Monday, April 30, 2012

Transplant Experiment

Every year, in late winter, I start my indoor transplant experiments.  I used to start seeds in my basement, but determined that the ambient temperature wasn't warm enough to support proper growth.  So I challenged my husband, Nicolas, to build something we could use upstairs.  The result can be found on the Grow It Eat It page about starting seeds indoors.  Nicolas' set up is photo #12, by the way.  Nice job, eh?

Anyway, this year I started my seeds as usual, and all was going pretty well.  But then I noticed that the peppers and tomatoes didn't seem to be growing at all - and I know that peppers can be soooooooooo incredibly sloooooooooooow.

I postulated that the temperature still wasn't warm enough, though I'd had success upstairs in the past.  Because of the warmer winter, the heat wasn't on in my house as much as in the past, resulting in slightly cooler indoor temperatures - about 71 degrees, I found.  So here's where the experiment came in.  I thought that this might not be warm enough for my babies, so I set up an incandescent light (they're still good for something, right?) to shine on the plants for heat.  The temps went up to about 78 degrees.  Note: be careful not to set the lamp too close else you can burn the plants - I know from experience!

I wish I'd had a photo of the plants before I put the lamp on them, but here they are after about a week of the heat treatment:

And then here they are as of today, about 2 weeks after that:

Wow, huh?  My hypothesis about the temperature not being warm enough has been proven!  I swear that for at least 3 weeks, before I added heat, these plants were stagnant.  In fact, the tomato plants were near dead - stuck at about 2 inches high and with a sickly, yellowish color.  I feared I'd have to go out and buy transplants this year.  Instead, check out these before and after photos - taken two weeks apart:

I saved my babies!  I'm confident that they'll be good and strong when it's time to put them outside in a few weeks.  But not now, it's still too cold outside!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Carroll County Grow It Eat It Team Announces! Watch Out Aphids - The Lady Bugs are Coming, The Lady Bugs are Coming!

Pictured are two Ladybug larva taken April 26, 2012 at the
Univ. of Md Extension "Grow It Eat It"
Public Demonstration Garden"in Westminster, MD.

Just a few of the many interesting factoids regarding one of our most beneficial insects - Lady Bugs (Coccinellidae)

1. Why are ladybugs considered a "beneficial" insect? 
A. Ladybugs feed on aphids and other soft bodied insects that feed on plants. The ladybug feeds on these pests as the adult ladybug and as the larva. One ladybug can eat as many as 50 aphids a day. Now, that's a hungry lady!
2. How did the ladybug get its name? 
A. In Europe, during the Middle Ages, insects were destroying the crops, so the Catholic farmers prayed to the Virgin Mary for help. Soon the Ladybugs came, ate the plant-destroying pests and saved the crops! The farmers began calling the ladybugs "The Beetles of Our Lady", and they eventually became known as "Lady Beetles"! The red wings represented the Virgin's cloak and the black spots represented her joys and sorrows. They didn't differentiate between males and females.
3. Are all ladybugs girls? 
A. No. There are boy ladybugs and girl ladybugs. It's almost impossible for the average person to tell them apart. But here are some clue that might help. First, females are usually larger than males. Second, if you observe one ladybug riding atop another ladybug, they are in the process of mating. A male ladybug will grab the female's elytra (hard wings) and holds on tight. An entomologist (bug scientist) can see the difference between males and females under a microscope.
4. What are boy ladybugs called? 
A. Boy ladybugs are called ladybugs, too.
5. What are ladybug babies called? 
A. Ladybug babies are the larva. They look like little black and orange alligators with small spikes. 
6.  Can I keep a ladybug as a temporary pet? 
A. Keeping a ladybug as a pet to observe will be fun. You can house your ladybug in a bug box or terrarium. Keep the foliage moist, or place a damp paper towel inside so the ladybug can get a drink. You can feed your ladybug moistened raisins or other sweet, non-acidic fruits. This will help maintain their fat reserves until you are ready to release the ladybug in spring. You can even watch the entire life cycle with a ladybug rearing kit where you get to watch the baby ladybug larvae grow and turn into adult ladybugs. 

