Gardening

Summer Projects Worth Doing!

Another Northampton summer is finally upon us. For many people this means, among other things, that new light may be shed upon various projects required to improve your home or property, which weren't apparent during the winter months. 

I love finding encouragement to support a hard won decision. We finally decided to green light our screened in porch construction after two years of hemming and hawing -- and we are super excited that we will have an outdoor space which keeps the bugs out! In addition, look at the words of wisdom I happened upon from the wonderful Apartment Therapy website below - this just happens to suggest that our decision was a good one!

Summer Projects That Will Give You Good Return on Investment

(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

You don't have to do a total renovation to increase the value of your home. Simple home improvement projects — like landscaping, new doors or shutters, or just a new paint job — can do wonders, majorly transforming the look of your house and bumping up its value.

Landscaping

It's well-agreed that boosting your home's curb appeal will pay off when it's time to sell — though estimates range from 100 to 1,000 percent ROI. Regardless of the exact numbers, it's clear: You'll likely get out more than what you put in. Realtor.com has some ideas, ranging from weeding and maintenance to planting trees (which almost always add value).

Painting

A freshly painted home can get you a 5 to 10 percent premium when you go to sell. It's a no-brainer to paint over those rooms that are scuffed or really need it, but if you're looking to sell in the near future, you can also use paint to appeal to buyers and command a higher sale price for your home. For instance, a recent study from Zillow found that blue is a color likely to bump up the selling price of a space.

Decks and Patios

If you were thinking about getting a deck, patio or porch already, good news: It offers a 90.3 percent average return. You also get a good return if you revamp the deck you already have. You want to make sure all the boards, railings and stairs look sharp and are in safe working order. No one wants a deck that looks like a hazard to have their kids around. And adding things like lighting, planters and gates can up the value even more.

New Doors

Both garage door and entry door replacements have a high return on investment, at 80.7 percent and 98 percent, respectively. Spicing these up can increase the curb appeal over traditional, drab doors. It'll give your place something unique that other homes won't have.

by Sarah Landrum

Jun 23, 2017

Don't Cut Back those Spring (Bulb) Flowers!

It's that time of year when the spring bulbs have stopped flowering, and our annuals are coming to life. This week full of rain has gone a long way towards helping our gardens to grow! Mickey Rathbun of the Daily Hampshire Gazette weighs in again, in the following article, about how to care for your spring bulbs to ensure that they continue to bloom. She offers advice about prettying up garden beds where deflowered bulbs are still hanging out, and lets us know about some upcoming gardening and nature events in the Northampton area! The moral of the story is, don't cut those bulb flowers back just yet!

 

Taking Care of Spring Bulbs

 

by Mickey Rathbun, Daily Hampshire Gazette

Most spring bulbs have flowered by now and are looking a bit forlorn, surrounded by burgeoning spring perennials that are growing almost visibly by the day. The green stalks and leaves of tulips, narcissus and other bulbs may look idle, but they are working hard to store up energy to produce next spring’s crop of blooms.

To ensure abundant flower production next year, resist the urge to cut back the foliage, even though it’s unsightly. The remaining leaves serve a vital function to the plant by restoring energy to the bulb by producing carbohydrates through photosynthesis. Without this, the bulb will not have the necessary nourishment to produce flowers the following year.

Leave the foliage until it turns yellow and dies back, a process that can take six weeks or longer. If the dying foliage is making an eyesore in a visible part of the garden, you can hide it by strategic planting perennials. I finally figured out that if I plant spring bulbs near the back of the border, they are naturally camouflaged by early blooming perennials such as bleeding hearts and euphorbia. This year, a bumper crop of forget-me-nots came up among my bleeding hearts, creating a lake of pale blue. While not tall enough to mask the scraggly bulb foliage, they distract the eye.

Annuals are another solution. Larkspur and Bells of Ireland have good height to block out the dying foliage. Delphinium (some treat it as an annual; at best, it’s a short-lived perennial) and foxglove (a biennial) can also provide a screen. Bulbs of daffodils, tulips and hyacinths are deep enough below the surface that you can put in annuals without disturbing them

 

To maximize the bulbs’ ability to send out next year’s blooms, it’s a good idea to snip flowers as soon as they have wilted. This prevents the bulbs from wasting energy on producing seed. Leave as much stalk as possible to promote photosynthesis.

When the foliage is finally caput, cut them close to the ground. Don’t pull them out or you will risk damaging the bulb. After all you’ve done to nurture the bulb, you don’t want that to happen!

Bulbs will multiply underground on their own. After a few years, if you notice they are producing fewer flowers, it’s likely because they’ve become overcrowded. If this happens, you can dig them up and separate them.

The best time to do this is after the foliage has died but before you have removed it. At this point, the bulbs are fully nourished. Dig them up carefully, separate the bulblets and replant them. The largest ones will mature the fastest. If the main bulb is still firm and in good condition, you can replant it. If it’s shriveled or damaged, discard it.

You might want to wait to replant them in the fall. If you go this route, clean off the excess dirt and let the bulbs dry out for a few days. Toss any that are soft or damaged. Store in a cool, dry place packed loosely in dry peat moss.

You may need to wait a year or two for the bulbs to produce flowers. If you don’t want to wait, you can plant the bulblets in a holding area until they are big enough to bloom. This requires twice as much digging and lifting as immediate replanting. Let your back (and knees) be your guide.

Just think of the delight spring bulbs bring us after a long New England winter. Take good care of yours now and you will be richly rewarded.

Paradise City Arts Festival THIS COMING WEEKEND!

Although this wonderful annual festival offers much more than garden adornments, it’s a great place to find that special object that can transform your garden into something unique and personal. 

Unusual birdbaths, planters, outdoor sculpture, furniture and more. The festival takes place at the Three-County Fairgrounds in Northampton, Memorial Day weekend, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday and open until 4 p.m. Monday. Tickets are $14 for adults, $12 for seniors, $8 for students, 12 and under free.

