Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Goodbye and hello: introducing our new Maryland Grows blog

Dear Readers:

This is the last post of the Grow It Eat It blog. But don't worry--our gardening adventure is not over! We're just changing, consolidating, and improving, and you can keep reading at our new blog, Maryland Grows.

At Maryland Grows you'll not only be able to read posts about food gardening under the Grow It Eat It tab, but also get information about other aspects of home gardening, like lawns and ornamental plants. You'll also find that all the Grow It Eat It posts from the beginning in 2009 to the present have been moved to the new blog. They'll also remain archived at this location, so if you have something bookmarked or have added a GIEI link to your own website, no need to change that.

I've thoroughly enjoyed shepherding the Grow It Eat It blog from late in its first year onwards, from scrappy beginnings to a source read by thousands every month. Thanks for being part of that! I'll still be writing for Maryland Grows once a month, but am happy to turn editing duties over to Home and Garden Information Center staff. This is going to be a great blog with many interesting posts and lots of relevant information, so please visit, sign up for an email subscription, or like the Home and Garden Information Center on Facebook or Twitter to find out about new posts--whatever works best for you. You won't want to miss a single one!

I'm grateful to all the great Master Gardener and Extension writers here at Grow It Eat It. We've had a fun time learning and teaching about food gardening and telling stories about our experiences. So many plants were grown over the years--successfully or not--and so many meals were created from them. That's my favorite part of growing food, of course, that you get to eat it!

I'll go out by noting that (like these tomatoes I just harvested) the products of our gardens are colorful, delicious, and not free from flaws--just like the kind of journey that blog writers and readers make together, trying new things, making mistakes, and always hoping for a perfect garden next year.

Thank you.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Blueberries and Micromesh

Long-time readers may remember that last year, after about fifteen years of successful blueberry harvests (meaning that the birds got no more than about twenty percent of the berries), I harvested absolutely none. Those I consulted who are in the know said that catbird populations were way up, and certainly they are fond of blueberries.

With the thought that all those well-fed birds likely had lots of babies, and would be back, I decided to take on the challenge of protecting a row of blueberry bushes that are part of my front yard landscaping, surrounded by other plants. I drove some rebar into the ground at intervals of several feet, put pieces of PVC pipe on top of them, and capped those with some pipe caps we had sitting around from a previous fencing project. Then when the flowering was done and the berries forming, I covered the whole thing with a big piece of Micromesh. (Link is to Gardener's Edge, which is one place you can find this product. I have also bought it from Territorial Seed, but they don't currently seem to have the 16'x16' size I needed. I don't mean to promote any particular product or company over others, so if anyone knows other sources, or other similar products, please leave a link in the comments.)

Micromesh has advantages over bird netting and floating row cover. It doesn't tangle like bird netting, and it is tougher than row cover, unlikely to tear with reasonable use. Also, plants under it don't heat up as they can even under lightweight floating row cover. The only disadvantage is that it makes an awkward and kinda ugly intrusion in the landscape:

But who really cares as long as you get blueberries, right? I'll be able to take it off when the fruit is done, and maybe next year I can make it look a bit better. Here's a closeup:

I've fastened the Micromesh to the pipes with the snap clamps you can buy for the purpose. And I have indeed been harvesting plenty of blueberries:

Two birds (both cardinals, a male and a female) found their way under the covering, and I had to let them out, but as far as I know those are all the incursions.

By the way, I also lost all my black raspberries last year (again for the first time), and meant to get the newly-organized planting netted this year, but didn't get around to it. So I tied up a bunch of that shiny red-and-silver tape that is supposed to keep birds away because they think something's on fire. Ha, no way. Birds are smarter than that. A friend says she is having good luck with one of those fake owls, so I may try that next. And come October I will look for some of the motion-activated Halloween decorations to bring out again in June. Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Cabbage harvest

Vegetable gardeners are of different minds about growing spring cabbage. There are those who love everything about this crop: the joy of watching seedlings that look like any other brassica gradually wrap their leaves around each other to form heads; the tidy appearance in the garden; the crisp crunch of cole slaw. And there are those who say it takes up too much space and is cheap to buy, so why would you bother?

I'd say if your garden is small, it's not worth growing for those reasons. But if you have the space, give it a try! Unless you have a large family, though, or a lot of cabbage recipes to go through, make sure you don't overdo the planting, and grow a few different varieties so you won't be harvesting all at once.

When you're selecting varieties, make sure you take a look at the "days to maturity" listed in the catalog or on the seed packet. This will let you know whether you'll be harvesting your cabbage in a timely fashion (late May to mid-June) or whether you'll be worrying that it might bolt in the summer heat before the heads form. Some cabbage varieties list days to maturity of as much as 90 days; these are meant for cooler climates than ours, or for fall harvest. In our Maryland heat, you don't want to go above 70 days for spring cabbage, and the shorter the better.

