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:
www.plasticfilmrecycling.org 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!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Watching Rocket Launches from the Farm

Click the link to see the video of
NASA loading the rocket for launch
on Saturday, July 12th.

Okay, I'm a hopeless space geek.
I was raised close enough to 'Canaveral' to see the moon launches streak up into the sky before we ran inside to watch the rest on TV.

I follow Neil deGrasse Tyson on Facebook.  
I'm still in love with Carl Sagan.  
I'm a hoopy frood who knows where her towel is. 
(Only Douglas Adams fans need apply!) 

And I'm still sooo excited whenever I can watch a rocket launch from our back acres.  
Or front acres. 

NASA Wallops Island.  
Most space fun ever had on a small Virginia farm.

Why I Hate Bird Netting

What you see here (squint carefully) is the skeleton of a little black snake. It became snared in bird netting that was rolled up and stored in our barn. Probably last winter. Chasing mice perhaps?

I don't think the blasted "bird" netting has stopped a single Starling from scarfing down our blueberries - not ever.  They peck right through the damned stuff, while it snares snakes and tiny birds that fly through any opening and then can't get back out.

It's not worth it, folks, I'm just telling you.

When the berries start ripening, we now pick-pick-pick like maniacs (and drag our friends out to do the same) and then it's over.  Yep, we share.

The alternative is just too gross.
Trust me.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

We got Paw Paws, Paw!

Paw Paw blossoms in early May.

Aren't they lovely?  Kind of a russet maroon, little bells hanging on my Paw Paw (Asimina triloba).  Michael Dirr, one of the plant propagation gurus - whose book I relied on during my horticultural grad work - described Paw Paw blossoms as "lurid purple", which they never, ever deserved.  I think he also slanders the blossoms as having a "fetid" odor.  Ack.

Lurid purple, indeed. HA.  (And I've never noticed that much of an odor at all.  Although, in all fairness, by the time I've whacked my way to the back forty orchard where the Paw Paws are, I probably smell pretty fetid myself.)

I never see any insects pollinating them but they do indeed seem to get pollinated, especially now that the clump's getting bigger.  Interestingly, Paw Paw blossoms start out as "female" and then develop into "male" blossoms as the pollen develops on the anthers.  (For an informative and humorous look at Paw Paw pollination and Paw Paw propagation in Florida, go here:
http://www.clemson.edu/hort/peach/pdfs/fg97.pdf )

I love Paw Paws.  I love the fruit.  I love planting them for the beautiful, beleaguered Zebra Swallowtail butterflies (Eurytides marcellus). Paw Paw foliage is the only food for their larva.

The only substantial native stands of Paw Paws locally are in the Great Dismal Swamp.  Two spring-times ago, biking the Dismal Swamp Canal bike path in the early morning sun, so many Zebra Swallowtails swirled around me that I had to stop my bicycle to keep them from being injured by the spokes of the wheels.  They had come to lay their eggs on the Paw Paw trees scattered amid the swamp foliage.
I don't begrudge the butterfly caterpillars a bite of my trees, in fact, I'm kind of depressed that I don't get more of the butterflies laying eggs on my Paw Paw trees.  I've even planted the beautiful orange milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) you see here in Dave Govoni's photo from the Chesapeake Bay website.  Well, actually the milkweed is for both the adult Zebra Swallowtails who feed on its flowers and the larval Monarch butterflies for whom the milkweed foliage is their only host food.  

FYI: Field report: so far, no Monarchs OR Zebra Swallowtails seen here this summer.  
Very concerning. 
Anyone else seeing more encouraging signs of our local butterflies?

However, I'm happy to report that I have PAW PAW fruits in progress. 

I had to take a picture because to this day, we've never gotten to see, hold or eat a ripe fruit.  Blossoms, check.  Immature green fruits, check.

Ripe fruit?  GONE. Every year. 

I need a better plan....

Friday, July 4, 2014

American Independence

I don't think anything more needs to be added.......  here's to a return to Independence!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Gardens? What Gardens?

