Gardener’s Corner

September 2018

Bring back the Monarchs by Sue Talbot

While walking on Goosewing/South Shore Beach last September, I saw a ribbon of monarch butterflies flying along the shore. For years, I have been cultivating milkweed in my garden to welcome monarchs. Each year I have seen a few more monarchs, but never the numbers that I saw on the beach that day. I knew that volunteers, along the Dartmouth, Westport and Little Compton shorelines, have been tagging monarchs since the early 1990s. I wanted to know the outcomes of these studies.
To learn more about the monarch migration, I contacted John Berg at The Nature Conservancy. He directed me to Mark Mello at the Lloyd Center in Dartmouth. I asked Mark two questions:
1. When is the best time to view the monarch migration?
2. What is the winter destination of “our monarchs”?

Mark replied that peak times for viewing monarchs depend on the weather. It may be as early as mid-September or as late as mid-October. The best time is a day or two after the passage of a cold front when the wind comes from the north or northwest.

“Our monarchs” are heading to Mexico, but they do not all make it there. Mark tags monarchs with school children at Barney’s Joy, the Lloyd Center, and Gooseberry Neck. He has received notices from the Monarch Tagging Program that some of these monarchs died before leaving Rhode Island (poor things) but others were recovered in Florida, Texas, and Mexico.

I also contacted Cheryl Wiitala at The Nature Conservancy, RI. She directed me to the website www.monarchwatch.org. It has a great deal of information about monarch tagging, population status, waystations, and habitat restoration.
If you are interested in learning more about the monarch migration rent the documentary film, The Flight of the Butterflies. The film follows the butterflyhighway from Mexico to Canada and back again.

 

August 2018

Demonstration Meadow Project by Donna Pilkington


In June 2017, the Sogkonate Garden Club sponsored a free day long program by noted sustainable plant experts Doug Tallamy and Rick Darke. Funds for the program came from 22 private donors and 7 community environmental groups. With leftover funds, the club decided to put lessons learned into practice and created a ‘demonstration meadow’ project at the newly built Recreation Complex in Little Compton. The goal was to show the community that sustainable plantings are both beautiful and biodiverse.

On October 17, 2017, the 20×30 foot plot was rototilled and covered with black plastic to solarize and smother vegetation over the winter.

It was uncovered and planted on June 5, 2018 with a combination of small plugs and plants of native plants and grasses and later mulched with composted leaf litter. The plants thrived over the dry summer, needing very little weeding and watering.

In the future, the club plans to monitor the plantings, erect a descriptive sign, and install plant markers for the public to learn about the project. The plot has generated many favorable comments from those who use the Recreation field.

This project has been a true community effort.

 

 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

Summer Days by Sidney Tynan

Somehow June and July slipped through my fingers but we still have half a summer left. (Labor Day is NOT the beginning of Fall.) Have you noticed how quiet it is in the mornings now? Our summer birds are still with us but except for the Goldfinches who are waiting for thistles to bloom so that they can make nests of thistledown; the others no longer need to defend their nests as their babies have fledged. (I knew fledgling as a noun but the use of “fledge “ as a verb is new to me. You too can use it and pretend you are an experienced bird watcher.)

I t surprises me that the front field and the “Back40” separated by only a stone wall can be so different. The front field is full of wiry stemmed sunflowers and Goldenrod waiting to bloom and the “Back 40” is a dream of soft pink with Joe Pye Weed and something new, feathery and tall. The paths through the field are edged with Queen Anne’s Lace, which like the blue flowered Chicory, only wants to grow as an edging.

Soon Clethra, the very last of the sweet scented vines and shrubs,will  bloom in shady, damp areas.  As a child their scent made me sad as I knew it foretold of our move soon to the noisy, busy city and the confinement of school. Of course now I can just enjoy and I hope you can too.

 

July 2018

Information on Ticks and Mosquitoes by The Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment of UMass Amherst

The July newsletter of the Center of “Garden Clippings” (vol. 375) provides excellent information about ticks and mosquitoes.

  • Ticks
    Be vigilant and conduct daily tick checks and take precautions against deer ticks when outdoors this summer, especially in wooded or grassy areas and areas with leaf litter, even in the yard. Deer ticks are at the tiny nymph stage, which is about the size of a poppy seed. After feeding, the tick nymph may be the size of a sesame seed (Photo 2 – Deer tick nymph after feeding). Deer ticks are capable of transmitting several disases, including Lyme disease. Conduct tick checks frequently, especially on children and pets.
    If you do find a tick, you can send it to the UMass Laboratory of Medical Zoology (LMZ) and have it identified and tested – info at wwww.tickreport.com (link is external); click on the red “Test a Tick” button for more information. The cost for this testing is currently being subsidized by a grant from the state’s public health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which will allow the LMZ to provide tick testing for just $15 for Massachusetts residents for a limited time until the subsidy runs out.
  • Mosquitoes
    Mosquitoes are numerous and bothersome in many areas this year, so consider applying a repellent when working or playing outdoors. Remember to empty containers of standing water, prime breeding habitat for mosquitoes, or treat the water in bird baths, rain barrels, plant saucers, etc. with Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti), which will kill the mosquito larvae. Bti is a naturally-occurring soil bacterium registered for control of mosquito larvae.

