Friday, December 18, 2015

The vegetable garden in a warm December

It's going to be pretty chilly tonight, but the forecast for the coming week sounds a lot like the rest of December - unseasonably warm, and not the slightest chance of a white Christmas. We are breaking records both locally and globally, spring flowers are bursting out all over again, and it's hard to decide what to wear. But what does it mean for the vegetable garden?

Well, first of all it depends a lot on exactly where you live. I'm in Germantown, in upper Montgomery County, where the October frost killed off all the summer vegetables in my community garden plot, no question. I still have some lovely fall vegetables producing - kale, cabbage, broccoli, gai lan (Chinese broccoli), lettuce, and the Swiss chard I planted in the spring. But I know that a lot of my down-county, inside-the-Beltway friends didn't lose their summer plants until November - and maybe they wouldn't have done so if they hadn't pulled them out (because surely the warm weather was over!). Kathy Jentz of Washington Gardener magazine reported on Thanksgiving that she was still picking green beans from her Silver Spring garden. So what else is still out there, out of season?

MG Robin Ritterhoff sent me these photos taken this week in her Bethesda garden - first, alpine strawberries forming berries:

And one remaining volunteer cherry tomato with green fruits on it:

MG Pat Kenny (Silver Spring) reports: "Our peppadew, Bishop's Hat, peppers, C. baccatum var pendulum, are still dangling on the 6-foot+ tall plant. Green, some turning orange. When brought in, they turn red - deliciously sweet on outside until you get toward pungent center."

And we've got a report via the Capital Weather Gang of tomatoes and eggplants growing fruit somewhere in the DC area (scroll down past all the flowers - but the flowers are cool too!).

Anyone else have summer vegetables still going? Leave a comment!

Otherwise, fall vegetables are doing splendidly, like MG Cindy Walczak's just-picked radishes:

which came up from the seed of her spring-planted radishes. And MG LeeAnne Gelletly reports a huge patch of parsley:

as do several other Master Gardeners. MG Joy Adler reports "herbs are incredibly fresh, with new growth. Fat parsley clumps, high growth on sage, rosemary, budding on lavender." I've seen flowers recently on my lavender as well.

Unfortunately, winter weeds are doing extremely well too, so we will have our work cut out for us! Perhaps it would be smart to use some of that warm Christmas week weather to get out and do some hoeing. And we can also spend time contemplating this increasingly unpredictable weather and how it might affect our future garden planning.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Wonderful Fall Vegetables

We've had a warm and wonderful fall season this year,  Everything in my garden is still growing and will continue to produce fresh table fare until we get a couple of hard freezes.  I'm eating spinach and arugula salads every night along with one of the other cool season greens from the garden.  Most of the bugs are long gone and the only pest in my garden is the continually sprouting winter weeds like chick weed, speedwell and henbit.  Univ Of Md. has an article on winter weeds, but it is in their discussion of lawn weeds.

For my contribution to the Thanksgiving table, I fixed roasted Brussels Sprouts and butternut squash and kale gratin.  Both were hits and in fact the butternut squash, kale gratin is headed for the Christmas day table.  Since my family enjoyed it so much, I thought I would share it with you.

The recipe was in the Post prior to Thanksgiving.  I hope your family enjoys it as much as mine did.

Happy Holidays.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Cauliflower couscous, stuffed pumpkin, and other Thanksgiving yums

Happy day after Thanksgiving, all! The weather is so nice here that I hope all you gardeners are calling it Green Friday and getting out there to finish up fall chores.

I cooked up a storm for Thanksgiving (not literally, weather-wise), and though I did end up using some of my own produce, I want to highlight some dishes that used vegetables grown by others. The first is one I've discovered recently, cauliflower couscous.

This is a great dish whether you're avoiding grains or sneaking more vegetables onto your table (I now really want to combine it with zucchini pasta and vegetarian meatballs), and it's super-easy to make if you own a food processor - just pop chunks of cauliflower in and pulse. (If you don't, you could grate the cauliflower, but it would take a lot more time.) Also, it's fun to watch the florets transform themselves into what truly resembles couscous. I then cooked the "grains" in a pan with butter, and added spices, slivered almonds, and currants for a pilaf. Here it's topped with some roasted tomatoes and peppers from the summer's harvest.

This fall I was given a large cheese pumpkin by a fellow MG who apparently has a compulsion to buy squash (at West Virginia prices: the $2 sticker was still attached) but isn't allowed to cook it, you know, practically every day. I have quite a lot of cooked squash in my freezer already, and this was way too big for one three-person meal, so I hung onto the pumpkin and used it as yesterday's vegetarian main course (we had a local farm turkey as well) with the stuffing inside.

