Thursday, July 30, 2015


I brought home a tomato this morning (one of the smaller of my Rose de Bernes, which have been producing beautifully) which provides a classic example of sunscald, so I thought I'd share:

Sunscald (you can read more about it here) is the result of a fruit being exposed to prolonged direct sunlight, especially under the hot conditions we've been experiencing. It occurs in tomatoes, peppers, melons, squashes, and other fruits. Appearance can vary from discoloration to pale blistering to (if caught late) rotting.

We get a lot of questions at this time of year about fruits damaged this way, and it's easy to conclude that a disease or insect is at fault - but always remember that at least half of the problems you see in your garden are caused by environmental issues or other abiotic (non-pest-related) problems. Sunscald usually occurs when a plant is partially defoliated, for example by early blight in tomatoes, which we're seeing a lot of this year. You can help prevent it by keeping your plants healthy so the leaves will shade the fruit.

In this case, one of the branches of my plant wasn't sufficiently tied up, and fell to the ground, exposing the fruits to far too much sun. Usually the fruit is too spoiled to eat, so this one will be added to my compost.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Best Tasting Tomato

Well, I would love to attend Montgomery County MG's tomato taste off with some of my pink Brandywines, but I love my BLT's better.  I'll invoke the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words.

This Brandywine is an honest 5 inches in diameter, perfectly ripe and juicily delicious.   It's without a doubt the best tasting large tomato around, in my opinion, and I've tried alot Mortgage Lifter, BoxCar, JetStar, German Pink., Cherokee Purple, Black Krim, etc.  My favorite cherry tomato is SunGold.  I've tried a lot of different cherry tomatoes and never found one I lik.e better.

If you have a favorite, let us know by writing your opinion in the comment box.  Enjoy

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Montgomery County Grow It Eat It Open House this Saturday!

This is our biggest event yet, and it will be tons of fun and a great learning opportunity. Please join us! Full schedule available here. Bring your kids! Bring your tomatoes! Bring your questions!

Monday, July 27, 2015

It's time for another Grow100 check in!

It's almost August already!  How has your growing season in your 100 square-foot garden been going?  We're curious to see your crops!

Click here to go to our check-in form.  Tell us how it's going, your challenges and successes so far, and upload a few great photos!  We'll share some highlights in the next couple of weeks.

See past Grow100 2015 posts

Sunday, July 19, 2015

%^&$*! Squash Vine Borer (educational)

Hello, hello!

It's Donna, the prodigal Master Gardener, returned to share a bit about my recent discoveries regarding the dreaded and devastating squash vine borer.  My apologies for being gone for so long - sometimes life just gets in the way of things...This year my garden is back in full-swing as are, unfortunately, the squash vine borers.

Here's a squash vine.  Looks pretty healthy, yes?

Look again, see anything funny?  (here's a hint)
That, my friends, is a squash vine borer egg, about the size of a pinhead.  Here are some more:
I don't know why I didn't think of looking for the eggs sooner, but I got the idea from Dead Snails Leave No Trails: Natural Pest Control for Home and Garden. Isn't that a great name for a book?

Some of you with long memories may recall from past posts of mine that I'm a big fan of manual control of pests (Cabbage worms, Squash bugs).  So naturally the idea of 'search and destroy' excited me.  I set out to do just that over the course of a couple of days, and I routinely found the eggs as you see above.  While they are quite small and easy to miss (as you'll see momentarily), they are easy to pick off (I'm actually collecting them in a small jar, though I really don't know what for...)  I was very excited, thinking, 'NOW I'VE GOT YOU ALL!!!!!  I'm cutting you off at the source!  BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!'  Ahem.

I proceeded to rest on my laurels as I began to enjoy a bumper zucchini crop.  But then, a couple of days ago I started to notice that ever-familiar sawdust-lookin' stuff called 'frass' coming out of some of my vines.  I was in disbelief, how could I have worms?  I was so careful!!!

