Sunday, March 31, 2013

Capturing Spring

I thought I would be able to attend one of the many flower shows that heralds the spring growing season this year. I was looking forward to the magnificent displays of flowers and the lectures on different ideas in  cultivating gardens from others...however, this year's flower shows came and went;  I was not able to attend any of them near me.

But not all is lost, the expense of attending flower shows have gone up with ticket prices that may be a little high for some. Therefore, on the bright side, I did save some money.  And there are so many beautiful gardens and festivals that are free… available to us year round ; some have admission fees but  the fees are not as high as those in flower shows.  For us grow it and eat it fans, there are  different types of vegetable gardens on display with information to grow them along with lectures at some of these gardens ...what more can I ask!

One of my favorite gardens in Maryland is Brookside Garden in Wheaton. And on the Eastern shore of Maryland, there is Adkins Arboretum which  spread over 400 acres with trails and many native species of Maryland. And if you want to get out of the state, you should  head to New England Wild Flower Society, Garden in the Woods in Framingham, MA. It makes for a great outing on holidays such as today, Easter Sunday. Enjoy your visit to the local gardens near you.

Below are some pictures from summer of 2012 at  Brookside Garden. They have display of plants in their Mediterranean garden.


Friday, March 29, 2013

Growing radishes inside !?


While waiting for our seedlings to grow.   :)

This is our Grow It Eat It 2013 Year of the Root Vegetables display.  It's in use during our Grow It Eat It presentations and exhibits.

We seeded the cherrybell radishes, on the right side,  in mid-February during the gardening class at the Prince Georges Community College.  The new seedlings, on the left side of the meat tray , will be ready to display at the Montpelier Manson Herbs and Tea Festival in Laurel at the end of April.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Ugly Duckling

My puny tomato seedlings are the ugly ducklings that I am hoping will turn into swans one day (in this season not my lifetime even though that may be true in my case )

They started out looking like any other tomato seeds. I cannot tell them apart.

I watched them hatch in the egg carton fill with seed starting mix placed on top of the refrigerator.

One by one, they all sprout without any problems. 

Now they are in separate pots filled with Earth mix (I splurge on this soil mix). It had a guarantee clause that your plant will grow or you will get your money back. I wonder how that works. 

My back up plan if my seedlings do not turn out to be swans: I will purchase tomato plants and I think I may try the new graft tomato. 

O.K. you got me but you can count me in for trying again next season!

How to grow tomatoes bought  brought to you by University of Maryland Extension.
Pruning, Care, and varieties:

Monday, March 25, 2013

This Is Planting Season? Really?

Behind that shed, you can just make out the garden fence

Woke up this morning – the fifth day of official calendar spring, mind – to snow. I’ve got baby leeks in the garden already, peeking out from beneath a light blanket of compost followed by straw and then blanketed (I sure hope) by row cover. And now snow. I’ve got baby pak choi in the greenhouse that is almost ready to eat – part of this season’s experiment in potted edibles –as well as pak choi, lettuce and kale seedlings that are in desperate need of a garden bed and some sunshine and a little seasonal warmth. (Like me). And now this. I took photos this morning AFTER what should have been dawn at 9AM and it all looked grim, grey and impossibly icky.

The greenhouse at 9am. Sunrise? Not so much!
Pak choi experiment in 'potted' edibles
 I’m reminded of a line in Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind (I had to look the name of the poem up, I only remember the last line): If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind? From your mouth, Percy, to God’s or Nature’s or fill-in-your-term-for-something-larger-and-more-overarching-than-our-individual-little-selves, Ear!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Aphid attack!

It's been a tough seedling-growing year for me so far.  Not so much that I couldn't get the seeds started (though I've had pepper germination issues, and for those keeping score, coir fiber pellets lost out to Jiffy peat pellets for germination count overall) but because, as usual, I've started more plants than I really have room for under lights inside.  Some years this miscalculation (overenthusiastic foolishness might be a better description) leads to a crisis point that resolves itself as the weather warms and I can put plants in protected areas outside.  I thought that was going to work out this year, and a few weeks ago my brassica seedlings moved out into a plastic tunnel in my garden for the daylight hours, coming inside at night.  But then there was the night I forgot and left them outside, and the temperature got down to 30 and I lost most of the cabbages, and since then there's been a lot of cold wind and clouds, and I've managed to sneak the trays outside for a few sunny hours when it's above freezing, draping floating row cover on top (for a little extra warmth and for squirrel control).  Otherwise, they sit near windows in my house, gasping for sunlight.

