Friday, February 20, 2009

Gardening Discussion Forum

A number of great questions and discussion have started, both from this blog, emails to the site and on our Google group discussion board (located at ). I will try to keep all the ideas, questions and answers posted on the discussion board.

I've been out this week planting sugar pod peas in the raised beds, fingers crossed all the while. We've started lettuce, mesclun mix and spring spinach in flat "trugs" in the greenhouse. These sturdy, plastic containers, about 2'x3' with 8" high sides, are actually the large, flat trays sold in the home improvement stores for mixing cement. We drill holes in the bottom for drainage and they make wonderful, very large planting flats. There are electric heat mats under the mats, bedsheets over for a bit of insulation (not the best, but the clear plastic hoop house is also insulation). Tonight, Feb. 20th, promises to be very, very cold out here in the country. The stars and moon are very clear, so we'll have a lot of radiative heat loss. I'll be checking those weather monitoring sites for comparison with the recording thermometer on our barn!

The tomato gardeners are way ahead of me and discussions on variety choices and starting methods are on the Useful Gardens group page. Gardener Nancy reports "Sungold is certainly a winner in my household. too. Other than Sungold, I have slowly switched over to heirloom varieties, finding the flavor superior. I haven't started my seeds yet either, but plan to this weekend. I have florescent lights set up in my garage. I start the seeds on a heat mat, sowing them thickly in tiny containers. Once germinated, they can handle the cooler temps in the garage, although they will grow slowly until it warms up a bit. After about 3 weeks I transplant them into 6 packs. In early April I start leaving them out outside to harden [bringing them in if we have a cold snap or unusual storms]. I sow seeds over about a four week period, and start putting plants in the ground Mid- April through Mid -May. Varieties that have done well for me include Cherokee Purple, Box Car Willie, Aker's West Virginia and Heidi. "

I always have to grow some heirloom vegetables just for the wonderful names.

One of my new varieties for this year's garden is a tomato - my seeds just arrived for Burpee's new "Sweet Seedless Hybrid Tomato". It's described by the catalog copy poets as being "the perfect balance of flavor and sweetness, meat and gel, solid firmness and juiciness" - while being seedless and disease resistant. As a rule, I'm with Nancy - I like vegetables that I can save seed from, open pollinated and not copyrighted by a corporation. But we have family members with diverticulitis and I'm hoping this variety may save endless picking of seeds from tomatoes.

Incidentally, one of the questions I used to ask my beginning horticulture students was this: "If seedless watermelons have no seeds, where did the Seedless Watermelon seeds in this packet come from?" Hopefully, all of you know the answer. If you haven't pondered it, the clue is hybrid.

Snow's is Gone but Weather Tracking is In!

We woke on Monday, Feb. 16th to a lovely dusting of snow here in Pungo/Blackwater, as much enjoyed for the bit of wetness it brought to our landscape as for the beautiful scenery it provided. The bitter irony for the Virginia Beach children, alas, was that they were stuck inside at school - even on President's Day, normally a holiday for them - making up a "snow day" for the schoolday cancelled last month that actually brought NO snow. Go figure. I hope a few elementary teachers let the little ones go outside to at least play for a moment or two.

It's interesting to compare weather from year to year. Looking back through my weather records for this week in time, I note that on Feb. 16, 1989, there was over 15" of snow on the ground in Norfolk. So there's a ten year weather difference for you. I don't believe we've had snow like that since. On Feb. 18th, 1980 records show 14" of snow in Norfolk and more in the rural areas. Do I think winter in VBs are warmer? Well, overall, I do although we still get very cold spurts - certainly we've gotten less snow precipitation. I know that more folks are reporting fruit harvests from loquats and in-ground-bananas*, fruits whose bearing is very winter weather dependent here.

Speaking of weather records, Mike left a comment here on the blog about a mesmerizing little webpage entitled "Current weather at Jim & Terri's" (at their site in Landstown Commons) . I was captivated immediately. Reporting real time weather reports from their own backyard! I promptly followed the site, backtracking to the Weather Underground regional weather monitoring website (, get it? Hmmm... does anyone else hark back to the 60's?). Anyway, here I found The Map locating all the "Interactive Radar and Weather Stations" in our area:
Shazam! You just find your closest location, click on the little number and the site pops up. You can bookmark it and follow along at your leisure. I have now been meandering through the sites for a good hour....

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The blossoms have begun....

Bush Cherry Joel at Sybil's farm

Spring comes in fits and spurts here, long before the final warmup into summer. The "heat wave" of 70+ degrees last week brought out the local daffodils, flowering quince, forsythia and cherry blossoms. Does anyone grow quince for the fruit? I'd love to know about it.

I miss the little bush cherry (4') we had along the front fence which always burst into wonderful pink and white blossoms this time of year. It was a lovely little "Joel" developed by Elwyn Meader, an outstanding plant breeder in New Hampshire. He bred three bush cherries and named them for his grandchildren: Joel, Jan and Joy. We trialed all three to see if we would be interested in carrying them as a nursery plant but Jan and Joy perished quickly in the recent hot, dry summers. Partially shaded by a crape myrtle, Joel managed with virtually no care and produced delicious crops of "pie" cherries (I love tart cherries), despite being ravaged by Japanese beetles annually and gradually developing enough disease to require being removed.

