Thursday, July 30, 2009

As of this writing, launch of the space shuttle Endeavour has been again delayed; here in the garden, though, the Rocket has been soaring for days. That’s Ligularia ‘The Rocket,’ a perennial with a whorl of dark green leaves at ground level from which shoot skyward 5-foot-high vertical spikes lined with small, yellow flowers. The flowers open from the base up so each spike is streamlined by being more slender and less colorful as you look up the spike. Sort of like a rocket.

In contrast to the Endeavour, Ligularia ‘The Rocket” doesn’t need bright, sunny days to launch. In fact, leaves typically wilt in full sunlight. Then again, growing in shade, the spikes would curve towards light, ruining their rocket-like appearance. So filtered sunlight is generally recommended for this plant.

My Rockets are in full sunlight, just outside the low fence to the rear of the vegetable garden, where they provide the same sort of backdrop for the garden that a row of flags on poles do for a architecture. Fortunately, the vegetable bed right inside that fence receives daily quenching with drip irrigation, so the Rockets can steal a bit of water from across the fence and thrive.

Today is dry, sunny, and breezy, but the Rockets are soaring high.


Manure or not, it’s compost time. I like to make enough compost through summer so that it can get cooking before autumn’s cold weather sets in. Come spring, I give the pile one turn and by the end of summer the black gold is ready to slather onto vegetable beds or beneath choice trees and shrubs.

I haven’t gotten around to tapping into my sources for manure so I just went ahead this morning and started building a new pile without manure. It’s true: You do not need manure to make compost. Any pile of organic materials will decompose into compost given enough time.

My piles are a little more deliberate than mere heaps of organic materials. For one thing, everything goes into square bins each about 4’ on a side and built up, along with the materials within, Lincoln-log style from notched 1 x 12 hemlock boards.

The main compost ingredient is hay that I scythe from an adjoining field. As this material is layered and watered into the bin it also gets sprinkled regularly with some soil and limestone. Any and all garden and kitchen refuse get tossed in whenever available.

The growing pile also gets regular sprinklings of soybean meal. That soybean meal is the ersatz manure, supplying nitrogen to speed decomposition of everything else just as manure would otherwise do. Nitrogen is one thing that helps get the pile cooking fast, which I’ll know when I slide my long-probed compost thermometer into the piles innards and the dial shoots up to about 150 degrees F. All that heat isn’t absolutely necessary but does kill off most pests quicker than slow cooking compost piles. Plus, it’s fun nurturing my compost pets, the microorganisms that enjoy life within a compost pile .


As of this writing, temperatures have not risen over 80 degrees for weeks and weeks. If only I’d known, I could have again tried growing the elusive Himalayan blue poppy, a flower with the clearest blue color imaginable. Or so I’ve been told.

N. K. described the flower to me over 20 years ago, saying that it was in England that he was bowled over by his first sighting of Himalayan poppies, staring at him in both reflected and actual azure beauty from the far side of a pond. Ever since, I’ve wanted to grow or even just see this flower in person.

Twice I planted this perennial. The dust-like seeds need a period of cool, moist conditions before they can sprout, then need light and consistently moist soil. Damping off disease is a threat. Long story short: Both tries I got plants to grow to a reasonable size, potted them up and then had some nice plants going into summer. But when summer heat and humidity arrived, my plants collapsed, dead.

Himalayan blue poppy need cool, moist growing conditions. It might even become weedy in, say, Alaska or Scotland. But summers here kill it, usually.

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