Remember that the number listed for days to maturity is an estimate dependent on weather conditions, and that it refers to days from transplant, not from seeding. Cabbage will likely be growing indoors for one to two months before being transplanted outdoors. If you don't have a seed-starting setup indoors, be prepared to buy your transplants.

Caraflex and Red Express cabbage, about a week from harvest
This year in the Derwood Demo Garden we are growing Caraflex, Red Express, and Katarina cabbages. Caraflex is a green cabbage that grows into a pointed shape; we transplanted it on April 4 and harvested some on May 30 - that's 56 days, beating the stated 68 days to maturity by a lot. But most of it won't be ready to harvest until next week. Red Express, a small-headed red cabbage, is supposed to mature at 62 days, and should hit that target just about right. I neglected to take a photo of Katarina, but it's a new small green variety with a 45-day maturity estimate, and we harvested it this week at 42 days from transplant (it went in two weeks later than the others).

There are lots of other short-season varieties hitting the catalogs, so keep a look out for them. With erratic weather patterns increasing, short-season spring cabbages will be the way to go. Smaller heads (for smaller gardens and families) are also a new emphasis. All three varieties we grew are taking up less room than some old-fashioned cabbages, better for intensive planting. Although the outer leaves of Caraflex were about 18 inches wide and very impressive! Don't forget that the outer leaves of cabbage are perfectly edible - just pretend they are collards.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Protecting tomatoes against the cold

A picture worth at least a few words, which are: we are still expecting some cold nights coming up, so if you have tomatoes in the ground or are putting them in soon, give them some protection! I couldn't wait any longer to get some of my huge plants in small pots into the ground, so I broke out all the protection devices I had lying around.

No endorsement implied (especially since I have limited to no experience with these devices), but from left to right:

Gro-Therm Perforated Transparent Film (over hoops)
Pop-Up Tomato Accelerator
Weather Defender Tomato Cages

Also in the photo: one tomato left uncovered to see how it does in comparison. Off camera: stuck two with my cabbages under a big row cover tunnel.

If you don't have any of this stuff, you can still protect your plants. Just watch the weather forecast and throw an old sheet over the plants when temperatures dip below 50, especially if there's wind. (Use rocks to hold it down. Also cheap.) Your plants will live without protection unless we actually get a frost, but their growth will be slowed and perhaps stunted.

Yes, indeed, I should have waited to start my tomatoes so I could hold them inside until well after Mother's Day. My only excuse is that some of us MGs did a little grafting project (with which I had some success!) and had to get both rootstock and scions started pretty early since the grafted plants are set back in growth during recovery. And for whatever reason I decided that since I was using a 50-cell tray to start the plants, I needed to fill every cell... plus start some others a week later just in case... anyone need some tomato seedlings?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Upcoming GIEI open house by Montgomery County Master Gardeners

Please visit us on the afternoon of Saturday, April 29th! We will have all sorts of activities including: educational talks; workshops on plant propagation, mushroom growing, tomato grafting, and hydroponic gardening; children's programs; plant and product sales; demos in our demo garden; and lots of Master Gardeners to answer your questions.

More information including a schedule here.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Claytonia, or miner's lettuce

I've grown a lot of different vegetables at this point, but there's always something new for me to try. Last fall I planted some Claytonia perfoliata, or miner's lettuce, alongside spinach in my vegetable garden. Both of them have wintered over nicely and are being harvested now.

Claytonia is a odd-looking small edible green plant.

That specific epithet "perfoliata" refers to the way the leaf is pierced by the flower structure. Each of those leaves is about the size of a quarter, so you need a lot of them to make a meal, but you wouldn't want to overdo it anyway because they contain oxalic acid which is toxic in large quantities. (More than you would want to consume; don't worry.) You can use claytonia in a salad, or briefly braise or wilt it in a cooked dish. It has a nice lettuce-like, slightly sour flavor.

The plant is native to the western U.S., and gets its common name from the California Gold Rush miners who ate it for vitamin C, to avoid getting scurvy.

I've seen claytonia seed for sale in a number of seed catalogs. Try planting it this fall for a spring treat next year. Definitely a cool-weather plant, it will bolt in the slightest heat, so overwintering seems the best way to go. I didn't give it any protection at all, but if you live in a particularly cold climate you could try it in a cold frame.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Four-season lettuce

One project we're embarking on this year in the Derwood Demo Garden is growing lettuce year-round (or as close as we can get). Lettuce is a perfect crop for spring or fall: quick-growing, tolerant of cool weather, useful. But it often flags, turns bitter and bolts in hot weather, and heavy frosts will kill it.

