Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What to look for in a seed catalog

Ah, the blank slate of the spring garden!

It's cold outside, more snow is on its way, and spring planting is just a dream. But the seed catalogs are here, so dreaming is the right thing to do... and then, for those of us who have a budget at least, more serious planning.

I have my own small garden to plan, but also I've got 1700 square feet of demo garden to play with: maps to draw, leftover seed to organize, new seed to order. I'll be making some posts along the way to let you in on some of my choices.

First, how to choose between all those deliciously attractive catalogs that are beating their way to your mailbox? (Or if they aren't, everyone's got a website these days.) In the end, it's a matter of personal choice, but here are some things I look for in a catalog or website - and don't necessarily find them all in one place!
  • Logical organization. Can you find what you're looking for the first time and when you go back again? Is there an index or a user-friendly menu?
  • Good business practices.
  1. Are sales guaranteed and return/refund policy clear?
  2. Is the company easy to communicate with?
  3. Is shipping information made clear, especially for live plants?
  4. Are maturity dates printed on seed packets? Is seed germination tested?
  • The Safe Seed Pledge. (For more information see this article by Lee Royer, Frederick County Master Gardener.)
  • Planting, growing and harvest instructions for each species and (when different) cultivar. Yes, this is in books, but it's convenient to have it available when you make your ordering decisions.
  • Pictures of the products. Not necessary (and expensive to print) but nice to have. Sometimes they're on the website if not in the catalog. Remember pictures can lie! Good descriptions are a must if photos are missing.
  • Descriptions ideally including:
  1. Disease resistance
  2. Size and growth habit of plant
  3. Size of edible part
  4. Culinary details
  5. Fruit and flower color if relevant
  6. Comparisons between similar cultivars to assist in choice
  7. And anything else important!
  • Fair prices. And please tell us how many seeds in a packet because it helps us compare! Sometimes we want fewer seeds (for small gardens) and sometimes we want the best possible price by weight.
  • Species information. I like to see this even for vegetables; some people don't care. But it can be important to know which species or subspecies you are dealing with. For example, the family of edible squashes consists of four species, of which two, Cucurbita moschata and C. mixta or argyrosperma, are more resistant to vine borers and cucumber beetles. If you are only given common names, you may not know whether the squash you're buying fits into those species. It is also easier to remember relationships between plants and how this may affect pests and diseases, if you are provided with species information.
Also, consider that seed produced here on the East Coast (ideally in the Mid-Atlantic) may grow better for you than seed from elsewhere in the country that's meant to do well in other climate conditions. "Buy local" doesn't mean quite the same thing with seed that it does with produce from a farmer's market, but you can keep it in mind anyway. And even though you may want to get your orders in now to be sure you get exactly what you want to grow in 2010 (yes I will tell you in another post where you can order mouse melon seed!), remember that your local garden center will have that seed you forgot to buy come spring.

What do you look for in a seed catalog? What are you going to order this winter?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Grow it, eat it in December

Even December yields a feast from the garden.
Today’s breakfast is broccoli quiche.

I love Fall broccoli. Maturing as the weather gets cold gives it a milder flavor than spring broccoli that matures as the weather gets hot. Fall broccoli also has fewer pest problems. And I enjoy harvesting fresh vegetables from the garden in December.

Fresh eggs taste best on winter mornings.

1 frozen pie crust
4 eggs and 4 egg whites
1 cup chopped broccoli steamed for 5 minutes
Medium size onion or 2 scallions, slivered
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Hold back ¼ cup of the cheddar cheese and whisk together all other ingredients. Pour into the pie crust and sprinkle the remaining cheddar cheese on top. Bake on lower rack in oven for 35 minutes or until set. You can substitute spinach for broccoli and add ham if you want.

Zoom in for a mouthwatering look.

Maybe we'll leave a quiche for Santa instead of cookies.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Harvest in the Snow

We don't usually garden into December at the Derwood Demo Garden, but this fall we've been short on work days because somehow it always rains on Thursday, and so a lot that would normally have been harvested in the vegetable garden is still there. And - I went to visit today to see how things were after the snow and before tonight's predicted freezing rain - much of it is still looking great!