Forest ecology exploration

For nature lovers and hikers wanting to learn more about forest ecology, the Hitchcock Center is hosting an exploration with plant ecologist Glenn Motzkin of a rich, mesic forest — one where the soils are not highly acid, are rich in certain minerals, and where the soil is moist but not wet. The site will have good variety of trees, wildflowers and ferns.

Motzkin will help bring the ecology of this habitat alive for participants and will share recent understandings about the importance of these habitats. The walk will take place June 3, 9 a.m. until noon, at a meeting location to be provided upon registration. Be prepared for insects and perhaps ticks! Cost is $20 for members; $30 for non-members. For more information and to register, go to hitchcockcenter.org.

Northampton Garden Tour

Come spend a few hours enjoying the six special gardens featured this year in and around Northampton on the 24th Northampton Garden Tour June 10 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., rain or shine.

The self-guided tour raises funds for the Friends of Forbes Library, Inc. to help finance needed programs and materials for the library. It also aims to inspire and educate garden-lovers with visits to a variety of appealing landscape styles and collections of plantings.

This year’s six gardens are located along a scenic 15-mile route, making gardens accessible by car and offering a pleasant bicycle ride with varied terrain.

Driving directions are included with the tickets. At each garden, there are descriptions of the plantings and volunteer garden guides on hand to answer questions. 

Tour tickets are $15 and can be purchased in advance at Forbes Library, Bay State Perennial Farm, Cooper’s Corner, Hadley Garden Center, North Country Landscapes and Garden Center, and State Street Fruit Store. On the day of the tour, tickets are $20 and available only at the library.

There also will be a raffle. of gift baskets on view at Forbes Library through June 8.

For more details visit www.forbeslibrary.org or call Lyn Heady, 584-7041.

Mickey Rathbun can be reached at foxglover8@gmail.com.

 
 

Spring is Springing!

It seems that my favorite time of year is upon us once again (despite the lingering chill in the air). What is more hopeful and celebratory than driving down the Northampton roads and seeing the dogwoods, cherry trees, magnolias, apple trees, peach trees, lilacs and azaleas all in bloom? Before your garden beds are overcome with weeds and the colorful flowers of early spring have died back to allow for the next group of perennials to show their beautiful selves -- you have an opportunity to fill in the blanks! The following article from the Daily Hampshire Gazette lists some local plant sales going on this weekend and beyond - as well as suggestions for colorful additions to your garden beds.

Mickey Rathbun: Colorful New Perennials to Consider

Every year when my perennial beds come to life, I notice two or three places where a shriveled brown clump is all that’s left of a once-thriving plant. I often blame the burrowing rodents who kill my plants by feasting on their roots over the winter. (Surely, the cause of death couldn’t be my lack of care!) Last summer’s drought caused the demise of some of my newer perennials whose root systems hadn’t had the chance to develop. I’m certain I’m not alone in discovering bare spots in this year’s emerging garden.

There is a silver lining to this cloud, though: the opportunity to buy new plants to fill those holes. Many local plant sales in the coming weeks offer hardy perennials. But if you’re looking for something new and different, local plant nurseries are selling scores of bold new perennial varieties. Every year adds a dizzying array of new color choices. Here are some top 2017 picks that will add a welcome punch of color throughout the summer: 

Threadleaf coreopsis provides an easy color infusion for a sunny border. The new coreopsis ‘Crazy Cayenne’ is as hot as its name suggests. Masses of fiery sunset orange blossoms hover over needlelike foliage. The sun-loving plant has a compact, mounding habit. With occasional deadheading, it will continue to bloom throughout the summer.

I love delphiniums. They are short-lived, but their colorful spires of flowers are so spectacular in the early summer garden I can’t pass them up. ‘Pink Punch’ delphinium is perhaps the deepest pink delphinium ever. It bears frilly mulberry-pink blooms with white, brown or pink-striped centers (called “bees”). A New Zealand hybrid, ‘Pink Punch’ grows from 3 to 6 feet tall, but its strong stems seldom require staking.

Delphiniums come in a range of colors, from deep purple to pink and white, but I’m a sucker for blue, a hard-to-find color in the perennial world. ‘Blue Bird’ is another brilliantly hued new variety of this stately, elegant early summer plant. This is a Pacific Giant Hybrid, with a bright blue blossom and a white “bee.” It grows from 4 to 6 feet tall, so staking is recommended.

Foliage can add color, too. I depend on hostas to brighten up my shady areas. A lovely new hosta, ‘Earth Angel,’ has variegated lime and blue-green leaves edged in creamy white. Its pale lavender flowers bloom in early summer.

Heucherella x. ‘Plum Cascade’ is another foliage star, with lobed, silvery-purple leaves that have a trailing habit. Its pale pink flowers rise above the foliage on short, strong stems.

Some people dislike daylilies because, as their name suggests, the blossoms last only a day before wilting and turning yucky. Despite this, I am a huge fan. The bright green, strappy foliage holds up well through the summer, and the abundant blossoms come in an ever-widening assortment of colors. This year’s ‘Primal Scream’ sports enormous blooms (7 ½ to 8 ½ inches wide!) in brilliant tangerine. Its petals are narrow, twisted and ruffled. I’ve found that if I choose varieties carefully, their range of bloom times will keep my daylily border colorful all summer.

‘Primal Scream’ blooms in early July.

Who can resist a splash of bright yellow in the garden? The new Echinaea ‘Golden Skipper’ has abundant, lemon-yellow blooms on sturdy, compact stems that reach only 15 to 18 inches tall. This plant is named after a yellow butterfly of the same color.

Stokesia laevis ‘Blue Frills’ is a new variety of the popular Stokes Aster that brings color in late summer and early fall, when other perennials have finished blooming. With a tidy, vase-shaped growth habit, this aster has large, electric blue flowers (2 ½ to 3 inches wide) with a sparkling white eye. It does best in full sun with good drainage.

This sampling barely scratches the surface of the latest offerings from perennial propagators everywhere.

