Saturday, August 8, 2015

New Home - New Gardens, Soon!

Okay, so here are the screen shots from the original Zillow listing for our new home - and new landscape.  The previous owners were quite a bit older, and you can tell that they had turned over all the landscape maintenance to a lawn service.  

See the "hedge" in front?  Well, those are actually rose bushes. Yep. Flat-top pruned like an evergreen hedge. Bottom of each is bare (you can't tell that here) and the blooms are minimal.  Never thinned. Pruned with hedge shears!

Here's the back of the house.  Pretty pedestrian and bare. This was a spring photo - I can tell you that the  shrubs in the kind of horrible pots were nine-tenths dead when we arrived in August. The little garden bed has landscape fabric (Lord, how I hate landscape fabric!) with mulch over it. Gah!  

Tree, however is a little redbud (Cercis canadensis) - healthy and in need of just a tad of pruning out down low.  Will be lovely next spring. And if I can get out the strings of tiny white lights embedded in it after years of being left there.  PS That is NOT my  lawn furniture. Just letting you know. And I did NOT pick out the pots - but I will do something constructive with them!

Love the little lawn. We don't have a traditional Back Yard with this house. Because of how it sits between two lanes, we have TWO front yards!  Although this is technically the back of the house, most of our traffic (car, bike and foot - mostly the last two!) comes by this view. Evening walkers - and there are many - stop and chat with the puppies when they are down near the fence. (Which of COURSE they are, knowing they are going to get to see people and doggies!) 

The Crape Myrtle in the corner (you can just see the edge of it) is a lovely pink now and the roadway Myrtles are white. Really nice.  Kind of ratty KnockOut roses in the far corner, begging for a decent pruning.Okay, so that's my record of the lawn even before we arrived. Yes, it looked worse than this. More photos will follow as I take on the challenge of a new (new! new!) gardening site.  We've gone Small  Scale and I couldn't be happier!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Looks like Our Farm is Sold!

A few folks have asked what happened to my erratic blogging.  It was just too sad to try to blog while we "shut down"  the farm in preparation for moving on.

Well, now I'm happy
and sad
to say our darling farm is sold.
Barring paperwork catastrophes, of course.
Lots to be signed and signed and initialed and signed and initialed.....
Amazingly complicated.

(Who said there was a paperless society in our future? No one told the realtors and attorneys!)

We are moving to smaller, in-town digs and starting over as small space gardeners!
No chickens (sob).
No orchards (sob).

No huge areas to weed and mow and landscape,
fewer mad fights with bugs, fungus and...

For years, I've been talking and teaching about urban, small-space edible gardening - knowing that very few folks have acreages to play with as we have.  Finally, I get to really walk the walk that I've talked - managing good looking edible landscapes within a dense, HOA regulated, neighborhood.

It's hard for folks to believe that when we moved here, this farm was nothing but bare field and dirt.   Everyone tends to assume it was as beautiful as it is now.

"How can you leave this?" They cry in dismay.

But, you know, the fun was in the creating.
It always is.

And then you love and enjoy it all for a few years.
And then it's just maintenance.

Time to start over.
Time to create in a new place!

It will be fun to blog about our new
urban adventures!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Keep an Eye on Those Spuds!

One potato, two potatoes, three potatoes, four!

You really know that you've become an obsessed  gardener when the plant-specific catalogs begin to arrive. Tomato catalogs. Pepper catalogs.  The today's arrival is The Potato Garden Catalog.*   
Yep. All potatoes.
Over 50 kinds. I love the names:

 Austrian Crescent.  
Russian Banana. Green Mountain. 
German Butterball. Beauty of Hebron.
Red Pontiac. Yukon Gold. Colorado Rose.

All of this poetry to describe what is at best just a root-like lump. (A potato, for the botanically minded, is technically a tuber, which indicates it's modified stem, not root, even though they form underground.)
Soon I won't have a tractor and a field, so I'm weighing veggies for potential container growing. Potatoes actually work quite well. The "old" method was to plant the seed potatoes in soil or dense hay in tires. Truck tires, if you're really greedy.

As the plant grows, you stack on another tire and backfill with more dirt and hay (or just hay, if you swear you'll keep watering regularly). And another tire. And another tire.  I don't remember anyone going beyond four but I suspect the possibilities are endless. Come freeze time, you knock the whole thing over, frisk about in the hay and dirt and find your harvest of potatoes, right down to the marble-sized ones.No mud, no muck.

You can see the last of my container grown potatoes from an garden experiment about five years ago right here: Last Garden Harvest 2010

For inventive (and hilarious!) potato container ideas, just hop over to Pinterest and waste an hour or I did.

Look at these glorious (former)  tires! And... here's the tutorial: Turn Old Tires Into New Garden Art
C'mon, you know you want one. Or more. Think of how happy the neighbors will be.

For all the good info on growing your own potatoes, check out the Michigan State Potato Growing Guide, a downloadable .pdf guide. Lots of good info - not much on container gardening. Bear in mind that U. northern, too - there's lots more humidity, heat and critters here in the south.

