Central Virginia Organic Gardener

"And 'tis my faith that every flower enjoys the air it breathes." - William Wordsworth, 1798

Monday, March 20, 2017

7th Graders Give Me Hope

I recently received and inquiry from a 7th grade class about their project on natural pesticides in the garden, and here is my reply:

I am delighted to hear that you have a school garden.
I think it is clear from my blog that I do not like artificial, petrochemical, synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, etc.  Here are some of the many reasons why:
1. They often kill more than the target pest: they kill bees, ladybugs and butterflies, and other insects that are beneficial to plants.  Bees are in decline, and without them, we loose most of our food crops!
2. In addition, amphibians and reptiles are harmed when these chemicals enter water.
3. These substances can build up in the soil.
4. Soil is pretty important to plant growth, and an important part of the nutrients in soil come from various soil organisms including fungi, that these chemicals kill.  When the soil is "dead," you have to rely more and more on chemicals.
5. These chemicals are poorly tested. Many were derived from leftover stocks of nerve agents used during WWII and have never been fully tested.  We do not understand their long-term affects.  We do know, for example,  that people whose job it is to spray lawns often have cell damage, which can lead to cancer and other illnesses.
6. Our standards for approving chemicals are the lowest of developed countries. Lawn and garden chemicals determined to be unsafe in Europe are sold here.
7. Homeowners routinely overuse and misuse these products.  Misuse can harm animals, plants and the person using them even more!  (If you ever read the label on roundup, the most commonly used yard chemical, you would want to avoid it!)
8. Manufacturing these chemicals is dangerous, and causes pollution.

Sometimes, just doing research and telling people about these dangers will change their behavior.

The only "pesticides" I use are natural, like Surround, a fine clay that pests do not like, mixed with water and sprayed on plants.  I use other things too: floating row covers, to keep bugs off my plants; yellow sticky traps to catch cucumber beetles; cardboard collars around the base of my veggie plants to stop cutworms and: beer trays to catch slugs.

What if you made and distributed some cards or posters to homeowners about some simple steps they can use to reduce pesticide use?  

One favorite thought I have about weeds: "weeds are plants in the wrong place."  Also, did you know that dandelion flowers in early spring often are the only flower to sustain our most important pollinator, bees, until other flowers bloom?

Good luck with your project!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Long Island Cheese


This winter squash is, hands down, the best I have ever grown.  Called Long Island Cheese, it got its name from its resemblance to a wheel of cheese.  It passed my first and most important criteria, that it is easy to grow. In addition, the flesh of this pumpkin is dense, sweet, and absolutely delicious. It is perfect for pies, pumpkin bread, and other desserts, but I've also used it to make a pumpkin curry with wonderful results.  Squash vine borers (which seem to be at epidemic proportions in my garden) made absolutely no headway with the squash, nor did cucumber beetles. It kept producing fruit all the way through the season. From one vine, I got about seven small to very large squash, more large end than small.  This is definitely a squash I will grow again!  I ordered it from Pinetree Garden Seeds (www.superseeds.com) but many heirloom seed houses carry it.
Happy garden planning! Order your seeds yet? I did!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

This Season 2016

This was a very bad season for my garden, so bad, in fact, that I have not posted much on it. I was unable to spray my zucchini plants with clay spray, so the squash vine borers got them very quickly. The tomatoes did OK, not great, though the eggplant  went gangbusters.  We had early spring, warmth, then a hard freeze, so that meant no figs, no strawberries, and no apples this year. In addition, the squirrels completely stripped my beloved persimmon tree of all the persimmons, even while they were green.   In mid spring, we had so many rainy days I could not keep up with the garden, then scorching heat throughout the summer, so ditto.

 So, I do not have much to report, but hope to be back with a few successes I had: two marvelous winter squash. Back to you soon.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Early Tomatoes

Remember those three tomato plants I set out on March 26th, protected by (the trademarked) "Wall-o-Water" protectors? Well, here is a photo of the plants that were protected, and two "sibling" tomato plants that were started indoors on the same day, but planted on May 8th.  I think you can tell the difference!


Sunday, April 10, 2016

Tomato update

Remember those tomato plants I set out inside protective Wall-o-Waters a couple weeks ago?  Well, they did just fine in the two hard freezes we experienced!  Down to 25 degrees!


I recently posted about the warm, early spring turning decidedly chilly, with a few hard freezes predicted. Well, the freezes materialized, but the damage to my plants showed, I think, the effects of microclimates.  What are microclimates?  Well, our modern, go-to source (Wikipedia) defines it as "a local atmospheric zone where the climate differs from the surrounding area. The term may refer to areas as small as a few square meters or square feet (for example a garden bed) or as large as many square kilometers or square miles."

You likely have several microclimates in your yard, like against a brick or stone wall, a dip in the ground, near a water feature, or the shelter of shrubs.  I noted a few microclimates in my yard after this freeze: the few fig branches against my brick chimney did not get zapped by the freeze while the rest of the new growth on the tree did; an azalea growing amid another shrub showed no damage, but the others had partial damage and; the lower branches of shrubs nearer concrete were less damaged than higher branches. 

And this?

This azalea had layers and pockets of frost damage.  I am not sure if this was related to microclimates or to the flowers being at different stages of development with different susceptibility to damage (which, I guess, could also be from microclimates!). The beige areas are blasted flower buds, while opened flowers, both above and below, seem fine.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Seed are Becoming Big Business

Have you ever thought about the source of seeds?  Though this article chiefly involves seeds sold to farmers, companies that produce home garden seeds are being bought out, too.


It is difficult to find a recently updated list of small, independent seed houses, here is one to try (with some VA sources):