Friday, May 31, 2013

Brassicas for the table

Just thought I would update the blog I posted on April 30 about planting brassicas and lettuce.  I started harvesting the central heads of my Packman broccoli on May 10.  The row cover I placed over the plants really worked.  This past Tuesday I returned home to find that my Snow Crown cauliflower had matured as had my Golden Acre cabbage and my Early White Vienna kohlrabi.  My extended family has really been enjoying lots of free brassicas.  The picture below shows the day's harvest. 

Oh, and I forgot to mention that my first garlic scapes were harvested.  I'm looking forward to sauting them in some olive oil. 
Sugar snap peas are blooming, carrots, beets and second planting of spinach are up.  Boy, how I do love spring gardening.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

National Moth Week

A quick note...
National Moth week begins on July 20th and runs to July 28th. It is in celebration of moth, and everything these little insects do.

This link will get you there from here.

Learning more about insects in our lives will promote biodiversity. Diversity, a word that seems to lose its meaning once we demand more from our natural environment for our own benefits .

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Book Review of Gardening for Geeks

Gardening for Geeks by Christy Wilhelmi packs a big punch of great practical organic information, ideas, projects, and philosophy into a lot of small, easily digestible pieces. Bright and informative without being preachy, the book includes a huge range of stuff in a relatively small space.  It runs the gamut from how to create a sustainable ecology to materials, gadgets, fertilizers, native plants, pollinators, making a worm bin, a bee box, raised beds, storing saved seeds, vertical gardening, building soil, using either a compass or the internet to decide how to situate your garden, canning and water catchment, among other things.  (PHEW!) It also touches on French Intensive, bio-intensive and square-foot gardening, (each of which have had whole books written about them) -- all distilled into straightforward prose.

The first chapter focuses on what (Habitats, for example), why (because you need a balance of all the creatures that make the whole system – food for you, food for pollinators, food for pests, which are food for pollinators and other beneficial creatures in the garden – it’s a complete circle) and how you achieve it.  The last chapter includes some recipes followed by an appendix with a few seed sources.

Gardening for Geeks offers succinct reasons why you would do something (create compost, check to see if the redwood you plan to use to make raised beds has been chemically treated or kiln-dried, for example) – keeping in mind the average person, who doesn’t have the luxury of turning growing some food from part-time pleasure into a fulltime job (even if they wanted to).

The format is visually appealing and well organized with plenty of illustrations both photo and drawing, and includes great little break-out tips that catch your eye as you flip through.  This is a book you could give to inspire a novice gardener without making them feel overwhelmed, to your favorite gardening friend without insulting them, since there is bound to be something inside that even he or she hasn’t come across or imaged yet, or to yourself since it’s like the crib sheet to a host of gardening courses. Gardening for Geeks by Christy Wilhelmi (Adams Media, $15.95).

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Carroll County Twilight Meetings a Big Hit

Monday May 20th saw yet another successful Twilight Garden meeting at the Carroll County Public Demonstration Garden.  Nearly 40 folks showed up last night to learn about Salad Table construction, Salad Table soil media, best Salad Greens for a table, watering, fertilizing and harvesting.  Additionally, the people were led on a tour of the many raised vegetable and edible perennial raised beds to learn about best practice food gardening.  The Carroll Grow It Eat It Team began this new public outreach program last month with the topic of Pruning.  Twilight meetings are scheduled monthly on the third Monday of the Month with four more topics remaining for 2013.  Composting is slated for June.  July will see a discussion on pollinators and herbs.  August will focus on cover crops with a season ending September meeting focused on "Putting the Garden to Bed & productive garden maintenance.  
Steve Allgeier introduces the Carroll County Extension
to interested citizens.
Bill Corun leads the Salad Table
construction discussion with  class participants.
These meetings place a capstone on a very successful public outreach for 2013.  The Grow It Eat It team has already concluded their class room meetings delivering 16 topics over eight weekly meetings.  Class interest and attendance was outstanding with results averaging nearly 60 people per meeting.  

