Central Virginia Organic Gardener

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

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sweet (Qualified) Success

Sweet (qualified) success

I wrote a while back about my vole problem, how the voles were eating my sweet potatoes- I described digging them up, to find beautiful potatoes, completely eaten from underneath! This year I planted my garnet sweet potato slips in a trench that I had first lined with hardware cloth (fencing) to keep the voles out. I dug down a foot or more, lined the trench (sides too) with hardware cloth and back filled it, mounding the amended soil over the top to make a raised bed. The slips grew well and…voila! When I harvested them the weekend before Thanksgiving, I had intact sweet potatoes. It was not an unqualified success, because I didn’t get a lot of sweet potatoes, and they varied in size from pretty small to large, but this was my first experiment and I planted only in a small bed. I will definitely use this method again next year, in a larger area and be better about feeding the plants to increase harvest. We will eat the tubers pictured above at our Thanksgiving feast!

Happy gardening!

Saturday, November 21, 2009



A few weeks ago, I discovered that I had been seduced and tricked by a garden catalog…again! It was not as bad as the year when I made three separate orders to respond to three separate bearded iris specials from the same grower, but I had the same symptoms: I blacked out, forgetting that I had ordered 100 daffodil bulbs (which is not a lot, per se, but I have over 1,000 already in the front yard and am running out of real estate); denial (I don’t really have a problem-see last parenthetical comment) and; obsessive thoughts and actions regarding plants (my family can tell you- take me to a music festival, and I comment on the eucalyptus or flower beds nearby; take me to Disney and all I see are the topiaries; take me to a fancy restaurant, and I talk about the potted herbs in the windows). So, I received 100 of Brent and Becky’s finest fragrant mix daffodil bulbs and have to scramble as to where to put them. Daff’s look best in big drifts, so I suspect we are going to lose another swathe of grass (we are very opinionated and hate grass)….but, instead of thinking myself out of another fix (and getting my husband to “enable” me by digging the trench) I need to go cold turkey. Cancel e-mail notifications of specials, take catalogs straight to recycling…. Is there a support group for this?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

If in doubt, rip it out

If in doubt, rip it out (OK, not the best title…it should be “If it’s not working, do something about it”, but that’s too long)

One of the hardest things for me to do as a gardener is to get rid of an underperforming plant. I tend to let the plant piddle along, putting out a few leaves, flowers or fruit. I hope that something will make it “perk up,” all the while giving it water, fertilizer, compost. But I have learned that if a plant is underperforming it is:

  1. Not a good plant for the condition it is in- soil, sun, moisture, competition in the root zone, neighboring plants that are bad for it.
  2. Perhaps too fussy a plant, either for your conditions or just overall (like hybrid tea roses- I just will not grow them).
  3. Maybe diseased? Some diseases plant vigor and sometimes I cannot figure out what they have!

I try not to let plants linger (though there is a dicentra, or bleeding heart, I have right now that is puny, while its neighbor just a few feet away- same plant, same cultivar, planted in the same way at the same time- is much more vigorous and send out loads of blooms in season. I know I need to pull it out, and put something else there). Plants that are small for their variety, spindly, yellowing, and look bad make that area of your garden look bad, too.

Sometimes transplanting will do the trick. I had a sorry looking Japanese maple (from the $1 bin at a botanical garden plant sale) that did poorly in one area, but exploded in growth and beauty when I moved it to a more desirable location. I recently read about a gardener who, though they live in the same area I do, cannot get her fig to overwinter- that is probably a simple location problem (the fig needs to be on the south side of the property, near the house for those few extra degrees of winter protection and shelter from the wind-it makes a difference).

Another example is strawberries. Heritage strawberries just do not like my garden, but Honeoye do. I pulled out the whole bed of Heritage, replanted with Honeoye and they produced very well.

So, if the plant has consistently underperformed and you have tried everything you can think of, asked advice and given it time, it is time to say good bye. (Competitive rose growers will often lay a garden spade at the foot for a poorly growing rose bush and leave it there for a few weeks as a warning to the plant to get growing!)

