On gardening friends

P10003162 of 8 garden zones, plus greenhouse, at my friend’s house

Having gardening friends is wonderful.  It is quite true, I do love all of you virtual friends, but having a flesh-and-blood person walk around your gardens with you “is so very much more better,” as my daughter might say.  I am quite envious of those of you who garden with partners, or have relatives or good friends with whom to weed and share tall gardening tales.  Gardening should be shared!

I have gardening buddy who has the idea that, between the two of us, we can figure out every single crop that can grow in southwest Michigan.  He’s got a few years up on me trying to figure this out.  He’s a weekender, coming in from Chicago; they bought their property in the dunes in the late 1980s and have been battling the deer, woodchucks, raccoons, and sandy soil ever since.  His gardens, frankly, are Fort Knox compared to my wide-open plain:  because he’s in the woods, he has 7’ high electrified chain link fencing running around each set of gardens.  I would guess he has twice my square footage under direct cultivation, all in raised beds.

He also has a greenhouse.  His is a “true” greenhouse, not a hoophouse but a proper building with supplemental heat.  Indoors he grows 16’ tall fig trees, as well as bushes of capers, bay, various citrus, curry, allspice, epazote, guavas. Outdoors, it’s much the same as I grow, plus a whole lot more fruit trees.

But before this year, he didn’t seed-save, and he didn’t use his greenhouse to grow salad stuff and vegetables in the winter!!  I will say I have shamed him into doing both these things now.  And soon, he’ll be putting in a hoophouse of his very own.

Because our gardening interests are different, they complement each other:  I am learning so much from him in terms of fruiting things, he from me in terms of…I don’t know, me being a stick in his side about using less energy and seed-saving.  But it is so fun to walk around and say, “has your zucchini ever done this?  What do you think it could be?” and getting a good answer.

I encourage you all to find someone with whom to garden, or at least from whom to learn.

P1000319Friends are also good for buckets full of poison:  rhubarb leaf tea, a general insecticide (oxalic acid kills sucking insects)

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14 responses to “On gardening friends

  1. Rhubarb leaf tea…what kind of sucking insects exactly? Do you mean insects that suck plants or do you mean insects that suck humans? “cause if it’s the latter I’m gonna go whack myself some rhubarb leaves.

  2. Sorry, Tameson: only plants! It’s good for aphids and, I am hoping, squash bug nymphs.

  3. I did not know you could grow all those fruity trees (capers, bay, various citrus, curry, allspice, epazote, guavas.) and stuff in a greenhouse in MI. I thought the soil would still get to cold.

    Cool 🙂

  4. Guava? in Michichigan? might, do I feel incompetent with just citrus in Virginia… then agian, his geen house looks BIGGER than mine. but you know, in my experience with “true” greenhouse, it’s hard to have happy lettuce & greens and happy tropical fruiting space in the same place… Hence us, building unheated hoop houses this year…

    I am with you on gardening buddies… sigh…

  5. I really NEED to walk my butt down my street and become better friends with the wonderful old man that has gardened with his wife in the same spot for 50 years. He knows EVERYTHING and is willing to share. We spend an hour a few weeks ago talking. I need to make it a regular thing. He’s an encyclopedia of local gardening knowledge!

  6. What do you do with the rhubarb leaf tea? Do you spray it on plants?

  7. Thanks for the tip about the rhubarb leaf tea! Do you have any measurements – how many leaves to how much water?

    • mail I would like to know the masurements for rhubar tea for a pestecide-having problem w/ white fly & hear it works THANK YOU

  8. Yes, it’s wonderful, isn’t it? I’m so lucky about my sister being close by. But lately, it’s been all garden envy all the time — her soil is more fertile than my sand.

  9. #1: I’m so jealous of your friend’s greenhouse!

    #2 I don’t have any non-virtual gardening buddies!!! I have friends who don’t garden (except one who insisted his Miracle Gro’d tomatoes would outshine my organics….Mine totally kicked his butt and he went out and bought organic compost!!!!!)…..I’m hoping to enter the local Master Gardener program in (get this) 2011 and so this will hopefully change…..

