Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Pantyhose in the tomato patch

My tomato plants seem to be growing an inch a day, and it’s time again to tie them to their cages so the growing stems don’t become top-heavy, bend, and slump toward the ground. But what should I use for ties?

I surveyed Howard County Master Gardeners three years ago about their tomato-growing expertise. One of the questions was what they used for tying their tomato vines to stakes and cages. The number-one answer—with more replies than all others by far—pantyhose. Reasons: Pantyhose is strong enough to resist the rigors of summer gardening, it stretches sufficiently not to cut into and damage the stems as they grow, and it’s free. Pantyhose has been my choice for years. When Ellen was working, I had a ready supply of worn-out pantyhose. Now that we’re retired, the supply is limited, but I have backup choices.

How do I make ties out of pantyhose? First, with scissors I cut off and discard the legs, leaving a round tube which had been the top of the pantyhose. Second, I fold the pantyhose over itself several times. Third, with scissors I cut across the folds every 3/8” or so, which results in 10 to a dozen circles of pantyhose. Fourth, I snip each circle near a seam. Result: about a dozen ties. A downside? Yes, pantyhose ties don’t biodegrade if left in the tomato patch over winter.

My second choice? An old pillow case or sheet is a good source. When I tied up my plants this week, I ran out of pantyhose ties. I found a discarded pillow slip. I cut off the binding and the seams along the side and bottom. Then I used scissors to snip a short starting point every half inch or so with the grain of the cotton fabric, and then I simply ripped the strips. Result: 50 ties. The cotton ties are biodegradable, so I’ll just snip them off the cages and let them fall to the ground this fall. Downsides? They’re not as strong as pantyhose, but most will make it through the season. And they are longer than necessary, so I either cut the pillow slip to about 12” before I rip the strips—or I just trim the excess off after I use the ties in the tomato patch.

And other choices? I have a roll of jute gardening twine, which also is biodegradable, and a roll of green, half-inch plastic stretch ties, which is not biodegradable but which has enough “give” to allow for stem growth. I just cut and drop the jute at the end of the season, but I have to discard the plastic stretch ties.

Be creative when you’re looking for ties for your viney veggies. Think pantyhose, pillow cases or sheets, jute twine, stretch ties, or something you’ve been using that I’ve never imagined. I’ve seen Velcro ties advertised in gardening catalogs. If you have a suggestion, please leave a Comment.

In the photo of the can of tomato ties, the pillow-slip ties are at the top. In the can are ties made from pantyhose, as well as some jute twine and green stretch ties. The second photo shows pantyhose and pillow-slip ties this week in my tomato patch.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Borage: blue summer

If you asked me to name my favorite herb, I'd probably be practical and say basil, or one of the many others that are great in the garden and have many kitchen uses. But honestly, the one I like growing the best? Borage.

(This whole post is probably an excuse to show off that photo, because how often do I produce one that good? But borage is the supermodel of the veggie patch, along with chili peppers: hard to make them look bad.)

Borage says summer to me, the blue flowers bringing bees to the garden and exciting a lot of human admiration as well. It's easy to grow (although I tried the white-flowered cultivar this year and managed to get one seedling, which is now dying in a pot on my deck). Start seedlings inside in April, or direct seed in the garden in May; try succession seeding since apring-seeded plants sometimes poop out in September. Borage will self-seed modestly but fairly reliably; half the current dozen or so plants in the demo garden are volunteers (including the one in the photo).

Both the flowers and the young leaves (the older ones get too hairy) are edible, lending a cucumber-like flavor to salads and soups. The flowers are also a traditional ingredient and/or garnish in alcoholic drinks such as Pimm's Cup. I've used borage in preparing claret cup, a refreshing nineteenth-century beverage perfect for a summer evening. Many recipes exist, but I used the one from the delightful cookbook of historical recipes Lobscouse and Spotted Dog by Anne Chotzinoff Grossman and Lisa Grossman Thomas, a companion to the Aubrey/Maturin seafaring novels by Patrick O'Brian. (Jack and Stephen drink claret cup with Raffles in Java.)

