Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Weed or Seed?

What happens when you turn a group of kids loose in your garden with packs of seeds? A lot of seedlings! The question becomes, is it a seedling or a weed?

It is helpful if you know what a carrot seedling, turnip seedling, etc looks like in it's early stages. Otherwise, you have to wait until they grow into something you recognize before you thin them out.

Had this been my garden at home, I would have made a slight impression in the soil with a stick, ruler or what ever I found lying around the potting shed. I would have planted the seeds in a row and I would know for sure that they were seeds and not weeds. On the positive side, look at the great germination rate we achieved!

Speaking of success, even though we had about 3 inches of rain here in the Annapolis area, the lettuce is thriving. Maybe I should plant lettuce in my rain garden?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Welcome to the Derwood Demo Garden

My name is Erica Smith, and I'll be blogging over the growing season to keep you updated on the progress of the Montgomery County Master Gardeners' demonstration garden at the Agricultural Farm History Park in Derwood. The garden is run by MGs Martha Fisher and Maria Wortman, and I am vegetable garden leader (as well as Montgomery Grow It Eat It chair).

May is a great time of the year, as we move out of the spring planting season and into summer. The soil is warming, slowly but surely despite the chilly nights and rain, and we're ready to sow beans and squash and transplant tomatoes and peppers. April is anticipation time for us at the demo garden. We start work too late in the season (April 9 this year) to count on much in the way of spring crops, especially in a cloudy spring like this one. All our peas and lettuce are still tiny and about to be blasted by May heat. We do use April to get the garden well-weeded and tidy, to get our signs in place, to mark off planting beds, and to tend our perennial plants.

This is what we start with (I'll show you photos through the season to compare; these are all by MG photographer and demo garden worker Katharine Lambert):

We also plant seeds for salad greens and other spring crops, always hoping we'll get to harvest them, and sometimes we transplant seedlings:

I wouldn't normally grow lettuce or beets as transplants, but these were planted out carefully arranged in a special bed we're calling Edible Beauty, illustrating particularly attractive vegetables that counteract the notion that food gardens have to be utilitarian and scruffy. I think our whole garden ends up looking beautiful every year, but homeowners' associations often have other ideas - show them our edible beauties and maybe they'll change their minds! I'll post photos of the bed when it's underway.

We also started a new asparagus bed this year, and it's great to see the baby stalks emerging:
No eating those stalks until year three! It's hard to resist.

Another one of our first tasks for the season is planting potatoes. Here's MG Barbara Knapp putting the starts in the newly-dug trench and covering them with soil:

And here she is two weeks later covering over the new potato plants:

(Why does it seem to have gotten colder in the meantime?) The plants continue to be covered as they grow, until we can't cover them any more. The deeper the potatoes are planted, the more tubers will grow on the spreading roots; think of them as growing up from the original sprouting potato section. (Sweet potatoes, on the other hand, you have to think of as growing down. But more on those later - they belong to May.) We can start harvesting the potatoes when the plants die back (or earlier), though we always let some stay in the ground until the first weekend in October for the big Harvest Festival at the park. The kids coming through the garden love to see the potatoes emerge from the soil.

I like seeing the structure of the garden built up over this anticipatory month: the trenches, the paths, the strings and stakes, and the still-empty cages and trellises. Here are MG interns Tracey Nadonley and Nancy Rudnick constructing a bean teepee:

We'll plant those beans this week!
After some quiet weeks of anticipation and weeding and toting mulch around, we'll have a fury of activity this Thursday morning, with lots of seeds and seedlings going into the ground. It'll look like a growing garden instead of a framework. Watch this space to see the transition.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Thirsty Feeders

Squash is one of my favorite summer vegetables. They are easy to grow and and don’t require as much care throughout the season as other garden inhabitants can. They are also easy to incorporate into many existing recipes which is a good thing because just a few transplants can bring squash into the kitchen every day.

To extend our summer season, we put our first planting of squash in raised beds. These beds heat up quicker than the surrounding soil. As cool as this spring has been, this may put us 3 or 4 weeks ahead of the game. The downside of using raised beds is that the soil tends to dry out much quicker. Squash needs about 1-1/2” of water per week. To get the healthiest plants possible you need to keep the soil moist in the 10-20” zone below the surface.

To solve this problem we plant our squash around containers that are buried to within 1” or so from the top rim. This ensures that we are watering to the proper depth in a quick manner.

Before planting we prepare the bed as we would regardless of where we are planting squash. First we use a garden fork or a spade to loosen the soil to a depth of 4-6” without turning the soil over.

Next we rake the soil out to remove as many clumps as possible.Then we bury a container left over from a previous landscaping project. We only dig a hole about half the height of the container. The remainder is buried by hilling soil up around the sides of the container to create a mound.

If you don’t have one available almost any container with holes in the bottom will do. Another one of my favorite containers to use are old milk jugs. The old nursery containers we use are just large enough to place a milk jug inside. This gives us the option of providing a slow application of water should we go away for several days.

Because we have ample stores of compost, we then mix in a few shovels full around the container. If you prefer to use a slow-release fertilizer, such as a 5-10-10, you could do that now as well. Just be sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommended application rate.Now all that is left is to plant our seedlings, apply some mulch and water them in. We will water once a week now and twice a week when the weather becomes hot.Using our containers we can apply a compost tea or a liquid fertilizer if needed. By not applying water in an overhead manner, we reduce the chance of diseases such as mildew. Like with soaker hoses or drip irrigation, we are conserving water without the expense of extra equipment or return trips to the garden to shut off hoses. You can use this approach for most thirsty feeders such as tomatoes, cucumbers and melons too.

Hello from the Governor's Mansion

Here I am with Suzanne Lewis. We are going to give you a little tour of the mansion's vegetable garden and show you how it all came together.

This is the layout of the garden. As you can see, you don't have to be limited to squares and rectangles. We followed the natural curve of the bed and allowed the shape to match the other planting areas around it. What you see is mostly greens; lettuces, kale, collards and chard. If you notice, there is an oak tree in the background which gave us a few shade issues. The more shady area and the time of year naturally lent itself to planting greens.

Once we established the rows, we placed the plants around to get an idea of spacing and what plants we wanted where. This is Suzanne putting the first plant in the soil. That is always an exciting time, full of great expectations!

I just thought I would let you see Mrs. O'Malley and Chef Canby getting in on the action.

For the finishing touches, we spread newspaper in the walkways and covered it with mulch. This will help prevent weeds and establish permanent places to walk to avoid compacting the planting area.

Because we had a limited area that gets full sun, we planted tomatoes and herbs in pots and placed them in the sun around the fountain. If you have limited sun or space, you too can garden in a pot.

Well, that concludes our tour. I hope you enjoyed it. Join us throughout the summer to see our progress.