To add insult to injury, a few days ago I noticed a few aphids crawling on some of the Green Glaze collards, which they appear to like best of all the brassicas.  They must have found the plants out under that warm tunnel, and hitched a ride back in.  I didn't do anything about it right away, though I should have (I've been busy!).  Today I realized the aphids weren't only on all the brassicas, but had moved (from the few plants that I'd managed to put back under the lights) onto my pepper seedlings in large numbers:

and were busily feeding and making new aphids.  So I really had to work on getting rid of them.

The simplest way I could think of to kill aphids was to spray the plants and trays with water to which I'd added a couple of drops of dish soap.  I took each little tray of plants to the sink and dosed all the aphids I could find, getting under the leaves, down the stems, and in the pots.  I can tell I'll have to do this multiple times, but I hope it'll stop the infestation and I won't have to resort to using any other pesticides.  Or letting ladybugs loose in the house.

Lesson relearned: really examine all the plants under my care, and fix the problems right away.  Also, do not start more plants than I can accommodate, because once they go outside they really shouldn't come back in.  Though I doubt I'm going to learn that one, so: next year, either build some cold frames (maybe with heat underneath!) or finally splurge on a greenhouse.

And it will warm up enough eventually that I can put these poor little plants in the ground, really it will, I keep telling myself.  I did a talk this past week on spring vegetable gardening, and I have to say the SNOW we are possibly going to have tomorrow is the best illustration I could have wanted (but didn't) of the concept I tried to get across: climate change aside, spring always has been and always will be unpredictable.  So expect the unexpected, keep those average last frost dates in mind, watch the weather forecasts, and try not to be nostalgic for 2012.


With spring arrival, we can expect our beloved honeybee leaving their winter abode to greet us wholeheartedly.  Just like Pooh Bear, I too love honey. But as a MG, I love the honeybee more for its role in pollination of fruits and vegetables.

I learned that some crops such as blueberries and cherries are 90 percent dependent on honey bee pollination. And if you like almonds,  they depend entirely on the honeybee for pollination. (Source: American Bee Keeper Association)

Honeybees are beneficial insects. Therefore, keep them in mind when you are using pesticides. Some pesticides do not discriminate and will hurt all life forms.

Friday, March 22, 2013

I'm ticked off--at myself

I’m really ticked off—at myself.  I let my guard down because I don’t “think ticks” during cold weather—and I was shocked when I discovered a somewhat engorged tick on my side yesterday (Mar. 21).

I had felt what turned out to be the tick a few days earlier but paid it no attention.  It thought it was a scab from a scratch I got when pruning a Knockout rose on one of those warm, spring-like days a week or so earlier.

But it wasn’t a scab.  It was a tick—and maybe it took up its new abode when I was weeding our vegetable garden, pruning the rose or our junipers, or cutting back perennials.

Ticks, of course, overwinter in gardens and landscapes and become active when the temperatures rise above freezing.  Maybe mine was the “early tick that got the human,” so to speak.

I wasn’t pleased when I discovered the tick.  Whether it was a deer tick or a dog tick really didn’t matter to me, as both can carry diseases.  I first tried a home remedy—covering the tick with liquid hand soap—but it showed no signs of retreat.

I quickly decided to get expert counsel on tick removal.  I did an Internet search on “how to remove ticks.”  The top two listings were for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and for WebMD.  I chose the CDC site and followed this advice:

“1. Use a fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
“2. Pull upward with steady, even pressure.  Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin.  If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers.  If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
“3. After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.”

And what about those “old home remedies” for removing ticks—such as my unsuccessful swabbing of “my” tick with liquid soap?  The CDC comments:  “Avoid folklore remedies such as ‘painting’ the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. Your goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible—not waiting for it to detach.”

Yes, I had heard of “apply Vaseline” and Ellen said she had heard that applying a heated nail to a tick would make it abandon its human meal.  I thought it best to remove the tick immediately with tweezers—the modern medical recommendation—and wasn’t inclined to see if a heated nail would leave grill marks on my side.

This morning I made a precautionary visit to our family physician.  He said he annually treats about 30 cases of Lyme disease and already has treated one this year.  Here’s hoping—and he thinks—I will not be his second Lyme case of 2013, but we’ll monitor the situation.

Don’t let your guard down, as I did.  When the weather warms in late winter and early spring, remember to check for ticks after outdoor work or play.

