Central Virginia Organic Gardener

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

Monday, November 24, 2008

EASY Garden Bed Prep

Fall bed preparation (Photo Captions: two garden beds being readied this fall for spring planting).

I do several things to prepare grassy areas for spring planting and I start the spring or fall before. The first is to decide where you want the new bed and cover up the grass with wet newspaper and perhaps a tarp (I have also used old sheets of plywood, old carpeting, too). Under the tarp I layer whatever materials we have that will decay and improve the soil. This year I am making a new tomato bed in my back yard- I covered it all summer with a tarp, then my garden drudge (spouse) lightly dug it up to remove persistent weeds (I helped)(a little). Then I started adding stuff- I dug raw kitchen compost waste into it (though the dog found some and ate it-yuck) and sprinkled coffee grounds from my nearest coffee shop on it (ask for “grounds for your garden). Then we layered on pine straw and leaves (NOT WALNUT) from the front yard, and grass clippings from our last mowing this season. I watered it all in and covered it back up with the tarp. I will continue to add coffee grounds to it over the winter, they are high in nitrogen, should help with decomposition and break down quickly. I am looking for a source for animal manure to compost and add in, too (let me know if you have a source for manure in the Richmond area!). I will uncover it in early spring, dig in everything, and water it again…and should have some great soil for my ‘maters!

I also started a flower bed this fall (see photo). I covered the grassy area with wet newspapers, surrounded it by bricks and covered it with spent soil from various pots of annuals I had this year. To this I added clover seeds as a cover crop, to prevent the soil from washing away and to improve the quality of the soil. This bed will be ready for some sun loving plants come spring!

Happy gardening!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Planting bulbs the easy way
(photo caption: planting bulbs in a trench)
Another quick idea, appropriate for this fall bulb planting season (plant spring-flowering bulbs in VA from Nov 1 to Dec. 1, even as late as Dec. 15). In early November, I planted 200 daffodil bulbs (a paltry amount, considering I planted over 900 bulbs one fall season!) Actually, I transplanted 50 species tulips bulbs and 50 so saffron crocuses too, so that’s 300 bulbs. How do I do it? No, I do not use a tubular bulb planter (I use one only when am sticking a few bulbs in an already heavily planted area, a rare occurrence). I dig a trench, sprinkle I some bulb fertilizer and scratch it in, distribute the bulbs right side up and cover them with soil. It goes pretty quickly, esp. if you are planting bulbs that rodents do not like, such as daff’s (they are poisonous to rodents). If you are going to plant bulbs they do like, such as tulips, you will need to take another step, building a garden-cloth cage (garden cloth is not cloth, it is square block, wire fencing- use one with the smallest gauge you can find, or small voles will be able to slip though- chicken wire will not work). Dig the trench, scratch in the fertilizer, line the trench with garden cloth, build up sides of garden cloth and attach it to the liner, place the bulbs in, cover them up and top with garden cloth you attach with wire to the sides of the liner. Another idea is to line the bed with sharp gravel (rodents don’t like it) or plant the tulips bulbs surrounded by daffodils. The only hard part is shifting all that soil. Make sure your garden spade is sharp! You can do this until mid-December here in central VA.

Happy bulb planting!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

New Adventures of My Cold Frame!

First installment of the new adventures of my cold frame!

Thank goodness for my sister in law and all the sisters in law of the world like her! On a recent visit she, with the help of my dear brother, initiated the assembly of the new cold frame I ordered, surrounded by their four children helpers…and got it done in one morning (despite some of the helpers!)! My husband and I are severely assembly impaired and we avoid these tasks as much as possible (along with other home maintenance tasks- I think that the storm door that is oxidizing away will have to fall off and block the doorway before we replace it) (Dave Barry once wrote about his home maintenance skills “If I were a bird, my nest would consist of a single twig scotch-taped to a tree.” I hear you Dave!)

For those of you who don’t know, cold frames are a way of extending the season, either by keeping some veggies growing later in the season than they normally would or starting the spring season earlier, growing mostly cool-season plants, like lettuces, greens, cabbages, even peas can be started this way. I have wanted one for a while, tried the old window approach (build old windows into some sort of slap dash frame) and finally ordered this double-walled polycarbonate cold frame.

Anyway, my cold frame is assembled (need to order the automatic opener so I don’t cook my lettuces), is in the garden and is pictured above, along with the assembly team! Look forward to the end of season report, sometime in April! I am soooo excited!

