Thursday, March 31, 2011

Black Raspberries ( part #3 )

Eating black raspberries is the easy part.

Growing black raspberries plant is more challenging. The goal is to keep alive a raspberries cane for 16 months during its growing season- 1st year- as primocane and through its bearing season -2nd year- as floricane.

Fungus and bugs will give your share of problems. Naturally, a good cultural practice is primordial to minimize a lot of diseases.

  • Promotes air circulation and sunlight exposure for faster drying of canes, foliage and fruits.
  • Have good well drained soil around the plant. No wet feet or lake at the feet or around the plants
  • Avoid excessive fertilization. 1" or 2" of compost will do the job.
  • Old cane must be removed before the growth of new canes.
  • Inspect frequently and remove disease canes or plants.
  • Use sharp tools.
  • Avoid cutting canes when the plants are wet or rain is forecast.
  • Never plant black raspberries less than 200 feet from a red variety.
  • Never plant raspberries where potatoes, eggplants, tomatoes and peppers plants where planted during the last 3 years.
  • Plant away from wild brambles, roses and perennial weeds around.
  • Use good IPM and fungus control method.
  • Dispose/destroy all canes you cut.
  • Buy clean disease-free plants.

One characteristic of a black raspberries plant is the number of cut you need to do for good harvest, keep control over the plants the diseases at bay .
  • Summer Heading (Tipping). Spring summer until August. Pinch off (head) The tips of new canes when the canes reached a certain height; about 28 to 34 inches. This induces growth of side branches and a bigger harvest. Tipping is done by removing the top 2 to 3 inches of a new shoots.
  • Removal of canes after fruiting. Summer. Removing old canes by cutting close to the ground will diminish disease problems.
  • Early spring cleanup. Late winter/early spring. Remove primocanes small than a pencil by cutting close to the ground. Keep 4 to 6 strong canes per hill is recommended. Head back laterals by keeping 8 to 10 buds by branches. If not done during last summer head back the canes to the floricanes height.
All this cut will gave you a strong harvest with big size fruits.

Yep, for somebody who wants raspberries with less problems and work, do like Bob: grow fall, aka ever-bearing raspberries. One cut in late winter, keep them in line and no big worries about diseases and other problems.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

'We the Vegetables...'

Squash Bill of Rights?
Man the barricades! Grab a garden fork to defend yourself!  Veggies are on the loose! They’ve organized, drafted a Constitution, and are demanding their rights!

You’ve got to read their Constitution. It begins, “We the Vegetables….”

Read on. History and vegetable gardening demand it!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Perils of planting early

Well, guess it's the time of the year to talk about the perils of planting too early. On March 17, I checked the seven day weather forecast and found temperatures ranging from the 30s to 50s. Great, I thought, time to unload the cold frame and get some lettuce, kale, kohlrabi, bok choi, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage in the ground.

So, I merrily started planting one of my raised beds, laid out my drip tape, put up my hoops and laid out my row cover.

Needless to say, the cold north wind has returned and while nothing is frozen, there is the potential for the broccoli and cauliflower to form button heads. This phenomenon occurs when plants sit in the cold ground without making any growth. There's nothing you can do but yank them out. In my 35 years of vegetable gardening, this has only happened to me once, in 1980. Good garden records are a blessing.

So what to do. Well, in my case, I started a second set of broccoli and cauliflower plants in early March. I'll just make plans to start hardening off my new transplants next week and replant in mid April when the weather warms. I sure hope that my my shallots, onions, favas, sugar snap peas and potatoes don't rot in the ground because its been so cold. Hopefully, my raised beds and row cover will come to the rescue.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Black Raspberries ( Part #2 )

When planning to grow black raspberries, choosing between cultivars can be hard. Fortunately, the University of Maryland Extension, Agriculture & Natural Resources, Fruits & Vegetables program determined which ones are the best for our climate and are the most disease resistant.

Bristol: Large fruit with excellent flavor. Good for eating, freezing, canning. High yields. Widely used in the eastern United States. Early season

Jewel: Improvement over Bristol Use fresh or processed. Early season. Concentrated ripening habit (two to three pickings).