If you’d like additional information from the CDC about avoiding ticks, CLICK HERE.  It’s worth a minute or two of your time.  Believe me, you really don’t want to be ticked off.

Thursday, March 21, 2013


Click to show "Fiddlehead" result 15
Fiddlehead, a little late for picking since it is unfurling
Gone are the days when human society relies on hunting and gathering for food…but if you ever find yourself in Northern Maine where Ostrich Ferns grow among human civilization, on the roadside, uninhabited woodland, and streams, you are in for a real treat. The time to pick them is the few weeks in early spring when the blossoming Ostrich Ferns
 ( fiddleheads) have not started to unfold. They are the harbinger of spring and are delicacies in Maine. Click onto this link to find more information on fiddleheads... if you cannot forage for fiddleheads, there are a lot of companies that sell them.    Enjoy this Spring treat.

Friday, March 15, 2013

A Penchant for Gold

We all know diamonds are a girl’s best friend but diamonds are out of reach for me. The next best thing is Gold, Yukon Gold Potato that is …  They are good for baking, stir frying, and just about anything. I love the smooth texture and sweet taste.  It is also a good source of carbohydrates, fiber, Iron , Vitamin C and  NO fat!

It is best to start planting  potato  when the weather is still cool…once the ground have thawed  , you can start working your  soil. There are numerous resources in University of Maryland Extension website. There is also an article previously written by Erica Smith.

Enjoy the Spring weather and jump start your gardening with potato. 




Thursday, March 14, 2013

Happy Pi Day !!!!

To celebrate the day,  we need a pie in a Pi plate !

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Graft in the Tomato Patch?

I’m so embarrassed.  I promised myself I would never pay $8.00 for a grafted tomato plant, even though I’d seen them advertised in several 2013 seed catalogs.  Grafted plants belong in the fruit orchard, not the Tomato Patch—right?  And aren't I a really Frugal Gardener with 10 packets of tomato seeds costing a dime each?

Then I read a short article favoring grafted tomato plants by Barbara Damrosch.  But I still resisted.  Then a friend, Eva S., of California, sent me another article from USA Today saying—and I paraphrase—that grafted tomatoes are the best thing in a century to happen to tomatoes.

Well, with a smile I’ll confess that I haven’t paid $8.00 for a grafted tomato plant.  I’ve just ordered three from Burpee for $22.95 plus $8.95 shipping/handling for a total of $31.90.  Oops, that’s $10.64 a plant.  Certainly you chuckle and maybe even understand.

What’s a grafted tomato plant?  Think of a grafted apple tree—with sturdy root stock and a grafted scion or top of a favored variety.  For a grafted tomato plant, the root stock is of a vigorous, pest-resistant variety and the scion is a more delicate variety—often a flavorful heirloom variety.
The result is a plant that grows and produces vigorously.  Most growers claim their grafted heirloom varieties yield two, three, or four times the amount of fruit that non-grafted plants produce.

I’ve ordered one each of three old-time favorites—Brandywine Pink, Mortgage Lifter, and Rutgers.  I’ll let you know how this experiment works out as this year's tomato season progresses.

In the meantime, you may want to educate yourself in the pluses and minuses of growing grafted tomatoes.  Here are links to Chuck Raasch’s article, “Graft and production: Super tomatoes pay off on the table,” in USA Today and Barbara Damrosch’s article, “The benefits of grafted tomatoes,” in the Washington Post.  The USA Today link is especially interesting because it contains both the print article and a short video.  You’ll also find detailed explanations of the grafted plants in some of this year’s seed catalogs.

 I’m genuinely excited about grafted tomato plants.  I guess I never should have said “Never.”  But will I have buyer’s remorse?  Stay tuned.

Monday, March 11, 2013


Crowded lettuce - I transplanted before I thought of taking a picture!

Another year, another experiment.  Last year, it was stogie-sized cucumbers climbing up a metal trellis I had wrestled into the north end of the greenhouse. And a productive little experiment it was; for weeks before I should have been able to, I was eating cukes in Greek salad along with the cherry tomatoes off a plant I had planted out in the last week of March in a Wall of Water (a slightly unwieldy but effective season extender). I love Greek salad, especially when it’s paired with a chunk of really good baguette to sop up all the lemony olive oil and basil (from the plant on the windowsill) dressing.