Zest of 1/2 lemon
3 teaspoons sugar
Boiling water
1 pint claret (Bordeaux red wine)
1/4 cup brandy
1 cup soda water
1 sprig fresh borage, lightly crushed
Nutmeg (whole or ground)

Steep the lemon zest and sugar for a few minutes with enough boiling water to cover. Add the claret, brandy, soda water and borage, with a sprinkling or grating of nutmeg. Ten minutes later, add ice, stir, strain, and serve.

If you don't have borage, a piece of cucumber peel will do, but try to have borage. By the way, it is supposed to lend you courage; I suspect that's just because they rhyme, but I don't see how taken in small quantities it could make you less courageous. It should be equally good to flavor lightly fruity non-alcoholic drinks. Or just to grow so you can have blue stars in your garden all summer.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Playing Matchmaker - or How to Hand Pollinate Your Zucchini

It's that time again, folks. The time of year I get out of bed just a little earlier than usual to provide a little insurance out in my garden. Yep - cotton swab in hand, before I get dressed for work I go outside and hand-pollinate my zucchini plants.

Why in the world would I do this, you might ask? In a world where bees are scarce, one never can be too careful. (Heaven forbid we don't get enough zucchini!) Zucchini plants have both male and female flowers. To actually get any zucchini fruits, the pollen from the male flower must reach the female. Generally this is the bees' job, but depending on where you live, you might or might not get enough visitors to do the deed.

So I'm going to show you how to hand-pollinate. Step one, get some cotton swabs. Go ahead, I'll wait...

Step two, find a male flower. You will know it's a male from two characteristics: 1. their stems are tall and thin, with no 'baby zucchini' at the base of the flower, and 2. inside the flower is a single stamen, jutting out from the center. It looks like this:
Take your cotton swab, and brush it against the stamen. You will get what looks like yellow dust sticking to the cotton. Now, go to...

Step 3, find a female flower. Female flowers have baby zucchinis at their base, and there are several pistils inside the flower, in a ring. Take your pollinated cotton swab, and brush it against the pistils inside the female flower:
And that's it! Your zucchini has been pollinated, and should begin to grow normally. A female flower that has not been pollinated will just shrivel up and wither away.

For some additional striking zucchini photos, go here. And for a delicious zucchini pie that tastes just like apple (I promise!), go here.

Finally, you may have noticed in my photos that my zucchini are round. At a Master Gardener meeting this spring, someone was giving away 'round zucchini' seeds. I thought, 'why not?' Since then, I've been pondering why in this world do we need 'round zucchini'? I mean, so what? Who thought of that? Well, after giving it considerable thought, it became obvious to me:

We need round zucchini because they're easier to juggle than regular zucchini!


Don't fear this tomato monster

As the sun this morning peeked over the white pines and the thermometer rose into the 80s, I was in our tomato patch hosing water into my ooze irrigation buckets because no measurable rain has fallen for nearly two weeks. Midway through the patch, I noticed that all the leaves were missing from a stem of a Biltmore tomato (Photo 1) … and then another bare stem … and then another on a neighboring plant.

Had a tomato monster invaded our patch?

I looked closer and discovered more tell-tale signs, smalldark-green/brownish pellets called frass resting on leaves (Photo 2). Yes, definitely, there’s a hornworm—colored almost perfectly to match the tomato stems and leaves—somewhere on those plants. I consider hornworms to be oddly beautiful pests, but other gardeners think them repulsive monsters to be eliminated at any cost.

I began searching the two plants leaf by leaf, stem by stem. I was about to abandon the search when … there it was … almost perfectly camouflaged on a stem, larger than I had expected, about as thick as my index finger and early 3 inches long (Photo 3).

