Central Virginia Organic Gardener

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

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wednesday Lagniappe: Washington Gardener

An interesting, and free, online publication, is Washington Gardener.  Fine focus on plants, the mid-Atlantic 
region  and events in the DC area, it is available at: 

Happy Gardening!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Minor trouble

Sorry for no post on Sunday, I am ironing out some problems with a Google duplicate account, should be back to speed soon!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Wednesday Lagniappe: Garden Planting Calendar

Thanks to my media manager (a.k.a.husband) for this link:  plug in your info, find out when you can plant what, with the Garden Planting Calendar at:


Happy Gardening!

Wednesday Lagniappe: Composters Article

The New York Times has an article testing 4 composters. This article is geared toward those with small spaces, or urban dwellers, but is has interesting info the rest of us (I have three outdoor compost pits and a worm composter).

Happy gardening!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Rotation, Rotation

I have written about rotation in the garden in the past.  The most ambitious rotation scheme I have seen (and never been able to emulate) was in Mother Earth News, Feb 2010.  They list nine main groups of plants to include in the scheme.  The nine groups are the:
Onion family: Onions, leeks, shallots, garlic, chives.
Carrot Family: Carrot, celery, parsnip and parsley.
Sunflower Family: Sunflowers, lettuce and a few other leafy greens.
Cabbage Family: Cabbage, broccoli, kale and some other leafy greens, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, and rutabaga.
Spinach: Spinach, beets, and chard.
Cucumber: Cucumbers, melons, squash and gourds.
Pea Family: Peas and beans.
Tomato Family: Tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and potatoes.
Grass Family: Corn, wheat, oats and rye.

The idea is that rotating these crops has two important effects. First, disease and pest burdens are thought to be lower if the groups of plants are moved from site to site. Second, some crops may selectively "drain" the soil of one or a few nutrients. Rotation gives the soil time to recover.  However, most of us have limited space. Over time, an ambitious rotation system might break down (without careful planning), esp.as  that rotation should be on a 4 year schedule (that is, members of the same family of plants should only be grown in the same bed only every 4 years, though some recommend 5).
What do I do?  My best.  I have three distinct vegetable garden areas and divide the large one into two. I try to rotate across these,  My problem is that I grow a lot of members of the tomato family (none of the grass family) and a smattering of all the other groups.  This means I I need a larger area for this one family, smaller areas for the others, but this does not easily work out in a rotation scheme.
Happy gardening!  Try some rotation!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Wednesday Lagniappe: Loove Them Worms!

The NYT, my go-to paper, has another great article for gardeners...this time on worms.  I have had a vermicomposter (the round, stacking kind or worm composting bin) for a few years and I use it for the wonderful "worm water" fertilizer that drains off.  Some people  keep (smaller) vermicomposters inside their house, but I have not tried this. Mine is in my unheated garage. The worms do well during the winter. In the summer, on very hot days, I put some cold water or ice cubes on the top to cool them down- heat is the only thing that has caused them to die off.


OK, my composter is not neat and tidy (see photo above) but it does the trick!

Happy Winter Gardening!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

What is a Weed? Part 2: 'Weeds' by Richard Mabey

I would guess that most gardeners have heard a definition of a weed that goes something like: "a weed is a plant in the wrong place." Or Ralph Waldo Emerson's quote that a weed is "a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered." And that is certainly the case, but Richard Mabey made me realize that the definition of weeds is much more (see my last Sunday essay on this book).  Plants go from being desired plants, to being a nuisance, to being a weed, and back to being desired again.  Weeds, using a favorite social work (my day job) term are a "social construction."  This means that the term weed is defined and created  by man, by the cultural, social, agricultural, medical, ornamental and artistic needs of human beings. A weed may simply be a plant that strays out of its proper biological or botanical home. But that means tulips are weeds here in Virginia.  So it must be more than this?  To quote Mabey: "The ornamental in one place becomes a malign invader in another.  What had been a crop or a medicine, centuries ago, falls from grace and metamorphoses into a forest outlaw. And just as readily the weed is domesticated into a food plant or a children's plaything or a cultural symbol....Of course, 'it all depends on what you mean by a weed'. The definition is the weed's cultural story." And a cultural story it is.

Some plants are labeled "weeds" because of their harmful effects on people (example: poison ivy), on the animals people depend on (example: 'cowsick,' a common name for datura, needs no further explanation) or the agricultural crop plants we needs (example: dodder sucks out the plants juices and weakens them). Some plants are labeled by people as unattractive, ugly or smelly. Some plants have uncomfortable resemblances to human anatomy (not that cute turnip that looks like it has a face, but that Voodoo lily that is shaped like a ...phallus). The operative word ina ll these descriptions is people: these plants are defined by us for our purposes: but of course they are, like most things. Mabey again: "they are plants which sabotage human plans."  So weed, like insect pest, is a social construction and has little to do with biology or nature, though most weeds seem to share some type of toughness in their DNA. One bottom line definition of weed?  One last Mabey quote "Weeds thrive in the company of humans."  They grow well whenever we disturb or destroy.  Cutting a forest for a field (or a garden) creates a haven for weeds.  Our penence is weeding.


  [pen-uh ns
a punishment undergone in token of penitence for sin.
a penitential discipline imposed by church authority.
a sacrament, as in the Roman Catholic Church, consisting in a confession of sin, made with sorrowand with the intention of amendment, followed by the forgiveness of the sin.
1250–1300; Middle English penaunce  < Anglo-French; Old French peneance  < Latin paenitentia penitence

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Wednesday Lagniappe: Food Fight

This is an excellent New York Times piece on the battles faced by people who simply want to grow food, not lawns, on their front yards.  Editorial comment: why do we have to have grass anyway?


Happy Gardening!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year, Gardening Friends!

Here is my new garden assistant, Fluff, the terrier/Lhasa mix!  Terriers are great at digging out voles and moles and I hope she will get to work soon. She is a rescue, removed from a home with three other dogs who were being neglected.  We are so happy to have her!  She is fitting in well with the family and our other dog, Bob (who has been a total gentleman about this upstart!)

It is that time of year again.  Today, New Year's Day, is when I settle down with hot tea or chocolate, under a blanket, and make my seed order (and order some garden products or tools as well: this year I am looking for spinosad to deal with squash and cucumber pets) for the coming garden season.  It is just around the corner, folks!  You can still be gardening under cover and can start peas as early as mid-February.  The turning of the year is the time when my spirits lift, and I begin to plan the garden season again.  And time to get that tree pruning done!

Happy New Year and Happy Gardening!