Central Virginia Organic Gardener

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

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

This Season 2016

This was a very bad season for my garden, so bad, in fact, that I have not posted much on it. I was unable to spray my zucchini plants with clay spray, so the squash vine borers got them very quickly. The tomatoes did OK, not great, though the eggplant  went gangbusters.  We had early spring, warmth, then a hard freeze, so that meant no figs, no strawberries, and no apples this year. In addition, the squirrels completely stripped my beloved persimmon tree of all the persimmons, even while they were green.   In mid spring, we had so many rainy days I could not keep up with the garden, then scorching heat throughout the summer, so ditto.

 So, I do not have much to report, but hope to be back with a few successes I had: two marvelous winter squash. Back to you soon.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Early Tomatoes

Remember those three tomato plants I set out on March 26th, protected by (the trademarked) "Wall-o-Water" protectors? Well, here is a photo of the plants that were protected, and two "sibling" tomato plants that were started indoors on the same day, but planted on May 8th.  I think you can tell the difference!


Sunday, April 10, 2016

Tomato update

Remember those tomato plants I set out inside protective Wall-o-Waters a couple weeks ago?  Well, they did just fine in the two hard freezes we experienced!  Down to 25 degrees!


I recently posted about the warm, early spring turning decidedly chilly, with a few hard freezes predicted. Well, the freezes materialized, but the damage to my plants showed, I think, the effects of microclimates.  What are microclimates?  Well, our modern, go-to source (Wikipedia) defines it as "a local atmospheric zone where the climate differs from the surrounding area. The term may refer to areas as small as a few square meters or square feet (for example a garden bed) or as large as many square kilometers or square miles."

You likely have several microclimates in your yard, like against a brick or stone wall, a dip in the ground, near a water feature, or the shelter of shrubs.  I noted a few microclimates in my yard after this freeze: the few fig branches against my brick chimney did not get zapped by the freeze while the rest of the new growth on the tree did; an azalea growing amid another shrub showed no damage, but the others had partial damage and; the lower branches of shrubs nearer concrete were less damaged than higher branches. 

And this?

This azalea had layers and pockets of frost damage.  I am not sure if this was related to microclimates or to the flowers being at different stages of development with different susceptibility to damage (which, I guess, could also be from microclimates!). The beige areas are blasted flower buds, while opened flowers, both above and below, seem fine.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Seed are Becoming Big Business

Have you ever thought about the source of seeds?  Though this article chiefly involves seeds sold to farmers, companies that produce home garden seeds are being bought out, too.


It is difficult to find a recently updated list of small, independent seed houses, here is one to try (with some VA sources):


Tuesday, April 5, 2016


Eighty-degree days, balmy nights, what can that mean in Virginia in April? Why, a hard freeze must be just around the corner!  I mean, tonight!  And a couple more nights this week...
The unpredictable weather in April is "why we can't have nice things!" Only kidding, there are lots of beautiful plants in April: forsythia, daffodils, dogwoods, saucer magnolias and quince, just to name a few.  But the "nice things" I was referring to are the heat-loving veggies, like tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, basil and squash. If you set these plants out recently....that is, before our last average frost date (end of April), seduced by the warm weather, you are now paying the price of having to cover them up.  And there is another price, too, one you might not easily see: the cold can check or stunt the growth of these heat lovers, even if you endeavor to keep them as snug as possible.
I recently sort of joined the ranks of early planters, by setting out three tomato plants...but I planted them into wall-o-waters, the (trademarked) system to keep the plants warm enough to thrive, even in a cold snap (see recent post).   But, even I had to rush out after work to cover the open tops of these contraptions to keep in some accumulated heat.  We'll see how they do!
So, the moral of the story?  Wait until your last average frost date to set out heat-loving plants!
Happy...and Timely...Gardening!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Mulching Trees

A helpful reminder from Texas A&M Forest Service:

Cedar-Apple Rust Gall...or Not?*

You know how, when you see something for the first time, you start to see it everywhere? Well today, I was at Maymont, an historical estate in Richmond, Virginia. I was there to take what turned out to be an excellent tour of the mansion.  On my way, I noticed a weird, tentacled, orange glob hanging off of an Eastern Red Cedar tree.  I immediately knew what it was. You see, last year I had to take out my two pear* trees, which I thought were resistant to the cedar-apple rust fungus.  Unfortunately, all of the fruit on the trees were stunted and developed these orange tentacle projections on them, signifying infection with the fungus.  Usually, cedars, apples and crab apples are most susceptible to this fungus.  Whatever, my pears* got a hefty dose of it. Last year, I walked through the neighborhood looking for infected cedar trees, and found none. However, this year the trees seem to be loaded with this fungus.  

