Thursday, December 1, 2011

Gift ideas for gardeners.

Whether you are giving a gift to a seasoned gardener or a newbie, and for what ever budget you have, there is always something a gardener can use. 

Generally I don’t recommend the sets of spades, trowels and other things, because they are often of low quality materials and break pretty quickly.  It is better to spend more money on one good tool, such as the ken-ho garden weeder(ken-ho is a style of weeder not the brand name), a good sturdy garden knife or a good pair of pruners (I recommend the Felco No.2 classic manual pruner, or the no. 6 for smaller hands).  OXO Good Grips makes many gardening tools that have their signature easy grip handles.  

Despite my extensive collection of gloves, I mainly use a pair of leather work gloves from a big box store. On the other hand (so to speak) having an extra pair of inexpensive cotton gloves handy isn’t a bad idea either.  Sometimes I just want to quickly grab a pair of gloves to yank a weed from the flower bed and my other pair is still be wet from the last chore. Hats are very important because gardners are always out in the sun. Other helpful things are kneelers, for knee protection, or a stool or rolling seat to avoid kneeling or bending.  I love my rolling seat, but sometimes I use the kneeler to get at a part of the garden where the rolling seat does not fit.

For most gardeners there are some regular household tools that you might not associate with gardening, yet would be helpful to have an extra one for the gardening shed.  These include, scissors, pliers, screwdriver, markers and pens.  An extra bottle of sunscreen, some hand scrub or gardeners hand cream makes a great gift idea as well.  

Books on gardening and journals to write in are also great ideas for gardeners.  I have books I recommend listed on the slideshow to the left.  

If money is tight offering your services is a wonderful way to give a gift and a great way to spend time with loved ones.  Remember, not much in the way of gardening is happening now, so write out an IOU for the spring.  

Happy gardening and happy holidays. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Still time to plant Spring bulbs.

Gardening is all about hoping for the best.  This sense of hope is well represented by the spring bulb. Spring bulbs are nature’s little bundles of delayed gratification.  In each bulb is a harbinger of spring; a snow drop or crocus, a daffodil or tulip.  All this will be yours in exchange for some hard labor now in the fall. 

It is very easy to get carried away with purchasing spring bulbs. I should urge you not to go crazy purchasing bulbs, but it is hard to resist their allure. But remember, you will have to plant every single one of those bulk discount bulbs.  In our climate we can plant bulbs up until early December in some years if the ground doesn’t freeze, which happens at about 20-24 F.  However, it is best to plant them when there will still be some time for them to develop a root system before they go completely dormant for the winter.  Plant them too early and the heat will cause them to bloom and then be damaged in the coming cold periods.  If you have purchased so many that you cannot plant them all at once, as I have been known to do, they can be placed in a paper bag and put in the refrigerator until they can be planted.  Be sure to label the bags so you don’t plant alliums where you wanted the fritillaria.  Plant all bulbs, including tulips, to a depth of three times the height of the bulb. This depth will help them weather temperature fluctuations and supposedly foil squirrels. However, I never underestimate a squirrel’s ability to dig up something it wants and squirrels love tulips.  I try to preserve the tulips by rolling each bulb in chili powder as a repellent (remember even though chili powder is not toxic to humans, you do not want to inhale it or get some in your eyes!) Bulbs in pots are practically like cookie jars for squirrels, so cover tulips in containers with a bit of chicken wire. The wire keeps the squirrels from digging the bulbs out but lets the plant emerge. 

Bulbs are really some of the easiest flowers to grow and perhaps the most rewarding.  They only need sun, well draining soil and water if it becomes very dry. Remember that many bulbs emerge before trees have their leaves so a shady spot in summer will be sunny in the early spring.  For fertilizer I prefer to dig in some compost when planting, or organic bulb fertilizer. Don’t fuss too much. The truth is bulbs are little powerhouses of life.  Inside each bulb are the nutrients that the flower needs to bloom in spring.  So, be patient. If the flowers can make it through the winter only dreaming of blooming, so can you. 

TIPS: If you see little tips of bulbs coming out of the ground during a freak warm spell just cover them up with some shredded leaf mulch. 

Don’t forget the culinary bulbs, like garlic and shallots.  Divide a head of garlic or shallots into cloves and plant each one tip up. After the green shoots emerge, mulch with shredded leaves.  Next summer you will have plenty of garlic and shallots to eat and share. 

Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester, VA is a local source for bulbs. <>

Fall: It's All About the Leaves

Where to pile the leaves, how to gather them up and what to do with them. Don't just bag them and throw them in the trash.

I  like to  (Or I should say my neighbor with the lawn mower does it for me)pile them up and go over them with a lawn mower to shred them for storage as compost.  They can be placed directly on top of beds to act as winter mulch but they will clump, so shredding gets rid of most of the clumping problems.  You can gather them with a gas blower, and that is how my neighbor helps me gather mine.  But I wish I had a manual leaf collector, it is quieter and doesn’t use up energy, except your own.  In many neighborhoods the local government will collect leaves for composting.  This is a great way to get rid of leaves that you don’t use yourself for compost or mulch.  But there are caveats.  First make sure there are not too many twigs and branches or larger objects.  Second, if you have any diseased plant debris, do not add this to the collection pile or add to your own compost.  The diseases which injured or killed the plant may survive the compost process and invade your garden again.  Also, if you use chemicals on your lawn or garden, do not add grass or plant clippings from things with chemicals on them.  These chemicals can be harmful to the beneficial bacteria and fungus in the compost.  Dispose of diseased and chemically treated yard waste through the trash. 

If you have a place to pile the leaves please keep them for a lovely compost material.  They can be used as the carbon component in your composter, or just let them rot where they are.  Or, add them to your layering when making a new “no dig” bed.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Brrr, ick, snow ice.

Well, yesterday was disgusting weather-wise.  To my mind there is nothing worse than precipitation that keeps switching back and forth between rain, ice and snow, with the temperature hovering around freezing.  It is the worst of all , no crisp dry cold temps or gentle warm rain.  Speaking of rain we had have way too much for gardening, unless you grow mushrooms.  The damp promoted all kinds of ick on plants.  Not really anything new, just made it seem to last longer into the fall.  Of course one good thing about freezing weather is it kills off fungus pretty quickly.  I wouldn't worry about the effects of yesterdays weather.  It didn't last long enough to really damage anything.  However, if you weren't really paying close attention to what was going on a and you left out your hoses and some garden furniture, here iw what to do.  First make sure the hose has thawed completely and drain it before unscrewing it from the faucet.  Then put it in storage in a garage or shed. Make sure the furniture is dry before storing it in a dark place to prevent mildew growing on it.  This is a very good time to clean up your tools, oil and sharpen the metal bits.  Clean out and organize the garden shed or wherever you keep your gardening tools.  You will want to know where everything is come Spring.