If you want a recipe for this I will point you to Martha Stewart, but you can do what I did and take any stuffing recipe you like, do the prep work (cooking onions, apples, whatever, on the stove, maybe crisping up the bread cubes in the oven if you're starting from scratch) and then mix it together and shove it into the cleaned-out pumpkin, and put it in the oven. You won't need to add broth, since the squash provides plenty of moisture. If you are doing a turkey too, and you only have one oven, you may have to get up a little earlier to make this work, but my pumpkin only took a bit over an hour at 375F. For serving, scoop out some of the cooked pumpkin with the stuffing. You could probably use just about any kind of squash that has a large cavity inside, but the pumpkiny-shaped ones obviously work best.

Another dish I made was this salad from the Washington Post, and while I was chopping the fennel I was reminded that it also has wishbones:

So if you decide to give up eating turkey or chicken, and still want something to pull for wishes, there you are.

I also made purple sweet potato pie, and this delicious gingerbread apple upside-down cake. Among much else.

Hope you all had lovely Thanksgivings!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Pantry is Ready

Guest author: Susie Hill, Frederick County Master Gardener
This article originally appeared in the Frederick News Post
“Why does Grady have canned peaches in his closet?” my daughter asked. I’ve seen my kids stash stuff in their rooms before. Usually, it is some combination of the following: It comes in plastic and has artificial dye, high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils. Stashing peaches? This was a refreshing change. I would like to stash peaches in my closet too, but the pantry is where they belong. For me, stocking the pantry with summer fare is a hobby. My first introduction to preserving the harvest, however, was quite different.
As a young adult, I worked as a literacy tutor in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky. There, tucked away in the hollows, food preservation was a way of life. Historically, a well-stocked pantry was essential to survival. It was there that I began to appreciate the art of preservation, and more importantly, to appreciate the people who were kind enough to instruct me.
As a literacy tutor, I visited the homes of women who were thrilled to learn to read and write — in their 60s. Gratitude overflowed from them and onto a dinner plate made especially for me. Everything was grown fresh and homemade. A typical summer meal might include fresh tomatoes, corn and green beans with skillet cornbread and jam. A winter meal might have pan-fried apples, canned peaches, potatoes, sauerkraut and biscuits with jewel-toned jelly.
Wanting to share knowledge with me, my favorite student, Cinda, taught me how to dry half-runner beans on the car hood and how to make drying racks for apple rings. She shared her methods for canning peaches and sauerkraut. But the most valuable thing I learned was the story behind why these literacy students were so good at feeding others. Cinda had grown up during the Great Depression. In the hollows of the mountains, many children had to drop out of school at a young age because their families needed them to help grow and preserve the crops. Polly, another student, was the eldest of nine children. Her father worked in the logging industry. He would head out on a train every Sunday evening and not return until Friday night. “I was out working every day from the time the sun came up, and I didn’t come home ’til the whippoorwills was awhippin’,” she would say. Without Polly, her family would have really suffered during the winter months.
For Polly and Cinda, the cost of feeding their families was their education. Fortunately, things turned around for them later in life. While I taught them how to read and write, they taught me an immense gratitude for a steady food supply. Cinda taught me the joy of growing, preserving, serving and sharing what you had grown with your own hands.
Recent frost has brought my pantry prep to a screeching halt. I have plenty of garlic, dried chilis, jams, sun-dried tomatoes, dried apricots and the like. Some of the peaches are missing, but at least I know where they are. Potatoes and squash are in the root cellar, but I certainly don’t have enough to get a family through a winter. Fortunately, my family is not reliant upon my ability to preserve the harvest, so we can survive a winter. I do these things in memory of my friends in Kentucky, because it is a great way to avoid doing boring chores, and because it brings me great joy.
I think part of the reason Grady made off with the peaches is because we made them together. Another reason is that they are just SO delicious that he was afraid that he wouldn’t get enough of them. Perhaps I will make sun-dried tomatoes with him next year. I’d be thrilled to find that under his bed rather than another candy wrapper.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Farewell Fall

Guest post by Kurt Jacobson

On my morning dog walk the grass was frosted silver from last night’s cold temperature. The parsley and other herbs seemed to hang on through the punishing cold but soon they too will succumb to a wintry death. So goes the seasons in a gardener’s life. The Caribbean Red Habanero gifted me with 24 orbs of hot-as-hell goodness before saying farewell. It was the star of the pepper show this year and even though it was late to the party it produced over fifty bright red peppers for my hot sauce making machine.
Soon I’ll rip out the withered remains of my summer crops and let the soil rest until February or March and then start digging it all up again, blending in compost for a new start. Until then I have home canned salsa, diced tomatoes and red habanero hot sauce to remind me of the fruits of the garden. It was a great year that saw my best green bean crop ever. Somehow even though I planted two dozen bush bean starts at the same time; they were staggered two weeks apart in maturing. That gave me over five weeks of good bean picking and eating. I don’t know why they grew at different times as they were only ten feet apart but I’d rather be lucky than good.