Haut: Medium-sized. Early season, but ripen over a long period of time.

Allen: Very large fruit. Fresh or processed. Harvest period is short, but bears a large percentage of the crop in a few pickings. Early to mid-season

On the other hand, these cultivars are not easy to find in your regular garden store or big-box store. Often, older cultivars like the “Cumberland” black raspberry are widely available but I saw a“Jewel” at Lowe’s - bare root with a runner. I also spied a 2-3 year old potted “Jewel” at our favorite garden center in northwest Howard County. Your choice between a bare root or a plant depends on how quickly you want results. Normally a bare root with a runner will take 3 years before reaching full maturity. A potted plant will be close to maturity in its second year.

In both cases:

• Can be planted in spring (mid- to end of march) or end of summer (mid-August to mid-September)
• Remove blossoms during the first year when planted in springtime to improve root development.
• Plant in soil containing 50% of organic matter
• Do not cover with more than 2” of soil or compost.

At home, we grow mostly the “Black Hawk” cultivar. Commercially, this cultivar is widely use in the northwest part of the USA. We chose it because it was available at our garden center 6 years ago and because when thawed from the freezer, the raspberries keep their shape and the firmness.

If you want to encourage local research, try the “Haut” cultivar. It was developed by the University of Maryland Rubus breeding program in 1987. It’s an improvement over “Bristol” and “Cumberland” cultivars.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Awesome garden in Trinidad

On a recent trip to Trinidad, I came upon an exceptional gardener who, over 20 years, has developed 5 acres of rented property, to support her family and sell excess. Among her crops are cashews, star fruit, neem, papaya, coconut, pineapple, eggplant, various citrus fruit and herbs galore. Also, rabbits, chickens and ducks. See photo of tamarind, still green on the tree.

Cashews grow from a cluster of beautiful pink flowers (below left), and the ripe fruit is fibrous and edible (below right), but definitely an acquired taste. If you grew up eating the fruit, it's a joy. If not, there's always the nut.

I saw my first starfruit on the tree, and the taste was delicate and crunchy. (see picture on left) And, I forgot to mention, there's no running water there. See photo below of rain water catchment systems, which sustain the entire garden.

In one backyard garden, I was introduced to rachette, a cactus whose juice the family uses as shampoo. It is also said to be used in the manufacture of many modern skin and hair products.

A Plug for an ‘Efficient’ Lettuce

My inefficient lettuce
Oh, no, another painful morning during which I’ve learned that the lettuce I've been growing is "inefficient."  Seems there is lettuce and then there is “ultimate efficiency” lettuce.

That’s the view of Barbara Damrosch, “A Cook’s Garden” columnist in the Washington Post. In her recent article “The curly-headed French superstar,” she explains why she prefers lettuce that has leaves joining at their base, rather than around a central core.

And while she’s at it, she opines why lettuce turns brown when you cut or rip it. On that point she expects an “outcry.”

To read Damrosch’s six paragraphs, CLICK HERE.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Salad table cover

My wonderful husband constructed a salad table for me to plant in this spring, out of reused lumber and just the right size for our deck.  The only problem: squirrels.  I grow a lot of plants on my deck and in containers at other places in the yard, and every time I fill up something new with potting soil, the squirrels arrive to dig in it, either burying something, or hoping they'll find something, or just scratching away for the fun of it.  They seldom eat anything (though they are the prime suspects in the chewing up of several kale seedlings last year) but plants get uprooted and die.  Also, we have cats wandering around who might regard the salad table as a litterbox, or just lie down for a nap on top of the lettuce.

Solution: salad table cover.

It's basically a wood-frame box with chicken wire stretched between.  Right now it can be lifted off to tend plants; we may add a couple of hinges.  It's also perfect for draping row cover over when it gets frosty out, or to keep insects away.