7. Do the spots tell you how old they are? 
A. No. Different ladybugs have different numbers of spots. Some have no spots while some have as many as twenty four. Ladybugs generally complete their life cycle within one year. The spots are with them all their life. They don't get more spots as they get older, nor do they lose spots.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Carroll County Grow It Eat It Team to practice High Tunnel Vertical Growing at the Public Demonstration Garden

The Carroll County Grow It Eat It Team will practice vertical growing this growing season.  Pictured above is just one example of the test.  You can see the vertical trellis built to support climbing cucumbers.  Also pictured is a five gallon bucket with small holes punctured in the bottom.  The bucket is placed between tomato plants.  By filling the bucket with water, the plants receive slow but constant hydration (a must for successful tomato crops).

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Celery pesto

Last year in the demo garden I decided to grow cutting celery, also known as leaf celery (also - correct me if I'm wrong - Chinese celery seems to be the same thing).  This type of celery is grown for its flavorful leaves rather than for thick stalks.

It was one of our most successful crops, and we had a lot of it!  It also proved to be very cold-tolerant, and survived the non-winter without batting a leaf.  We have removed it to make way for other crops, but at home I still have several plants going.  Soon, however, I suspect it will bolt into flower, so I've been thinking about ways to use it.  Last fall I made a celery soup that was okay - it's very hard to blend the tough leaves finely enough for a smooth bite.  This spring I thought I'd try celery pesto.

Celery pesto, you say.  Well, I'd never had any, but it sounded like an idea that would work, and a quick web search proved me right: dozens of recipes.  I checked out a few and then came up with my own, as usual based on not going shopping for ingredients.

If you don't have leaf celery, you could make this with regular stalk celery as long as it has plenty of leaves.  Don't use the thick stalks, but the thinner parts close to the leaves would work.  I used the entire stalks of my leaf celery plants; they only get about a quarter inch thick and are hollow.

Celery Pesto

3 cups celery leaves and thin stems, roughly chopped
1/2 cup nuts, toasted
About 4 chives, plus chive flowers if desired
1 Tbsp lime or lemon juice
3 Tbsp olive oil*

Chop the celery leaves and stems in about 1 inch pieces.  Toast the nuts in a pan over medium heat; stir occasionally so they don't burn.  (I used macadamia nuts and walnuts, since I had them.  Almonds, pine nuts, or pistachios would also work, yielding different flavors.)  Chop the chives in short pieces.  (My chives are blooming, so I put in a couple of flowers too.)

Put all the ingredients in a food processor and run it for 10-20 seconds, or till it looks like pesto to you.

*The better quality oil, the nicer the pesto.  If you like your pesto unctuous, add more oil; if you prefer it on the dry side, use less.  This is the Goldilocks measure for me.

I didn't add any salt, and I don't think this recipe needs it, but if you disagree on tasting, toss a bit in and blend more.  Enjoy!

Berry Patch: 'Thou shalts' and 'Thou shalt nots' of strawberry planting

Delivery box of strawberry plants
As my bundle of 25 Allstar strawberry plants sat in our refrigerator while I waited for our rare but frigid weather to warm to my liking, I studied up on strawberry planting. As I leafed through the Indiana Berry & Plant Co. “Planting Guide” and the company’s catalog I started jotting down a list of “Thou Shalts” and “Thou Shalt Nots” that I thought important. 

1.  Thou shalt open the box and follow directions.  That’s where I found the “Planting Guide.”

2.  Thou shalt not plant strawberries in a shady, wet bed.  “Strawberries can be grown in most soil types; however, a good, well-drained loam soil will consistently produce a better crop.  Select an area that will receive full sun most of the day.  Avoid shaded areas and any place where water will stand after a rain as standing water can greatly increase the chances for disease.  Also avoid areas prone to spring frosts.”