Oh, it has been so long

It has been so long since I have posted where to begin.  I am still writing for the Beacon Newspapers, but apparently not for the Falls Church News Press.  The incredible amount of rain in September plus some inertia on my part equals no fall vegetables being planted.  :(  On the other hand I will be planting bulbs very soon, as soon as they arrive from Brent and Becky's bulbs.  Can't wait.  On that note my November article in the Beacon Newspapers is on bulbs.  Check it out at,  look up page 15 in the Howard County print edition and keep an eye out for the December column which will talk about gifts for gardeners. 


Friday, August 19, 2011

Garden Update

As you can see from the new photos my winter squash plant tried to kill my housemate Cindy.  We were just able to save her.  Successes: Tomatoes, although I could have done with more Cherokee purple, they are the best tasting heirloom (or any kind) of tomato I have ever had.  But the Mr. Stripies are not ready yet, so we shall see.  The early girls are still producing.  Both the hot and sweet peppers are also doing well.  The pole beans are taking their time, but so far so good.  Okra, tasty and I think there will be a larger harvest after tonight's rain. The kale is just wonderful, still going strong after transplanting.  The red kuri winter squash has 3 fruits, one is already fairly large.  Watermelons have 3 tiny melons and the mystery melon has a few tinies and one larger one.  The lemon cukes are very tasty and I think doing ok.  It looks like I will ahve zucchini even though I thought I had killed the two plants.  Leave it to me to be the only person who cannot grow zucchini.

Sadly, the Japanese long cucumber was a failure.  Some ick got to it and I had to pull them all out so they wouldn't infect the other plants.   I am trying to figure out what it was and how to keep it from happening again.Perhaps the soil was too acidic, there were several mushrooms growing in there, not sure what that means. 

The potatoes in the bags did produce some yummy taters but I am not sure it is worth it since potatoes are not that expensive and I had to buy topsoil to mix with the compost.  But if you want to try it I would definitely use the shopping bags not the plastic bags.  I think I would only use compost and perhaps a little bit of topsoil, I think they needed more nutrients halfway through the growing season so I would give them a feeding of something higher in potassium and phosphorus than nitrogen.. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Bad bugs and good bugs

Check out my new article in the Falls Church News-Press, "Not All Bugs Are Pests"  This is the first month that the FCNP has put my article on line (they have previously only had it in the print and E-issue).

Friday, July 15, 2011

Strawberries in July

I had a few (3) fresh strawberries this morning.  I can't describe how delicious a freshly picked strawberry is. I was under the impression (false) that strawberries only grew in June.  Not only are they ready to pick in July their taste is really quite a pleasant intense strawberry taste. I just wish I could remember which type of strawberry it was that is ready to pick now.  Perhaps Tristar?  Now all I have to do is to get the birds and bugs to stop eating them first!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Cucumber beetle Aaaaargh!

I saw one today!  I am so bummed, I thought that planting the cukes, squash and melons a bit later would preclude a problem.  Now I wonder should I spray?  Should I use Remay to cover the plants? But what if I trap one of them in there with the plants and tomorrow morning one little beetle has eaten everything or laid their eggs?  Last year I did not get one cucumber.

Okay, I have calmed down a bit.  My plan is to go out tonight with a flashlight, scare any  CBs off that I see and then cover with cloth.  Hopefully tomorrow morning all will be well and I can take the cloth off to water later.  Whew!  Panic over.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Vegetable garden update

Nothing yet is ready for picking, but if the critters stay away from the tomatoes (see garden remedies) I will have fresh ripe "Early Girl" tomatoes in about a week.  Some are already orange and hopefully there will be enough sun to ripen them.  I do have basil, 2 types "Genovese" and "Siam Queen", baby garden cress, arugula and lettuce to add to salads or garnish a plate with.  The tiny salad greens are in a shady spot which I hope will keep them growing through the heat.  Also available are several other types of herbs to cook with.  Now if I could just gather up the energy to cook something!  It seems I either have energy to garden or energy to cook,  anyway, I hope the beans, cucumbers, squash and melons do alright.  I don't want to jinx anything, but it seems that planting the cucurbits in June (around the 15th) may have bypassed the life cycle of cucumber beetle and the squash bug (but not other pests but hey, the CB and SB are nasty buggers). 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Garden Gnomes

Garden gnomes originated in Germany and were brought to England in the mid-nineteenth century. Gnomes are supposed to guard against evil spirits and help in the garden at night.  Obviously I need a few more because the one garden gnome I have seems to sit around reading all of the time instead of working in the garden.  Naturally garden gnomes are a huge controversial subject among gardeners, whimsical art or tacky kitch?  You decide. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Messy Chaotic Gardens or Picture perfect?

On the Garden Rant blog they discuss their manifesto which states that they like chaotic messy gardens instead of picture perfect garden magazine photos.  A former contributor to their blog, the Renegade Gardener begs to differ.  He thinks aspiring to the perfection of most garden photos is a good thing.  I do too.  I get great ideas from magazine photos.  To be honest, the articles don't interest me unless there are great photos or it is a well written piece on a subject that interests me. 

Now, true confession. My deep dark secret is that I probably write as much (or more ) than I actually garden.  I have health issues (lupus), resulting in fatigue and I cant be exposed to the sun for too long and I don't take heat very well.  So you may ask how do I garden, Answer:  very carefully. (ha!)  I get help from a neighbor to mow the grass (I mean weeds) every 2 weeks and do mulching and pruning. I also get help from friends and family.  Having a chronic illness for most of my life I decided a long time ago that since I feel like crap most of the time anyway, I might as well feel like crap while I am doing something I enjoy.  Now in my 50's that is gardening. Parts of the garden are looking pretty good right now (if you don't look to close) and other parts are a mess. As a writer I can identify the bugs that are eating my hibiscus, I can tell you how to prevent the black spot which is defoliating my roses as we speak, and I can give you turf alternative such as the clover and weeds in my lawn.  But when I sit out in a shady spot and doze off near the Zepherine Drouhin rose, while sipping iced herb tea made with my own herbs, I don't care about these imperfections. This is heaven and why I garden.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Another FCNP article

Check out my new article in the Falls Church News-Press, "Shoveling the Brown to Get the Green", on page 32.  It's about healthy soil and using organic fertilizers.  We should cultivate our soil since plants are able to absorb nutrients through their roots courtesy of organisms, such as bacteria and fungi, in the soil.  If you only use inorganic chemicals for fertilizer that do not have organisms in it or don't feed the organisms, the soil will die.  Compost is one of the best things to add to soil as a conditioner, making it a better consistency for the plant roots and as fertilizer because it has nutrients to feed the organisms.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Monthly article in the Washington Beacon Newspaper

Hi everyone, I am now writing another monthly column on gardening, this one is for the Beacon Newspapers, a monthly newspaper for people over 50.  June's column is in the print edition on page 12.  It is available at some doctor's offices and the library among other places, as well as on line.  Hope you enjoy June's article which is about the health benefits of gardening.  Who knew?  Playing in the dirt is actually healthy for you! (It's scientific and everything). look on page 12 of the print edition.