I tried to pick the hornworm off the stem, but it held tight with its many feet. I grabbed it in the middle but couldn’t get it off. As I was letting go, the hornworm suddenly raised and waived its head defensively at my fingers, something I hadn’t expected. The hornworm is designed for eating leaves, not fingers, of course, so I should not have feared, but to have such an unusual creature strike out at you is unnerving, to say the least.

I decided to move to Plan B and remove the stem that the hornworm was grasping and put it on a brick for picture-taking (Photo 4). Then I put the hornworm into the cup of soapy water. Good-bye, hornworm.

Two varieties of hornworms are common in area gardens—tobacco hornworms and tomato hornworms. Both are light green in color. Generally the tobacco hornworm has a curved red horn on its posterior and seven diagonal white lines on its sides. The tomato hornworm has a straighter blue-black horn and eight V-shaped marks. My monster, with its red horn, was a tobacco hornworm.

Hornworms feed primarily on foliage of plants in the Solanaceae family, such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and tobacco. Tomato hornworms are the larvae of the Five-spotted Hawk moths, the tobacco hornworms the larvae of Sphinx moths.

During the cool hours of the day, hornworms move out to munch on exterior leaves, and during the heat of the day, they retreat to the plant interior to eat leaves and, occasionally, green tomatoes.

I handpicked and drowned my hornworm. Others cut them in half with scissors or stamp them on the ground. One of my acquaintances uses them for fish bait.

Beyond handpicking, biological controls work. Small braconid wasps are natural enemies of hornworms and lay their eggs on the hornworm’s back. The wasp larvae then feed on the inside of the hornworms and eventually form white cocoons that protrude from the hornworms. If you see the cocoons, let nature take its course. I do. The wasps soon kill the hornworm (Photo 5) and seek other hornworms to parasitize. Sprays with Bacillus thuringensis (BT) also are effective on young hornworms.

Some gardeners want to “nuke” every pest. Chemical insecticides can be used to control the hornworms, but to my way of thinking, handpicking and the parasite wasps are sufficient. I don’t mind sharing a few tomato leaves and maybe a green tomato. I definitely don’t miss the chemicals.

If I had young grandchildren or neighbor kids visiting, I’d show them my garden drama of tiny braconid wasp versus huge hornworm—and urge them “not to fear.”

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Radishes really not much resembling rats

Tiiu's post on tillage radishes mentioned the rat-tailed radish, and I've been meaning to blog back ever since. This is my first time growing rat-tailed radishes; we have a little patch of them in the demo garden. This type of radish (which could use a rebranding) is grown for the seed pod rather than the root.

They send up a flower stem much earlier than other radishes (though they all seemed to bolt soon this spring) and produce lovely pale butterfly-like flowers:

You can see the young green pods in the photo too. Here they are a week or so later:

Pods at this stage (about 3-4 inches long, no more than pencil width and not very lumpy) are delicious for snacking on raw. They taste very much like a radish (spicy!), with a hint of more vegetal, bean-like flavor. The green ones are hotter than the purple ones.

A week later, the pods (still both green and purple) were too tough for pleasant raw chewing and had lost flavor. I think they would cook well, though, and MG intern Linda Chappell located these recipes at the Kitchen Gardeners site. Read there about the history of the rat-tailed radish, and lots of other interesting information.

It's not too late to grow these this year. I intend to make a second planting in September.

Harvesting okra

It's a beautiful, early Saturday morning. Join me as I harvest some okra, won't you? I have never grown okra before, so when a friend asked me how to harvest it, I had to do some research.

I'm glad that I did. Okra grows very quickly. In fact, it grows so quickly that its pods are ready to harvest only four to five days after you see the initial flower.

Okra needs to be harvested when it is four to five inches long. If you let it get any longer than that it becomes tough, woody and pretty much inedible.

So here we go with step by step instructions.

First, measure the okra to be sure that it's at least four to five inches long. If you feel comfortable eyeballing it, be my guest, but I am no good at estimating. :o) This okra was exactly five inches from the base of the pod to the tip.