Bag of plants fresh out of the box
3.  Thou shalt keep the plants in a cool location if you’re not going to plant them immediately.  I planned to plant them in three or four days because our weather was unseasonably warm but frost was forecast.  I stored my bundle of Allstars in our refrigerator.

4.  Thou shalt not keep your plants in the freezer.  Strawberries survive winter weather once they’re planted in the garden bed, so what’s the problem?  The problem is that the plants in the bundle have bare roots and have been stored at 32°F at Indiana Berry.  The 0° temperature of your food freezer will damage the bare roots.  If you can’t plant immediately, relax, because the “plants will keep up to 4 weeks if kept at 35 degrees,” which is the approximate temperature of most refrigerators.

Bundle of 25 Allstar plants
5.  Thou shalt “plant when weather is cloudy and cool to prevent roots from drying out.”  I planted late in the day, during the last hour of sunlight, and the weather was cool.

6.  Thou shalt “use a trowel to make a hole by pressing it back and tipping to both sides.  Spread the roots carefully and firm soil around the roots, leaving no air pockets.”  I made a furrow with my Warren hoe and then spread the roots and firmed soil around them.  “If soil is dry, pour a pint of water around each plant.”  I sprinkled with a hose.

7.  Thou shalt “set the plants at the correct depth.  Do not trim roots and do bend roots to fit the hole.  The base of the crown should be at the level of the soil surface.  Plants too deep will smother, … and plants too high will dry out.”  The guide and the catalog both illustrate proper planting depth.

8.  Thou shalt not fertilize at planting time because the fertilizer can damage the few tender roots.

Two weeks after planting
9.  Thou shalt “see new green growth in 7 to 10 days.”

I planted the 25 Allstars on April 3 and watered them most mornings because we’re having an uncommonly dry spring.  Within a week, they started putting out new leaves, and at two weeks all plants had leaves.

Over the next few months the Allstars will be establishing themselves and I’ll be caring for them according to “the directions.”  When they start flowering and putting out runners, I’ll post again about what I’m doing—and why.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Beware Big Better Boys!

This is a Public Service Announcement to all backyard vegetable gardeners: if you have bought or are thinking of buying tomato (or pepper, for that matter) transplants at your local big box store or nursery, please be advised that it is highly inadvisable to plant such transplants in the ground for at least another 2-3 weeks.

Don't let this warm weather fool you - the nights are still getting chilly, and these heat-loving plants will not be very happy in the cold. If you plant them too early, you risk stunting their growth and fruit production, at a minimum. In the case of a hard frost (still quite possible), plants could downright be killed.

As it happens, I rescued this Better Boy from the trash following the White House Egg Roll. Jon and I were limited in the amount of stuff we could carry home on the Metro, and so this baby was a candidate for being left behind. Because of my sympathy for plants and inability to willingly 'off' them (Case in point: my 'Planticide' post), I dropped it in a tote and safely schlepped it home, all the while wondering what the heck I was going to do with it for the next month. In at night, out during the day, in at night, out during the day...what a pain!

I admit I'm a little peeved at the stores for selling the plants so early. It's kinda like seeing Christmas decorations in October....

Anyway, for reference, here's a swell planting calendar developed by a Master Gardener from the eastern shore. You have to scroll down the page to 'Vegetable, Fruit, and Herb Gardening', and then it's the "Spring Planting Guide for Vegetables: A Dynamic Chart for Maryland Gardeners" Excel spreadsheet. Open it to enter the last frost date for your area (about April 30 for central Maryland), and recommended planting dates for specific crops will be calculated.

For a less-sophisticated rule-of-thumb, use the Central Maryland Mother's Day rule. By Mother's Day there's virtually no chance of frost, so you're safe to plant your warm-season crops that weekend. So go out and plant Mom's veggies with no fear!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Berry Patch: Grow strawberries again?

Should I plant another bed?

Decisions, decisions, decisions.  For 10 years or so I’ve grown strawberries here at Meadow Glenn.  Three years ago, when the last planting petered out after five or six years, I started thinking about planting a new bed.