It is early June, but the heat has arrived.  I just had my rain barrel system upgraded to two, so of course it hasn't rained since then.  On the other hand this evening I put out a soaker hose in a far away part of the garden that gets neglected and watered it.  It is now raining.  Oh well, that how it goes.  I still think the soaker hose idea is a good one.

I have learned that I need to plant things about two weeks earlier than I have been.  It gets hot faster than it used to or perhaps the advice I read is for another part of the country, but several things were not quite ready when the heat struck.  Lettuce, peas and kale do not go for this kind of heat and dry conditions.  I am assuming the carrots will not be as tasty either but they are not quite ready yet.  I will try all of these again in the fall. 

Now it is time to get the squash, cucumbers and melons ready for the squash bugs to eat! 

Update on the potato bags.  The plants look very tall and vigorous,  but not sure what if anything is going on down in the dirt.  They also have signs of some white stuff, which I think is a bug related thing not fungus. I shall spray them tomorrow.  Going to try neem oil and or insecticidal soap (if it stops raining).

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ditzy gardener

I am seriously thinking of changing my blog name to the ditzy gardener.  There are moments when I have such mental clarity and organizational energy it is scary.  I have drawn a detailed map of where when and what will be planted in my veggie garden.  I have a mental image of how it will look.  I have painstakenling listed the seed packets, their germination times and which company they come from.  In the spring I wrote down when and what I planted to see how they grow.

Have I continued to write down when and what I have planted?  Have I meticulously followed the plan that I worked so hard drafting with pencil and ruler on graph paper?  No I have not. An unintended army of weeds, crop failures, too much rain (so no spraying for fungus), lack of energy, and now intense heat are my excuses.  In fact, at this point I am not sure where the map is on my desk (another disaster area, although I cannot blame this on weeds.)  Yet some crops grow without much care; the radishes, mizuna, arugala, lettuce (done in by the heat, but delicious beforehand), most of  the peas.  The potatoes in bags look like they are doing well, but not yet ready for harvest.  The pod radish has turned out to be easy to grow and very tasty.  A successful experiment.  Somehow the spinach also did well, although next year I think I will devote a larger area earlier so I can have loads of baby spinach.  Also, the snow pea seedling are so very tasty they will also get a larger area, earlier in the season.  Since I am cutting back on vegetable gardening size I may have just spinach and peas seedling in early spring! Surprisingly I have eaten at least 6 strawberries from the plants first year of growth, very tasty, hopefully next year there will be more!  One type of strawberry seems to be doing better than the other.

My failures are legion.  Beets are a bust.  Rapini a no go (maybe I just needed to harvest them very early, not sure what happened).  Kale may work out but it is getting hot, perhaps they should only be grown as a fall crop.  The soil in the brassica bed turned out to be crummy (long story, not telling), so it is a wonder that anything grew at all, like the arugala.  I have learned a lot from this experience.  My garden next year will, of course, be perfect, a veritable Eden.

So here is my philosphy, I mean the real one, not the one I hope to have:  Read up on the science, try to put it into practice, try to make the best compost possible and then work within your energy level and attention span. 

Something will grow!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Just visited DeBaggio Herb Farm and Nursery

I am in heaven!  Or I should say I am back home after visiting herb heaven.  I have a confession to make, mothers never want to admit that they have favorites so don't tell the vegetables and flowers in my garden but I love herbs the best.  As a group of plants they can't be beat.  They smell, taste and look good.  On top of that most of them are very easy to grow.  A little neglect, no problem.  Crummy soil, you can probably get a pass on that as well.  So when I read about DeBaggio's in Adrian Higgins' Tweets and in his Washington Post articles I just had to visit.  Chantilly VA. sounded far away but it isn't far from Falls Church.  It took me about 30 minutes to drive there from the center of Falls Church City.  It is easy to find via their directions on their website DeBaggio's is a small place but packed with many healthy herb plants, unlike some places that sell plants that are in terrible shape (they shall remain nameless but it rhymes with Dome Hepot). The selection of herbs is also wonderful.  They have several types of basil, sages, lavenders and lavandin (the latter is more suited to our climate), and a great selection of tomatoes and pepper plants as well.  I went there expecting to blow a whole lot of money.  I wrote a list that I tried to stick with, but ended up purchasing more things than I had planned (not a surprise).  The surprise was that it came in under budget by almost $20 because the smaller plants are well worth the price of $3.29.  Since they appear to be healthy I am not too worried about them making it through the summer either.  If they don't it will be something I have done wrong.  In addition to herbs and vegetables they also have some annuals and perennials.  Check on their website or call (703) 327-6976 before you visit since their inventory changes every day.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Growing tomatoes upside down?

I have been curious about those upside down hanging pots for tomatoes that seem to be advertised everywhere.  At first glance it just doesn't make sense.  Plants need water, water goes down through the soil to the roots, it is called gravity.  Plants need sun, they seek it by growing up and moving to face the sun, that is called heliotropism.  I can't believe that watering them from the top doesn't lead to a bit of dirty water trickling onto the stems and leaves.  I have not tried these myself but after reading many forums and blogs I have come to the conclusion that they will grow tomatoes despite the fact that the infomercials make claims that defy the laws of physics. 

They are not for every situation, however. They lose moisture very quickly, and may have to be watered every day.  One must use plants that are at least 6 inches high when planted, use a type of tomato that will not grow too large and use very good soil, fertilizing every month. The claims that the pots last years is not born out by most evidence, they will need to be replaced, perhaps as often as every year, because the plastic does degrade fairly quickly. 

The bottom line is that they save space and the tomatoes ripen a bit sooner, but the plants are not as prolific as they would be growing them the ground.

I Say Tomato

New Falls Church News-Press article on tomatoes.  Garden Time: E-issue p.23. Information about tomatoes, how to grow them and how to pick the kind you wish to grow.  Plus a tip about those upside down hanging pots for tomatoes. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Essential tools

There are two tools that I had never used before in the garden that now I simply could not live without.  First is the "ken ho" weeder.  I have 2 now, one is from the Asian grocery store and it works very well, and only cost about six dollars, but it isn't stainless.  The other is stainless a bit smaller but works just as well.  These suckers can weed!  They are especially helpful on things like ground ivy and not bad on crabgrass either.

The second tool is a real workhorse, the garden knife or soil knife.  It makes dividing perennials much easier and for really big weed roots it can't be beat.