At top pak choi separated into a 72 cell flat w/kale seedlings on left
This year, the experiment is baby pak choi and lacinato (aka dinosaur) kale. I used last year’s seed, saved in a plastic storage container to protect it from mice and damp, and sowed it in some sterilized 6-cell seed trays a couple of weeks ago. I had assumed that the seed's germination rates, which are usually good with those two crops, would nevertheless have diminished, so I sowed many more of those babies in each cell than I would have had it been this year's seed. But instead of the few little leaves I expected, LOTS came up and in no time were crowded.  I had had a lot of success with the Pot o Gold Swiss Chard from Renee Shepherd's Seeds that I planted last year in a pot and cut and ate for weeks, so I decided, a la the cukes, to try to grow some cold weather greens in the greenhouse.
The experiment: pak choi and kale in a trough

Hunting for a container was the first order of business.  Instead of pots, I decided on a couple of long narrow plastic things I bought ages ago that were supposed to act as liners for long window boxes or raised planters, but which turned out to be way too narrow and shallow to sustain much of anything you’d want in a window box. They measure about nine inches wide and seven inches deep. However, they are (I’m hoping) perfect for this year’s experiment since most leafy green veggies don’t need much root room – usually no more than about six inches depth and not a lot of sideways space. I’m not planning on letting these leafy guys get big anyhow. The minute they look like they'll produce a meal, they're clipped. If it gets too warm inside for them, I'll shift the tray to a protected spot outdoors, as I did with last year's potted chard.

I dumped the crammed pak choi and kale seedlings out of their cells onto a tabletop, gently separated them and replanted them singly  in a combination of organic potting soil and seed starting mix. They now sit on a table on the east side of the greenhouse. I’m excited already. Kale and bean soup with last year's canned Big Mama tomatoes, stir-fried pak choi with ginger, water chestnuts and mushrooms kale and orange juice and banana smoothies here we come. I hope. We’ll see. It's all an experiment.

It's all an experiment, but a light-filled one that's better than Prozac 
P.S. I realize not everyone has room or interest in a backyard greenhouse, but I wouldn't trade mine for a vacation in the Bahamas.  In addition to affording me the ability to start whatever off-the-wall veg variety I want, it's my personal antidepressant. The channels in the plastic panels magnify and intensify light even on the greyest of winter days. I sit inside there with a book or greedily sort through last year's saved seeds and imagine warm spring days. Best kind of drug. A greenhouse has its own set of issues of course. I'm currently fighting a white fly infestation on my experimental Meyer lemon trees and I'm not winning. Never mind. Totally worth it.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Big Montgomery County GIEI event next weekend!

Please come to our Spring Open House event on Saturday, March 16, 9 am-noon, at the Agricultural History Farm Park in Derwood!  The event is free (a $5 donation is requested) and you don't need to register in advance.

Here's what you can do while you're there:

  • Attend some great talks by Master Gardeners and Extension staff.  You can learn how to start a vegetable garden from scratch with Robin Ritterhoff, or how to make your existing garden better with Rani Parker.  Then you can choose either Seed Starting with Terri Pitts, or Soil Testing with Chuck Schuster.  You'll go home better prepared for the gardening season!
  • Ask questions at our information tables.  Bring any gardening queries for our plant clinic, find out about composting and take home a free composting container, learn how to save seeds and how to grow and use herbs.
  • Bring your gardening tools and learn how to sharpen and care for them, and what to look for when buying new tools.
  • Buy vegetable plants grown in the Montgomery College greenhouse.
  • Participate in a seed swap - bring seeds someone else may want and go home with some new ones.
  • Tour the demo garden and find out what we're planning for this year.
Fun and informative!  Hope to see you there (I'll be in the garden, or inside at our table if the weather's not cooperative).  More information here including a link to our flyer.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Root vegetable birthday

Hope everyone is enjoying the Snowquester storm!  We'll be back to warmer weather this weekend, though it may be a bit squelchy to get the beds ready for planting.

On a personal note, I just wanted to mention that we celebrated my younger son's 19th birthday yesterday in true root vegetable style.  First, there was yummy lunch at a vegetarian Chinese restaurant including fried taro balls as an appetizer and this dish:

with Chinese yam* and lotus root along with mushrooms and other veggies (including carrots).  And then we went home and had sweet potato chocolate cake (which he baked himself).  So that's five kinds of roots in one meal.  It felt like a good antidote to empty nest syndrome.

*These are true yams, in the Dioscorea genus (Dioscorea opposita in this case, I think), as opposed to sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas), which are often called yams but aren't.  Sweet potatoes originated in South America; yams mostly in Africa and Asia (though there are South American yams as well).  The similarity of the vegetables caused the etymological confusion.