Central Virginia Organic Gardener

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

Saturday, August 28, 2010



In the fall I planted 2 "Ison" muscadine vines that I purchased at Edible Landscaping in Afton, VA. Muscadines, Vitus rotundifolia, are a native grape, adapted to the warm and humid conditions of the south. Unlike European wine or table grapes, they are not fussy and require far fewer winter chilling hours. Ison produces deep purple fruit: green-colored muscadines are called scuppernongs. It usually takes 3 years for most muscadines to go into full production, though I am getting a small amount of fruit this year. Muscadines are a vigorous vine, and they need occasional pruning and trellising-mine are growing (and beautifying) a chain link fence. Like most native grapes, the flavor is described as "foxy"- it is unusual and some say it is an acquired taste (but I acquired it right away and I'm a Jersey girl!) and it is seeded. The fruit can be made into wine, juice, jelly and preserves, or you can simply leave them for the birds! I make a one-crust pie with them as follows:

Apple-Muscadine Pie

1 pie crust
2 pie apples, sliced
2 c. muscadines, sliced in half and seeded.
3/4 c sugar or to taste
2 T minute tapioca as a thickener (optional)
pat of butter
1 t lemon juice

Line pie pan with crust- you can "blind bake" it if you like (bake it empty at 350 for 20 mins). I like to roll my pie crust out to a square and lay each corner over the filling to make a pattern on the top of the pie (not necessary) (I call this a "handkerchief crust."). In a separate bowl mix apples slices, muscadines, sugar, tapioca and lemon juice and let it sit 15 mins. Preheat over to 350. Add to pie crust, fold corners over to partially cover the top, and put the pat of butter in the center. Bake at 350 for 40 min or until bubbling and crust is browned. Variation: add some cranberries in fall for a different and interesting taste!

Happy gardening ! And eating!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Good season, bad season

If I were to evaluate the 2010 summer growing season, my evaluation would not be favorable. With a record number of days over 90, and a substantial number of days over 100, it was a pretty miserable summer to be a gardener. I got to the point where I would get up at 5AM to get outside before the heat hit, but, even then, it sometimes got uncomfortable really fast. The intense heat fried tomato pollen, stunted the growth of plants that looked lush and were tall last year and reduced fruit and vegetable production substantially. The heat "burnt" my raspberries, killed my fennel and strawberries and my acanthus did not bloom. Then the rain stopped too. And resumed again 2 weeks ago, almost too late to make a difference for summer crops, except to help my squash rot and mildew spread.

A few things did do well. Unfortunately one was weeds (and poison ivy which loves the heat). I know I am an obsessed gardener, but the weeds got away from me and now I have to do massive catch up (or pull out). A few rules about pulling weeds (if you are in a spot where you cannot hoe and have to hand pull):
1. Do not weed in dry soil. Wait until after a rain, if you can, or after watering. Weed roots in damp soil come out much more easily than ones in dry soil.
2. Start at a edge and work your way in. If there is a clearly defied edge from landscape edging or bricks, start at the end, not in the center of the weedy mass. You will loosen soil progressively as you go....unless
3. You have some tall, shallowly rooted weeds in a more central area (like fox tail). These come out easily and loosen the soil to make pulling up weeds like wiregrass easier.
4. Try to weed before the plant sets seeds. Some weeds set thousands of seeds!
5. Once you finish an area, try to mulch with something like wet newspaper and grass clippings or leaves to reduce resprouting and to kill off stragglers.

Some weeds are very sturdy and need repeated pulling. The little "nut" on the root of a nut sedge is capable of sprouting a few hundred to a thousand times. Wire grass can resprout from a tiny bit of root. Pokeweed and dandelion need to be dug up- they send down a deep taproot that, once broken off, can form multiple sprouts (like the multi-headed hydra from Greek mythology). Many weed seeds can remain viable in the ground for years, waiting for their moment in the sun.
It can be a bit daunting, but repeated weeding over time can make a difference- and without those nasty herbicides!
Happy gardening! And weeding!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Book Review: Season Extending......

