Friday, October 22, 2010

I don’t know if was a case of green thumbness or the weather, but my bed of endive is now almost as frightening as a zucchini planting in summer. That bed, 3 feet wide by 20 feet long, is solid green with endive plants, each and every plant looking as if it’s been pumped up on steroids.

I sowed seeds in 4 by 6 inch seed trays around August 1st, “pricked” out the seedlings into individual growing cells filled with homemade potting soil about a week later, and thence transplanted into the garden in the beginning of September. That bed had been home to one of this summer’s planting of sweet corn (Golden Bantam), a heavy feeder, so after clearing the corn I slathered the bed with an inch depth of pure compost.

Perhaps the vigor of these plants also reflects the extra space I gave them. In years past I would cram 3 rows into a 3-foot-wide bed. Because we never can eat all the endive I plant, this year I planted only 2 rows down that bed. Hating to see any wasted space in the garden, I set a row of lettuce transplants, now eaten, up the middle of the bed. The endive plants have opportunistically expanded to fill whatever space they can.

Fortunately, there’s no rush to eat all that greenery. The bigger they get, the more the endives’ leaves fold in on themselves to create blanched, succulent leaves of a loose head. Upcoming cooler weather also brings out the best flavor in these plants. After being covered with clear plastic, which I’ll support with a series of metal hoops, the endive should remain flavorful for weeks to come. That’s assuming the muscular plants can be fit beneath the hoops and plastic.

I do have a Plan B: Just as zucchini bread was invented as a way to deal with zucchini excess, white bean and escarole soup might be just the ticket for my escarole “problem.”


Another bed, planted from seed sown on August 15th, is also full of greenery. Not nearly as dense, though, which is okay because that bed is planted for its roots. Up that bed run 2 rows of turnips and one row of winter radishes.

I hardly ever see the turnip and radish bed because it’s hidden beneath a “floating row cover” (from Johnny’s Selected Seeds) to block the root maggots that typically tunnel into many -- too many -- of my turnip and radish roots. Beneficial nematodes, purchased in spring, provided no protection against these pests in my spring plantings.

Floating row covers, which let water, light, and air pass through, are so lightweight that they can be just laid on top of the ground to be pushed up by growing plants. I made it even easier on my plants by propping the covers up with the same kinds of metal hoops that will hold the clear plastic over the endive bed. With its present white cover, the bed looks like a sleeping, giant, white caterpillar.

Peaking beneath the cover, I see that the turnip and radish greenery looks very healthy, absent even from flea beetle holes that usually pock some of the leaves. But poking my finger into the ground beneath the leaves, I have yet to feel any large roots. Shouldn’t they be there by now? The weather has begun to cool and sunlight is at a premium. I’ll check back in a couple of weeks.


Every morning I look down from my second story bedroom window at the garden. Closest in view is the bed of endive; looking further back, across where that giant, white caterpillar sleeps, my eyes come to the back of the garden, where a row of tall, thin evergreens stand sentry to block the view of the compost piles. Those evergreens, spires of the Emerald variety of arborvitae, are mundane. I like them.

These trees are at their upper limit of 15 feet high and 5 feet wide, and create a perfect screen without needing too much elbow room. They’re also perfect for injecting a bit of civility to an otherwise disheveled scene. Some arborvitaes turn a muddy green in winter but Emerald keeps its vibrant green color.

A recent visit to a nursery inspired me to expand my spires. I had a plant credit as partial payment for a presentation I did at Broken Arrow Nursery (in Hamden, CT), and among their very interesting plants was a juniper variety called Gold Cone. This plant matures at 10 feet tall with a spread of a mere 3 feet. Livening things up is the gold coloration at the tips of it branches.

The 5 Gold Cone plants already have a home slated for them. No, where can I plant the 4 Graham Blandy boxwoods, another spire-y plant, this one rising slowly grow to 9 feet tall without spreading more than a couple of feet wide.


  1. hi Lee. i subscribe to many gardening blogs and i have to say, when you post something, i jump on it — i'm a big fan. but sheepishly, i have two requests: one, unlike almost all blogs, your text is so small i find it hard to read. second, i hang on every word you write and every visual you offer — but the photos are often so small that i can't make out the details. any chance you might either post larger images (500 pixels is will give you a large photo (about the same column width as your text), without slowing-up your load times.

    i'm a greedy little thing; i know. but you're one of the finest and most knowledgeable garden writers out there and i bet your enormous fan base would welcome these minor tweaks...

    cheers and many thanks for all the knowledge you've passed on...

  2. How can I refuse? I'll give it a try and see how it looks and hope other readers like it better also. Thanks for the praise.

  3. I agree with every word of MJ, specially those regarding larger pictures. Usually, they are very interesting and it is frustrating when you click on them and... nothing! :-(
    Thanks for your excellent blog and books.