Thursday, September 30, 2010

And the rains came....

When the weather forecasters began babbling about 4 - 8" of rain coming this week, I knew that anything left in the garden would likely be either flattened or just wet to death.  Thank heavens for raised beds! With our gawd-awful, clay soil, this kind of tropical downpour is just a disaster... the ground doesn't dry out for DAYS.  Anyhoooo, I'm writing to rave about my favorite tomato variety.  Yep, tomato... in September, actually October by the time you read this.

This photo shows the "second flush" of growth and fruits now on my Whopper tomato plant. It provided pounds of lovely tomatoes all summer and then  flagged at the beginning of August, as tomatoes here generally do.I pruned it back severely and gave it a hearty dose of TomatoTone and a couple tablespoons of epsom salts.  Bingo!  Back it came with a nice batch of new growth... and some lovely fall tomatoes.  Notice the ripe tomatoes and the nice, large green ones coming on fast?

If the rains don't bother it too much, we'll be enjoying fresh garden tomatoes into October.  Not bad, eh?

This is the little two-tomato harvest that I picked Tuesday, September 27... and that we enjoyed in a salad this evening!  Honestly, I think the fall tomatoes are meatier and tastier than some of the earlier harvests.  Tomatoes do fine in our dry, sliiiiightly cooler September weather (or what was dry until today - before 5" of rain arrived at the farm).  No cracking or cat-facing.  Love it! Love it!

Gardeners were doing a lot of complaining that this was a "bad" year for tomatoes and that the plants gave up early.  Some varieties are short-season, but I think this Whopper shows that tomato longevity and productivity are characteristics that we, as gardeners, can greatly manipulate by correctly pruning and fertilizing to re-energize the plants.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The No Impact Project

No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes AboOkay, I'll admit it.  I consider myself to be reasonably "green" by common standards.  I recycle, I compost, I grow a lot of my own fruits and vegetables, I raise chickens for my own eggs, I teach other folks how to do all these things...and I work hard to stay aware of my own impact,  but how do I measure up in comparison to folks like Colin Beavan, author of No Impact Man, who changed his life to reduce his family's impact on the planet to as near to zero as possible?

To find out, I'm taking part in the The No Impact Experiment. As explained on the No Impact Project website, the experiment "is a one-week carbon cleanse.  It is a chance for you to see what a difference no-impact living can have on your quality of life. It’s not about giving up creature comforts but an opportunity for you to test whether the modern “conveniences” you take for granted are actually making you happier or just eating away at your time and money."

Here is the webpage: 
I'm working on lessening my impact right now, but the official next start date is January 3, 2011.  (Notice how thoughtfully you're allowed to get through the holidays - guaranteed to leave you wanting to clean up your life!)

Questions?  Go here:

C'mon ... you know it's going to be enlightening at the very least, probably entertaining, insightful and - who knows? - possibly life-changing, in a good way.

"But the question isn't whether or not I make a difference.  The question is whether I want to be the type of person who tries." - Colin Beavan

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Edible Landscaping - Denver Botanical Gardens

Denver Botanical Garden - how had I never been there?  Last month on my trip to Colorado, I finally made it to the Garden.  Lots of heat (but not brutal, which was surprising for August) and a relatively nice day to stroll around.  Someone at DBG has gotten the edible landscaping bug.  How else can you explain what used to me a reasonably formal entrance garden morphing into a veggie patch?
We're not talking ornamental cabbages here.  Just plain ol' heads o' kraut.  Backed by a symphonic (or not) arrangement of chard, kale, cleome and corn.  I don't think that they meant to imply cleome was edible, maybe I should check!

And there really were cabbages and cruciferous veggies in a surprising number of flower beds.

Kind of unique, you know... but I have to say, they didn't really ADD to the landscape.  In some cases, like the lone kohlrabi in the petunia bed... they were just plain wierd.

Kohlrabi O'Lantern? 
Okay, Okay, I'll admit.  I added the face.  But, really, it needed it.
Just plain ugly in that flower bed. Did the rest get eaten?  Only the DBG staff knows for sure! This was not going to sell the concept of combining edibles into one's ornamental garden beds, however - I could see that from the faces of visitors strolling past this display.  I should've painted the face on the actual kohlrabi in the bed.

Some things worked and combined really beautifully.  Check out the mini-watermelons along walk edging this garden bed:

And perhaps my favorite of all the edible/ornamental displays was this container of "purples" featuring a beautiful, silvery cardoon for height (very delicious) and several gentle purple-leaved sage plants amid the flowers:

There were more odd combos throughout the garden beds - melons in trees and other interesting but confusing offerings.   I must say, I feel quite conservative in my landscaping after this tour!