Using a sharp pair of garden shears, cut the okra from the stem about 1/4 of an inch below the pod base. Do not try to snap or break the okra from the stem. This can damage the main stem of the plant.

That's it! Easy, right? And remember to get in the habit of harvesting your okra regularly. Harvesting the okra actually stimulates the plant into producing more pods.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

How to pick tomatoes four weeks early

How proud I am of my thriving tomato plants, the hundreds of yellow blossoms, the tiny green tomatoes with such great potential. But Barbara White, a Howard County Master Gardner, has Early Girl tomatoes turning from yellow to orange and probably will have picked and eaten one or two by the time I post this blog.

How does she do it?

“Wall-O-Water,” Barb explained.

Wall-O-Water and similar products are plastic plant protectors consisting of cells that gardeners fill with water. The tepee-like protector covers a diameter of 18” around a plant. The sun warms the water during the day, and the water moderates the cool, nighttime temperatures of early spring, protecting the plant inside. Gardeners often use them to encourage early growth of tomatoes, but they work for other veggies too, such as peppers, squash, and melons.

“I’ve been using Walls-O-Water for nearly 30 years after reading about them in a gardening magazine,” Barb said. “In an average gardening season, I believe they give me a four- to six-week advantage. I start tomato seeds inside in February. I move them to my cold frame near the end of March and into the Walls-O-Water about mid-April. The plants grow inside their insulated homes until the weather heats up near the end of May and I remove the Walls. Most years I pick a fully ripe tomato, usually an Early Girl, by June 10. This year I got a late start, so I won’t pick my first tomato until near the end of June.”

Barb said that before she began starting tomato seeds inside, she planted tomato seeds inside Walls-o-Water right in the garden in late February or early March. “Now, even if I plant a tomato late, say in May, I still plant it in a Wall,” she added. “Even two weeks of protection will give that plant an edge.”

The protectors are made by several manufacturers and come in a variety of colors, such as green and red. Which is better?

“I use both colors,” Barb said. “Red is supposed to have an advantage for growing tomatoes, but I don’t see a real difference.”

Bottom line, according to Barb: “They work.”

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The importance of being floral

Happy National Pollinator Week!

I often talk about how important it is to grow flowers in vegetable gardens in order to attract beneficial insects, but it was really brought home to me yesterday during a Master Gardener Advanced Training class, outside on a hot (but thankfully breezy) morning, discovering the many insect visitors to the demo garden. Even if your garden is quite small and you are trying to squeeze in all the food-producing plants you can, leave some space for flowers - you'll be grateful when your pests start to disappear! Alternatively, let some of your food plants go to flower when it's their time, instead of pulling them out.

Just about any flower is useful, but the best ones to bring in some of the smaller beneficial insects that you may not even have noticed before - tiny predatory and parasitizing creatures like hoverflies and wasps - are those with tiny flowers in sprays or umbels. (Think Queen Anne's lace and yarrow for the latter shape.) Herbs are a good choice, and one of the best is cilantro.

This photo was taken last month, and our plants are now forming seeds (coriander), but still have lots of flowers, covered yesterday with hoverflies and tiny bee relatives, as well as soldier beetles.

Another herb that attracts insects, part of the mint family (again, don't plant mint in the vegetable garden without precautions, but some of the relatives are less aggressive and have equally useful flowers), is catnip. We have two huge catnip bushes in the demo garden - from which I take snippets for my cat, since I can't plant it at home without him killing it with affection. Here it is coming into blossom, with happy bee:

Another bee-attracting plant is phacelia, which I'm trying for the first time this year. It's used as a cover crop in some areas.

Then there are the flowers that not only attract some insects but are also edible for gardeners. Here is one list I like, from NC State (it includes a link to poisonous flowers as well). This year among others we have cornflowers or bachelor's buttons - and you can also see calendula off to the side:

I usually cut the "scapes" or flower stems of garlic, and use them in cooking, but we didn't get to these in time. The flowers are just about to open, and you can eat them too - they taste like garlic, not surprisingly.