Two more essentials that you may not think are useful in the garden shed are a pair of scissors, and a pair of pliers.  The scissors cut twine, shade cloth and all sorts of things.  The pliers pull out nails that seem to be stuck in fences and pieces of wood, weeds emerging from cracks in pavement, and even stakes that seem to have been cemented into the ground.


It turns out that I have some lovely peonies in the yard that a previous owner planted.  They are gorgeous and smell divine.  Sadly, I can't bring them inside because I have read that they are poisonous to cats.  :(   My cat Zuzu will nibble plants I bring in so I will have to admire them when I am outside.  I made a bouquet of peonies for my sister the other day with roses and salvia.  Quite lovely if I say so myself!  At least someone will get to have them inside.  My sister and brother-in-law's German shepherd doesn't eat plants (although we are not too sure what she would do with a cat, lol). 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Just planted lavender between rain storms

Finally planted the lavender.  They were starting to look a bit shabby, at least the small ones.  The other ones, Super lavender, Goodwin Creek and Kew Red were still mostly looking presentable.  But the Lady lavender, the smallest look a bit under the weather.  Before I planted I need to have some bushes cut down and add some sand to the soil.  All of this had to be done in between several days of off and on rain and off and on energy!  At least I can rest now.  Well I can rest until the next round of planting and sowing which is, well, next week.  Yikes I better buy the tomatoes already.  Wish me, or the lavender, luck.  It should rain again soon.  Sigh.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


The previous owners of my house planted a lot of roses.  Also a lot of Japanese holly (blech).  Anyway, many of the roses didn't make it through last years summer.  I think they were A) planted too closely together, B) not particularly hardy for this climate and C) not repeat bloomers and D) they had no scent.  My philosophy with roses is they must repeat bloom all season and have a nice scent, otherwise you just have a bunch of thorny canes growing most of the year, not very attractive.  So any roses that looked like the wouldn't make it or didn't have the above attributes were pulled up.  That has left some beautiful wild possibly rugosa roses with a great scent, a scent free Knockout rose, an orange rose that blooms fairly well but also had no scent, and a lovely Queen Elizabeth rose, likewise no scent.  Plus a few that I cannot name that look alright but don't smell like anything.  Last spring I planted a Zepherine Drouhin climbing which is a real winner in my book.  It blooms repeatedly, smells like rose heaven and has NO thorns.  I will have to gradually replace the older roses with winners like the ZD and other old garden roses.  Black spot be damned, I will have my roses!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Just changed to new photos

Just uploaded new photos.  The background is a Zepherine Drouhin climbing rose.  We have had such lovely spring weather in the last few days that I have been able to sit outside in the afternoons and read.  But of course the hot weather will come soon enough.  Please enjoy the photos of a snow pea, Japanese maple and seed pods, salvia and roses, ZD climbing rose, window box and squirrel topiary! 

I had a small salad of fresh greens from the garden tonight.  Yum. 

PS Please remind me to tone down the veggie garden next year.  Just too much stuff to take care of!  Next year I will plant a cottage garden in the side beds instead of veggies.  I swear, honest!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Just received lavender plants!

My order of lavender plants arrived from Richter's Herbs today.  They are tiny.  I kept thinking that I had to prepare a massive area in a side bed for these plants.  Of course they will eventually grow bigger but I really had grandiose plans.  Thank goodness the size of the plants and the amount of my energy (low) combined with a limited window of opportunity to get my neighbor's help will make the job much, much easier.  I was going to move a couple of shrubs and dig out some others (or should I say have someone do it for me), but now I see that one of these bushes is a lovely dark pink azalea and wouldn't that look stunning next to lavender?  Never mind that they require completely different levels of pH.  They will just have to live with the soil as it is!  Luckily I think they are both relatively adaptable plants and the soil there appears to be neither too acid nor too alkaline.  The other bushes are 2 Japanese hollies and a mystery shrub that doesn't flower and just takes up room.(why did a previous owner of this house plant so many Japanese holly bushes in so random of a pattern so close together?).   So out they go.  Or I should say off with their heads.  We plan to cut them down at the soil level and let the roots die off.  Well, that is the theory.  Wish me luck.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Mother's Day Gifts for Mother Earth

Instead of giving mom cut flowers for mother's day, why not give her a plant that she can plant in the ground.  This excellent advice was suggested by the people at "Plant more Plants", the organization to plant plants to help the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  Yes, planting perennial plants, shrubs and trees helps the soil absorb more water lessening runoff which ends up in the bay after picking up chemicals and unwanted waste products along the way.  Ironically lawns DO NOT absorb as much water and filter it through the root system as other types of plants.  In fact if one plants turf (a fancy name for grass) made of the typical types of grass (bluegrass, fescues and ryegrass for cool humid areas, and zoysia for warm weather. We live in an area where neither type does well), the density of the grass can slow down the absorption.  Even worse are the massive amounts of fertilizer that people use on these lawns.  Because lawn grasses do not grow well in this climate, we have to use much more water and fertilizer to keep them green.  On top of the heavy use factor is that many people use too much fertilizer, so much so that it is not used by the grasses and is washed out into the bay instead.  When it gets there it contributes to algae growth and other issues.  So do both of your mother's a favor!  Plant a plant!  If your mother lives in an apartment (like mine does) plant something she loves in your garden that she can come and visit! 

Check out "Plant more Plants" and also the Maryland General Assembly Bill SB487 "Fertilizer Use Act"

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Potatoes in bags: Update

Here is another update on the growing potatoes in bags experiment.  So far so good!  Some of them are already growing plants about 6 inches high!  Some have only a few leaves sprouting.  This is confusing when in one bag there is a tall sprout and a short sprout.  Should I still cover them with dirt at the same time, even though they are different heights,  or wait until all have risen to 6 inches high?  I think I will cover them with dirt all at once in one bag and then wait with the others.  Even the plastic bag which was starting to look like nothing was growing in it except a weed seedling is now sporting a leafy spot.  Perhaps even the plastic bags work.  We shall see as time progresses.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Banished from the garden

I have been banished from the garden until the tree pollen count goes down.  This is upsetting, but would be harder take if I felt like gardening.  But with the wheezing, sneezing and lack of breathing going on it is a bit easier to stay indoors.  Hopefully the rain today will wipe away a lot of the pollen.  If I could just get the hostas to move themselves to the shadier area in the front and the day lilies to a sunnier area on the side, everything would be great (also get the dog to take herself for a walk, yeah right!).

I think that my Zephirine Drouhin rose will bloom soon.  It appears to have several buds.  Unfortunately something is snacking on it already.

The potatoes in bags continue to grow.  I will have to cover them with soil again soon.

Monday, April 25, 2011

What the...?

