Friday, April 30, 2010

A peanut problem

So this year I decided we are going to grow peanuts in the demo garden. I have only grown them once before, and that time I started them directly in the ground, and I think we got a few that matured. So I thought to steal a march and start them indoors.

A few did actually germinate, but I must not have planted them deep enough, because I don't think this was supposed to happen:

They have been like that for about ten days now, and I don't expect further progress, though you never know. Here's one that germinated at soil level but is growing nicely:

Unfortunately that is my only success, so now that the soil is beginning to warm up we will try direct sowing this coming week. Peanuts are a fascinating plant, and I hope to at least get flowers and the subsequent "pegs" that bury themselves in the ground to produce the nuts, and maybe we will be lucky and actually get a (small) crop. More to follow if it works!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Recipe from Government House

Here is the first of several recipes from the chefs at Government House. We got to sample this one on our official planting day. Enjoy!
Dipping Oil for Bread
1 gallon olive oil
1 cup minced garlic
1/3 cup fresh thyme, minced
1/8 cup fresh rosemary, minced
3 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes
4 tablespoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon lemon rind
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Combine all ingredients together and serve with your favorite bread.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Time to thin our raspberries

I really don’t like thinning new canes of our red raspberries. Removing about half of them seems counter-intuitive. More canes, more berries—right?

No, more isn’t always better in our gardens. Why?

The reasons are similar for many fruits and vegetables. Good spacing increases air circulation and helps prevent diseases. Thinning also promotes stronger plants and higher yields—sort of like suckering tomatoes or thinning beets.

So last Thursday I got out my pruners and cut off the extra canes where they emerged from the soil, leaving the remaining canes six inches apart in all directions—well, more or less. As I tossed the cuttings into piles, I tried to convince myself once again that the remaining canes will produce bigger berries than the crowded canes would have.

When an Alberta clipper come roaring through next winter and a “secondary low” sneaks up the Atlantic coast and dumps a few feet of snow on our driveway, I’ll go to our freezer, take out a bag of frozen Heritage raspberries, put a handful of the beautiful red berries into each of our cereal bowls, then cover them with hot oatmeal, and add a modest halo of milk.

Yummy. I won’t even remember my reluctance to thin the canes in April.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Big Day at Government House

Saturday was the official planting day at Government House. The first Lady joined Master Gardeners and Apprentice Gardeners to plant broccoli, cabbage, lettuces, arugula and chard.

Mrs. O'Malley also presented a proclamation from the Governor proclaiming April as Grow It Eat It month. Dr. Wei from the University of Maryland was on hand to accept it.

Chef Medford Canby made mint tea and snacks using herbs from the garden. I'll forward a recipe from him next time!

The best news of all? The first Lady announced that there will be classes presented in the garden at Government House beginning in May.

For a list of classes and to sign up, link to the first Lady's website.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Explosion in our blackberry patch

Bad Bob. This year in general I’ve done an above-average job of keeping the flourishing winter weeds under control. But somehow I did an under-average job in the blackberry patch, which is to the south of our house and out of sight, out of mind, so to speak, because our routine activities don’t take us to that side of the house.

And then I walked that way. The blackberries were in great shape. They have put out beautiful, deep-green leaves, first hints, I hope, of a good crop to come. But then my heart sank. A quarter of the bed was covered with hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsute), a winter, spring, summer, and fall weed, the first crop of which already has bloomed and started to go to seed. (Click on photos to enlarge.)

Hairy bittercress is doubly subversive because it tempts gardeners to ignore it. Its leaves pretty much hug the ground—easy to overlook. The flowering stems are quite fine—not as eye-catching as a stand of chickweed. But one feature of hairy bittercress is attention-getting—its seed capsules. As they mature, they coil in such a way that they “explode” and propel seeds up to nine feet when disturbed by a gardener, an animal, the wind, or a wandering garden gnome.