I missed having our own strawberries, but I thought of two reasons why I shouldn’t replant.  First, fresh strawberries are available at food stores almost every day now from California, Florida, and even Chile and Argentina.  And second, strawberries seem to grow closer to the ground than when I was younger—with my Aching Back reminding me of that curiosity of plant evolution.

But I also thought of several reasons why I should plant another bed.  Store-bought strawberries—like store-bought tomatoes—are tough specimens designed for long trips to markets, and it seems to me they just don’t taste like those that you pick 20 feet from the kitchen door.  Also, most store-bought fruit is sprayed with who-only-knows-what pesticides, fungicides, and whatever-else-cides—and I can absolutely control what I spray on my own strawberries—including no spray at all.

Six of one, half dozen of the other—or was that two sides of the same coin?  Well, it was decision-making time. 

“Ellen, do you think I should order some strawberry plants?”  I outlined the arguments for her.

“Of course, we should grow strawberries.”

My ultimate decider had decided.

But which of the scores of strawberry varieties should I buy—June-bearing or everbearing?—early season, early midseason, late midseason, late season?

My first stop was to check out the strawberry information tucked here and there in the “Small Fruits” chapter of the “University of Maryland Extension Master Gardener Handbook.”  And then I found a helpful website featuring loads of information just about strawberries:, which identifies itself as “The ONE stop for EVERYTHING related to strawberry plants and growing strawberries.”  Yes, they do SHOUT on that site, but I read and made notes.

I decided to order June-bearing plants, rather than the newer—at least to me—everbearing.  A June-bearing variety produces more fruit over about a two-week period, while the everbearing varieties bear fewer fruit but over the whole summer basically.  June-bearing plants generally are allowed to expand into narrow beds, while everbearing plants generally are hilled and require more attention.  Everbearing plants, if you think about it, are probably the reason we have fresh strawberries year-round.  Every day they’re blooming and producing fruit somewhere in the world.

The strawberryplants website also had a useful chart showing the overlap of the various categories of June-bearing plants, such as “early season” and “late midseason.”  Since plants generally come in bundles of 25, should I order 25 early- season plants and 25 late-season plants so I might be picking fresh strawberries for about three weeks?

At that point, my Aching Back became a factor.  Stooping to pick strawberries is one thing, but standing back up sometimes is another.  I went to the garden and surveyed possible planting sites.  If I plant along the high walls of our raised-bed terraces, I can sit on the concrete blocks and pick with minimum stooping or bending.  A quick look at those areas convinced me that 25 plants would be plenty.

But what variety?  I had looked at the recommendations in the “Handbook,” and the strawberryplants site listed varieties recommended by various state agencies.  When I was thinking two varieties, I had settled on 25 Earliglow, which would fruit from Day 1 to 12 of the season and 25 Allstar, which would fruit from Day 10 to 22.

Since I have room for only 25 plants, I decided to order the Allstar variety because that variety will bloom later and be less threatened by late frost.

Where to order?  I went back to the strawberryplants site again and learned that Allstar plants are available from 24 listed retailers.  I ordered from Indiana Berry & Plant Co. for the irrational reason that the company name sounds like a good place to order strawberry plants.

My bundle of 25 Allstar plants cost $16.50 plus $10.00 shipping.  I received an email from Indiana Berries saying the plants would ship March 28.  They arrived March 30.

As the UPS driver handed me the small brown box, I said, “Oh, great.  My strawberries.”

The driver gave a quizzical look at the box as he handed it to me.

“Oh … my strawberry plants.”

Since I wasn’t going to plant them for several days, I put the box into the refrigerator to help keep them dormant.

In my next posting, I’ll show you the bundle of 25 Allstar plants—and tell you why I planted them the way I did.

If you want more information about growing strawberries, I suggest you take a look at the “” website.  CLICK HERE.

If you want to look at the Indiana Berry & Plant Co. website, where you can browse online or order a catalog, CLICK HERE.