For most of the year, the fungus looks like some sort of cone or pod on the cedar tree. However, after the first warm rain in spring, the fungal spore-bearing parts of the gall emerge.  The fungus has a complicated lifestyle, involving transfer back-and-forth from cedar trees to apple trees.  

The treatment for this fungus is two-pronged: first, remove all cedar trees in the vicinity. Of course, this was impossible, as the Eastern Red Cedar grows prolifically in this area in Virginia. The second involves the use of antifungal sprays.  Unfortunately, I was unable to keep up with the organic, anti-fungal sprays given the extent of the infection, which is why I had to remove the trees.

Wonder what it looks like? Here you go:

Weird, huh?  I may not like this fungus, but I can appreciate its strange that interesting looks. So, I am making "lemons out of lemonade" and will be creating a botanical drawing of the cedar-apple rust gall!

*Ah-ha! I did some more research!  While the above photo seems to be of a cedar-apple rust gall, my pear trees more likely suffered from pear-quince rust, which exists in both cedars and junipers!  Wow, a whole world is opening up to me about nasty fungi!  The fruit looked just as shown in this link, from the excellent Missouri Botanical Garden: 

I need to do more research!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Stop Crape Maiming!

I've been saying this for years!


Oh boy, gardening season has really started! I had a thought as I was walking through the neighborhood today: "After the winter, even the weeds are welcome!" Though I know I'll be singing another tune in just a few short weeks!

Wall-o-Waters (or WW)-see the photo above- were all the rage about five years ago. These season extenders allow you to plant heat-loving vegetables before the average last frost date in your region.  Well, I bought a pack of three, and then never used them. So I have set them up today, March 26, to plant tomatoes in less than a week. You're supposed to set these up at least 3-4 days in advance of planting, to allow them to warm up. You take the empty WW, open them up, put them in position, insert stakes to hold them up, and slowly fill them until all the cells are filled with water. It takes between 1.5 and 2 gallons of water to fill each WW.

Unfortunately, I think my tomato seedlings are just too small to begin to harden off to plant into the WW's.  I do have extra tomato seedlings, as is typical for me (I start more than I need, in the event of seed failure), so I might just put a few into the WW's to see if they survive. If not, then I will be looking for hardened off, mature tomato seedlings a bit earlier than they are typically available in my area.  I am a bit skeptical as to whether these will really advance the season or not.

I will keep you posted!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Off and Running!

My peas are up, saw the first seedling leaves poking up less than a week after I planted them!

Monday, February 22, 2016


Has anyone heard a quote like this and know the source?
"Gardener: Definition: noun: A person who maintains their optimism despite the evidence of repeated failure."

Friday, February 19, 2016

Peas, Please

Like Thomas Jefferson, I adore peas. Unlike Jefferson, I grow the edible-podded kind, the sugar snap peas. I have a lot to contend with an order to get my peas, please. First, there are the voles. See my various entries on voles to learn how I am trying to defeat them.  The second enemy is rabbits. This year, I will be completely fencing in my peas, and my beans, from the bunnies who love to mow them down. It seems that nothing attracts rabbits to my garden faster than legumes.  The last obstacle to growing lots of wonderful peas is the weather. Here in the central region of Virginia, spring is short and the hot weather often comes quickly. Peas abhor hot weather, ending their production and dying when it gets too warm. Typically, peas are planted on St. Patrick's Day. However, I find that this is too short a season for peas.  Of course, planting earlier is often too early, and they get zapped by frost. I have tried planting them under row covers with some success, but this year I am starting my peas indoors in peat pots.  I noted on the local botanical garden's blog that this is how they start their peas. I am hoping that this will give me a significant head start, so all I will have a longer pea-producin' season than usual.

Many plants, when started indoors, need to have some bottom heat. This includes tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers.   I start these in flats, atop heat mats. However peas, along with lettuce and other greens, will not sprout if the soil is too warm. So, my sunroom, which stays around 50° at night, and no higher than 70° during the day in the winter, should be perfect.

Can't wait!
Happy gardening!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Walnut Trees and Juglone

I know, this is another  repost.   However, if you garden in the area full of walnut trees, as I do, this post provides some good information on what you can grow under a walnut tree and what plants are sensitive to the allelopathic substance (a chemical that impedes the growth of other plants) in them:


Thursday, January 28, 2016

Mulch Volcanoes

Just the topic I was going to post on!  Thank you, LGBG!
LGBG blog mulching trees