Central Virginia Organic Gardener

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

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Empty Nest Syndrome

Two robins left the nest around 2PM today, the last two were restless all afternoon (second photo above), and flew the coop between 6 and 7 PM. I was cooking dinner and did not get to see them go. Bye-bye birdies. What a gift this has been to see them develop so fast, from blind, little, reptilian-looking creatures, to fully feathered juveniles. What a pleasure to watch them feeding, to see the care given by their parents (and I do not care if the parental behavior is a hard-wired instinct, it is still care taking in a tough world). Last evening, on my walk around the neighborhood, I no longer saw robins on the lawns and in gardens, flipping over leaves and mulch searching for worms...I saw parents. So the babies have left to a wider world and now the most difficult passage of their life begins, life as imperfect flyers in a neighborhood full of cats, skies full of hawks, and streets full of cars. Robins have a 80% mortality rate, but I have a deep hope that Huey, Dewey, Louie and Scrub will beat the odds.

Happy nature!

Can you stand one more?

My dad asked me the other day if the robin babies were walking the edge of the nest, that this was a sign they were ready to leave, to fly...and the answer is "yes!" Click on the short video below, if you can tolerate one more! Not too many baby robin videos left!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

April 27, 2010 Robins

I cannot get close to the robin babies anymore- they are very aware of me and hunker down into the nest if I approach. They really almost cannot fit in the nest anymore! See below!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Mom, can I have my own room?

The baby robins are alert, feathered and starting to flap their wings- it won't be long! Video taken today, 4/26/10 at around 4 PM

Sunday, April 25, 2010

I Don't Get It

I Don't Get It
I have started listening to a pod cast about food from Heritage Radio Network called "Why We Cook." The host is a hoot and recently had a show called "I just don't like it." In this show, the host listed several foods that she was supposed to love, being a foodie and all and to burnish her chef cred, but she just did not like them. I am stealing this idea and applying it to things in gardens that I gather I am supposed to like, but just do not. Of course, there are many things to dislike, but there are the plants styles of gardening that I feel pressured to express a liking for, either subtly, in reading, or though direct comment... and I just don't get it!

1. All white flower gardens: I think it was Gertrude Jekyll who loved all white flower gardens and suggested that, if you did not also love all-white flower gardens, it was because you had a poor sense of aesthetics, were easily swayed by color and could therefore not appreciate form. I have grown to appreciate white flowers over the years, in nature (think of the giant trillium, shown in a photo below taken by my son 10 days ago on a hike off Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park) and as a accent to the color riot I have and hope to achieve in my flower garden! But, for me, color is where it is at. Not that I like all colors equally, because number two is....

2. Orange flowers: I especially do not like brassy orange in large quantities. I think that the orange azalea should never have been hybridized and give me tiger lilies only in small doses (though they grow so vigorously, it does not stay 'a small dose' for long!). I do like (very) small burst of orange as accents, like tithonia and butterfly weed (plus I like the butterflies the latter attracts!)(it is pictured below)
3. Mahonia or Oregon Grape: I do not have a picture to share. It can be a compelling plant to look at in the landscape, with its spiky leaves and purple fruits, but is compelling the same way a car wreck is compelling to look at , and you feel bad afterward for staring at it. I guess it can look good in the right landscape application, but I have never seen one.

3. Island beds: all the rage is carving a curved island bed in the midst of a wide expanse of lawn, and plopping in an ornamental tree, a shrub, some flowers and some "feature" (a birdbath or whimsical sculpture). While better than no flower bed at all (and just a monotonous sea of lawn) island beds look artificial- just go dig up that lawn and put in a real garden! (I know, many communities in the 'burbs have restrictive covenants that do not allow this, which is why we did not buy into a community with these binding rules).

