Tuesday, March 31, 2015

An introduction--to me and to quiche

Even just a few years ago, I wasn’t really into food or gardening. I used to subsist on mostly oatmeal and tea. I got hooked on growing food in 2009 between taking a plant biology course and interning at Great Kids Farm--and now I have multiple jobs in food and agriculture. 

I spend basically the rest of my time cooking and/or eating and/or thinking about what my next meal is going to be. My contribution to this blog will be writing about my learning experiences and community gardening in Baltimore City. 

This time of year is kind of slim pickings in the garden, and you may find yourself with a fridge full of odds and ends (unlike late-summer gluts). I try to eat "sustainably" which for me means considering growing practices (i.e. pesticide/herbicide use, treatment of animals, land use, etc.) AND the distance the food has traveled to get to my plate. Growing my own food helps me feel better on both counts.

But even if I'm not growing my own food, I still try to eat local, fresh foods as much as possible. Right now I also take part in several local groups that do "food rescue," where food that would otherwise be thrown away (because it's too "ugly" or slightly damaged, or almost expired) gets sorted and redistributed to willing takers. All of this means basing my meals around what's available. 

Two of my stand-bys are soup and quiche. Both of these foods are intimidating to some people, but they're fairly easy. I'm still working on getting the balance of seasonings right in my soup, but I have many testimonials that I make a mean quiche. 

My quiche for New Year's day with friends (photograph courtesy Dorothy Fisher).

Here's my basic method: 

1 cup flour
1/2 cup shortening, cold (butter is best, but you can also use Crisco) 
1/4 cup water -- iced

Cut up shortening into cubes, fold into flour until mixture is crumbly but just beginning to form up. Add water SLOWLY until you can form a ball (may not require 1/4 cup water so do it in drips). It really helps to have cold shortening and water (helps the dough shape up better). 

If you have time, refrigerate the dough for at least an hour, then roll out. (You can roll it out immediately if you have to, but it'll be a bit messier and more likely to stick to the rolling pin.) If you don't have a rolling pin (like me), an unopened can of beer or glass jar can work well--anything durable with smooth sides (I used an empty Prosecco bottle once for a New Year's morning quiche). 

This easily makes enough pie crust for a quiche. To make more, just keep the ratio the same and you'll be all right! 

3-4 eggs
bit of milk (roughly 2 Tbsp.) 
a dash of salt and pepper
sautéed vegetables (i.e. mushrooms, carrot) and meat (i.e. bacon, cubed ham, etc.) 
chopped fresh vegetables (i.e. peppers, bell peppers, celery, carrot) 
roughly 2 c. shredded cheese

The goal here is to use up stuff, so I'm not going to specify what meat and vegetables you use. It's really up to you, your garden, and your fridge. The premise to a quiche is that you're putting an omelet in crust. 

Put the pie crust in a pie plate and bake for 5-15 minutes at 425* F. Meanwhile, whip the eggs and milk, salt and pepper, and then add the other ingredients. 

Sautée anything that won't cook sufficiently if simply baked (carrots, for example, will tend to crisp up; mushrooms don't get that lovely mellow quality; bacon generally needs to be cooked at least partway before crumbling it into the quiche filling; root vegetables also should probably be softened a bit before going in the pie). 

Everything else--fresh herbs and vegetables that should stay crisp (i.e. celery)--should simply be chopped and thrown in the bowl with the whipped egg. Pour 1/2 of this into the partially-baked pie crust, then sprinkle the cheese evenly and add the remaining egg-veg mixture. (Alternatively you can put cheese down first, pour the egg over it, then add veg, and finally add a bit more cheese.) 

For those of you who like more specific directions, there are plenty of more directive quiche recipes out there. Technically, I think this begins to border on being a vegetable or meat-and-vegetable pie, as a traditional quiche is very light and mostly about the egg, cheese, and crust. I like quiche in all seasons, but I think it's particularly nice in the spring when the weather is starting to warm up a bit (and a light dish is appealing) but it's still cool enough to appreciate something coming straight out of the oven (though quiche is often served at room temperature, too). 

Enjoy! And please comment if you come up with any particularly scrumptious combinations! 


