Monday, October 29, 2012

What’s with October 29?

Iced veggies, Sept. 29, 2011

Does October 29 have a grudge against gardeners?

October 29, 2011, brought sleet and snow to coat our cool-weather veggies, such as lettuce, beets, carrots, and rutabagas.  Perhaps that was to prove those veggies can truly survive moderately cold weather.

Today—October 29, 2012—is warmer by 20 degrees but wetter by several inches.  Hurricane Sandy is crawling slowly toward the New Jersey coast and dumping inches of rain in our neighborhood.  Our birdbaths overflow and small puddles dot our gardens.  We’ve had nearly three inches of rainfall already, and forecasts say we may get somewhere between five and 10 inches, perhaps approaching a quarter of our average yearly rainfall in 72 hours and bringing our 2012 precipitation back up to average.  Perhaps the deluge is to prove that fall veggies can swim.

Almost-floating veggie, Sept. 29, 2012
The wind has yet to become seriously strong.  Our Japanese maple is swaying vigorously, rain sometimes now appears to come in sheets, and our ‘Forest Pansy’ redbud has lost most of its leaves overnight to increasingly strong gusts.

Here’s hoping we don’t get 10 inches of rain and that the wind gusts don’t blow our waterlogged fall veggies into the next county—and that I get this story posted before we lose electricity.

I’m looking forward to the next October 29.  Sleet, snow, and a hurricane for two October 29’s are enough. 

October 29, 2013, will be sunny and mild, a great day to fall garden.

I promise.*

*Long-term forecasts are subject to change.

Meanwhile, Grandpa Gnome enjoys
a fall shower courtesy of Hurricane Sandy

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The best-laid plans...

I haven't blogged about the Derwood Demo Garden in ages!  We had a lovely Harvest Festival day at the beginning of October, perfect weather and a great crowd of visitors.  It's always fun to show off the garden and talk to people about gardening.

We started digging sweet potatoes that day, but sweet potato guru Barbara Knapp was away and the rest of us were busy talking, so we didn't get many out.  We did wonder, however, why one (really huge) one looked like this:

It was two weeks before any more got dug, and I was away on a trip that day.  But I wish I'd been there, because the MGs working on the project kept finding tubers with holes chewed out of them, and then they found the culprits.  An entire family of meadow voles.  Living there, with their food, getting fat on our sweet potatoes.

Now, voles and sweet potatoes are an old story to many of you, but this was a problem we thought we'd solved.  For years now, Barbara has been building a fence around the sweet potato bed.  It looks like this:

It's made of two-foot tall hardware cloth and it's set into a trench about six inches deep, and then the soil is mounded up inside and the plants set into it, with plenty of loose soil for the tubers to form in.  And it's worked great, until this year.  We think what happened was that the vines (which cascade over the fence starting in mid-summer and spread out in all directions) were strong enough for the voles to climb up, and they fell into the cage and settled right in and had babies and didn't need to send for takeout.

So, the plan next year is to add a cover to the cage, after the plants are in and established.  This should keep any intruders out.  We hope.  The voles at the garden were relocated elsewhere in the park, but they have a homing instinct and they'll probably come back for more.  And next year's the GIEI Year of Root Crops!

My sweet potatoes at home have been harvested and are curing.  The All Purple ones produced one very large tuber and a few other small ones far out on the roots.  Ginseng (the orange one) was a disappointment, giving me a fair harvest of long thin tubers.  North Carolina White was a good producer and I'll grow that again when I'm in the mood for white sweet potatoes.  I don't think they have the flavor of orange ones (or purple) but they are intensely sweet and make a really good foil for bitter greens.  No problem with voles in my raised beds inside the deer-groundhog fence.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Sweet Potato Pie

I love to grow and eat sweet potatoes. This year I sprouted plants from Japanese red sweet potatoes I bought in an Asian supermarket. I am particularly fond of this type because it has a dense texture and rich flavor. I planted seven plants in two sloped areas of my garden. I marveled and whacked at the rampant vines, cooked up leaves and shoot tips from time to time, and waited... and waited. I learned that they are LATE to mature compared to other types.

When I finally dug them on October 7 I was surprised at the yield- about 65 lbs. not including those I sliced with the spade. My next thought was "I need to make a pie." I was in luck because a Penzeys Spice catalog with a sweet potato pie recipe had just arrived! Family and co-workers gave it two thumbs up.

