Central Virginia Organic Gardener

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

Monday, January 26, 2009

2009 Seed Order

2009 Seed Order

(Photo caption: a photo that is totally unrelated to this entry, but is cute!)

I have a tradition I created and have followed for about 15 years, maybe 20. January 1st is the day I sit down with my seed catalogs and make my order for the coming season. Here is a list of what I ordered this year, with some explanation as to why (and a brief primer on tomato types at the end).

From Pinetree Garden Seeds (http://www.superseeds.com/): But first, why I love this catalog. There are no fancy, glossy photos, but this company consistently produces good seed in smaller qualities (and lower prices, though they have gone up over the past 2 years, but what hasn’t?) for the home gardener. Most of the time, the quantities they give me are sufficient for my needs and I don’t pay for a lot of wasted seeds. I do need some seeds in quantity (like carrots) so I just get these elsewhere. They also stock discount and full-price garden books, and garden tools and supplies.

Pencil Pod bean, Dragon Langerie Bean and Marengo Romano pole bean: these three are the yellow beans I prefer
Yard long bean: an experiment for this season. Supposed has a slight asparagus taste
Early Wonder beet: in my continued attempt to grow a decent beet. Seems to get too hot here too fast, so many an early beet??Orange Fantasia and Pink Lipstick Chards: I love greens, chard is my favorite! Except when kale is my favorite!
Sweet Success Cuke
Black Beauty, Lavender Touch and Raveena (green) eggplants: for taste and beauty.
Redibor kale: tasty and pretty, does well here.
Beleah Rose, Matina Sweet, Freckles and Pine tree mix lettuce: remember, I love greens!
Sugar Snap and Cascadia peas: both sugar snap and do pretty well here. I am going to start then early in my cold frame- I get a good flush of peas, then the heat hits…
Kaleidoscope mix pepper- have had good luck with this bell pepper mix
Paprika Pepper: home to convince my neighbor to smoke some for me so I can have home-smoked, dried paprika.
Early Jalapeno
Small Sugar pumpkin: a nice heirloom, tasty
Long Island Cheese winter squash- great for pies. We’ll see who wins this year, the squash vine borers of the pumpkin vine.
Broccoli Di Rapa: Novantina: a broccoli rabe and I hope I can make a go of it! An experiment.
Italian Large Leaf Basil and
Lovage: a great celery substitute, a perennial.

From Totally Tomatoes: I like the variety of this catalog and can always find something interesting. This year, I am ordering all disease-resistant varieties- having some problems with disease, so will not grow heirlooms this year (though they do taste great!):

Better Boy Hybrid Tomato VFNASt Indeterminate
Parks Whopper Improved VFFNT Indeterminate (sturdy and reliable)
Sunmaster Hybrid VFFASt Determinate and
Kada Hybrid VFFASt Indeterminate

[Wonder what those letters after the names mean? They are codes for different diseases to which the plant has demonstrated resistance.
V: Verticillium wilt
F: Fusarium wilt (FF races 1 and 2, FFF races 1,2,3)
N: Nematodes
T: Tobacco Mosaic Virus (if you are a smoker, wash your hands after smoking and before handling tomato plants and don’t smoke in the garden).
A: Alternaria stem canker
St: Stemphylium Gray Leaf Spot
TSWV: Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus ]
(Also Determinate plants are bushy and produce most of the fruit in one or two flushes. Indeterminate plants are vines that grow throughout the season and keep producing fruit until frost. Canners like determinates).

Happy seed starting!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Crape-A-Cide photo update

Photo above: severe, knobby clubbing from severe, repeated pruning. All of these photos were taken in my neighborhood on my regular walk. I found so many examples in addition to these few.

Lightly pruned crape, nice form, though badly sited (note the utility pole).

A recently severely pruned crape myrtle. Looks awful. A nightmare. Can't imagine it will look all that much better with a puff of leaves and blooms atop. And can't imagine it will thrive and live long.

Photo above: a severely pruned crape myrtle showing clubbing of the branches and undesirable umbrella form. This was part of a line of 4 or 5 similarly damaged trees.

Monday, January 19, 2009


Crape-a-cide! AKA “Crape Murder.”
(Caption: photo of crape myrtle used by permission with attribution, copyright James G. Howes, July, 24, 2007).

A heinous crime exists in southern gardens, from Virginia to Florida. This crime against creation maims, destroys harmony and, sadly, and eventually, kills. It is too horrible to imagine, and involves butchering, slashing and devastation. It is called crape-a-cide.

What? Never heard of this crime? Neither has the Department of Justice. If you have a crape (also spelled crepe) myrtle, you may have done it, thoughtlessly and needlessly. You know all those garden books and wiser-than-thou neighbors who tell you to mercilessly chop the branches off your crape myrtle tree to promote bloom? Well, I am among a growing number of gardeners who think this is a BAD IDEA, and let me tell you why.

First off, it may seem that severely pruning your crape myrtle back in the winter does promote a flush of bloom in summer. It is true, blooms will be larger, perhaps not more numerous, but there is a cost. Repeated pruning like this does several things:

It ruins the beautiful, natural form of the tree. The tree, instead of growing into its full beauty of form becomes twisted, stunted and develops clubbed ends on the limbs. For the large portion of the year that the tree is bare of leaves and flowers, this is an ungainly and unpleasant sight. The “bone structure” of any tree is important. Also, when in bloom, the severely pruned tree makes an unfortunate umbrella or a lollypop shape.
Many crape myrtles have beautiful bark, another point for fall and winter interest. Severely pruned trees do not develop this bark, or not as well.
When you severely prune any tree, you weaken it. Severe pruning kills off roots, making the tree more vulnerable to drought and high winds. Repeated annual, severe pruning can shorten the life of the tree.

