September 2021


The old adage, “variety is the spice of life” may be the key to successful gardening in less than optimal years.  Many times, I find that gardeners find their “favorite” variety of a crop, and plant that one type and nothing more. Occasionally there may be more than one variety, but only if they are different in type. For example, a person plants their favorite cherry tomato and favorite slicing tomato, but that is it. So, one kind of each type. Many times, this is done in response to limited space, which is understandable. This kind of gardening can leave you high and dry with virtually no crops on tough years, however.

The author’s family heirloom green bean variety performed extremely well compared to other green bean varieties. No wonder it has been around so long (photo by M. Lisy)!

COVID has inspired many people to garden lately. This stems from worries over food security to just having the extra time to enjoy this hobby. Some people find relaxation from growing plants in our busy, stressful world. Having said all that, it pains me to have a year like we did this past summer. Many experienced gardeners talk about what a disaster the summer has been for gardening. To a newcomer to the hobby, this type of experience can cause them to give up.

The key to ensuring a good harvest in the gardening world is diversity. This concept actually has its roots in ecological theory. We find that the most stable ecosystems are the most diverse ones.   Likewise, our gardens can benefit from diversity as well. There are almost too many diseases to count, and each crop has its own set to which they are susceptible. Now there are exceptional cases where people are continually plagued by a particular disease year after year, but in general, trying to guess which disease will be around next summer is many times a futile effort. This is where diversity comes into play. When you plant a number of different varieties, you increase your chances of being able to “weather the storm.”. It is like buying multiple lottery tickets in order to have a better chance of winning. In most years, all of your plants will produce. In bad years however, it may be only one or two varieties that can survive and produce. 

Although we focus a lot on disease, many times it is the environmental factors that contribute to how well a disease can survive. This past summer was extremely wet and humid. These parameters cause plants suffer from too much water and not enough sun, but the fungal diseases thrived. We essentially had a situation where the environment was optimal for many pathogens, and almost detrimental to our plants. 

To help illustrate this point, I will use a few examples from my garden this year. I normally plant three varieties of green beans: green, yellow, and purple. Historically, the purple has been the least productive, and we do not get very many to eat let alone preserve. This year, the purple are the all-stars, and we have a freezer full of the surplus. The green produced some beans, and the yellow variety almost nothing. Normally the green is the best, and it produces more than the yellow and purple combined. This data shows that the varieties of bean vary in more ways than just color. Out of the four cucumber varieties I planted, three did very well and one did almost nothing. In my tomato patch, I had some varieties produce very little and the plants withered and died. My yellow tomatoes, which are grown to liven up our dishes with a splash of color, were at the head of the pack as far as production goes. They essentially saved our season.    

Green beans a. Photo by mrl2021
Wax beans b. Photo by mrl2021
Purple beans c. Although all these plants are past their prime in these photos, there were distinct differences in productivity. The best was the purple green beans, c, followed by the green, a. The yellow, b, barely produced anything (photo by M. Lisy).

I hope this article convinces you to expand your horizons in the garden. You don’t need give up on your favorite, just find a few more. Develop the diversity mindset and you will ensure a harvest in almost any type of year. Every once in a blue moon there may be a year that is totally disastrous, but in most years this planting style will guarantee a harvest, and many years a bountiful one.    

Matt Lisy

In all my years of gardening, never have I failed to harvest a bumper crops of beans until this year and wouldn’t you know that the National Garden Bureau had declared 2021, the year of the garden bean! Beans are easy to grow. Beans are prolific. Fresh beans, just picked, lightly cooked, and served with a bit of butter and salt are delectable. Not to mention, they are essential items in 4 bean salads, green bean potato salad, and green bean casseroles. Also, they freeze nicely for winter soups and stews.

Usually I grow some bush beans and some pole beans. For bush beans, I am partial to Provider, Nickel and French Fillet although I do try others from time to time. I look for good flavor, big harvests, and disease resistance.

As far as pole beans go, I plant a mixture of green (Kentucky Blue) and wax beans (Monte Gusto) along with one scarlet runner bean (Lady Di) per pole. Three tree saplings are dug into the ground with their tops tied together forming a bean pole teepee. Six to 8 seeds are planted at the base of each pole.  I plant scarlet runner beans not for me but for the hummingbirds as they love those red blossoms.

Bean trellis before planting. Photo by dmp2021

This year the garden started off fantastic. Seeds of warm season crops like beans and zucchini were planted the weekend after Memorial Day (as you might remember that was cold and rainy). June was sunny and dry but with moist soils, so seeds germinated, and plants grew.