My zucchini and yellow squash did the best ever of the four years I’ve been gardening in Maryland. It could be due to the weather or due to the mushroom compost I lovingly blended into my raised garden beds? Either way as a no-spray, organic gardener I was thrilled to get several nice squash before the vine borers got the best of them in August.  Okra did the same for me this year as in past years by producing enough for 1-2 okra dishes each week from late June through September. 

Late summer plantings of arugula, beets, carrots and herbs had mixed results. The arugula did fantastic; while the beets did nothing more than raised their little heads then drooped. The carrots are still growing but when the killing frost comes I’ll pull the little orange spears and relish the last fresh carrots of the year. It will soon be time to clip the thyme and set it about the house drying for my herb cabinet. As a chef, there is nothing like cooking with my own home-grown herbs to add that special taste to soups, sauces, roasts and stews.

In many ways it was the most memorable of my four years of backyard veggie gardening. I had a neighborhood eleven year old boy take an interest in veggie gardening and loved teaching him what I know of growing your own. I gifted him one of my five raised beds and gave him about ten seed packages to choose from to plant. He chose three types of tomatoes, two types of lima beans and Italian parsley. He would come over every week or so in the beginning and we would work the whole garden together. I called him when the seedlings came up and he rushed over to see this new life he had planted. 
When we started harvesting I’d send him home each week with a basket of greens in June, and tomatoes, beans, and herbs throughout the summer. I didn’t see him much after school let out, just once every three weeks, but he was always happy to help and loved carrying home fresh produce from our garden. It wasn’t until a party at his house yesterday that I heard from his parents and grandparents how much my garden project changed him. They said he talked about our gardening often and started eating many more types of food never tried before this new gardening education. The big surprise was he liked all these new veggies and ate them with pleasure. It was good to hear just how positive this joint gardening project was for him and we made plans to go over my seed catalogs in December to design his plot for next year.

The other most memorable event of my summer gardening was the arrival of a Yellow Agriope spider. I was picking Sungold Tomatoes one morning and found myself staring at a big spider just inches from my face. I have never been fond of spiders but have a truce with them. If they don’t land, or crawl on me I let them be. With this particular visitor I sent a question for the UMD experts as to what it was and was it good for my garden. That was when I found out what type of spider it was and that it would be good for my garden. For days I would be extra careful not to disturb it when I picked the Sungolds, and even took such a liking to it that I started catching and tossing bugs into her web. It was great fun to watch her attack the bugs and spin a cocoon around them for a stored meal. I was sad when I came back from a trip in early September and she was gone. I suspect my neighbor who is allergic to bees and hates bugs in general killed the Agriope while watering my garden in my absence. Or maybe a bird got her? Either way it was a great experience and I believe she protected my garden well for the two months she was there.

As winter approaches I hope you all have fun planning your gardens for 2016 and don’t get too carried away with seed ordering this snowy season ahead of us. May we all have the best gardens ever next year and an early spring!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Grow100 2015 RESULTS!

Grow100 2015 RESULTS!

Unlike last year, we are not awarding prizes or winners, but just highlighting some cool photos and stories from participants' growing seasons. With that, let's proceed and check out some gardens!

Click here to read all Grow100 posts on this blog

Pam Hosimer, UME Master Gardener and the Montgomery County Public Library, Germantown Branch

Pam provided a detailed write-up, so I will quote her:

"This garden, in its second year, was a huge success! We expanded from 2 containers to 3 containers. I changed the soil mix. Last year it was 50% topsoil/50% leafgro in the whole container. This year it was 50% topsoil/50% Leafgro on the bottom 2/3 of the container with potting soil on the top 1/3 of the container. This worked much better.

Here is what I planted - Container #1 – PIZZA GARDEN ('Patio' Tomato, Italian Oregano, 'Arp' Rosemary, Prostrate Rosemary, 'Spicy Bush' Basil), Container #2 – SALSA GARDEN ('Patio' Tomato, Bush Cucumber, 'Jimmy Nardello' Sweet Pepper, 'Jalafuego' Jalapeno Hot Pepper), Container #3 – FRUIT SCENTED HERB GARDEN (Lemon Verbena, Lemon Balm, Pineapple Sage, Lemon Thyme, Lemon Basil, Cinnamon Basil). It all grew robustly and produced a wonderful crop of herbs and vegetables. 