4. Roses: I started gardening with roses and have grown several rose varieties over the years- floribunda, multiflora,, hybrid teas, climbers, minatures- and they all end up looking like leafless, crappy 'twigs-with-thorns' later in the season. Here on the east coast, most (not all) roses require spraying with pesticides, fungicides and all sorts of cides and, no matter how pretty the bloom, end up looking awful come July. There are apparently some no-spray, easy-care roses ("landscape" roses, an heirloom, English roses), but I have never seen one I truly like, that is lovely enough to bother to grow.
So, I may have POed off some readers, but here is a forum for you- what do you dislike in the garden?
OK, for those of you who have been following the saga of the robin babies, here are two more photos. I left a step ladder about 10 feet from the nest and the robins do not seem to mind it at all, so I have been able to perch there for a few moments and take some photos. While doing just that, taking this first photo of the babies, a parent robin flew right up to feed them. I was so startled, I almost fell off the ladder!

Happy Gardening!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

babies on the brain

OK, so I am absolutely fascinated by these robin babies- for a close up (and very short) video of them, click below!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

More on Lawns

[Caption: Top: this is my idea of a "lawn"- my front yard!
Bottom: not my lawn,but a neighbor's repository for chemicals]
Here is a great New York Times column on the tensions between natural yards and suburban standards. Robert Wright does a better job describing the dilemma (and his resolution) than I ever could, just:

Click here

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Birth of birdies!

Momma and Poppa Robin of #1 Light Fixture, Thomas Garage, VA, 23111, announce the birth of their four babies, Huey, Dewey, Louie and Scrub. Proud parents are busily raiding Judy's compost pits and garden for delicious (and nutritious!) worms! The babes should fledge in a few weeks, then Judy and her husband can again use their garage to park their cars.
Happy bird watching!

Sunday, April 18, 2010


I have written about rotation before and about the rotation scheme I use. Too often, I see gardens in which the same family of food plants are grown year after year in the same place. I can even observe what looks to be a decline in plant health and vigor, and production, over the years when this is done. Rotation, or moving plants of the same family to a different section of garden each year, is important. Plants in the same family can exhaust the soil of specific nutrients and encourage pests. Moving the plants to a new area can help build the soil and can reduce pest damage. I gave a simple roatiion scheme last year, but the Feb/March, 2010 edition of Mother Earth News gives a more comprehensive look at rotation and a more extensive rotation scheme. They list 9 main groups or families of crops that should be rotated together in a 3 to 4 year rotation scheme.

The first family of plants that I am most concerned about is the tomato family (tomatoes are often listed as the number one reason people have a vegetable garden). So, here goes:
1. The tomato family: includes peppers, eggplants and white potatoes.
2. The onion family: onions, garlic, leeks and shallots.
3. The carrot family: carrots, celery, parsnips and parsley.
4. The cabbage family: cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, rutabagas, kohlrabi, other leafy greens
5. The spinach family: includes beets and chard
6. The pea family: peas and beans
7. The sunflower family: sunflowers, lettuces and some other leafy greens
8. The cucumber family: cukes, melons, squash and gourds
9. Grass family: corn, wheat, oats and rye.

It is a good idea to have separate vegetable garden beds, one for each family of plants that you grow, in which to rotate. There is no perfect way to do this- some plants are large and take up a lot of space, some smaller and take up less, but sometimes combining two families in a rotation will work. For example, if you grow a small amount of lettuce and a few beets, they can be put in one rotation, and your cucumber family in another. At times I have run out of rotation room and have built a new veg garden bed to use for that year (and it is mostly for the tomato family).

So remember rotation! and Happy Gardening!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tree Peony

Fussy to get started (plant only in the fall), but drop-dead gorgeous, the tree peony is an incredibly sweet-scented and beautiful plant in flower-a real stunner (I have heard gardeners who think it is an "over-the-top" bloom call it "the prostitute of the flower world" but I disagree). The bloom may not last long, but they are a seasonal treat every year. I recommend them! And a photo of the most beautiful lettuces I have ever grown, they rival most flowers in my eyes!