So there was my fine crop of hairy bittercress. When I looked closer and noted that the seed capsules still had a hint of green, I hoped they weren’t quite ready to scatter at the slightest touch. I reached down, grabbed the biggest plant, and pulled.

A shower of seeds bounced off my pants legs and rained down on nearby soil. For an instant, I thought of summer rain falling on my great-grandmother’s tin roof. Back to the reality of unwanted weed seeds, I shook my head in despair and redoubled my effort at “gentler” removal. Luckily, most seed capsules were not ready to explode—so I kept on pulling.

I’ll have to be vigilant all summer to make sure I uproot the crop of bittercress seedlings that inevitably will emerge. A reference work—“Weeds of the Northeast” by Uva, Neal, and DiTomaso—indicates, the plants may produce “several generations” over one growing season. Vigilance—weekly vigilance—is the price of freedom from hairy bittercress.

Sigh, sigh. Weed, weed. Pull up hairy bittercress—and, oh yes, uproot my two other blackberry patch nemeses—common groundsel (Senecio vulgaris), another winter weed whose yellow flowers already had gone to seed and which floated away on fluffy parachutes as I pulled them, and mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris).

Mugwort, sometimes called chrysanthemum weed because of the shape of its leaves, is difficult to eliminate because it reproduces mostly by rhizomes, or underground stems. Whenever I try to remove it, root sections that break off seem to establish a new plant within a few days.

In an hour the job was done. The bittercress, groundsel, and mugwort were gone—for now.

But I’ve learned a lesson that I’ve apparently failed to learn in scores of previous springs: don’t let winter weeds go to seed in your veggie garden.

Perhaps the three blizzards and the record snowfall in Maryland during winter 2009-2010 made me a bit complacent about winter weeds this year, but they were under the snowdrifts, insulated from the frigid Canadian air, waiting for the warming sun of February and March to stimulate their growth.

Next year I really will keep winter weeds under control. In fact, if I could only find a pencil I’d jot down my first New Year’s Resolutions for 2011.

Monday, April 19, 2010

It's transfer time....again.

Ah, it's good to be back! I haven't posted for two weeks. My seedlings are growing very nicely. I had to transfer my okra and sugar snap peas into larger pots.

They are growing by leaps and bounds. I placed the sugar snap peas in one gallon pots and gently tied them to two foot stakes to give them a little support. As you can see, my cat gave me her personal approval...AFTER checking my work.

I also placed my okra into larger flower pots. I think they are going to do very well. They look very strong. They were a bit leggy, but I just buried the stems, so I think they will be alright. Since okra plants are heat lovers, I have to keep these beauties thriving indoors until mid-May or June 1st.

Speaking of thriving, there are plans in the works to get the garden cage repaired this weekend! I will be sure to post lots of pictures of the rebuild. I am relieved that we are finally getting this done as my cold crops need to get in the ground and grow nice and big for the market!

Ok, back to the plants. I have been saving all of my eggshells. Eggshells are a great source of calcium for tomato plants. You don't have to do anything special with them, just let them dry out on a paper towel. I usually throw them in the hole with the tomato plants at transplanting time. However, this time, I crushed some of them up very finely and sprinkled them on the soil around my tomato plants.

Here's a little growing tip for your plants. You may be tempted to plant tomato, pepper or cucumber plants outdoors now since all of the garden centers are selling them. In a word: DON'T. Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, watermelons, eggplants, cantaloupes and others are heat loving plants.

Although the days are starting to warm up, nighttime temperatures are still in the low 30s and 40s and can kill your plants quickly. The only plants that can go out in the garden now are cold loving plants like lettuces, radishes, spinach, kale, collards, and mustard greens.

That's all for now folks! Until next time....happy garden thoughts!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Why I Grow Vegetables


Welcome to my very first ever blog post! I'm Donna, and I'm a Maryland Master Gardener. I thought I'd start this blogging thing off by telling you a little about why I grow vegetables.