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Pre sprouting and planting fava/broad beans and sugar snap peas

Earlier this week, I looked at the 7 day weather forecast and saw that temperatures were forecast to return to seasonal averages.  So, I decided to try a new way (at least for me) to plant some fava beans and sugar snap peas.  I usually just dampen my peas and beans, inoculate the with rhizobia  bacteria to allow the plants to set nitrogen nodules in the soil and plant them at the appropriate depth.  My germination using this method has always been pretty poor and in a number of years, both the favas and peas collapse as the temperature exceeds 75 degrees.

This year I decided to try something new by pre sprouting both the peas and beans.  I soaked them in water for 24 hours, drained them and placed them in a plastic bag on a very moist paper towel.  Then, I sat back and waited for the seeds to swell and send out their embryonic roots.  I started the process Sunday afternoon and today (Thursday) I saw the embryonic roots on the favas start to emerge.

The peas weren't quite at the same stage, but I could see that their roots were about to emerge.

So, out came the hoes and rake and I planted a 35 foot row of peas and 70 feet of fava beans. The favas were planted about an inch to inch and a half deep, in a V trench made with my Warren hoe.  The peas went into a flat bottom trench an inch deep made with a regular hoe.  Once the peas break the ground, I will set up my 7 foot pea trellis for the sugar snap peas to climb.

Fava beans end up being a 18 inch to 2 foot plant which may require support.  They have a fairly long days to maturity which makes them difficult to grow in the spring.  Some seed companies recommend pinching the tops out of the plant once they start to bloom.  This is suppose to encourage an earlier crop.  After the spring crop is harvested, supposedly, you can cut the plant back to several inches above ground, regrow the plant and get a fall harvest.  Stay tuned for updates.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Thank Goodness for Daylight Savings Time

I may have jumped the gun (warm weather) a little bit, but yesterday was so pleasant that I thought I would do some planting.  I've had broccoli, cabbage, choi, lettuce and tatsoi hardening off in my cold frames and they looked ready to go in the ground.  So about 3 pm I started to plant in a bed I had prepared late last fall. The bed is raised approximately 10 inches above ground level, drains well and warms up quickly.

First up were the tatsoi transpants, planted 8 inches apart.  Tatsoi is in the brassica family and is sometimes called spinach mustard or spoon mustard.  It forms a rosette of spoon shaped leaves, is very hardy and can be used in salads (my favorite) or stir fried.

Next I seeded four rows of arugula planted perpendicular to the length of my 4 foot wide beds.  My daughter loves the stuff.  After that were three rows of radish seed, these for my son-in-law.  I planted Cherry Bell and French Breakfast,  The French Breakfast matures a little later than the Cherry Bell.  Radishes will be planted a couple of rows a week.  Finally, 3 or 4 rows of Tokyo Cross turnip seed.  Not sure this will germinate, but hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Next were 20 or so transplants of choi on 8 inch spacing.  First some Mei Qing choi which matures in 45 days and then some Win-Win choi which mature in 52 days, both of which are pretty hardy..  Great vegetable to grill, steam or stir fry.

Finally, planted the cabbage (Late Dutch Flat, Red Acre and Golden Acre), broccoli (Packman) and lettuce.  I like the Packman because it is very quick to mature (about 55 days), which is important, since our Junes are warm.  I plant my cabbage and broccoli pretty close (18 inches between plants in a 4 foot wide bed with one plant in the center, forming an X),  Between the broccoli and cabbage, I put transplants of lettuce either butter crunch or red sails.  The picture below is from a couple of years ago.

Finally, watered all of the transplants in with a 50% water soluble transplant solution, laid the drip irrigation tape, anchored it down with sod staples, spaced out my row cover hoops,and covered the whole shebang with row cover, anchoring the row cover with more sod staples.  Here's the final result, it takes up about 35 feet of my 70 foot raised bed.  Finished about sundown, tired but happy.

The rear of this row is reserved for Sugar snap peas and fava beans, but that is another blog.

btw:  check out the GIEI classes in your county.  We in Howard County are doing a couple of spring vegetable gardening classes, as well as classes on sustainable organic vegetable gardening and growing healthy brambles (raspberries and blackberries) in April. 

Grow100 2015 begins!

And we're back for another year of 100 square-foot gardens!