Here's what I harvested today:

Purple Top White Globe turnips (plenty more of those to come, too); Red Long of Tropea onions; and the last tiny Bull's Blood beets. Left for another harvest, leeks:

And cabbages:

And cauliflower with tiny little heads forming:

The cauliflower is still under a row cover that was meant to protect it from insects (mainly harlequin bugs) and is now offering some small protection from weather. There's a Lesson Learned story connected with that row cover: I bought the cauliflower seedlings in August and put them in the ground, checking them (I thought) carefully for pests and covering them up. But the next time I looked at the plants, they had been nearly skeletonized by cabbage worms. Missed a couple - or the eggs. Lesson: do not put the pests with your plants under the row cover. I squished all the caterpillars I could find, and the next time I looked (a couple of weeks later, due to circumstances), the plants were at least in no worse shape, and one lone cabbage butterfly fluttered out. But I can't imagine most of the butterflies got through their life cycle very well imprisoned under a row cover. At least no harlequin bugs found their way in, and the cauliflower started looking better as soon as the temperatures cooled. We'll have to work harder on stimulating head formation, so it'll be all worthwhile!

Maybe we'll do this fall gardening thing on purpose next year, hm? It seems to work!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Fall Container Gardening

Container gardening is possible well into the fall. I tried it for the first time this year with good results. In early September I planted endives, a lettuce mix, and arugula in large plastic pots using a mixture of commercial potting soil and compost. The pots are on a sunny, south-facing patio. I began picking a few leaves by mid-October. Now it's the first week of December and I'm still harvesting enough greens for salads by cutting rather than pulling up the plants. And the leave continue to regrow -- admittedly slowly but still there's new growth. With regular frost likely in the coming weeks, I plan to move the pots soon up against the south-facing wall of the house to extend my container gardening a bit longer.
I also planted kale in a similar large pot (foreground)in early September. This pot will go up near the south wall as well with the seedlings protected with light straw. To get a head start on spring gardening, I will set the well-hardened kale seedlings out in the garden in mid-February or when the frost is out of the soil.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Seasons end, but not quite

At mid November, after several frosts, the life of our garden is fading out. Deep green plants that were prolific a few weeks ago are now wilted brown. But careful inspection reveals treasures yet to be harvested. Some tomatoes and peppers hide under the insulation of dead leaves. There is still a mother lode of potatoes and carrots waiting to be mined. A few greens offer late season salads. And in vivid contrast to the surrounding death, Fall planted broccoli and cabbage are flourishing.

Once glorious tomatoes cling lifelessly to the trellis.

Chard (in the background) flaunts its greenery
at the forest of spent collard stocks.

Broccoli and cabbage thrive in the cool of autumn.

Sparkling diamonds of rain drops
decorate a budding head of broccoli.

Even in November, the garden yields its bounties.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

What's a vegetable garden worth?

This year we set aside a 10x10 foot plot at the Derwood Demo Garden as the Grow It Eat It Garden. We planted "typical" backyard vegetable crops, harvested and weighed the results, and made an attempt to calculate the value of the produce based on grocery store prices, as another data point in the continuing debate over whether it's reasonable to declare that having your own vegetable garden is a great way to save money. Have we come to any definite conclusions? Not sure. But here's the data. First, have some beans.

(Kentucky Wonder pole beans on the left, Masai bush beans on the right. I am a big fan of Masai now - nice little compact plants with a huge yield. The pole beans pulled the teepee over; what else can I say?)

My previous post on the totals through July showed we'd harvested $153 worth of produce. Here's the update, August through October:

Tomatoes: 19 lbs
Zucchini: 3 lbs (our one plant succumbed to mildew and squash bugs)
Peppers: 6.5 lbs
Basil: 5.5 lbs
Beans: 27.5 lbs (yes, seriously)
Mesclun: 1/2 lb

My estimated total value for these crops: $234. So that's $387 for the year.