What to do? You can cut off the little seed heads that form every year and do a light shearing. Like all trees, never prune off more than one-third of the branches at a time and do not do this every year. Wait until the tree is fully dormant to prune, say, in January. And, when you make the cut, make sure it is a small cut on the underside of the branch, then cut downwards from the top. This prevents the branch from tearing a long strip of bark onto the tree below the cut. I wince when I see this!!! Such a jagged tear can invite insects and disease and bark death. Some people slap on a little latex paint on newly cut braches, this is up to you. Certainly cut off any suckers forming from the bottom and any crossed or split branches.

Save the Crapes!

Happy gardening!

Short note 2

My lettuces survived the freeze! Just a few freeze burns!
Happy Gardening!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Tonight's lows!

Just a short note:
14 degrees tonight and 9 tomorrow night? I do not think that my cold frame lettuce will hold up to that! Here’s what I just did- I put two plastic milk jugs full of hot tap water into the cold frame and covered it up with old blankets. I also did the same for two outdoor beds (one of chard, one of lettuce) and covered them up too…and I will repeat this tomorrow if it works tonight! We’ll see if I can save the lettuce! It has been a pleasure to harvest my own lettuce and greens all this winter- I haven’t had to buy lettuce since about August!
Keep warm!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Gardening in the Winter Doldrums

Gardening in the Winter Doldrums

OK, OK, so there just isn’t as much to do in the garden in the winter, but here are some tasks and ideas:

Pruning: January is a great time to prune trees and shrubs, esp. fruit trees. The trees and shrubs are dormant, so they won’t bleed sap and won’t send out new growth to be killed of by the cold. This Saturday, Jan 10th, we pruned the peach trees, pear trees, figs and our apple tree. I also removed the branch spreaders from the pear trees to give them some breathing room and to make sure I did not strangle the branches. I will put new, roomier, spreaders on in a month.

Transplanting: if a small tree or shrub is in the wrong place, this is the time of year to move it, as long as the ground is not frozen. You can plant your balled and burlapped Christmas tree now, too.

Bed prep: to avoid that rush in early spring to get beds ready, get them ready early. As long as the ground isn’t frozen (which is a lot of the time here in central VA) you can dig, or do the easy bed prep method I posted earlier. Mulch them with leaves or pine straw to protect your hard work and to protect any amendments you put in from being washed away by heavy rains. Again, this weekend Jan. 10th I did some digging in a new veggie bed, adding compost, pine straw, and coffee grounds from a coffee shop.

Turn that compost heap: yes, it probably has cooled down and is not breaking down much, but you might be able to get a little more decomposition going, esp. if you water it with fish emulsion solution. Did that today too, and found a huge number of happy earthworms chomping away!

Plan: plan out your garden beds. Figure out your rotation so you don’t plant veggies from the same family in the same place year after year. Plan new flower and fruit beds too.

Indoors: start up some paperwhite narcissus or amaryllis bulbs, esp. ones you get on sale after the holidays (check these bargains for dried and desiccated bulbs before you buy-sitting in an overheated garden center for a few months is not good for bulbs, but I have found some bargains this way). These are very easy to start, just place the paperwhites on a bed of gravel and water in a saucer or bowl; bury amaryllis about 2/3 the way in soil. Water and watch-they are a real pleasure.

Seed starting- see that entry for full details. Some seeds take a long time to start, so read the seed packets and start them accordingly.

Rake up stray leaves, pine straw, general detritus. Compost it.

Wash out flower pots or seedling flats that you used last season.
Sharpen your garden hoe and spade. Oil it afterwards.

Read seed and nursery catalogs and dream!

Happy winter gardening!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Gardener's Resolutions

Gardener’s Resolutions

(Caption: two cool garden gifts I was given this year! Floral enamelled trowel and hand fork from the Victoria and Albert Museum gift shop and a "Compost Happens" ball cap! Thank you Jeannie, Kristi and Joyce!)

I generally don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but I thought it would be fun to think about what I might change this year…and what I might not change. So here are the resolutions I would make, if I made any:

1. Garden at least as much as last year. This past year I was in the garden a lot, early and late on the hot days, for hours and hours on nice ones. I find that as I near 50, I have to garden in one hour increments, taking breaks to determine if I can still stand up straight and if my knees will work..
2. Plant some new greens. I love greens and planted a lot this year (lettuces, arugula, chard, mustards, kales, bok choy) in several waves. I hope to find some new and interesting greens to try- would love to hear your suggestions!
3. Continue my New Year’s Day tradition of going though all my seed catalogs and making my seed orders for the next year. Ones I usually order from: Pinetree Garden Seeds, Seeds of Change, Territorial Seeds and Totally Tomatoes (seed order entry coming soon!).
4. Suck it up and tear out a few beds that aren’t working. My herb bed has become “all oregano, all the time,” my day lily bed is “weeds ‘r us.”
5. Write the check to get the water garden installed. I have made several half-hearted attempts to dig it myself, but find it too daunting.
6. Really prune those fruit trees.
7. MUST SPRAY DORMANT OIL on the fruit trees! I always forget!
8. Maximize the use of my new cold frame.

Well, that’s enough to start with….I am sure the list could be many times longer, but I’d rather make it feasible!

Happy New Year and Happy gardening!