Happy Gardening!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

More veggie cookin'

If you do all but the most minimal vegetable gardening, you will have to figure out what to do with all that you produce. One easy vegetable (actually a fruit, like many food we call vegetables) to process is winter squash (pumpkins, hubbards, crook neck, turban, delicata, etc). I used to follow the instructions from an old cookbook to process winter squash and make it into puree- cut the squash in half, remove the seeds, cut off the skin and simmer in water or steam, then puree it. Then I found out about roasting-cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds, rub with olive oil, place cut side down on a cookie sheet and roast at 375-400 until soft. These methods are a bit difficult with a large and heavy shelled winter squash, however. Recently I heard about the easiest method of all, and the one that produces the best cooked squash. Wash the squash, take off the stem, poke a few holes in it near the top and roast it whole at 400 degrees in a roasting pan until soft. Remove it from the oven, let it cool, cut in half and easily scoop out the flesh and seeds. You can mash it by hand or puree it in a food mill, food processor or blender. This does take a longer than roasting a cut up squash, but is easier and results in a dense flesh that has cooked in its own juices, producing the most flavorful squash I have ever had. I was able roast whole a pretty large cheese wheel pumpkin (about 3 times the size of the largest one in the photo, maybe 20 lbs- in the photo are two small "fairy tale"-type pumpkins I grew, that are also now cooked and frozen...and some pumpkin pecan pancakes.). Now I have a lot of puree for pie, bread, soup, and eating as a side veggie. And I might even make a bit of pumpkin butter.
Happy gardening! And eating!

Friday, November 6, 2009


Tonight is the first frost/freeze warning for the central VA area! Harvest any remaining above ground veggies (carrots and others underground can take frost) and tender herbs; take in any cuttings of plants you want to overwinter indoors (ornamental sweet potato, pineapple sage, passion flowers, coleus, geraniums [geranium cuttings need to be cured in air overnight, then put in water] and; take in any houseplants you had summering outside. Don't forgot to pick and bring tender flowers into the house to enjoy for a few more days! They may be gone tomorrow!

Happy brrrr gardening!

Sunday, November 1, 2009


If you follow this blog, you know that I am sort of crazy about greens (this week’s photo is what I harvested this weekend, which included some lovely and tasty nasturtium blossoms and a few pimento peppers). This is the time of the year to plant and harvest great greens in central VA. I started planting some greens in August, and planted more every few weeks, up to a few days ago. I will continue to plant them every few weeks into December, maybe later. Of course, my greatest greens triumph this fall is arugula, which volunteered.

So, what am I planting? Pinetree Gardens winter lettuce mix and their standard lettuce mix, mustard greens, kale and chard. The plants look healthy, large and leafy and we have been harvesting them for about a month. It is not too late to plant more, especially if you can provide a little winter protection, like a clear, plastic sheeting tunnel, a cold frame or even a cloche for individual plants, made from a plastic soda bottle or milk jug (cut the bottom not all the way off, using the outwardly folded, but still attached, bottom to anchor the bottle in the soil with a landscape pin. Cover individual lettuces with the bottle cloche, making sure the cap is off. This will extend your season significantly).

What do I do with these greens? 1. I braise them in a heavy-bottomed pan: heat olive oil, add greens, garlic, chopped onions and ¼ cup stock, wine or balsamic vinegar. Put on the lid and cook until the greens wilt (you can caramelize the onions first, then add the greens, garlic and liquid for a different flavor). You can vary this by adding shredded carrot, mushrooms, celery. 2. Tonight I made orichette pasta by hand (you can use store bought). I took a glass baking dish, put about 1 T olive oil in it and put it in a warm oven. I sited onions, garlic, herbs and dried tomatoes (from the garden too!) in olive oil in a pan on the stove top. When that was done, I took roughly torn chard and arugula, put in the glass baking dish, added the onion mix, the cooked pasta and topped it with grated Parmesan cheese. I let the cheese melt and warm through-YUM! 3. I will often chop the greens and add them to soups near the end of cooking, finely chop them and put them under the tomato sauce on a home-made pizza, eat them in a salad, and sauté them and fold them into an omelet with cheese.

Happy gardening! And eating!