Central Virginia Organic Gardener

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

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A "Chistmas Tree?"

Continuing on my weird, warm weather theme of a few days ago, here is a photo from near the James River snapped by a friend today, Christmas Day. It is an ornamental cherry in full bloom, a few months early!

Happy Christmas!

Not a traditional Christmas plant, this lovely strawberry is sending out Holiday Cheer in my garden!
See you in 2012! Happy Gardening! Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Solistice and Weird, Warm Fall

What a weird, warm fall it has been. It has been nice to go outside, but it has been a problem for some plants. Weeds are rampantly growing, just loving these cooler temps: I need to do some December weeding, a rarity! And, the photo above is from my front yard on the last full day of Autumn, Dec. 21. These daffodils will probably survive, but they will not bloom again come spring, and, if it gets too cold and icy, the green part may die back. In that case, the bulb may be too spent to ever come up again, as it will not have stored enough energy from photosynthesis. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for cooler weather and no more sprouting bulbs!

The solstice happens twice per year: the Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year and the Summer Solstice the longest day of the year. Today is the Day of the Winter Solstice, and 12:32 AM EST marked the entry into winter. The sun rides low in the sky in the northern hemisphere, though it is high in the sky in the south, hence the southern hemisphere enters summer today (and is often called the December Solstice there). Our Winter Solstice happens close to Christmas and has been associated with this holiday. Indeed, the focus on lights in the Christmas season may hark back to the craving for light during the darkest days of winter and the hope that light brings. The Winter Solstice is an important day for gardeners, it reminds us that the seasons are turning, that spring is on the long march back to us. Look for each day to be a bit brighter and a bit longer!

Happy Solstice!

Happy Gardening!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Mustards

There are many greens that you can grow through the winter in Virginia: kale, chard, lettuces, and arugula to name a few, but none are as reliable as the mustards, in my humble opinion. Mustards, like the Green Wave and India Red Giant pictured here, reliably sprout, need little care, and can take freezing temperatures (though if freezing temps are to be prolonged, I do cover them with a row cover or cold frame). They are nutritional powerhouses which will easily self sow if you allow a few to flower and set seed. I like to do a simple treatment with mustard greens: young leaves can be eaten raw in salads and they can be simply sauteed or braised in olive oil, with onions, garlic (can you have too much garlic?), and a dash of red wine or balsamic vinegar. You can get creative and caramelize carrots, parsnips and or onions in the pan before adding the garlic and greens- this gives a sweet contrast to the earthiness of the greens. I have sauteed chopped mustard greens and used them to top pizza, baked potatoes and pasta- YUM!
Happy gardening!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Gifts for the gardener of gifts from the gardener?

I have read several posts lately about gifts for the gardener in you life and, sure, what gardener could not use a new pair of gloves, pruners, a trowel, a hoe, a water barrel or composter? Gardeners are among the easiest of people to buy for, just make it practical. Then I turned the idea of giving to the gardener on its head. I prefer giving to receiving (and that is not just posturing: sure, I like a gift here and there, but mostly I prefer to give). I thought about the gifts a gardener gives to family, friends and to all of us (at the risk of sounding a wee bit pompous). Gardeners give us beauty: think of the beauty of your neighbors flowers, fruits and vegetables. Gardeners often give the gift of food or flowers to family and friends. Gardeners give gifts to nature: a home to the squirrel, bird and frog. Gardeners (and organic gardeners even more so) give a gift to everyone and to the earth: plants that purify our air and water, cool the earth, and provide shade. Gardeners give us gifts all around the year, so I say thank you to my gardening friends!
Happy gardening!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Not your mother's poinsettias!

There are so many new varieties of poinsettias, that I offer this, a cool video on the poinsettia trials at the University of Florida:

The two pictured above were at the US Botanic Gardens in Washington, DC, a place all "plantophiles" must visit! My pod cast this week is on poinsettia care and how to get that poinsettia to re-bloom next year. Just click on the podbean button on the left.
Happy gardening!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

My 2011 Holiday Door Swag

I like making these holiday door swags from whatever I find around the garden. This year, loblolly pine, holly, rosemary, crab apple, eucalyptus and beauty berry branches, tied with a reused bow, went into it. I like this homemade swag for many reasons, despite (or maybe because of) its imperfections: it does not look like any other, standard, purchased door decoration, it is from my garden and I made it. And it costs nothing, but 15 minutes of my time having fun making it! Plus I can easily replace any parts that begin to look "tired." See what you can round up from your yard and garden!
Happy Gardening!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

New Food PyramidS! Yes PyramidS!