BilliJo’s Down-Home Sweet Potato Pie
(I got this recipe from a Penzeys Spices catalog;
2  C. cooked sweet potatoes (two medium-large sweet potatoes)
¼  C. (half-stick) butter
1  C. sugar (or one 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk can)
1  15-oz. can evaporated milk
1  egg
½  tsp. cinnamon
½  tsp. nutmeg
¼  tsp. allspice
½  tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Blend the sweet potatoes until smooth (I use an electric mixer). Add butter and blend. Add sugar and evaporated milk and blend. Add egg and spices and blend well. Pour into pre-baked pie shells and bake until firm and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean- about 45 minutes. Cut and serve when cool.

No Roll Pie Crust (for two crusts)
3  C. flour
2  tsp. sugar
1  tsp. salt
1  C. vegetable oi
1/3  C. milk
Put all ingredients in large bowl. Mix gently to combine. Divide in half and place each half in a regular 9-in. pie pan. Pat out evenly. Push the pastry up the sides and form an edge with your thumb and finger. Bake in a preheated 350 degree F. oven for 15 minutes. Remove, cool, and fill. Note: I omitted the pre-baking and the pie turned out great!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Tomato Patch: Unlikely helpers for cleaning it up

Little Buck browses on trashed tomato vines
Frost wiped out the Tomato Patch Saturday morning.  Suddenly tomato leaves hung on their vines like limp dish rags—if you’re old enough to remember what they were, literally—and green fruit littered the ground.

Starting tomato seeds in April for transplanting in May is a great spring tonic.  Setting the young tomato plants into the garden in late May signifies hope.  Watching the plants grow and bloom and then picking the ripening fruit from summer till frost is the priceless reward.

But cleaning up the Tomato Patch after frost has wiped it out?  That’s just not fun, but Tuesday turned out to be the day for that chore.  The day was almost picture perfect—sunny with red leaves of sumac and maples and golden leaves of tulip poplars fluttering in the cool, autumn breeze.

Tomato Patch after weekend frost
I cut the nylon strings holding the PVC pipes to the iron endposts that hold my tomato cages in place during summer squalls.  Then I stacked the pipe, posts, cages, and drip-irrigation buckets. Then I tossed the ghosts of tomato plants past and some frost-damaged fruit over the split-rail fence.

What?  Tossed the dead plants right over the fence?

Yes, I toss them right over the fence for several reasons.  That gets them—and any insect or disease pests they may harbor—out of the garden.  That also gets them about four feet closer to our woodside compost pile, where they’ll join the endless cycle of dust to plant to dust.  And, finally, that gets them to the correct side of the split-rail fence so my four-legged clean-up helpers can browse on the few remaining leaves and fruit.

Four-legged browsers?  Yes—deer.  As most gardeners know, deer love tomatoes—leaves especially and sometimes fruit, though they don’t insist on sliced Celebrities on whole wheat with lettuce, basil, and mayo.

One fall chore: done
When I looked out the kitchen window just after dawn this morning, I saw a young buck munching away on the tomato snack.  I couldn’t imagine what he liked about the limp leaves, but, hey, I’ve never sampled frosted tomato leaves. 

I’ll still have to cart a wheelbarrow of vines down to the compost pile, but that job will be easier after the buck has eaten an ounce or two of leaves, and as the buck’s digestive track recycles the food into deer droppings, the yard likely will benefit from a light dose of fertilizer.

That’s about all the excitement we can stand today here in the Tomato Patch in Deer Country.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

They are back and voracious than ever

Looks like an horror story ….

"Record summer heat that lasted through September favored the resurgence of stink bugs, which breed twice a year — in spring and summer. Michael Raupp, entomology professor at the University of Maryland, said the favorable conditions enabled the bugs to complete their second breeding cycle in “spectacular fashion,” meaning they are poised to invade homes and businesses in large numbers.

Some scientists even have speculated that this year’s infestation could rival that of 2010, when swarms of the creepy-looking invasive insect attacked crops and unsettled residents of the mid-Atlantic states."

Read more: Summer heat brings back the stink bugs - Washington Times

Friday, October 12, 2012

Pictures speak a thousand words! ..... Fall Harvest Comes to Carroll County Public Demonstration Garden

CORE Garden (Public Demonstration Garden) located behind the Shipley Arena at the Ag. Center.

A bontiful harvest show organic produce grown by local GIEI Master Gardeners at the CORE Garden.

High-tunnel provides season extending capability to these garden peppers.

A fine example of container gardening shows peppers and parsley benefits.

This Chesapeake Bay-Wise Garden is beautiful year round.