So, I embarked on 'Plan B' of 'Save my Zucchini' - search and destroy the worms themselves.  I was so bummed that I had to resort to what I like to call 'precision surgery' - carefully inserting a knife into the wounds and 'coaxing' out the worm.  Or at least jabbing or slicing it 'in situ'.

 Hey look, here's one now:

This is, er, was actually still a fairly small worm.  They can get about twice this size if you don't catch them first.  And if you don't catch them soon enough, here's what can happen:

I regret to say that I've lost a couple of my zucchini plants after all, and may lose more.  But through this experience I learned a couple of very important points that I want to share with you, to help you in your own quest to 'search and destroy'.

First, I always thought that since I saw the frass on the main stem of the plant, that the eggs were deposited on that main stem.  What I'm finding this year is that, as in the first photo above, the eggs are usually laid on a leaf stem (not far from the main stem).  This was a surprise to me, but it made it easier to find and pick off the eggs.  What the worms do, apparently, is make their way down the hollow leaf stem to the main stem.  So when you're looking for worms, look for damaged leaf stems.   You might see holes or slits in them, with browning around the edge.  If you can find the worm before it gets to the main stem you just headed off a LOT of damage.  Just cut off the stem at the base.

Second, eggs can also be laid on flower stems.  Check this guy out:
 It looked like he was hiding from me, but, alas, he didn't last long, either.

Third, the book I referred to above indicates that the plant MAY be able to be saved if the damage isn't too severe.  Mound up soil around the damaged vine, and (according to the book), the stem will begin to grow new roots.  I'm not sure if my vines are too far gone at this point, but I figure it can't hurt.

Well, I hope you're faring better with this year's zucchini crop than I am.  Though I guess I'm doing better than I would have had I not collected a couple dozen squash vine borer eggs.  Still, I'm encouraged with my new-found knowledge because it gives me another tool to (naturally) battle a formidable foe in the future.  After all, one thing I love about vegetable gardening is...there's always next year.

Swift Charge

I've had the opportunity and pleasure lately to read through some of my family's World War II letters, which offer plenty in the way of (censored but inferred) exciting naval combat and accounts of life in wartime all over the globe, but also plenty of home-front news, including the production and preservation of vegetables from Victory Gardens. There isn't much detail about varieties and so forth (though I was thrilled to see New Zealand spinach mentioned casually in passing), but some experiences are universal, such as my great-aunt asking passersby if maybe they wouldn't care to take home a summer squash or two, and the following paragraph (dated July 7, 1943):
News from the home front is, as usual, rather sketchy. We have had a beautiful, soaking rain this week and the garden has responded in a big way. Yesterday Bar got home from Nahant and no sooner had the train grime washed off than she was up there getting our vegetables for dinner – tiny, tender string beans, Swift Charge, and lettuce – yum, yum. Sunday morning, very early, the phone rang and in a voice suggestive of house-on-fire, Kilday said, “Come at once, the rabbit is eating the soy beans”, so Dad shouldered his gun, and feeling as if he were about to take candy from Children, went up and bagged one bunny – we hope it will discourage all the others. He says he is going to send Unk to college to learn Rabbit, so that we can put up a sign and give them fair warning. He who eats of these beans, dies – or something like that.
 We were having pretty much that discussion in the demo garden last week (minus the firearms).

Careful readers will note the "Swift Charge" above, which I am assuming is a private joke for Swiss Chard. I don't know what type they grew, but the rainbow of colors is not new to this century, so it might have been red or yellow or green or something else. I've always loved having chard in my garden because it's so pretty - but sometimes, like this year, I accidentally overplant, and need to deal with a very vigorous crop indeed. Chard can be started in the cool weather of April and will continue to produce through summer and into fall in many years. I've been cutting the outer leaves from my plants regularly, steaming and freezing them for later use, and we happily replace kale and other now-vanished greens with chard in our usual sautés. Chard several times a week is a bit of a challenge, though, so I'm always looking for recipes. Here are several (with a clickbait title, but the ideas look good).

