Monday, April 29, 2019

Blooms from long-sterile earth

Hey! I'm going to make a try to revive this blog that I haven't posted in for, yikes, a year and a half. Hopefully there is still someone out there to read it. For today, have some of what's flowering on my half-acre this beautiful spring.

One of the last daffodils
Tulips are blooming this year, not being chomped
Put in some new alliums out back
Unsuccessful brassicas at least have flowers for the bees

Rhubarb. I'm supposed to cut these flowers off, but they're magnificent

Carolina allspice
Red buckeye with golden ragwort
On the northeast side of the house, with Siberian kiwi and my son Nick's artwork
Closeup of kiwi flowers
You can visit Nick's website for more information - DC area residents can commission outdoor paintings and all other works ship.

I'll try to post soon about what's new in my gardening world. Happy spring!

Sunday, November 5, 2017


I have a huge pile of wood chips!

This is great news. Also the cause of many aching muscles, but the Wheelbarrow Fitness Program will have all sorts of benefits. I got the idea of using wood chips to solve (or at least mitigate) my invasive weed problem back in the spring when two things happened: one, we had to take down a small tree (a dying holly) and made a deal with an arborist that (I thought) included us getting the chips. It didn't - he took them away with the promise of bringing a load later, and never did despite a reminder.

Secondly, I'd been turned on to the promise of wood chip mulch by The Garden Professors after joining their Facebook group (look under The Garden Professors Blog). Linda Chalker-Scott, who has a great Horticultural Myths website, is the biggest proponent of using wood chips as a weed-control mulch that degrades slowly into rich soil, absorbs water much better than bark-based mulches, and can cost practically nothing. (If you're going to object based on ideas about nitrogen snatching, acidification, or other purported issues with fresh wood chips, read the link first.)

So I just had to get the chips. I ended up signing up with ChipDrop, which is an online service that links customers who want chips with arborists who want to get rid of them. Read all the information about how it works if you're interested - it's not going to be perfect for everybody. You won't necessarily be notified before a drop - I got an email a few hours ahead, but that's not guaranteed - so you need to have your dump spot accessible all the time. And it will likely be a LOT of chips. You can also end up waiting a long time. The first time I signed up I waited three weeks with no drop, took myself off the list for a while, and then jumped back on when we had a storm go through - figured there'd finally be some trees down, and yes, I only had to wait a few days that time. I paid $40 because that gave me a better chance of getting a drop, but you can also pay less or nothing at all.

I've been mowing and otherwise clearing out areas in the Way Back infested with Japanese stilt grass and various vines, and lugging loads of chips for dumping in a thick layer. I may have to get another load in the spring, and I'm sure I won't eliminate all the problems, but this is a good way to get a fresh(ish) start. After the chips degrade I can put down grass seed (probably next fall); planting shrubs, trees, and perennials can happen as early as the spring. And though many perennial weeds will erupt even through six inches or more of mulch, at least they'll be easy to spot. Annual weed seeds should be well-smothered. I'm hoping the effect will be worth the small fee and the arm, leg, and core toning.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

More on this season's vegetables

The summer vegetable season is just about over, so I thought I'd better write down what happened before I forget it all. Just making notes for myself, but maybe this will be of use to others as well.

A tomato I forgot about in my last post was Momotaro, which did very well, consistent in production, perfectly-shaped and pretty tasty fruits. I've now taken all my tomatoes out and filled the space with a crimson clover cover crop - yes, I might have harvested a few more tomatoes, but frankly I was getting sick of dealing with them. Definitely fewer plants next year!

Peppers: Corno di Toro was yet again a great producer and the long red fruits were beautiful and delicious. Pippin's Golden Honey makes small sweet peppers that ripen through about five colors; this is not a good photo but gives you an idea:

They do give you a taste of honey along with a perfect crisp juicy pepper taste, and are great in salads or sautéed with onions. Too thin-walled to roast (which is what I did with a lot of the bells and other larger ones). I used up the last of the Romeo red bell pepper seeds this year and may get more; haven't seen them anywhere but John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds. I also grew a mix from Burpee and those did fine. Peppers are still in until I decide no more will ripen.

Eggplant: I grow these in pots on the deck to avoid flea beetles. Had the best luck with a Chinese Long type. Patio Baby eggplants were a disappointment; the fruits had to be harvested so tiny to be edible that it wasn't worth trying.

Okra: Similar disappointment with Jambalaya, a container variety. Nice compact plants, but the pods got woody at more than about three inches.

Beans: I used fabric pots on the deck to grow these, and got a very modest harvest, which was probably due to overcrowding, shade, and lack of fertilizer.

Squash: Monticello cymling/pattypan, nice enough but got ALL the diseases and pests resident in the community garden.

Plans for next year:

I've made the major purchase of a VegTrug trough planter:

which is currently planted with the fall greens I could get at Johnson's (collards, bok choy, and miscellaneous Asian greens) since I didn't start any myself. It has a cover, as you can see, in fact two: lightweight insect control for the warmer seasons and plastic for winter. I plan to keep these going as long as practical, and start new plants in the spring, then probably switch to beans for the summer.