This is not directly about gardening, though food and issues related to food are indirectly related. The non-profit Oldways Preservation Trust, has created a series of healthy food pyramids based on culturally traditional ways of eating (and also a vegetarian food pyramid). At last, food pyramids not influences by lobbyists for the food-industrial-complex (the beef lobby, the pork lobby, milk, sugar and soft drink lobbies!) To see these great pyramids (which I can't seem to reproduce here), go to:


To read New York Times Blog post on them, go to:


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Second Quiz: Plant Puzzle

So, fellow gardeners and plant lovers: what is this? This is mystery plant puzzle # 2. I will answer in a few days! Look for it!
Kudos to my non-gardening friend Anita who guessed this was a banana. Yes, my ornamental banana plant produced baby red bananas and I left them on the plant. They split open in what my art teacher Celeste called secondary pollination, that is, the fruit opens up to allow animals to scatter the seed. I let them alone and now you can see the seeds! I think? Cultivated bananas have no viable seeds, they are often seen as tiny black specks in the fruit. Inedible varieties do have seeds, and this includes ornamental bananas, the only kind you will find in northern gardens. Happy gardening!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The LUV Carrot

I know that may gardeners enjoy when they find buried surprises, like the entwined carrots pictured above (despite the fact that this shows I did not thin my carrots properly!) Anyway, the LUV carrot is as good a symbol as any for a HAPPY THANKSGIVING! And the LUV carrot will find it's way onto my table soon!
Happy gardening!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

What pumpkin for your pie?

I have actually never made a pumpkin pie using canned pumpkin, and I make them more often than just at Thanksgiving (I love pumpkin pie). I have used pie pumpkins before, they are round, orange and smaller than Jack 'o Lantern type pies. I have grown these types of pumpkins, but in recent seasons I have despaired of growing pumpkins and winter squashes due to the dreaded squash vine borer. But the two types of squashes traditionally used in "pumpkin pie" are pretty resistant to the borer, as they have much firmer stems. Why? The vine borer is a moth that lays tiny eggs singly (many of them, but not in clusters) on your plants. The eggs hatch and the larvae (caterpillar) bores into the stem and grows fat feeding on your plant, eventually killing it. The two types of borer-resistant squashes are pictured above: the cooked one is a butternut (hard stem) type called the Dickinson Field Pumpkin (Curcubita moschata), and this is what is in those cans of packed pumpkin at the grocery. The other is also resistant to borers, and it is called the Green-Striped Cushaw (C. mixta), one of the oldest varieties of winter squash (perhaps grown by native Americans thousands of years ago). Both have dry flesh, the Dickinson deep orange, the Cushaw yellow, and are sweet and great for pie applications! I intend to find the seed and grow both next year. (Full disclosure: I bought both at a farm stand).

Oh, a third type that I buy, not grow, is a cheese wheel type pumpkin. These are very large (I estimate this cooked one pictured here at about 40 lbs) and, like all squash, are heavy feeders. They have dry, deep orange flesh (and lots of it), prefect for pie, bread, muffins and soup.

The easy way to get at that flesh is to bake the pumpkin whole or sliced in half at about 350 until tender when pierced with a fork (the 40 pounder took 3 hours, the others 45 minutes). Let it cool, scoop out the seeds and fibers, and scrape away the sweet flesh from the skin.

Happy eating! Happy Thanksgiving! Happy gardening!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Holiday Greens Sale Dec 3

The Great Greens Sale of Garden Evergreens for Holiday Decorating will be at Ginter Gardens in Richmond on Dec. 3. I am going to get cool and unusual cuttings of evergreens to sketch! The photo is what I made from cuttings from my yard and a recycled ribbon last year!)

Saturday, December 3, 2011


10:30-11:45 a.m. Floral design demonstration with evergreens

Noon-2 p.m. SALE

Purchase unusual, fresh-cut evergreens from the Garden for holiday decorations; proceeds benefit Garden Education programs.

