Central Virginia Organic Gardener

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

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Wednesday Lagniappe: Weird Name, Great Plant


Hellebore (also called  Christmas or Lenten rose) has an odd Latin name. But this is a great shade plant!It comes back reliably in zone 7, blooms in winter and voles don't like it. The flower is charming, in white and pink with a speckled interior.  It will stop blooming as the weather warms, but will come back for you and bloom again in dead of winter.
Happy gardening!
(Thanks to RS for the correction on the earlier version of this post)

Sunday, May 26, 2013

An Old Technique?

Peaches are the most difficult fruit to grow organically.  There are a variety of pest and diseases that like nothing more than to attack a peach. In the past, I have used a variety of organic sprays (kaolin, anti-fungals, pesticides) to produce usable peaches. What we get, mostly, is usable peach flesh (that is, we have to cut out the bad parts).  But we do get enough for fresh eating (slices), cobbler, pie, crisps, sorbet and jam.  This year, I am trying an old barrier technique, paper bags. Growers have been bagging fruit for a long time, especially to get premium fruit (most often apples). Some recommend using plastic, zipper-seal bags, but these can cook (steam) your fruit on hot days.  Others suggest sewing netting or row cover bags, bu this is a lot more work and a determined squirrel can still defeat it (my dogs keep the squirrels at bay!).  So, I am using paper lunch sacks- they should provide protection and last for the season. I went into the garden with 40 or so lunch sacks and a stapler and bagged the best looking fruits. I will report on the outcome!
Happy gardening!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Wednesday Lagniappe: Green Flowers?

I borrowed an electronic copy of this book from a public library, just for fun.  I was interested to see if the book could convince me that green flowers were worthwhile in the ornamental garden (this former Jersey girl likes her bright colors).  I realized, after reading it, that I do have some plants with green flowers already, that I enjoy: a hellebore (Christmas rose) and two euphorbias (spurges).  I guess I was biased against green flowers because so much else in the garden is green already, but green flowers can be unexpected, a surprise as you meander down your garden paths.  This book, with its lovely photographs of green flowers, convinced me that they have a place in my garden.
Happy gardening!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Pitcher Plant Update

As promised, here is an update of pitcher plant progress.  The plants are reveling in their new home.  The mahogany-red blossoms are the Sarracenia leucophylla, the lime-green pitchers are from S. flava (they had their flower buds trimmed off for packing and shipping).  The reddish one in the center, back, seems to be one that is different from what I ordered (it does not match the two varieties), but it is welcome to make its home with us.
Happy gardening!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Native Virginia Cactus? Yep...

Say "Hello" the the eastern prickly pear cactus, Opuntia humifusa, a Virginia native.  When I was and child and later, a college student (eons ago), I visited the Pinelands of New Jersey, home to low-bush blueberries, dwarf conifers, and terrestrial orchids.  And cacti.  I remember thinking "what the heck is a cactus doing in New Jersey?" Aren't cacti denizens of dusty, arid regions of the American southwest?  I first thought that this could not be a cactus.  Until I touched it.  The tiny spines embedded in my fingers screamed "cacti!"  But how did a cactus get there?

According to the Flora of Virginia (2012) (Crowder, [ed]), there are 1800 species and 125-30 genera of cacti all over the United States, including eastern and northern states.  They might be more diverse in the southwestern US, but we have 'em too.  The prickly pear pictured above was started from one pad, given to me by a friend (thanks CJ!).  I potted it up last summer and let it overwinter in my house, where is very kindly produced a yellow bloom in February.  At the end of April, I planted it outdoors in a combination of almost equal parts of sand and pea gravel, with a small amount of garden soil, in bright sun.  So far, the cactus has taken off, showing signs of new growth- you can clearly see it is not just one pad anymore.  The only caveat to planting these cacti in your native Virginia garden is this:  watch out for the spines!  The spines are reddish and almost too small to see, but you can get them embedded in your skin easily, even just by brushing against the plant.  If you do, you need to go inside, and pull these fine, reddish, hair-like spines out with a tweezer.  Though they are small, they quickly become irritating.  Always wear heavy gloves when dealing with this plant (the spines can go right through thin garden gloves). You can see in the photo a little garden cloth (wire) fencing I have around the plant?  This is a reminder to protect me (and inquisitive dogs) from contact.

Happy gardening!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Cold Snap? Take Cover!