To check out the University of Maryland Extension’s Publication HG68,” Getting Started with Small Fruits,” CLICK HERE.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Community comes alive in Takoma Park Community Garden

Gardening life is in full swing for community gardeners at Sligo Mill Overlook in Takoma Park. In year four there is enough cohesion that every gardener has put down wood chips to clear pathways and keep them weed free. The garden looks amazing. As for the surplus of weeds fdue to the early warm weather, or the recent dryness, they were forgotten as smiling faces gathered for our monthly meeting.

One of the bigger challenges in a community garden is figuring out how everyone can take responsibility for maintaining the common areas, but not today. Gardeners worked in good spirit cleaning up and mulching this shared area.

Others were busy planting seeds...

...and planning.
It feels very much like a community, at work...

Even as a new season starts, some of us went home with the product of labors past...

This year, I suspect that all the cleanup that the gardeners have done will offer us substantial protection from pests.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Ornamental chard and wild garden kale

Window box in commercial building, Charleston, SC, with lovely red-stemmed chard as ornament, April 5.  (I did notice that in the next box over the chard leaves were entirely missing.)

Attractive and delicious leafy greens turn up all over.  I might have overwintered the hardy kale I harvested yesterday in a flower bed, except that my resident groundhogs and rabbits would have scarfed the lot.  Behind my garden fence, it was safe.

This is the Wild Garden Kale mix developed by Gathering Together Farm in Oregon and sold by a number of catalogs (I got mine from Bountiful Gardens).  The seed mix produces a variety of Siberian kales (Brassica napus) that are best planted in late summer and harvested in fall or left to winter over.  My plants were protected by nothing but leaf mulch; in a harsher winter they might have appreciated a row cover.  They grew vigorously through our warm March and are now starting to make flower buds (edible and yummy, by the way) so I thought it was time to bring some in for cooking.

The plants fell into three basic categories: a lacy-leafed type that could be grown as "ornamental kale"; a flat-leafed type not too different from collards; and one halfway between the two, like a Red Russian kale.

It's a great time of year to prepare kale - no bugs!  I washed the leaves carefully, but never a caterpillar nor an egg nor a chewing insect did I see.

The stems are tough, so I stripped the leaves off, chopped them, steamed them until limp, and then finished them the way we usually cook kale.

Saute onions in olive oil and butter until golden, add the steamed kale, add some balsamic and red wine vinegar and any other seasonings you want, stir and cook for another five minutes or so.  Optional: add a protein element, in this case canned chickpeas (sometimes I use sausage or bacon).  Then finish it off with some chopped pecans and dried cranberries.  Yum.

The kale came out tender but still chewy, with plenty of its own flavor enhanced by the others in the dish.  I have a little more saved in the freezer, but next year I'll grow lots so we can have it for the winter.

Newspaper ‘clippings’ about gardening

Ready to sit back and enjoy recent Washington Post gardening columns?  Here are six you might find interesting:

Become a garden anarchist:  “Call it boot camp, and not all volunteers make it” by Barbara Damrosch, “A Cook’s Column,” March 8, CLICK HERE.

The weed that’s been shooting at you:  “Seedpod with a hair trigger” by Patterson Clark, “Urban Jungle,”  April 10, CLICK HERE.

How to toughen up your veggie seedlings:  “Preparing your little seedlings for the real world” by Barbara Damrosch, “A Cook’s Garden,” April 12, CLICK HERE.

Kale—right and wrong:  “Snow, sleet and kale—a wintry mix” by Barbara Damrosch, “A Cook’s Column,” March 22, CLICK HERE.

What the shouting is about:  “How scientists manipulate the genetics of crops” by Brian Palmer, “How & Why,” March 6, CLICK HERE.

Why flowering pears are sprouting everywhere:  “Pretty tree going rogue” by Patterson Clark, “Urban Jungle,” March 20, CLICK HERE.

