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Gardening & More: Check out this unique planter that allows gardeners to easily harvest yams

FANCY PLANTER — If you like to raise potatoes or any other underground crop, you will appreciate this large container garden, built by Dan Cadzow of Buffalo. When it is time to harvest, open the door on the front, to reach the tubers.
SPRINGVILLE — I reaped a bounty of gardening tips, when I visited a small yard on the Parkside Garden Tour in Buffalo, on June 30.

Dan and Renee Cadzow, who have four young children, like to grow their own food.

I loved their clever container garden, complete with a door that Dan Cadzow made. He is using the planter to grow Chinese yams and bitter melon. When it is time to harvest the yams, he can open the door on the front of the container, to reach the yams, which are underground, without disturbing the other plants.

A trellis made of twine attached to wooden slats was screwed into the arbor. Cadzow discovered that, when the twine got wet, it contracted and pulled the bottom slat away from the arbor. He said that he will make the twin trellis looser, next time.

Beans are planted in the garden bed to the left and climb up another twine trellis, to the arbor.

The planter performs another, beautifying function: It hides garbage and recycling cans.

To save space, shelves are attached to the fence. Window box containers, set on the shelves, are used to grow herbs. Even if you have abundant space, this is a nice way to add interest at eye level, in your garden.

Many of the gardens I write about have been decades in the making, but nothing in the Cadzows’ yard is older than 4 years.

Cadzow recommended planting as soon as possible, when moving to a new place. The family was at its previous house for several years before planting trees and, when it was time to move, the trees were just getting to be large enough to enjoy.

“Fix the leaky roof and get your house safe, but, after that, the first thing you should do is plant things,” Cadzow said. He and his wife planted grapes, three years ago, and are getting their first good crop of fruit, this year.

Cadzow said that he is trying to grow as much food as he can and, although he has a small, urban yard, his food plants include raspberries, grapes, blueberries, strawberries, corn, beans, broccoli, spinach, kale, oregano, chives, thyme, sage and rosemary.

To preserve herbs, freeze the cuttings with water in an ice cube tray. Use the cubes of frozen herbs for soups and other dishes.

Cadzow has been experimenting with biochar as a soil amendment, a technique that goes back to the terra preta or black earth, created by South Americans thousands of years ago. Biochar is made by heating wood or other biomass in a no-oxygen or low-oxygen environment.

According to the article “Biochar Soil Management” by J. Lehmann of Cornell University, all organic matter added to soil significantly improves various soil functions. Biochar is much more effective in retaining most nutrients and keeping them available to plants than other organic matter such as leaf litter, compost or manures.

Cadzow said he could not discern any difference between biochar and lump charcoal. They are made the same way, so he is using lump charcoal in his garden.

Do not use charcoal that has lighter fluid added. Look for natural hardwood charcoal.

Cadzow dug a trench, threw in the lump charcoal and covered it with compost. This is the second year he has tried biochar.

“Everything grows great here, but I don’t know if it’s because of the biochar,” he added.

Biochar may have another advantage. While decaying plant material quickly releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, biochar may be able to sequester carbon dioxide, storing large amounts of greenhouse gases in the ground for centuries.

I think gardeners will be hearing more about biochar, in the future.

Connie Oswald Stofko is the publisher of, the online gardening magazine for Western New York. Email

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