Central Virginia Organic Gardener

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

Friday, March 30, 2012

Pallet Garden

It stinks to be sick in the spring when the garden beckons, but until I am better, here is a fun, new take on using a pallet to make a garden:


Happy gardening!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Guess Who came To Dinner? An Uninvited Guest

When I had my pond built, I did a lot of reading about garden ponds. One thing reassured me was that my pond was probably too small to attract large bird predators, namely the Great Blue Heron. After all, the pond is only about 5 feet wide and 14 feet long, add a few feet for the gravel filter/waterfall. So, good, I would not need to invest in an anti-heron device (aka a plastic heron statue that makes other herons believe "this pond is taken!") or worry about my frogs being eaten. Shortly after my pond was built, like the next day, a frog found his or her way in, and we have had chirping frogs ever since.
A very large frog successfully overwintered in the pond this year. I was at the point of bestowing some affectionate name on him, when I came home with visiting nephews and niece in tow, to find this above uninvited guest, with the remains of froggie in his beak. The heron has been in the neighborhood, casing the pond for over a week, but this is the first we've seen him at the pond (probably because my dog Bob scares him off or chases him away).
Next stop: the garden center for a plastic, anti-heron device! That is, if I want frogs in my pond (a heron can clean out a pond in a few short visits).
He is a pretty impressive specimen of wildlife and was a pleasure to see so close, 'cept for the sorrowful remains of froggie. It's a bird-eat-frog world out there!
Happy gardening!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sunday, March 11, 2012

It's happened: a superweed has been created

It has happened: overuse of an herbicide has lead to the development of super weeds. This development has been expected for years. Here's the deal: weeds are tough, adaptable plants. If you spray them with a targeted herbicide, almost all of them die...except for the few survivors who are able to resist the herbicide. If these plants survive to reproduce, they pass their protective genes on to their descendants and ...voila...in a few generations, all the plants are resistant and that genetic variation spreads. This is the same process that happens with bacteria and antibiotics, but that is even more scary, as bacteria can, under some circumstances, swap gene inside a host organism (so the process can be accelerated).

The actors here are Palmer amaranth (aka pigweed) in cotton fields in Georgia and glyophosate herbicide (trade name: Roundup). These cotton seeds have been genetically engineered to resist the effects of glyphosate, so they can be heavily sprayed with the stuff (imagine the environmental consequences, especially to aquatic organisms which are very vulnerable to this stuff and get a good dose from agricultural runoff). Pigweed grows fast and severely limits cotton yields. Farmers are resorting to old methods, like hand pulling, to remove this resistant pigweed, which, if left to set seed, can produce close to a million seeds per plant!

What I find interesting in the NPR report below is the weed expert's recommendation that cotton farmers use a tried and true organic method to deal with pigweed, that is, plant a cover crop of rye and intersperse cotton plants in it (though this method has not been fully worked out for large scale use, according to this expert). Pigweed cannot really grow in a rye field, and the rye also prevents erosion and adds nutrients to the soil when plowed under after the cotton harvest. What do Dow and Monsanto propose? More genetically engineered cotton plants that resist heavy doses of other herbicides. Can a multi-herbicide resistant pigweed be far behind? And more environmental damage? Other sad news is that pigweed is just one example of an herbicide-resistant weed currently posing a challenge to all growers.

For the NPR report, go to:

Palmer amaranth photo credit: Univ. Missouri Agricultural Extension office, at:

And, if you live in Georgia, continue to hand pull any pigweed you find in your yard and garden. I've heard that, when young, it is edible (but research this before you do and only eat organic weeds!!!!)!
Happy(?) gardening? How about "environmentally conscious gardening" this week!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Gardening on the cheap

As I thumb through garden product catalogs, I realize how easy it is to grow the proverbial $64 tomato. I can buy container garden pot/watering systems for $100 to grow a (that's ONE) tomato plant, expensive cages and ladders for eggplants and cucumbers, pricey edging and corners for raised beds. I can buy expensive seed (which might be worth it) or have pricey annual seedlings mailed to my home.

But I am a cheap gardener. My garden might look like heck, because I re-use, recycle and re-purpose. Martha Stewart does not garden here (nor does she live in my house). I reuse chicken wire and posts from year to year for pea trellises and milk jugs to mix organic fertilizer. I rake pine straw from my front yard to bring to the back to mulch my strawberries. Plastic sheeting from furniture purchases (mine or others) is rescued and reused as row tunnel covers.

So what the heck is that ugly thing in the photo at the top? Instead of buying coddling moth traps for my apple tree each year, a few years ago I purchased three plastic apples at a discount craft store, drilled a hole in them, inserted a recycled florists wire, coated them in tangle trap and hung them on my tree. The next year, I cleaned them off, painted them red and re-coated them. This is pretty effective at catching coddling moths that bore tunnels through your apples. I do purchase coddling moth pheromone each year (when the garden catalog I favor has a timely sale) that I will attach to the traps. This increases the efficiency of the traps at catching the moths, but I do not need to purchase new traps each year. I have heard of other similar solutions: using red rubber balls, and old, worn billiard balls with tangle trap and hanging those.

[To avoid giving the impression that hanging red sticky traps is all you need to do to get fruit here is a list of what I did this year already and what I will need to do to get good organic fruit: First, we pruned for maybe 15 hours, then sprayed the trees with dormant oil to smother bugs. After petal drop and around three more times during the season, I will need to spray with an organic biofungicide, then with BTK shortly after flowering (kills caterpillars and fruit worms), the start regularly applying Surround (clay that deters bugs). Oh, and we will need to thin the fruits, that is, take off at least 1 of every 10 little peaches, apples and pears (too many fruits on the tree means each fruit will be small, stresses the tree, invites disease, etc). It is a lot of work, but I like it, when I have time!].
Happy (inexpensive) gardening!