Happy gardening!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Dog in the Garden

The dog in the garden (Photo caption: Looks innocent, doesn't he?)

A garden is a place of many potential joys for your dog. Here are some of the many ways our dog Bob enjoys his garden experience…

1. Figuring out how to slip through the fence or jump it in such a way as to avoid getting stuck in the raspberry brambles.
2. Applying Eau de Compost- go to the compost pit, enjoy first the joyous sniffing, then…the compost roll! Though why a bath seems to directly follow this experience…..???
3. The joy of tugging on landscape fabric - it pulls! It tears! It riiiiips!

4. A similar pleasure of gnawing at a rubber mulch tree ring...and scattering chunks of it around for the lawn mower blade to catch on!
5. Finding an unopened bag of mulch and deciding where to spread it…all over the tiny, vulnerable lettuce seedlings, for example.
6. Digging voles and moles- long narrow trenches dug right through the asparagus bed. The epicurean delight of eating them! The pleasure of throwing them back up! On the living room rug!
7. Chasing rabbits! Catching them! Leaving their disemboweled carcasses right by the swing set for kids to find!
8. The pleasure of “fertilizing” the garden.
9. The joy of the day Judy fertilizes with liquid fish emulsion (do not believe the label that says “odorless” -pah!). I love to lick it right off the soil! And get my head stuck in the watering can, trying to get down to those last drops!
11. Play “collect the burrs!” Run away from Judy when she tries to take them out of my tail! Hide under the deck until nightfall, when it is too scary to be outside. Submit to burr picking.
12. Tree squirrels! Bark at them to the annoyance of neighbors! (But it does keep them away from Judy’s fruit!)
13. Dig up newly planted beds- soil so soft, so fun!
14. Lastly, track all of it into the house!

Happy gardening with your dog!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Monticello Field Trip

Monticello Field Trip Report
I have been to Monticello several times over the years, even before we lived in central Virginia. Our first trip was about 20 years ago, when we travelled to VA for a wedding in Harrisonburg, and took a day trip Monticello. Despite my somewhat ambiguous and vaguely discomforting feelings about Jefferson (I greatly admired his philosophy of science and experimentation and greatly hated his slave-owning and the fact that the place was built and run on slave labor) it was garden lust at first sight. I remember blowing off the tour of the inside of the house until a later hour so I could experience the wonderful vegetable gardens and take the garden tour and wander the flower beds, vineyards and woods for a few hours. I was most taken by the vegetable gardens, instantly wanting to work there and have a garden just like it (my garden is far from that ideal). I remember surreptitiously snacking on a few garden peas, amazed I was eating a similar variety to one Jefferson grew.

The 1,000 foot long terrace that the vegetable garden is on was literally cut from the side of the mountain (yes, another reminder of slave labor). It gets plenty of sun and has an amazing view across the countryside (I will post a photo on this entry). Jefferson experimented with trellising, cloaching (covering plants to protect from cold), cold framing and blanching (e.g. blocking sunlight from plants like celery and asparagus, to get the then desired “white” forms). Jefferson liked to try new things and experimented with 330 varieties of over 70 vegetables. He grew such new fangled vegetables as tomatoes, eggplant, broccoli and cauliflower. He loved to keep records and kept a log of the day peas were first brought to table each spring, peas being his favorite vegetable. The varieties of plants and vegetables Jefferson grew looked different from the “improved,” commercially-available, varieties of today, which have been bred to survive imported pests, diseases, and long trips in trucks and, often, to simply increase shelf life and delay ripening (commercial considerations)(that’s why nothing will ever taste as good as a home-grown tomato…or eggplant…or lettuce… or bean…or…or…). It is worth it just to go and see these “non-improved” varieties.

As I said, Jefferson was a copious note taker and correspondent and recorded varieties he received from many far-flung acquaintances and plantsmen who sent him seeds, bulbs, cuttings and plants. He also recorded information in his farm book, about seeds, crops and yields. As a matter of fact, so much has been written by and about Jefferson the gardener and farmer, it would be silly for me to recap more here. All I can say is, if you haven’t been to Monticello, start planning your trip TODAY! Make sure you stop and buy some cool heritage seeds there (so don’t need to resort to “accidentally” collecting a few in the garden! I swear I do not do that anymore!).

I will end with my two favorite Jefferson quotes:

“No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden” Thomas Jefferson.

“The greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its culture” Thomas Jefferson.

Happy gardening!