Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Protecting tomatoes against the cold


A picture worth at least a few words, which are: we are still expecting some cold nights coming up, so if you have tomatoes in the ground or are putting them in soon, give them some protection! I couldn't wait any longer to get some of my huge plants in small pots into the ground, so I broke out all the protection devices I had lying around.

No endorsement implied (especially since I have limited to no experience with these devices), but from left to right:

Gro-Therm Perforated Transparent Film (over hoops)
Kozy-Coat
Pop-Up Tomato Accelerator
Weather Defender Tomato Cages

Also in the photo: one tomato left uncovered to see how it does in comparison. Off camera: stuck two with my cabbages under a big row cover tunnel.

If you don't have any of this stuff, you can still protect your plants. Just watch the weather forecast and throw an old sheet over the plants when temperatures dip below 50, especially if there's wind. (Use rocks to hold it down. Also cheap.) Your plants will live without protection unless we actually get a frost, but their growth will be slowed and perhaps stunted.

Yes, indeed, I should have waited to start my tomatoes so I could hold them inside until well after Mother's Day. My only excuse is that some of us MGs did a little grafting project (with which I had some success!) and had to get both rootstock and scions started pretty early since the grafted plants are set back in growth during recovery. And for whatever reason I decided that since I was using a 50-cell tray to start the plants, I needed to fill every cell... plus start some others a week later just in case... anyone need some tomato seedlings?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Upcoming GIEI open house by Montgomery County Master Gardeners

Please visit us on the afternoon of Saturday, April 29th! We will have all sorts of activities including: educational talks; workshops on plant propagation, mushroom growing, tomato grafting, and hydroponic gardening; children's programs; plant and product sales; demos in our demo garden; and lots of Master Gardeners to answer your questions.

More information including a schedule here.


Sunday, April 9, 2017

Claytonia, or miner's lettuce

I've grown a lot of different vegetables at this point, but there's always something new for me to try. Last fall I planted some Claytonia perfoliata, or miner's lettuce, alongside spinach in my vegetable garden. Both of them have wintered over nicely and are being harvested now.

Claytonia is a odd-looking small edible green plant.


That specific epithet "perfoliata" refers to the way the leaf is pierced by the flower structure. Each of those leaves is about the size of a quarter, so you need a lot of them to make a meal, but you wouldn't want to overdo it anyway because they contain oxalic acid which is toxic in large quantities. (More than you would want to consume; don't worry.) You can use claytonia in a salad, or briefly braise or wilt it in a cooked dish. It has a nice lettuce-like, slightly sour flavor.

The plant is native to the western U.S., and gets its common name from the California Gold Rush miners who ate it for vitamin C, to avoid getting scurvy.

I've seen claytonia seed for sale in a number of seed catalogs. Try planting it this fall for a spring treat next year. Definitely a cool-weather plant, it will bolt in the slightest heat, so overwintering seems the best way to go. I didn't give it any protection at all, but if you live in a particularly cold climate you could try it in a cold frame.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Four-season lettuce


One project we're embarking on this year in the Derwood Demo Garden is growing lettuce year-round (or as close as we can get). Lettuce is a perfect crop for spring or fall: quick-growing, tolerant of cool weather, useful. But it often flags, turns bitter and bolts in hot weather, and heavy frosts will kill it.

The solutions to this are:

  • Grow in an area that gets more sun in the spring than in the summer - in the shade of a tree is great, or use shade cloth to alter the environment;
  • Choose varieties that suit the season;
  • Keep well-watered in hot weather;
  • Grow under a cold frame or plastic-covered tunnel in the winter.
Our salad tables are shaded by a large maple tree, so that's where we will grow our summer lettuce. We've had success growing well into July before there, but haven't systematically planned to keep going - it should work, though. We'll try a few in the sunnier parts of the garden to see how they do, as well. And we'll get the cold frame out for winter.

We're starting our spring lettuces indoors for transplant.


Summer lettuces will be started directly in the salad table in part, plus we'll start more seedlings indoors. We'll use succession planting to start new plants every couple of weeks. If we are lucky with the weather and our varieties, we should be able to continue this through to fall, when more cold-tolerant lettuces will go in - some in the salad tables and some in the ground to be covered by a cold frame.

You can grow just about any lettuce for spring and fall. Some are particularly cold-tolerant and good for holding over winter. Here's the list of varieties we're trying for summer, all of which are supposed to be heat-tolerant and bolt-resistant.
  • Buttercrunch
  • Cherokee
  • Concept
  • Green Star
  • Muir
  • New Red Fire
  • Seafresh
  • Summer Bibb
  • Toretto
There are lots of other similar varieties out there, which we'll try in subsequent years. This is a growing market niche, for obvious reasons - it's hot out there, and we love our summer salads. We're keeping track of which ones do best for us. If you have had success with summer-grown lettuce varieties, leave a comment - we'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Early Garden Chores

I like Erica's post about getting some garden chores done early.   And like her, I'm planting some early season cool weather vegetables seeds in the garden and getting some early weeding done.  But, unlike Erica, I am putting down my drip tape (see MG 6 Drip Irrigating Your Garden) to water the bed and covering the it with row cover to provide some frost protection for those emerging spinach and kale seeds.

Extended forecasts for our region (temperature and precipitation) show a good chance of above average temperatures and below average rainfall.  Of course, this could mean by a tenth of a degree or several degrees.  But when comparing the cost of a few seeds to some earlier than expected fresh vegetables for the table, I'll always plant a few seeds early.

To my surprise, my arugula wintered over and my garlic looks great. My onion sets have been ordered as have my new red and yellow raspberries and new strawberry plants. After all this is the year of small fruit and there is nothing like fresh strawberries or raspberries from the garden

I'm also finishing up the rejuvenation of my 30 year old blueberry bed and will be pruning my trellised black raspberries in the next week or so.  Here are some before and after pictures.


Seeds started in the basement under florescent lights are broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, leeks, kale and fennel.  Toward the middle to end of March will be eggplant and peppers.  And just a reminder.  Fluorescent tubes start to lose some of there brightness (lumens) after about 15 to 20 percent of their life (20,000 hours).  So I change my fluorescent tubes out every two years (16 hours a day x 100 days x 2 years = 3200 hours or about 16% of the tubes expected life).  So if your seedlings grown under lights looked spindly and you had the tops within an inch of the lights, try changing the tubes.