Saturday, September 26, 2009

Robins Feasting on Dogwood Berries

Large numbers of robins, red-breasted grosbeaks and catbirds are gorging themselves on the berries of 5 dogwood trees I have here.

It's that time of year when everyone's bulking up. And it's around this time that I begin to worry about the hummingbirds that still linger here into late September. Go, go, head for sunny Mexico, I tell them silently. But one more sip of sugar water before you leave.

There's a real chill in the air these days, even when the sun is highest in the sky. There's barely enough warmth to dry my clothes outside. Soon enough, it'll be back to the electric dryer and higher electric bills.

I stopped by the Lutheran church fair today and picked up a jade houseplant for a buck. I also saw a nice concrete garden pot for just $8, which I should have snatched up, but because I was laid off from my job last week, I told myself, "No frivolous spending." Darn, I should have gotten it anyway, it was quite the bargain.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

It's Party Time for Autumn Joy Sedum

One of my favorite perennials, the hardy and drought-tolerant 'Autumn Joy' sedum, is a reliable presence in my garden beds.

Its fleshy, succulent-like leaves don't appeal to Connecticut deer, although the resident woodchuck has been known to dine on them.

The leaves of this sedum remind me of the foliage of a well-known houseplant, the jade plant. Those fleshy leaves are why the plant requires so little water; it will do well in a sunny spot and is easily divided.

This stonecrop forms a nice clump-forming mound of bluish-green leaves and pinkish/bronzy flowers that darken to maroon over time. Its 3-inch wide blooms arrive in August and persist through the month of September in my Zone 6; the plant is also hardy in Zones 3-9.

Sedums are said to attract butterflies, but in truth I have seen more butterflies on my butterfly bushes than the sedums. There are, however, plenty of bees and other important pollinators that swarm the sedum blossoms well before they're fully open.

It's one of the most trouble-free perennials I know, and it's seldom bothered by insect pests. What vivid colors it brings to the autumn garden at a time when many perennials are looking spent.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Is Growing Vegetables Worth It From a Cost Perspective?

Last spring, I decided to track how much produce my garden generated and to try to assign a dollar value to the vegetables based on prices at my local supermarket. Whenever possible, I tried to find organic equivalents at the supermarket, although that wasn't always possible.

This year I grew (or attempted to grow) garlic, cucumber, red potatoes, cherry tomatoes, tomatoes, yellow and green string beans, basil, lettuce, radishes, green pepper, acorn squash and zucchini.

My successes included garlic (17 small heads harvested) cucumbers (50 cukes from 3 plants, compared to 33 harvested from just 2 vines last summer), red potatoes (11 lbs., and so much fun to dig up), string beans and yellow wax beans (6 lbs.), basil (6 cups of leaves picked for homemade pesto sauce) and lettuce, which made a strong comeback late in the spring after a cold and rainy start.

I got mediocre results from my tomato plants before they succumbed to blight but did manage to get 25 tomatoes from 3 plants. (Compare that last year, when I harvested 108 tomatoes from 6 plants.) I also got 47 grape tomatoes.

This year's disappointments included spinach (dismal), snap peas (dismal), zucchini (2 picked at the tail end of the season), acorn squash (4 small ones picked) and green peppers (4 picked, compared to 7 picked last year). I believe the unproductive squashes simply weren't pollinated; I should have been more on the ball and ready to pollinate the squash blossoms myself, but I was too busy.

The total estimated value of produce I grew this year came to about $147. However, my expenses came to $371; most of that was the $288 I spent on6-foot-high wire deer fencing, which came in rolls of 50 feet; of course, my 11 x 17 foot garden required 56 feet of fencing, so I had to spring for 2 rolls. I expect my cost analysis will be much more favorable next year as I won't be factoring in the cost of that fence.

Interestingly, the most valuable food item I grew was something I had no hand in at all: the wild raspberries and blackberries that appear in profusion here each year. Based on Shop Rite's pricey $3.99 for a 4 oz. container of organic raspberries, I estimate the value of the 2 3/4 cups of berries I picked was $44. I could have easily picked 20 times that amount of berries, but after having Lyme Disease for two consecutive years, I reluctantly chose to pick only those berries within easy reach of my mowed yard. Most ended up on top of my morning breakfast cereal.

It's nice to think I'm saving money as I grow my vegetables, but for me, vegetable gardening is simply an enjoyable, relaxing activity that offers great satisfaction and wholesome food. Most people understand how much more flavorful a homegrown tomato is than store-bought, and the same goes for homegrown peppers (ever so crunchy), creamy soft squashes and crispy cucumbers. It's nice to think that I'm reducing my lifetime load of pesticide sprays and residue. And there's nothing that gives me a greater kick than strolling down to my garden to pick something that will land on the dinner plate that night.

Sunday, September 20, 2009