Mother’s Day Dig Sale

Wilder Hill Gardens in Conway is having a Mother’s Day Weekend Dig Sale, Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. A wide variety of field grown perennials, hardy flowering shrubs, organic small fruits and excellent annuals will be available.

For more information and directions, go to wilderhillgardens.com

 

Berkshire BotanicalGarden plant sale 

On May 19 and 20, Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge will hold its 40th annual plant sale. There will also be a tag sale. Members have special early bird privileges on May 19 from 9 to 11 a.m. The sale is open to the public May 19. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and May 20, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For more information, go to berkshirebotanical.org 

Garden Club of Amherst plant sale 

The Garden Club of Amherst will hold its annual plant sale May 20 from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. under the tent, next to the Amherst Farmers Market on the Amherst Common, rain or shine.

There will be many wonderful plants including hundreds of perennials, hostas, woodland plants, grasses, shrubs and trees; plants for sun and shade. 

This year’s sale will also feature bags of fully composted horse manure from a local farm. Proceeds from compost sales will benefit Chesapeake Safe Harbor, a wonderful rescue and rehoming operation for Chesapeake Bay Retrievers run by Roger Booth and his daughter, Gibby, of South Amherst.

 

Southampton Woman’s Club plant sale 

The Southampton Woman’s Club, celebrating 100 years of service, will hold the annual Anita Smith Memorial Plant Sale May 20 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the One-Room Schoolhouse at Conant Park on Route 10 in Southampton. Held yearly since 1991, the plant sale is a nonprofit project with all money going to support a college scholarship program for area youths.

The sale will feature locally grown perennials, annuals, vegetable and herb plants. The club will also be selling a selection of vintage and “gently used” garden tools, containers and decorative garden items. Anyone wishing to help this scholarship program in the form of a monetary donation, or in the form of potted perennials, is encouraged to do so. Please call 527-4568 for further information.

Pollinator-friendly gardening: Lecture and guided walk 

Our pollinators are declining at an unprecedented rate worldwide due to human-induced, rapid environmental change. These declines pose a significant threat to our food supply; consequently, there has been major focus on the development and implementation of conservation strategies to maintain pollination of agricultural crops. However, not enough attention is paid to the key role pollinators play in natural ecosystems, making them an ineffective tool for maintaining and restoring biodiversity.

On May 21, from 1 until 3 p.m., Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston will host a lecture and guided walk with Dr. Robert Gegear, from the WPI Department of Biology and Biotechnology, focusing on pollinator friendly environments. Gegear will discuss the importance of developing an ecologically focused approach to gardening. He will also provide information on how to identify local bumblebee species. After the presentation, Gegear will lead a walk through the gardens to show how to put his suggestions into practice.

Free with admission; pre-registration required. Go to: towerhillbg.org 

Mickey Rathbun can be reached at foxglover8@gmail.com.

 

Houseplants that Improve Indoor Air Quality

Who knew that having a green thumb could help with air quality in your own home? As the winter months set in, we are sealed up inside of our ever-more energy efficient homes. The "tighter" the home, the less fresh air that will naturally circulate within that home. I know that in our household, it seems my family members and I take turns feeling lousy this time of year. We live in an energy star rated home with a circulation system to keep fresh air moving through the house - but still, access to fresh air is limited as compared to warmer months. I have often thought that the lack of fresh air can lead to this increase in illness or allergic responses. The following article from Northampton's The Daily Hampshire Gazette on Tuesday, January 17th, makes helpful suggestions about how homeowners can keep indoor air cleaner during the winter. I love that adding beautiful plants to your home has the added benefit of making the air cleaner!

Plants, techniques to keep indoor air clean in winter

  • Peperomia, seen at Hadley Garden Center, is a plant said to purify air.

  • Poinsettias, seen at Hadley Garden Center, are plants said to purify air

  • Chinese evergreen, seen at Hadley Garden Center, is a plant said to purify air.

  • English ivy, seen at Hadley Garden Center, is said to purify air. GAZETTE STAFF/Jerrey Roberts - Buy this Image

  • Orchids, seen at Hadley Garden Center, are flowers said to purify air.

  • Angela Karlovich, who works at Hadley Garden Center, beside a display of plants that are said to purify air. At left a close-up of a Chinese evergreen. Gazette staff/Jerrey roberts 

  • A spider plant, at Hadley Garden Center. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS 

  • Angela Karlovich, who works at Hadley Garden Center, holds an aloe vera plant, one that is said to purify air, Dec. 12, at the store.

  • Chinese evergreen, seen at Hadley Garden Center, is a plant said to purify air


By LINDA ENERSON
For the Gazette
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
 
The ravages of winter drive us inside, where we take comfort in a warm home well protected and insulated from the elements.

But while a weather-tight home is great for saving energy and resources, that efficiency often comes at the expense of indoor air quality. 

When the windows are closed for the season, a variety of indoor air contaminants can accumulate and bother residents. Some of these contaminants are allergens such as mold spores or dust mites. Others are toxic organic compounds off-gassing from furniture, building materials or carpets. 

Dr. Jonathon Bayuk, medical director of allergy services at Allergy and Immunology Associates of New England, says there are many things homeowners can do to clean indoor air. 

Getting rid of allergens 

Air purifiers can remove allergens and other air contaminants, including dust mites, smoke and mold particles. Bayuk advises buying one that is big enough for the area of the room and uses a HEPA filter to trap contaminant air particles. He cautions against products that utilize blades. This type of air purifier creates ozone by generating tiny electrical sparks when the blades strike a contaminating particle. While each spark generates a minimal amount of ozone, over the course of a day, the ozone can accumulate to toxic levels. 

Keeping the relative indoor humidity below 50 percent helps to discourage mold growth, according to Bayuk, but it’s important not to let humidity drop too low as dry skin can often become a problem when relative humidity drops below 35 or 40 percent. 