Enter the 2015 Grow It Eat It challenge and show us “What Can YOU Grow in 100 Square Feet?”
Keep it small: The growing space cannot exceed 100 square feet (but may be less). Examples:
  • one bed that is 4’x25’ or 10’x10’
  • three 4’x8’ beds and a 2’ diameter pot
  • Containers, salad boxes, or salad tables are all ok.
  • The 100 square feet may be your entire garden or just a small part of it. 
OPEN to all gardeners - city, suburban, country; experienced and first-time gardeners; backyard, community, or school garden. AND you don’t have to be a Maryland resident. We have lots of examples and resources to help you. Use your imagination- the sky’s the limit. 
During the growing season, tweet about your garden to the GIEI twitter, orHGIC/GIEI Instagram(link is external) and include the hashtag #grow100. Post your progress on the GIEI Facebook page wall!  We want to hear about and see your garden!
Take notes about your process, plan, and challenges during the season, and take photos!  At the end of the season, we will want you to send in a short synopsis of your garden and how your growing season went, plus up to 10 photos.
Just for fun - Unlike last year, this year's Grow100 is not a contest.  We just want to create some conversation about gardening and inspire people!  Participating has been simplified:
  1. (Optional) Sign up for our Grow100 email list.  We will periodically send out Grow100 info and ideas, plus reminders to send in your entry.
  2. ONE entry at the end of your growing season.  The submission form will be open from August 1st through October 15th.  You can submit at any time - whenever your garden is done and you have compiled your photos and summary. We'll give you instructions on how to submit - watch the blog or your email for details.
We will update the GIEI blog(link is external)Grow100 email list, and our social media with Grow100 tips, and highlight exceptional garden submissions.
As a suggestion, pick a goal for your garden:
  • 4-Rs Garden - Use techniques to reduce waste, energy, and water use; re-use materials; recycle nutrients; and re-think conventional gardens.
  • Maximum Production - we're looking for a garden with an impressively abundant harvest. The amount of food, crop diversity, and length of harvest are all factors that will impress us.
  • Or, a combination of the above, and/or your own particular goals.
Need some tools or help planning your garden strategy?  See our Resources page full of book suggestions, garden planning software, and tips.
Check out all the previous posts about Grow100(link is external) on the GIEI Blog.

Growing herbs in a cold frame

Well, we woke up to snow yet again this morning in Garrett County.  Will spring ever arrive in Mountain Maryland?  As we ponder that question, I thought I would share a trick that keeps a bit of green from our garden on our family’s table year round.  About fifteen years ago, we ordered a cold frame from a company in Vermont.  It was made in Austria, and the box that it was shipped in had pictures of cabbages growing happily inside the cold frame.  I decided that I would skip the cabbages and try growing perennial herbs in it.  

After lots of trial and error, I’ve found that I can harvest rosemary throughout the year (the picture is from this morning).   The cold frame also prolongs the growing season for sage, bay laurel, and oregano through early December and then protects those plants as they overwinter.  Chives magically reappear in the cold frame each year in the late spring, but I haven’t had any luck overwintering tarragon.  Likewise, thyme has never thrived in the cold frame—it does better in a pot on the patio from late spring through the early fall and then I bring it in during the colder months to live as a snowbird houseplant. 

Some technical details about the cold frame: it has twin-wall polycarbonate panels in a metal frame with four hinged windows on top that open as needed using solar-powered hinges.  The windows can be removed entirely in the warm months.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Jade: A mouth-watering green bean


Jade green beans

I long have had a love-hate relationship with green beans.

I love green beans.  I love to pick one in our garden and munch away.  I love the flavor of a green beans cooked just right—seven to eight minutes for us.

But most summers I have ended up hating green beans.  Over the years I’ve planted Variety A, Variety B, and then Variety C.  The beans often looked perfect, but they just weren’t mouth watering to munch on raw.  When cooked, well, they were just so-so—you know, sort of like those frozen ones that look so good on the package but with flavor not much more than the salt you’ve added. To be honest, many years I planted green beans, harvested a few handfuls, determined they were “blah,” and then ignored them until the bean beetles did them in.

Then two winters ago I was chatting with Howard County Master Gardener Kent Phillips, a great vegetable gardener, and said, “Hey, Kent.  I’m always disappointed in my green beans.  Can you recommend a variety worth growing and eating?”

“Jade,” Kent replied.  “I’ve grown it for years—the only one I grow.  It’s absolutely delicious.  I get seeds at Meyer Seed Co. in Baltimore when I make my annual trip to their store.”  I wasn’t about to drive 50 or 60 miles, roundtrip, to buy a packet of seeds, but I remembered our local hardware store, Kendall’s, sells Meyer Seeds, so I ordered a packet there.

