Monday, April 27, 2009

Strawberry Time!

The local strawberry fields were full of energetic, earlybird pickers this past weekend - April 25th and 26th, which is as early as I ever remember strawberries being ready to pick in Virginia Beach. This bounty comes to us through the efforts of the growers, who have selected very early varieties and protected the blossoms with diaphanous spun row covers, and the surprisingly hot weather.

The Pungo farms, Henleys and Bakers, were picked out by the end of the weekend but email messages from Tom Baker reassure customers that by mid-week the berries will be ready for another early harvest.

This is the best of the best of Buy Local - so don't miss it! If you need directions and info for any of the farms, go directly to the website: for contact information and a map showing where all the farms and fields are located.

Happy picking!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Salad Days

Cooks Garden lettuce/mesclun mix, Romaine Little Gem forms small heads perfect for one person salads.

Weekend temperatures near 90 even out here at the farm are really pushing the lettuce crop. We're eating salads like mad, knowing that this kind of warmth pushes those timing buttons that tell the crop of greens to start bolting. Bolted lettuce has a nice sharp tang for a short while and then becomes too bitter, overpowering any salad with its flat bite. It's okay, though, our rotation plan for the raised beds calls for all the lettuce to be harvested by late May when the space is needed for the heat lovers, the tomatoes, basil and peppers.

Speaking of spring beauties, did you notice the striking display of pink beauties at Home Depot on Sunday? Yep, those were the sunburned gardeners from Saturday - sunburned but still determined, loading up on more supplies and doing an outstanding job of stimulating the local economy via the garden centers.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Suddenly.... It's Summer!

As local temperatures hit the high 80's, the wisteria in the raised bed gardens exploded into glorious purple blooms that wafted fragrance into every gentle breeze. Yes, yes, we all know that wisteria is invasive - and stranglingly so - if not kept rigorously in check. Mine gets cropped back throughout the growing season - there's no waiting for "dormancy" with this one - and even then keeps pushing its limits throughout the summer. Most importantly, because it is a reasonable size, I'm able to prune off every seed pod that forms from those glorious blossoms, preventing the lightweight seeds from blowing into nearby stands of trees where the resulting offspring would love to vine and drape throughout the suffering tree limbs. The darling of Victorian gardens, Chinese Wisteria (Wisteria chinensis) is not a garden plant for those who love to let things go... if you are going to plant and enjoy this kind of exotic, then you must also commit to keeping it in its place, your garden, and take the steps necessary to protect the surrounding environment.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Spring Frozen in Place....Momentarily

The annual Easter freeze arrived in Blackwater last night. It was, as usual for spring and fall frosts, a full moon with clear skies and little air movement, perfect for radiant cooling. We've had this frost (or freeze, even snow in 2007) between April 7 and April 10, annually almost without fail. The recording themometer on the barn shows a low of 26 degrees here at the farm. The white frosting is obvious on the cars, less so on the grass. The early morning sun instantly melts any frost it touches, so you'd have to be up early to appreciate the true cold.

Our outside salad beds, where our poor lettuces had been battered for two days with strong winds, were well watered before sundown and covered
with a light Reemay-type row cover.* Watering raised bed and container plants before a frost offers a little additional stress protection. The water drops release heat as they cool and freeze - that light coating helps prevent dessication of the leaves. The water also protects the roots which are more exposed in raised beds and containers than they would be in ground.

*FYI, after much searching, I finally found floating row cover, which also protects plants from insects such as squash borers and cabbage moths in a useful size (5x50') locally at Anderson's Greenhouse in Newport News.

On the good side of cold weather, I noticed some early season aphids on daylily clumps - perhaps the frost will knock those early insects out. I doubt it however, the aphids will hunker down in the center of the clump where the heat of the plant itself will protect them. (Yes, a growing plant really does release heat!)

In the unheated greenhouse, the temperature sank to the 40's. The trays of seedlings on the benches were tucked into the same kind of light cover. After listening to Dr. Andy Hankins (VSU) talk about farming projects using direct planted,unheated greenhouses (hoop houses), I believe next spring I'll move the benches out and put the seedling flats smack on the floor of the greenhouse, after the ground warms, so that their roots are protected by the warm ground . (sigh) It's just so much easier to work with the seedlings at waist height, rather than ankle height....

Saturday, April 4, 2009

It's Salad Time!

Looks like truly freezing temperatures are gone for this spring so area gardeners are setting out their first and hardiest seedlings. For us, this is the time for transplanting romaine and other lettuces that have been growing in the unheated greenhouse to the raised beds. Should a late frost threaten, just cover lightly with a woven row cover or a light sheet. Most greens tolerate frosts well.

Lettuce is remarkable easy to grow and transplants well. Even the small plants make delicious salads and with a cut-and-come-again planting, you can enjoy several salad harvests from each planting. The photo shows a flat of our romaine lettuce seedlings on their way out to the garden for planting. We like "Little Gem", a little cos type romaine that forms a small, compact head perfect for a personal salad. We also grow several of the lettuce/mesclun (greens) seed mixes so that we have a varied and lovely salad selection. Cooks Garden ( is one of the best suppliers of gourmet lettuce seed. I love that their lettuce and greens are organized not only by flavor but also by season.

The little window box salad garden pictures is one we created to give as a gift. Despite the small size, the box contains a dozen assorted salad greens including several lettuces and arugula. By cutting the plants and allowing them to regrow, this little garden will supply a number of salads. You know, one of the most expensive "gourmet" items in the supermarkets these days are the pre-cut, "baby greens" in those fancy, unrecyclable containers. For just pennies, you can grow your own salad greens in any handy container from now until the truly warm weather arrives. To extend your lettuce season, move the container into the shade when the temperatures hit 80 and be sure to keep the soil gently moist.

Dude, Where's My Lawn?

We've been worried about local honeybees and other pollinators, so this spring we gave them a gift - we held off mowing most of the five acres and let the beautiful purple henbit, dandelions and other flowering "weeds" have their day.
The bees were ecstatic and you know what? It is absolutely beautiful.
Want to learn more about the plight of bees and the wonderful world of beekeepers? Hike over to the Ted Project and hear the inspiring talk by Dennis vanEngelsdorp: I promise you, you'll never look at your lawn the same way again.