Perhaps the cabbage-mad garden designer at DBG this year is a fan of French author/statesman, Michel de Montaigne....

"I want death to find me planting my cabbages."...Montaigne, Essays Book I (1880)

Me, too!  Well, if not my cabbages, perhaps something else....

Friday, September 24, 2010

Who Could Resist This Face?

I'm taking the last of the youngster roosters to the Chicken Swap at the Tractor Supply Company in Gloucester this coming Saturday (9-25-10).  All three of the youngsters had to be evicted from my chicken coop and run after they ganged up and beat up my poor little golden  Buff Cochin bantam rooster, Mr. Chicken.  Two were eaten the first night by my resident as-yet-unseen predator.  One has been clever enough to escape being on the menu for three nights.  Tonight he'll go into an emergency side pen from whence he will be transported to Gloucester to (hopefullly) adoption by some kind soul at the chicken swap.

Meanwhile, I'm steeling myself -- take a look at what else is being brought to the swap by one of the members.  Anyone in the mood for pot-bellied pigs????

8 week old pot-bellied piglet seeks home

Friday, September 17, 2010

Harlequin Glory Bower

This is the fall seed display on our Harlequin Glory Bower (Clerodendrum trichotomum) off the front porch.  Late summer the fragrance from the pinkish-white blossoms made porch sitting an out-of-body experience, then this entertaining and remarkable seed display begins. 

Harlequin Glory Bower (Clerodendrum trichotomum)

Harlequin Glory Bower (Clerodendrum trichotomum)
We "discovered" this little tree while doing our Great Fig Tree hunt throughout Hampton Roads in 2000 (a fun frolic put on by our nursery, Paradise Nursery, and our late friend and garden writer, Bob Stiffler).  Driving out to check on a fig tree entry, I spotted a Glory Bower planted out next to the curbing of a front yard.  I was entranced. 

It took a while to find one - they don't seem to be common in the nursery trade.  Mine has been completely easy to grow.... in fact, it's one drawback is that those lovely seeds sprout very readily and I devote lots of time to talking folks into taking one home from our garden.  I hate to weed and toss something with this much potential.

Which means if any of you Useful Gardens friends are looking at these photos wistfully, thinking how nice this would look in your own lovely gardens..... COME GET A SEEDLING!!!!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

The Last Garden Harvest

The Last Garden Harvest of  Summer
I took a quick shot of the last armload of goodies I harvested from the summer garden before I turned the beds over for fall planting.

Scallions, Desiree potatoes, mixed peppers, a couple of last-minute tomatoes and the final eggplants.  Everything was cut up and grilled, then served over pasta that had been tossed with home-made basil pesto and parmesan cheese.  Fresh "chiffonade" basil on top.  Delish!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Making and Freezing Onions & Peppers for Winter

At the end of each summer, I harvest the last peppers, chop them and combine them with chopped onions to freeze for year-long seasonging.  I use onions that I have harvested from this spring's crop.  (I plant onions and garlic in the fall so that I can harvest full crops by the end of May, clearing that garden space for my summer vegetables, like tomatoes and - yes - these peppers.)

These are some of the onions spread out to dry in the early summer heat last May/June.  The first onions to be chopped and frozen are any that show damaged areas in this first stage, otherwise they sit here in the (relatively) dry shade, forming the papery protective out covering over the bulb as the foliage dies back.
I grow both white and yellow onions every winter.  Each year I think I'll grow some red onions -- I then promptly forget to order sets or seeds!  My favorite are the yellow onions but, I have to say, raised in our raised beds where there is little elemental sulfur, all of our onions are incredibly sweet.

Here's my last bowl of mixed peppers: some carmagnolo rosso, some yellow mild and a couple of bell peppers.  I do think that shiny, fresh, ripe peppers may be the most beautiful things I bring in from the garden.  Hard to believe that we "boomers" all spent our youth thinking that green peppers were the only way bell peppers could be.  And now that we all love the bright red and orange and yellow bells and other peppers.... wow!  The prices!

So, anyway,  I chop and chop until I have a large bowl of chopped onions.  And then I chop and chop peppers.  Then I mix the two bowls together.... and spoon one cup amounts into 'zip' snack bags.  Believe it or not, I whip up about 100 of these little baggies.  And I'm ready all winter with amazingly fresh tasting onion/pepper mix ready to saute for omelettes, quiches, soups, pasta sauce.... 