*(For those who have been gardening a while, this is a "new business", part of which used to be Ronninger's.)

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Fig Cuttings for Everyone!

Once again, we're taking fig cuttings, hoping to get as many fig trees started in different locations as possible.  It's been two years since we last did a major pruning on the fig trees here at the farm and I suspect this will be the last one - the farm goes up for sale this year.

(Yearning for a lovely five-acre farm loaded with fruits and ornamentals, just a short drive from the beach?  Send me an email!)

This year, I'm going to try something new: I'm gradually putting the fig cuttings up on eBay.  Look for "vbgarden" as the seller - it's us, Paradise Nursery, in our easy going retirement mode.

Among the healthy, sturdy cuttings I'll be sharing are ones from our Battaglia Green FIG TREE. Just so you know, this is THE Battaglia Green, the mother fig from which all genuine Battaglia Green figs originated. I know because we, Paradise Nursery, introduced it to the trade because we were so smitten with it. Battaglia Green is named for my friend, Sandy Battaglia, who insisted that we save the tree when the house and lot where it was located was being destroyed. It is a Strawberry Verte type fig - one of (if not THE) best we ever found.  Can't take it with me, so this is it, folks. Go find the eBay listing!

SPECIAL NOTE! This year a percentage of any money we make from auctioning the cuttings is going to help the Fig Foundation, an impressive effort by Jon Verdick, one of the outstanding fig collectors here in the U.S., to establish a fig arboretum near  San Diego, California.  Jon created the website, chock full of good fig info!   Please do check it out!

Need help and hand-holding while you root your fig cuttings?  The tab for our page on Propagating Fig Trees is  right up at the top of the page.  Leave me a comment there or here if you have questions that aren't covered or send an email to sybilmays(at)  Love to hear from you!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Are You Bagging It ?!

Okay, this isn't exactly a "gardening"  post - unless you count the world as our home garden - which I do.  This is a plea, a serious plea, to your most conscious self.

Wouldn't you love to do one simple thing to make the world a better place?
Then, I want you to make a new resolution or reinforce an old resolution or adapt a not-so-great habit.... all to the good of the world. Our world. Your local, personal, living garden.

Come on - we've all been shopping constantly for the last month (or at least it seems like it). Gifts, food, more food.....

Did you get it in plastic bags?

Now, right off, if you ALWAYS used your own shopping bags (and not just for the grocery store or farmers' market), give yourself 10 stars and forward this blog post to someone else who needs encouragement.

If you are like me, you used your own shopping bags for almost all of your grocery shopping, but got a little lame on those quick trips to Target and other stores.         Uh-huh.

And what about the daily newspaper? Does yours now come wrapped in a nice plastic bag... or two?

So... not so perfect... BUT!
Did you take those plastic bags back for recycling?
I can't tell you how many times, I (strongly) suggest this to friends, who then tell me they don't know where to take the bags. WHAT???
So here it is.  

#1.  Read your newspaper bags.  What do they say?
Yeah. They say:
BRING IT BACK. for more info.

And here's what that brought up for my zip code:

One hundred and sixty six places in Virginia Beach (a dozen of which are stores where I normally shop in a month) where I could deposit my saved newspaper bags. And I can recycle any other CLEAN plastic bags from shopping and packaging.


You've seen the recycle bins - probably walked right past them. Maybe you even put bags into them. (Go, you fabulous person, you!)

LOOK! Here's two - right outside my Sandbridge Food Lion!
And I can't tell you how delighted it makes me when those bins are practically overflowing.  (Plus, if you use any store's recycling, please do make a comment on any survey or comment card that you appreciate this service! Let them know!)

I'm also a BIG fan of Target's recycling efforts and I tell them so.  The recycling center at the Red Mill Target used to be over at the customer service center where no one could see them.  Now they are right at the exit, next to the in-store Starbucks (a business in whose stores, I regret to say, recycling seems to be a thing of the past).

How cool is this? Even cellphones and ink.

Now if everyone would just Learn To Read and stop putting trash into every single container.... (does this make anyone else get steamed?)

My beloved girlfriends have given me several fabulous shopping bags made of parachute silk type material - they roll up to nothing and fit in the bottom of my purse. Those have made all the difference.  Sure I still take my own giant bags to the grocery store, but now I have a bag for those quick trips into stores that used to mess up my "no-impact" efforts.  It makes life easy.
B.B.Begonia Bags @ Amazon

The real bottom line?  

We need to stop our reliance on these stupid plastic bags.  I can follow the trash trucks down Blackwater Road and see light-weight shopping bags flying out of the top and all over the fields.
If Kitty Hawk NC can stop using plastic bags, so can Virginia Beach. And Norfolk. And Chesapeake. And everywhere else.  Overall, Americans at least try to keep plastic bags in the trash stream - as opposed to countries with no reliable trash pickup at all - but they escape. And, no they do NOT decompose.

The answer is to stop using those bags. 
So, make a new resolution. Reinforce your intentions!
And... Thank You.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Persimmon Bliss!

Behold my favorite of the winter fruits!  Persimmons!