For info go to : http://www.lewisginter.org/events/event_detail.php?event_id=658
Happy gardening!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

First Quiz

Dear Reader(S?),
A puzzle: What is this plant? Answer coming soon!
Happy puzzling and gardening!
Hum, no takers? This is a persimmon! It is a small, bush persimmon that I saw at Ginter gardens in Richmond, VA. I was puzzled at first by it until I looked it up! It is probably a Princess persimmon, which is often used by bonsai "artists" as a base plant for their bonsai- it stays small when pot bound and will fruit even when forced to be dwarfed. This plant was about 3 and a half feet tall. Very lovely and a bright spot in the autumnal landscape.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

National Happiness Week!

I think it obvious that my post for National Happiness Week will have to do with gardening. After all, I call myself an obsessed gardener. But gardening is part of a larger viewpoint of what makes me a happy person (sometimes I think I am the happiest person I know...perhaps not, but I think so). The viewpoint that gives me satisfaction and happiness is to live my values as much as I can, and the latter part of that sentence is almost as important as the former.
I value the aesthetics of gardening- the scent of tomato leaves on my fingers, the feel of my hands in the dirt, the sight of a spray of passionflowers on a trellis, the experience of observing a humming bird flit from flower to flower and hover as if by magic, the fragrance of a bearded iris, the crisp snap of salad greens in my mouth, the sweet and acid flavor of a raspberry, the joy of chomping a whole fig, and the pleasure of digging a hole and planting a plant in it.
I value the act of producing food for my family to enjoy. Placing that food on the table, describing what ingredients came from the garden, from our work, our hands, and the work of the plants. I value canning and preserving that food and sharing gifts of jam with friends. I value digging into the freezer in December and bringing out my peaches to bake into a pie, as winter transforms to summer for a moment.
The latter part of the sentence I started with "as much as I can" acknowledges the attempt, the striving, the trying to live my values, but also acknowledges my imperfections, that sometimes I cannot live my values fully. Sometimes I use my clothes dryer instead of hanging laundry; I am a vegetarian who sometimes wears leather; I forget to bring my reusable bags to the grocery; I cannot grow all our food.
Overall, I value the act of creating, of making. I recently spoke to a woman who dyes and spins her own fibers into yarn and thread, then knits the final yarn into beautiful garments. She said that people often ask her why she goes to such trouble, she could just buy a sweater. But she understands and values the act of creation, the intellectual challenge of making her own dyes, developing the skill to create consistent and beautiful yarn, and transforming that into a lovely and unique garment. She gets it...and I think get it too.
Happy gardening! Happy living your values! Happy Happiness Week!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

National Happiness Week!

This is National Happiness Week (the second week of November)! See Betsy Franz's post on the topic at:
Look for my blog tomorrow on my reflections on happiness. And gardening (!) among other things.
Now, go get you some happy!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Harvest Recipe: Vegetarian (or not) Stuffed Pepper

I am going to be posting some recipes to help you use up that wonderful harvest of veggies you picked before the hard freeze. Today, it is vegetarian (or not) stuffed peppers. I grew a variety of bell peppers in pots this year and they did pretty well. My husband loves stuffed peppers, which are usually stuffed with browned meat or sausage and rice, with a tomato sauce topping. Here is how to make a good vegetarian version, though you can add the meat if you like.

4 red, yellow or green bell peppers, tops sliced off, stem removed (reserve tops) and remove seeds and membrane.
1.5 cups cooked rice- I used a mix of brown and wild rice, though white or leftover rice will do.
1 T. olive oil
1 onion, chopped.
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 stalk celery diced (optional)
5 or 6 button mushrooms chopped
1/2 t.each thyme, marjoram and celery seed (you can vary the spices- use Italian seasoning or curry power, chili powder-to taste instead- be creative!)
1/2 t garlic powder
grating of black pepper to taste
1.4 cup ch0pped, toasted walnuts
1/4 cup dried apples chopped (you can use another dried fruit, raisins, apricots, but we dehydrate lots of apples from our tree for winter eating, so we use that)
2 cups taco sauce, salsa or tomato sauce (you can use less if you prefer it drier)(I use taco sauce because I like it and I make and can my own).

Saute the onions and garlic with a pinch of salt until caramelized, remove from the pan and do the same with the mushrooms and celery (putting then all in the pan at once steams them versus caramelizes them). When browned, add herbs and spices and cook a few more minutes. Mix these vegetables with rice, walnuts and apples. Stuff as much as you can in the 4 bell peppers and replace the reserved tops on them. Place the peppers in an 9 by 9 or so baking dish, adding any extra rice stuffing to the bottom of the pan. Pour the taco or other tomato-based sauce over them. Cover with lightly with foil and place in a 375 degree over for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and cook for 10 more minutes until bubbly.
There are many variations: add sauteed shredded carrots, sauteed leek, shredded parsnip, gree peas, corn to the rice stuffing. Top with cheese in the last 10 minutes to melt.
Happy eating!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween from my garden!