 
 June 2018

Garden Surprises by Claire Johnson; photos by Stephen Johnson

Don’t you love happy surprises in the garden? Despite the dreary cold rainy days we had earlier on in April and May, some surprises have sprung up in my gardens. I don’t know if it was the abundant rains, the lack of Woody the Woodchuck and his huge family this year, the Deer visiting my neighbor’s buffet instead, or the decrease in the winter moths.

My neighbor Anthony got tired of Woody the woodchuck et al. eating all his veggies, and used his Have a Heart trap 5 times, to relocate the clan to greener pastures away from people. We also had numerous fox families raising their broods in Oak Forest this Spring as well. They still are about, and we see the orange red kits romping about in the yard near the woods. Maybe that is the reason why some of my plants are thriving. But, a few lovely new blooms have happened that I have included here.

My peonies are breathtaking and heavy with blooms this year. So many I am giving some away, and have bouquets all around the house. It may have been the abundant rains, but what sweet fragrance and lovely colors.
 

 

My Dutch Iris has opened with the loveliness of a watercolor; Woody and the Deer used to devour these before I could enjoy, and what a joy to see them opening once again!

 

 
 
 
And my early clematis, The President, has commanded a beautiful purple display, against the green of the woods, at the back of the yard.

 

Last summer I mistakenly pulled up a small clump of Bearded Iris when weeding, and stuck it in the raised bed. Everything goes in my two raised beds, which are supposed to be primarily for tomatoes. Whenever I mistakenly pull up something that needs a new home, I quickly plunk it into the raised bed. The soil is full of compost and so easy to access.

Dill has overtaken one of them, along with surprise tomato seedlings and Verbena bonariensis, which loves to reseed itself.

Well, I stuck this small iris in there, and after one year of maturing and getting a nice new home of rich earth, this lovely golden yellow Iris has graced one of my beds. I was so inspired, I have begun digging and replanting my other irises as well, which are in need of new homes and soil.
 
Presently, my phlox in the back gardens near the woods, are growing beautifully again. This is new, as for the past 4 summers, they have served as Woody’s daily buffet. I had started replacing them with Agastache, and a few Caryopteris bushes, two of which sadly didn’t make it after three summers. (New iris bed in the planning!)

But all those assorted phlox seem to be back! They were some of my first plantings, 30 years ago, when we moved into our house, and the colors have morphed and combined into so many new colors schemes. I can’t wait to see all the colors return, come July and August, and pray that the Fox families keep Woody and the Deer away!

May 2018
Alliums by Barbara Passmore

Alliums are one of the most graceful and beautiful flowers in bloom from late spring to early summer and beyond. Pollinators love them, but deer will not eat them. Alliums also deter aphids and plant eating rodents from the garden. They are easy to grow and are drought tolerant.
There is a great deal of diversity in the allium genus. Colors range from purple and pink to pale yellow and green. The tallest and most architectural alliums have 10 inch globes on 3-4 foot stems, although some alliums can be 8 inch tall and just as dramatic.
To see a lovely group of alliums swaying in the spring breeze this May-June, drive by the Burchard Triangle on the corner of Meeting House Lane and West Main Rd in Little Compton. These bulbs were planted in the fall of 2014 by members of the Sogkonate Garden Club. The variety is called ‘Ambassador’ and can be ordered from Van Engelen in Connecticut.
And here is some expert advice on the subject by Barbara Passmore:
When growing alliums in the garden, don’t remove the leaves after they flower, no matter how unsightly they are. Wait until the leaves have completely browned to remove them. The leaves supply energy to the bulbs for the next year’s crop.