Notes and caveats:

As I've said before, the demo garden is not your home garden. We work once a week, occasionally more often, sometimes less often due to weather. We can't always keep up with harvesting and so some produce is wasted, and we can't always keep up with pest and disease management. I wish we could be there every day inspecting plants for damage as you should in home gardens, but since we are all volunteers it's just not possible. And by the same token we are not as efficient as we should be in planting succession crops; we should have had some fall crops in that garden and just didn't get to it (aside from the pitiful harvest of mesclun). So a home garden ought to be more productive.

The price selection process is fuzzy and unscientific. I didn't go for the cheapest possible prices or the most expensive or necessarily a consistent level of price (though most of them are from Giant). Prices change through the season and I did not keep that in mind, just tried to choose an average. Some of the prices reflect the low end of organic produce costs, since our garden is an organic one, or farmer's market/locally grown costs. I went for a higher price on tomatoes, for example, which brought the total up considerably, because I personally feel there's a big difference between locally grown tomatoes that may cost more and cheap ones that are shipped unripe. Whereas with zucchini and cucumbers the origin makes less difference and so I used a "bargain" price.

Another reason the total jumped is the high price of basil and the amount we harvested from our plants. This might not be as worthwhile to someone who doesn't like pesto.

Now, subtractions. Many people who argue that vegetable gardening is not monetarily worthwhile are including the start-up costs of a new garden: tools, fencing, soil enhancements, etc. I agree that these costs will eat up $387 pretty quickly. However, once you have the tools and the fence they will last you a long time (and you might still manage to break even that first year!). So let's choose to make our subtractions based on the idea of an established garden. You may need some new soil enhancements, if you haven't been composting: perhaps about $30. Another $30 or so for fertilizer. About $20 for seeds (remember that some of them can be used next year), and then another miscellaneous $20 for garden things you didn't get last year. That brings your "profit" down well under $300, but it's still not bad. Again, totally unscientific, and it is always possible to waste money on a garden, as I well know. But with careful planning and maintenance you should be able to save instead of spend.

You can also choose your crops based on what costs the most at the store, although I think the first priority should always be what you will most enjoy eating, and then what you will most enjoy growing. Carrots may be cheap to buy, and not always the easiest to grow in our soil, but if you really want to try purple carrots then try them! Just learn as much as you can about growing them successfully before you start; knowledge is one of the biggest cost-savers out there.

And no matter what you save or don't save, you have also gained a lot just by being in the garden: getting exercise, learning about nature, knowing that you produced your own food. That's worth a lot, whether it can be measured at a cash register or not.

(Photos by Katherine Lambert)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sweet potatoes

One of the best parts of this year's Harvest Festival for us at the Derwood demo garden (besides having enough mouse melons to hand out to everyone who wanted one - hurray!) was what a great sweet potato harvest we had. Actually, that's nearly always the best part, though since this year was not a great potato year (no blight, but corn borers) we particularly appreciated seeing all those lovely red tubers (Georgia Jet variety) coming out of the ground. Especially when MG Barbara Knapp, who has the technique and patience to manage it, got a whole clump out at once still attached to the vine:

(Barbara's photo) It weighed eight pounds! Our largest sweet potato this year weighed two and a half pounds, which is only half Barbara's record of five, but really quite large enough.

We love digging for an audience, especially those kids who are curious about where their favorite foods come from. And actually we don't mind at all explaining all day long that potatoes and sweet potatoes are from entirely different plant families, and that they grow differently, and are planted at different times of the year, potatoes in March from pieces of guaranteed disease-free seed potato (please do not use store-bought) in a trench gradually filled in with soil over growing plants which will die back in the summer, and sweet potatoes in late May or whenever it's warm from plant slips on top of a loose bed of soil from which those lovely vines will spread out until frost. And yes, you can eat sweet potato stems and leaves (we just learned about the stems this time around from our visitors).