Recently I noticed that there is a bumper crop of seedlings in my raised vegetable beds.  Normally this would be a great thing but, the veggie seeds I had sown were already growing.   My beautiful beds are infested with weed seeds!

I have recently been smug about using my own autumn leaves gathered from the maple trees and dogwoods on my small property.  I use it in my own compost and in preparing the vegetable beds.  I also used some horse manure suitably composted.  Until two days ago I thought i had made the perfect combination to create my raised beds, take that expensive ready made compost!, take that weeds and unwanted plants!  As usual smug self satisfaction turns around to bite one in the butt.

I don't know what type of weed or plant this is (after all a weed is just a plant  in the wrong place at the wrong time).  They are everywhere, including in the spot where I put parsnip seeds to germinate later than the radishes.  Now I can't tell if the seedling are parsnips or weeds.  I am going to have to figure out where these came from.  I am pretty sure it was from my own stuff because the horse manure was well composted so the weed seeds should have been killed.  On theother hand it would be nice to still use my own stuff without having this problem.  I can easily not get this manure but I really want to use my own materials to make compost.  I will keep you up to date on these developments.

Meanwhile, it looks like some of the potatoes in the bag are growing!  I hope this works out.  There is nothing like new potatoes and fresh peas steamed together with a hint o butter.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Succession Planting and Interplanting

In my recent article in the Falls Church News-Press I write about creating an almost instant no dig garden bed by using berms. The berm consist of putting down a layer of manure (composted never fresh) first and then a 3-5 sheet layer of wet newspaper, compost, sand, shredded leaves, manure and more compost to make a berm about 2-3ft high. Water the layers well. Then plant directly into the berm. The materials in the berm will shrink as the organic material decomposes.  You can leave the new beds as piles or better yet, make raised beds with frames of untreated lumber, bricks or cement blocks.  Cement blocks are useful because they provide holes where you can plant herbs.  If you have deer and rabbits or a digging dog you will need to fence the vegetable patch.  
For small urban gardens and berms sow vegetable seeds in square foot sections instead of rows, thinning as they grow eventually keeping a few strong plants to flower and fruit. Maximize space by using a fence or poles to grow squash and cucumbers vertically instead of sprawling all over the garden.  Also, there are bush varieties of peas, beans and squash that take up a bit less room.  As for tomatoes, eggplant and peppers, it is too late to start them from seed, so just buy the plants from a garden center and plant them no earlier than the first week of May.  Do try to keep vegetable beds to 4 foot square to make harvesting easier.  

Succession planting means that the gardener plants early vegetables and then as the first ones are harvested plants the next season of vegetables in the same spot.  In some cases the seeds can be sown together since some vegetables take much longer to reach maturity than others.  Radishes and carrots are often planted together since the radish will mature much faster, breaking up the soil for the slower germinating carrots.  Just as the carrot plants are starting to show their leaves the radish is ready to pick.   Cooler weather plants such as beets or lettuce can be followed by warmer weather plants such as annual herbs like basil or tomatoes and peppers.  

Interplanting is using one space for more than one plant.  The Native Americans did this with what they called the three sisters: Corn, beans and squash.  The beans used the cornstalks to climb, the corn was fertilized by the beans' nitrogen fixing roots and the squash crowded out the weeds and also used the extra nitrogen in the soil.  You can also use a bush bean or trellised cucumber to shade lettuce or arugula for growing in the hotter months. 

Falls Church News-Press Article, "It's (Almost) Never Too Late"

My Falls Church News-Press garden article is out in the current issue.  Visit and look at the E-ISSUE, page 20.  The article is about how one can still get a flower or vegetable garden started even at this comparatively late date. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Apartment gardening.

Apartments can be a great place to grow orchids or other interesting plants.  But if you do not have much sun, you will only be able to grow houseplants that can take low light.  As for vegetables, the only alternative I can suggest is a community garden.  Fairfax and Arlington counties have several community gardens.  They are all popular and have waiting lists, but people do move about in this area so it is worth signing up if vegetable gardening is a passion for you.  Contact the Cooperative Extension office for your county. They are online at, there you can find the closest community garden to you and other gardening opportunities such as volunteering to help maintain a garden at Green Springs. 

If you have the time and money try one of those indoor lighted herb gardens.  If you love fresh herbs this would be a great way to have fresh herbs at your finger tips. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Mulch in the vegetable patch?

Someone asked this question on another forum and here is my answer. I don't use mulch on most vegetables because it is not necessary, and as mentioned it can contain diseases and or weed seeds if you are not 100% sure of the source. Let's think about why we use mulch and then consider that for many veggies it isn't necessary.  First to keep down weeds, hopefully you have been able to get rid of many weeds before the seed sowing, but otherwise this can be achieved by mixing plants.  For example if you have a vining plant under an upright plant such as squash grown under pole beans.  Another reason we use mulch is to keep the ground a steady temperature and keep moisture from evaporating.  For this use I would simply use my own compost or a good source of organic compost from a bag.  It will also give needed nutrients to the plants.  If you have made the soil in the garden a healthy mix of organic materials,  the moisture retention will not be an issue. Temperature is only a problem in the spring and the fall, in that case you just have to wait until the temperature of the soil stays steady. Sometimes there are vegetables or fruit we don't want touching the ground.  In this case I think straw (NOT hay) is a great source.  It will keep strawberries (the name says it all) from rotting on the soil, it keep delicate summer squash off of the dirt too.  And as an added bonus it compost fairly well.  So that's my take on mulch for vegetables.  I only use the straw on some things and try to avoid using mulch on most vegetables.  Ornamentals are a different story.  For perennial beds wood chips are fine.  I have gotten them from tree cutting companies and they seem to be only wood chips with no other things like pieces of plastic or diseased plants or seeds.  Make sure they haven't been cutting walnut trees and they should be fine, plus they are free!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Balcony and patio gardening

For those of you who have a balcony or patio, you can grow anything!  Provided of course that you have enough sun.  Sadly, if you do not have enough sunlight, at least six hours per day, you will not be able to grow vegetables or most herbs.  The acception is parsley and chervil, both can handle some shade.  Otherwise you will be limited to some shade loving flowers and plants known for their greenery.  But what flowers and greenery!  I have seen some lush planting in deep shade turning an average balcony into a garden of delights.