This year's raised tomato garden will rest with a Daikon Radish cover crop.

This raised bed is the fall and winter home to a great looking cover crop.

Malabar Spinach.  Still delicious, still beautiful.

The DiSanti Vineyard had a great start.  Anxious for 2013 to see the bounty.

Mr. & Mrs. Hardy Kiwi are ready to spring into 2013.

The last ever-bearing strawberry of 2012 was harvested this week.

Red Raspberry plants from MG Diane Brown's family heirlooms.

A beautiful day was enjoyed by all.  Pictured are just a few of the Carrroll County Grow It Eat It Master Gardener team members.  Pictured Left to Right are Cheri Gruby, Meg Gross, Henry Lysy, Terry Willard, Butch Willard, Bill Cornun, Kay Sedlak and JoAnn Roush.

Tomato Patch: Last supper

Last supper from the Tomato Patch
We celebrated the approaching end of tomato season 2012 Wednesday evening with a plate of fresh-picked tomatoes and basil from our garden plus a sweet yellow pepper and some good mozzarella and balsamic.

Our tomato  vines have pretty much died back—victims, it appears, of early blight, an endemic disease which despite its “early” name generally wrecks havoc with the plants late in the season as leaves die from ground up until there are nearly no leaves left to nourish the plants.

Still, I picked about three-fourths of a colander of medium-sized red tomatoes—mostly Rodade, which I planted late, and Best Boy, which seemed to produce its best fruit when other varieties were shutting down production, plus some Amish Paste.

Another looming factor, of course, is frost.  Tomatoes—natives of South America—are extremely frost sensitive.  So far this fall, we’ve escaped frost, with the temperature dipping into the high 30’s only once.  The local forecast for tonight (Oct. 12), however, calls for 33°F, which could well mean frost-wilted tomato leaves tomorrow morning.  That, of course, would be the end of Tomato Patch 2012.

Safe from frost, in our garage
Though we’ve had our last large plate of tomatoes, we’ll have a few more tomatoes over the next week or so.  In anticipation of soon-coming frost, I’ve picked 15 tomatoes with some color and brought them into our garage, where they’ll ripen on a bed of newspaper.  I’ll check them daily to make sure we promptly eat those that ripen and discard those that go bad.

It’s sad to see Tomato Patch in nearly total decline.  Gone are days when I picked multiple colanders of tomatoes, sometimes even a bucket or two. 

But the memories are vivid: The joy of starting tomato plants from seed in April and transplanting them into the garden in late May.  The sense of contentment as I trained them and watched them flower and set fruit.  The experience of biting into the first Sungold cherry tomato in early July and later slicing the first big-red Celebrity.  The fragrance filling our house after I’ve cooked a batch a batch of tomato sauce destined for our plates and our freezer.  The taste of that last large plate of sliced tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, and balsamic.

Ah, Tomato Patch 2012, thank you!

Grow it!  Eat it!  Treasure the memories!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Fall and winter gardening under low tunnels

Written by Fran Scher, Master Gardener, Washington County

Low Tunnel with lettuce, beets and kale
Fall is my favorite season–for cooler weather and the tasty fall vegetables in my garden. I’m trying something new this year and thought I’d share my adventure with you. I watched a video recorded by Jon Traunfeld at the University of Maryland about gardening in low tunnels under row cover and became inspired. You can watch the video here. The video focuses on using row cover laid over hoops to create low tunnels for insect control. I also read a book called “Four-Season Harvest” by Eliot Coleman who explains how to grow and harvest food year round, even in Maine! So I decided to give it a try.
I recently put raised beds in my garden, so created tunnels on two of them using 1/2 inch, 8-foot long electrical conduit bent over 18 inch long rebar pieces. I put four hoops in each 10 foot bed.  For the row cover, I started with the lightweight type for insect control, 83 inches wide. It worked out well to twist the cloth together at each end of the bed and hold it down with ground staples. This way, I can simply roll up the cloth on the sides to gain access to the plants (see next photo). I then planted a variety of cold-hardy vegetable varieties, including kale, carrots, bok choy, lettuce, spinach, beets, and green onions.
Low Tunnel with carrots, lettuce, radishes and bok choy
I immediately noticed much less damage from cabbage worms and flea beetles on plants growing in the tunnels than in the rest of my garden. Now that the temperatures are dropping, I have placed a second layer of row cover (heavyweight) over the lightweight type. This way I can remove the heavyweight cover in spring and still have the insect protection of the lightweight cover.
I purchased a new indoor/outdoor thermometer recently and realized that I could buy a separate sensor to put in one of the tunnels. Now I can monitor the temperature in the tunnels anytime, as well as determine the daily minimum and maximum temperatures. As we progress into winter, I don’t know if the heavyweight row cover will protect the plants. I read that the White House gardens grow some crops year round in their plastic-covered low tunnels, so I plan to monitor the temperatures in the tunnels to decide whether plastic is needed over the hoops to provide a warmer environment. I’ll keep you posted!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Squirreling Away for Winter -- Canning the Harvest