For years I grew Asian Persimmons (Diospyros kaki). 'Fuyu' was my particular favorite, crispy and sweet - no waiting around for frosts to soften both the texture and the astringency of the skin.  I loved them, still do but we lost our trees, split in storms when fully laden with fruit.

I'm not good at thinning. There, I've admitted it. Mind you, I took hundreds of green persimmons off those Fuyu trees. But there were hundreds more. As they ripened... I watched the branches bend and I knew those fruits should go, go, go.... but - dang! - I wanted those persimmons. So, when the storms hit the tree cracked and split. My just reward.


Meanwhile, back at the back of the ranch, my small grove of native persimmons (Diospyros virginiana) was growing quickly.

They started out as seedlings the size of chopsticks. Too small to sell when we closed our nursery. Now, six years later, they are over my head.

Take a tip: There is nothing in gardening as satisfying as growing a tree. Especially a successful fruit tree. Each becomes a pillar of the garden, an anchor in the landscape, more than one gardener's mortality - an inheritance for times to come.

This year, I have "more than enough" small, sweet native persimmons.  I even offered to share. (Okay, maybe not very loudly.)

And another experiment is in the works.  At the same time, I planted my own seedlings that are crosses of D. kaki and D. virginiana.  So far, no fruits. It will be interesting to see what shows up. Will they be smaller or larger? Astringent or sweet?  Alas, by the time these trees fruit, it will likely be up to the new owners of this farm to decide their merits.

As I said, trees go beyond the original gardener - they are an inheritance passed on to future landowners, hopefully gardeners themselves.

“Too old to plant trees for my own gratification, I shall do it for my posterity.”

― Thomas Jefferson

Monday, October 27, 2014

Protect Those Cold Season Crops!

Although it's customary to lay row cover fabric directly on the plants, close to the ground, I've used some other options in the past.

This is one of our 4' x 8' raised veggie beds shown just after I planted it with fall lettuce and chard.  The hoops are 1/2" pvc pipe (10'), although smaller fiberglass hoops are available,  and the covering is just the typical green plastic "chicken wire" fencing.  It was not intended to actually fence out anything - I'm trying it out as support.

(The thing in the background is our remaining "little" hoop house or high tunnel, being only half sized at 50'.)

And this is what it looks like with the Remay row cover over the frame.  Snug as a bug for the winter weather.  This isn't a heat generating greenhouse, as a clear plastic cover would be, just a retainer for ground warmth and something to block the really strong, cold winds of winter.
It's easy to lift a side to harvest fresh greens.

FYI, for my Town Gardener friends, we're usually taking ice off the cars, at least one or two mornings each week, before the end of October.  Those beautiful, clear autumn nights?

It gets cold out here, friends, cold out here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Lucious Loquats!

It's that magical time again - the loquat trees are in bloom.


Seems odd in the fall to suddenly find the air perfumed with a sweet, sultry fragrance and to hear the frantic blur of busy bees, but that's what's happening right now in our loquat trees.

The smell is vanilla heaven.

Loquats (Eriobotrya japonica) are about on the northern edge of their range here. Although they list as Zone 9-10, they grow happily in the Zone <9 microclimate on the south side of our pool fence. As you can see from the photo, they don't need the fence to shield the top half as long as their roots can stay warm.  Our trees made it through single digits this past winter, losing some tip growth and the fruit that was forming, but all was well in the long run.

Loquats were my favorite fruit as a Florida child.  Our neighbors large, sprawling loquat tree filled with the apricot-colored fruits each year and we clambered up the tree (easy climbing!) to get them.

A year ago, almost two, I started about a dozen loquats from the seeds in the fruits from my trees. Most were given away, but one resides in a pot - hoarded against our eventual move from this farm.  I am delighted to see more and more of the local nurseries carrying loquat trees although, like mine, they seem to be grown from un-named seedlings.  I have seen named cultivars listed in New Zealand but I really don't know if we can get those here.  Bet the fruit is awesome.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Buddha Toad

The puppies are obsessed with toads.

As the cool weather moves in and the gardens thin out, the large toads that feasted out there all summer are showing up on the warm concrete in the evenings.

The puppies flip the toads.

They don't hurt them, they just seem to love pushing the toads over onto their backs. Although the toads are perfectly able to wiggle back over, they choose to stay - right there, on their backs, feet folded over belly.  Frowning with all their might.

Eventually, I go out... pick them up and put them safely into the hostas away from the pups. The toads don't appreciate me.   They would rather frown.

I tell them I've known other people just like that.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

'Mater Harvests, August continues!

Last big tomato harvest!
About ten pounds, all Health Kick, the Roma/saladette type bred for super-high lycopene content.  These are going to be chopped up for sauces and dishes we'll be cooking later this fall.

You know how we all have kitchen "gadget hacks" - using one utensil for other, original purposes? 
Yep. Me, too. 
Either because I like it better than the specified tool for the job, or because - more often than not - I can't find the darned tool I want to use.  Check out this one - fishing tomatoes out of their hot water bath with.... the pasta doohickey.  You know, the spaghetti grabber/spoon ... Oh, heck - THIS thing:

Genius, eh?
Worked like a charm!