"I used the garden as a successful teaching tool for the monthly kid’s garden program I ran at the library from June through October. The kids loved picking the vegetables, which we proudly donated to the Manna Food Center in Gaithersburg. The staff and the public responded positively to the garden by stopping to look at it as they walked by, asking questions whenever I was out watering it, and not vandalizing the plants.

"The biggest challenge was getting the library staff and volunteers to water the garden on a regular basis. With all the rain we had in the spring they didn’t do much watering. Then they didn’t have a regular watering schedule in place when we stopped getting rain. Next it was hot and dry and no one was watering the plants and the plants stopped thriving. That was frustrating.

Montgomery County Derwood Demo Garden

The folks from the Derwood Demo garden sent in quite a bit of information, so I'll just quote them here:

"The Derwood Demonstration Garden’s 100 Square Foot Garden continued to demonstrate how to bring creativity to a small garden, incorporating many familiar and several unusual plants into the the international garden theme. In early summer, warm season crops typical of Asian, Latin American, French and Italian cuisine replaced the cool-season crops of the spring garden. Tomatoes, peppers, chilies, cucumbers, zucchini, tomatillos, beans, Mexican herbs and three types of basil highlighted the summer garden. Fall crops were planted in August, many of which were similar to those planted in the spring garden--Asian greens, carrots, chard, spinach, lettuces and other salad greens.

Cabbage worm damage led to heavy losses of our plantings of 'Lacinato' kale in the Italian garden. (We may have applied row cover too late, after cabbage moths had already laid eggs—lesson learned!) Flea beetles devastated our first planting of eggplant. Cucumber wilt, a bacterial infection carried by cucumber beetles, resulted in early removal of cucumber plants from the Asian bed. In late summer, harlequin bugs appeared in large numbers on turnips and other brassicas, and were partially controlled by hand-picking.

The wet and warm early summer gave rise to lots of fungal diseases. Basil downy mildew infected our Thai basil ‘Siam Queen,’ although the basil varieties ‘Purple Tetra’ and (alleged) partially-resistant Genovese variety ‘Eleonora’ both escaped infection. Early blight and Septoria leaf spot affected tomato plants. Constant removal of infected leaves helped keep the disease from advancing, and we had a successful tomato crop.

The biggest challenge was a rabbit or rabbits that took a particularly liking to the 100 Square Foot Garden, perhaps because of its location near an entry gate. The rabbit’s noshing made it difficult to grow bush beans until very late in the year and impossible to grow edamame, which was particularly disappointing in the Year of the Bean and Pea.

Tomatoes, peppers and chilies, carrots, and tomatillos were particularly successful crops for us this season.

We love this smiling Fava Bean plant plate from earlier in the season as well!

Paul DiCrispino - Baltimore County

Paul had a good crop of sugar snap peas and planted indeterminate tomatoes in the same space with success. He had success growing peppers in 5 gallon buckets, cucumbers in oak barrels, and broccoli in a box. 

Wow! Paul also grew potatoes in a cylinder.

David Marcovitz - Baltimore County

David faced a lot of challenges this year. The deer ate the leaves off 4 of his 6 zucchini plants just as they were starting to get some good zucchini. Something had been eating his cucumbers, and something got into the tomatoes even with deer protection. David even found some huge "parsley worms" (black swallowtail caterpillars) eating the parsley on his deck.

A caterpillar munching on parsley.

David had success with broccoli despite battling cabbage worms.

David tried some carrots and pole beans from seed this year, and both seemed to be growing nicely at the time of check-in.

Asparagus crowns which may yield some food next year.

So that's it for 2015!  Thanks to everyone who participated and sent in info and photos about their gardening season this year! We plan to move a lot of the great photos, tips, and stories from the past two years into a new "small-scale" section on the GIEI website.

The Grow It Eat It Team (MGs, staff, and faculty from all parts of Maryland) will be discussing the future of Grow100 at our December meeting. We expect that we may drop the 100-square foot garden theme and pursue some other subject and manner of interacting with our readers.  Perhaps something related to tomatoes, as 2016 is the Year of the Tomato!  Let us know if you have any ideas for a fun way that readers can send in their gardening exploits for us to share with you! (Comment below.)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Why I Love Fall Gardening

I love fall gardening, especially after the dry, hot months of August and September.  Most of the bugs of summer are long gone, although I'm still spraying BT for imported cabbage worm larva and hand picking Harlequin bugs.  The hard frost we had in mid-October sweetened up the kale and other brassicas, which I've been feeding the family on a regular basis.  Last week I picked a couple of heads cauliflower, some pak choi, broccoli and a bag of arugula.

