Central Virginia Organic Gardener

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

Monday, March 30, 2009

Spring planting

What to plant now in Central Virginia
[Photo: kale in the garden]
Years ago, I remember a friend planting peas and lettuce in mid-May and wondering why she didn’t get much of a crop. It’s because she assumed that all seeds must be sown, and all plants must be planted, after the last average front date. As you know if you have been reading this blog, I have already planted peas, potatoes, lettuces and some spring greens, but it is not too late to plant or continue sowing these crops along with many others.

So, what can you pant now in Central VA? Here’s a partial list: lettuces, kale, chard, mustard, spinach (get these in soon), cress, turnips, beets, radishes, peas (may be a little late, and snow peas might work best), carrots, cilantro, dill, onions, and potatoes (get these in soon too). Strawberry planting time is approaching (may I recommend the variety ‘Honeoye’-very prolific for me) and you can plant raspberries (I love ‘Nova’) and fruit trees too, though tree planting is best in VA in the fall.

Happy gardening!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A lagniappe: "a little something extra" in Cajun country

[Photo: An Asian pear from Edible Landscaping in Afton, VA]

A Lagniappe

Nicholas Kristoff of the New York Times recently posted on his blog that he is interested in writing more about food issues. Here is my response:

I applaud your desire to write more about our food and food supply. I hope through your column you can educate your readers about the industrial, factory-food system we have. This system, designed for efficiencies of scale, can lead to greater contamination of food, as well as poorer quality of food, than locally-scaled food production systems. I hope you will address the current crazy quilt of regulations governing food production, safety and monitoring; the lax food-inspection system and; the ecological costs (and environmental-health effects) of large-scale, petroleum-heavy food production. I recently heard Bill McKibben say that our current food production system only makes sense when we have cheap oil and a stable earth climate. As for what I am doing personally, I am dedicating more and more of my little half-acre suburban lot to growing organic food and encouraging others to do the same though one-on-one contact and an organic gardening blog.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Birthday photos!

[Photos: spring flowers, papheopedilums (slipper orchids) and epiphytes ("air" plants) on a log in the conservatory at Ginter].

No entry ths week, just 3 nice pix from my birthday trip to Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Whoo Hoo! News!

(Photo S. Crowley, New York Times, published 3/20/09, of the site of the new White house garden)

The Obama's are planting an organic vegetable garden on the south lawn of the White House! There has not been a vegetable garden there since Franklin Roosevelt's time. The garden will include multiple varieties of vegetables and some fruits (sadly no beets, Mr. Pres doesn't like them- quote shocking-I consider beets to be the candy of the root crop world!). Michelle Obama reportedly intends for the entire family (well, maybe not grandma) to do the weeding! They will be using integrated pest management, including the use of lady bugs, to control pests. Digging has started! Stay tuned!

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Great Potato Bin Experiment!

The Great Potato Bin Experiment to Defeat Voles!
[photo caption: “Da bin” so far]

When I lived in Indiana, I had great fun growing potatoes. I planted yellow and purple varieties and was rewarded with “buried beauties” when I dug them up. I found the taste of freshly dug potatoes to be superior to ones I bought in the store. In addition, you cannot get true “new” potatoes at the grocery- new potatoes are ones with such a thin skin that it easily rubs off, and they are not good shippers (new potatoes are not just little potatoes).

In Virginia (where the state motto should be “Land of the Voles”) I have trouble growing root crops. Voles ate my sweet potatoes-I had beautiful vines, but when I dug them, all I found were sweet potato shells, the voles having eaten them from beneath- and I think they would eat white potatoes too. Hence, the Great Potato Bin Experiment.

I first covered the top if the soil with small-gauge garden cloth (garden fencing with small squares). I anchored it down, and I built a garden cloth bin around it. If it ever stops raining, I intend to fill the bin with soil, compost and peat moss, having first covered the sides with used landscape fabric to hold in the soil…and plant seed potatoes in it! Voila!

I will be taking next week off from blogging (except maybe a brief report or some photos) to celebrate my 50th birthday with several friends!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Video of Maymont Flower Show

A humble video of the entrance display to the Maymont Flower and Garden Show 2009 is posted at:

Happy Gardening!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Spring Chores

Spring Clean Up [photo caption- Cum Laude, my favorite daffodil from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs.]

Well, spring is just around the corner and, now that our snow has melted, it is a good time to do some spring cleaning chores in the garden. I started some today (March 6).

Remove deal plant parts- I pulled or cut back dead leaves from irises, lilies, and other herbaceous plants that have a partial die back and re-sprout. These are not very good for the compost heap, as they may harbor insect pests or diseases. We have a brush pile in the back where we put stuff like this, so that it decomposes, but we do not use it for the garden.