As I was reading Sabine Harvey's Facebook note 'bragging' just a bit about what she'd canned over the past couple of days, I was kinda singing 'and a partri-idge in a pear treeeeee' to myself.

Fried and shelled beans for soups and stews

6 pints red currant preserves 
13 pints apricot preserves 
3 1/2 pints BBQ sauce 
20 pints and 17 quarts tomatoes 
21 pints salsa
8 1/2 pints ketchup
23 pints and 22 quarts tomato sauce 
14 half pints tomato paste 
and(drum roll, please)
6 pints of chili sauce 

Neat stacks of preserved summer fruits and vegetables in the cellar

Kent County Middle School Garden

Plus the shelled-out dried beans. Sabine was not bragging, at least not in my view. She was sharing her exuberance over the joys of growing, preserving and eventually enjoying on the table food you've produced with love and attention to the health of your loved ones. Sabine Harvey is the  Kent County Master Gardener Coordinator, an avid gardener herself since she's also a wife and mom, and the engine behind Kent County' Worton Elementary School and K.C. Middle School's fabulous community gardens.   You go Girl!

Know your pumpkins?

A pumpkin may just be a pumpkin to you and me, but in “Cucurbita 101: A Pumpkin Guide” on the Vegetable Gardener website, Greg Holdsworth divides the field into four categories.  CLICK HERE here to learn more about these favorites of pie makers, decorators, carvers, and gardeners who grow the truly monster ones.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Berry Patch: I hated to do it, but ...

Out-of-bounds strawberry plants
 I hated to do it, but I’ve just uprooted and thrown away a barrelful of beautiful young strawberry plants.  Was I mad?  Delusional?  No, I was “following directions”—directions of strawberry experts.

I used to be a strawberry expert too.  My theory was to let them grow “naturally”—wherever they wanted—and pick berries every spring.  Usually I ended up with a large, square Berry Patch about 12-feet square, jammed with plants.  I picked quarts of beautiful strawberries, but I often wondered why the biggest and best-looking plants grew around the edges, where I also picked the most and largest berries, and why I found the fewest and smallest berries in the middle of the large patch.

Meanwhile, back at the boundary markers ...
Two years ago, after my last Berry Patch petered out after six years or so, I tore it out and ordered a new bundle (25) of ‘Allstar’ plants from Indiana Berry & Plant Co. and—get this—read the directions that came with the shipment.  Duh … doesn’t everyone do that—read the directions?

What I learned is that for the best production of berries I should limit the width of the beds to from 12 to 24 inches and let the individual plants grow no closer than six inches to each other.  What?  No huge square jammed full of plants?  No, keeping the bed narrow AND keeping the plants spaced six inches apart maximizes berry production and size.  As the directions state in bright red: “DO NOT ALLOW YOUR BED TO OVER POPULATE.

As the new plants established themselves over spring and summer and put out runners to establish “daughter” plants, I rerouted runners and sometimes used my pruners in an attempt to keep the plants at least 6 inches apart.  Last week I tore out the many escapees that had put down roots outside their narrow beds under the protection of summertime squash leaves.  I just hated to uproot those beautiful young plants, but, hey, directions are directions, and I want to have a great strawberry crop next year.

Fine collection of strawberry "weeds"
Fall definitely has arrived.  Forecasts call for temperatures this week to be 25 to 30 degrees cooler here in central Maryland than last week, so I’ll have to keep the Berry Patch in mind as “real” fall arrives.  The directions tell me what to do next: “After 3 hard frosts or a hard freeze, you should cover your plants with straw…. This protects the plants from extreme winter cold as well as moderating the temperature to stabilize the plants environment.”

I’m half way from starting the new Berry Patch in 2012 to picking the first bright-red fruits in spring 2013.  I can hardly wait.

To read my two earlier postings about my new Berry Patch, link to them here:  CLICK HERE for “Grow strawberries again?” (April 16).  CLICK HERE for “’Thou shalts’ and ‘Thou shalt nots’ of strawberry planting” (April 18).