Just in time for the holiday, an orb-weaver spider spins her web!
Happy Halloween from my garden!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Documenting Your Garden

There are many ways to document your garden. I used to be good at one way, that is, writing down garden plans (what I planted year to year in what spot- excellent way to keep track of rotations) and what seeds I ordered and how they performed. I still write down my annual seed orders but, really, I must get better at this (see Gardener's Resolutions entry!). Other ways I am trying to document my garden is through photographs (though they need to be printed and organized!) and my new favorite way: to draw things from the garden. Above are two drawings: a graphite pencil drawing of one of the Lavender Touch eggplants I keep raving about and a colored pencil drawing (attempt?) of the same. I was an art minor in college (really minor-I slept through too many early morning studio art classes!) and have been taking some botanical illustration classes at Ginter Gardens in Richmond VA. I am imperfect, but this process is fun. The only difficulty is that I am often too busy with the garden itself to draw stuff in it during the actual season it is around! Ah well, better to be too busy than bored!
Happy gardening!

Friday, October 21, 2011


To those of you with large, stately persimmon trees full of fruit, feel free to laugh and, heck, even mock this post! My Nana dwarf persimmon has a baby- the persimmon ripening above! Yes, just the one (it is a relatively new tree and I planted a dwarf because I do not have room for a standard size tree) (photo taken Oct. 8). Now I will need to wait until it turns orange, the first frost hits...and the fruit falls off the tree (I expect to build a little trampoline like thing to catch it and will be nervously checking it every day: the most pampered persimmon in Virginia!). Persimmons are not ripe until the three conditions above are met. They have a curious, unpleasant mouth puckering effect that takes awhile to dissipate if eaten unripe. So, I will use my little ripe persimmon to make a small serving of persimmon pudding, if I get lucky and the fruit survives! And next time: my one pomegranate (kidding)!

Counting my chickens before the eggs hatch,
Happy gardening!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Muscadine Preserves

Muscadine grapes (Muscadinia rotundifolia) are native to the southeastern US and there are several cultivars, purple or greenish-bronze, available. You can grow this grape or pick it wild, if you know a source. My cultivated muscadine (purple Ison) is highly prolific and relatively care free, though you may have to beat it back regularly, as it is a vigorous grower! Muscadines are, unfortunately, not table grapes and are traditionally made into jelly, juice or sweet (cloying?) muscadine wine. I don't like grape jelly, so I make my muscadines into preserves. Take about 4 quarts, slash and squeeze out the seedy pulp, reserving the skins in one bowl and the pulp in another. Cook down the pulp about 10 minutes and strain to remove the large seeds, and return strained pulp to the pot. To this add the pureed skins (use a blender or food processor to puree them as small as you can get them) and bring to a boil. Add 2 T lemon juice, sugar to taste (I use about 4 cups) mixed with reduced sugar pectin-follow package directions and directions for canning. These are very grapey-tasting preserves, good atop cheese and in good ol' PB&J sandwiches! And the jam scents the whole house while cooking!
Happy gardening and eating!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Recent Podcasts: Pesky Pests on Overwintering Plants

[Photo courtesy of: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spider_mite]

Recent pod casts on a timely topic: dealing with 3 common pesky pests that come in the house on plants as you bring them indoors for winter! Visit me on itunes at VirginiaOrganicGardener or podbean at http://virginiaorganicgardener.podbean.com/
Happy gardening!


Saturday, October 8, 2011

October Eggplants

Certain there would be few eggplants in the garden after the dozen I picked about 10 days ago, I went out to do some chores and check the plants for the last, remaining, little baby eggplants. It has been chilly, after all, and eggplant is a heat-loving plant. I picked 14 good sized ones instead! Folks, I have said this before and I will say it again now, I will always grow Lavender Touch eggplant. It is sturdy, easily outgrows flea beetle damage, and produces tasty fruits and lots of them!
Happy gardening!