Here's Barbara showing off her viney garden:

(photo: Katherine Lambert) No, those are zinnias over to the left, but sweet potatoes have nice flowers too. You can't really see it in the middle of the vines, but the original slips were planted inside a cage of hardware cloth buried several inches in the ground to keep out mice and voles. And lo, when we dug up the tubers that had grown just outside the cage, they had been chewed partially away. I think our resident chipmunks were having a feast as well, even inside the cage. But it does a good job keeping out most furry pests. Insects are not much of a problem.

The cage was an oval about five feet long, and the whole garden area is about eight by ten feet for six plants, but if you've got less space you can still grow a plant or two and get a nice harvest in the fall. You can grow sweet potatoes in a pot! And they're pretty. Nice groundcover, if temporary.

Barbara says have a sweet potato. You know you want to.

Fish pepper harvest

Fish peppers are a gorgeous addition to either a vegetable garden or an ornamental bed, with their variegated foliage and multi-colored fruit, and as an African-American heirloom of the Chesapeake region, they're a real local specialty as well.

We grew them not too successfully in the Derwood demo garden this year (I foolishly tucked both seedling plants into places where they'd get as little sun as possible. Hey, the next-door plants were shorter then...) but those I had in my home garden did wonderfully. Anticipating cold weather, I got in the harvest, some of which looked like this:

Then I put most of the peppers (which are in the middle range of hotness, by the way) in the food dehydrator and let it run. Good for clearing the sinuses! Here's the end product:

And much more where that came from! Enough to keep us warm all winter, whether it's fish or something else that needs heating up.

The Fall 2009 issue of Washington Gardener has an interview with heirloom gardener Michael Twitty in which he extols the virtues of fish peppers, and much more. Really beautiful in your garden, and delicious too.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Grow It, Decorate It, Eat It

Nature gives us wonderful decorations in each season! Autumn is ushered in with chrysanthemums and cornstalks but the ornaments are pumpkins and gourds. I love them in all their varieties. I especially like moonshine pumpkins. These white pumpkins are a perfect representation of the harvest moon. I look at them and my mind conjures up a witch with her black cat riding her broomstick across the moonlit Halloween sky while my children below scurry door-to-door in their scary trick-or-treat costumes. And after it is all over, the pumpkins are baked into delicious pies and breads for the Thanksgiving holiday. Pumpkins and gourds are a great addition to every garden.

No, I did not grow all of these. They are courtesy of the University of Maryland variety trials at the Western Maryland Research and Education Center.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Winter Squash

Below are photographs of our butternut and spaghetti squash harvest. They are a couple of my favorite types of more than two dozen common varieties of winter squash. They are prolific, easy to grow, and very nutritious. They are called winter squash because when stored properly, they will last a long time and are a staple of our winter diet. Before storing them we rinse them in water to which we add a few drops of chlorine. We then store them in bins in a cool dry location. The garage usually works fine. They are so easy to eat by just splitting them, removing the seeds and roasting them in the oven or microwave. Spooning the cooked flesh out of the rind and serving with butter, salt, and pepper turn them into taste sensations. But they are also great in casseroles and pies. Flesh colors of winter squash range the spectrum from pale yellow to deep orange for a visual sensation. We believe that squashes are the staff of life and every garden needs a variety of them.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Late blight- will it return next year?

Over the Labor Day weekend I had to pull out the 22 tomato plants in my home garden that were infected with late blight. I harvested the green tomatoes, stuffed the plants in large plastic bags and put them out with the trash.

A number of my neighbors and co-workers in Howard Co. had tomato plants that succumbed to this wicked disease. This summer, Home and Garden Information Center staff communicated with dozens of home gardeners across the state who reported late blight symptoms on their tomato plants.

I recently spoke with Karen Rane, Director of the Plant Diagnostic Lab at the U of MD. She said that the fungus-like pathogen that causes late blight- Phytopthora infestans- could only survive the winter on living host tissue. Tomato and potato plants die with the first hard frost, but pieces of un-harvested potato could remain in the soil. It's very important that all tomato and potato plants, especially potato tubers, be removed and discarded.