"A great team can do great things and the Carroll team is a wonderful group of Master Gardeners who have fun, focus on best practice food growing and who possess real dedication", said Butch Willard, Co-Coordinator of the team.

Butch Willard shares the values of
Raised Bed Gardening.

Butch Willard told of  Salad Table success stories and University of Md best practices.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Drip Irrigation Installation At Baltimore County Demonstration Garden

On Friday, a large group of volunteers installed two drip irrigation zones at the Baltimore County demonstration garden.  The perennial zone (540 square feet of asparagus, raspberries and blueberries) used a drip tube system where half inch drip tube (with pre-installed half gallon per hour pressure compensating emitters spaced every 12 inches) was installed on either side of the row.   One inch of water can be delivered to this zone in two and a half hours.

The second zone contained numerous raised beds (mostly 4 x 10 feet) which will be irrigated using drip tape.  The irrigation team laid 380 feet of one inch lay flat tube which is the feeder tube for the  drip tape.  Tube to tape fittings were punched into the tube and drip tape was attached.  This zone was 800 square feet and can be watered in two hours.

More information on drip irrigation can be found at and clicking on MG6 DripIr.Phillips.

Shown in the picture are Tiffany, Debby, myself and Paul, who were some of the volunteers installing the system at the demonstration garden.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

For never was a story of more woe

... than this of Juliet and her Romeo.

Otherwise known as: the weather is more and more unpredictable; pay attention!  I planted tomatoes and peppers in my community garden plot on Friday 5/10, thinking "surely this is late enough to be safe."  And yes, I'd looked at the weather forecast and saw it would get cold again, but we couldn't possibly have a frost that late, could we now?  And then as the forecast firmed up, I went over Sunday and wrapped up all the plants in floating row cover.  And then Tuesday, after the frost (that didn't even happen at my house) was over, I planted the tomatoes at the demo garden, and gave away all my extra plants.  Wednesday I unwrapped the community garden plants, sure that they'd be fine, and... well, you can see what happened.

They didn't all die, actually, and thanks to the generosity of fellow gardeners I'll still have plenty of tomatoes, but I won't have the Shakespearean witticism that was putting these two next to each other.  Although I suppose it's even more appropriate that they died young.  (I did plant a Juliet tomato at the demo garden and have an extra Romeo pepper to pair with it, though, so I'll have the joke somewhere.  I hope those two get their happy ending.)

Thanks to the indoor bug problem, my plants were very well hardened-off.  I think the location of my plot had something to do with the lack of resistance: it's in the "valley" of the decidedly-sloping community garden, where cold air tends to pool.  I wrapped the row of peppers (I'd only planted four so far, aside from the isolated Romeo) in row cover as a unit, and the middle two look fine while the outside ones have some damage but are alive.  The tomatoes were all wrapped individually, since I didn't have enough row cover to do the whole area; more than half of them died.  Another lesson learned: the more warm air trapped, the better.

Although, like Nancy, I think I should invest in some Wall o' Waters.  These weather oddities are going to get more common, so we all need to be prepared to protect our plants, or else plant even later than we've been used to doing (which is difficult when the temperatures soar early).

I am popping over to plant a couple of sweet banana peppers today.  There just better not be any more frosts.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Crimson clover and barley cover crops

I like growing cover crops to improve and protect garden soil. Dealing with a winter cover crop that has resumed vigorous spring growth can be a challenge. Here's a bed of barley (planted mid-September) that I covered in mid-April with a brown tarp when it was 18-20 in. high. I was surprised that green growth was still visible after 3 weeks although the plants were greatly weakened. If you simply mow the crop, without weakening it first, it will likely regrow from the crowns.

I then mowed the barley to a 2-in. height and will plant through the residues using a bulb planter for transplants and a narrow hoe to make a furrow for sowing seeds.
Crimson clover is beautiful in early May and will return extra nitrogen to the soil when it decomposes. It's a a little easier to deal with. Mowing it close to the ground will kill it when it's in full flower. I'll plant sweet potato slips into the residues.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Pushing the Season – Protecting The Tomatoes

Tomato plants protected by Wall o' Water

It was 36F when I got up yesterday morning, above freezing, but last night, we had a definite frost. And I have ten tomato plants that I started from seed already stuck in the garden.