Friday, October 7, 2011

More on bananas and other tropicals

I am starting to move my tropical plants to my front porch, preparing to bring them inside for the winter (see my pod cast, VirginiaOrganicGardener, on itunes or at http://virginiaorganicgardener.podbean.com/ this week and next for tips on dealing with unwanted critters coming in on these plants!) My banana plant, despite the cold, has put out another flower that I will get to enjoy indoors for the next few months..and maybe sketch too. This is one of the joys of many tropicals, like citrus and hibiscus: getting indoor blooms in the dead of winter. My set up to keep them going is simple: they are placed on a tarp, under long florescent fixtures in my insulated, and occasionally heated, attic.
Happy gardening!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Flower Anatomy Class

Interested in the workings of a flower? Want to develop your knowledge of botany to enhance your gardening experience? I have been taking botanical illustration classes at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond and this next course, taught by Celeste Johnson, is coming soon. Some basic drawing skills are needed, not much. You will learn about flowers and their structures, and will dissect and draw them, all with Celeste's expert guidance! (OK, OK, I am being shill for the class- but they are fun!)

Anatomy of Flowers for Botanical Artists

3 Wednesdays, October 19, 26, November 2, 9:30 am - 2 pm


For botanical artists, knowledge of descriptive terms applied to the flowering parts of the plant is helpful, since flowers easily offer sharply marked characteristics. Students observe, dissect and draw flower parts to understand structure and function and achieve the accuracy botanical drawing requires. Learn to avoid overshading and unnecessary detail. Students make a small drawing or painting of a flower, then share with the class and discuss in botanical terms. A basic knowledge of drawing is needed. This session covers Dicotyledoanes (Dicots). A list of materials is sent after registration.

$158/ $125 member. Lunch is on your own. 3 sessions = 12 hrs.

Happy gardening!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

"Tomatoland" a book review

Are you concerned about human health? The environment? Social justice? Taste? Locally grown organic food? My guess is "yes" to these questions or you would not be reading this blog. Barry Estabrook has written a stunning expose of modern factory agriculture in "Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit" (2011: Andrews McNeel Publishing).
I have not bought a winter "fresh" tomato in decades and the main reason is because they are totally tasteless. When you grow a tomato in your own backyard, or get them in season from a farmer, who knows how to handle them, at a farmer's market, the uniform pink balls called "fresh tomatoes" in the grocery are disgusting in comparison. These tomatoes are picked green and turned red using ethylene gas (I refuse to say "ripened" because the gas just turns them red, and does not change the flavor to one of a ripe tomato). But Estabrook gives me many more reasons to shun these winter tomatoes, grown in Florida at great expense:
1. More than 100 chemicals may be sprayed: 60 pesticides, 31 fungicides, 19 herbicides, in addition to chemical fertilizers. Some are associated with cancer, neurological problems, endocrine disruption (this early puberty and breast cancer) and birth defects. Some of these chemicals are banned in Europe.
2. 54% of tomato samples purchased on grocery stores have detectable levels of these chemicals, some within the fruit that cannot be washed off.
3. Workers are poorly paid, work under horrible conditions, and are, at times, held in virtual slavery.
4. Workers are routinely sprayed with chemicals as the fields are getting doused and have infants with high rates of birth defects and their own health problems. Thye wear no protective clothing and are given no training, nor access to emergency medical care if exposed.
5. Pollution of Florida's vulnerable ecosystem, where all these tomatoes are grown, is killing wildlife and permanently damaging the environment in countless ways.

Do we need winter tomatoes? No, we don't. We used to eat seasonally and locally- remember anticipating that first sweet corn and watermelon? Eating out of season presents many moral dilemmas that can be solved by eating seasonal foods.

After this post, my usual tag line of "happy gardening" seems out of place. How about "thoughtful eating?"

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Poison Ivy Control: Podcast Update

On my podcast this week, the organic way to control poison ivy. On itunes at VirginiaOrganic Gardener or at my pod bean host:


Happy gardening!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Fall Flowers

I looked out my window and wondered if there was anything nice I could put in a vase on the kitchen table. Nothing was apparent from the window, but, knowing that I have found nice plant materials even in winter, I searched around and this is what I came up with. I used to feel intimidated about flower arranging, having never taken a class or looked at a book on the subject. But informal arranging is fun- it you have impossible "Martha" standards or want arrangements suited to a formal setting, like a luxury hotel, you are out of luck. But if you want a charming, informal arrangement of homegrown flowers and plants for you and your family to enjoy, it is not so difficult. Oh, and look past the flowers to the trees-I used crab apples, rose of Sharon and and beautyberry stems in this vase.
Happy gardening!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Happy Fall!

