeds though.  I do tend to keep the ones I don’t use over the winter in my basement.  I also take seeds from the plants I grow and try them again the next year but haven’t had much luck with that, including some really beautiful pepper plants (cayenne, habanero and jalapeno) that I had last year, whose seeds gave me pretty much nuthin this season.  Maybe I’m doing something wrong?  Go ahead .. gimme the dirt!

Taking the Rapitest

So yesterday’s question was what I should plant, assuming I only have it in me to do one more this year.

Strawberries seems to be leading the pack (the only answer, btw, where are the other revelers – come back in from the garden and let us hear from you).  Okay, so I did try strawberries in a container last year in a bit of shade.  They got sun starved (I assumed, anyway) and their weak little stems and leaves pretty much just shriveled up and died (very similar to what my ivy is looking like on the upstairs terrace but I’m thinking maybe that’s the multiverse telling me there are better ways to find shade and privacy, and I should try instead just to love my neighbors not hide from them, and maybe a wall of ivy would block their sun and be a bug haven).  Ivy aside, I would LOVE to have some cute little strawberries to throw in a summer salad, so I think I’m gonna take Ralph’s suggestion and try, try again.

I checked in my handy dandy guide to gardening – “How to Grow Practically Everything” by Zia Allaway and Lia Leendertz (what great surnames for garden book authors) – and it makes no mention of strawberries being sunhogs.  It does recommend using slow-release granular fertilizer for container planting strawberries, though.  This gave me pause because I’ve generally shied away from the stuff  since I don’t trust it – not with good reason necessarily.  I typically put together my own soil mixture in a large paint bucket, comprised primarily of the $5.00/bag organic Hamptons Estate topsoil (whose price tag I’ve prematurely bitched about), PLUS a few large handfuls of no frills mulch, PLUS a few quarts of homemade compost (this batch is peepee free – I’m still cooking the human nitrogenized stuff), PLUS a few cups of peat moss if I have it, and/or a handful of Perlite.

Out of curiosity today, I tested my hodgepodge soil using a store bought kit, the “Rapitest.”  It’s a truly awful name, I know.  I felt like I was on CSI, Hard Core Unit.  It set me back about 6 bucks, give or take, at my local gardening store, and has the capacity for about ten tests.  The Rapitest told me that the batch I composed (which is pretty typical of what I usually put in my containers) was around a pH 6.5, “slightly acid.”  I was satisfied with that, and didn’t mess with it any further.  I consulted “How to Grow Practically Everything,” to find out whether I’d get a gold star for my person-made dirt composite but was disappointed to find that all they really say about soil is to know the pH, but not what to do about it once you find out, which, of course, leads me to my

QUESTION:  How do you know what a good pH level is generally?  Does it really depend on the plant?  On where you’re growing?  Do other gardeners mess with their soil to try to get it right?  Or do they just jump in, pH be damned?  How many of you pshaw with the pH testing as all a lot of fussiness?  Is it a damper on the revel spirit to engage in fretting over soil composition?  Or is a soil’s pH the necessary foundation for a garden?  Do any of you swear by testing?  Do any of you just go by feel?  If you’ve changed course and either ditched or adopted a soil ethic, tell me your story.  Go ahead … gimme the dirt!

Rising Food Prices: Don’t Have a Catniption – Stick That Grocery Bill Where the Sun Don’t Shine

Hi all you fellow revelers,
I had a GREAT time on the wild edibles tour in Prospect Park, Brooklyn on Saturday with Wildman Steve Brill (who, btw, prefers to be called, simply, Wildman … when you have a criminal record concerning eating dandelions, who’s gonna call you anything else?).  That aside, I also met some great folks and fellow gardeners, including Ralph, who posted this comment today.  I’m still working with the Word Press format and trying to figure out, among other things, how to not have all these great comments hidden.  Until then, I thought I’d excerpt some of it here, including some comments on culinary herbs and an inventive way to stick it  da man (and cut your grocery bill by a scallion) …
Ralph ⋅  JUNE 19, 2011 AT 10:10 AM  …. I restarted gardening a few years back starting with containers and slowly reclaimed about a third of my back yard to plant. The rest is just doing it’s own thing for now. Most of what I’ve been able to use from the yard so far is herbs. Basil, mint, scallions/ bunching onions, sage, catnip, arugula, parsley, red clover, and oregano which is still too small to use. About all I’ve used them for is to add into salads. Small strawberries which survived outside through the winter go into salads which give a nice little burst of flavor in your mouth.

The scallions I started from seeds last year came back after being outside all winter. The ones inside grew all winter long on a window sill. A few of the outside ones grew flowers this year and I got some seeds from them. A quick way to get a few growing without the seeds is buy a bunch of organic scallions in the store. Pick a bunch with the largest roots still on that look healthy. Cut the tops off so you have the roots and bulb with about an inch or two of stalk to stick out of the soil when you plant them. You can plant them close together since they grow straight up. Within a couple days you will be able to see the growth, and soon after a new shoot will appear. I use the shoots rather than pulling up the whole thing to use the bulbs. I cut the largest shoots off the ones with the most shoots and they just keep growing back. I believe that like onions they help keep bugs away too. For a dollar or so invested you can have fresh scallions for over a year.

  • Hey, thanks for posting that. There’s a lot of good information in here I’m planning on putting quickly to use. A couple follow up questions: how did you come to find out about catnip? I saw somewhere recently that humans may like it too but I never considered eating kitty food before.  Doesn’t it make them high?  You know that leads me, of course, to the question … how’s the taste on a scale of 1 to 11?  How did you decide to start growing catnip?  Is it a cat magnet? (I have a neighbor cat that likes to saunter through my herbs when my dog is either away on a date (she has a lively social life) or when she’s in the basement being lazy.  I’ve been wondering how to keep the feline away – maybe distract her with some kitty cannabis?).

    Second question: what a great idea for the scallions! Where do you do your grocery shopping? Is there a market (super or green) you’d recommend for this kind of thing?

    Last question/comment: hope you don’t mind I find this useful enough I want to share with more folks — I’m making it my daily comment and inviting some feedback on the above and the following ….

    QUESTION: what other ways do we know of to extend the usefulness of groceries purchased in a supermarket, green market, CSA, or other? In other words, does anyone have more suggestions to add to Ralph’s excellent suggestions for getting the most of your scallions? What are some other ways to keep the grocery list, bill and god-awful end of the day visits short?  Hey, maybe we could use the bill for compost!!  Think that’s soy-based dye they’re using?  Go ahead … gimme the dirt!