Closeup of the carpentry:

And I hope you can see that I have seedlings coming up inside!  Arugula, lettuce, and radishes.  Hello, spring.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Black Raspberries ( Part #1 )

The best part to having pie on a special occasion like Pi Day is the homegrown pie filling. At home, we grow black raspberries. They are sweeter and less tart than the red ones.
Black raspberries have their own characteristics:
  • Rubus occidentalis, it's an eastern US native.
  • For the home gardener, the black raspberry plants use organic methods or products to control fungus and insects.
  • Harvest time, mid June-to mid-July, will occur on the second growing year of a cane.
  • Can grow in hedgerows, hills or in containers.
  • Propagation is by the head of the canes.
  • If the primocanes are allowed to grow unchecked, they get long ( 7’ to 9' ), are very difficult to manage and bear little fruit.
  • At harvest, the fruit receptacle ( stem ) remains on the raspberry plant as opposed to a blackberry where the stem stays with the fruit.
  • Every year, for the health of the plant and for a big harvest, a plant will need 3 cuts: early spring cleanup, summer heading ( tipping) and removal of canes after fruiting.
In a next post, I will talk more about the maintenance of a black raspberries plant.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Pi Day (Part 3)

I know what everyone is thinking - Donna misspelled 'pi'. She also celebrated Pie Day back in January, so what's this all about?

Well, being an engineer by trade, I, of course, celebrate PI Day. It's March 14: 3-14. Get it?

Not to diverge too much from Grow It Eat It, but for those of you who may not be aware, 'pi' is a Greek symbol that represents the ratio between the circumference and diameter of any circle. This quantity, which is actually an irrational number, happens to be roughly equivalent to 3.14.

3.14-March 14, get it now? Not so irrational after all, I'll wager.

Check out: for more information. Okay, now on to the relevance to Grow It EAT It!

I'm never one to pass up the chance to eat PIE, whether it's spelled wrong or not, and so it's now time again to pull out my PI Plate, just for the occasion:

You can't see it, but the plate has a 'pi' symbol in the middle of it, and the rim sports the first hundred digits of 'pi' (the digits go on forever, you know).

But what kind of pie, you ask? Well, once again I opted to make my own crust, for authenticity purposes, and because I just love black raspberry pie, I took out some berries from the freezer and went to town. (Ain't it great to have a stash, for special occasions?) I admit I don't need to get fancy for my pies as I never really seem to get tired of black raspberry. I guess that's why I inspired my husband, Nicolas, to start growing berries in our back yard. Perhaps he'll blog on that, later.

By the way, for those of you who are wondering, get your own 'Pi' Plate here. The raspberry pie recipe I used is a standard Betty Crocker blueberry pie recipe. For raspberry, increase sugar to 1C, and omit lemon juice.

Also note that while Pi Day appears to be international, celebrating with an actual 'pie' only seems to work in English. When I first told Nicolas (who's French Canadian) about 'Pi' Day, he couldn't figure out how 'pee' turned into a 'tarte'. Ah well - he came around quickly though, with a pie under his nose...

Happy Pi Day!!!

Indian Corn: More than Ornamental?

Indian corn, often called “ornamental” corn, with its bright blue, red, yellow, and white colors, makes beautiful autumn decorations. In her “A Cook’s Garden” column in the Washington Post, Barbara Damrosch tells why she thinks it’s more important than a rustic decoration to hang on your front door.

To read the Damrosch column, CLICK HERE.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Help, the potatoes are here!

So you're busily ordering seeds and other garden items back in January, and seed potatoes* are on your list, so you order some, and when it comes to checkout you're asked when you want them delivered?  And you blithely check off "March" because you'll certainly be ready to put them in, oh, in mid-to-late March, right? Definitely.  And then they arrive on March first.  Or, in this case, March ninth, when even my own garden is not nearly ready for planting, and the demo garden where some of the potatoes are going will have no Master Gardener volunteers working until April.  What to do?  Panic?

No, of course not.  I didn't even panic all that much when, a few years back, I neglected to specify when I wanted onion plants delivered, and the grower in Texas shipped them in February.  Sorry, whatever your regional shipping guidelines say, Maryland really isn't the South.  I don't care where the Mason-Dixon line is; I am not putting onion plants out in the snow.  So I potted them up in a big planter and stuck it under a window in the mudroom for a month until it was warm and dry enough outside to plant.  They did fine.