Beans looked great by early July. Photo by dmp2021

All was well until we spotted the cutest little rabbit nibbling on clover and plantain by the driveway. How much damage could one rabbit do? Every few years we would spot a rabbit or even two but usually they disappeared after a few weeks perhaps due to hawks, foxes, or other predators. Heavily forested land, in back of our property, was cleared this past year to put up solar panels and I have not heard nor seen the red-tailed hawks that used to patrol our property. Their nesting sites had probably been destroyed.  

Bunny eating clover. Photo by dmp2021.

There are two species of rabbits found in Connecticut and surrounding states. The New England cottontail is native to this area while the eastern cottontail was introduced. Both species look quite similar but apparently about half of the eastern cottontails have a white marking on their foreheads. Native New England cottontails, however, are in precipitous decline and CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has been creating and managing sites for early successional growth and young forests to encourage good habitat for this species.  

For a few weeks, the rabbits – now there were two – stayed out of the garden area. My bush beans were thriving and my pole beans were starting to climb. I was hoping they would quickly reach heights beyond a rabbit’s reach. All the rain in July lead to one soggy garden and the plants received too much water and too little sun to develop in a rapid manner.

Checking my garden after work one day, it looked like the bush beans had been discovered and feasted upon and all I was left with was a measly handful as my 2021 green bean harvest.

These were all the beans the rabbits left. Photo by dmp2021

Not really having proper fencing materials on hand, I surrounded my pole bean teepee with some short picket fencing with row cover draped over it thinking that should keep the rabbits out until the beans start climbing up the poles. The next day we could see bunny standing on his/her hind leg legs with the front paws on the makeshift fence and the day after that all the pole beans were gone to.

Rabbit by pole bean makeshift fence. Photo by dmp2021.

Between the rain, heat, and mosquitoes this has been a tough year on many gardeners. It was good for pesto, pickles, and peppers but the tomatoes and summer squash, in my gardens at least, succumbed early to disease. I decided to stop fighting Mother Nature and just start cleaning up the garden beds. Next year will be a more bountiful one – at least as far as beans go – says the ever-optimistic gardener!

Dawn P.

Along the country roads of Connecticut, drivers are likely to encounter a marker that, surprisingly, has become a fixture of the state’s agricultural scenery: The Connecticut Wine Trails sign.

CT Wine Trail (Source: ctwine.com/wineries)

Just a generation ago, Connecticut’s grape growers could only produce wine for their own consumption. But with the passage of the state’s Farm Winery Act in 1978, wineries were allowed to establish vineyards, sell wine to the public, and conduct onsite tastings. Today Connecticut boasts 56 vineyards. Not only do these vineyards and wineries serve up a surprising number of high-quality local varietals, they have become popular destinations for weddings, concerts and even yoga classes, and add $154 million to the state’s economy every year.

Connecticut’s Three Viticultural Regions – (Source ttb.gov/wine/ava-map-explorer)

As the distinctive qualities of Connecticut’s wines have evolved, their recognition has also increased. In 1984, the federal government recognized the state’s first official American Viticultual Area (AVA), the Western Highland Region, which includes all of Litchfield County, part of Fairfield, New Haven and Hartford Counties. This was followed in 1988 with creation of the Southern New England AVA region covering thirteen counties and three New England States; Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.  Official appellation as an AVA provides benefits for wineries and consumers alike. Why? By recognizing a region’s distinctive climate, soil, and topographical features– all of which factor into the “character” and taste profiles of the region’s wines, winemakers can highlight the geographic pedigree of their products. Consumers, too, often seek out wines from specific AVAs because they prefer the unique qualities of that region’s wines. To be labeled as a wine from an AVA, at least 85% of the grapes in the wine must have been grown in the AVA, and the wine fully finished in the state where the AVA is located.  

In November 2019, the Eastern Highlands Region, which includes vineyards and wineries in parts of Hartford, New Haven, Tolland, Windham, New London, and Middlesex Counties, became the state’s third official AVA. This was the result of the extensive and painstaking efforts of Steven Vollweiler, owner of Sharpe Hill Vineyard in Pomfret, CT, who conducted the in-depth research on climate, soil, geography, and growing conditions required for the application.  The Eastern Highlands are distinctive in having a mineral-rich soil left by glaciers that moved through the area 10,000 years ago. It’s temperatures are not as mild as the Southern New England AVA nor as cold as the Western Highlands AVA. This distinctive profile has helped Sharpe Hill earn national and international recognition for its wines.   