Mold growing on a hard surface, such as a tub, can be relatively easy to clean (Bayuk recommends a solution of one part bleach to 10 parts water). However, porous objects, such as a box of books in the basement, may need to be disposed of in order eliminate that source of mold spores in the home. 

Dust mites are another common indoor allergen that can cause year-round problems for people with a sensitivity to the enzymes they excrete.

Dust mites feed on the dead skin cells that humans and pets naturally shed, as well as dust, pollen and other organic material. They live in areas where they can find food, sufficient moisture and warmth. 

Carpets, couches, and mattresses are common areas where dust mites live and breed. As these surfaces are porous, they gather below the surface of the fabric, making it difficult to get rid of them. 

Bayuk says a mattress cover is a great place to start in curbing dust mites. The cover is made of a very tight fabric the mites cannot penetrate. Cleaning the cover on a weekly basis keeps them from piling up on these surfaces.

Reducing clutter and keeping a house clean can also reduce the number of dust mites. Bayuk recommends using a high-efficiency vacuum with a HEPA filter to remove mites and their food sources from carpets and sofas. 

Dust mites are fairly easily removed from hard surfaces as they stick to a damp cloth. Bayuk says using a feather duster is virtually useless, and simply moves the mites and the particles they feed on to another surface.

Chemical contaminants 

Organic compounds off-gassing from dry-cleaned clothes, and from newly applied paints, lacquers and varnishes, as well as from newer furniture, carpets and building materials are another source of indoor air pollution. 

In the late 1980s, NASA conducted a series of experiments to see if indoor plants could be used to purify the air of future space habitats. The agency’s final report on the experiments showed that some of the most common and easily cared-for houseplants were surprisingly effective at decreasing levels of the most common organic compounds found circulating indoors. 

Hadley Garden Center stocks many of the plants named in the study. Greenhouse manager Angela Karlovich is familiar with the NASA study, and can lead customers to a wide variety of air-cleaning plants that perform well in a wide variety of indoor settings. 

Karlovich says that many of the plants cited by NASA can thrive in low-light conditions, which makes them versatile and easy to care for indoors, including: 

Dracaena: Several varieties were tested by NASA and were found to be effective at removing trichloroethylene (TCE), benzene and formaldehyde.

Spider plants: effective at removing formaldehyde. Spider plants are also non-toxic to pets. 

English ivy: removes TCE, benzene and formaldehyde 

Chinese evergreen: removes formaldehyde and benzene 

Bamboo palm: removes TCE, benzene and formaldehyde. Bamboo palm is non-toxic to pets. 

Golden pothos: removes formaldehyde 

Philodendron: removes formaldehyde 

Peace lily: removes TCE, benzene and formaldehyde 

While sun-loving Gerbera daisies are usually planted outside, these plants removed the most TCE and benzene of all the plants tested at NASA. They are also non-toxic to pets. 

Bayuk says like all plants, those mentioned above also add to indoor air quality by converting carbon dioxide into oxygen.

 

ChiliFest at Mike's Maze this weekend!

NOT TO BE MISSED! The ChiliFest at Mike's Maze in Sunderland, MA is happening this weekend! What a great way to ring in the fall. Great food and great music, all in the idyllic New England setting of Mike's Maze in Sunderland. We Northampton-area locals look forward each year to the unveiling of the latest maze. This year, in honor of the 100 year anniversary of the National Parks Service, the maze is called "See America". Check out the link here for the aerial view of the maze.

While you are out and about, check out our weekend open houses.

Let's hope this beautiful weather holds throughout the weekend. Check out the article in the Daily Advocate here:

Hot Damn! Sunderland’s ChiliFest is Coming

By Hunter Styles

Kitchen Garden Farm hosts its annual giant farmer party at Mike’s Maze in the center of Sunderland, with bands, brews and spicy food all weekend long.

Hot Diggity!!!!

Could it be that the lingering heat wave of the past week was due to the potency of the peppers newly ripening at Kitchen Garden Farm in Sunderland? Probably not, but we hear these little devils are hotter than ever — and just in time for ChiliFest. Kitchen Garden hosts its annual giant farmer party Sept. 17-18 at Mike’s Maze in the center of Sunderland, with bands, brews and spicy food all weekend long.

Musical acts playing the solar-powered pavilion include Bella’s Bartok, The Derangers, Atlas Lab, Lonesome Brothers, Wishboe Zoe, Amber Wolfe, Tang Sauce, and Eli Catlin, whose tunes you can enjoy while munching on Mission Cantina tacos, mango-jalapeno popsicles from Crooked Stick Pops, arepas from Wheelhouse Farm Truck, dumplings from Kailash Kitchen, sriracha swirl ice cream from Bart’s, and spicy grilled Mexican street corn. Wash it all down with local beer from Abandoned Building Brewery, BLDG 8, and Exhibit A. 

That’s just the tip of the spiceberg. The Cook-Off features some of the best restaurant chefs in the Valley. The Hot Sauce Competition, held Sunday, is open to all who pre-register. Then, of course, there are the peppers from around the world, all fabulously monikered: ghost peppers, Hungarian Paprika, Trinidad Scorpions, and Carolina Reapers. Check out the screen printing, face painting, kids market, and the chef demo tent. Learn how to cook, pickle, and ferment. There’s even a “kimchi mob,” whatever that is. It’s a perfect chance to carry out these final days of summer in a blaze of glory. 

ChiliFest: Saturday and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. $10 adults; $5 kids; weekend pass $15 adults and $8 kids. Mike’s Maze, 23 South Main St., Sunderland. (413) 387-5163, kitchengardenfarm.com. 

— Hunter Styles, 

hstyles@valleyadvocate.com

45 Spaulding Street, Amherst MA

Charming, updated 5 bedroom farmhouse, spacious and beautiful yard with lovely plantings, heated workshop/studio. All of this just a stone's throw from Amherst center! Our listing at 45 Spaulding Street is a gem of a home. Listing agent Scott Rebmann with be hosting an open house this Sunday, September 11th from 12-2 pm. Come take a look! A home this special will not last long!

