Central Virginia Organic Gardener

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

Sunday, February 28, 2010

pod casts

Garden Podcasts
Winter, especially when we are snow bound, is a great time to read garden books and listen to garden pod casts. There are several garden podcasts out there (including my recent entry into the mix, VirginiaOrganicGardener on itunes and podbean-just click on the link on this blog, near top left) and here are a few I really like:

The Dean Of Green: on WGLT out of Normal and Peoria, Illinois at itunes and: http://www.wglt.org/podcasts/Dean_of_Green.xml
Each week the Dean of Green (Don Schmidt, from the School of Biological Sciences at Illinois State University) answers a listener question. What I like about this podcast is that The Dean gives practical advice about plants and botanical care that seldom involves chemicals (though does sometimes- he is not organic), is not going to be costly and it is short. I have posted a few questions myself (for example, see blog entry on the pallet garden).

The Alternative Kitchen Garden at: http://coopette.com/akg and on itunes is hosted by Emma, a British organic gardener. Though her advice is not always relevant to Life In The Colonies, she is interesting, refreshing and I have come away with a few good nuggets of useful information. Love to hear her talk on about her chickens, Princess Layer and Hens Solo.

Heritage Radio Network at: http://www.heritageradionetwork.com/,
which broad casts/pod casts out of a shipping container in new York City, has some interesting offerings on food and gardening, including “We Dig Plants.” I am new to this one, but I so far enjoy its focus on sustainability. The hosts of this podcast write: We’ll bring the “culture” to horticulture and discuss such topics as: botany how to, cultivation, horticultural history, garden design trends and all things generally budding. If you are interested in food, there are other podcasts on trends in food, sustainability and the history of food (Edible Communities, and Why We Cook among others). The sound quality is not always great on these pod casts, but they are tolerable. (I guess the acoustics of a shipping container leave something to be desired!)

I feel I must mention Mike McGrath, and the pod cast of his radio show from WHYY, You Bet Your Garden, available on itunes. I really enjoyed Mike when he was the editor of Organic gardening magazine- his no holds barred, never retreat from organic stance was great in the written format of a magazine. However, I am easily irritated at verbal “shticks” and Mike is full of them (“Hello cats and kittens, time for another heapin’ helpin’” of blah blah blah) he says one too many times, along with other annoying catch phrases, channeling his inner 1950’s radio DJ). However, he does have a lot of information, a companion website with lots of garden advice (the “A to Z of Gardening”) and is knowledgeable. I don’t always agree with him, however (see my entry on fruit trees), but give him a try you might like him.

Let me know if you have recommendations for any pod casts that are related to garden, garden design, sustainability, food or cooking!

Happy Gardening!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Gardening versus parenting advice

How gardening advice is like parenting advice

I am a voracious reader and never met a problem or circumstance that could not be enhanced by a book, or so I thought. When I was pregnant, I got my hands on all kinds of parenting and child-rearing books and read and read... The end result is that I was completely baffled by what I read (and, eventually, amused by the whole idea of other people telling me how to reproduce and raise my kid!). There was so much contradictory advice out there! Sleep with your baby, never sleep with your baby…use corporal punishment, never use it…never let your baby cry itself to sleep versus let your baby cry it out…introduce solids early to get them to sleep, exclusively breast feed for the first six months, formula is terrible, it is OK to supplement with formula! ARGH!

In some regards, though to a lesser extent, gardening advice shares this quality. For years I have read about the great benefits of wood chip mulch- it looks nice, keeps the weeds down, keeps moisture in the soil, eventually aid soils fertility when it breaks down. Now I read (and hear on garden podcasts) that wood chip mulch is positively evil- it harbors mold spores, diverts water from the soil, and ties up soil nitrogen when it breaks down. Did I mention voles love to tunnel under it? But I like wood chips! What to do? Compromise. I mulch walking paths with wood chips and mulch flower, fruit, and of course, veggie beds with compost or other organic matter (until I read this is wrong!).

Another bit of questionable advice: manure is a great soil amendment, and heats up your compost pile, encouraging decomposition and increasing fertility. What do I read now? Manure should be used as a specialty fertilizer, it can unbalance the soil (too much phosphorous I think), can harbor diseases and weeds seeds and, if the farm animal owner uses a certain type of weed killer (cyopralid and aminiopryalid sold as Forefront, Reclaim, Stinger, Hornet, Transline, Confront, Lontrel, Curtail and Millenium Ultra) in grazing fields or buys hay contaminated with it, the manure from horses who eat that hay or grass can kill your garden (by preventing seeds from sprouting for years, even killing mature plants). I am avoiding manure for now, until I can either find some from organically-raised animals or tested manure. Back to regular old compost!

Pruning? I have always read to prune only when a tree is dormant, but I have recently heard from a respected source “the best time to prune is when you have the time and the tools” (Don Schmidt on “The Dean of Green” podcast). I still would highly advise against late summer or fall pruning, as it can stimulate new growth which will just get killed by winter cold in our temperate climate, thereby weakening the tree or shrub.