(Courtesy Sharpe Hill Vineyard)

For all these reasons, my husband and I ventured with great interest to Sharpe Hill Vineyard, to taste wine grown in this new AVA. Located just 30 mins from our home, in the historic area of Pomfret, Sharpe Hill’s beautiful, vine-covered hillsides and colonial setting in The Last Green Valley seemed almost a world away. Both the oldest operating and the largest winery in the Eastern Highland AVA, Sharpe Hill was established in 1996 and produces about 15,000 cases each year.

Arriving at the restored colonial buildings that house the vineyards operations, we were enchanted by the beautiful farm setting and wonderful views of the vineyard, now near harvest. In that it was the first beautiful day after centuries of rain, we quickly  decided to forego fact-finding for wine tasting (with a cheese and fruit box). We started with their most popular wine, Ballet of Angels and ended with their signature port wine. Every sample provided ample evidence for why Sharpe Hill wines have won so many medals. What a thrill to discover such a gem so close to home. We can’t wait to return with friends for wine and cheese.

Husband Conducting Research

This is not the first winery we have visited in the Eastern Highlands Region AVA, and it definitely won’t be the last Our PLAN is to visit wineries from all three AVA’s to get a sample of the distinct characteristics each impart to their wines. It certainly is a nice way to travel through this beautiful state and I hope you have a chance to do so, too. To find a vineyard near you, go to www.ctwine.com.

Join me in raising a glass to toast to Connecticut’s newest American Viticultural Area, the Eastern Highland Region. Cheers!

Marie Woodward

Sunflowers along the edge of a field

“By all these lovely tokens, September days are here. With summer’s best of weather and autumn’s best of cheer.” – Helen Hunt Jackson

September arrived with a splash this year, and a big one at that. Hurricane Ida may have spared us her winds, but not the heavy rains and the flooding that came with it. Temperatures at least have dropped and people  have a reprieve from watering gardens and lawns.  

Saturated soils resulted in the standing water on this turf area.
Flooding and strong currents here at the Glastonbury ferry entrance ramp on the Connecticut River has stopped ferry service temporarily

The extended hot, humid weather has led to a burst of stinkhorn fungi in mulched areas and woodlands. These fungi have spores in a slimy material that is visited by flies attracted by the putrid odor. After visiting this stinky slime and getting nothing for their trouble, the flies move on, dispersing the spores as they go. The stinky squid fungi are small, orange and have three or four fingerlike “arms”. Spores are often in mulch that was added to gardens earlier in the year.

Stinky squid fungi in images above

I found a little 4-toed salamander far from its woodland domain the day after a rain- just missed it with a mower. This is Connecticut’s smallest salamander being only 2- 3 ½ inches long.  These salamanders are found found in both moist and dry woodlands and in wooded swamps. Sphagnum moss is usually present nearby and is often used by the female for nesting.

4-toed salamander

On a woodland trail, a female American pelecinid wasp flew by and landed on a leaf. They have a long ovipositor that they use to inserts eggs with especially where grubs are in the soil. These black wasps diet consists primarily of nectar, perhaps supplemented by some pollen and water.

Female American pelecinid wasp

Three weeks ago I came across an elm sphinx caterpillar on slippery elm. This caterpillar has four horns on the thorax and one on the rear, like most sphinx caterpillars. it can be green or brown, but this one started off green and then just turned brown this week. Food is exclusively elm.

Travelling through tobacco farmland this past week, there was a lot of harvesting activity. Drying barns are filling up with sun grown broadleaf tobacco leaves. Tobacco sheds are vanishing as the land is bought up for development and houses..

Drying shed with hanging tobacco leaves
Hay bales in a barn with green doors

There are so many native plants that have fruits now- viburnums, filberts, shrub and tree dogwoods, black cherry, winterberry and spicebush just to name a few. Along with many herbaceous plants like pokeweed and goldenrods, these fruits are valuable to all kinds of wildlife including migrating birds.

Arrowwood viburnum
Red osier dogwood fruit

Tansy, an introduced member of the aster family, is blooming now. Its yellow, button- like flowers have a striking pattern. The plans has a long history of cultivation for its medicinal qualities.

Of September, who can say it better than this?

“…there is a clarity about September. On clear days, the sun seems brighter, the sky more blue, the white clouds take on marvelous shapes; the moon is a wonderful apparition, rising gold, cooling to silver; and the stars are so big. The September storms… are exhilarating…”
— Faith Baldwin, 

Pamm Cooper

Waning Moon in September