First, if you do have sun, don't forget vegetables and herbs.  They can be lovely to look at as well as tasty.  Most types of lettuce and other greens such as arugula, cress (garden not water), mizuna are very easy to grow in window boxes.  You will have too many seeds but if you start early enough in the season (like now) you can have successive sowing and always have some lettuce and salad greens on hand.  You will need to constantly thin the seedling, but they are great tossed on a salad or in some pasta. Greens do need to be watered and kept from drying out, but have well drained soil so it won't get soggy roots. Remember that greens are for eating so don't use regular old potting soil with chemical fertilizers in them.  Use organic potting soil and use liquid fish or kelp fertilizer or add compost.  Better yet, make your own by mixing a bag of topsoil with a bag of compost.  Add a few scoops of perlite to help with water retention.  Most plants will do well with the organic materials in the compost, and benefit from a little fertilizer when they have 4 true leaves.  Heavy feeders such as squash and tomatoes may need a second feeding when they start to set fruit.  When in doubt first do no harm.  Chances are if the plants look peeky it is because they have too much water that won't drain, or uneven watering.  Tomatoes are a common vegetable for pots but surprisingly there are other veggies that may also do well.  Beans make a lovely edible vine, particularly if you choose a type that is purple or yellow or mix them together.   

Herbs like well drained soil also perhaps with a bit of sand.  They can dry out a bit between waterings, but like all plants in pots when it is very hot they need water every day.  A fun way to have several types of herbs is to plant a strawberry planter with a different type of perennial herb in each hole.  For the top of the container grow something that is tall such as a bush rosemary or mounding parsley.  Use creeping or prostrate plants for the side holes.  You may need to turn the pot occasionally to get sun to all of the herbs, or plant parsley on the shady side.  For annual herbs such as basil, keep that in its own pot, a large one if possible.  You may want to plant mint in its own pot too since it can be very invasive. 

For shade impatiens and begonias are classic choices but you can also use some small heuchera and hostas, calladiums, coleus and ferns.  The rhyme to remember for a container garden is, "A thriller, spiller and filler".  The thriller is something brightly colored or large and spikey, anything attention getting.  The spiller is a vine or hanging plant such as sweet potato vine or ivy.  The filler is something that does just that, fills in the empty spots.  If the thriller and spiller are flowers I like the filler to be something with variegated foliage such as sedum, or if the thriller or spiller is foliage heavy I like to fill the container with a flowering plant such as million bells.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Urban Gardening

I have noticed that many people out there want to garden but do not have the best possible situation.  They may have a yard with little sunshine, or only sunshine in the front where they cannot grow vegetables due to home association rules.  Many live in apartments or townhouses with small balconies or patios, others live in apartments with just a sunny window.  I will discuss all of these and what and how to garden

In this area we have neighborhoods with larges trees shading out other plants, but often not the front yard.  Alas, many HOAs ban vegetable gardening in the front yard (sometimes in the back too).What to do if you want vegetables and ornamentals?  There is something called edible landscaping.  The first person to really write about this was Rosalind Creasy in her book "Edible Landscaping" . Right here in Virginia there is a nursery that specializes in home grown fruits and vegetables and grows plants that are disease resistant and hardy, it's called Edible Landscaping Online and is in Afton, VA.  But look at any book on vegetables, herbs and or fruit you will see that many edible plants are also quite beautiful.  A bed of colorful Swiss chard edged with some speckled trout lettuce placed in front of small bush peas would be a lovely spring planting.  Pansies, violas, and nasturtiums are all edible flowers.  Herbs make great perennial back drops to seasonal veggies.

Next, gardening on balconies and patios.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

More about compost

Some of you (if there is anyone actually reading this that is) may be confused when I said 3 parts brown to 1 part green.  In most charts talking about carbon to nitrogen ratios the talk about a C:N ratio of 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen.  But you have to remember a few things.  First everything has some carbon and nitrogen in it.  Also, brown stuff, such as dried leaves are fluffier and drier than green things, such as kitchen scraps or well rotted manure.  Since the leaves I have left over from last autumn are not very well shredded and still have a lot of air in them that it takes about 3 handfuls to 1 handful of greens (kitchen scraps, tea leaves and coffee grounds) to keep the balance of carbon to nitrogen.  My experience is that in the fall and early spring there is too much of the brown available and I have to find other sources of nitrogen, such as manure (again not the fresh stuff). This spring I am going to try using alfalfa meal, a bio-activator that is high in nitrogen and has bacteria in it already and gets the compost heated up.  I will report back on what I think of using it.  Last year I used manure bought in a bag to get things cooking.  I think the alfalfa meal should be a bit more cost effective and since only a small amount is needed it is easier to use.  While reading up on using it in composting I found that horse manure is not a good source because horses' digestion does not kill weed and hay seeds, unlike ruminants such as cows, goats, llamas. Apparently chicken and rabbit manure will also work. 

Of course in the summer with grass clippings I have a surfeit of greens, then I use straw for the place of browns.  Although the straw would compost better if it was shredded.  I'll have to look into another source of browns, maybe peanuts shells?  I'll have to check out Five Guys for the peanuts shells!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Just say no to mulch volcanoes.

It is that time of the year.  It is spring, when daffodils, crocus, cherry blossoms and mulch volcanoes sprout up everywhere.  Yes, the insidious mulch piled up high around the helpless tree.  Trees do not like to have mulch touching their bark.  The mulch is dead wood which is decaying so when it touches the tree it starts to decay the tree's bark.  It would be like something decaying always touching your skin. Eew.  Don't do it, don't let others do it, even if they are calling themselves "landscapers".  Don't let it happen.  Keep the mulch at least 2 inches away from the tree. Also, keep mulch to between 2-4 inches thick.  Too thin it doesn't keep down weeds and too thick water doesn't penetrate.  Also, when mulch is too thick it promotes the growth of a charming fungus called "dog vomit" fungus.  It is named this because it looks just like, you guessed it, dog vomit. Not a pleasant look in the garden.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

More About Compost

Compost is very simple to make.  As I mentioned before, you need "green" (nitrogen) and "brown" (carbon) in a 1:3 ratio, some water and at least an amount that equals 3 square feet in volume.  If there is too much brown, the compost won't heat up and composting will not happen.  If there is too much green it will start to turn sour, or  if too wet it will smell like rotten eggs.  So too much brown add green, too much green add brown.  Make sure it drains well so it will not be too wet, which can lead to the above rotten egg smell.  An easy way to make sure drainage is good is to put sticks and branches in the bottom or make sure the composter has good drainage and is elevated slightly on bricks.  If you have a pile of almost completed compost cover it if there is heavy rains so the nutrients don't wash away.  If nothing is happening and you have a good mix of brown to green perhaps the volume has gone down to low.  Piles of compost are constantly shrinking due to the composting process, so material needs to be added frequently to keep it at the minimum volume. When starting a new batch of compost add a handful or two of finished compost as a starter, plus a few clumps of grass with soil on the roots will also help add soil organisms.  You can buy commercial compost starters but I think they are probably not any better than some compost and a few globs of soil.  Some people swear buy a can of beer poured on the pile (use the cheap stuff!).