There are many reasons people grow their own vegetables - they taste better than that store-bought stuff, they are healthier than that store-bought stuff (studies have been done!), you can get more varieties, it's a fun way to get outside and get moving, it's cost-effective. While I certainly gain all these benefits from growing my own, the truth of the matter is that I grow vegetables because of my Dad.

When I was a little girl, every summer I was always out working in our little backyard vegetable garden with Dad. He taught me how to grow tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, cucumbers, beans, and others, I'm sure. This was just the way of things back then. Everybody had a garden. In fact, to this day I cannot buy zucchini in the grocery store because 'you are supposed to grow your own'.

I was 13 years old when my Dad passed away suddenly. I vaguely remember trying to have a garden for a few years after that, but without him it was no longer a priority. Anyway, I was busy trying to grow up - go to college, get a job, get married, buy a house (not necessarily all in that order!). It was when the house came, and I had my own land, that I was drawn again to growing vegetables. This was just the way of things, remember. I started small: a tomato in my flower garden, a hill of zucchini over there...Slowly but surely, each year my garden expanded, slowly replacing all the (inedible) ornamental plants that were taking up precious usable space.

As time went on, I found myself thinking more and more about my days out in the garden with Dad. Today I realize that some of the best memories I have of him were while we were out there, growing vegetables. When I'm out in my own garden, somehow I feel closer to him. I am honoring his memory, and carrying on his traditions. I still grow zucchini on mounds, like he did. I tie up my tomato plants with strips of old cloth, like he did. And when somebody asks me why I do these things, I proudly reply, 'because my Dad did it that way.'

Plowing New Ground

New blogger here and a Baltimore County Master Gardener.

Last fall I decided to take the plunge and start a major vegetable garden. A few years back, I planted 1,000 sunflowers, one by each, and the deer ate them to the ground before they reached 6 inches. So I learned my lesson that a deer fence is not a nicety but a necessity. A huge fan of recycling, I was delighted to find old pipe that could be re-purposed into fence posts in a farm dump along with a massive welded-pipe gate.

A landscaper drilled 2 1/2 foot deep holes and set the pipes, putting cement into the two posts for the gate to give it added stability. Sadly, the pipes are so fat, no hardware was available to make the gate usable. That project is still carried on my TO DO list.

I'm also an experimenter and always eager to try the latest techniques and so, rather than plow, I thought to biodrill with daikon radishes, a 'no-till' method developed by our own University of Maryland which I learned about in Master Gardener class. The seeds went in late, probably did not have a good supply of nitrogen and other nutrients either, and did not accomplish their job. Where the soil had not been scratched up to break the sod, it seems there was no way for them to even take hold. Did I mention that my garden is on a farm field that has not been touched except for mowing for at least 50 years.

This spring I faced the reality of a garden that needed drastic measures so I convinced a reluctant farmer to plow for me. His only comment was that 'it should have been plowed in the fall'. Here's a picture of Mr. H. disciplining my sod which was 6" thick. He later came back and ran a tractor mounted tiller over it and while there are still clumps of field grass in there, it is workable and starting to look like a real garden.

Ignoring the advice embedded in the Grow It Eat It classes that I taught for beginning vegetable gardeners to START SMALL, I made this garden 50' x 50'. In for a penny, in for a pound.

I'm currently hanging the deer fencing, have one row of peas planted, the corn plot is marked out and one 17' x 17' section is planted with, yes, daikon radishes. I am determined to make these things grow. It's also doubtful that I will be able to plant the entire garden this year so the daikon will hopefully keep the weeds at bay and enrich the soil for next year.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Perennial Vegetables

My gardening book to-be-read pile keeps getting larger, but one item that jumped to the top of the heap recently (not only because it was a library book and had to be returned on time) was Eric Toensmeier's Perennial Vegetables. It's a fascinating look at a category of food plants we often miss while we are putting in our fruit trees and shrubs, and our annually-planted kale and tomatoes (both of which can be short-lived perennials given the right variety and/or climate).