I'll have more flowers for you next time, and also some vegetables! For more information on beneficial insects, see the HGIC publication "IPM: A Common Sense Approach to Managing Problems in Your Landscape."

Baltimore City finally on-line

Hi! Here it is half-way through growing season (and day two of summer!) and I am just now getting on board with the GIEI blogging! I am sweltering here in Baltimore City… Just some background on our garden. I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali (West Africa)—that was my first garden. We grew papaya and onions, had to water twice a day (from a deep, deep well with a little rubber bucket we pulled by hand) and everything dried up before the end of hot season. Here in Baltimore, I grow food in raised beds, mostly because it makes weeding easier. We also have had to design around a squirrel-chasing mutt and a rambunctious toddler.

To get started, last fall I lined the front yard’s east-facing chain link fence with a variety of berries. We’re picking blueberries and red raspberries each morning.

Native perennials, including black-eyed susans, enchinacea, and joe pye weed sit halfway through the garden, which lines our east fence. It’s an average size yard for a single family (not a rowhouse) in Baltimore.

Finally, we compost. Everything. Weeds, food scraps, old plants, coffee grounds- you name it. I keep the compost super hot all summer to keep the rats out, then I’ll sift some almost-there compost and feed it to a 5 gallon bucket of worms. Whenever the buckets fills up, I drop handfuls of worms in each of the garden beds.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

For squash, sometimes late is better than early

I’ve just played my annual personal “joke” on the Burpee Seed Company. I’ve just planted the seeds of Burpee’s Early Prolific Straightneck squash, one of our favorites.

The paradox is that the last week of June is not considered “early” on most gardening calendars. In fact, many gardeners will smile as they think of the leafy summer squash and pumpkin plants growing, even blooming, in their gardens, and Bob has just planted his squash seeds and won’t be picking his “early” squash until August.

But I have reason for my apparent madness. By planting squash late I’ll avoid a problem I used to have every year—collapsed, dying squash plants, victims of the squash vine borer.

By about July 1, most of the squash vine borer moths, which you might mistake for wasps, here in Central Maryland have laid their eggs at the base of susceptible plants, which include summer and winter squash and pumpkin. Since my squash will be poking through the soil about July 1, I hope to avoid the egg-laying females and then the larvae that kill squash plants by boring into the stems.

“If there are no sizable plants in your garden when the adult squash vine borers emerge from cocoons and mate, you should not have a squash vine borer problem,” explained Jon Traunfeld, University of Maryland Extension Specialist for veggies and fruits. “Planting summer and winter squash and pumpkin seed directly in mid-June in Central Maryland or setting out transplants in mid-June can help you avoid the problem.”

Traunfeld said that late planting is not the only solution. Alternative remedies include wrapping stems with aluminum foil and using floating row covers early in the season before the squash flowers. He urges gardeners to check out the Home and Garden Information Center website’s Diagnostics page about the Squash Vine Borer, which includes key information plus photographs of a squash plant wilting after borer infestation, the adult moth, and a larva inside a squash stem.

If you’ve had squash vine borer problems last year, chances are excellent that you’ll have them again this year. So plan ahead and plant another hill or two of squash this week or next. You too can outwit the squash vine borer.

Here’s a link to the HGIC page with photos of the squash vine borer: http://plantdiagnostics.umd.edu/level3.cfm?causeID=425

Monday, June 21, 2010

String beans and okra

Well, here it is! My first harvest of the season....string beans! I got a handful of beauties and I think I may cook them up for dinner tonight. In fact, I'm going to find a yummy recipe and then write a blog about it. What fun that is going to be!

Here's a useful tip about beans. When you see ones that are ready to pull, go ahead and pull them. Harvesting the beans actually stimulates the plant to produce more flowers, which means more beans!

While I was busy picking my beans, I noticed that my okra had some new leaves, so I decided to go and check them out.

