Central Virginia Organic Gardener

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

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Burgundy Okra

Okra photos by the author, use by permission only.

Oh, my, this is one plant I will definitely grow next year.  I ordered burgundy okra seeds from Pinetree Garden Seeds (www.superseeds.com) last winter.  I really like okra, but have not grown it in a few years,  Well, this okra is not only beautiful, but the pods are very tasty.  It is easy to grow, as long as the huge plants get sufficient water (it was a dry summer).  I had one plant grow over 5 feet tall!  The deep red stems, red-veined green leaves, red fruit and absolutely gorgeous flowers make it a natural in the back of the flower border, too!  Did you know that okra is a member of the hibiscus family, as is cotton?

Have you been getting your seed catalogs? Planting season will be here soon!
Happy gardening!


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Hopi Red Dye Amaranth

I grow plants for beauty, for consumption and for art.  I am a botanical artist, and I like to draw unusual subjects.  I planted Hopi red dye amaranth a few years ago and the plant has been busily reseeding in my garden (easy to pull out, though, if it is in an inconvenient place).  This plant can be very large, up to 4 feet tall.  The leaves are greenish-burgundy, with reddish flower stalks (made up of thousands of flowers). The Hopi people used its seeds as a food dye, mainly to make cornbread pink in color.  Amaranths are a large family of plants, and their seed is edible and has a good amount of protein. Leaves are nutritious, too. Garden cultivars include the well-know "Love Lies Bleeding" planted in old-fashioned flower gardens:   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amaranthus_caudatus
Here is a pink cultivar:
Coral Fountain Amaranth at the Hudson Valley Seed Library in Accord, NY

I grew this plant to try to dye wool (the color is not light fast, though) and to draw.  When I draw, I start from a living subject, but then use reference photos as reminders.  Here is a reference photo:

Photo by S.R. Vrana

For more information about amaranths, go to:

Happy Gardening!  And Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tomato Musings

It is getting near Christmas, and I am listening to holiday music. We have four, measly, poorly-ripened tomatoes left from the garden that likely won't taste very good.  The season of craving that homegrown, sun-ripened tomato has arrived.

You know how how people in a state or area with decent tomato-growing conditions say their tomatoes are the best?  In Virginia, many counties claim their 'maters have no equal, are the ultimate in tomato-ness, including Hanover, where I live.  And I grew up in New Jersey where the same claims are made.

Why is this?  I have a theory.  When you bite into that perfect homegrown tomato in July, to what are you comparing it?  Perhaps you are comparing it to those nasty, styrofoam-like, tasteless red orbs purported to be tomatoes that are sold in the grocery store year round.  Those things are often grown in Florida (terrible conditions for tomato growing), picked green and artificially ripened in a warehouse flooded with ethylene gas.   Gross!  They taste nothing like a good tomato...or even like a marginal homegrown one.  So, any homegrown tomato that is ripe, and has never been refrigerated, is infinitely superior, whether it comes from Jersey, Virginia, Delaware or North Carolina...or any zone good for the solanaceae. Oh, and sometimes when you buy tomatoes at a farm stand, they have been refrigerated or chilled.  Nothing ruins their flavor faster.
I just about never buy off-season tomatoes, choosing to add beets, carrots, olives to my salads and sandwiches instead. 
And "I'm dreamin' of a red tomato...just like the ones I used to know..." 
Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Pokeweed: Friend or Foe?

Why is this pokeweed in a vase?

Gosh, I hate pokeweed.  Or, perhaps the more accurate word is "hated."  You all know pokeweed:
That large, though somewhat handsome, plant, huge taproot, that sprouts like a hydra if you break it off when removing the plant.  Pokeweed is also poisonous and the berries stain (thanks birds!).
I actually drew it:

Hum, so why draw a plant you "hate?"  OK, OK.....As I said, the plant is handsome, and the green, rose and purple berries are stunning.  And maybe I don't hate it so much, after all, because the berries are favorites of some cool birds, like mourning doves, bluebirds, catbirds and mocking birds (I can listen to mockers sign for a long time, trying to identify their songs).  Indeed, these birds feed heavily on pokeweed berries.

Yes, I know, too much is too much.  How to remove pokeweed?  It is good to wait until after a rain, when the soil is saturated. This helps loosen the roots' grip on the soil.  Young plants can usually be pulled out by hand. Established plants need to be dug out, getting all the taproot.  Quite a chore.  So you might think of letting a few plants stay in a corner of your yard, for the birds!

One more image for you: look at this speckled-leaf cultivar of pokeweed at the Denver Botanic gardens!  Wow!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Pine Straw

Like many of you, I have been buying wood chips/mulch for the paths in my flower garden.  This is despite the various concerns about mulch: it breeds artillery fungus that can permanently stain houses, it robs the soil of nitrogen as it breaks down (not such a problem in paths), it can encourage voles and it costs money!  So, I have started doing what I should have been doing all along: using the free mulch that drops from my pine tree and the trees of neighbors.

At first, the pine straw (some call it pine tags) is fluffy, but it soon packs down (I walked over it a few times).  Like wood chips, it might encourage voles and take up nitrogen, but it is free and I don't have to drive somewhere to get it, load it, unload it and spread it.  Plus, I already rake it up every fall.  Win Win! And, after it packs down, it looks pretty good,  It likely will not last as long as wood chips, but I easily renew it every year.

Happy Gardening!