Book reviews: Smittle, D. and Richerson, S.A. (2010). "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Year-Round Gardening" New York: Alpha, Penguin Books AND
Coleman, E. (2009) "Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses." White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green.

It is getting hot hot hot- time to garden early in the day, and sit in the shade and read garden books in the afternoon, while sipping tea or lemonade. And, a great time to think of the cool autumn planting season that is coming. So, to those ends, some reading ideas, after my editorial comment:

I do not like books with titles ending in the words "...for dummies" nor books that start with "The Complete Idiot's Guide..." It was funny the first time I saw such a title, when it was specific to computer software or perhaps algebra. It is very unfunny, however, to see such titles as "Breast Cancer for Dummies" or "Multiple Sclerosis for Dummies" or "The Complete Idiots Guide to Jesus" (however, I must say, if not for my principled stance against such titles, I might almost approve of "The Complete Idiots Guide to Werewolves"). I am not an idiot nor a dummy and I do not believe most readers are. We are learners, and learners are pretty darn smart people.

Yet, this is a book that is in the latter "idiots" series that I picked up at the library. Despite the offensive name, it is a pretty good book on extending the garden season. The book is a basic garden primer too- you cannot do a good job at extending the season if you cannot garden well during the regular growing season in the first place. The authors discuss soil, compost, fertilizing, seed starting, etc, along with cloches, row covers and tunnels, cold frames and greenhouses...and they do a pretty good job of it. It is a good first step into gardening and season extending.

However, if you want more info or want to try gardening on a grander scale, Eliot Coleman has done a better job with this subject in the "Four Season Harvest" and "Winter Harvest Handbook" (I don't have a photo). He is co-owner, with Barbara Damrosch (author of "The Garden Primer" an excellent garden book) of a farm in Maine and commercially farms on a near year-round basis. If he can do it in Maine, we can do it in Virginia! He gives good advice on tools, portable greenhouses and plant selections and it is written in a clear way.

So get on that hammock, get out a good book and happy garden reading!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Plunging in!

My pond.
I have taken the plunge...for my 50th birthday (last year) I asked for a pond or water garden with waterfall, though I wanted to arrange for it myself. I had started to dig the pond, oh, 8 or 9 years ago, but my then young son took it over for a bunker or fort to use in play. I guess that finally the weedy mess of an area got to me and 11 days ago, I had a pond installed. The top photo is the most recent incarnation, after I started adding some plants (water lettuce, water hyacinth, water palm, purple pickerel, star grass, lobelia cardinalis and l. syphilitica) but the other photos show the transformation. The first or second night a frog moved in and 10 days later we had tadpoles! The pond is about 14 ft long and 4 ft wide, almost 2 ft deep, and the waterfall adds about 4 feet in length.

There are several types of plants to have in a water garden. Floating plants help shade the garden and prevent algae growth (e.g. the water lettuce and hyacinth). Then there are marginals: these are the plants at the sides of the pond that are on a shelf higher than the full depth of the pond, at about 9 inches from the surface (these are the rest of the plants I mentioned by name above). But a pond also needs some oxygenating plants, which are not the beauty queens of the the pond, but hang below the surface and help keep the water clear. I need to find some oxygenators either at a garden center or on line. A few people have asked if I am going to have water lilies, but they need a still water situation, so, no, not in this pond. Same with fish, probably not, they need specific care, conditions and plants, plus they would eat the tadpoles!

This is opening up a whole new type of gardening for me and is a lot of fun. So, instead of looking longingly at the water plants on display at a garden center, I can have them in my garden! (And this will, hopefully, stop me from killing lobelia because I just can't find a wet enough spot for it in my flower beds!)

The pond is incomplete and obviously needs further landscaping. You know the old saying that, if you paint one room in your house, the rest of the house looks shabby? That is now true for my back yard. The pond is lovely (though needs retaining walls at the back and side and some more plantings), but the rest of the back yard looks bad in comparison (of course, I knew it was shabby, but did not care before). So, now I have plans for some large potted trees at the back, for a bog garden to the left and behind the waterfall, for a stone path in front of the pond. And we really need a new deck, and it should incorporate the pond view in its design, right?

I took the plunge all right!

Happy gardening!