45 Spaulding Street, Amherst MA

View from the street

Cozy side porch

Updated farmhouse eat-in kitchen

Master bedroom

Adjacent studio/loft

 

Beautifully sited on a nearly 1/2 acre lot, this classic farmhouse has retained its period charm while having today's modern updates. A gorgeous side sunporch welcomes you into the expanded dining room/kitchen area, updated with new cabinets, a farmhouse sink and lovely butler's pantry. Beautiful hardwoods lead you to the living room and a bedroom/office and updated bath round out the main floor. Upstairs are 4 additional bedrooms and a hall bath. The rear deck overlooks the beautiful yard with perennial gardens and fruit trees. There's also a heated studio space with a loft, perfect for the artist, writer, or entrepreneur. Do you want chickens? There's even a newer chicken coop! The updates are numerous...newer slates on the roof with copper flashing, new kitchen/dining room, new upstairs windows, new insulation, new gas boiler and radiators...the list goes on and on. All of this and you're just moments from all of the shopping, dining and entertainment venues of downtown Amherst! Offered at $425,000. 

The Goat Girls will Clear Your Yard!

As a frequent visitor to the "Dog Park" here in Northampton (the land which is leased by Smith Voc where many local dog owners currently take their dogs for off leash walks), I was tickled by the presence of The Goat Girls of Amherst, MA at the park, earlier this summer. The goats were contained within a well marked electric fence, and within a short time frame, they had munched away a large area of unwanted shrubs, vines and weeds. It was fun to see the adorable animals on our walks (though I confess, my dog did receive a shock while trying to get a sniff of the industrious animals), and I was amazed to see that they worked so quickly and did such a great job! I was equally tickled to see the following article today in the Daily Hampshire Gazette about the same Goat Girls. Round up not needed! These goats do a great job of clearing yards, leaving behind a great looking finished product! If you have land which needs to be cleared, look them up! 

 

No thicket too thick: With guts of steel, the Goat Girls of Amherst are here to clear

Joe Wille carries Lily to the trailer to be transported to a landscape job. Gazette Staff/Andrew Whitaker

 

Autumn the goat is working hard to devour a tangle of weeds that have overgrown on the border of a backyard in Amherst.

Her ears flop back as she munches on some poison ivy, leaves dangling from her mouth. After four days of non-stop nibbling, with the help of five other goats, she is just about done clearing the yard of invasive plants like bittersweet and Virginia creeper.

“The goats are diligent, hardworking —They don’t know that they are working, but they are,” said Peter Vickery, the property owner on Cherry Lane.

After years of wondering what to do about the undergrowth that had overtaken the yard, his wife, Meg Vickery, decided to choose an environmentally friendly alternative to herbicide and a quieter choice than a weed whacker. They hired Goat Girls, a company harnessing the eating power of goats in what is essentially a land-clearing and lawn-mowing service based in Amherst.

For a minimum of $500, the company will deliver a herd of goats to properties in any of several Hampshire and Franklin County towns to devour just about any foliage.

Before the goats are sent out, the land is inspected for plants that might be poisonous to the animals, but for the most part, these creatures have guts made of steel, able to munch through almost anything, said Hope Crolius, owner of the company.

“We say we are just going to let the kids play in the backyard with the poison ivy,” Vickery said.

Getting down to business

Before the goats go to work, Crolius’s one full-time employee, goat herder Joe Wille, sets up a temporary electric fence to keep the goats in and the coyotes and bears out.

Homeowners are asked to check on the goats twice a day to look for signs of illness and make sure the animals look bright, alert and responsive. Sometimes they need fresh water, but the thick weeds provide them with all the food they need.

The company’s more than two-dozen goats have exceptionally diverse diets, they specialize in invasive plants, typically munching through more than 25 jobs per year ranging from golf courses to community gardens. This year the goats also devoured more than 250 Christmas trees dropped off by local residents at the Goat Girls headquarters, a rented plot of land at Many Hands Farm on Pelham Road in Amherst, where the goats spend most of their time when they aren’t working.

“They’re economical, they’re earth-friendly, plus they are the neighborhood entertainment,” said another homeowner Sue Ellen Bisgaard. She hired the Goat Girls a few weeks ago to clear the wooded land at her house in Pelham, where about eight goats gnawed through two acres of brush in only two weeks.

Before the goats showed up, the weeds were so overgrown that Bisgaard couldn’t fathom walking through the property. She didn’t know what the plants were, she just knew she wanted them gone. “It really is just fighting the woods from taking over my land — I have eight acres,” she said.

Not only are the goats pleasant company, in this case their services came at a decent price, she said.

Bisgaard’s landscaper gave her a quote of about $1,000 to clear the property, while the goats provided the same service for half the price.

Depending on the size of the job, the number of goats needed varies. Six animals were used to clear the roughly 300 feet of land in the Vickery backyard.

Seven goats can clear a quarter acre in about a week, said Crolius. So far there have been no complaints about the productivity of the animals, she said.

A daydream come to life

Before starting the business in 2011, Crolius had worked in a high-pressure job as a journalist, often fantacizing about being a shepherd in biblical times.

“You’re working with nature to manage land. The goats are part of nature,” said Crolius.

Many of her clients live in neighborhoods that are not zoned for livestock and love having the chance to spend time with the animals, she said.

“We have an ancestral memory of the role of livestock in our everyday lives — these animals are remarkable. I don’t think we have had a client yet who isn’t delighted by the antics of these goats.”

Crolius, who started with three goats, has every kind of goat from Nigerian Dwarfs, a miniature dairy goat with West African ancestry, to Saanens, a Swiss dairy goat. She isn’t selective about breed because all goats tend to eat at the same rate.

Within a few weeks of acquiring her first herd, Crolious said, the phone started ringing with requests for jobs and the company has kept growing since.

“They have been so efficient,” said Meg Vickery. “I often thought that sheep and goats should be doing this work.”

