Kachemak Gardener: Of bears and bulbs

The very first topic at hand is the black bear(s) roaming around Mountain View, Elderberry, Bayview. There was a sow with a cub in the neighborhood but it seems that a boar has moved in. I have examined the scat and noticed there aren’t any berries but there are raspberry seeds. I have also noticed what appears to be vomit that is all apples. So now we have a bear with a stomach ache.

We all know by now that the blueberry crop is a failure this season. Combine that with a whittling of habitat and there we are — a hungry urban bear. Let’s use common sense: take in your bird feeders, trash cans, dog food. Let’s not be the reason this bear needs to be put down. He (and I say “he” because of the size — he’s a big one) will be settling down with the coming weather. When he runs out of food, he will find a comfy den and that will be that. We live in Alaska. This neighborhood is at the bear/human interface and it is our responsibility to think this through. This is not the only area experiencing bear activity this fall; they seem to be everywhere.

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Be thinking about planting bulbs. I have made a mistake and you need to make note of it so you don’t do the same thing: Last fall I planted crocus next to the entry steps, thinking what a delight they would be in the spring when the bleeding hearts had yet to awaken. Wrong. The area is under the eaves and dry as a bone. Add to that a lack of enough light and I had a clutch of dismal crocus. My good intention is to move them come spring when I can find them — if they make it through another winter. There are so many places in this garden where bulbs flourish, they will join their compatriots and all will be well.

Also, I really and truly prefer minor bulbs. The reasoning here is the foliage that is left behind after the glory of the early bloom. I have managed to position most of the bulbs under perennials that will successfully hide the spent foliage. This has worked well and my hope is that you will do the same. Otherwise, if you are committed to taller bulbs, you will need to wait for the foliage to die back and that can really take forever. You can tie the leaves in a knot and tuck it under perennials to mitigate the ugliness, but just go with little ones in the first place.

It seems that I have yet to plant bulbs as deep as the package recommends. By the bloom success rate it seems they do just fine with whatever you manage. I like to plant them in a clutch. This give the blooms some mass. You don’t want a bloom here and there. They will eventually fill in but why wait? Also, I have yet to divide any established clumps. Instead I just dig around and pull out a few to put somewhere else. Whatever you decide, please don’t miss the opportunity to plant bulbs.

What a nice gentle fall we’re experiencing. I know, the rain has been a bit much, but the overall environment must be deeply grateful.

Because of the rodentia/birds this spring we now have a late crop of vegetables and they are flourishing. The six Skyphos lettuce heads may be small but they are tender; the fourth cutting of chard is a delight; the side shoots on the Arcadia broccoli are nicely gaining in size. All that said, we are still eating fresh produce from the garden. Can’t argue with that.

The artichokes are coming on. These are usually the last to be harvested, but not so this year. If you haven’t eaten a home grown artichoke you don’t know what you’re missing. You will never go back to the tasteless, albeit huge, specimens in the grocery store. Keep in mind they are huge plants. Think about this.

I have planted five lettuce seedlings in the greenhouse and they are thriving. I have always and forever wanted to do this. The greenhouse is completely cleaned out and ready to go for the coming season. The bins are filled with fresh compost. In the past I have attempted to seed in lettuce but it really doesn’t go anywhere, and doesn’t ever germinate before the daylight diminishes to the point where the plants won’t respond. Not so this year. I actually thought ahead and had seedlings ready to go in. They are as happy as can be. The last pot of basil became pesto this afternoon; no sense in pushing my luck.

There was a burst of lovely weather this afternoon and I brought up the garlic and shallots that have successfully dried in the basement. I made myself comfortable in a Derek chair on the deck, cleaned up the bulbs and put them away in paper bags in the broom closet where they will be dark but not cool because there is not a cool spot to be found anywhere in this house. Anyway, that’s where I always put them and they last a year.

I’m not ready to plant the garlic. This is always and forever a roll of the dice. Too early and the cloves could rot from the rain, too late and there won’t be enough time for them to develop a root system. I’m waiting until about the second week of October to make my move. I just stick the cloves in the ground as far as my finger will push them down and wish them luck. I will cut up the Christmas tree in January and use the boughs to mulch. That’s all folks.

But a word of caution. My neighbors, the McNultys, had their garlic crop wiped out by root maggots. I was stunned. I didn’t think there was anything that would challenge garlic. Well a Google search proved there are a million things that can make life miserable for garlic. All I can say is rotate your crops and use row cover, but that isn’t until this coming growing season.

Again, this mild fall is a silver lining in troubling times. The clematis alpina always sets more blooms this time of year, but this year is a bonus bloom. It is lovely. The rose Theresa Bugnet is blooming with determination and let’s not forget the hydrangea paniculata Peegee. My goodness what a delight that shrub is.

Keep gardening.

Rosemary Fitzpatrick is a longtime Homer gardener and has been writing Kachemak Gardener since 1990.

Hydrangeas and garlic make a welcome combination for a lovely fall, as seen here on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in the Kachemak Gardener’s garden in Homer, Alaska. (Photos by Rosemary Fitzpatrick)

Hydrangeas and garlic make a welcome combination for a lovely fall, as seen here on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in the Kachemak Gardener’s garden in Homer, Alaska. (Photos by Rosemary Fitzpatrick)