The solutions to this are:

  • Grow in an area that gets more sun in the spring than in the summer - in the shade of a tree is great, or use shade cloth to alter the environment;
  • Choose varieties that suit the season;
  • Keep well-watered in hot weather;
  • Grow under a cold frame or plastic-covered tunnel in the winter.
Our salad tables are shaded by a large maple tree, so that's where we will grow our summer lettuce. We've had success growing well into July before there, but haven't systematically planned to keep going - it should work, though. We'll try a few in the sunnier parts of the garden to see how they do, as well. And we'll get the cold frame out for winter.

We're starting our spring lettuces indoors for transplant.

Summer lettuces will be started directly in the salad table in part, plus we'll start more seedlings indoors. We'll use succession planting to start new plants every couple of weeks. If we are lucky with the weather and our varieties, we should be able to continue this through to fall, when more cold-tolerant lettuces will go in - some in the salad tables and some in the ground to be covered by a cold frame.

You can grow just about any lettuce for spring and fall. Some are particularly cold-tolerant and good for holding over winter. Here's the list of varieties we're trying for summer, all of which are supposed to be heat-tolerant and bolt-resistant.
  • Buttercrunch
  • Cherokee
  • Concept
  • Green Star
  • Muir
  • New Red Fire
  • Seafresh
  • Summer Bibb
  • Toretto
There are lots of other similar varieties out there, which we'll try in subsequent years. This is a growing market niche, for obvious reasons - it's hot out there, and we love our summer salads. We're keeping track of which ones do best for us. If you have had success with summer-grown lettuce varieties, leave a comment - we'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Early Garden Chores

I like Erica's post about getting some garden chores done early.   And like her, I'm planting some early season cool weather vegetables seeds in the garden and getting some early weeding done.  But, unlike Erica, I am putting down my drip tape (see MG 6 Drip Irrigating Your Garden) to water the bed and covering the it with row cover to provide some frost protection for those emerging spinach and kale seeds.

Extended forecasts for our region (temperature and precipitation) show a good chance of above average temperatures and below average rainfall.  Of course, this could mean by a tenth of a degree or several degrees.  But when comparing the cost of a few seeds to some earlier than expected fresh vegetables for the table, I'll always plant a few seeds early.

To my surprise, my arugula wintered over and my garlic looks great. My onion sets have been ordered as have my new red and yellow raspberries and new strawberry plants. After all this is the year of small fruit and there is nothing like fresh strawberries or raspberries from the garden

I'm also finishing up the rejuvenation of my 30 year old blueberry bed and will be pruning my trellised black raspberries in the next week or so.  Here are some before and after pictures.

Seeds started in the basement under florescent lights are broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, leeks, kale and fennel.  Toward the middle to end of March will be eggplant and peppers.  And just a reminder.  Fluorescent tubes start to lose some of there brightness (lumens) after about 15 to 20 percent of their life (20,000 hours).  So I change my fluorescent tubes out every two years (16 hours a day x 100 days x 2 years = 3200 hours or about 16% of the tubes expected life).  So if your seedlings grown under lights looked spindly and you had the tops within an inch of the lights, try changing the tubes.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Winter weirding

2016 was the warmest year on record globally, and given the evidence of the past few weeks, 2017 could well eclipse it (we have a lot of the year to go still, of course!). But certainly we've been having an unusually warm February in this region, and while this is worrying, it's also making us feel like we want to be out in our gardens. And we should be! But not necessarily doing the tasks that are usually completed in April, even if the weather is April-like.

No, it's not time to plant all your spring crops. We could still have weeks of temperatures dipping below freezing - in fact it's below freezing in much of our region this morning, and forecasts indicate some chilly nights next weekend as well - and while your overwintering greens are probably loving this weather, young seedlings will be much more vulnerable.

Here are some tasks that you could accomplish on spring-like February days, however:

  • Get the weeding done. Winter weeds are LOVING this weather, and some, like hairy bittercress, are flowering and getting close to spreading their seeds in April-like fashion. Pull them out now! Here's a photo of hairy bittercress and its friend, purple deadnettle, in my lawn:

  • Do some pruning. I pruned my blueberries last weekend. February and March are excellent times to prune blueberries, but we don't usually get to do it in short sleeves. Here's our blueberry pruning page, and you can find information about pruning other fruits on our website as well.

  • Work on your soil. Our winter has been very dry, which is not good for plants in general, but does mean that soil is not heavy and waterlogged, so if you didn't spend time this fall spreading compost and working it into your soil, you can do that now. If we do get a heavy rain, put that task off for a day or so, because working wet soil can compact it.

  • Work on hardscape tasks like putting in fences, trellises, elaborate support systems for those enormous kiwi vines you're all going to be inspired to plant this year, compost bins, new paths, etc.