While abroad in England, she said, she started to think about the concept of goat lawn maintenance, where the animals can be seen grazing beside highways.

“I was impressed by the intersection of agriculture and daily life.”

When she returned to the United States she noticed the invasive plants overtaking her yard, did some research and found Goat Girls.

She’s happy not to have to dump weed killer on her property.

“For me, it’s a more gentle way of achieving the same end and it has less environmental impact,” Vickery said. “We avoid, as much as possible, using herbicides.”

A yard emerges

While the Vickerys were worried that the goats would make noise at night, they have barely made a peep. They are mild mannered and they keep to themselves, said Peter Vickery.

Since the goats got to work, the couple rediscovered property lines and found a few soccer balls and an animal skull. A few trees were also saved from strangulation by invasive vines.

They are looking forward to planting flowers on some of the re-claimed land. “I am surprised because it is so much more open. We can see what trees we want to preserve and which mangy ones we want to get rid of,” said Peter Vickery. As he talks, a short distance away the Swiss dairy goat Muffin is sunbathing in the brush, chewing on a few twigs, the remains of the fourth and final day on the job for her and the rest of the crew.

For more information about Goat Girls, visit http://www.thegoatgirls.com or call 461-6832.

 Lisa Spear can be reached at lspear@gazettenet.com.

 

Taking Care of Spring Bulbs

When spring sprung this year, I actually went online to research when and how to prune, fertilize, sod and care for the many plants in our garden. I was encouraged because last year when I followed instructions about how to care for my (dying) rose bush, I was actually able to bring it back from the dead and coax a bunch of flowers from it! This year, my garden has been growing well. Our bulbs seem to have gotten a late start, but they are hanging around for longer than usual. It's exciting to see them come up, and to think about what and where we will add new ones in the fall.

As a fledgling gardener (I can hardly call myself a gardener, to be honest), I was excited to read this piece in today's Daily Hampshire Gazette, about aftercare for spring bulbs. The article concludes with a list of interesting plant-related events happening in the Northampton area this month.

And, speaking of plant-related events in the Pioneer Valley! Don't miss the Asparagus Festival this Saturday, June 4th from 10-6 at the Hadley Town Common!

Here is today's article from the Gazette:

Mickey Rathbun: Aftercare for Spring Bulbs

The lovely season of spring-blooming bulbs has come to a close in my garden, leaving straggling drifts of lanky foliage. It’s easy to forget the weeks of delight the bulbs provided now that they’ve passed.

But resist the urge to cut back the foliage, even though it’s unsightly. The remaining leaves serve a vital function to the plant by restoring energy to the bulb by producing carbohydrates through photosynthesis. Without this, the bulb will not have the necessary nourishment to produce flowers the following year.

Leave the foliage until it turns yellow and dies back, a process that can take six weeks or longer. Some fastidious gardeners try to improve the leaves’ appearance by tying them or braiding them together, but this decreases the leaves’ ability to photosynthesize. So save yourself the bother and leave them alone.

If the dying foliage is making an eyesore in a visible part of the garden, you can hide it by strategic planting of annuals. Bulbs of daffodils, tulips and hyacinths are deep enough below the surface that you can put in annuals without disturbing them.

You can also interplant bulbs with perennials like hosta and epimedium that leaf out as the bulbs are recharging.


To maximize the bulbs’ ability to send out next year’s blooms, it’s a good idea to snip flowers as soon as they have wilted. This prevents the bulbs from wasting energy on producing seed. Leave as much stalk as possible to promote photosynthesis. With spent hyacinths, run your hand along the stalk to remove the dead flowers instead of cutting the whole stalk.

If you want smaller bulbs such as scilla, muscari and galanthus to spread by self-seeding, don’t deadhead them. (Who has the time and patience to deadhead these plants, anyway?)

When you are finally able to get rid of the dreary yellow remains, cut them close to the ground. Don’t pull them out or you will risk damaging the bulb. After all you’ve done to nurture the bulb, you don’t want that to happen!

The bulbs don’t need to be watered unless you have an unusually dry spell. In the fall, apply a slow-release, balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 or 10-15-10. Those numbers indicate the levels of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium in the fertilizer.

Do not use a high-nitrogen fertilizer (the first number); nitrogen stimulates vegetative growth, which you don’t want at that time of year. A few inches of compost is also a welcome addition.

Every few years you might want to divide your bulbs if you notice that the flowers are getting smaller and the stalks shorter. Wait till the foliage has died, then carefully dig out the bulbs. You will find that the original bulb has multiplied into many smaller ones. You can replant these right away or you can clean them off and dry them and set them aside in a single layer in a cool, dry, airy space and wait until fall to plant them.

After a long, cold winter, spring bulbs are an invaluable lift to our spirits. It’s worth taking care of them now so they’ll be back the next year, when we’ll be aching again for colorful new life in the garden.

FRAGRANT PLANTS THAT DELIGHT
We focus so much attention on the visual appearance of plants. But what about their scents? Join noted plantsman Andy Brand at Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge on June 4 from 1 to 3 p.m., for an exploration of ornamental woody plants and perennials that offer more than just visual appeal to our gardens.

The plants highlighted in this lecture have exceptional fragrances that warrant a special place in the garden where they can be fully enjoyed — near an entryway, alongside a terrace or deck, or along a woodland path.

Participants will learn how to make their gardens feasts for all of the senses.

For over two decades, Brand has been nursery manager for Broken Arrow Nursery in Hamden, Connecticut, known for its rare and unusual woody plants. He is the former president of the American Rhododendron Society, past president of the Connecticut Butterfly Association, past President of Connecticut Nursery and Landscape Association (CNLA), and received the Young Nursery Professional Award from the New England Nursery Association.

He is an amateur naturalist with a strong interest in native plants and attracting wildlife to yards.