Although catalog descriptions maintain that the each plants require a pollinator, our hardiest and last standing, Joel, produced cherries on its own for several years. Joel suffered the life of a test plant - I always trialed our new varieties to see how they would hold up under total neglect by a homeowner - but I was impressed enough that I probably will replace him with new plants next spring and treat them with Surround & Neem protection. I'd do it this spring but my happy reviews apparently fell on listening ears and the reliable sources say they are sold out for 2009.

If you don't know of Surround protectant spray,here's the info from in VA where I order mine every couple of years. Surround clay spray looks very wierd, turns the leaf and stem surfaces white and you'd swear the plant would smother along with the insects but the plants love it! SurroundTM Crop Protectant - Made from Kaolin clay, this white coating for plant surfaces suppresses pests and reduces harmful solar effects. Developed by the USDA, its micro-particulates link together to form a semi continuous porous "particle film" barrier that protects your fruits, vegetables and foliage but doesn't block light. Use on: Tree Fruit; protects against insects like psylla and plum curculio and reduces heat stress and sunburn, Vegetable and Field Crops; suppresses insects such as flea beetles, Japanese beetles, lace bugs, leafhoppers, thrips and more. Tank mixes with most other pest control products except dormant oil. Mixes well with lime-sulfur and wettable sulfur used for disease control. Surrround can be applied during bloom on crops. It is best to apply when bees are not actively foraging. You can increase wetting ability if you mix in Safer soap with the surround. This is especially helpful on shinny and waxy foliage. Trials at 7 Springs show flea and cucumber beetle suppression on many crops. Thorough coverage of fruit and foliage before infestation gives best results. Using our backpack sprayers, we find it easy to mix, apply and clean up.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Gardening Weather!

This weekend seems to have all of us (gardeners) out and about - I'm out cleaning flower beds and the vegetable garden, along with most of my friends and neighbors. Did I have indoor things that needed to be done? Of course! But not today - at 60+ degrees and sunny, what gardener can resist being outside? To be able to work outside without hunching over to avoid the cold winds - ah!, my whole being is happy.

Today, I burned off the asparagus bed. Yes, I know that's not the same as carefully composting the remains (which I do with most of the post harvest garden foliage), but this method was given to me as a preventive for some of the fungi that can affect asparagus and which seemed to take out some of our spears last spring. My asparagus grows in a 4x8' raised bed, easy to control, and it took about 90 seconds to crisp off the remaining dead fronds. Nice hot little blaze that gave off little smoke and I suspect did a fine job of roasting any pathogens in the exposed debris. I'd rather do a quick, clean burnoff than drench the bed in fungicides, no? Now I can lay down a nice, thick mulch layer to keep the roots cool and moist through the spring. We love fresh-picked asparagus, snapped off from the base and eaten on the spot, crunchy all the way to the tip. Delicious!

Incidentally, asparagus roots generally show up for sale in the early spring, so check for the at Southern States, Virginia Beach Feed & Seed or any of the garden centers or catalogs. No matter how I try to get the "male only" varieties listed, there are females in the bunch - discernable by the lovely bright red berries in the fall. I'd "weed them out" but the little finches and such seem to love them, so I figure this way the bed feeds both me and the wild birds. Asparagus are long-lived perennials, so follow the many online instructions for planting (see links below) in rich, well-drained but moist soil. Takes a couple of years before you harvest them (the first growth is to supply the root system, don't get greedy) but, after that, wonderful harvests!

Even though this is out of our area, it's a wonderfully clear instruction set for asparagus:

Asparagus Culture in the Home Garden

The web community has an interesting set of articles on asparagus, including a photo of someone's asparagus hedge! on Asparagus

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Planning the Veggie Garden - Early Spring

Let the cold winds blow, indoors the gardeners are insulated from the outdoor chill by the piles of garden seed catalogs stacked around them. It's seed ordering time! At last count, I saw twenty some garden catalogs decorating our coffee table, dining room table and spread open across the arms of the couch. Even as the coldest month moves into Hampton Roads, gardeners are already into the springtime, planning their first garden plantings. I braved the 28 degrees and blowing winds to pace through our raised beds one more time, plotting what my first plantings should be.

I already feel "late", ordering my early spring garden seeds. Our region's weather surprises me every year. All the way into March I'm still thinking it's too cold, too early to plant. By the time I get my sugar pod peas (Oh, joy! Oh, deliciousness!) into the ground in late April and growing - wham! - hot weather! I still have to adjust to 80 degree temperatures in May and start planting those peas while my frigid body assures me that it's too, too early. I think this year I may try planting our raised bed pea patch in late March rather than April. I don't have to worry about cold, wet, pea-rotting clay soil in the raised beds. I remember peas coming up through the snow up north, so I suspect I've been much too careful in the past. I'm looking forward to hearing from some other pea-loving gardeners - has anyone gotten the timing down? (shown Sugar Snap Peas -