Chard is a member of the amaranth family; it's the same species as beets, just a subspecies developed for tender leaves rather than delicious roots (though beet leaves are also very edible). Spinach is another member of the clan, and many spinach recipes can be adapted for chard, as can many recipes including the non-related brassica greens.

Don't forget about the stems when you prepare your chard - they are crunchy and tasty and, with a rainbow mix, can be very colorful:

I usually separate the stems from the leaves, since the latter will cook a lot faster.

Try sautéing the stems along with chopped onions for a good ten minutes in some butter or olive oil, before adding the sliced leaves, which need only be cooked enough to thoroughly wilt. Flavor with salt and pepper, and lemon juice or a nice vinegar. (I've made two infused vinegars so far this year - white wine vinegar with chive blossoms, and balsamic vinegar with black raspberries. Both work very well with chard.)

The two secrets for cooking chard, as far as I'm concerned, are a) don't overcook, and b) counter the solid earthy flavor with something sour, bitter, or spicy. I've been combining the chard with bitter dandelion greens - these fancy Italiko Rosso ones:

though I'm sure ordinary lawn ones would do (might be too strongly bitter at this time of year, though).

Enjoy your Swift Charge in the garden, and charge right through dinner made with it too!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Twining direction in beans: true story or myth?

In other words, I'm so confused. :)

I've read over and over that runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus) twine clockwise, while most other climbing beans, in particular Phaseolus vulgaris, twine counter-clockwise. So I thought I'd do a post on that, and started taking photos of the beans at the Derwood Demo Garden. I'm sorry for the poor quality of the photos, but you can see the twining stems pretty well.

This is a Romano bean, Phaseolus vulgaris. And for another P. vulgaris, an old photo of Borlotto beans I took several years ago:

Here are climbing lima beans, P. lunatus:

And just for a bonus, hyacinth beans from a totally different part of the world, Lablab purpureus:

And here's the runner bean ('White Lady'):

I know it's blurry, but... it's going the same way, isn't it? Or am I crazy?

The only other runner bean photo I can find in my files also has a blurry background, but you can see the direction of the twining here as well:

Then I hit the internet, and looked at many photos of runner beans and pole beans, and couldn't see a difference in twining direction in any of them. I found lots of descriptions of clockwise and counter-clockwise (or mostly "anti-clockwise" since runner beans are most popular in the UK) twining, viewed from below or viewed from above (try it. It goes the opposite way), but no photographic evidence that shows a vine (technically a bine) slanting upwards from right to left rather than left to right, which I think it should. But perhaps I'm wrong. Convince me I am and that the much-reported "fact" is correct!

By the way, Malabar spinach and Siberian kiwi seem to twine the same way as all the beans.

After squinting at all these photos and running out to check your own beans, you may wish to listen to some music, so have Flanders and Swann's classic comic take on twining direction and star-crossed love, "Misalliance."

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The start of the potato harvest

So what's a grand parent to do with young boys who only want to watch TV and play computer games.  Well, good thing I have a garden and potatoes that need to be dug.  The vines on my Banana fingerling potatoes have died back and it's time to harvest them.

Although it's tough to make out in the above picture, each hill of potatoes is about a foot apart and there are two rows planted in my four foot wide raised beds. The potatoes were sprouted in the house for a couple of weeks, planted in early April and side dressed according to the recommendations in GE 119 Potatoes.

I managed to get Connor and Tyler to dig both rows (20 feet) this morning and the yield was pretty amazing.  The boys enjoyed themselves and every time we dug up a big hill, they would yell "Jackpot"

The container we were putting the potatoes in weighted 50 pounds.  Since I planted 5 pounds of seedling Bananas between two rows, that means a 10 to one yield.  Not to shabby.

