Shoots & Ladders: Cooler Crops

It’s hard to believe that in a city where August is punctuated by air quality alerts and the heat index routinely hits the century mark, cool salads, after taking a short hiatus in July and August, are back in rotation by September. So, smog be damned, late August is a great time to plant another round of lettuce, bitter greens and radishes.
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Shoots & Ladders: That's a wrap

October’s waning days and crisp evenings provide welcome relief from the summer’s brutal heat, but it’s a bittersweet reward: The summer’s bounty is already nothing more than a bright delicious memory, and your garden is largely in hibernation. If your recall is anything like mine, though, it’s a great time to document your gardening triumphs and your brown thumb travails before March hits and you think, “Now, what was it that I was going to do to keep my tomatoes alive? Dance naked in the moonlight while chanting the lyrics to ‘Eye of the Tiger’? Or was it something about marigolds?” So, pull out that frilly journal from Aunt Sally and take a few notes. Your neighbors will appreciate it.
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Battle of the Bugs: It's critter warfare out there

Beetles, worms, ants and aphids, oh my! I’m convinced that because my Pennsport deck is home to the only vegetables within, oh, most of the neighborhood, every pest in the ’hood sees my garden as an oasis of tastiness. Last year’s battles included all the garden-variety bugs you’d expect, plus whiteflies, cabbage loopers and brown marmorated stink bugs
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Shoots & Ladders: Pestilence! There are big meanies out to destroy your precious little plants. There are ways to fight back.

One of the upsides to container gardening is that crops are less likely to succumb to soil-borne illnesses. Unlike traditional farmers and gardeners, container gardeners have the option of starting with fresh, sterile soil each year. If last year’s crops lost the battle against blights, wilts or mildews, then it’s smart to ditch the dirt, sterilize some containers, and start anew. Sadly, that’s rarely enough to keep a garden hale and hearty—every year, it seems as though my garden gets hit with one affliction or another, despite the clean dirt. Prevention is paramount, but when that doesn’t work, witches’ brews and sacrifices to the garden gods are in order.

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Science Friction: When your heart says heirloom, but your brain says hybrid.

I confess. I judge books by their covers. I’ll happily lay down an extra couple of dollars for the bottle of wine with the well-designed label. And yes, this unfortunate tendency extends to my little garden. For the past several years, containers sprouting heirlooms with awesome names (Mr. Stripey, Dragon’s Egg, Boothby’s Blonde, Painted Lady) and gorgeous packaging have taken up every available inch of dirt. Alas, the packaging often seems to be better than the yield.

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Shoots & Ladders: Roll the Credits

Sigh. It’s that time of the year again—days are on the wane and winter is on its way. As much as I’d like to replace the contents of each container with a promising crop of hearty root vegetables, the Earth’s revolutions (and my neighbor’s bathroom addition) shelter my little blue roofdeck from most of the sun’s beneficial winter rays.
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Gardening Issue: Seed Money

When it comes to seeds, Kim Massare does the work for you 

A few years ago, frustrated by the lack of heirloom varieties available at local garden centers, South Philly gardener Kim Massare went on a seed catalogue shopping spree. She lit up her rowhouse’s basement with grow lights and brought down all those non-recyclable plastic containers she’d been collecting—Startin’ Yer Garten was born.

As any gardener can tell you, it’s easy to plant too many seeds—especially when your garden is, at best, a postage stamp with limited sun. Over-planting has an upsetting side effect: having to discard those carefully nurtured seedlings. Looking to offset the cost of her investment and rescue her extra plants from the trash bin, Massare posted an ad for them on Craigslist. The response was immediate and enthusiastic. 

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