April 2018
First Spring Sightings by Sidney Tynan
I hope you remembered to get ready for the weary travelers due to arrive on the 15th. No I don’t mean the tax man, but the first of the Hummingbirds. To make their syrup bring a quart of water to a boil and add a cup of granulated white sugar and stir until it is dissolved. No need to color if your feeders are already red. Some of the other summer birds have already been reported: Gold finches and Bluebirds although a generous person in Tiverton has been reported to entice Bluebirds all winter with meal worms. I priced a small bag of the dried ones at the feed store for $8. My Tree swallow nest boxes put up in March are still vacant. I shall miss them as I love to see their swooping, graceful flight in the early evenings.
While I have been lingering in the house, fearful of the little patches of treacherous frozen snow (I absolutely will not fall) and thinking it was still winter, the outdoors thought differently. Finally, when I was able to take my usual stroll, I found that both the wild and cultivated Pussy Willows were at their peak, the drainage ditch was filled with long stringy bright green hair (perhaps from a drowned woodland nymph) the bush Honeysuckle – Lonicera fragmantissima – living up to its name and enchanting the air, Bleeding Heart sprouting and the little fuzzy caps of the Star Magnolia falling off so that the flowers could emerge. So now the magic time has begun and although we will be pelted with rain and oh horrors, another unexpected snow shower, the worst is over.
Before you firm up your plans for the Memorial Day weekend, be sure to include a visit to the unique Sakonnet Garden (note the singular) open this year on May 26&27 from 9:30 AM to 6PM. Come as early as you can and take a look at their web site if you are not familiar with this amazing place.

Spring Soil Tests by Tara Bradley

As the soil warms in April, consider testing the pH in your garden beds to determine if your soil is as healthy and productive as it can be. A pH or soil test tests the “potential of hydrogen” in your soil and will give you a good indication of the nutrients your soil has (or lacks).

pH is a measure of your soil’s acidity (or sweetness) on a scale of 1 to 14. Soils with a low pH (1-5) are considered acidic. Soils with a high pH (8-14) are considered sweet or alkaline. Neutral soils have a pH between 6 and 7. Most garden plants grow best in a neutral soil.

To test your soil, you’ll need a sample of it. Collecting soil samples is easy to do. You’ll need a trowel or spade, a couple of garden buckets, some newspaper, some plastic bags, and a Sharpie.

Identify the garden bed or soil you want to test. Dig at least ten holes in the bed between 6”-8” deep and collect a cup or so of soil from each hole. Be sure the soil you collect is at the depth where the roots of your plants grow. Mix these soil subsamples together in a garden bucket and collect a cup or so of that mixture. This mixed sample is the soil you’ll test. Dry the sample overnight on newspaper, bag it in a plastic bag, and label it (e.g. rose bed, driveway bed, patio bed, etc.). Your sample is ready to be tested.

There are a couple of options for soil testing in the Rhode Island / southeastern Massachusetts area. Some require payment, others are free.

UMASS Soil and Plant Nutrient Lab, Amherst, MA

UMASS charges $15 per sample for a routine soil test or analysis. It’s a very thorough test and for an area of your landscape you’re particularly worried about or intend to plant expensive things in (e.g. trees, shrubs, roses, etc.), it’s probably worth it. Click on Soil-plant-nutrient-testing-laboratory to download the proper form for the test you want. Mailing and payment instructions are included on the forms. The usual turnaround time for a routine soil test is 5-10 business days.

URI MASTER GARDENERS

For a quick pH test without a lot of detail or analysis, the URI Master Gardeners conduct free soil tests in the spring at two locations nearby.

— Prescott Farm, Middletown, RI (Sundays, 10:00am–12:00pm, beginning in April)

— Mount Hope Farm, Bristol, RI (second Saturday of the month beginning in April)

The results of your soil test will tell you the amendments your soil needs, if any. Spring is a great time to make these amendments. If your pH is low (acidic), you’ll need to add lime to your garden (or wood ash or bonemeal). If your pH is high (unlikely in this area given our native acidic soil), you’ll need to add sulfur or an acidic mulch (e.g. pine bark, pine needles). Adding organic material to a garden (e.g. leaves, mulch, compost) will also lower the pH.

Healthy soil is the key to a healthy, productive, and beautiful garden, and a soil test every 2-3 years is a great way check in on the health of your soil and to make improvements, if necessary. Your plants will thank you!

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March 2018
Starting Seeds

With spring fast approaching, our thoughts turn to seeds, plants, and wishful garden ideas. For the adventuresome, starting your own victory garden vegetables and flowers from seeds can be very rewarding.

 Seed packets of varieties not found in garden centers open up endless possibilities and may be worth a try.

Things to consider are the when, how, and where to start the seeds. The when depends on the last frost date – for Little Compton that is from May 1 – May 10, although this may seem hard to believe with our warmest ever February! &nbspOnce you know the last date, it is a matter of counting backwards for the type of seed you are starting. This website link tells when to time your seed starting. You can adjust the planting dates by varying the last frost date on the calcualtor. To use the calculator, enter the May 1 date and hit the button and that tells you what seeds to plant on what date.

As far as how and where to start seedlings, light, heat, growing materials and watering are factors to consider. If you do not have a greenhouse, grow lights and heat mats can ensure success. Here are some websites that offer practical and novel ways of starting seeds for the home gardener. There are also many more YouTube  videos that are helpful and fun to watch: 

Celebrate the arrival of spring with seeds!