Guess what I found while I was being nosy? Yup! Baby okra on the plant! Here's what okra looks like growing in the garden:

Go ahead....say "awwwww isn't it cute!" I have never grown okra before so watching it grow is so interesting to me. There are only about seven leaves on the plant, so I wasn't expecting there to be any fruit on it yet.

A lot of plants set flowers and then the fruit or vegetable grows where the flower is. Well, I'm not sure about other types of okra, but this particular variety does not have flowers. Just leaves.

Here's one more picture. My hubby, unbeknownst to me, took a picture of me at work in my garden paradise. It gives a great view of my garden from up high. You can see my cucumbers behind me in the cages really starting to take off! I've got lots of baby cukes out there. Yummy!

Until next time, garden gals and guys.

Happy gardening!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Kent's blueberry cage

Some people like to keep birds in cages. Kent Phillips, a Master Gardener in Howard County, likes to keep birds out of his cage.

Each June, Kent and two helpers assemble a 10’ high by 10’ wide by 60’ long cage around his blueberry patch so the Phillips family, not neighborhood birds, will feast on the 16 to 20 gallons of fruit that his nine high bush blueberry bushes produce from early June into early August.

The uprights of the cage consist of 10-foot lengths of ¾-inch PVC pipe. Each upright is strengthened by a 10’ piece of rebar. Cross-supports at the top link everything together with a system of PVC T’s and L’s. Some are glued permanently, while others aren’t, to facilitate assembling the cage in spring and taking it down in the fall. He pounds a 3-foot piece of one-inch iron pipe into the ground to make 12” to 18” holes into which he slips the PVC/rebar uprights. He then wraps the huge, rectangular PVC box in plastic bird netting.

“I started out 20 years ago with a wooden structure,” Kent explained, “but that was frustrating because the bird netting snagged on every splinter. After a couple of years I switched to PVC pipe. I use plastic ties to attach the netting to the PVC pipes.”

Kent estimated it takes about 2 ½ hours to put up the structure. “But all the work is worth it,” he said. “I have six varieties of early, mid-season, and late blueberries that produce over 6 to 7 weeks. Harvest depends somewhat on the weather.”

Kent listed three important factors to keep in mind when raising blueberries—pH of the soil, water, and the every-hungry birds.

“The cage takes care of the birds, of course” he said. “My drip irrigation system takes about 3 hours a week to put down an inch of water, without which the berries would be stunted and production would fall. The Home and Garden Information Center has outlined a program using ferrous sulfate and elemental sulfur to keep the pH of the soil between 4.5 and 5.5, the range for maximum fruiting.

“We’ve been picking since early June,” Kent added. “This morning my grandson and my two daughters picked a couple of gallons and cleaned me out.”

What does his family do with up to 20 gallons of blueberries?

“We eat about half fresh and freeze the rest for later use,” he said with a smile. “Our wintertime favorites are blueberry muffins, blueberry pancakes, and blueberry buckle. They’re hard to beat.”

“I’m sure,” I replied, salivating at the thought.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Bugs and beetles, good and bad

This is Entomology Week for me, since I'm taking a class on Tuesday with Dr. Mike Raupp - so it's fortunate that I have some bug pictures to show you! First exhibit was photographed in the demo garden this week and ID'ed for us by the friendly folks at HGIC as a two-spotted stink bug.

It is a great bug to have around: a predator that feeds on Colorado potato beetle among other insects. These beetles are making their annual attack on the potato bed. They are not hard to keep at bay if you go after them a couple of times a week at least, using the Integrated Pest Management technique known as squishing. If you forgot your gloves or are too squeamish, drop them in a bucket of soapy water. Here are images of last year's beetles, adult and larvae:

Barbara Knapp showed me a larva that was a considerably brighter orange than the others, and also said that the larvae on the blue potatoes (which seem to be more attractive to the pests, though mine at home haven't been attacked yet) were more purple in hue. You are what you eat, I guess.