Last one: it is OK to keep the burlap on the root ball of a balled-n-burlapped tree or shrub. It was thought that the burlap will help keep that all important root ball together and will eventually decompose. New advice? Cut away and remove that burlap, along with any twine or wires you can. Leaving these materials on will only encourage the tree roots to continue to grow in a circular pattern, eventually choking the roots (also more recent advice- don’t amend the soil in a planting hole for a tree or shrub- it just encourages the roots to stay and in that nice, amended environment and choke).

So, if you hear of any more contradictions in garden advice (even from me!) Let me know!

Happy Gardening!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Spring is Coming

I told you spring was coming! Above is photographic evidence from my front yard today! We in the mid-Atlantic states and upper south are going to have a "warm" (50's) weekend and the snow is melting fast. I started to do some yard and garden chores today, but had to watch out for waterlogged soil- no digging for a while. I straightened out and repaired my plastic row tunnels (my lettuce has survived) and did some general maintenance (picking up trash, sticks and doggy deposits). There are several other chores I can do this weekend even with the wet soil-I hope to finally cut back the raspberry canes (an unfinished job from fall), cover up some grassy areas to kill the grass for new flower and veggie beds, and do some minor pruning and trimming. I am going to start some seeds this weekend too, an indoor chore. Get out this weekend and do some garden tasks yourself, but avoid digging in soggy soil!
Happy gardening!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Bean trellis

Bean Trellis
One great thing about pruning waterspouts (tall, vertical branches) off of your trees is that these can be used to make great trellises for peas and beans. The photo above is a bean "tee pee" style trellis I built in about an hour in my yard. I will use it for pea or beans this season. For right now, it is curing in my garage. It will probably just last the season, but it is a nice alternative to actually buying something! You can take more time to make it more attractive, but it will look pretty good once it is covered in vines. I have also used these for annual flowering vines and that looks pretty too! I tied the branches off with black twine- waxed twine (the kind used for bamboo fencing) would probably last longer. For peas, you can also push three long, vertical branches into the ground and tie the three together at the top to make a triangular trellis, then push other, smaller sticks around the base (this might not be sturdy enough for vigorous beans vines).

Happy gardening!

Friday, February 12, 2010


Happy Valentine's Day (a little early!)
In honor of Valentine's Day I want to share with you this video of frustrated love in nature...between an orchid and a bee. Excellent and fascinating for the botanically inclined!


Happy gardening!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Winter Gardening Pleasure: Brief Entry

Winter Gardening Pleasures
I know it isn't exactly gardening, but I get a great deal of pleasure each year from starting up some amaryllis bulbs. I have written on this topic before, so I will not give too many details here. Amaryllis are one of the great floral bargains. For under $20 I bought 3 bulbs of the single-flowered amaryllis Ambiance, from Van Engelen bulbs, of which the flowers of only 2 of them are in the photo above...and, honestly, if you have a pot, potting soil and water, you can do it too. The flowers have been blooming for a few weeks now and will continue a few more- way longer than cut flowers for lower cost! And, if you take care of the bulbs correctly, you can coax some more blooms out of them next year!
Happy Gardening!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

My Poor Eucalyptus

My poor eucalyptus

As other residents of the mid-Atlantic and upper south states know, we recently got whomped with snow. OK, not SNOW by Minnesota standards, but enough- 10 to12 inches here in Central VA (and for the second time this winter) and 32 inches in Northern VA and DC. The photo of my poor eucalyptus above is a lesson on why you should not grow plants that are not suitable for your area. This is the most hardy variety of eucalyptus I could find, but I have grown and lost one before. Eucalyptus will get winter die back every 4-5 years or so here and will die completely every 7-8 years or so, usually from cold and ice. The last one I had was weakened by an ice storm one winter and taken out by a hurricane the next summer. I do not know if these three (yes there are three trees in that photo, one tipped and mostly under the snow) will survive the snow, ice and cold. There are other reasons than climate to not grow non-native plants, including the fact that they usually cannot act as food for native creatures (but that is also precisely why we often want to grow them, because they are not bothered by pests or critters). In addition, they may have specific soil requirements that you cannot match- and, believe me, trying to change your soil to a very different type is a gargantuan, and perhaps impossible, task.

So why did I plant eucalyptus a second time? Why did I chose this exotic non-native? Am I a slow learner? Maybe, but I think eucalyptus is beautiful and fragrant and I can make lovely wreathes and arrangements using cuttings from it. I know I “should not” grow it, but I have a weakness for it. I try to plant plenty of native plants and ones that help local critters, but I will probably persist in planting eucalyptus (just like I try to grow beets every year and pretty much fail). I will treat eucalyptus like a semi-hardy perennial, let it grow when it can and take it out when it cannot. What is that key sign of insanity? Repeating the same act over and over in the face of contrary evidence?

All for now…stay warm and happy gardening!

(Subscribe to my garden pod cast, VirginiaOrganicGardener, at itunes!)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Happy Ground Hogs Day!

Mechanicsville Mike did not see his shadow this morning, so spring is just around the corner! Time to start planning and plotting for early spring plantings (really, even with this snow and crazy winter weather!) I will soon write a post on my early spring plans and what you could be doing now!
Happy Ground Hogs' Day and Happy gardening!