Note: Article headlines above are from the Post print edition.  Online Post headlines may differ from these, but the text of the article will be the same.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Carroll County Grow It Eat It Classes Conclude for 2012

Butch Willard taught a course on Raised Bed Gardening & Salad Table Gardening.
Butch closed the session with John Denver's "Home Grown Tomatoes" (click link below)
Home Grown Tomatoes 

Field Peas & Yellow Blossom Clover Cover Crop Examples

Buckwheat & Hairy Vetch Cover Crop Examples

Diakon Radish & Oats Cover Crop Examples
Crimson Clover & Spelt Cover Crop Examples

Carroll County Master Gardener and GEIE Leader Diane Brown
fields questions from class participants 

Master Gardeners Henry Lysy and Cheri Grubby
team up for the cooking demonstrations
Henry's Turnip Greens

Master Gardener Joan Elder led the Seed Planting Course
Henry's awesome Strawberry & Rhubarb Dessert
Master Gardener Diane Brown closed the classes with an
excellent class on Garden Maintenance.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

White House Easter Egg Roll

This year, for the first time, the Maryland Master Gardeners had a presence on the South Lawn of the White House for the Annual Easter Egg Roll!

Prior to the event Jon Traunfeld, our fearless Statewide Master Gardener leader, caught up with Charlie Brandt - the White House Beekeeper (who knew?), who arranged for us to be there to talk with the visitors about Grow It Eat It.

Mercifully, I was assigned to the afternoon shift. The morning shift, bravely staffed by Extension Office personnel Ria Malloy, Robin Hessey, Lynn Jacobson, along with Jon had to be there by 7 AM. Yikes! But they were dauntless, and they showed up with live vegetable plants, harvested vegetables, and lots of GIEI cards and seeds to give away. I arrived at lunchtime, but was unable to get on to the grounds because Mrs. Obama was socializing with guests and thus there was a complete lockdown until she departed safely. So I didn't get to see the First Family, but Jon and the gang did. I believe they also got a tour of the White House Garden, which was just behind the area where we had our display.

Though I didn't get to go inside, I snapped a few photos with you, the reader, in mind:
Nice, huh? Our table was basically in front of the garden, but separated by a snow fence so folks couldn't wander through. Speaking of which, here's our table, being showcased by Prince George's County's own Esther Mitchell:You can see the beautiful salad box on the left, a tray of potting soil in the center in which children could plant bean or pumpkin seeds (for some reason they greatly preferred pumpkin to bean), a shadow box of mounted wasp and bee specimens, and a basket of fresh veggies.

I have to say that I was genuinely impressed by the enthusiasm that the vast majority of visitors expressed about growing their own vegetables. Some were seasoned gardeners; many were planning to try for the first time. The first-timers, in particular, were so grateful to be given the leafy green seeds and the GIEI information. They generally left the table more excited than when they approached, and I like to think perhaps a little more confident that they could succeed.

Here's a photo of me, Jon, and Esther. My apologies to Robin, Ria, and Lynn, who left before I had a chance to snap a photo of all of us:
Special mention goes to Jon, who awoke at 3:45 AM to arrive early for setting up, and then staying until the last guest left at 6:45 PM! You're a real trooper! Once I finally got inside, I, too, remained until closing as well to help Jon close up shop. Personally, though I was pretty beat by the end, I found the whole day energizing - I love it when people get excited about growing veggies!

With any luck, we'll be invited back next year...

Derwood Demo Garden Update

This exciting photo shows the Montgomery County MG Demo Garden: Vegetable Division, as it looked yesterday morning (after we'd fixed all the row covers blown off by high winds).  We are four weeks into the season, having made an early start due to that warm weather we had back in March, that has since disappeared.  The veggie garden so far is mostly row covers and sticks in the ground, but more will be showing soon.

If you're in the area, please mark your calendars for May 19, 10 am-12 noon, for our Veggie Gardening 101 event.  We will have vegetable gardening classes for beginners, a plant clinic, a plant sale, and much more including demonstrations in our demonstration garden, and a chance to see what's growing and ask questions.  More on that later!