  • Start some seeds inside. It does look like our spring will come early, even if it's not guaranteed to be here yet, so jumping the season a bit on seed-starting may pay off. By which I mean a couple of weeks, not months. If you start your tomatoes in February you will have GIANT PLANTS in April and then we are guaranteed to have chilly weather that they can't tolerate.

  • And okay, go ahead and start some seeds outside. I did. I put in radish and pea seeds at the demo garden, and will probably try some in my own garden as well. Stick with cold-tolerant, quick-growing plants, and be prepared to shrug your shoulders if they succumb to frost. But they might not, and it's only a few seeds lost if they do. Thanks to all the sun, the soil is warm enough for many cool-season seeds to germinate.

  • Just get out there and observe. I've had crocuses blooming for a while now, and also have daffodils and miniature iris as of yesterday. Trees are budding and bursting into flower and leaf weeks ahead of schedule (if there is such a thing as a schedule anymore). If you want to participate in citizen science, check out Project Budburst, which tracks plant phenology (the relationship between plant stages and seasonal changes) thanks to data provided by thousands of people like you. Just register, pick a plant or two in your yard, and keep an eye out for buds, leaves, flowers, etc., then upload your observations.
And do have fun out there!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Small Fruits page is up at GIEI

Please visit our Year of Small Fruits 2017 page and learn all about the fruit plants you can grow easily in your garden!

Ooh, look at those aronia flowers and fruit! Both a good fruit for jam AND a native plant. What fruits are you growing this year?

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

MC MG Spring Conference, and climate change links

Readers in Montgomery County and environs are invited to register for the upcoming MoCo Master Gardeners' Spring Conference on February 25:

Register (and read the event schedule more clearly!) here. I'll be giving a talk called "Vegetable Gardening When Mother Nature Doesn't Cooperate," which is about weather challenges. We hope to have a page up at the GIEI website on this topic by March, which will include links to our pages on plant problems caused by cold, heat, rain, drought, and other weather conditions, and also resources on climate change and extreme weather.

Visit HGIC's page on gardening and climate change for more information right now. You may also be interested in the National Wildlife Federation's publication "Gardener's Guide to Global Warming" and the Union of Concerned Scientists' "The Climate-Friendly Gardener." Neither are specific to vegetable gardening, but contain good strategies and useful information for all kinds of plant-growing.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

2017 is GIEI's Year of Small Fruits

Every year we celebrate a particular group of edible plants, and this year we're moving out of the vegetable world into small fruits!

Small fruits such as blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, currants, grapes, and many others can be long-lived, attractive, and productive additions to your garden, and don't require lots of labor once a site has been prepared well and the young plants cared for. Watering, weeding and mulching will be regular but not strenuous tasks; most small fruits require pruning once or twice a year; and a few plants (such as grapes) will need pest control. But on the whole small fruits are easier to care for than tree fruits, and the results are delicious and nutritious.

Read our Getting Started with Small Fruits page for more information and links to care instructions for particular plants. Soon we'll have a page up for 2017's Year of Small Fruit - expect an update here when it's ready! And start perusing your catalogs for small fruit plants you might find room for in your garden.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Make your own seed packets

Check out this easy to make seed packet for storing your seeds!

Download the template

A fun suggestion to add some style: trace the template onto wrapping paper, or use old greeting cards.

Thanks to University of Maryland Extension Garrett County for the template!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Garden Resolutions

January is a great time to make resolutions for the year, in all aspects of one's life but definitely including gardening. I find that it's better to keep goals to a minimum - that way it's much easier to achieve them, and if you exceed them you can congratulate yourself! So here are some of mine, and I invite all readers to add comments about your own.

  • As a Master Gardener I resolve to keep trying to educate the public about safe, effective, and environmentally positive ways to grow plants, especially the ones that feed us. In particular, I plan to do a better job making educational signs and labels for the Derwood demonstration garden so that all visitors can learn.
  • In my own garden, I resolve to add some more delicious and healthful herbs, and to keep my dehydrator accessible spring through fall so I can dry them while they're still fresh and flavorful, instead of forgetting about it until fall frost threatens and nothing is at its best. I'll also grow and dry some more roselle hibiscus.
Use the outer parts of the red "fruits" that form after flowering. Remove the seed pod.
If it's brown you may be able to use the seeds inside to grow plants next spring.

We had Jamaican sorrel drink from my own plants at Christmas!
  • I resolve, where at all possible, not to waste seeds (it's so hard not to buy or trade more than you have room for, especially with the seed catalogs spread out before you in wintertime), or food.
  • And I resolve to keep the soil covered, whether with mulch, cover crops, or close planting of food plants and ornamentals.
What are your garden resolutions for 2017?