And now I want to grow... well, not all of the plants in the book, since many of them have limiting factors, for example that they can only be grown in climates more tropical than Maryland (including, alas, the pepino melon, but I have transplants that will be sizable by mid-May, so I'll keep hoping), but more than I'm growing now.

So far I've tried:




Sunchoke or Jerusalem artichoke


Walking Onion, of which I have no picture, and while we're on alliums, my garlic might as well be considered perennial since I never manage to dig it all up so it springs up in every bed it's been planted in. And I've started sea kale this year, and (rather unsuccessfully so far due to interfering squirrels) cow cabbage.

Some other plants I've grown are perennial in warmer climates, for example sweet potato, hyacinth bean, and both Malabar and New Zealand "spinach." In fact, some plants that die here when it gets cold are invasive pests in warm climates; Toensmeier either does not include these or explains carefully and with adequate warnings why he is making an exception. He also makes distinctions between truly invasive plants and those that are aggressive within a garden but don't spread into the wild if you keep after them (running bamboo is an example). I am tempted by Chinese artichoke, a spreading plant grown for its edible tubers, but then I see its Latin name is Stachys affinis (Stachys byzantina, lamb's ear, is a soft, furry bane of ornamental gardens, very difficult to get rid of once you have it, and all Stachys are part of the mint family) and it is described as forming large colonies. So only if I have a place I want smothered in ground cover, I guess.

However, I think I will try wintering over some of the scorzonera we are growing in the demo garden this year (shouldn't speak yet since we only planted seeds Thursday, but I hope it will succeed!). And perhaps find a suitable microclimate to perennialize scarlet runner beans (Toensmeier claims them hardy to zone 7 with lots of mulch). And groundnut would be fun to try, given a large enough trellis (4-8 foot vines).

Here's one more picture, again from a vacation, this time to Belize, where we saw this pepper growing on a small tree. Peppers are perennial, yes! But not in Maryland, sorry.

(Cardoon and pepper photos: Nick Smith; Jerusalem artichoke: Katherine Lambert; the less good ones are mine.)

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Best Laid Plans of a Gardener

Gardening, if nothing else, is a learning experience. As I noted in an earlier blog, last fall I planted kale in a large container with the intention of over-wintering the seedlings and getting a head start with spring gardening.

I was inordinately proud of the hardy little seedlings that made it through our Snowmageddon winter which I set out in the garden in mid-March. A few other mature kale plants in the garden had also over-wintered. They did the expected thing and began to send up blossom stalks. Unfortunately, so did the seedlings. Perhaps it was those unseasonably hot days we had in early April that confused them. Or maybe kale of whatever size or maturity which survives the winter is programmed to put all its energy, not into new leaves, but into a blossom stalk.

Well, I'll just pretend that I'm actually growing broccoli raab, and harvest these little suckers before they get any bigger.

Cover crop

When the snow finally cleared, it was great to see the green of the cover crop we had planted in the fall. The mixture of wheat, rye and oats were a welcome hint of Spring. We also discovered some swiss chard had made it through the winter. The rosemary, chives, thyme and mint had also survived.

With a renewed burst of energy, and shovels in hand, we turned the cover crop under. We got an early start on planting seeds for kale, collards, spinach and peas.

The official planting and opening of the garden will be this Saturday. This year, we will be helped by the Apprentice Gardeners from Kinder Farm Park. These young people and their parents meet at their community garden plot every week to learn about vegetable gardening and gardening related topics. They each have a section of garden that they can plant, maintain and harvest. So as you can see, we have some pros this year!

The First Lady will be there Saturday to help and oversee the planting. She will also have some exciting news to announce to the public. So....stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Back in Session

The General Assembly has ended for the year but the garden at Government House is just getting started. First on the agenda was solving a problem left over from last year. Sound familiar? Anyway, the problem facing us was that there was a low spot in the garden where water collected and made it incompatible for anything other than a frog.