This will be the third spring I’ve planted Jade green beans.  They grow beautifully.  Beans are five to seven inches long, straight as a, well, green bean, and dark green.  Last summer—a particularly good summer for growing any vegetable here in central Maryland—I picked Jades six times from one planting, surely a record for my garden.

Pop a Jade into your mouth in the garden and you’ll exclaim, “Now THAT is a green bean.”  Of course it is.  Cook a pot full, and you’ll almost weep at the flavor and wonder why anyone stoops to buy green beans at the supermarket.  Well, they buy tomatoes there too.

If you are hankering to grow a great green bean, I recommend you invest in a packet of Jade seeds.  SEARCH for them online, and you’ll find them available at several seed companies.  Fedco Seeds has a particularly helpful description:

"Jade Bush Green Bean (56 days) The original strain, favored by both market and home gardeners, producing great yields of tasty 5–7" straight slender round dark green beans that keep coming until late in the season, long after others have quit. Known for their holding quality, the tender pods with traditional bean flavor retain rich color longer than others, both on the vine and after picking. Jade’s strong upright bush habit holds pods above the ground, reducing curling and tip rot. PVP. Resistant to BBS, CBMV, NY15, CTV, tolerant to R. Caution: white-seeded Jade is a fussy germinator. Be sure your soil temperature is at least 60° and irrigate during dry spells."

Excuse me, please.  My mouth is watering just at the mere thought of  Jade green beans.  Grow them.  Eat them.

Still blooming afternoon before frost
November 2014

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Seeding Peas Because Spring WILL Come

Tall Telephone peas in front; cole in back
I really didn’t think spring would come this year. But we’ve had a couple of warmish, hopeful days in between storms, just enough of a taste at the tail end of an appalling winter to be able to at least imagine spring up ahead. It’s encouragement enough to start some seeds.

Farmers’ and old gardeners’ wisdom around here says to plant peas and potatoes on St Patrick’s Day. This year: not a chance. We’ll be lucky to get them in by Easter, I think, unless you’ve got a sunny and protected spot that drains really well. I don’t. It's sunny, but my garden’s open to whatever the northwest wind can throw at it. And we’ve had plenty. But I keep reminding myself: If winter comes, can spring be far behind? (That’s right, Shelley, cheer us on!).

Most people direct-seed peas into the ground, but I’ve learned that I can push the season a bit if I plant out pea vines, so one sunny day I seeded a couple of new (to me) varieties of shell peas into flats in my little backyard greenhouse (which is, as I always tell those who struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder, cheaper than Prozac).

Tall Telephone peas on left, Easy Peasy on right
You don’t need a greenhouse, however, to start peas (or anything else for that matter). They would also work under grow lights in a cellar or bright south-facing room. Peas are particularly easy though, because they’re pretty fast and, as early and late-season crops they are geared to less light, so it makes them ideal candidates to start indoors when even the full-spectrum lights can be less than optimal.

The two shell pea varieties I started are: Easy Peasy, which I got from Burpee, and Tall Telephone from Fedco Seeds. According to the literature, Easy Peasy peas won taste tests and are very high yielding – 12 peas per pod as opposed to the usual 6 to 8 – and ‘likely to be the best yielder in the garden.’ The vines are bluish and pretty, which is a bonus. The other variety, which I seeded a few days after the Easy Peasy, is Tall Telephone aka Alderman. These are meant to grow 5-6 feet tall, produce well and are heirloom to boot -- introduced by pea breeder Thomas Laxton around 1891 and first sold by Burpee in 1901. I only seeded one flat of them. Unfortunately, the germination rate wasn’t great – 7 out of the total 24 cells failed to produce anything so after about a week of waiting past the emergence of their companions, I stuck a single pea in each of the empty cells. The replacement seeds are beginning to emerge now.

 I use a seed-starting medium from Gardens Alive! And while I’ve tried others, this one seems to work well for me. You damp it before you use it. I stick a portion of the 16-quart bag in a 5-gallon bucket and sprinkle it liberally with water drawn from the rain barrels that sit at the edge of the garage, mix well, as though I were making an extremely dry muffin mix, and then let it sit for a while to moisten the whole thing through. Fill the flats and smooth over the top, poke a pea seed into each cell, smooth it over again and voila! (Well, voila after they germinate).