The fee for members is $15; nonmembers, $20

WILDFLOWERS ON THEHOLYOKE RANGE
Woodland wildflowers are everywhere, but so often we don’t really see them. Gain a better appreciation of spring wildflowers by taking a guided tour of wildflowers at the base of the Holyoke Range on June 4 from 9 until 11 a.m. The Kestrel Trust has organized the tour, to be led by Karen Searcy, University of Massachusetts professor and botanist. RSVP for meeting location to: office@kestreltrust.org.

TOVAH MARTIN IN GREENFIELD
Celebrated garden writer Tovah Martin will give a lecture and workshop on making terrariums at the Brandt House, 29 Highland Ave. in Greenfield on June 5 from 1 to 4 p.m.

The event is sponsored by the Greenfield Garden Club.

If you’d like to participate in the workshop, bring a glass terrarium and adornments. All other materials will be provided.

The lecture and workshop is $50; lecture only: $25.

For information and tickets, contact Jean Wall at 773-9069, or jeanwall1313@gmail.com.

SUNDERLAND CHURCH PLANT SALE
The Sunderland Congregational Church is having its annual plant and bake sale on June 4, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The sale will include annuals, perennials, and some small trees and bushes. The sale is to benefit the church, located at the corner of Routes 47 and 116. There will be parking at the rear of the church buildings.

Mickey Rathbun can be reached at foxglover8@gmail.com.
 

 

Time To Prune!

As my backyard emerges from the mud and muck left over from a mild Northampton MA winter, I am reminded that it is probably time to start pruning some of the plants we planted last year in our small yard.

As both a realtor and wannabe gardener, this tends to be a tricky time of year for me as the spring buying and selling market takes off AND my yard and garden need attention. I have to be strategic about caring for my plants on their timeline, and not putting that project on the back burner. Fruit trees, flowering shrubs, and other perennials have specific needs for when to prune, mulch, fertilze, etc. Thankfully, a quick google search tends to turn up helpful information about the what, when, where and how of plant care. The following article from gardening.about.com has a wealth of important information for you fledgling gardeners! Spring has sprung!

 

HOW AND WHEN TO PRUNE WHICH PLANTS

 

(This article is a re-post from gardening.about.com, click on the link for the full article).

Most plants benefit from some sort of regular pruning and maintenance. The trick is in know when to prune what. A great many flowering and fruiting plants prefer to be pruned while they are dormant, in late winter through early spring. Some, like spring blooming trees and shrubs, will start setting new buds as soon as the old buds have fallen. These will need to be pruned shortly after flowering, or you risk pruning off the new buds with the old. And still other plants need to be continually pruned and deadheaded, to remain vigorous and in flower.

It's confusing, but rarely fatal. Pruning at the wrong time of year may result in less flowers and fruits, but it usually won't harm the plant in the long run. The exception to this is pruning too late in the season and encouraging a lot of tender, new growth that will be killed back with the onset of winter weather. To help you take the guess work out of pruning, here is a series of articles to help you learn when to prune the plants in your garden.
 


Pruning Tools

What ever plants you have, the first thing you need to consider is the best tool for the job. Sharp, clean tools not only make the job of pruning plants easier, they are crucial to keeping your plants healthy. The four basic tools required for pruning most plants are: hand pruners, loppers, shearers and saws. Here's a breakdown of which pruning tools are appropriate for your pruning tasks.

Flowering Trees, Shrubs and Vines

Perhaps the most confusing group of plants, when it comes to pruning times, is flowering trees and shrubs. A general rule of thumb is to prune summer and fall flowering trees and shrubs in the dormant season (late winter / early spring) and to prune spring flowering trees and shrubs soon after their flowers fade. The confusion comes with plants like hydrangeas, roses and clematis; some of these flower in spring, some in summer or fall, some flower repeatedly. Here are some guidelines for figuring out when your particular variety is best pruned.
When to Prune Spring Flowering Trees & Shrubs
When to Prune Which Clematis
When to Prune Hydrangeas
How and When to Prune Your Rose Bushes

Fruit Trees and Berry Plants

Most fruiting plants need to be pruned while they are dormant. You usually get one chance to set buds for next season's crop, so particular care is taken with fruit trees and berry plants. Most flowering plants grown for their ornamental value will still give you some sort of show, even if you've been lax about regular pruning. Fruit trees and berries will steadily decline unless they are pruned and tended. There are several reasons for this, including: suckers that direct energy away from fruiting branches, older branches susceptibility to diseases and pests and the habit of many fruiting plants to only produce on branches of a certain age. So if you are growing tree fruits or berries to harvest, pruning them should be given high priority.
Apple and Pear Trees
Peaches
Blueberries
Raspberries & Blackberries
Strawberries
When Your Home Orchard Stops Bearing Fruit

Evergreens

Gardeners don't often think about pruning evergreen trees, which is probably a good thing. Evergreen trees don't need to be pruned. It is not recommended that you use pruning to keep an evergreen tree's size in check. You will just stress and distort the tree by doing that. Better to choose a smaller, dwarf evergreen than trying to size down a large tree. However, there are times when you want an evergreen in your landscape to be a bit fuller and that can be accomplished with some well timed pruning. Keep in mind, the larger the tree, the more labor intensive this type of pruning will be, so do this while the tree is young.
Pruning Fir Trees in the Landscape

Perennial Bedding Plants

Perhaps the most labor intensive plants to prune are the non-woody perennials. The notion that you can plant perennials once and then have a maintenance-free garden forever is an incorrect notion. Most perennial plants, especially the flowering ones, not only need to be cut back entirely at some point before or after the growing season, they need regular pruning, shearing or deadheading. Which plants to prune when and how much to prune them is something you learn as you acquire experience gardening. It's part of the pleasure of gardening for most gardeners and it's the type of knowledge that varies from region to region. When and how to prune perennial plants probably makes up more garden chat than any other topic. The articles here will hopefully get you talking.
Perennial Plants to Prune in the Spring
Perennial Plants to Prune in the Fall
Pinching, Pruning and Deadheading

 

Keeping Houseplants in Good Shape During the Winter

We moved to Northampton, MA, from NYC 10 years ago. Our first house was in the Smith College neighborhood, with lovely perennial gardens of which we had no business being the caretakers. Despite our best efforts, the gardens became overgrown and we had to break down and hire a professional landscaper to maintain them. Since that time, we have been trying to improve our green thumbs. Our new house has much simpler landscaping, and I have actually taken the time recently, to research how each plant we own needs to be cared for. Nothing has died yet (knock wood), and I was even able to coax a few roses from our rose bush

While things seem to be going well enough outside - our houseplants did not survive the first year in our new home. I decided it was time to take the same tactic with the few new houseplants we have acquired in that time, and read up about how to care for them! Brilliant you say? Well, we shall see. But I came across this article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette about caring for houseplants in winter and decided that I should share it here.