So will we see a repeat of this problem next year? Very unlikely, because three factors must be present at the same time and place- the host plant (potato or tomato); cool to mild, wet weather; and lots of disease spores. In 2009,large numbers of infected Southern-grown transplants were shipped into MD and other states for sale to home gardeners. Spores were blown around to new host plants and the disease spread from garden to garden.

There is no need to sterilize stakes and cages. It's always a good idea to rotate crops if you have the room in your garden. But it's ok to plant tomatoes in the same spot next year if that's the only good spot you have.

Read this excellent list of FAQs from Meg McGrath, Plant Pathologist at Cornell University.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Vegetable love

It was great to have so many people visiting our vegetable garden at the August 29 open house. Please come see us again on October 3 and 4, Saturday and Sunday, from 11 to 4, for the Harvest Festival. This is a great event through the entire Agricultural Farm History Park, with activities for kids and adults that you can read about at the park site. The Master Gardeners will be there to answer your gardening questions and we'll have fun games and crafts for the kids as well, and I hope lots of vegetables and flowers and insects for you to look at. (Also check out our neighbors, next fenced area over from our garden, the trial garden of the National Capital Dahlia Society; come on Saturday and they should have spectacular bouquets on sale for great prices.)

Although it's quite possible to keep a vegetable garden going late into the fall and even through the winter with protection, we give ourselves a break in the demo garden and let things wind down beginning in October, with final clean-up in November. Through the season we enjoy lots of the products of our garden, and while we invariably have disappointments, we also have favorites, veggies that go on the YES WE MUST GROW THAT AGAIN list. Here are two of mine, which I highlight because in one way they're total opposites, but have a certain determination and vigor in common.

Now, English majors take note, I am aware that when Andrew Marvell wrote "My vegetable love should grow/Vaster than empires and more slow" it was a mere metaphor, and in fact although he did visit Italy in the 1640s I think the vast vegetable he would have encountered there would have been the cucuzzi gourd illustrated by Jon in his last post, and not yet its successor in the native cuisine, the squash known as zucchetta, zucchino rampicante, or tromboncino. (The cucuzzi or cucuzza is also called zucca a tromba, or so I gather from William Woys Weaver's excellent 100 Vegetables and Where They Came From. Names are very confusing. So are botanical and culinary histories, so I apologize to anyone I've been baffling by mixing up these vegetables this year!)

And I wouldn't say the zucchetta grows slowly, either. In fact, turn around and it's grown bigger on you.

(photos by Barbara Knapp)

It is a tasty squash, though, and fun to grow if you have the space. It grows well up a trellis if you speak to it persuasively, and keep coaxing it in the right direction, though really it would prefer to spread out horizontally across your entire garden and smother your eggplants and bush beans and then grow up the trellis you really meant for fall peas. The fruits will curl a little as they hang and a lot if they lie on the ground. Next year we'll grow it on the tall fence where the scarlet runner beans are this year. I don't know where the scarlet runner beans will go, but I do know the zucchetta has to be kept well away from the exterior deer fence, because it's attempted to grow through it several times this year - not just vines but fruits - and the extractions have been... interesting.

On the opposite end of the size scale is the tiny-fruited plant we've been calling Mexican sour gherkin because that's how the seed was sold to me.

(photo by Heather Powers)

However, I learned a new name for it the other day, again from William Woys Weaver (a wonderful lecture he gave on heirloom vegetables at the Monticello Heritage Harvest Festival). The plant, which is related to cucumbers and similar in taste, is actually native to Mexico and Central America, and one of the names for it in Spanish is sandia di raton, or mouse melon. It does look very much like a miniature watermelon, the sort you might serve to mice. So that is what I'm calling it from now on.

It's a crispy, juicy snack direct off the vine, good in salads, good for pickling (I haven't tried that yet because I never end up with enough left over, but this is what I hear). The vines, with leaves just like those on a cucumber plant but tiny and less rough, are vigorous but not far-rambling, and don't seem to be affected by the wilt that devastated all the true cucumbers in the garden. I've never seen an insect on them except for bees on the flowers. They're attractive plants and next year we are growing them close to the path where we can show them off.