Easy Peasy peas on March 21
The Easy Peasyes, which are now up about 10 inches, really do need to go in the ground, but the soil isn’t ready. Still too wet, and too cold. They are sending out grabby little tendrils and clinging to each other tenaciously, so I gently separate them every day to make it easier to plant them out singly when the weather finally cooperates. It’s like easing the tats out of long hair. Running my fingers gently through them is – for them – a bit like being outdoors in the breeze, which tends to strengthen the vines. And they offer up a delicious pea whiff.

Peas and prosciutto 
Peas are one of the coolest-weather crops, but you still don’t want to put ‘em into the ground until the soil temp has reached about 45F. Otherwise, they’ll simply rot. Also, especially after a winter like the one we’ve had, the critters will be on the lookout for anything to eat, so if you’re planting out your pea seeds in another week or two or three, you might want to throw some row cover over them to keep the birds from plucking the seeds right out of the ground. Crows especially can discern patterns. And, you might want to leave that row cover on until the vines start to blossom to keep the rabbits from eating them down to nubbins.  At least that’s been my experience. Once they’re big enough to blossom, they’re also usually tougher, higher than the rabbits reach and there is other stuff for them to savage.

These are not the only peas I will grow this year.  Mammoth Melting Snow, Sugar Anne Snap, Oregon Giant Snow and Masterpiece peas, which are bred for their foliage and are supposed to be ready to clip for salads in a month, will all get direct-seeded once I can get into the garden. But I start some inside because I love having them as early as I can possibly get them – sautéed fresh from the garden with shallots and a little prosciutto OMG!

Various tomatoes up 6 days after seeding
Meanwhile, the snow’s almost all gone,
and I’ve seeded the tomatoes and peppers into another flat. The tomatoes are JUST starting to poke through. I guess eventually we ARE gonna have spring (at least I’m counting on it), and if we have spring, can summer be far behind?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Grow It and Eat It but Make Sure It’s Safe

With the snow in the forecast this week it’s hard to believe that it’s time to begin planning, preparing and even planting your vegetable garden. To make sure your produce is safe to eat it is important to understand some basic principles of food safety.  Food safety risks can develop in the garden, in storage or during the preparation of food.  Today marks the first day I will be presenting on food safety topics for vegetable gardening and we will begin by focusing on an introduction to food safety.  My next blog posts will discuss best practices for gardening, storing, preparing and preserving produce to minimize food safety risks.  Later posts will focus on more specific topics and will likely be based on frequently asked questions. Each blog post will focus on some general information and will provide links to where you can find trusted sources of more information.

Food safety risks fall into one of three categories: physical, chemical or biological. Physical hazards can include a physical object introduced into the growing process that somehow ends up in the food we eat or a piece of hair that falls into a salad bowl during preparation. One time I used some free county compost in my vegetable garden. I noticed that there were pieces of plastic in the compost. Even though I washed my salad greens a little tiny bit of plastic ended up in my salad. Needless to say I never used that compost again. The best way to minimize physical hazards is to keep an eye out for objects that don’t belong and to immediately clean up any broken tool pieces, splintered wood from raised beds or other objects and make sure any harvesting containers are sanitized and free of debris. 

Chemical risks in the garden could come from the improper use of garden chemicals like pesticides or herbicides. Chemical hazards can occur in the kitchen when food comes in contact with common household chemicals that are not intended for human consumption. Chemicals can also be introduced through soil and water which is why it is so essential to do soil tests and make sure water is potable, or fit for human consumption.   See the links below for more information on soil testing.

Biological hazards are a common food safety risk that lead to foodborne illness (food poisoning) caused by pathogenic microorganisms (AKA germs). They can be bacterial, viral or fungal in nature and can be introduced at any point from garden to table.  In the garden environment they are often associated with fecal matter whether from animal droppings left near growing food or by using manure that was not properly composted. During harvest and preparation microorganisms can come into contact with food if hands, containers or surfaces are not properly washed and sanitized.  We will go into much more detail about preventing biological hazards in the growing environment in my next post. 