 

Get Growing: Houseplants need TLC in Winter

by Mickey Rathbun

 

Winter is a hard time for house plants. Dry heat robs them of needed humidity, and there’s less natural light. A basic understanding of what plants do in winter makes it easier to keep them healthy throughout the winter months. Think hibernation.

The leading cause of house plant death — especially in winter — is over-watering! As summer wanes, plants receive less sunlight and naturally slow their growth. Plants that are not actively producing new growth need less water. Keep in mind that plants that live outdoors in summer need less water when they come inside because they’re not exposed to wind.

Test your potted plants for dryness by sticking your finger into the soil. They only need water when the soil is dry an inch below the surface. When you water, water well, and then leave them alone till the soil is dry again.

Over-watering creates root rot. If your plant is wilting, but the pot feels heavy, it may be suffering from root rot. Cut back on watering. If the plant doesn’t improve, gently take it out of the pot and check the roots for mushiness or dark patches. Cut these off, let the root ball dry out over night and then repot, making sure you put plenty of small stones or broken pot shards in the bottom to facilitate drainage.

If you have plants that came in festive holiday wrappings, make sure the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot aren’t blocked. Poke around with your fingers till you can feel the holes and cut away the wrap with a sharp pair of scissors so the holes can drain. Put the plant on a plastic or other watertight tray to catch drainage.


Fertilizer in winter is another no-no. In fact, fertilizer may harm plants. Unless you’re growing plants under lights to stimulate new growth, hold off on fertilizer until springtime growth begins.

While plants suffer from too much watering in winter, they need ambient humidity for transpiration. Indoor heating systems create parched conditions for plants.

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to create a moister environment. Run a humidifier if you can. This will not only keep your plants happier, it will create a more pleasant atmosphere for people. You can also place your plants on a watertight tray covered with small pebbles and water. Just make sure the water does not touch the pots. Alternatively you can place glasses or small jars filled with water amongst your plants.

Keep in mind that the kitchen and bathroom tend to have the highest humidity in your house, so plants that enjoy high humidity, including tropical plants, should be placed in these areas if possible. Plants generate humidity, so it helps to group those plants together. And keep their foliage away from frosted windows.

Most plants enjoy an occasional misting, but don’t mist plants with hairy leaves like African violets and gloxinias. They take a long time to dry and can develop moisture-related diseases.

Indoor dust creates another hazard for houseplants, blocking light and moisture needed for photosynthesis transpiration. An occasional bath — once a month or so — helps plants thrive in winter. If possible, put plants in a bathtub or shower and use a spray bottle to wet the leaves. A kitchen sink sprayer is an option for smaller plants. The bathroom shower is generally too strong for most plants. You can add a few drops of dish washing liquid to a quart of water if your plants are really grimy. Be sure to rinse thoroughly with lukewarm water.

Plants grow toward light. You may notice your plants getting tipsy. Rotate them once a week or so to keep their growth straight and balanced.

One more thing on the subject of indoor plants: If you have plants in a commercial business space, make sure they look good. I mean, would you buy a used car from someone whose showroom is filled with dying plants? Distressed plants are a serious turn-off to customers and passersby. Get rid of these and replace them with new ones, perhaps ones better suited to their environment.

FARMERS MARKETS: Farmers markets in Amherst and Northampton are wonderful places to savor the season’s pleasures and find some fresh local produce. Maple syrup and candies, apples, baked goods, and jams and jellies add some sweetness to take the chill off. Fresh greens and storage vegetables such as potatoes and squash are available, as well as local meat, fresh fish, eggs and herbal and natural skin care products to salve chapped, dry skin. There are also local artisans and crafts people every week. Amherst also features live music.

The Amherst market is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday through April 2. (There is no market on Jan. 16 or March 5) at the Amherst Regional Middle School, 170 Chestnut St.


The Northampton market is open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday through April 30 at the Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, 80 Locust St.

Garden Center Clinics: Hadley Garden Center has been an invaluable resource for Valley gardeners since it opened in 1963. It will be hosting an informative series of winter gardening clinics on Saturdays at 1 p.m. beginning Jan. 16. The first, Great Shrubs for Valley Gardens, promises to be a fun reminder that spring is not so far away. It’s easy to get lost among the hundreds of varieties of shrubs to choose from at local nurseries and garden centers. Tom Clark, curator of the Polly Hill Arboretum on Martha’s Vineyard and a former garden center employee, will make your selection a little easier this season as he discusses the shrubs that grow best in our area.

Hadley Garden Center is located at 285 Russell St. (Route 9) in Hadley. Call 584-1423 for more information.

SEED TALK: It’s not too early to start thinking about seeds for next season’s gardens. On Jan. 16, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, Ken Greene, founder of the Hudson Valley Seed Library in Accord, New York, will give a lecture on regionally appropriate vegetable, flower, and herb varieties that have been saved by the library. He’ll also discuss techniques for saving seeds and demonstrate a simple way to test old packages of seeds to see if they’re still viable for planting in the coming year. The fee for members is $10; $15 for nonmembers. For more information, go to: www.berkshirebotanical.org

Mickey Rathbun can be reached at foxglover8@gmail.com.