So how do you solve problems in Annapolis? Correct, you debate the issues. The fact that the water was a problem was undeniable. Those elected to analyze the situation came up with an obvious idea. How about installing bricks, rocks or even a bio-retention log at one end, build it up with soil and level it out? Good suggestions but Government House is an historic property in an historic city. How could one institute such a plan and retain the character of the property?

The solution?

A French drain. The turf was carefully removed from a section of the yard. An inconspicuous drain was installed at the edge of the garden and attached to a pipe. The pipe was placed under the sidewalk and continued to a collection box in the yard that was naturally lower than our problem area. The landscapers skillfully replaced the turf and were able to conceal the fact that any work had been done. Granted, this is probably not the best solution for most homeowners but it has worked perfectly so far in this situation.

Coming next time: How about that cover crop we planted last year?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I've planted "Self-Enclosing Trout"

When I finished planting some “cool weather” veggies—chard, beets, carrots, and lettuce—my tee-shirt was soaked. The simple reason was that the temperature last Wednesday was 89° F when I finished planting, and in the sun it felt like 99°.

Cool-weather veggies, of course, refer to those that don’t mind cool, even crisp, nights and often bolt, or go to seed, when the really hot weather arrives. I suspect the seeds of the five veggies I planted today will have short-term memory loss and won’t recall the abnormally warm weather on the day I seeded them in one of our veggie plots.

I planted two 3-foot rows of Ruby Red Swiss Chard, which should supply this household of two nicely through the summer and even into early winter. The chard won’t die back until the November or December temperatures drop into the 20s.

And next to the chard I planted two short rows of Cylindra Beets. After these rows are up and growing, I’ll plant a couple more to get us through the summer. If I remember, I’ll plant even more rows in late summer to supply us through the fall months. Why did I choose Cylindra, rather than my customary Detroit Dark Red? Was I bored with the traditional globes and intrigued by the longer shape? I don’t have the slightest recollection. Let’s call it short-term memory loss.

And I planted a single row, about 4’, of each Simpson’s Curled and Forellenschuss lettuce, and I’ll plant more as the season progresses so we will have a continuing supply. Simpson’s Curled is one of the popular loose-leaf types, but Forellenschuss?

“It’s got my name in the middle of it,” wife Ellen said as she examined the Forellenschuss packet. Sure enough. And I noted later that the name also proclaims, “For Ellen.” Maybe there’s a good motto there: “Forellenschuss—as welcome as a dozen roses.” Why not give it a try? Second thought, that’s not a truly great idea.

Simpson’s Curled is a dependable variety that we will enjoy in May and into June, maybe July. Forellenschuss is one of my “yearly experiments.” It captivated me when I saw it in the Seed Savers Exchange catalog. It’s an Austrian heirloom with medium-green leaves with splotches of maroon. The description on the packet explains the German: “Translates literally as ‘trout, self-enclosing,’ meaning it’s a speckled romaine.” Betcha the person who named it was also a fisherman.

I think I won’t broadcast to friends that I’m raising “Self-Enclosing Trout lettuce, also called Forellenschuss.” Really, now, where does any conversation go after that announcement? Downhill, I guess, straight to the trout stream. Or to puzzled silence.

And the carrot I planted is the traditional Chantenay, a medium length variety. Root veggies, such as carrots, of course, find it tough growing in heavy soils, such as our basic Howard County clay, but I’m hoping the soil I've improved over the last dozen years will yield some crunchy, sweet carrots.

I should tie a string around a finger to remind me to keep the bed moist for the next couple of weeks, until the lettuces, then the chard, then the carrots and beets start reaching for the sun.

Monday, April 12, 2010

More baby plants

It occurred to me finally that I might have a lot of seedlings in the house (and a few on the back deck). So I counted them.

287. Two hundred and eighty-seven. I do not, mind you, own a greenhouse. And that doesn't count the several dozen already transplanted to the demo garden, or the seeds I planted this weekend, which are meant to yield another 60-70 seedlings.