I never seem to time it right – some years, I’m way early, some years way late starting my tomatoes. I like to push the season – having your own tomatoes by 4th of  July is an undeclared but fierce competition over here in the upper Eastern Shore’s farm country. But the increasingly unpredictable seasons have made the calculation about when you start seeds and when you can actually put plants in the ground more complicated. Normally, our last frost date here is about April 15 or so. Clearly, we're in a new normal, hard enough for gardeners, but the farmers and the CSA growers, who plant out in the fields, have it way harder; with our smaller scale, gardeners can do all kinds of things to protect our tender plants even if we've miscalculated the timing or if the season's unkind.  To help deal with the vagaries of climate change, ingenious gardeners and commercial enterprises have developed a host of strategies to cope. Like Walls o Water (a trademark, though I think there are similar kinds of things now with different names).

Tomatoes in garden after a frost

Filled protector around 5-gallon bucket for stability
Walls o' Water are clever little season-extenders (actually more like season-precursors since you use them at the beginning not the end of the season).  They're translucent plastic cuffs about 15 inches tall, ringed with vertical channels that you fill with water. Once filled and in place around a plant, they absorb the sun's warmth and retain enough overnight to protect against nights like the past two. They can be a bit awkward to deal with when you’re filling the channels and then lifting them into place, but they work well once installed. To make filling and moving them easier, I put an empty Wall o’ Water around an empty 5-gallon bucket, which acts as a stiffener, then fill each channel with the hose. Once filled, it’s easy to lift the filled wall, still ringing the bucket, into a garden cart and haul it out to the garden. However, lifting it into place over the planted tomato plant is a little tricky (two sets of hands help – again, thanks, Sweetheart). 

My tomato plants were desperate to get into the ground, but I knew – thank you, Marty Bass -- that we were potentially in line for frosts. While the soil thermometer indicated that the soil was borderline OK to plant some of my overgrown Solanaceae babies, the air temps were iffy and what was up ahead was potentially destructive. But the tomatoes either needed repotting or planting.  So, bit by bit over several days last week, my husband, Gary, cleared some beds (bless his heart), and I planted ten tomato plants – Big Mama, Supersauce, Big Rainbow, Mandarin, Sungold, Green Envy, grape, Sunchocula, Gold Medal and Super Beefsteak – inside Walls o' Water.  
Tomato sticking out of top of protector
Once the Walls o' Water were in place, I put metal tomato cages over the whole rig, which also helps to keep everything in place when the wind’s blowing 40 as it was the other night.

Spent yesterday evening weeding the tiny spinach, carrots, and radishes as well as and the space around the tomatoes; everything was still thriving.  So far so good. Most of them have about 6 inches of top also sticking out of the plastic protections, so we’ll see as the day wears on whether last night was too much for their bare little arms. If so, I’ll clip off the frost-burnt bits and keep going; tomatoes can be amazingly resilient if you give them a little encouragement. More tender plants will go in next week when the weather (presumably) settles down a bit. Can’t wait to bring in the first tomatoes in town!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Local produce, eat it part.

There are a lot of  wonderful selections of produce at my local market and of course, the farmer's market which have many seasonal products including fiddleheads. For those unfamiliar with fiddleheads, it is a fern... it is seasonal and it is not cultivated but you can find canned fiddleheads, or previously frozen ones if you cannot purchase it fresh.
To  cook fiddlehead, I found this helpful in a cookbook titled , How to cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food by Mark Bittman. In the entry, pg 574
"Fiddlehead: A young, barely emerged, tightly coiled (hence the name) fern, available only in spring, and locally they will not ship. better as a wild food picked yourself than a supermarket item. If you find them , or buy them, simmer or steam as you would asparagus, then reheat in butter or dress with vinaigrette. " I guess is helpful if you know how to cook Asparagus which  most of you already know ... but I look up Asparagus in that part of the cookbook just to be sure ...