Happy Autumnal Equinox and welcome fall! Let the fall garden season begin!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

National Public Lands Day is Saturday, September 24

National Public Lands Day is Saturday, September 24. Have a few hours to help clean up a park? Go to


to find a site, like Rockwood Park in the Richmond area.

Rockwood Park
3401 Courthouse Rd.
Richmond, Virginia 23236
Kristi Orcutt
Contact Email:
(804) 310-7964
Chesterfield County Parks & Recreation
: trash pickup along trails and streams, native wildflower meadow planting, weed pulling in established wildlife gardens, stream bank erosion mediation installment, bluebird nest box trail installation.

Happy nature "gardening!"

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Kid in a Candy Shop: Tuesday Lagniappe

There are three times I get that feeling of being a "kid in a candy shop" and I think they are co-equal in creating this feeling:
1. When I am in an actual candy shop, especially one that has really excellent chocolates;
2. When I am in a top-notch art supply store surrounded by all that paper, canvas and colors and
3. When I am in a plant nursery.
Well OK, there are four:
4. When a plant I have waited for does what I have been waiting for it to do.
Well, there are probably more than that, as I am lucky to have this feeling often!
I planted a passionflower (Passiflora icarnata) a year ago. I built a beautiful trellis for it, out of bamboo and dried vines, in June. I watched it grow and twine...and produce sterile flower buds, one after another, after a dozen....and today, September 19, 2011, a half dozen, beautiful, large, awe-inspiring flowers erupted from it.
Passionflowers are...er...one of my passions. The flower was said to represent the Passion of the Christ, not earthly passions (though it inspires those too). Look at the photo and see if you can identify the Christ on the cross, the crown of thorns and the whips used on Christ. See the Wikipedia entry for more details at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passiflora on this fascinating flower and its culture and history.
For me the passionflower is lovely, exotic and pleasurable....though take heed, once you have it, it will spread....
Happy, passionate gardening!

Virginia Go Green Festival 2011

The Virginia Go Green Festival is this Saturday, Sept. 24, at the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond, VA. Plant vendors will be there, along with interesting displays from various "green" organizations in VA. You will be able to purchase lunch, and there will be activities for kids. I went last year and it was fun and this year promises to be bigger. There is a $3 admission, kids are free. For more information, go to:


Happy gardening!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Last eggplant harvest?

It is starting to feel like autumn around here, with lows in the 50's (and 40's!) and highs in the 60's. I went out yesterday and picked all the green tomatoes on the vines, save ones that were cracked or damaged. Why? Well, I have not had much luck with tomatoes ripening on the vine in September (maybe you have) and the plants are looking bad- tired, spent, diseased and it is time for them to go. I will ripen the tomatoes inside- they will never develop the transcendent taste of a tomato ripened on the vine and still warm from the sun, but they will do for cooking. I also make fried green tomatoes as a treat and use them in sandwiches and as topping 0n homemade pizza (really, it is very good). And here is my recipe:
Fried Green Tomatoes
2 or 3 green tomatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 egg, scrambled
1/2 cup cornmeal or so
1/2 t salt
good sized grating of black pepper
1/2 t garlic powder
2-3 t oil

Heat oil in skillet, until hot, not smoking. Mix cornmeal, salt, pepper and garlic powder and put on a plate. Dip each slice of tomato into egg, then in cornmeal mixture. Fry till golden each side, about 3-4 minutes a side (depending on pan heat-tomatoes should sizzle lightly when you add them to the pan). Remove and drain on a folded paper towel.

Fried green tomato pizza: top pizza crust with red/tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella (variation: cheddar) and fried green tomatoes. Bake as usual. YUM

But what does that have to do with the eggplant photo? This is today's harvest of eggplants, the last, except for many a few baby ones. I have been asked what can you do with eggplants to preserve them? There are eggplant spread and pickle recipes, but I think the easiest thing to do is to roast them for 40 minutes or until soft, in a 375 degree oven. Simply slice them in half, lay them cut side down on an oiled baking dish, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. The resulting roasted flesh is scraped from the skins (though some just keep them intact) and frozen to use in baba ganooj or, my favorite Indian dish, bhaigan barta. You can also make a sauce of sauteed onions, garlic, herbs, tomatoes and roasted eggplant for pasta, pizza or rice. Another yum! Raw eggplant does not freeze well-you can dehydrate it raw to add to soups and stews, but I find the result less than satisfactory.