This seed-starting thing gets addictive. Just warning you.

But look! Baby mouse melons!

(Marigolds to the left, cucumbers to the right.) And here's a young passionflower (Passiflora incarnata, unfortunately the only one to germinate):

Some perennials start easily from seed, others are more challenging, but I love being able to walk around my garden and point out the ornamental perennials I grew from seed myself (and everyone else paid $9.95 for, just saying). Now, perennial vegetables: I think that's the subject of my next post.

I have a few plants to water first, though...

Friday, April 9, 2010

Potato planting day

Yesterday was potato planting day at the Derwood Demo Garden. You can find lots of information on potatoes under Vegetable Profiles at the Grow It Eat It website, but here are the basics for planting day.

Potato tubers (the part you eat) grow underground above the seed potato you plant, so you want that seed potato planted low. Start by digging a trench; this will make covering the potato plants with soil as they grow easier.

Here's MG intern Sam Black finishing his trenches:

How deep your trenches are depends on how far apart you can place them. Allow enough space in between for temporary dirt storage and walking space.

Potatoes are then placed about 8 inches apart and covered with a few inches of soil. Here's MG Barbara Knapp covering her potatoes.

I think those are the Kennebec potatoes (bought as seed potatoes from a source that guarantees them disease-free; don't plant potatoes from the store as they may harbor disease). We also planted Yukon Gold, Red Pontiac, and a few Blue Adirondack that I had left over from my home planting.

Notice that Barbara is planting whole potatoes (which you can see have started sprouting; this is just fine). You can also cut your potatoes into pieces with about 3 buds or eyes each, and expose them to air for at least 24 hours before planting. This is especially fun when planting blue potatoes, as I discovered:

I'll show you the progress of our potatoes as they grow. This year we are planning to use row covers to try to hold off the potato beetles and corn borers.

As an extra, here's a photo from my trip a couple of years ago to Peru (the original home of the potato). These are potatoes left on the ground to freeze-dry (August, so winter, and about 10,000 foot altitude). Potatoes used as a staple food in Peru are often stored dried.

This is a mix of just a few of the more than 5000 varieties that have been raised in Peru.

Another growing note: potatoes can be grown in containers. Large containers work best: the black plastic compost bins with holes that Montgomery County gives out free are excellent. Put seed potatoes on a few inches of good soil at the bottom, cover, and fill in as the plants grow.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Asparagus Is Up

Asparagus season is upon us! I noticed the first stalk tops emerge just a week ago and now it's a lovely counting game as the number of spears increases daily. I planted my first asparagus bed ten years ago, and even though I erred by digging the two trenches too deeply (yes, there are trenches), the plants have been surprisingly forgiving and have been producing reliably ever since. A new bed planted some five years ago has us in asparagus until about June. If you've not grown this elegant edible before, check out the HGIC website for recommended cultivars, as well as the GIEI site's vegetable profile for some ingenious ways to extend your own personal asparagus season. Yes, there's a little delayed gratification, but those three years pass quickly and are well worth the wait!

Open Pollinated Corn - Part 4

How do I get started?

Now that I may have convinced at least some of you that you want to try some open pollinated corn, how does one get started?

First of all, you need space for planting. Corn takes a lot and you need to provide enough plants to get good pollination. I recommend at least 5 rows (rows 20 - 30 inches apart) with 2 plants per foot within the row, rows at least 10 feet long. If you do the calculation you will see that you will need at least 100 seeds. This is the minimum size packet that most seed companies provide. If you are planting small plots like this you will need to plant by hand or use a hand seeder. I recommend the seeds be planted about 1 inch deep in a well prepared seedbed to get good seed to soil contact.