Read William Woys Weaver on mouse melons here.

Come early to the Harvest Festival on Saturday, October 3, and I'll try to have some mouse melons for you to snack on. Please do not bring your mice.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Vegetable serpent

My neighbor loves to try new plants, no matter how weird or difficult to grow in our area. This is a cucuzzi gourd from his garden. He harvested one fruit that was 4.5 ft. long! One gourd can feed our entire block.

I read that some Italian growers train the vines to grow along tree branches so that the fruit will hang down for convenient harvest. They can be prepared and eaten as a summer squash when young. I sliced this one and fried it with garlic. Delicious.

A great sweet pepper

I love Italian frying peppers for their high yields and thin skin. Fry or grill them and you'll barely detect the skin in your mouth. 'Red Marconi' and 'Golden Marconi' are my two favorites. Here are some 8-10 inch long 'Golden Marconi' peppers. I often recommend them to gardeners who are having trouble getting ripe (red, yellow, purple...) fruits from bell pepper plants.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Super Duty Trellis

We are tired of tomato cages that fall over and leave our tomatoes a tangled mess of diseased plants that are dificult to water, weed, and harvest. String weaving is more labor intensive with the same results. So this year we devised a system that will change our whole garden. Using sturdy metal T-posts and heavy welded wire fencing, we erected a trellis that keeps the tomatoes off the ground. As we train the vines into the fencing, the tomatoes grow up into the sun and air never to topple over. A furrow at the base makes irrigation easy. Circulating air wards off disease reducing the need for fungicides. We have been rewarded with a heavy crop of beautiful tomatoes that will continue into autumn. This same trellis will serve future crops of peas, pole beans, cucumbers, and vining squash. As we construct more of these trellises, our vertical garden will generate higher yields and better quality produce.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Changing of the guard at the Governor's Mansion

No, I'm not talking about the troopers on the security detail. I'm referring to the vegetable garden.

There was no fanfare but this past Saturday, volunteers removed the greens that stood strong all summer. Most had bolted and were given a proper burial in the compost. Thanks to donations by Bonnie Plants in Kennedyville, they were replaced with collards, swiss chard, broccoli, cauliflower, green cabbage and Chinese cabbage.

The cucumbers were waning but refused to give up their ground. In honor of their service, they were allowed to live out the remainder of their time on the decorative trellises. Peas were planted at their feet and will gradually replace their elders.

The carrots and turnips that were planted as seeds in April are finally showing signs of maturing. The herbs have claimed a place of honor at the main walkway and are thriving with the attention and harvesting of the chefs.

The containers by the fountain are sculptural beauties in their own rite. The herbs and ornamental sweet potato vine have filled the pots nicely and are a fine compliment to the tomatoes and eggplant.They stood at attention and gave their respects to those who were retiring and welcomed the new recruits.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Harlequin Bugs Vanquished! (Well, we tried.)

Last year at the Derwood demo garden, we had an awful problem with harlequin bugs (Murgantia histrionica), a pest of the Brassicaceae (cabbage) family. They destroyed our crops of kale, broccoli, radishes, and cabbage, and also attacked the nasturtiums and beans, and completely covered a cleome plant (another favorite host). They were everywhere by the end of the season, and in numbers much to high to continue hand-picking and squashing and drowning, our previous methods of control.

Look at that histrionic species name, by the way - I like to know a bit about the history and nomenclature of the bugs I'm squishing, and it's especially appropriate I'm writing this entry today, since I'm going to see a commedia dell'arte play tonight, and these bugs are named after the servant character Harlequin in that style of theatre, because of the pattern of his costume and the pattern of their coloration. They're not much for camouflage!

(Photo courtesy Barbara Knapp.) Isn't that a great picture? It's like they were posing, lined up in their different growth stages. The one on the left is fully mature, but the immature ones are similar to the adults, just differently patterned and smaller.