The cauliflower was so mild, I ate half of one head raw while preparing dinner.  My cauliflower and other brassicas always have a milder in the fall versus the same varieties grown in the spring and maturing during warm weather.  

If you are in the neighborhood of Columbia Md., this Saturday stop in at Howard County Community College, Health Sciences building for a Healthy Eating Fest event sponsored by Transition Howard County. This link will take you to the the flyer for the event, registration and the .pdf files for the speakers.  I'm bringing some fresh vegetables from my garden for a taste competition against those purchased from a local grocery store.  I'm sure mind will win hands down.

While I picking Premium Crop broccoli, Snow Crown cauliflower, Late Dutch flat head cabbage, 

a couple varieties of pak choi, arugula and Dwarf Siberian kale, I have Jade Cross Brussels sprouts, beets, turnips and kohlrabi that haven't quite matured. If there are frost warnings issued, I cover the half hardy fall vegetables with row cover that I have staged beside the row.  

So if you have never tried a fall garden, try one next year.  The Maryland GIEI MGs regularly offer courses on fall vegetable gardening along with many other vegetable gardening classes.  To find classes near you, just go to the GIEI page and click on the take a class link and look through the county listings. While it's too late to start additional vegetable crops, Howard County's Fall Vegetable Gardening PowerPoint can be found here.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Turnip jack-o-lantern!

Got any big gnarly turnips hanging out in your garden, or have you discovered one at the farmer's market? Tired of carving pumpkins for Halloween? Historically minded? You may want to try a turnip jack-o-lantern!

Before pumpkins became the thing to make faces in, there was a long Celtic tradition of carving turnips - the largest vegetable available in the old country, I suppose. You can read some of the mythology behind this in the tale of Stingy Jack. Turnips take a bit more effort to carve than pumpkins, since the flesh is firmer - or so I hear, since I haven't done it myself.

But my mom has! Here is the pictorial history of Lucy Edwards and her turnip jack-o-lantern.

Scarlet Ohno Revival Turnip - grown a bit large for eating
The harvested turnip
Prepared for carving - looks like a huge heart
The carving begins
Partly hollow inside - this saves time!
The finished product! Note how the stem bases are left for "hair".
With a light placed underneath
Instructions for carving your own turnip are here. Or, if you like your advice in historical format, try this (and make sure you procure your turnip righteously and honestly).

The above turnip was spring-planted and grown in New Hampshire. Anyone here in MD managed to get a turnip to this size and keep it going till October?

Friday, October 16, 2015

Frost warning

Check your forecast! Light frosts are possible in some areas of Maryland this weekend. Probably time to get those last peppers harvested if you haven't done it yet.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Good Day For a Cry

Guest post by Susie Hill, Frederick County Master Gardener
Liza and Katy Hill are shown swinging on their playset in the garden.
It is a glorious day. The crickets are singing, the humidity is low and the sky is cobalt — a perfect contrast to the goldenrod. It is an ideal day to have a good cry.
This lump has been building in my throat for a couple hours because today is a day of massive transition — emotionally. My kids’ play set has just come down. It was disassembled in a matter of minutes by the backs and hands of five strong men.
It took far longer for my husband to assemble it. It took 10 years to build a cache of memories that will last a lifetime. My kids would swing or climb while I would work and play in the garden. Sometimes, they would join me. Often, they would stop me to say, “Look at me!” followed by, “Look what I can do” — or more importantly, a child’s version of, “Please look at me when I am talking to you. I want to spend time with you. Are you listening? I want to feel important today.”
When I laid out my garden, I spent months thinking through all the things I wanted to grow and how much space would be needed. I admired photographs of kitchen garden books and foolishly thought my garden might one day look the same. It was folly, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and was tickled when it was finally laid out and ready for planting. Many people looked at me, shook their heads, and told me it was too big. They were right … this garden I had dreamt up was far too big to manage, and I am now in the process of downsizing.
There was, however, one thing I did that I will never regret. I made room for the kids’ things in the garden too. The swing set sat in the middle. I dedicated one bed to a playhouse. I tried my hand at sunflower mazes and bean teepees. I laid paths and boards for them to meander. I allowed them to use my marigolds like snowballs. I had tea parties in the garden with them, and we drew with sidewalk chalk. Costumes were welcome, as were all children who wanted to plant, pick, play, swing or just be.
I always said that I would cry the day I pulled into the driveway and saw grass growing under the tire swing. Somehow, it happened, and I didn’t notice. It’s just like the way you don’t see your own kids growing under your nose, but the growth spurts of other peoples’ children are striking. The grass started coming in slowly, under my nose. The swing set came down in a flash. It is a harsh reminder of the passage of time and opportunity.
In my mind, the garden was always sacred territory with the kids. I never fussed at them or demanded help. I just wanted them to feel welcome to enjoy the space with me, wishing that they too would find peace and solace there.
Although the swing set is now gone, my hopes remain. Removal of the swing set has made room for a fire pit — far more appealing to teens and tweens than a play set they have outgrown. I will put it right in the middle of the garden. And if those big kids decide to have a tomato fight (it has happened before), I will turn my head and pretend not to see. I will do anything for the opportunity to have more kids, of any age, in my garden. That just might bring a little tear to my eye.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Garden lessons learned 2015