Things get a little complicated if you want to save seed for replanting next year. In that case you want to make sure that you don't get pollination from other varieties. If you are only growing one variety or you are growing varieties which don't overlap pollination, it is not so difficult. But if you are in a community garden and there are other corn varieties nearby you should probably not try to save seed for replanting. If you do save seed in those situations I would use only ears from the middle rows of a plot and away from the edges. You can also do things like planting tall varieties as border rows around a seed plot and removing tassels from the borders if they are a different variety from the seed plot.

Where can we get seed? Fortunately for us there are a number of good possibilities. I have prepared a fact sheet on seed sources with brief variety descriptions which I will be happy to email to anyone who requests it. ( If you wish to do your own research the following links will get you started:

Links to Seed Sources

Sustainable Seeds

Johnny’s Seeds

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Heirloom Seeds

Victory Seeds

Green Haven (Field size bulk seed quantities)

Also, I have ordered some seed which I am willing to share with a few gardeners in Maryland in order to conduct trials of several of these varieties around the state(sorry, Maryland residents only). The conditions are as follows:
I need a brief description of who you are, your gardening experience (It helps to be a Maryland Master Gardener but is not required), and your access to a suitable plot of land at least 10 ft by 10 ft, full sun exposure, reasonably level, well drained and hopefully protected from varmints, particularly deer. Also you will need to agree to plant and maintain the plot according to my guidelines, as well as take notes on growth and maturity stages of the corn, according to a growth stage guide which I will provide. Note that these will be field corn types (dent or gourdseed) or sweet corn. If you are interested in participating in this project please email me at and indicate which type of corn you would like to try. I will do my best to accommodate everyone who wants to participate but I want to get a good representation of the state and I also want to make sure that the plots will be taken care of in a way which will provide useful data. Please indicate your interest by April 20 if you wish to participate. Herbivore Reed

Next: The rich histories of some open pollinated corn varieties

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I've replaced a monster horse

Wow, I could hardly wait. Each spring I hoped that I would be home when Jim Aborn arrived with his horse to plow our neighbor’s garden. I always wished I could have been over in Mr. Rau’s yard to hear him strike the deal for the work. But I was too little. I had to stay on our side of the fence.

Mr. Aborn and Mr. Rau would put their heads together. Mr. Rau would point here and there at his garden area. Mr. Aborn would nod. And I was all but falling over the fence, trying to hear at least a word or two. But at some point, Mr. Aborn would walk down the drive and come back with his horse and plow.

What a monster horse with clanging chains and snorts—and sometimes, I almost imagined, fire flashing from its nostrils. But soon the horse and plow were in the garden and Mr. Aborn, reins draped over a shoulder, would “talk” his horse through the small garden area fenced on two sides. I soon learned that “gee” told the horse to turn right and “haw” to the left. Since the garden was only about 35’ x 20’ or so, Mr. Aborn had to struggle to turn the plow at the garden ends to avoid the fences and Mr. Rau’s well-tended lawn. My young ears soon picked up words other than “gee” and “haw,” words that I learned could lead to a soapy mouth, so I won’t risk mentioning any of them here.

But this morning the sun, moon, and stars all aligned, and the day finally arrived for me to do some spring veggie planting. But first I had to till my garden. Alas, Mr. Aborn and his horse have long been resting in peace. In fact, our veggie gardens, eight of them, are so small that a horse would have a difficult time standing in most of them, let alone plow and turn and plow and turn.

But I don’t need a horse to plow our veggie patches. Over the last 14 summers I’ve added compost and other soil improvements to our basic Howard County clay, so the soil is reasonably good. At least it’s good enough for me to serve as horse and my warren hoe as the plow.

A warren hoe is a hoe that features a fairly large, triangular head. See photo. But it is not a plow. A plow turns the soil in one direction, generally to the right. My warren hoe moves the soil left and right at the same time, making a central furrow of sorts.

So when I plow one of our plots with my warren hoe, I pull the hoe through the soil in one direction, say east to west, each pass fairly close to the previous one. When I’ve finished in that direction, then I do the same at right angles, say north to south. With reasonable effort for someone who’s celebrated the traditional “three score and ten years,” I can turn a small plot in 15 minutes, with minimal strain on back or muscles. Then I rake it level—and break up any large clods that catch my attention.