Mimi, Fearless Mole Tracker
Anyone actually paying attention to this much-neglected blog will have picked up on a noticeable lack of posts about this year's gardens.

That's because this year to date has been all about trying to SAVE any bit of the gardens rather than enhancing them.

"Why?" you ask.

Behold the Why.
Mimi, Leader of the Death To Moles Search & Destroy Commandos, self appointed to annihilate any and all evidence of Moles (horrible moles! hideous moles! invading moles!) from its property.  Which, unfortunately, also happens to be MY property - or, more to the point, MY GARDENS.

No hosta has been left unturned.  No daylily untrampled.  On one glorious occasion, an Actual Mole was obtained and immediately assassinated by the Tzu Death Patrol.  Encouraged by this happy success,  all efforts were redoubled.

Our yard looks like the IRA has been using it for bomb practice.

On the other hand, I'll never have to till the gardens again.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Ready for the Library Plant Swap!

The car is loaded with baby Loquat trees, palm seedlings,
mint plants, Japanese iris clumps, daylily fans,
tomato seeds, pepper seeds,
flower seeds....
oh, my!

This is the mother of the hardy palm seedlings.

This is the mother of the Loquat seedlings.

How fun it is to know their daughter trees
will be going home with gardeners!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Signs of Spring: First Toad in the Swimming Pool!

 The brilliant red Cardinal is fighting it out with the mirrored gazing ball, 
claiming the back yard as his nesting territory, 
the latest daffodils are finally out, 
the hellebore continues to bloom beautifully 
and the first little toadie was madly swimming in the pool this morning.
Signs of Spring!!

The toad guardian statue in the garden was not amused.
I was amused.
It's a matter of days before the happy puppies
discover that there are kicking toads
in the pool.
And leap in after them.
It should only take one cold dunk to cure them of it.

I have the puppy rescue net ready.
Be still my heart.

Meanwhile, the puppies are once again
in their glory, digging in the newly muddied garden.

A face only a mother could love.
Bath time for everyone!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Prop & Swap Fun Will Overcome Winter Blues!

This has been a rough winter and early spring.  Even our southeastern, ocean and bay protected, moderate area of Virginia was hit by repeated late freezes (not frosts, mind you - freezes) and the damage is still depressing.  We won't know until later this spring what plants will releaf and recover and/or how far others have been killed back.

Our bay tree (Laurus nobilis), growing wild and free at the edge of the property, has survived many "cold" winters - until this one.  Looks pathetic, doesn't it?  We'll see what changes over the next month.

Same, same for gardenias almost 20 years old and "marginal" plants like the Pineapple Guava.  Survival on the P. guava (Feijoa sellowiana) is largely a measure of how protected they were, out of the winds on the south side of the house.

Ditto the Loquats (Eriobotrya japonica).  No harvest this year but the trees will survive.

On the bright side, speaking of the Loquat trees, the seeds that I planted last fall and overwintered sprang to life with great joy and have turned into a wonderful set of  seedling trees for the library's "Prop & Swap" plant propagation and plant swap meeting next Saturday!

I think I'll have enough to give to every gardener who wants one!  They are sturdy, healthy-looking little trees and very fast growers - although they maintain a very reasonable adult size.

Evergreen, fragrant flowers, bee food in the off season and delicious fruits - what's not to love??

Below is a photo of the mother Loquat.
Possibly my favorite tree on the farm!  And this is a November shot!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Monsanto Returns to Old-Fashioned Plant Hybridizing to Improve Veggies??

Well, yes, they've dropped Genetic Modification for more traditional plant breeding techniques - but with a very sophisticated, technological twist.

Here is an article you need to read, written by Ben Paynter for Wired Magazine.

Monsanto's New NON-GMO Veggies

Paynter does a great job of lining out both Monsanto's history and their new project. It's long. For the weary, here's my book report version:

Monsanto has a bad name in the gardening world.  Having successfully created and heavily marketed profitable genetically modified plants,Monsanto embarked on a crusade to obtain patents for not only their own creations, but any other available plants that might have economic interest. The corporation sued small farmers who attempted to save seed from their plantings for the next season, a long-standing farming tradition. US corporate farms planted thousands of acres with genetically modified, highly productive, chemical resistant wheat, corn and soybeans, despite the fact that, even to date, there are no major studies indicating whether long-term consumption of GMO crops, especially those with new "built in" pesticide components, are healthy for human/animal consumption.