Every year I try to think back over the growing season about things I've learned (often re-learned) about gardening, so here's the Derwood Demo Garden version thereof for 2015. Not that the growing season is over, but maybe I can still remember some of it at this point.

1. Mother Nature is boss. No matter what plans you make, the weather will screw them up, or perhaps provide you a few bonuses along the way. We had the second really cold winter in a row, which did some damage to our hardy kiwi and taught us that we'll need to give it some winter protection this year. We'll also protect the newly-planted fig tree in the same area. June was unreasonably rainy, leading to fungal diseases on many plants later in the season, and the end of summer was unremittingly hot and dry, making it difficult to get fall plants started. And today we should have been showing off our garden at the Harvest Festival, but Hurricane Joaquin had other ideas. This is a lesson we have to learn anew each year - but all we can really do is prepare for whatever conditions might occur and adjust quickly.

2. Corollary: spray the tomatoes. We've pretty much decided that prophylactic spraying of copper fungicide is the way to go, considering the pattern of wet springs we've been having. (Next June: complete and total drought.) I have also noted that tomatoes planted a bit later than the earliest possible moment (i.e. late May-early June) do much better in the fungal disease stakes. Also, the tomatoes grown in our hay bales were fantastic, beating out everything else in the garden.

Huge healthy tomatoes on the left
3. Rabbits love soybeans. Actually, rabbits love beans in general - I'm talking the young plants rather than the pods that we wait for - but it was bleakly amusing to note that in our Asian bean area some of the plants were only nibbled on while the soybeans and adzuki beans were chomped down to the ground. That was when the rabbit(s) (we only ever saw one at a time) managed to hop over to that area after chowing on the 100-square-foot garden's beans for the umpteenth time. Bunnies do also eat bean pods when those are in reach, but don't tell that to the indomitable 100SFG team who finally managed to harvest some by August.

4. Nevertheless, the Year of the Bean was fun. Especially these "pretzel bean" cowpeas that I got from an Amish heritage seed company.

But I won't be planting chickpeas again - in previous years I've lost the crop early to something (probably rabbits) mowing it down, and this year our pods were pierced and beans eaten by a pest we were never able to definitively identify.

5. The peppers will be late. I'm finally harvesting huge numbers of peppers from a few plants in my own garden, and we've been doing the same at the demo garden:

but they took their sweet time. You can see a lot of these are green - we're cutting them because they are weighing down the branches.

6. Corollary: it's worth looking for one early-producing variety of everything. This helps with succession planting and spacing out the harvest. One example: the 'Gulliver' tomatillo grown by the 100SFG team. They were able to direct-seed it after harvesting spring crops, and it produced by late August - massive 3-inch tomatillos. Imagine how early it would be if started indoors and transplanted in May!

I also had good luck with 'Dash' spinach as a spring-planted crop, which can supplement fall-planted spinach if you manage to get that going against all odds in wacko weather. (We'll see whether the seeds I put in this week washed away.)

7. Leeks grow in containers. I always throw a few unusual things into big pots just to see, and there were some extra leek seedlings, so... anyway, it worked, although they were small in comparison to the in-ground ones. Our container-grown sunchokes also did pretty well - and we have managed to eliminate them from the soil, we think!

8. Potting mix needs mid-season "fluffing" - at least if it rains steadily all through June. The container area did very poorly in summer and compaction of the soilless mix turned out to be one factor.

9. Bean trellises should not be built taller than gardeners can reach. I got really tired of getting out the ladder.

10. Drip irrigation saves shallow salad tables. We even managed to get parsley to germinate in July. It's doing well. I am coming to prefer salad tables more than 3 inches deep, though - sorry, Jon!