As I turn the soil, I think of how times have changed. I’ve, well, I’ve replaced a horse. As I turn over the soil, I sometimes smile as I think of “gee and haw” and the clanging of chains and the snorting of the horse.

No, this horse doesn’t snort fire. But on a warm spring day, I’m sweating like Mr. Aborn’s horse used to “lather up.” I’m sure glad I went to the Glenwood Community Center four times a week all winter to keep my muscles in shape and to walk each morning.

I’ve plowed. I’ve raked. It’s time to plant some seeds. Until next time….

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Minty fresh!!!

I decided to try and grow my favorite plant from seed this year: chocolate mint. The seeds looked like VERY tiny mustard seeds that came in a little plastic tube. They crushed VERY easily (ahem...yes I crushed one....whoops!)

The seeds sprouted after about a week. I have been nursing them along and this morning the true leaves are starting to show the variegation!!!! The picture on the top is of my beautiful little mints. The one on the bottom is the picture from the Burpee catalog of how they will look when fully grown.

My little babies are SO cute. This has just made my morning. I must admit I was tempted to smell them to see if they have that addictive aroma yet...but I resisted....really, I did!

Ahhhh, another success in my little garden (yet miles to go before I rest)!

Goooooo mint!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Spreading my roots

Yes, the time has come to move on....into bigger pots, that is. My little baby seedlings have matured quite a bit.

I had to transfer them to larger plant trays because they are just growing up so nicely!

When I was transferring my carrots, I noticed that the leaves on one of the plants had not completely released from the seed. It is in the shape of a perfect heart!

I see it as God's way of telling me He loves me so much. It really touched my heart.

You'll be happy to know that the seedlings are doing very well and growing just as they should. I am getting ready to begin my second planting of everything to extend my growing season throughout the summer.

Now that I am going to be selling at the Cheverly Community market, I want to be sure to have enough produce for my family and the market! Well, this is all for now garden gals and guys!

Until next time....happy gardening!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Chinese broccoli and other spring veggies

At our Montgomery County Master Gardener meeting yesterday, we had a great talk by Cindy Brown of Green Spring Gardens about unusual edibles. She brought some sample plants along and was generous enough to donate some of them to our demo garden. I look forward to planting them soon!

Some of the plants, like bunching onions and purple kohlrabi, I'd grown before, but here's one that I haven't tried: Chinese broccoli.

It's another plant from the Brassica family, so related to regular broccoli, and to kale (it's also sometimes called Chinese kale, as well as gai lun and other names). The stem, leaves and flower buds are all edible, and can be cut from the plant which will then continue to produce new side shoots. Chinese broccoli is grown from seed either early in the spring or in the summer for a fall crop, so maybe I'll get some seed and look forward to a fall harvest.

Seed catalogs are a good source of information about edibles you're trying for the first time, and you can also search on the Internet for both growing information and recipes. One regional source (meant for farmers in the U.S. Northeast) is World Crops, which sorts by continent and country of origin or use, and is searchable. A great local resource is the Asian vegetables series that Wendy of the Greenish Thumb blog is putting together about growing, buying and cooking vegetables frequently used in Asian cooking. Please pass on resources as you find them - we like information here at Grow It Eat It!

Cindy and her Green Spring garden are featured regularly on Adrian Higgins' Washington Post blog about vegetable gardening (the "Groundwork" subsection of "All You Can Eat"). I liked this recent entry on kale - check out the soup recipe, too. We'll be growing Nero di Toscana and Red Russian kale this spring in the demo garden, and then I'll try some other kinds in the fall. Let's hope the harlequin bugs stay away! I've also got some Jersey cow cabbage (also called walking stick kale) started and hope to grow it to a substantial height. If it works you will of course see photos.