Monday, April 12, 2010


A Gardener's Recipe
I wrote in an earlier post that I was going to give more recipes, but before I give one here, I need to say that I seldom cook from them. I cook from scratch most every night, but I wait until an ingredient inspires me to make something of it, or we have too much of am ingredient that demands to be cooked! I often take inspiration from cookbooks, get ideas from them, but go on to create my own dishes. Cooking this way is creative and fun, but I know that many people need some help to get started, especially when new to the kitchen.
So, here is a recipe for when carrots from your garden are abundant!

Carrots 'n Peas Soup
1 T butter
1/2 onion, diced
2 stalks celery, strings removed, diced
1 t celery seeds
1 t thyme
pinch of salt, more to taste
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
4 large carrots, sliced thin
1 sweet potato sliced thin
2 white potatoes, sliced thin
1 quart stock (I make veggie stock, but chicken will do)
1 cup peas (from the garden or frozen)
1/2 cup sour cream (reduced fat OK, yogurt also OK).

In a large stock pot or Dutch oven, saute the onions and celery in the butter until soft, adding pinch of salt. Add herbs and cook for another minute or two. Add rest of ingredients except peas and sour cream. Cook until vegetables are soft. Allow to cool a bit and puree in food processor or blender. Return to pot and heat. Add peas. Adjust seasoning with more salt and/or pepper. When peas are cooked through, turn off heat and add sour cream. Serve warm, preferably with home made bread.
Happy eating!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Wisteria pruning update

As I posted last fall, I had my son prune my American wisteria (time for a tangent: Wisteria was named for Caspar Wistar, but a spelling error doomed it to be wisteria forever. Or as long as these names last. I tend to call it "wistaria" when I am feeling cranky). Last spring, we had few blooms and the photo above shows the results of the pruning- it is spectacular this year! Tons of very fragrant blooms! A little garden knowledge can pay off big benefits!
(We are on spring break in the Thomas household, so my usually longer blog entry will be later in the week of April 12th). (Oh and a lagniappe- a little extra in Cajun- our apple tree in bloom, which also responded well to winter pruning!)
Happy gardening!

Saturday, April 3, 2010


(Photo: My jam)
I recently wrote a guest blog for Fed Up With Lunch: The School Lunch Project at:
The author, the anonymous "Mrs. Q" is a teacher in Illinois who has vowed to eat a school lunch every school day and blog about it. I wrote about alternatives to school lunches and you can read my post there. But this brings me to the point of this post: why I garden.

I am sure you have all read impassioned writing about the value of real, whole food, so I won't try to emulate the better writers who have done so. One of the reasons I garden is for the pleasure I get from growing some of our own food (whatever floats your boat, right?). I love digging up potatoes, pulling carrots, picking tomatoes, cutting greens, and flowers, for the table. And I love to eat all of these vegetables and serve them to my family. I take pride in growing them organically. I enjoy the entire process, from ordering seeds to planting, growing and harvesting. I even enjoy canning and sure love to see those boxes of home-canned goods in my closet each year!

Gardening in the activity that brings me to the 'here and now', the Zen-like state of just experiencing what I am doing. I call my favorite style of gardening "puttering," where I just start with a task and see what other tasks it leads me to (and my "Western mind" is also satisfied by this, as I get a lot accomplished!) Five minutes of gardening brings me closer to a sense of peace than a half hour of meditation or relaxation.

So, the bottom line is I garden for pleasure and the reinforcing quality of it all. If I didn't find it pleasurable, I might not be doing it- though I do believe you can decide to take on a new project, hobby or endeavor and grow into loving it, though there probably does need to be some attraction to it in the first place (or someone who inspires you: ever hear that old saying, about surrounding yourself with people who motivate and inspire you to become what you want to be?). Other reasons to garden include health, increasing exercise and flexibility, growing the food I want, connecting with life and learning a skill.

I have a houseful of guests on this Easter Sunday and some good cooking to do. On the Easter menu from the garden will be a salad of mixed greens and asparagus quiche. Happy Easter...and Happy Gardening!