CUCUMBERS PICKED FRESH from the garden are a wonderful treat. With proper care, you can grow a bumper crop. Photo by Bonnie Kirn Donahue
Is there anything better than a fresh, home-grown cucumber? Warmed by the sun, the crisp and juicy just-picked cucumber just doesn’t compare to store-bought ones. Although cucumbers are relatively easy to grow, getting a nice crop can take some strategizing at the beginning of the growing season.  Cucumbers can be grown easily from seed or from starts, which can be purchased at your local greenhouse or garden center. They need full sun and nutrient-rich, well-drained soil and are sensitive to dry conditions, especially while the fruit is growing. Dry conditions can make cucumbers taste bitter...

WHEN LAYING OUT a garden, consider sun orientation, spacing and size of plants at maturity, and don't be afraid to experiment such as mixing annuals in with vegetable crops. Photo/Bonnie Kirn Donahue
Planning your vegetable garden doesn’t have to be daunting. By starting with your own observations and being open to experimentation, you can develop a garden plan that takes into consideration what you have learned in previous years. First look back at what happened in your vegetable garden last year. Did your peppers never fully ripen? Was your zucchini overcrowded? Did you feel overwhelmed by all of the tomatoes you had to can or freeze because you couldn’t let yourself abandon any of the seedlings you started? Taking notes about what went well and what you wished had gone better will give...

CUT BACK HERBACEOUS perennials about 2-3 inches above ground level using a pair of sharp hand clippers. Photo by Bonnie Kirn Donahue
Did you run out of time to cut back your perennial garden in the fall? You are not alone. In the past, I have also neglected to cut my perennials back, but this year I left them in place on purpose. Leaving strong-structured perennials up over the winter can provide many benefits. The plant structure can add a wonderful sculptural element to the winter landscape, and the seed heads can provide food for winter birds. This year, I experimented with purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), ‘Goldsturm’ black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’), globe thistle (Echinops ritro) and even common...

IN THE WILD: a serviceberry in full bloom at the edge of the woods. Photo by Dick Conrad
And right now, spring — that most fleeting of seasons — is working its magic in Vermont.  All around in gardens everywhere, we see the thousands of cheery yellow daffodils spreading their message of hope.  I would also like to tell you about two delightful small trees, adorned in their pink and white spring attire, like “Pink Ribbons and White Lace” that also proclaim spring’s arrival.  PINK RIBBONS It is now about seven years since I first saw the most beautiful diminutive tree that was completely smothered in pink ribbons. I was heading over the new (at the time) Cross Street bridge in...

A MONARCH BUTTERFLY feeds on the nectar of a purple coneflower. Photo / Bonnie Kirn Donahue
Spending time planning your vegetable garden and thinking about what food you will produce is an excellent way to find some stability in these unsettling times. While growing our own food is an asset, as well as a source of comfort and enjoyment, I’d like to propose that we also consider providing food and habitat to other creatures that rely on our gardens — the birds, bees, butterflies and the seemingly endless variety of insects that visit us each year. Why think about these small living things in our gardens? There are many scientific reasons to reassess these relationships and consider...

THE VERMONT VICTORY Garden project embraces the “Grow Your Own” concept of the World War II victory garden movement. Photo courtesy of UVM Extension
In response to food insecurity issues arising from the COIVD-19 pandemic, the University of Vermont (UVM) Extension Master Gardener program is initiating the Vermont Victory Garden project, designed to help people impacted by food insecurity to meet those needs, as well as learn critical skills in a healthy environment, by growing some of their own food. In a society driven by high-speed technology and worship of the “new,” few phrases have the enduring positive impact in the American lexicon as one that seemingly stands in a different era: victory gardens. For most of us the association with...

In addition to the garden, the chickens and the children, Faith Gong has some ducks.
This will likely be a short column, because we are in the midst of putting in our garden. I have a complex relationship with my garden — as, I suspect, do many. Starting around March, a feeling that has lain dormant throughout the winter begins to stir in me: panic. Suddenly, I feel the urge to start drawing up a planting schedule and ordering seeds. This feeling intensifies as the days lengthen. By the time we start planting, usually in late April, my panic has been replaced with a lingering guilt. I feel guilty if I’m not out working in the garden when the weather is fine. When the forecast...

SONG SPARROWS AND other birds enjoy the lovely seedheads of the Gloriosa Daisies that Judith leaves in her garden over winter before cleaning them up in the spring. Photo by Dick Conrad
For me the mention of “spring cleaning” awakens early memories of my childhood in England where it was considered an essential ritual to both clean one’s house and also to tidy up one’s life.  Every April my mother would diligently take down every curtain and wash each window. Next she would launder all the curtains and hang them outside to dry. She would then carefully iron and rehang each one.  And, although I do not remember for sure, I imagine she also washed the woodwork and scrubbed the floors, too. Indeed the practice of marking the arrival of spring by diligently cleaning both our...
This year, the state of the world demands that I grow an impressive vegetable garden. It would be a first. But producing vast quantities of home-grown food has taken on new importance for me. It’s one small way I can exercise control over my environment. Right now, I may not be able to visit restaurants or gather with large groups of people (for cockfights, I assume, or for whatever reason people gather in large groups), but I can at least strive for self-sufficiency. I have to admit, as a response to the threat of potential food shortages created by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s pretty weak. A...

CHIONODOXA IS ONE of the earliest flowers of spring — as their clear blue flowers push up through last year’s decaying leaves. Photo by Dick Conrad
Spring comes slowly in Vermont and it always seems a tad fickle. Just this morning, as I write this during the last week of March, I once again donned my snowshoes and took a solitary walk in the woods accompanied by Ingrid, my ever-faithful canine companion.  And even in April, after a string of warm days has lulled us into complacency, we may still wake up one morning to find a frost-covered garden.  But, ever so gradually, the natural world awakens and all around us we see and hear those unmistakable signs of spring. And, before long, the first flowers to greet the new season — snowdrops,...


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Addison County Independent

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Middlebury, VT 05753

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