So, storing potatoes for a month isn't too much of a challenge.  I've opened the bags to allow good air circulation, and am storing them in a cool dark room.  When we're getting close to planting time, I'll bring them out into real room temperature to wake up a bit.  They may sprout a little, but that's not a problem.  In fact, pre-sprouting on purpose is recommended to get the plants off to a faster start.  Here are the pre-sprouting instructions I received with my package from the Maine Potato Lady:

"About 4-6 weeks before planting, warm the seed in a dark area for about two weeks.  Then spread the tubers out in flats or crates in a single layer, and store in a warm medium-lighted place (but out of direct sunlight) for another 2-4 weeks.  The warmth triggers the bud end to produce sprouts, and the medium light keeps the sprouts short and stubby."

I'm not even sure I have time to do that!  So getting potatoes early is no big deal.  And if you haven't even ordered your potatoes yet, better hurry while you still have a good selection at your source of choice.  Don't plant potatoes from the grocery store:  they may have been treated with anti-sprouting chemicals, and they are not guaranteed disease-free.

Red Maria (large), Purple Sun (medium), and Red Thumb (small)

*"Seed" potatoes are not really seeds but tubers that sprout from "eyes" and grow new plants.  Potatoes do produce seeds; if you've ever seen a potato plant grow something that looks like a small green tomato after flowering, that (inedible) fruit contains true seeds.  You can experiment with creating new varieties by planting these.

Seed starting mix redux

Little bok choy and broccoli seedlings, just getting started!  Growing from seed chez Smith is underway.  And I am going to declare a change of strategy:  I've decided that the coir fiber/rice hulls/worm castings mix I discussed in a previous post is really not the best medium for seed germination.  I've had much better germination rates in good old MiracleGro seed starting mix, which I bought for the extremely scientific reason that it's what they sell at Home Depot and I was in a hurry.  Absolutely no endorsement intended, but I would recommend a peat-based mix (which can just as easily be lightweight fluffy potting soil as seed-starting mix - probably cheaper that way) for the early stage.  The coir fiber mix tends to dry out too fast for good germination, and something in it (probably the worm castings) promotes mold growth if left covered too long.  However, it's great for transplanting into, which I've already done with some of my egg carton-started seedlings, now happily getting bigger in small pots.

Many more Cute Baby Plant pics coming, I'm afraid.  I can never resist.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Seeds: Charts and Starts!

It's been a while since my last post. But I haven't forgotten about my faithful garden followers! Spring is almost here which means I am busy ramping up for the new growing season.

I am getting some tomato seeds started today and planting spinach and kale in my garden this weekend (yup...they can go in the ground....they like the cool weather). I'm a little behind schedule, but we had a major car repair that put a bit of a monkey wrench in my planting plans.

Have you ever made a seed starting chart? Maybe you're thinking "I don't need one" or "I don't know what that is." Well a seed chart helps you to plan out when you should start your seeds. Why should you do this? Ahhhhhh my friends, to make sure that your plants have enough time to soak in the sun and produce those delicious fruits and veggies before fall descends upon you!

I don't want to make this a boring blog and explain it all. Instead I'll give you a link to a great website that explains how to make one and even gives a template to use to make your own. It is the very same template that I am using!

Better Hens and Gardens is the website and here is the link. If you have any questions you can always leave a comment or email me!

I'm sure you are wondering what I am growing this year so here it is:

Tomatoes: Brandywine Red, Baxter's Bush Cherry, Beefsteak and Supersweet 100's
Spinach: Space Hybrid
Lettuce: Silvia and Salad Bowl
Kale: Red Winter
Cantaloupe: Crenshaw
Cucumber: Marketmore
Carrots: Nantes Half Long
Herbs: Sweet Basil. Oregano

Well, that's all for now garden gals and guys! Remember, if you are starting seeds indoors, now is the time to get them started!

On the farm front, my new farmer trainee classes have been going very well. It's a little hard on my body to be in class until 8:30 at night (hey! my day starts at 3:30AM!!!) but it's well worth it.

