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Gardening

Planning for spring starts now
       Money is one of the best fertilizers you can give a garden. You can get some for your garden from Calvert Garden Club. The condition? You’ve got to be a county non-profit seeking to help protect our natural resources and encourage conservation.       That’s the theme of this year’s grant cycle, when garden plans compete for awards up to $1,500. 
September may be your last chance
      Drying herbs creates savory seasonings, teas, aromatic potpourri and delightful herbal wreaths. We’re entering the late-harvest season, when both the intense heat that September can bring and the acute crispness of the night air tell us that the first frost is not too far away.       Follow these basic guidelines to capture the most flavor and fragrance.

You can have salad days in fall as well as spring

     With August comes your second chance to grow fresh lettuce for your salads. Growing a variety of lettuces makes a wonderful blend of slightly different tastes and textures.      Lettuce seeds don’t germinate well above 85 degrees. Start new seeds indoors in midsummer or in the shade, where it’s cooler, to transplant outdoors. If you haven’t started seeds, you can buy starts at many garden centers.

And right now, lots of ­tomatoes to love

     No matter how you say tomato, they are wonderful this year, extremely productive and flavorful. I went a little crazy when I started 30 different types this spring. Now there are so many varieties to choose from that it is mind-boggling.

You can eat the fruit and the flower

     My neighbors run away when they see me coming with armloads of zucchini. Yes, zucchini grows fast. But it is also a wonderful vegetable. Not only are the zucchini edible, so are the flowers.      In the Blue Zone of Ikaria, Greece, zucchini is used in a variety of ways. As much as I like to cook, in the summer I like to make easy uncomplicated dishes. I believe the hot weather in Ikaria also encourages people to do the same. 
Plants bring you shade, color, fragrance, flowers and fruit
     This summer has brought some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded. Having a pool or some body of water, even a kiddie pool, can help you get through the summer and not melt when you come outside. Getting wet enables you to tolerate the excessive temperatures our summers are bringing.      The plants you place around your pool area can make it look like a tropical getaway.
There are many good bugs ready to help you and your garden thrive
     Before you spray your garden for those pests that seem to sample everything you like to grow, learn who the good guys are, as they will be your allies in the long run. The less insecticides you use, the more a natural balance of predators will occur. There are many good bugs out there ready to help. It may take some time, as they need to be encouraged. 

Abundant vegetables approve of our gardening strategy

 

    In starting this column last January, I challenged you to grow a garden and to eat a primarily plant-based diet. The goal was to make our beautiful Bay area a Blue Zone of long-lived happy people.  To start my own home vegetable garden, roughly one-seventh of an acre, I had trees brought down and stumps dug out. We tilled the ground and raked out thousands of roots. I had a soil test done and corrected the pH to about 6.5.

The many buckeye trees are ­pleasing to the eye, too

The most magnificent horse chestnut is Aesculus parviflora: the bottlebrush buckeye. This native shrub attracts pollinators extraordinarily. I planted it several years ago along a sunny fence; it now takes up an area about 20 feet long by 10 feet wide.     It blooms June to July with beautiful candelabra-like white flower spikes that are abuzz with all kinds of native bees and beneficial flies. The peachy-pink pollen exudes a delicate fragrance into the air.

Choose organic, as many flowers are sprayed with toxins

 

      Flowers have been used in cooking since antiquity. The flower is simply another edible part of a plant. They have been enjoyed not only by the royal and the wealthy but also by our frugal agricultural ancestors. Before the 16th century, most parts of a plant — shoots, leaves, roots and bark as well as flowers — had uses. They were used to make food, drink, medicine, fragrant concoctions and flavored vinegars.