Listen to my podcast on "putting the summer garden to bed" on itunes or at: http://virginiaorganicgardener.podbean.com/

Happy gardening! And eating!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Chimney Swifts and Nature

Gardening has made me a better observer of nature. Walking in the dusk, I observe the birds settling down and the bats revving up for a night of hunting. A neighbor once asked me what I was looking at. She has lived in the area for 30 years and didn't know we even had bats. She was delighted to see them when I pointed them out. In the spring dawn, the deer and fawns are out, dining on our collective "deer salad bars," also known as suburban gardens. From my bedroom window, I can look down on the porch roof and sometimes see the green tree frog that likes to inhabit the area near the downspout. Tadpoles swim in the overflow buckets from my rain barrel.

The first autumn we were in this house, when my son was 4 and a half, near to Halloween, I went outside on the back deck. I looked up at the house and my eye was caught by motion about the chimney. There was this great wheeling mass of...bats?...birds? 20 feet or so above the top of the chimney. They formed a huge, moving circle with the chimney at the center and, every minute or so, one of the birds, I realized (later learning they were chimney swifts) would peel off and dive right into the chimney. My son came out and I held him in my arms, and we both watched the birds, smiling, amazed at their acrobatics and precision. My husband joined us, and we stood together, our son in my arms, my husband's arms around my shoulder in the deepening dusk, until the last bird went into the chimney.

That fall we had the chimney cleaned out, a cap put on and the swifts never visited us again. They find hollow trees or chimneys to roost in as they migrate in the fall and will revisit sites if they are still available. One recent evening, at dinner, we looked out the window and saw another flock of swifts wheeling above a house or tree (not sure) behind us, near a street parallel to ours and I was reminded of that first visit of the chimney swifts 11 years ago. My son is now a teenager, a tall, muscle-bound and charming young man, but I felt that little boy in my arms again as the birds searched for shelter for the night.

Happy gardening!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Use it or lose it?

I was talking to a delightful fellow student in a botanical illustration class I am taking. This senior woman is one of these "energizer bunny" types that I seem to often meet. She has limitations, but she keeps on going, trying, moving forward. I told her a quote I attributed to my father (I am not completely sure I heard it from him, but I like it): "The less you try to do, the less you can do." A simple statement, but profoundly important to me. I have some physical limitations (bad back, arthritis, achy knees) and emotional ones too (timidity about certain things, though my friends are surprised when I divulge this!). I have trouble digging or turning over soil from a standing position so I either do it in short bursts between other tasks, or I do it from a seated position-looks silly, but gets the job done (and I rarely mind looking silly!). Same with my compost pits- I sit to turn them and empty them. My 86 year old father sits on a low stool to weed, even with surgical pins in his spine. My dear Rosemary gardened in pots until her last spring. As you age into gardening, try to keep doing as much as you can, try new things (within reason), because once you stop, you might never get back to it.
Happy gardening!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Fairy Rings, Those Magic Things

Walking through our neighborhood, my son noticed this "fairy ring" and pointed it out to me. After hurricane Irene, I've noticed more mushrooms popping up in the area. A mushroom is simply the fruiting body of a larger, underground organism (I don't say "plant," because mushrooms are part of a fungus, which are genetically closer to animals than to plants). This underground organism is far larger than just the fruiting body. It is a fungal mycelium existing below the soil. Fairy rings, broad circles of mushrooms, can create circles of dead grass or circles of a deeper, darker green grass, in a suburban lawn. This is because some mycelia produce plant growth hormones causing rapid growth of grass. Under other conditions, the mycelia can coat the grass roots, killing it. Over time, a fairy ring can expand, some creating double rings or other shapes, often starting at a place where a tree once stood, and the stump remains below ground.

Fairy rings are highly resistant to chemical and other controls. Aerating the soil and replanting the grass might work, though the large mycelium may thwart your efforts. Keeping the soil saturated for 4 to 6 weeks can also help, but this in in itself can kill the grass and any trees or shrubs in or near the area (like the one in this photo above, just outside the ring). It may be that the very best thing you can do is enjoy the pretty sight (I find fairy rings very pretty) wait it out and see what happens over time.