Ahhhhh, life is pretty darned tasty!

Friday, September 10, 2010

My Favorite Tool

I've been tearing out old beds and prepping all the winter garden areas.   Every time I do this, especially the part that involved grabbing long strands of wire and Bermuda grass and pulling them out of the mulch, I'm so happy to have this tool.  I received it as a gift, labeled as a Korean Weeding Hoe.  I've given it to other gardeners, all of whom loved it as much as I do.  There's something about the shape of the blade and how it's cantilevered off the handle that is just so ergonometrically right ... for me, at least.  Now I hear that it comes in a left and right hand version -- who knew?  So, every so often I find something that richly deserves a personal recommendation.  This month, this is it.  On Amazon it's called th    eEZ-Digger - and that's pretty much exactly what it is.  Although callling it the EZ-Grass-and-Weed-Ripper-Outer would be even more accurate.  The little tool in my photo is something called a  Cobra Head weeder, which I find it perfect for getting into small spaces between garlic and onion rows.  Several gardening compatriots have complained that they don't know where I get these things so I hunted them down online and have popped a couple of links from into this post.

CobraHead Weeder and Cultivator

Short Handle EZ-Digger

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Sept. 11 - Community Gardening Festival

A couple of my new Ruby Red chard  plants
I'm looking forward to being part of this year's Community Gardening Festival Saturday (Sept. 11, 2010). 

Each year this fun event is put on by the Virginia Beach Master Gardeners. This year's theme: Censtible Gardening is one I can't resist. I'll be preaching edible gardening with a talk entitled "Stop Shopping - Start Growing Your Groceries!"  

Okay, maybe the title's a little over the top -- but I'm so convinced that you can grow far more of your fruits and produce than you are now (or perhaps more than you can imagine growing now) that I get excited about sharing edible gardening info with other plant-minded folks.  I'll be explaining how to select  "best  picks" for your edible gardening efforts, how and where to plant your edibles and offering some creative inspiration for creating, upgrading, and/or expanding the edible parts of your landscape.

The festival kicks off at 10:30 am.  I'll be speaking at 12:30.  (Hopefully everyone will not have not wandered off to finish the first silent auction or to find some lunch!)  Probably not a good time to pick for my talk since lots is going on at that moment... but lots goes on throughout the day, that's what makes it fun!  This is going to be a terrific event -- I hope to see many fellow gardeners and local food lovers there.

Hmmm... I don't see any food vendors on the list - WAIT!  There's a bake sale - my favorite event!  Well, no... that would be the Master Gardener plant sale... or the other wonderful speakers.  AFTER I score a couple of bake sale brownies.....  after all, I have to support our dedicated, local gardening volunteers, don't I?  So grab a some terrific, inexpensive plants, a couple of baked goods for a happy snack and come over to join in on the class and discussion on "growing your groceries" !

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Summer Garden Ends - The Fall/Winter Garden Begins!

Having gardened in the north for many years, I am still slightly amazed that I can plant a fall/winter garden that brings us as much delicious food as the spring/summer plantings. The faded and ragged tomatoes and peppers have been pulled - with the exception of the valiant 'Whopper" tomato, which will continue producing tomatoes until frost.  With a bit of protection, the raised veggie beds are going to be producing lots of happy green vegetables all winter. 

What's in the beds?  Well, there are now 20 plants of Bright Lights and Ruby Red chard in the first raised bed, accompanied by 27 lettuce starts (a combination of Buttercrunch and Red Ruffles).  In between those rows, I'll be sowing seeds of Little Caesar, my favorite winter-hardy romaine, which forms very compact, dense lettuce heads - each perfect for a salad for two.

The second raised bed holds 18 cabbage plants: Savoy and Early Jersey Wakefield.  This is insanity, probably, but in the winter I love, love a big tureen of cole cannon -- I am an Irish girl by nature! Here's a sample recipe:  Col Cannon at

The 3rd raised bed is 18 plants of broccoli.  We really do eat broccoli.  A lot.
For a vegetable that kids seem to universally hate -- well, I'm not sure most kids love strongly flavored green veggies much -- until they get a bit older, broccoli has certainly taken the restaurant business by storm.  I suspect that, after potatoes, it's the most popular restaurant vegetable in the U.S. 

And, finally, the 4th bed is already started in onions and garlic, both the strong, small Italian Red garlic and the huge, mild Elephant Garlic (which isn't really a garlic at all - but who's telling?).

Yum! - Sybil