Anyway, what I decided to do this spring was plant a trap crop. The theory of trap cropping is either to entice pests away from the crop you want to eat to another they prefer, or to isolate them early on a crop they like and destroy it (and hopefully them) before planting others they might also eat. I chose the second method, and planted a row of mustard in a spot where they'd been numerous last fall. And... waited. No harlequin bugs in the spring. One set of telltale eggs in June:

(Photo: Katherine Lambert.) We saw our first actual bug in July on the day Jon came to teach our Grow It Eat It class about garden pests - good timing, bug! - but it was a lonely camper, and didn't have much of a family developing until August.

In retrospect, I think we actually killed off a lot of last year's bugs by tilling our garden early this spring. The last generation overwinters in the soil, and should emerge when the weather gets warm. Which it took its good time doing this year, of course. Between those factors, I bet the bugs that started laying eggs this summer were newcomers that found our mustard and moved in, not descendants of last year's bugs. So perhaps a spring trap crop isn't the best method of control after all - a spring tilling does even better, and a fall tilling might be better yet. It wouldn't have to be the whole garden, either, just the parts where the bugs congregated in the fall.

But here it was August, and we had a ratty row of mustard with harlequin bugs all over it, and fall planting coming up with lots of yummy brassica plants in store. Here's what we did: dug up the mustard plants, popped them quickly into big garbage bags, tied them off, then searched the soil for escapee bugs and popped those in a final bag, and threw the whole lot in the trash.

That was last week. Of course when we got there today there were harlequin bugs on the row of radishes behind where the mustard had been. But not very many, and we squished them, and we'll keep after them and hopefully get them all, because collard and turnip seeds went in today, and broccoli seedlings will follow soon, and more in that family that are magnets for the pests. And it would be very nice to have a harvest this fall!

The other critter we've been squishing a lot of recently are squash bug nymphs:

They might be hard to see in the photo (by Nick Smith, patient son whom I drag out to the garden to photograph things) but they are a good example of a bug that unlike the harlequin is different in the juvenile stage from the brown and armored-looking adult. Kind of cute, I think. (Squish!) This is what happens when you don't get to the eggs in time (they are usually orange-ish and planted in clusters under the leaf, often in the joints of veins where they are hardest to crush).

You can see all these bugs in person (if we haven't eradicated them) by visiting the garden - any time, but particularly on Saturday, August 29, from 10 am to 1 pm, for our Open House. Google the Agricultural Farm History Park in Derwood for directions. Hope to see you there!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Grow It Eat It Garden Update

This year in the Derwood Demo Garden we planted a 10x10 bed we're calling the Grow It Eat It Garden. It's meant to represent a typical home garden with the most usually grown vegetable crops, and our goal is to weigh all the produce that comes out of it and assess a value based on average grocery cost, so the hypothetical homeowner can see how much he/she is saving.

We've had fun planting, harvesting and weighing.

Our total harvest through the end of July:

Spinach 7 lbs
Snow peas 1 lb
Mixed lettuce 11 lbs
Beets (with greens) 8 lbs
Cucumbers 13.5 lbs
Basil 2.5 lbs
Peppers 1.5 lbs
Tomato 1 lb
Zucchini 1.75 lb

That's a single tomato and a single zucchini. More to come, we hope! The tomato plants (one Brandywine OTV and one Carnival) look great, and so far so does the zucchini plant (Fordhook), though we are squashing squash bug eggs like crazy and have lost plants in other parts of the garden to borers. Our cucumber plant (Salad Bush) succumbed to wilt after an attack of cucumber beetles. I've planted another but it probably won't get going in time to produce much else this season. We would normally have beans by now but had a little accident getting started and will have a delayed harvest - very soon now. Fall crops go in soon.

As I've said before, I think the average homeowner, even a beginner, could do better than we have because of the ability to tend plants daily and replant in a more timely fashion when a crop was finished. And if I was going to do this garden over I'd probably try to stuff more plants in there. We've got a big garden to tend aside from this one bed, but if all you've got is 100 square feet, might as well make the most of it!