Happy gardening!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Garden Prep for a Hurricane

:[NOAA image of impact area of Irene]

There are a few things you can do to protect your garden, and home, in high winds, like hurricane Irene:
1. Move potted plants indoors to a garage or shed or any sheltered area you have (even a crawlspace below your house or deck).
2. Tip potted plants too large to move on their sides, in an angle that will not roll with the wind.
3. Take down any hanging plant-and anything that can act as a missile in high winds: bird feeders and houses, my bottle tree, garden ornaments! Bring in anything loose- watering cans, tools, stakes that are not holding plants up.
4. Harvest any fruits or vegetables that are ready or will ripen indoors, like "breaker" tomatoes. Root crops can stay in the ground, but might be flooded out.
5. Pick flowers that will be destroyed to enjoy indoors.
6. Set up that rain barrel to capture some of the deluge.
Happy gardening! Stay safe!
Addendum: Betsy Franz has more prep tips, including removing weak and fallen branches: go to http://www.metro-dc-lawn-garden-blog.com/2011/08/25/hurricane-preparations-for-your-landscape/

Monday, August 22, 2011

Update to "Pretty, but noxious"

A list of invasive plants in Virginia can be found at:


Another invasive (but moderately so- it is not difficult to pull) is pictured above- the obedient plant Physostegia virginiana- this plant is a native, not an exotic, and can spread quickly through a garden. It is pretty, but think about it before you buy one!
Happy gardening!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Pretty, But "Noxious"

Sorry, this is the "do as I say, not as I do" kind of advice. Morning glories (Ipomoeas) in all their "glory" are very pretty flowers (see above). However, many state agricultural departments list it as a "noxious weed" and try to eradicate it (though Virginia seems t0 list only purple loosestrife and European wand loosestrife as noxious). Morning glory seeds, which you can buy at garden centers, will quickly grow up fences and other plants and eventually present a smothering blanket. They tolerate poor, dry soils well and produce many seeds. Stop this vine once you see it, or, if you must have it, at least cut it back before it sets seed. Why is this a "do as I say, not as I do" blog entry? See the photo below- this is not the only point of morning glory invasion I have to deal with- and soon!Happy gardening! And weeding!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Potted Pepper Success

After lack of success with peppers planted in the ground, I began to pot then up and have had success. A few words of advice: the bigger the pot the better- use at least a 5 gallon pot for full sized bell peppers, though chili peppers can use a smaller pot. Plastic pots, with drain holes, drain well but do not dry out as fast as terra cotta. Use regular potting soil, adding organic fertilizer according to package directions, plus one tablespoon Epsom salts for the magnesium. Above are photos of my loaded red bell pepper and my orange pimento plants. So, if you have trouble with in-ground peppers, try potting them up!
Happy gardening!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Lavender Touch Eggplant

I have grown many varieties of eggplant- the standard black beauty, Ichiban Asian, green ad white, but none have been as productive as Lavender Touch eggplant (I got the seeds from Pinetree Garden Seeds at www.superseeds.com though I am sure other companies carry them). Sometimes eggplant can be difficult to grow- you have to wait until it really warms up to plant them, about 2 weeks after the last frost date. They can be plagued by flea beetles if not grown under cover until they are big enough to outgrow the beetle damage. They are relatively heavy feeders. But this particular eggplant, aside from being lovely and tasty, is very productive in my central VA garden. This year my efforts to grow it under cover were foiled by my dog and many birds who tore at the floating row cover and the plants still took off and are pumping out fruit even in this hot weather!
Eggplants can be roasted and preserved for winter eating in baba ganooj (that tasty eggplant spread often on mezze plates) or Indian and Asian dishes that require roasted eggplant. Simply wash and top the eggplant, dry it, place in a roasting pan that has been brushed with olive oil. Brush the skin of the eggplants with more olive oil and sprinkle with some salt (I use large grain sea salt). Roast in a 350 degree oven for 45 mins, allow to cool, scrape out and freeze the flesh. Yum!
Happy gardening (and eating!)

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tiny Virginia Bananas!

Recently I wrote a post on my banana plant (a banana grows in Virginia) and wrote I would follow up. Well, here 'tis! My stunning banana plant flower produced these cute little red/pink bananas (probably not edible). As I wrote in the past, bananas like water and a relatively heavy feeders (I give them fish emulsion, but no fertilizer in the winter). They need shelter in the winter (mine do fine in the attic by a window- they look like heck at the end of the winter, but perk up quickly).
Happy gardening! Go bananas!