I've been learning so much! I can't wait until I actually start working on the farm in April! I'll be sure to blog about every bit of it.

Until next time garden gals and guys....happy gardening!!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Want to Learn How to Start Seeds Inside?

Tomato seedlings
Have you been thinking about getting a head start on summer 2011 gardening by starting veggie seeds inside, but don’t know how?

The University of Maryland Extension’s Grow It Eat It (GIEI) program has posted how-to-do-it information to help you: five short articles and five short videos.

The text series is called “Starting Seeds Indoors.” The five parts are: (1) Getting Started; (2) Containers and Growing Medium; (3) Plant the Seeds of Your Success; (4) Transplant Care; and (5) Hardening—Getting Transplants Ready for Outdoors.

The video series features Kent Phillips, a Howard County Master Gardener, who shows how he starts seeds under lights in his basement. The five parts (with time) are: (1) Timeline (2:06); (2) Materials (3:34); (3) Planting (4:53); (4) Care of Seedlings (2:45); and (5) Transplanting (2:27).

I recommend you read the text series and then look at the video series. The text will give you more comprehensive basic information, and the videos will show you how to put that information to work growing plants for your summer garden.

I’ll post a link to the GIEI website at the end of this posting. For the print series, when you get to the GIEI home page, look for the “Grow It” section at the top of the left column. Click on “Starting Seeds Indoors,” and then you will be able to click on each posting in the series. For the video series, look for the second section of entries, “Get Resources,” in the left column, and click on “Videos.” The seed-starting series tops the list.

To go to the GIEI website, CLICK HERE.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Delightful discovery: killers inside

Mantid eating stink bug
Photo: Susan Levi-Goerlich
When I was gathering cut raspberry canes in late February, I noticed a praying mantis egg case attached about a foot from the tip of one of the canes. I looked around and found two more canes with egg cases. In short order I wove the canes into our backyard wire fence with the hope the eggs will hatch in the spring and that a lot of praying mantises will eat insect invaders—such as stink bugs—in my garden.

Mantid egg cases
The “National Audubon Society Field Guide to Insects & Spiders” tells how it happens: “In autumn females lay hundreds of eggs in large oval masses resembling papier-mâché—each mass is coated with a foamy, hardening bird-repellent and attached to twigs…. In spring soft, cream-colored creatures squirm out, quickly expanding into tiny mantids. They immediately begin eating smaller insects and sometimes each other as well.”

I fastened the canes in the fence near posts eight-feet apart, hoping the distance will reduce mantid cannibalism and that more mantids will survive to eat other insects in my garden.

I’m particularly eager to encourage mantids because one of our Howard County Master Gardeners, Susan Levi-Goerlich, last summer took a photo of an adult mantid chowing down on a stink bug.

Go, mantises! You prey on insects. I’ll pray that you have voracious appetites for stink bugs attacking my tomatoes, raspberries, and blackberries.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

How community activism brought vegetables to the schoolyards of Montgomery County, Maryland

Photo courtesy MCPS
School vegetable gardens:  a great way to get kids outside, to teach lessons about nature, and to improve childhood nutrition?  Or a menace to safety and a nuisance to maintenance staff?

That's the debate that's played out in Montgomery County over the last couple of years, although nearly everyone concerned seems to have been firmly of the first opinion and in fact that opinion has prevailed.  You may have noticed the controversy popping up in local media here and there, and wondered what was going on.  Here's a brief summary from my perspective as a minor participant in the process.

Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) issued its School Garden Guidelines in September of 2008, largely in response to concerns that gardens were often established by classes, clubs and PTAs but not maintained, and that some plants might not be safe for children.  MCPS staff worked with University of Maryland Extension (UME) Master Gardeners (MGs) and garden education experts from the Audubon Naturalist Society's (ANS) GreenKids program to develop templates and resources for several model gardens that focused on native plants and pollinators.  Over the next year, ANS and the MGs worked with a number of schools to establish successful gardens that fed curriculum needs and, due to the requirement that garden proposals include a maintenance plan, were less likely to be abandoned.