And the total cost savings so far, calculated based on Giant supermarket prices: $153. Cost of getting the garden started not subtracted, but let's do that at the end of the season!

Of course, there are benefits beyond cost savings to having your own garden: knowing where your food comes from, learning about plants and insects, having fun and getting exercise. I do recommend a scale, though; gives you a sense of satisfaction.

(photos by Katherine Lambert of MGs Erica Smith, Maria Wortman, and Millicent Lawrence)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

I DE-CLARE WAR on deer and rabbits!

I DECLARE WAR on deer and rabbits!


Deer & rabbits – 4 (number of times I’ve had to replant my beans!)

Ria - 0

About 15 years ago my husband hand turned and tilled a 20’ x 15’ garden bed for me for Mother’s Day. It was the best present ever! Sadly, that garden returned to turf over the next few years as garlic was the only crop the deer and rabbits wouldn’t eat. I grew tomatoes in the bed adjacent to the back of the house until deer found it, too. More than once I looked out of my kitchen window into the very guilty eyes of Deer-zilla.

This year the fever hit again. The Grow It Eat It frenzy proved contagious to me too. I planted 2 Maryland Salad Tables™ and 1 Maryland Salad Box™. Sadly, there was no sunny deer-free place to put them since building a new deck is this summer’s home improvement project. So they look pretty awful in the shade, under the overflowing gutters. Major bummer!

Taking pity on me, my husband comes to the rescue and surprises me by tilling a new garden – 35’ x 15’ – much larger than the last one. But this is the Friday of Memorial Day weekend and we’re leaving for the long weekend. He returns the tiller acknowledging that 10 more feet need to be tilled so there will be enough sun in the actual growing part of the garden.

Um…when do I get to plant the garden? We’ll be out of town most of the next few weekends and we have to solve that nasty little 4-legged varmint problem before we can plant. Then we go on vacation the end of June.

Jon said he’d sell me his electric deer exclusion fence since he was putting up a more substantial fence. Oh, no…with all of the GIEI classes going on, Jon doesn’t have time to put in a new fence after all! Now what? No problem, I’ll take care of the deer thing… I work at the Home and Garden Information Center after all! Hmmm…but I live in Columbia with strict enforcement of covenants. No problem, I’ll just chat it up with my neighbors and promise to share the harvest with them if they don’t rat me out.

My husband’s one request was that I plan everything out before I plant the first plant or purchase and install a fence. No problem. I carefully designed my garden complete with 3 foot mulched walkways around the perimeter and between the twelve 4’ x 6’ plots. Then I researched all of HGIC’s literature and consulted with Jon but I just couldn’t quite figure out this electric fence thing. The kits on-line weren’t exactly right. The local hardware stores each only had some of the equipment. The big box stores didn’t have anything for electric fences. Not as easy as I thought to plan everything in advance.

I had one weekend to act, June 6 - 7; my husband was out of town. I bought mulch and Leafgro from the local hardware store. I lowered the blades of the lawnmower and scalped the remaining 10’ x 35’ area that Neil wanted to til. HGIC was promoting lasagna and no-till gardens and I thought a comparison of methods would be a good thing. I put 3” of mulch over news

paper and/or cardboard on the walkways and 4 bags of Leafgro in each 4’ x 6’ plot without newspaper or cardboard. Nothing planted but it looked pretty good and so far I had honored my husband’s request.

So what kind of posts for this fence? Metal U-posts, fiberglass step-in posts, white or black plastic step-in posts…none of which sound attractive. What do you think? Eventually we chose wood posts for the corners and black plastic step-in posts in between. The white polytape proved too unattractive. Replaced it with polywire, added 3 extra strands at the bottom AND wire fencing inside the polywire. I'll probably be very sorry I put this in print but since July 19 I haven't seen any additional deer or rabbit feeding damage.

What are the rest of you doing to keep out deer and rabbits?