11. It's not worth waiting to harvest potatoes until the Harvest Festival. Especially if it doesn't happen! We were going to harvest the sweet potatoes today, but I guess we'll get to it this Tuesday. Anyway, the long tradition of October potato harvesting has bowed to increasing pest and weather issues, and we got our potatoes out in August (some for the public at the GIEI open house) and put broccoli seedlings in their place. Much better use of space than taters sitting underground being gnawed on by wireworms and occasionally sprouting.

12. We have a fantastic team of MGs at the DDG! I didn't need to learn this lesson; I already knew it. Thanks everyone!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Fall soil improvement can lead to greater yields in 2016

I'm a vegetable gardener that makes intensive use of the space in my 4 foot wide raised beds.  What do I mean by intensive use, I mean that I pay more attention to the spacing between plants (see HG16 - Planting Dates for Vegetable Crops in MD)  and no attention to the distance between rows.  I'll use snap beans and beets as examples.  For snap beans, I plant 3 rows in my beds with seeds spaced 2 inches apart.  In a 5 foot long space, this gives me 90 plants, more than enough for myself, family and food bank.  For beets, I plant 4 rows with seed about 3 inches apart, which gives me 80 plants. Add to this the fact that I succession plant a lot of my summer and cool season in blocks like this and my garden is very productive.

There are 3 main ingredients to this kind of intensive gardening, but since it's fall, I'm going blog about soil improvement, since soil provides not only support for the vegetables but also holds the water and nutrients which are necessary for optimal yield.  Fall is a great time to improve your soil since you may have areas in the garden that are not planted.

The first task to complete when improving your soil is to do a soil test, if you haven't done one in the last 3 to 5 years (Univ. of MD's Home and Garden Information Center (HGIC) recommendation). The results from your soil test will tell you your soil's pH, nutrient levels  (phosphorous, potassium, calcium, magnesium and other micro nutrients, nitrogen is not tested for because it is transient in the soil) and amount of organic material (OM) in your garden.  The example below is from the Univ. of Del. soil test lab.
In the results from the soil test, the Univ. of Del. tells the client the specific amount of lime to add to bring the soil's pH range into the 6.2 to 6.8 that vegetables prefer.  It also tells the client what nutrients need to be added, when to add them and how much to use.  I would note that these recommendations are for commercially available inorganic fertilizers and that organic gardeners would have to convert these recommendations for applicable levels of organic fertilizers.  Help with this conversion is available from the friendly folks at HGIC. Just scan a copy of you report, email it to HGIC using the "Ask the Experts" button on the GIEI page and give them the analysis (N-P-K on the container) of your choice of fertilizer or allow them to choose from the wide array of organic choices.

One caveat I would add at this point is that nutrients need to be in water soluble form in order for plants to take them up.  Some organic fertilizers are not water soluble and have to be acted on by soil microbes to convert them from an organic form to a water soluble form.  Thus, when the soil is cold in the spring and fall, it is advisable to select a water soluble organic fertilizer (e.g. blood meal a source of water soluble organic nitrogen).

The second soil improvement task is to add additional OM to the soil.  (HGIC recommends adding 6 inches of OM to new gardens and one inch annually to established gardens.) This can be accomplished in two ways, either by adding compost or other OM or by growing a cover crop which can be incorporated into the soil and allowed to decay.  Both of these techniques add OM to the soil, which becomes a residual source of nutrients available to plants as soil microbes convert the organic forms of N-P-K into water soluble forms.

The goal for my intensively planted garden is to keep the OM content of my soil to a level greater than 5%.  Besides acting as a reservoir of nutrients for the plants, the humus which results from the decomposition process increases the water and air holding capacity of the soil. It accomplishes this by "glueing" soil particles together into larger clumps or aggregates which creates micro pores for holding soil solution containing nutrients and macro pores which allow the soil to drain and introduce air into the soil.  Soil with good structure, lots of macro and micro pores and containing adequate nutrients, will result in optimal yields.

So this is my general formula for soil improvement.  It works wonders in my garden and can do the same for you.  If you would like to hear more on soil improvement, I am making a presentation tonight (Thursday, Oct. 1 at 7 pm) entitled "Better Yield Through Better Soils" at Miller Library in Howard County MD.  Please phone 410-313-1950 to register.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

I'm glad summer is over

Boy, I sure am glad we are finished with summer.  Now maybe we can start making up the 6 inches of rain which we missed in August and September.

Like almost everyone I know, my tomatoes suffered from early blight  and Septoria leaf spot..
My harvest was modest at best and I did can some spaghetti sauce.