I also purchased purchase 5 pounds of Austrian Crescent fingerlings and 3 pounds of Carola, which haven't died back yet  If the other varieties yield as well as the Bananas, I'll have lots of potatoes for the family and some for Grass Roots, our local Howard County shelter

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Garlic Harvest

Well my garlic was starting to die back last week, so I thought I would harvest it one morning, while the temperatures were in the 70's.  (Lots of useful information on garlic and other vegetables can be found on the "Grow It Eat It" website.  For garlic, just click on this link, for other vegetables, just go to  Grow It and click on "Vegetable Crops" under "Vegetables")

Last October, I planted lots of German White and some Music, both of which are hard neck varieties.  The garlic cloves were planted 4 inches deep in a raised bed about 12 inches apart.  I saw a little growth over the winter, but the garlic really took off during the spring.  Like most alliums, garlic is a heavy feeder and I side dressed the bed once prior to scape formation.  The scapes were harvested and used in pesto and garlic gazpacho.

Right now, the bulbs are drying and will be stored in my unfinished basement.  This picture shows the harvest.

I probably have about 50 full size bulbs which will be used throughout the year.

Monday, July 13, 2015

A Chat About Seed Saving

My garden is slowly but surely beginning to give up the harvest. Saving seeds this year is a goal of mine, to save a little money for the next growing season. I'm beginning my seed-saving journey by saving seeds from a cantaloupe, which I bought at the farmers market, since I didn't grow any cantaloupe this year. 

Here's a little video I did about how to save cantaloupe seeds:

As I stated in the video, seeds can only be saved from open-pollinated plants. But I want to share some seed-saving tips with you that I didn't cover in my video. 

When you want to save seed, be sure to get seeds from the healthiest, disease-free plants in your garden. You don't want to pick seeds from lettuce that bolted early, a tomato plant that had blight,or a squash plant that had powdery mildew. Any seeds you save from sickly plants have a higher chance of producing weak plants the following year.

Selecting the healthiest, most robust plants to save seeds from ensures that only the best seeds get saved, and it also allows your plants to adapt to your growing region, which means that over time the seeds you save are adapted to your soil and climate, and that means more resistance to diseases.

Now, before you select your fruit or vegetable to save seeds from, let it grow until it is fully ripened. This will mean different things depending on what seed you are saving. For example, for beans and peas you have to let the pods completely dry out before saving the seed.

If you are growing plants specifically to save the seed, be sure not to plant different varieties too close together. So if you want to save seeds for a cantaloupe, for example, and you have a small growing space (like I do) then you need to pick one variety to grow. You also have to be careful about planting too close to where a neighbor plants. They may be growing a different variety of the same plant,which will affect the pureness of your seed (think heirlooms). Remember, bees and other insects do travel.

If you have a large growing space, be sure that the varieties are far enough apart that their pollen can't reach each other. The amount of space you will need between plants will depend on the plants you are growing, and how those plants get pollinated. Some plants are self-pollinating, some are pollinated by winds, and some are pollinated by bees and other insects. Those are all factors to consider when planning out the garden. 

Finally, before you save your seeds, do a little research on how to save them. The process to harvest and clean them will be a little different depending on what type of seeds you are saving. Saving seeds isn't difficult, it just takes a little research and a little effort, and you learn a lot about plant varieties and plant traits in the process!

So that's it for now. Until next time....

Happy gardening!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Charm City Farms and Clifton Park Food Forest

In November 2014, Eric Kelly of Charm City Farms, with the help of many volunteers, began to plant Baltimore's first public food forest. What's a food forest? In the words of Charm City Farms:
A Food Forest is a collection of fruit and nut trees, vines, berry shrubs, fungi, groundcovers, and herbaceous perennial plants, such as herbs, ferns, and edible greens, all growing together like the plants in a forest do. In a food forest, however, each plant has been selected for the many uses it offers to human life, whether as food, medicine, or material for building or making useful items such as baskets & dyes.
Check out their most recent blog post, "The (under) Story of the Juneberry and More Fruit Tree Care," and while you're on the website, click on the other links that explain this fascinating project and how you can help and learn from it. The above quote is from the page "Why Create a Food Forest?" which gives much more explanation of the concept. Enjoy!