Good sources for green material are:

kitchen scraps (NOT meat, bones, dairy or grease these attract RATS)*
coffee grounds and tea leaves
grass clippings
pulled up weeds (unless they have gone to seeds, then throw away in the garbage)
alfalfa meal, available at garden centers (this is good for when there are no grass clippings available)
composted manure (horse, cow, chicken)

Good Sources for Brown material:

shredded fallen leaves (shredding helps them decompose faster)
straw (not hay)
newspaper (shredded)

A word about manure (a.k.a. poop).  Only use well rotted manure (not fresh) from herbivores- cows, horses, alpacas, goats, chickens etc.  Do not use dog or cat waste because it attracts rats and needs to be composted at a very high temperature to kill diseases. (I am assuming that I don't have to tell you not to use human waste, eew)

If you follow the above rules and ratios and turn or mix the compost frequently you can have compost in a month.  A pile will take about a year or year and a half.  It is well worth the effort because compost will enrich your soil, make great potting soil and save you a ton of money.

* You can add eggshells, banana peels and citrus peels but they do take a long time to rot. Cut or shred any thing you add into smaller pieces to speed up the decomposition process. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Falls Church News-Press Article

My first article in the Falls Church News-Press will be published tomorrow, March 24, 2011.  Here is a link,  look in the e-issue on page 23, at, I will be writing once a month for now.


What is compost?  The end product should be brown with bits of visible sticks or bits of leaves, looks like soil and has a soil-like smell.  Compost is a fertilizer, soil conditioner, and mulch all in one.  There are several methods of composting.  It could be something as simple as a pile left to rot for a couple of years, or something as complex as an electric composter in a kitchen that heats up organic material and turns it into compost in days.  But the concept is the same.  Organic material is added in a 3 to 1 ratio: three parts carbon (brown dried up stuff) to one part nitrogen (yes to, veggie peels, apple cores,eggshells, tea leaves, coffee grounds;  no to meat, dairy, or fish).  Just to confuse the issue sometimes "brown" things aren't brown, such as newspaper and "green" things aren't green such as coffee grounds.  However, you will get the gist.  Add water if it is dry (it should be slightly damp), or add more brown if it starts to get slimy and stinky, or make the pile bigger if it isn't heating up.  The organisms in the compost will heat up the center of the pile while they do their thing, so the correct balance of brown and green, water and volume of the pile, creates the perfect atmosphere for the micro-organisms and fungi to "cook" the organic material without an offensive odor.  The more often the pile is turned, the quicker the process happens.  That is why you will get compost with a pile, but it will take at least a year maybe two.  Last year I started with a slow pile and a "fast" composter.  My fast composter worked fairly well.  It was homemade out of a garbage can on wheels.  I drilled several holes in the bottom and around the sides at the bottom sides, middle and top near the lid.  No holes in the lid.  I tried to turn it by rolling it on the ground on its side every week but that didn't work that well since the handle for pulling got in the way of rolling and the lid always fell off.  I then resorted to dumping it out and then mixing it up in a tarp and dumping it back in the can.  This was too difficult and time consuming for me, so I then resorted to sticking my arm down to the bottom taking out the composted stuff and mixing the rest with my hand.  This sort of worked and I had some nice compost in about  3 months.  I did nothing over the winter while the temperatures were too low and this spring I had a garbage can full of lovely compost and a pile of almost all composted stuff in the back corner of the yard.  I treated myself to a compost tumbler (pricey) and I hope to be able to make compost in a month!  Next post I will talk about how to fine tune composting and again reiterate composts great attributes.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day, the planting O'the Green

St. Patrick's day is traditionally the day to plant garden peas: shelling peas and the snow pea and snap pea varieties.  It is also a good day to cut back ornamental grasses such as liriope (lilyturf).  Good Friday is said to be the best day to plant potatoes.  Holidays are good reminders of when to plant what, as are the phases of the moon.  I am going to try planting by moon phases this year, I will talk about that in my next post. 

Strawberry plants have arrived! Yikes!

They are here!  The strawberry plants I ordered to arrive after I have their planter all ready.  Guess what, it's not ready yet!  So I will sign off and go to Home Depot for the fixings to make my own potting soil.  Plus some other stuff I will need soon.  I used to make potting soil from 1 part top soil, 1 part peat moss, and 1 part perlite.  But since I have learned that peat moss is not a renewable resource I will be using my own compost instead of pm. 

PS. My crocus are blooming so it really is spring!  

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

New Garden Planning Software

I just saw that Territorial Seed Company, has new garden planning software that looks very interesting.  It seems to cover everything and costs $25 per year.  I am still happy with my graph paper and pencils at this point, but I could see if you had a large area to plan , such as a totally new landscape, this might be worth your while.  I like graph paper because I can take it outside in the rain!  Perhaps this winter when I have less to do in the garden I will give it a try.  

Monday, March 14, 2011

More Daylight, more gardening!

It is fun to still be able to see the sun at 6pm. now that the clocks are pushed forward an hour.  Of course that means we have another hour to spend in the garden.  In the next few weeks the seed sowing and planting revs up, so start turning soil and otherwise prepare your beds for the seeds and plants that will be planted.  There is nothing worse then merrily skipping down the garden path (ok I don't really do that) and finding that you have to turn your soil to expose the cold underparts  to the warm sun or that the soil needs some compost dug in.  Always keep preparation in the plans!  I just realized I was focusing on all sorts of stuff except the fact that one of my beds needs a wooden frame to keep the compost and leaves and composted horse manure from spilling out of the bed.  Other things are coming along fast and furious.  The roses in the rose bed on the side of the house still need pruning (a bit late but not too late).  I haven't sown the larkspur seeds I wanted for in front of the white gate.  The compost pile needs turning, and ...well let's just say there is always a lot to do. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Rain, rain go away.

It has been raining all day and flood warnings are on for the area.  This is a perfect example of too much of a good thing.  Even though this means a full rain barrel everything else is waterlogged.  The only things that could be seriously affected by too much rain (at this point) are plants in pots with poor drainage or anything planted in a poorly draining spot.  Some bulbs might get mushy, and some seeds or seedlings might drown,  but I haven't planted anything yet except a few scallion and spinach seeds that are under a plastic cold frame.  Hopefully that will keep them dry. 

In this are, that is Falls Church-Arlington, the last frost dates are between April 20 and 30. Things that need to be harvested before summer heat should be planted now.  That means you can start planting cabbage, beets, greens, carrots and radishes to name a few.  Traditionally garden peas are planted on St. Patrick's day, and that has worked for me.  Potatoes can also be planted now, but I would wait for the ground to dry before I planted them because they are prone to many kinds of fungus.  This year I plan to plant potatoes in bags but I am waiting until a bit later so that I can get the fresh seed potatoes from a local garden center that should arrive at the end of March.

As for ornamentals, it is best to not mess around with with any plants while it is raining because our hands and tools spread fungus.  One exception is on a drizzly day sowing seeds can work since then you don't have to water them.  And there is something in rain water that makes plants grow better than tap water. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Last blast of winter?