Not Monsanto, this is one of my Forellenshuss lettuce plants
Consumers (people like you and me) became worried about these "super" crops and with good reason.  Monsanto is a chemical company - originally created to market saccharin, then expanding into sulfuric acid, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl) - a known environmental pollutant - and even Agent Orange.  Hardly a health company!  In the last few years, one modified corn produced by Monsanto was pulled by the EPA due to severe allergic reactions when eaten, another pesticide-containing mutant was found to be killing Monarch butterflies (and, I assume, any other visiting butterflies as well).  European countries refused to import or plant GMO crops, a huge monetary failure for Monsanto.  And, finally - and probably the most significant trigger - McDonald's and Heinz refused to buy Monsanto's GMO crops for their foods.

Enough pressure seems to have been exerted to cause Monsanto to reconsider its methods - and to launch a return to Good Old Cross-Breeding, also called hybridizing, to create new," improved" vegetables and fruits.  No weird chemical components, just a very, very, very efficient look at the genome mapping they used to create the GMO crops - and some expert plant breeding/crossing.

Is it all Good Guys at Work from now on?  Well, no.  And probably never.  Monsanto still prohibits seed saving and regrowing of its hybrids - although seed saving from hybrids is usually a lost cause anyway - and many of the fruits are tastier because of a highly ramped-up sugar content.  But at least it's not inserting chemicals into the genes of our food plants and, even at higher natural sugar levels, it beats feeding kids fakes like Juicy Juice.

Bottom line point?  Dollars talk.  When you don't buy a product like GMO foods, corporations lose money. Corporations don't like to lose money.  They WILL CHANGE to find a product you will buy.  When your buying habits change large corporations like Heinz and McDonald, US corporations will CHANGE to keep their big customers.

Don't want tortured chickens?
Use your dollars. 
Buy humanely raised poultry and eggs.
Spend a little more.
Corporations will notice.
They will change.
Don't want sick beef, miserable pigs, chemically laden fruits and vegetables?  Use your dollars.  Buy locally, know your sources, spend what it takes to get healthy food.  Why?  Because when agribiz corporations see where your money is going, they will chase it.  They will CHANGE their production practices and their products in whatever way it takes to keep your dollars.

They may not give a damn about your health - but, baby, they love your bucks.
Use them wisely.
Change the world.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Gardening Blues...too cold to garden!

Cold. For Days.
Really cold.
It was in the teens at night this past month - maybe even an occasional middle of the night single digit disaster. Snow that feel more than a week ago is still clustered in dingy piles at the edges of parking lots.

That kind of winter weather is not a huge problem if you are gardening north of Zone 7, where this sort of thing is expected.  The pines, like this one - so beautifully frosted with ice - are not bothered a pinch.

Not so nice for my figs and Loquats, Pineapple Guava (Feijoa), bananas and kiwi here in Baha Virginia Beach.

As the first very temporary thaws are coming through, I'm assessing the damage to the tender fruit plantings around the farm.

It ain't pretty.

The Loquats (Eriobotrya japonica) are hit hard, with browned out and withered foliage.  No question that the little fruits just beginning to form from December's blossoms are not going to make it.  There won't be a Loquat harvest this year.   {{{ sigh }}}

Bananas are dead to the ground - maybe even further. Depends on how the basal growth fares. No fruits, obviously, but maybe the foliage will come back.  Ours never have fruited but that doesn't keep each year from being a disappointment....

The Pineapple Guava (Feijoa sellowiana) look badly burned but they will still flower and fruit in the summer. This is leaf damage so far, not anything worse.

I'll be doing a careful check of the figs next to see how badly the tips have been desiccated.  I don't think we'll be doing cuttings this year, but we'll see.