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.