Central Virginia Organic Gardener

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

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Banana Flowers In Virginia

I previously wrote an entry on my love affair with banana plants ("Goin' bananas"), how I take them indoors to my attic every winter, and bring them back out again in the spring. Well, I purchased two new banana plants at a plant sale at Norfolk Botanical gardens this spring, a mystery variety, and voila! One is in flower (above) and I am anticipating enjoying that flower in my house for several months! Bananas are a large, herbaceous plant, similar to a large stalk of grass. They usually live for two years, flowering and dying in their second year, then sending up a "daughter" shoot (not really a daughter, as it is a genetic clone of the "mother" plant). I expect that this flower will not produce fruit, and, if it does, it will not be edible...but what fun!
Happy gardening!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Sage Tale

Sages for the Ages
As far as I can tell, there are two kind of sages (salvias)- ornamental and culinary. Culinary sage has broader, thicker, crinkly leaves in comparison to ornamental sages, but it is pretty in its own right when it sends up its bluish-purple flower spike (the flowers are pretty enough for the table). Culinary sage is often used in poultry seasoning mixes and Italian dishes (I make a wicked good sage, chickpea and tomato soup). I grows almost like a weed, though can become woody over the years.

Ornamental sages are not edible and do not taste good- to humans. But their flowers produce nectar that attracts hummingbirds. I have many ornamental sages right outside my front door and have frequent hummingbird sightings in season (April 15 to beginning of October) as a result. Ornamental sages are hardy in this area, though they do get woody after a few years and need trimming to get vigorous growth and sometimes need to be replaced. They are relatively care-free in my zone: no pests or diseases (so far) seem to bother them. They are also relatively easy to propagate from cuttings. I cut an 8 inch stem and strip the leaves off the bottom half. I wrap it in a damp paper towel, place it in a glass and put it on a windowsill. I make sure the paper stays moist and I usually have a rooted cutting in 2-3 weeks.

I have two favorite ornamental sages- pineapple sage and autumn sage, pictured above, but I have also grown a lovely sage, "Black and Blue", as an annual, and other "experimental" pink and yellow sages, as annuals, that I purchased at botanical garden sales.

Happy gardening!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Doggie Dangers in the Garden

Doggie Dangers Lurking in the Garden (and a completely gratuitous video of my dog responding to the clarinet and a photo).

A recent visit to the vet reminded me of the various dangers that exist for some dogs and cats in the garden. The vet had a flyer in his office called "Garden Toxins" and showed some problems for dogs (and cats) in your garden. Fall bulbs are one of these and, because we are getting into fall bulb planting season, I thought I'd write a little about this and about other potential garden hazards for your pet.
First off, I believe that the pet of an organic gardener can get into less trouble in the garden, as there are no pesticides, herbicides, fungicides (though there are some potentially harmful organic ones) and chemical fertilizers present. Second, most dogs and cats don't do a great deal of munching in the garden, though some do (in my experience, dogs and cats are more likely to much on small rodents and birds than on plants). If you have a dog that loves to eat things it found outdoors, you do need exercise some caution. Luckily, many poisons are just not palatable to dogs and cats and they are just not interested in them. In addition, many harmful plants cause vomiting and diarrhea or other short-lived symptoms, though there are some very bad things out there!
OK, so here are some cautions. Many organic fertilizers contain blood and bone meal (slaughterhouse byproducts-charming) and some dogs (include Bob Bob The Idiot Dog) find them irresistible. Bob will dig up newly planted veggies to get at this stuff. While generally not harmful in itself, these meals can be mixed with other products that are not so good for your dog.
Fall-planted bulbs- hyacinth, daffodil, tulips and autumn crocus- can be dangerous if your dog consumes them. Hyacinths and tulips can cause severe vomiting, diarrhea and drooling; daffodils can cause vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and respiratory and heart rate problems; autumn crocus, the worst of the bunch, can cause severe vomiting, gastrointestinal bleeding, liver and kidney damage and can send your dog into shock. So, when you are planting these bulbs, do not leave them out where your pet can get hold of them and eat them and monitor your recently planted bulb beds for digging. Throw any bad bulbs away in the trash or compost them where your pet cannot reach.
For you southern gardeners, a small amount of oleander can kill a pet-or a child. The toxins leach out from the flowers and plant and even a few seeds can kill. It causes severe vomiting, abnormal heart rate, shock and weakness, leading to death. If you suspect your pet has eaten oleander call a animal poison control center or your 24 hour vet immediately! If you have a pet or small child, it might be best to rid your yard of this lovely, but dangerous, plant. Another southern plant that is a problem with similar symptoms (and also severe liver failure) is the sago palm.
Asiatic lilies are highly toxic to cats, and cause severe kidney failure. Azalea can cause vomiting, diarrhea, drooling and death as well (I have never seen a dog show the slightest interest in azalea, but...)
The petpoisonhelpline.com has a complete list of pet poisons. They have a call in line (I remember being surprised that there was a $35 charge for a pet poison center call, but you need to pay for this professional advice). Some universities have pet poison information. It might be useful to keep the number handy, just in case.
[One last note- some people poison mice, moles and voles to get them out of the yard and garden. This can be a big problem if your dog, like mine, loves to snack on furry critters- they will ingest these deadly poisons too and might die. Also, poisons are surprisingly ineffective on voles and moles. Dogs who dig their tunnels, like mine, may encounter the poison. Not to mention cats, and birds of prey who may pick up a dying rodent and consume it].
Happy and safe gardening!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Colony Collapse Solved?

The cause of Colony Collapse Disorder (what's been killing the bees) may have been determined: a virus and a fungus working together to damage the bee's ability to digest food. As you know, bees are essential to gardening and our very lives- we would not have many fruits, vegetables or grains, nor would we have many plant seeds, without them! The New York Times has a great article on this at:


See my entry on pollinators for what you can do to help the bees!
Happy gardening!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Stinky Invaders

A Big Stink

[Image: David R. Lance, USDA APHIS PPQThis image is Image Number 1460048 at Invasive.org, a source for images of invasive and exotic species operated by The Bugwood Network at the University of Georgia and the USDA APHIS Plant Protection and Quarantine program.]

We have yet another invasive, exotic pest to worry about, i.e. the brown, marmorated stink bug (pictured above). This insect, native to Asia, was accidentally imported to the east coast in 1998 and joins about 200 species of native stink bugs. They get their name from their charming habit of emitting a nasty odor when disturbed. So why should you care about them? For two reasons: 1. their numbers are exploding on the east coast (they have too few predators here, though praying mantids and some birds have been seen eating them) to the point where they are damaging large numbers of fruit and vegetable crops, reducing yield (they pierce the fruits and veggies, suck and the juice and start them rotting) and 2. They want to move in. With you. Into your house. For the winter.

So, a few things. If they do move into your house, don't crush them. Ick... unless you love the scent of stink bug. Don't spray pesticides indoors- you're organic, right? Besides, it won't stop other stink bugs from coming in and how much pesticide can you live with? The best remedy to keep them outdoors is to caulk up any cracks or crevices in your home where they can get in. If some do get in, vacuum them up and toss away the bag (because it will smell too).

The garden is another story. Encouraging birds and setting out praying mantis eggs cases may be effective organic controls (and these are good controls for other bugs). However, this invasion is so recent that little research has been done and the experts don't yet know what to recommend. Cleaning up overwintering sites might help (like removing leaves and dead plant matter), but this reduces beneficial bugs too.

Happy gardening?