In the community garden, I'll grow fewer tomatoes than this year, plenty of peppers, and a vining Tromboncino squash on a trellis - it's the best summer squash for resisting pests and diseases, especially squash vine borer and powdery mildew. How it does against the mosaic virus that keeps going round the garden I will have to find out, but I think it's my best bet. If I get too many squashes I can always donate them. I guess I'll grow something there in the spring, but I plan to take my time and get a slow start.

We'll see what else happens, but I'm aiming to keep things simple.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Tomato notes

Those of you who follow my other garden writing will know that the Grow It Eat It blog ceased publication recently (it's still archived online) and was absorbed into a new blog called Maryland Grows which I am not running, hurray. I am writing for the new blog once a month, but my old habit of jotting down any thoughts I had about food gardening at Grow It Eat It is now curtailed, so you'll probably see more notes on edibles here as well as GBBD and landscaping progress.

I do tend to forget to keep notes on things like which tomato varieties are worth growing again, so here I am amending that. Right now I am kind of drowning in tomatoes. It's great to have plenty for fresh eating plus many bags of roasted ones in the freezer, but it's a bit overwhelming considering that we are going away again soon. I started using Texas Tomato Cages this year (they are great!) and the other day I told my husband I'd order six more of them for next year and just grow twelve tomato plants, and he said "How about six?" and you know, he might be right, although ha ha I don't think that will happen.

Anyway, I would call this year's tomato planting a success, on the whole. Last year I had tomatoes on the edges of my community garden plot, and one row did beautifully and the other (along the grassy edge) was spindly and awful. I decided this was due to soil issues, and have put in raised beds along that edge, and in fact some of the varieties that did poorly there last year are fine this year in the middle of the plot, so I really do think it was soil, either compaction or just poor composition or insufficient nutrients.

I've been trying to take photos before I devour, so here are some of the types I've grown this year, starting with the monsters.

That's a quarter in there for size comparison! On the top is an unnamed variety that a MG friend collected seed from in France. I haven't tasted it yet (they've only just started ripening) but she's been growing it for 15 years which is a good recommendation. Oddly, though she's had great consistency in fruit type all that time, this year she had one cherry tomato pop up in the mix, and of the two plants I grew from her seed, one of them is also a cherry. It's a good and prolific cherry, but not expected.

The odd-shaped red one is Brandywine Sudduth's Strain, and the yellow one is Golden King of Siberia, which is one of those that did terribly last year in the bad soil, so I'm glad I gave it another try. It's produced a lot of fruit that is delicious, well-shaped and evenly-ripened.

That's another somewhat smaller Golden King on the lower left; above is Chef's Choice Orange, a hybrid that's pumping out perfectly round orange fruit that tastes pretty good too. The yellow pear-shaped tomatoes are Old Ivory Egg, which I like though it tends to have a hard center. The small one with the nipple is Tsitrusovyy Sad, a Russian/Ukrainian heirloom that hasn't grabbed me that much, though it's pretty.

And hurray, I have a successful Aunt Ruby's German Green:

which is one of my favorite eating tomatoes ever, but in my experience hard to get a lot of fruit out of. The plant is grafted (I did the grafting myself, yay me) and is very vigorous with good production. (By the way, I heard Craig LeHoullier say in a lecture that Aunt Ruby wasn't German at all; that just made the name sound better. Whatever; it tastes great.)

Other successes: the consistent and rich-flavored Rose de Berne (medium-sized slicer, center top in below photo), and the striped cherry tomato Pink Bumblebee. I also planted Red Fig, a little pear-shaped over-achiever, which has at least enhanced the volume of roasted tomatoes I'm freezing.

Not so great, Chocolate Stripes, which is center in this photo:

It's not awful or anything, but in my experience the "chocolate" bits are actually russeting (or whatever you call the hard brown skin flaws in tomatoes) that has to be cut out, and there's a lot of it. I gave it another chance (it was in the Bad Soil Row last year) and now I am going to say goodbye.

Rosso Sicilian is in the upper right in the photo (not quite ripe). It's visually interesting and would make a good stuffing tomato, I think (haven't gotten around to doing that yet), but is pretty boring in flavor. Center bottom is Paul Robeson, which I have grown before and love; unfortunately this year's plant got attacked badly by early blight and then shaded out by its neighbors, so it is now dead. But I did get some good fruit from it.

I've got a couple others in the mix (Amish Red Oxheart, and another Ukrainian tomato I'm not bothering to remember right now) but I think the seed from those as well as the disappointments above will be tossed or passed on in a swap--someone else might do better with it, after all. Tomato preferences are highly subjective!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Blooms in June

Our weather here in Maryland went from chilly to blazing hot this past week, and has now moderated a bit, but we're not getting the promised rain, so I need to go do a lot of watering. I've got a few minutes to share some flowers for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, though.