    #3 THANK YOU! For the oxalic acid tip! I’ve got these horrible red-bordered bugs (that’s their name)…they resemble assassin beetles but they all have a red border stripe. They suck the tomatoes and the strawberries and I hate them.

    Wow, I just love your blog!

  10. 16″ fig trees!?!?!? WOW!!!

    (Is he married??)

  11. Amara, excepting the figs, the other things in the greenhouse are kind of limping along: this isn’t the tropics! But yes he’ll get a guava or two. And capers in flower are the most beautiful things: kind of like passionflowers with all those stamens! He has two space heaters in there so he keeps the greenhouse above freezing, at about 40* overnight (it’s on a timer so goes off during the day). The ground never gets a chance to freeze.

    Sylvie, please look into these wacky citrus growers in So. Carolina: they do a couple hardy citrus (some with thorns, sorry) that might do fine if you have a relatively protected area. But you’re right with the lettuces. Luckily, he has the heaters in the area where the fig forest is and the other side he lets get a bit cooler, so the lettuces and carrots and stuff do quite well in there.

    Jules, yes! I think that would really help you as an already experienced gardener. If it were me and I was just starting out in gardening, I might be intimidated by someone with 50 years of experience! Do you know what I mean, like, you would be afraid to do anything, to make mistakes? Though I suppose that’s just what happens when you begin anything new: fear of mistakes yet a propensity to make them, early and often. You just can’t get discouraged. I think that guy would be a fabulous resource, and as you know it’s so fun to show off your growing things…

    Taibsearachd, yes: it gets sprayed on the leaves of affected plants, and hopefully bad things happen to the sucking insects.

    Hi Kristin: well, that’s a 5 gallon bucket and there are about 10 leaves in there. You let it steep for a couple of days. I am using it today so I will let you know how it goes!

    Stef, I am in the same situation: his SANDY soil has made it a fabulous year for onions for him! He felt so bad for me that he gave me a gigantic, softball-sized one. And his purslane is gigantic too so I think I am going to try Sylvie’s pickling recipe with it. Anyway, he’s always going to the stables and getting poop with bedding: he has a trailer that he drags behind his minivan and every fall he goes for something like 5 trips. Makes my work look puny by comparison.

    Petunia, except for him, I am solo too, and he’s a new friend! I think the Master Gardener study would be quite fun, mainly because you’ll be forced to learn about all the things you don’t have an interest in doing (for me, that would be shrubs and annual flowers). And it might be quite fun for you, especially if you find some folks who don’t have gigantic gardening chips on their shoulders. But yes, try the rhubarb leaf tea on those bugs! I am usually not willing to go that extra mile, thinking that good soil and moisture should do the trick to have healthy plants, but those squash bugs really bug me!

    Laurene, they are SO tall they grow out of the vents at the top of the greenhouse. Every fall he cuts them down about 4′. But yes, he’s married!

  12. Ooh, may have to try that rhubarb stew!

    I don’t have enough local gardening friends either, Petunia, I’m finishing the MG program this summer too, partly for the same reasons! Though I find I’m one of the more veggie nerds among them…

    My best local-ish gardening friend has a totally different style from us–lasagna beds, a LOT more space, but in a slightly cooler spot in the state so I’m always a teeny bit ahead of her (he he).

    And most of the old-time gardeners in my neighborhood are either really old school (lots of roundup, not so much compost) or don’t do it anymore, those at least like to live vicariously through my garden 🙂

  13. He’s such a sweet old man that I don’t get intimidated at all. He’s got about 7 acres down there, 1-2 in yard, probably 2 in daylilies, and the rest garden. He grows everything, in multiples, since he staggers his plantings. It’s very interesting to go down there and walk around with him. He gave me figs to eat and garlic to plant last time. And willing to talk and share…He’s just the best.

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