Central Virginia Organic Gardener

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

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?"