Another stink bug everyone's been seeing a lot of (and I can't believe I don't have a photo on hand since I had a couple hundred of them in my house this winter) is the brown marmorated stink bug, which you can find information about here and here. I think I saw one in the demo garden this week, but it got away before I could positively ID it.

Harlequin bugs also belong to the same general group of stink bugs and they are nasty suckers - literally; they suck plant juices, especially from Brassica family plants. We just saw our first for the year in the demo garden, visiting a broccoli raab. I bet they'll be all over the kale next week. Here's a photo from last year:

And to end on a positive note, while I was photographing the parsnips I caught a few long-bodied beetles collecting nectar and pollen. I meant to get around to finding out what they were, when the IPMnet weekly update came out with Paula Shrewsbury's explanation. Here's my beetle:

It's a soldier beetle, an important pollinator (adults) and predator (larvae). I believe mine is the margined leatherwing. Remember to add lots of flowering plants to your vegetable garden (or, in this case, plant biennials that mysteriously go to flower in their first year) to attract beneficial insects. Small-flowered plants are particularly valuable in bringing in many predatory insects.

Harlequin bugs by Barbara Knapp, potato beetles by Nick Smith, two-spotted stink bug by an anonymous benefactor.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Another Great Partnership

Master Gardeners partnered with Providence Center to provide summer transplants for the First Lady's vegetable Garden. Master Gardeners provided the seeds and partcipants from Providence Center planted and cultivated the seedlings for the garden.

Additionally, five clients from Providence Center's Baldwin Industries, a vocational training program, were selected to help plant the First Lady's garden at the mansion. The group planted cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, zucchini, beans, eggplants, peppers and herbs. The project has included discussions on gardening, healthy eating and the benefits of shopping from local vendors and will continue with visits to local farmers markets throughout the summer.

Providence Center is a nonprofit organization in Anne Arundel County, Maryland providing life-enhancing services to hundreds of adults with developmental disabilities. The Center's participants have various types of disabilities including mild to severe cognitive impairments, learning difficulties, physical disabilities, autism and cerebral palsy. Providence Center's goal is to help clients enjoy increased self-determination in taking more independent and valued roles in society and to exercise higher levels of control over their lives.

"We are thrilled to be a part of the Grow It Eat It project," said Dawn Slagle, General Manager of Baldwin Industries. "This endeavor has had a two-fold effect of promoting healthy eating and sustainable local gardening on a public level through the Governor's venture and on a personal level with the individuals we support. Additionally, our greenhouses have served our local community for years, so this is a great fit for our organization."

For more information on Providence Center, see their website at http://www.providencecenter.com/

"Home Brew" Deer Repellent

My Stella d'Oro daylilies have put on a nice show this year, and so far have not been eaten by visiting deer. Now that other, later lilies have sent up bud stalks and are about to bloom, I have been spraying them with a "home brew" deer repellent that Rosemary Friend shared with the Montgomery County Master Gardener Class of 2008.

Since learning of Rosemary's rather smelly concoction, I've used it on my daylilies with apparent success -- only a few nibbles here and there, not the total wipe out of lily buds just as they were about to open that I experienced in the past. (I became so frustrated with providing a free lunch for the deer that at one point I dug up some of my lilies and gave them to friends with a large dog -- and no deer problem).

When I asked Rosemary if I could post her home brew recipe, she shared the history of how she started making it about seven years ago. She had been using the commercial "Liquid Fence" but with the concentration of deer in her area the cost quickly became prohibitive. "After reading the ingredients on the container of Liquid Fence, doing research on the Internet, and trial and error" she came up with her own recipe. Here it is:

"Home Brew" Deer Repellent

  • 1 Egg

  • 1/4 Cup Milk

  • 1 Gallon Water

  • 1 Fresh Garlic, minced

  • 1 Tbsp. Laundry Soap

  • 1 Tbsp Vegetable Oil

  • 1 Air-tight, Opaque Container with Sprayer

Combine egg and milk in blender. Put in container and set outside in sun for one week.