We've made a breezy, chilly start on the Year of Leafy Greens.  The seedlings went into the ground at the beginning of April, just in time for cold dry weather in which they are struggling to survive, let alone thrive.  Row covers help, when they stay on (they are all anchored more securely now).  We're having to water much more frequently than we're used to at this time of year.  Where are our April showers?  Hopefully we will have the drip irrigation system set up soon.

I'll check back and show you the plants that make it through.  Think good thoughts about my purple pak choi!  And speaking of leafy greens, I pulled out 35 gallons (5 gallon bucket filled 7 times) of garlic mustard in my back yard this morning (and there is a lot left).  Yes, garlic mustard is edible.  But not that much of it.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

16th Century Gardening, Vilandry France

Seedlings outside the greenhouse
It was not without some sadness that I left the lovely salad greens yearning for a proper salad plate in my Takoma Park community garden, not to speak of the young seedlings awaiting transplant so they could grow properly. Yet, France has its own pleasures to offer. Unfortunately the word "jardin" is used pretty loosely here, and those formal ones here have been shaped forcefully into geometric configurations that feel almost cruel to those of us who are unfamiliar with this way of relating to plants.

One interesting exception is the gardens of Villandry, completed around 1536, also over-organized, but with stories and history that compel skeptics such as myself to pay attention. My focus, of course, was the magnificent vegetable garden or "kitchen gardens," (requiring a bit of imagination on my part since it is only early April), which date back to the Middle Ages. It did not take much for me to picture monks tending to these lovely spaces.

My walk through the woods led me to the greenhouse in the back, where, the symmetry of the garden (over 1000 lime trees all neatly aligned!) was overwhelmed by the rows of green and red lettuce, accompanied by spinach seedlings, which put me immediately into the experience of my own garden across the Atlantic.

kitchen garden with pruned pyrus communis flowering pear

Organic practices were introduced in 2009. Forty species, belonging to eight botanical families are grown each year in plantings in the Spring and Fall, as well as three year rotations. Although the devotion to blues, greens and reds in this vast space in April essentially means that the beds are now populated primarily with red leaf lettuce, green leaf lettuce and some brassiac seedlings, I found beautiful purple kale amidst flowers along the ancient walls, and realized (from the herb garden) what a great ground cover may be achieved by mint in early and fragrant.

The intensive pruning of pear trees, cherries and roses finally made sense to me, in a vast vegetable garden where sun is essential. I felt a mild envy of the ten gardeners who work full time to maintain the various garden "rooms" (the cloud room, the sun room, the children's room, etc., right in the garden) and individually plant some 250,000 flowers and vegetables each year. In the end I even overcame my aversion to the ubiquitous boxwoods (I have about 40 ft of it in my backyard, free to anyone who wants to come and get it), which at Vilandry, are pruned every year--they would measure 52 kilometers in length if placed from end to end, and weeding is done by hand, apparently due to their very fragile roots. Clearly the American variety in my back yard is a far tougher cultivar.

In the end, even I appreciated the unnatural shaping of boxwoods to create impressions of "tender love," "passionate love," "fickle love," and of course, "tragic love," the last characterized by blades of daggers and swords and red tulips symbolizing blood, located not far from the heart shapes separated by small "flames" representing tender love...all in all a very moving day in an otherwise unfamiliar concept of garden. I hope a future trip in the summer will allow time for a visit when there is more in bloom.

Tender Love, I think


In the Sun Garden

Monday, April 2, 2012

Aphid Army at UM Public Health Garden

These photos were sent to me by Deborah Lakowicz Dramby, a graduate student in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Along with other UM students she helped create the Public Health Garden at the School of Public Health- Here's a shot of the Salad Table they constructed last fall.
A student crew was getting the garden ready for planting when they came across sow thistle and burdock plants covered with aphids (probably sow thistle aphids)- a fairly common sight. 

The plants were pulled and bagged to prevent movement of these sucking insect pests to lettuce plants. If the infestation had been less severe the plants could have been left in place to serve as food for predators (lady bird beetles, hover fly larvae, lacewing larvae) and wasp parasitoids.