 

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February 2018
Sidney Tynan’s February letter

Well, I knew there had to be a mouse story after my last letter and so there was.  A faithful reader wrote that she has a tiny Have-A-Heart trap and when she catches a mouse she GETS IN HER CAR and drives it far away and releases it in the woods. Can you believe that?

Re dead trees. If you are lucky and has some near the power lines, they will be taken down. Or if one falls on your house, your insurance will cover it. But if not you will have to get a licensed and insured Arborist and plan to pay twenty dollars or more per hour and for quite a long time as the tree has to be taken apart slowly, in pieces, starting at the top.

On a more cheerful note, for the first time I have begun to notice the beautiful patterns different trees make against a gray sky.  Not a cloudy sky, but gray, gray as we seem to get too many of. I certainly can’t identify them but they are worth a look.

Red Winged blackbirds have been sighted, but not heard. And I think it is the Tit mice who have started a different song. Of course Spring is officially a month off but for those of us who live in New England we know better.  I give it the first of May.

Stay well, stay hopeful.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day!
Raspberry Patch in Winter by Carolyn Montgomery

When a sunny warm day appears, it is time to get out to the raspberry patch. I have found that doing this chore when the weather isn’t nice enough to work outdoors very long, is a good use of my time before spring arrives and there is a lot more to do.

I take my pruners, cut down all dead canes and trim live ones back to about two feet. When the new leaves start to sprout they won’t injure the new growth.

For additional tips on caring for raspberries, visit the site Pruning Red Raspberries.

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January 2018

The Creation of a Meadow by Donna Pilkington

In June 2017, the Sogkonate Garden Club offered a free public program, ‘The Living Landscape’, by Doug Tallamy and Rick Darke.  Several local organizations and residents donated funds to sponsor the event and some money remained.

With the leftover funds, the club worked with town officials to create a demonstration meadow of grasses and pollinators to be a part of the walking path at the Recreation Center dedicated in the Summer of 2017.  The purpose of this demonstration area is to show the community one way to plant a small area with native plants and to give ideas for plant selections.

In October 2017, Billy Ryan tilled an 11×27 foot rectangle between the walking path and stone wall – near Dundery Brook Trail and the tennis courts.  A donation of black silt cloth was laid down and weighted with stones to smother and heat the vegetation (soil solarization) underneath.  (Readers may wonder what is going on with the unsightly black plastic along the path).
     
Recently a plant list of 3 grasses and 13 pollinators, native to New England, were selected for their attractiveness to people and sustainability for wildlife. In late spring, the plants will arrive, Billy will till again, the garden club will plant and mulch the new area and hopefully many birds and insects will visit.  Future plans are to have plant markers and an informative sign installed. 

Please pause and notice the demonstration area – count birds, bees and butterflies.   It is something that will evolve over time and change with the seasons.  We welcome your comments.

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December 2017
Letter from honorary member and regular contributor Sidney Tynan:

Of Mice and Women.
Now is the time of year when the pretty field mice come in for warmth and stray crumbs. City ladies, newly removed from their snug apartments, are apt to scream at the sight and in rare cases, faint. Suburban women are prepared with an exterminator who comes four times a year to exterminate whatever the current pest may be. Country women prepare traps and remove the little carcasses without a tremor and sometimes even remember to wash their hands.
One of my Little Compton readers asked me about the unusual number of dead trees we are seeing.

So I called our Tree Warden, Jason Burchard (he is also the proprietor of Sakonnet Tree Inc.) who took the time to report as follows. In the seventeen years he has been working with trees he has never seen anything like what we are seeing now.
Three consecutive years of drought followed by the winter moth, then the Gypsy moth are mostly responsible. But also, and this will please all of those who think our non parasitic lichen is responsible; it is – in a small way. As it slowly covers branches, trees who loose their bark slowly get their growth buds smothered. Loose barked trees shed their bark and the lichens. (I didn’t know trees breathed). Trees that are already dying do get covered. We seem to have more fluffy lichen masses than other towns and I have read it because we have such clean air. So maybe not all of our questions about lichens are answered.                                                                                     

Soon you will notice that the afternoons are getting lighter, accompanied of course by colder temperatures, but it is supposed to be a mild winter. We shall see.
And soon I hope you will have the chance to be with distant friends and family. If you are with your children or grands, remind them that their “thank you” letters need to be written, not tweeted.

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Recommended reading for the Fall of 2017: The Hidden Life of Trees: What they Feel, How they Communicate–Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben. This bestseller was reviewed in the New York Times and is available through Ocean State Libraries or your favorite bookstore.

Looking for other good readings? In December 2011, Dominique Browning published a list of books about gardening in the New York Times book review section called: Reliable sources for Gardeners