Combine minced garlic with 1 gallon water. Set aside.

Combine the fermented egg/milk with garlic/water

Rosemary says she also usually adds "several good shakes" of some kind of inexpensive hot sauce to half the batch. "It seems that changing the recipe keeps the deer from getting used to the repellent and God forbid they develop a taste for it!" she says. The hot sauce also seems to keep the milk from clotting again in the spray bottle after it has been strained, she says. One caution: the brew may sometimes bleach the color of lily blooms which the Liquid Fence will do as well at times.

Rosemary says her home brew also seems to work for rabbits. " For some reason the rabbits have decided my yard is a salad bar this year. Now I'm spraying high and low!" she says.

The work involved in preparing this concoction, and its rather odoriferous smell, may be more than some gardeners are willing to undertake, but I have found it works in deterring deer from grazing through my lilies. And I've used it as well on other flowers as well as vegetables, like Swiss chard, that deer seem to like.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Basil alert: Downy mildew is a threat

Read Adrian Higgins's article, "What's eating your basil? A new fungal disease threatens crops this year and beyond," from today's Washington Post, Food section, p. E1. His article includes two photos of the mildew on basil. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/15/AR2010061501079.html

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tillage Radishes: Multi-talented Beauties

Billows of Tillage Radish Blooms

When I first planted tillage radishes in early October of 2009 in my Baltimore County, Maryland garden, the intent was to biodrill. That planting turned out to be too late and on ground that was not properly prepared. ( A fifty+ year pasture with sod six to eight inches thick.) I planted again this spring, into soil tilled by a tractor, with two goals in mind - to learn more about the radish as a tiller and to provide a ground cover to control weeds.

Little did I anticipate the spectacular display of blooms it would yield! For about 2 weeks now, the 17 x 17 foot plot has been a frothy cloud of white blooms. Some of the flowers are pale purple when they first open and then quickly fade to white. The long stems gently sway in the breeze and at midday, butterflies, white and yellow, flit and flutter along with a myriad of bees and other flying insects, all intent on gathering nectar and pollen. The overall effect is magical and promises to continue for several weeks more -- I can see many buds yet to blossom. So enchanting is this vision that next year I will plant large swaths of tillage radishes in my flower borders -- they are perfect for an informal cottage-style garden.

And there's even more goodness to report. Seeing the newly formed seed pods, I remembered reading about rat tail radishes that are grown specifically for their seed pods. So I nibbled on one to find out if they were at all palatable. They are so delicious it's hard to describe. The slender pods are about the girth of a filet bean and one to three inches long. A pod from a radish sprawling alone with unlimited room to grow was tender, crunchy and a bit hot like a radish. Others from mid-patch, were sweeter with less heat. None of them were the least bit fibrous. They would be wonderful in a salad, as a garnish, and perhaps tossed into a stirfry for the last 10 seconds of cooking. The roots are still small and while not grown for eating in this case, no doubt they are tasty too.

Tillage radish, where have you been? Why have the garden writers ignored you? Why don't we see you at the farmers' markets?

And I'm still waiting for the tillage part when the plant dies and enriches the soil which is where all this started.

To be continued....

A flower quiz

For Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day and the end of school, here's a quiz: what do all these flowers have in common?

From the top: petunia, pepper, potato, nicotiana, tomato, and eggplant. We could also add wolfberry, tomatillo, brugmansia, calibrachoa, tobacco, and a score of others. None of the flowers are edible (many are toxic as are other parts of the plants), but quite a few of the plants produce edible (and delicious) fruits or roots or are otherwise economically important.

The answer? They are all members of the family Solanaceae, or the nightshade family. There's a family resemblance, though closer in some cases than others. It's good to know who's related to who, as often related plants are targeted by the same pests, and have other characteristics in common, such as not being good to snack on arbitrarily.

For more gorgeous photos, visit Solanaceae Source from the Natural History Museum in London.