Luckily, utilizing your common sense is the best way to avoid food safety risks in the garden but it doesn’t hurt to seek out more information and increase your understanding of food safety. Stay tuned for more food safety related gardening posts. I’ll be posting on the 20th of each month. Here are some online resources for more information and to keep you busy until my next blog post:

North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension. “Food Safety for School and Community Gardens”  https://growingsafergardens.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/foodsafetywebcurriculum-10-24-12.pdf

University of Maryland Extension. “Lead in Garden Soils.”  http://extension.umd.edu/learn/lead-garden-soils-hg18

University of Maryland Extension. “Selecting and Using a Soil Testing Laboratory.” https://extension.umd.edu/sites/default/files/_docs/Selecting%20and%20Using%20a%20Soil%20Test%20Lab%20HG110.9_2013.pdf

Colorado State University Extension. “Preventing E. coli From Garden to Plate.” http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/foodnut/09369.html

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Clementine box for lettuce

   I teach several Grow It Eat It classes throughout the year.  This year, I wanted to create a portable “lettuce box” that I could take with me to my GIEI classes.  I wanted my box to be easy to carry, to grab participant interest, and to show people that planting vegetables could be creative and fun.   Since this is clementine season, I decided that a Clementine Lettuce Box would be a fun, creative and portable solution.

   For this project, I used a purchased Clementine box left over from a previous grocery run.  The box, made out of thin, light plywood, was 11 inches wide, 7 ½ inches long, and 3 ½ inches tall (other Clementine boxes from different vendors seemed to have the same dimensions).  Each box that I saw had several ½” holes punched in the bottom.  I bought nylon window screen netting to the soil from falling out.  I stapled the netting to the outside of the box on each side, taking care not to block the colorful box label. I thought that stapling from the outside would make stapling simpler, and prevent potentially sharp staples from poking through to the outside. Next, I filled the box with moist seed mix combined with a handful of worm compost. I made sure that the soil filled the box to the top of the front slats.

   Next, I sprinkled an envelope of “Grow It Eat It” lettuce mix on top of the soil, covered the seeds with a sprinkling of seed starting mix, then placed plastic wrap over the top of the box.  I placed the box on a gardening heating pad.  When the seeds started to sprout, I removed the plastic wrap and placed the entire container under my grow-light.

   A few weeks later, my lettuce was a few inches high and I was able to bring the box to my GIEI classes. My students loved it, and it the box seemed to inspire an interest in growing lettuce in offbeat containers.

   I did reach one important conclusion during this process.  Since I didn’t know the origin of the box plywood material, I thought that there might be a chance that the plywood could be treated with chemicals.  I tell my GIEI students to be sure to line the inside of the box with plastic (chemical-free plastic, please!), and to be sure to poke holes in the bottom of the box to let water out.  Of course, the plastic could take the place of the screen.  My next project will be to produce Clementine boxes lined with plastic and bring these to my GIEI classes.

  Below: Empty and Planted Clementine Boxes

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The pomegranate lives! Guest post by Terri Valenti

Ok – so I admit I like to try things.  When I heard there was a pomegranate called Angel Red that could survive to 0 degrees Fahrenheit, produces fruit early, and has soft seeds, I just had to try it.   So I got the smallest (i.e. cheapest) pomegranate I could buy when I put in an order for some other fruit trees I was purchasing about 3 years ago.  I planted the tree in a non-sheltered site – I was sure it was going to die and I didn't want it to lose time doing so!

Where I live in Potomac MD, the lowest winter temperature for those three years was in the low teens, then 3 degrees, and this year 1 degree.  I do admit I covered the little pomegranate with a thick row cover when then temperatures were going very low.  Each year there has been minimal to no die-back.

Checking it this week, I did a few tests to see how green or brown the wood is.  Even at the tips of the tree it still looks green and alive!

Does anyone in Maryland grow these?  I would love to hear about it!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Cabbage for St. Patrick's Day

Well, I'm not harvesting it (or eating it, unless I get some shopping in before dinner), but I am going to show off my lovely seedlings:

which are out in the cold frame enjoying the sunshine and battening down for a chilly night. I am growing (all may not be in this photo) Red Acre, Early Jersey Wakefield, Charleston Wakefield, Tronchuda (a.k.a. Portuguese Kale), and a red Chinese cabbage called Ip Ssam Hong, all for the demo garden, as well as a cabbage mix for my own garden. Heeding the chorus of voices suggesting that I start seeds as early as February 1, I did so and am glad to have well-developed seedlings to plant out as soon as the weather allows, although I am also glad to have cold frames because there really is no more space inside and it may snow a bit later this week.