This next recipe is great for overabundance of summer time harvest from the same author and cookbook. You can use the recipe for other fruits and vegetables as well.
Oven-Dried Tomatoes
12 just ripe plum tomatoes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1. Peel the tomatoes. Cut them in half and scoop out the seeds. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and turn the oven to 175 degree F, or a little higher.
2. Brush the foil with some of the olive oil and arrange the tomatoes, cut side down. Sprinkle lightly with salt and the remaining oil. Place in the oven and forget about them for 2 hours. ( I like the forgetting part! ~ee)
3. Turn the sheet back to front and see how the tomatoes are doing. You have several choices about determining doneness. If you just want to intensify the tomato flavor and use them immediately, they're done when still soft but somewhat shriveled, 2-3 hours total. If you want to keep them for a few days, they're done when they're shriveled and mostly dry, at least 4 hours total (wrap and refrigerate). If you want to keep them for weeks (Yay!~ee),  they're done when they're dark, shriveled, and dry, 6 or more hours total . Then wrap and refrigerate, or store in a jar in the pantry.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Early Harvest: Root of the Problem

Root, Root, Root for the Home Grown

I cannot believe I’ve harvested beautiful rutabagas on April 25 and May 9, but I must, because we ate four in a medley of roasted root vegetables late last month and will eat another five this weekend.

Rutabagas, commonly slandered by grocery stores that call them "yellow turnips," are one of my favorite root crops—either as boiled and mashed with some butter or cream (that recipe is my cardiologist’s nightmare) or tossed with a little olive oil and seasonings and roasted with other root vegetables—potatoes, beets, carrots, onions, and garlic, for example—and this is the Year of Root Vegetables for the Grow It Eat It program, isn’t it?

An early-spring harvest of rutabagas, of course, isn’t the “norm.”  Something’s not quite right.  That something is, well, me.  Mark up my early harvest of this root crop to “gardener error.”  I didn’t plant the rutabaga seeds last July or August, when I should have.  I eventually planted them on September 19, much too late for them to sprout, grow, and mature in time for our Thanksgiving or Christmas feasts.  Our mouthwatering mashed rutabaga then was courtesy of our local Giant Food supermarket and Canadian vegetable growers.

Ignoring my immature rutabagas, I left them in the garden through the 2012-13 winter, when temperatures dipped to about 10°F several nights.  The Helenor Hybrid plants, from Johnny’s Seeds, survived and resumed growing with the warmer days in March.  I dug four in April and another five this week, when the plants had bolted and in full yellow flower and planning to go to seed, not into our oven.

But into the oven they will go.

Moral of this story is that sometimes gardening problems resolve themselves in unexpected ways.  I never thought I’d eat my fall crop of rutabagas in April and May, but I’m not complaining.  In fact, my mouth is watering.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Not from Jerusalem, but everywhere else

The Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus), or sunchoke, has its virtues.  It's native to our region, tall with cheerful flowers in the fall.  It produces tasty tubers, edible raw or cooked, that are low in starch and rich in the carbohydrate inulin, often promoted as a healthy choice for diabetics.  It provides good conversational fodder as you explain that it is not an artichoke and has nothing to do with Jerusalem (one theory about the name is that it derives from the Italian girasole, sunflower, because this plant is indeed a variety of sunflower).  I am not against people growing them; in fact I encourage it.

With caution.

Because the one thing you don't want Jerusalem artichokes to do is get out of control.  And that's so hard to prevent.  If you miss a tuber when digging them up in the fall -- if you miss one little sliver of a tuber -- you'll have more plants coming up the next year.  And you never, ever get them all.  Within reason, this is okay -- hey, perennial vegetables are great! -- but it's so easy to let your vigilance slip, or to get tired of digging them up and finding ways to eat them, and then before you know it you have a forest of Jerusalem artichokes.

We let this happen at the Derwood demo garden.  There's a whole section behind a fence which I'm sure started out as a small patch of Jerusalem artichokes, though by the time I joined the garden six years ago it was a large patch, and it only got larger, until it was about a 150-square-foot monocrop.  And then, a couple of years ago, we decided to take action, and to dig up half the patch.  And then we halved it again, and last fall we tried to eliminate all but an area about 3x3.  More sprouted outside that area this spring, so Intrepid Workers dug and dug some more (buckets full).  A couple of weeks ago, we planted strawberries in the cleared area.  Except, whoops.