Pruning and trimming: I also did some trimming on some over-enthusiastic evergreen hollies (the kind that looks like box hedge), and light pruning on my crape myrtles (please don’t butcher them- see entry on crape-a-cide) and buddleia (buddleia trimming can wait until even mid-April). If a tree is in bud, it is too late to prune.

Turn that compost heap. If it hasn’t been turned this winter, it may be a slippery and aromatic job, but it must be turned to get it back to heating and breaking down. If t is very wet, adding some wood shavings or other dry matter should help.

Mulch. It’s a good time of year to renew that mulch.

Make plans. I think I am going to rip out some boring foundation plantings and put in an English flower border at the front of my front porch. Now is the time to plan for that sort of stuff!

Add soil amendments in the veg garden or start digging them in- esp. if you layered the soil in the fall with leaves or pine straw or planted a cover crop. These materials need some time to break down.

There is still time to cover up grassy areas that you want to convert into veg or flower beds or wood chipped paths. Old tarps, shower curtains, planks of wood, wetted and weighed down newspaper, can all be used to kill grass (my favorite garden task!).

Start some early-season crops- March 17 is the traditional day to plant peas and potatoes, but also lettuce, radishes, turnips, some greens like kale, can be planted now!

As the weather starts to warm and we have these intermittent nice days, get out there and putter! Especially as the day will be getting longer, and we can get in a little garden workout before dinner…

Happy gardening!

Thursday, March 5, 2009


I am beside myself with joy! The seedlings in my cold frame and row tunnel survived the snow and deep freeze!!!!! The peas seedlings are a little battered looking, but alive! Now, I will have the vent the tunnel and frame on Sunday, when it is predicted to get up to 77 degrees! What a winter!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Cold Frame Update! March 2, 2009

OK, so I recently wrote how delighted I was to have finally figured out Virginia cool season planting and that I had seedlings coming up under my cold frame and the row tunnel. Well, nature didn't appreciate my confidence. Above is the cold frame ...
and below is the row tunnel....

...really. Can't you make out the little snow bumps that are the tunnel? I have no idea what is going on under the snow as I dare not disturb it. Tonight's low is going to be in the teens, tomorrow's high in the 20's and snow actually acts as an insulator. And if Eliott Coleman can grow greens in Maine in January, then I can do it in VA!
Happy brrrrrr gardening!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

United States Botanic Garden Field Trip Report!

US Botanic Garden Field Trip Report
Tucked in near the US capitol is a gem, the United State Botanical Garden (USBG). Renovated several years ago, it reopened in 2001. The garden is a beautiful glass conservatory chock full of exotic plants, from orchids, to desert plants, cycads (dinosaur trees), endangered species and a rotating exhibits of flowering displays. The garden also has an outdoor component, also fairly recently renovated, but I haven’t been there during the growing season in awhile (go to http://www.usbg.gov/ for more information.)

The conservatory of the USBG is especially delightful on a cold winter day. You step inside to tropical summer, to huge green leaves, fragrances, flowers and vine. The anteroom of the conservatory is full of seasonal flower displays and has a long waterfall running down the width of the room. On either side are rooms are special displays, from vintage garden books to food and medicinal plants in the tropical rain forest. The main room of the conservatory, with its high, arched glass ceiling, is full of large-leaved tropical plants and palms that about touch the high ceiling. The plants in this room were a particular challenge during the floor to ceiling renovation, as were some of the desert plants. The botanists at the garden had to decide which plants to dig and transfer to the production facility, which plants could not be transferred, but could be propagated, and which plant had to be culled. Needless to say, rare, endangered and unusual specimens were conserved. But just imagine moving a 15 foot tall, tree-like cactus with 2 inch spines that had had already injured some staff! Ouch!

One particularly delightful aspect of the USBG is the catwalk, about 24 feet off the main conservatory floor, and you ascend into increasing heat and humidity of the tree canopy. A large, pink bougainvillea vine was in bloom when we visited in February and it was a pleasure to be at the tops of the trees! Another favorite room (surprise, surprise) is the orchid room. This room is small, but full of beauty.

On one visit I spoke with a botanist at the garden. He was identifying an insect that had just started to infest a plant. He showed me and my son the bug through a magnifying glass, and discussed the organic methods the USBG uses for bug control. As the USBG is open daily, it cannot close to use inorganic control methods and cannot expose the public to pesticides. Organic! Hooray! And it is a delight to talk to the enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff, if you can catch them!

Happy garden viewing! As I write this, it is snowing heavily, we will get 3 to 5 inches (though VA weather is notoriously fickle and predictions inaccurate) and I am worried about my seedlings in the cold frame….brrrr! Might be down to 14 tomorrow night!