Today, however, was lovely, and we started work for 2015 in the Derwood Demo Garden in our green shirt-sleeves. The soil was still a bit soggy and cold to do much with (and the compost is frozen solid) but we mulched paths and tidied up, and I planted some peas in a raised bed, because it's St. Patrick's Day and one is supposed to at least give peas a try. We'll see if they have germinated by next week - it may be a bit cold still.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Fruit Tree Buds: Guest post by Terri Valenti

Terri Valenti heads the GIEI program for Montgomery County Master Gardeners, and grows a variety of edibles, including lots of fruit, in her home garden. She'll be writing a series of posts on fruit care this year.

Assuming your soil is not too wet, at this time of year you can walk around the fruit trees to check what is happening while pruning.  Buds may be dormant but this is going to change quickly!

As of a few days ago all of the buds on my trees were tightly closed.  This is a great time to spray any trees that require dormant oil sprays.  I spray the apples, peaches, plums, cherries, pears, and apricots.  All the berries, pawpaws, persimmons, figs, pomegranate, and hazelnuts don't need it.
A few things I observed:
My pawpaws are full of flower buds.  The flower buds are plump and round, while the leaf buds are longer and more slender.  Assuming everything goes well there could be another large pawpaw crop this year.  Flower buds are generally the rounder plumper ones on other types of fruit trees but often they are less obvious than on pawpaws.
Two of my four hazelnuts grew male flowers on them for the first time last fall.  Will the other buds become female flowers this year?  The next question is, does my site have enough wind to pollinate the flowers - since hazelnuts are wind-pollinated?  If I can control the squirrels even a meager hazelnut crop would be fun!

The University of Maine Extension has some pictures of other fruit tree buds that can help determine where the flowering buds are.  But even after looking at the pictures several times then comparing to some of my trees – I am still wondering.  Time will tell….

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Time to Make Garden Plans

It’s time to remember all the things you said last fall that you were going to grow next year.  That is BEFORE you start ordering seeds and transplants.  Every fall as I’m taking my garden down, I start making mental notes of what went well or didn’t, what I wish I had grown and what I envied in my neighbors’ gardens.  One year I’m going to make actual notes and remember where I put them the next spring.

A couple of seasons ago, I discovered that my kids love roasted beets.  Yep, you read that right.  Beets, my kids loved them.  They loved picking them out of the garden, washing them and wrapping them in foil to put in the oven.  I made a mental note to plant them last year and I, of course, forgot.  So this year, I’m going to plant them.  I’m not going to plant a lot because I’m sure that moment has passed.  I’m sure they’ll hate them especially if I grow a lot of them.

Don’t get distracted by the shiny catalogs and special offers like I did.  You can see from the picture I started tagging pages for seeds.  I did this before I went through my seed collection but thankfully I haven’t ordered anything.  I already had at least four packets of beets.

My gardens usually center around my families’ love for salads. This year I’m going to do a better job of staggering the plantings so we can have a continuous supply throughout the season.  I’m also going to plant more varieties since I learned last year that the butter lettuce seeds I had weren’t my favorite.  
Now is the time to actually make a list of what transplants you’re going to purchase especially if you’re not starting your own indoors.  It’s a good idea to look at your garden space measurements with this list.  I’m going to take my own advice this year.  Really I am.  I’ve left too many plant sales with more plants than I could possibly fit in my garden.  One year I bought five different big tomato plant varieties.  A – My garden was only 4 ft x 8 ft and I had other plants.  B – I actually only wanted to buy cherry tomatoes because the kids eat those off the vine and C – I forgot I already had two of those “As Seen On TV” hanging tomato things going.  I just got too excited.  If I had a list, that might not have happened.  Might.

That brings me back to remembering the amount of garden space you have to work with.  Of course, I’m going to have room for my salad ingredient plants but I need to make sure I have room for the land grabbing plants like pumpkin, squash, cucumbers and watermelon that I must have this year.  Fortunately, I learned some creative trellis skills from my neighbors’ gardens.  I know I can get them in.  I just have to plan for one plant of each and not get overzealous.  That’s not easy when looking at a pack of 50 seeds.  They’re so small.

After this snowy winter, making plans for the garden is exhilarating.  I’m off now to actually write down my plans.  I hope you are too. ;-)