They're back.  I think this is going to be a long battle.

Intrepid Workers going after the sunchokes
On a similar "so what else is new?" note, we have been digging up potatoes that we missed in last year's harvest.  We always miss a few, and they sprout the next year.  It's uncommon to see this, though:

Somehow we must have missed a whole section of potatoes.  Luckily onions are not too fussy about being disturbed, as we had to dig around and through them to get the potatoes out.

Next week it will finally be warm and not rainy on a Tuesday (I have declared this) and I have approximately one zillion seedlings that need to go in the ground.  We did get some work done yesterday before it started to pour, including building bamboo structures (hurray structures team!) of which you will see photos when they're done.  But I could really use an entire morning of nice weather, thank you.

Here's the Square Foot Garden section of the 100-square-foot demonstration:

It's coming along beautifully!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Cabbageworm Armageddon: Round 2

Having only a handful of broccoli plants to grow, it’s doesn’t bother us to have few cabbageworms   eating the leaves of our plants.  It’s the buds not the leaves that interest us.  To keep the damage on the leaves under control, we play what we call Cabbageworm Armageddon

But, when it’s time to grow kale, we want to eat the leaves.  The zone becomes “no-open buffet” for cabbageworms.   To keep the kale under protection, we can use- which I did in the past- a lightweight floating row cover  with hoops to avoid the kale from being crushed when the fabric is wet.  It really works but the fabric rips easily, and has a life expectancy of only about 20 weeks.  Take note, too: to water your plants correctly you must use the technique as my wife, Donna, shows on the picture below.

This year, I am trying something different: fiberglass window screen.  Unlike the lightweight floating row cover, it is not frost protective.  Air, light, and water can penetrate the material, with the added bonus: it appears to keep the rabbits away.  The fiberglass window screen is easily available from the hardware store with a width of 36”, 48” and 60”.  On the negative side, the material is slightly more expensive than a lightweight row cover, but should last for years.  Also, being heavier, you must use a support such as a 14 gauge wire hoop to support the fiberglass screen.

From experience, covering your Brassicaceae family member – cabbage, broccoli, kale, radish, turnip, collard greens , bittercress -  with a fabric barrier will not discourage the imported cabbage moth  to lay her eggs.  She will do it on the fabric near the junction with the soil or she will try to find another host such as stevia or an apple tree as a desperate measure. This is why I use a butterfly net: to eliminate the middleman.

Thursday, May 2, 2013


This photo is just because I like watching peanuts emerge from the soil so much.

For the purposes of this Year of Root Vegetables, I am counting peanuts as part of that clan even though they're not.  Don't peanuts grow under the ground, you ask?  Yes, they do, but not on the roots of the plant.  Every time I talk to someone about peanuts, I get all botanically starry-eyed and start saying "it's the coolest thing" and stuff like that, because really, peanuts are cool.  I had to look this up, but it turns out they are a prime example of geocarpy, which is the formation of seeds (or sometimes spores) under the soil.  As you watch your peanut plant grow, you see it forming its leguminous (pea-like) leaves and flowers, and then out of the flowers comes a stalk that dives for the soil and buries itself, and it's on this stalk that the peanuts form.

Getting peanuts to full ripeness is not a guarantee in our climate, which is why I'm starting the plants inside.  I'll plant them outside in a nice fluffy raised bed in another couple of weeks (parenthetically, looks like we might finally get warmer nighttime temperatures this weekend! I am so very tired of hauling multiple flats of seedlings in and out every day.  But soon now, it will be time to start complaining about the heat).  I hope that by fall we'll have a few peanuts to harvest.  Growing peanuts is great fun, but it's not the highest volume crop out there.  Grow a few and then buy the rest.

By the way, it's quite possible to grow peanuts in containers (one plant per).

If you happen to be allergic, I hope you have skipped this entire post...