We are expecting a bit of a cold snap here in central Virginia over the next few days (maybe a low of 39) and, sacre bleu!  I have just planted my tomatoes and eggplants!  What to do?  Well, it was seeming to me to be a bit late to plant these vegetables, but they, eggplants especially, do not like nighttime temperatures below 50.  So, I whipped out my handy, inexpensive. plastic row tunnels (see left photo) and covered up the tomato seedlings. These pre-made tunnels are thick sheet plastic, with half-circle hoops built in.  They are easy to use and simple to fold up and store.  Each tunnel was under $20 and I can use them for many seasons.  But I only had two of them. The other photo (on the right) shows two more beds, the eggplants under a floating row cover (right side of photo) and more tomatoes covered in a double layer of whatever saved plastic I had around (left side of the photo)(plastic from a furniture purchase, scavenged shipping material...).  I had purchased some bendable hoops last year (also reusable) and, voila, my hacked thermal covers for my plants.  I do occasionally purchase something for the garden, but also like to make do with found materials.

If you do put up covers, make sure to take them off when outdoor temps approach 80 degrees. As is the case in central VA, we might be chilly the next few nights, but Thursday it is expected to hit 90 degrees!

Happy gardening!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Wednesday Lagnaippe: Post- Apple Tree Pruning or The Green Monster

Fruit trees need yearly, extensive pruning, much more pruning than other types of trees.  If you fail to do this pruning, your tree quickly gets out of hand.  This past winter I did some pretty extensive pruning on my apple, peach and pear trees.  They really needed it.  Branches had shot up so high, it was difficult to impossible to harvest some of the fruit.  I also could not spray these hard to reach branches with kaolin clay protectant and organic fungicides, so the fruit above rotted and spread disease down to lower branches.

How to fruit trees respond to extensive pruning? Exuberantly!  The two photos above are of my apple tree:  it almost looks like the branches and main trunk are covered with green fur, the new sprouts are so dense.  So, gotta' get back up on the ladder and remove these new, non-productive, growths.  And, if you did your fruit tree pruning last winter, you do too!

Happy gardening!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Baby Bug Eaters

Wonder what the plant "pitchered" above is?  It is a Sarracenia, or pitcher plant.  This species is native to North America and I have been lusting after it for years.  So, why haven't I grown one before?  Though not hugely difficult, pitcher plants require highly specialized circumstances in which to grow.  These plants thrive in sun-drenched bogs with low pH and NO nitrogen.  In fact, the easiest way to kill this plant is to give it fertilizer!  Let me explain...

Pitcher plants evolved in acidic, low nutrient, boggy situations.  Unlike a pond, a bog is not always filled with water, but it is always moist.  So, it needs some drainage, but not a lot.  All plants need nitrogen and the pitcher plant is no exception, but acidic bogs have little to no nitrogen.  So, like Venus flytraps (also native to the US) the pitcher plant is carnivorous.  No, it does not have a hinged, mouth-like trap that snaps.  Instead, after the plant flowers (the photo above is of its flower bud- and a very exotic looking flower it is: go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sarracenia_alata_flowers.jpg   for some photos)
-it sends up a hollow tube, filled with a digestive enzyme and downward pointing hairs.  Bugs, attracted by some nectar, fly into the tube, but cannot get out: those downward hairs act like lances to them. So, they drop down further and further into the pitcher, seeking a way out. Finally exhausted, the bugs fall into the enzyme and are slowly consumed by the plant, becoming its main source of nitrogen.

Building the bog bed was not difficult,  First, clear an area, making it level.  Line it with small opening garden cloth (wire fencing) to keep voles out.  Then, build your sides- I used landscaping rock.  You need to measure the area for a butyl pond liner, or you can use 4-6 ml plastic sheeting, enough to overlap the top of he wall.  Poke holes every foot or so in the base of the liner (you need some drainage) and line the bottom with sand. Then add a 1:3 mix of sand an peat moss, both wetted (it can take a while to get peat moss wet, so do not plant immediately).  I then placed a soaker hose over the top (and I did bury one in the bed itself, with the end above the bed, incorporated into the wall for later watering) and set to drip for 8 hours or overnight.  When the peat is thoroughly wetted (dig a little and you will see if it is), you are set to plant!  First, adjust the edges of the liner, covering them with whatever material you used to make the bog walls.

I bought my plants from a nursery in Stanardsville, VA that specializes in carnivorous plants and does some retail business:
Retail orders must be $100 at least, but this is not hard to do!  I planted two varieties, S. flava and S. leucophylla.  Watch this space for future updates and photos!

If you don't want to plant your own or don't have the room,  Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden has some great varieties, in bloom today (May 5) for the next few weeks!  At: http://www.lewisginter.org/

Happy gardening!