Fall crops have been planted (first week of August) and the cabbage. broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kale are doing wonderfully.

The plants are so large, I had to remove the 7 foot row cover.  So now I'm spraying with BT for the cabbage worms.  I also have some harlequin bugs, which I am hand picking twice a day.  Broccoli and cauliflower should be ready in mid October.  At that time, I'll side dress the broccoli with a quarter cup of 10-10-10 per 10 foot row as recommended in the HGIC vegetable profiles  Cabbage and Brussels Sprout should be ready in November.

Also planted lots of lettuce, pak choi, kohlrabi, radishes, collards, tatsoi and spinach.  With the hot dry weather, I had trouble getting it to germinate, even with my drip irrigation.  But they are up and should provide some variety for my table

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Fabulous Fall Greens

We’ve braved the summer heat and as we bid farewell to one season it’s on to colorful foliage, crisp fall weather, football, and fabulous greens. All alliteration aside, as fall approaches so does a new set of fall crops including broccoli, cabbage, and most importantly all the greens. Here are some great facts about some of our favorite greens:

Kale has previously been used and seen as a decoration piece, providing a bed for shrimp cocktail and deli spreads. However, it’s made quite the comeback as a nutritious superhero packing a long list of nutrients and health benefits. Kale is rich in vitamin A and C, the minerals calcium and iron as well as numerous other phytochemicals (healthful chemicals found in plants). Kale is versatile and can be prepared in many different ways for endless meal ideas. You can simply steam or sauté and top with lemon or oil/vinegar dressing, or add to pasta with vegetables or even your morning omelet.

Spinach is available year round at your local grocery store but take advantage of grabbing it in season from your local farmers for the best flavor and experience. Spinach is a dueling superhero green due to its similarly packed nutrition punch. Spinach contains vitamin A and K, folate, vitamin C, magnesium, calcium, and a long list of other vitamins and minerals. It’s just as versatile too. From salads, to smoothies; spinach can even be steamed in the microwave and added to rice or casseroles.

There are so many leafy greens to grow, buy and consume including turnip greens, collards, mustard greens, swiss chard and dark salad greens.  Though each leafy green is unique in its nutritive qualities they all are rich in vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin C, folate (a B vitamin), fiber and various phytochemicals including lutein and zeaxanthine (these two phytochemicals are really good for eye health). In fact, according to the University of Georgia Department of Food and Nutrition, leafy greens are known to provide these health benefits:

1.      Helps maintain healthy eyes and vision.
2.      Helps keep immune system healthy to fight infections.
3.      Helps reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease.
4.      Helps reduce the risk of high blood pressure and stroke.
5.      Helps reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration.
6.      Helps keep bones and teeth strong, along with diet and enough calcium and vitamin D.

They may not always be crowd favorites but with winning nutrition and countless recipe options, it’s hard to deny the highlight of fall vegetables. When buying from a local farmer be sure to rinse and clean your greens well and remember to always eat your greens! 

Here are some recipes for you to try:
Greens and Beans (UMD’s Eat Smart MD website)
Servings: 6

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 (15.5-ounce) cans of white beans, rinsed and drained
6 cups fresh greens: spinach, Swiss chard, or kale, washed
2 Tablespoons fresh parsley or 1 Tablespoon dried parsley flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Heat oil in pan over medium heat.
  2. Add onion, cook for 2 minutes.
  3. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring often.
  4. Add beans and parsley, cook for 2 minutes.
  5. Stir in greens and cook just until wilted.
  6. Season with salt and pepper.
*Click on link in references section for nutrient information of recipe.
Seared Greens (USDA Mixing Bowl):
8 cups kale or collard greens (1 1/2 pounds)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (or olive oil)
garlic clove (chopped)
1 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons vinegar, cider
1. Clean the greens thoroughly and cut stems away. Dry well and tear into salad pieces or slice across leaf into 1/2 inch pieces.
2. In a large deep pot or skillet with a cover, sauté garlic in oil. Add greens in pan with 1 cup water.
3. Cover pan and steam for 4 minutes.
4. Uncover, stir constantly until greens shrink. Add salt and pepper and continue to stir on high until mixture is thoroughly wet.
5. Sprinkle cider vinegar on mixture. Cover.
6. Turn off heat. Let stand until ready to serve.

This post is a collaborative project of Lisa Gonzalez, FCS Extension Agent and Kimberley Zisman, Dietetic Intern.

Eat Smart MD. (2015). Greens and Beans.

University of George Department of Food and Nutrition. (2003). Leafy Greens.

USDA Mixing Bowl (2015). Seared Greens.