(An update to the last post: the berm is finished, and I've put in some available suckers of holly, viburnum, and pawpaw, small mahonia and redbud seedlings, and a few perennials. None of them may survive considering the weather, but I'm doing my best. I will put up photos soon, but they are likely to be boring.)

Here are some of the flowers blooming in my garden now:

Opuntia humifusa, Eastern prickly pear. Excited to have this doing well!
Lily, not sure I ever knew the name

Balsam. Grew this from seed - a curious old-fashioned flower.

Daylilies just starting to emerge


Hollyhocks! Saved these from the deer with Milorganite.

Camomile. Time to make tea!

Nicotiana, self-seeded plants, lovely.

Phlox 'Cherry Caramel' - grew this from seed

A red yarrow whose variety I am too lazy to go look up


Squash flower on one of the plants that came up behind the compost bins

Clary sage


Walking onions in bloom! These are the weirdest coolest plants.

Lavender is gorgeous everywhere

Valerian still going
I have a lot more flowers in June than I used to, which is great. Hope everyone is enjoying the blooms in their gardens!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Half-acre update: infrastructure edition

Last year's changes in the Way Back are bearing fruit this year (literally, in some places!) and we are making progress on taming the wilderness that's left. This is largely thanks to my son Nick, who is in charge of hardscape and heavy lifting (I just do plants). Here are some of the things he's created in the last year or so:

Edging for beds, here as a continuation of the patio just behind the house (also his work). This is not part of the Way Back, but I wanted to point it out since it's extremely useful in defining what's planting bed and what's "lawn" (I put that in quotes advisedly; we'll work on having more grass among the weeds in the fall). So far just two beds have been edged with pavers, but we'll have stone or something else around all of them eventually.

Edging by the parking area. We put down a new load of gravel so it all looks very tidy for now.

Retaining wall in back of the parking area, and herb spiral just below, behind the shed. This marks the entrance to the former vegetable garden, now unfenced and planted with herbs, fruit, and whatever the hell else I want. There's a path running just below the wall, which needs to be finished up, and on the other side we'll have a formal paved entrance to the less-formal garden. With a mosaic!

New compost bin, built out of the Trex boards that made up our old deck. Eventually it'll have a top to keep animals out.

Fence around the black raspberries. The planting is in a T shape, with simple (non-supportive) fencing on both sides so the plants can grow between and not need to be constantly tied up. I still need to prune regularly of course. I was going to cover this all with bird netting, but I think instead I'll just tie up shiny streamers to see if that deters the birds at all, since netting is such a major pain. The blueberry hedge in the front yard has a Micromesh covering over it this year, which looks weird but is so far keeping the birds out (and it can be taken off easily once the fruiting is done).

Nick working hard on moving soil! Between digging out for the patio, for the retaining wall, and to remove the mixed gravel and soil that made up our parking area, he created some huge piles in the messy areas of the Way Back, which are currently being reorganized into a berm that I'll be able to plant on. Photos to come when it actually looks like something. And I'll put up some photos of what's already planted in the more organized areas, as well. I am doing a lot with free and cheap plants. And learning what will immediately be devoured by deer, groundhogs, rabbits, and birds, what can be temporarily protected and then left to fend on its own, and what they don't seem to like at all. A learning experience, hopefully leading to a productive and pretty garden.

Monday, May 15, 2017

More confused weather, but plenty of May flowers

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day again! Here's some of what's blooming around my garden this month.

Mock orange. I used to associate this with June; no more.

Sage and rue

Golden alexanders

Purple ninebark

'Bonica' shrub rose

Dianthus 'Rainbow Loveliness.' Grew this from seed last year.
Red buckeye

Peony closeup, unfurling

Valerian, with alliums

More sage, with the Micromesh-covered blueberries behind. Birds will not get them all this year!

Spiderwort starting to open

Type of enormous Jack-in-the-pulpit, probably have a note of species somewhere

Just wanted to note hellebores are still chugging along

Siberian iris, getting ready to take over the world
I have been planting many small seedlings that I grew in the cold frame, so hopefully there will be flowers to report in the coming months as well. This has been a roller-coaster season: warm February, cold March, warm April, cold May - so far, but we've emerged from chilly and wet for a few days before summer arrives on Wednesday with temps in the 90s. Makes it very hard to get the tomatoes in at the right time, not to mention everything else! But we have to get used to this.

One more photo, dating from April 23:

It's not a well-framed shot, but it does show the success of my tulips in the new blueberry bed, with the bridal-wreath spiraea behind - looked spectacular together as we drove in the driveway, and I didn't even plan it that way! The tulip success is due 100% to Milorganite, since the deer changed their browsing habits during the months between my ordering the bulbs and planting them, and were definitely chomping (despite Liquid Fence) this spring until I scattered the smelly thing they really don't like.

More soon; I have catching-up to do here.