Yesterday the weather was delightful.  Today the temperature has dropped (28F this morning at 9am) but sunny.  Winter just can't give up yet!  But spring always comes, so we should not be too sad about keeping our warm gloves and down coats out for a while longer.  I think my bulbs are coming up!  I have a confession to make.  I am never 100 sure anything I plant grows until I actually see something.  Bulbs are particularly hard to tell if they will work because you plant them months ahead of time and by the time they grow I have usually forgotten exactly where everything is.

Back to the here and now.  If you have not done so yet, prune back the roses and clean up perennials, you can remove any dead stalks or flower heads but try not to cut off anything that looks like new growth.  And have faith, spring is coming!

Monday, February 28, 2011

It's almost spring!

Wow it is really coming, spring that is.  Today the temperatures will be in the sixties.  I started some seeds outside already for spinach and spring onion.  The red of Florence type, sounds good.  I hope they work out.  The sowing of seeds that I have done shows the importance of planning ahead.  I knew exactly where these seeds should go so that they won't interfere with other plants that are sown later.  I will also sow some spinach in about ten days to have two crops (hopefully) before the heat gets to it.

Here are a few tips for this time of year.  If you need compost the local county governments in most places (including Arlington County and Fairfax county) have free mulch and composted leaves or leaf mulch .  You have to pick it up yourself, but gather a bunch of bags and perhaps a friend with a truck and go for it.  Your garden will thank you and you will save a great deal of money.  The mulch and compost is great for the garden.  the compost or leaf mulch helps aerate the soil and the mulch will keep down weeds once the seedlings get going.  Another tip is turn your soil now to let it heat up a bit for more plantings. This is also a good time to see to your tools and clean them off or sharpen them for spring.   

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Back to Basics: Soil

So you have your plan for the planting, the seeds are ordered, maybe they have arrived and are just waiting for the right weather to plant.  Maybe you already ordered some new roses or shrubs for an ornamental hedge.  It is all so very exciting.  But wait aren't you forgetting something?  Like the basics, as in what are you planting everything IN.  Yes, don't forget the soil.  Preparing the soil before planting is one of the most important things you can do to ensure a good growing season for any type of plant, annual or perennial, vegetable or ornamental. 

A good place to start is with a soil test.  You can get a soil test kit from any Fairfax County  library.  The test will tell you if you need more garden lime (to de-acidify) or acid (to acidify).  In this area chances are that you will have acidic soil and need to use garden lime, also known as hydrated lime.  The soil test will also tell you any nutrients that are missing, such as calcium.   But if you don't get around to doing a test of your existing soil you might try raised beds.  They are a great way to control the soil content and they have other advantages such as they drain better, the soil warms up faster and it is easier to keep down weeds.  A raised bed can be just lots of compost, leaves, composted manure and more leaves piled up or it can be layered in a enclosed bed made of wood or bricks or some thing to hold the soil in.  Either way it is easier to incorporate more compost and other amendments and you do not need a tiller.  You plant the seeds or plants directly in to the raised bed.  Of course if you are used to tilling every spring for vegetables and occasionally for new beds that works too.  But I always go for the easy way!  There is something called lasagna gardening that uses lots of layers including a great deal of peat moss.   The general idea is sounds, but peat moss is not a renewable resource, plus it gets expensive.  Replace peat moss in raised beds with compost, your own if possible.  Coconut fiber, coir, is supposed to work as well as peat moss but I have not personally tried it.  When I make my own potting soil I'll give it a try.  I will report back then! 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Delayed Gratification

Gardeners know all about delayed gratification.  In this world where we can find out instantly what a friend is doing at any given moment by following them on Twitter or Facebook, gardening is a welcome relief.  There is no choice but to follow the seasons.  If you want something to grow you have to plant it at the correct time.  If you want spring bulbs, they must be planted in the fall.  That is why I urge you to plan the garden.  There is garden planning software out there, but I am old fashioned in that I like to use graph paper, a pencil and a ruler to plan each season's vegetables and flowers,  and seperate pages for the perennial sections.  Of course one can only do so much each year, so this year I am focusing on the vegetable garden, a cut flower garden and one perennial bed.  Next year perhaps I can focus on the rose patch and extending a small cottage garden in part shade. 

If you do want to go the software route, I have used the Gardener's Supply Kitchen Garden Planner (<,default,pg.html>) which is fairly easy to use.  Of course they would probably like you to buy something from them.  I have bought one or two things from them but they are a bit pricey.  At least for my budget.  I have gotten most of my tools from yard sales and from Freecycle.  Both are also great sources for outdoor furniture.  Also checkout Craig's List.

Now get planning!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

My First Post!

Thanks for reading my blog.  I will be talking about gardening in and around Northern Virginia.  Specifically in the Falls Church-Arlington area, but also in the general region including D.C. and Maryland.  While there are micro-climates everywhere (including in my garden and probably yours too), we can make some generalizations about this area; its soil, weather, and gardening resources. We are in frost zone 7a and our soil tends to be acidic with lots of clay.  There are many resources in this area, including the local cooperative extension offices that provide great help for gardeners and local businesses that provide sources for everything from seed to landscaping expertise. 

I hope you have started ordering seeds for spring planting!  But if you have not, don't worry too much because seed sellers all seem to have websites.  The only reason to order earlier is too make sure popular or limited items are still available.  I really enjoy ordering seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (, where everything is heirloom.  Last year I had great success with all of their seeds, in spite of rotten soil and hot dry conditions.  I believe they have run out of their printed catalog already, but if you have a chance to order it next year it is beautiful and very inspirational.  Of course you will want to buy a small farm after you read it but curb yourself!  Remember you will have to find room for everything and find people to eat the vegetables!  Besides veggies they also sell flower seeds.  This year I have also ordered from Territorial Seed Company (, which I have heard good things about.  Also ordered from some old standbys such as Park Seeds and Burpees.  I have purchased seed packets from Merriefield Garden Center as well, some from a company in Italy called Franchi.  I am looking forward to seeing how that works out.  This is the first year I have actually planned ahead with a list of what I like, think will grow and amounts that I can handle. Also, this is the first year I am actually using a plan/map of what goes where when.  It gets complicated when you try to incorporate crop rotation, companion planting and planting by the phases of the moon!  I don't sweat it though, last year I had a few things work out and I just dug up (or I should say had my dad dig up) a part of the yard where there wasn't much grass and threw in some lime, compost and manure and hoped for the best. (Okay, maybe I did a bit more than that but not much more!)  Gardening can be approached in a very scientific way, or an artistic way; I am trying for a bit of both. 

Happy gardening!

(well at this time of year, happy dreaming about gardening!)