However, a number of observers began to notice that applications for gardens that included edible plants were routinely turned down by MCPS.  This was in the same period that First Lady Michelle Obama was establishing a vegetable garden at the White House, and food gardening was a burgeoning trend all over -- including at Grow It Eat It!  The irony was not lost on the MGs nor on Gordon Clark, Project Director of Montgomery Victory Gardens (MVG), who began to publicize the de facto MCPS no-edibles policy and urge community and governmental groups to help change it.

In December of 2009, County Councilmember Valerie Ervin, who had been a champion of community gardens as established by Montgomery Parks, scheduled a public work session of Council committees to discuss school and community gardens.  Many MGs and other interested members of the public watched as MCPS staff testified that school vegetable gardens were difficult to maintain, attracted vermin, were dangerous to children with allergies, and promoted use of pesticides (forbidden by MCPS rules except in dire circumstances).  While sitting in the hearing room I read the draft of a document written by UME MG Coordinator and Grow It Eat It (GIEI) founder Jon Traunfeld that countered many of these problems and questions.  "Food Safety in the School Garden" is now available at the GIEI website.

In late February of 2010, county school superintendent Jerry Weast sent a memo to the Board of Education outlining MCPS objections to allowing edible gardens on school property, although he did follow up on a proposal made at the Council work session that MCPS work with Montgomery Parks to find sites near schools for community gardens.  (They have, in fact, found several sites on MCPS-owned non-school property on which community gardens open to the public can be built, and work is ongoing to establish those.)  MVG and the MGs began to write a letter in reply to Weast, which was finally completed in May and delivered in June after a number of community organizations had signed it as well.  (This list of organizations continued to grow and by September had reached over 30, including the ANS and the Montgomery County Commission on Health.  During the winter, the Montgomery County Council of PTAs issued their own statement urging the establishment of school food gardens.)

In October, the County Council met in their capacity as the Board of Health and heard testimony from the Commission on Health and MVG in favor of allowing vegetable gardens at schools.  By this time, the tide seemed to have turned, and in fact beginning in July, UME staff, MGs, and representatives from ANS and Parks had begun meeting with MCPS staff to explore options.

Together they reached the conclusion that the best first step was to develop guidelines for edible gardens in containers, and with admirable speed put together the Creating Your Edible Container Garden website.  This resource went online at the end of January and is available to MCPS staff, parents and students to use RIGHT NOW, so please spread the word!  The site includes links to many educational sites and lots of horticultural advice from GIEI.  Master Gardeners are available to advise about site selection and provide mentoring during the growing season; contact information is on the site.

More support is available through classes scheduled this spring by Montgomery College.  Click on the link and put "garden" in the search box to find the Garden Educator Training Course for those working with youth, and the Suburban Gardener Program for anyone interested in learning more about vegetable gardening.

MCPS staff have stated publicly that although container gardens are recommended to start with, applications for in-ground or raised bed gardens that meet all criteria will be approved.  Let's hope that soon enough we'll have many Montgomery County schools with gardens as educational and lovely as the one at Hampstead Hill Academy in Baltimore, shown off in the GIEI-produced video "How to Start a School Garden."  Learning, nutrition, and fun:  let's get kids growing and eating in the outdoor classroom this spring.

Stink bug solutions?

Well, maybe not yet, and maybe not for everyone, but here are two messages of hope.

This Baltimore Sun article discusses the parasitic wasps now being studied to kill brown marmorated stink bugs.  If the studies indicate that these wasps will do the job and can be safely released into our environment, they still won't start injecting their offspring into stink bug eggs to eat the pests from the inside out (okay, everyone say EW! in unison) until 2013 at the earliest.  So for the home gardener I'd suggest investing heavily in row covers.  Also, support your local farmer, who will need all the help he or she can get.

And you might want to get some chickens.  This delightful-as-always Garden Professors blog post quotes University of Maryland Extension's own Stanton Gill on hens that love live stink bugs (they won't eat them if they're not moving, but don't seem to mind the taste).  Better yet, the eggs of bug-eating hens actually taste fine - perhaps better than those of non-bug-eating hens!

Any chicken owners out there want to weigh in?