Master Gardener Classes Starting in Northern Virginia

The Master Gardener program is a great way to learn more about gardening, meet new friends, and get involved in civic projects. Conducted throughout the United States, the program usually is managed on a county level through state/county extension agents. Interested gardeners receive a manual and horticultural training from horticulturists and experts in the field. In return, they volunteer to assist the community with a variety of activities such as staffing plant clinic booths, answering phones, teaching, gardening in community areas, helping youth or elderly with gardening, etc. The program was initiated as a means of extending horticultural and pest management expertise of the state extension office to the general public. Usually the fee is the cost of the manual and a promise to volunteer and continue with education for a fixed number of hours annually. Becoming a Master Gardener is like joining a gardening club with many extended learning opportunities.

In Virginia, the Virginia Tech University manages the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) program which has extension agents at every county. The extension agent manages the county Master Gardener program. The following is just a quick snapshot of five Master Gardener programs in Northern Virginia to give you an idea; there are similar Master Gardener programs in Maryland and Washington DC. Among these five programs, the application deadlines, times/days programs are offered, cost, and the commitment in terms of hours vary so contact them directly for more detailed information. For example, if you work full time and can only attend evening classes you may find a program that offers evening classes and does not limit registration to county residents. Or some programs have one class a week instead of two thus extending the education over a longer time but making it more manageable.

In Fairfax County, there are two Master Gardener programs because so many people are interested. Green Spring, part of the Fairfax County park system, manages a Master Gardener program that requires a commitment of 100 hours in the first year. The classroom training is held at Green Spring in September and ends in November, usually two three-hour classes per week. Afterward, a 50 hour internship is required (volunteer work). After the first year, the Master Gardener status is maintained by remaining active in the program as a volunteer for 20 hours per year and participating in 8 hours of continuing education in horticulture. The orientation meeting is held in May and applicants are interviewed in the summer. The deadline to apply was this past June 2014 but if you are interested in learning more contact Pamela Smith, Community Horticultural Program Coordinator, (703) 642-0128, pamela.smith2@fairfaxcounty.gov; http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/greenspring/gsg-mastergardeners.htm

The other Fairfax Master Gardener program has classes at Merrifield Nursery at Fair Oaks. The classes are January through March, one day a week for 3 hours, during the day or during the evening. To become a certified Master Gardener, one has to complete 30 hours of classroom education per year for 3 years, and 24 hours of community service per year for 3 years. Once a person becomes a certified Master Gardener, he/she has to complete 8 hours of continuing education each year and 24 hours of volunteer work each year. The deadline for enrollment is September 8. There will be an open house on September 10 at Merrifield, from 6:30 to 7:30 pm, to learn more about the program and obtain applications (free but register in advance just so they can get a head count). For more information contact Maryellen Leister, (703) 821-1146, meleister@aol.com; http://fairfaxmga.org

In Arlington County, classes start in the beginning of September, Tuesdays, from 9:00 am to 3:30 pm, and last 12 weeks. Classes are held at the Fairlington Community Center in Arlington and other local garden venues. There is no application deadline and acceptances into the program are determined by mid-August. Residents of Alexandria City and Arlington receive preference and all training and internship hours must be completed in the Arlington/Alexandria area. After 75 hours of classroom training, the trainees must complete a 60-hour internship to hone their skills in core Master Gardener educational projects within one year of training. Once the classroom program, internship, and student project are completed participants become certified Master Gardeners. To maintain certification, they must volunteer a minimum of 20 hours and attend 8 hours of continuing education programs every year. For more information, contact the VCE Master Gardener Horticulture Help Desk at (703) 228-6414 or e-mail mgarlalex@gmail.com; http://mgnv.org/about/become-a-master-gardener/

In Loudoun County, the process starts in the fall but the classes start in February 2015. The Master Gardener program requires 60 hours of classroom education and 75 hours of the internship. The classes are held at the Extension office at 30 Catoctin Circle in Leesburg. Certified Master Gardeners must complete 25 volunteer hours and 8 hours of continuing education. This program has an early bird special where if you apply by November 15 you get a discounted tuition fee. Their application form online has quite a lot of information and there is an open house on November 6, 7:00 pm, at the Loudoun County Extension office, 30-B Catoctin Circle, SE, Leesburg. Call (703) 777-0373 or (703) 857-4575 for more information or e-mail at loudounmg@vt.edu; http://loudouncountymastergardeners.org

In Prince William County, 70 hours of classroom education and 50 hours of internship are required. To remain a Certified Master Gardener you must volunteer 20 hours per year and complete 8 hours of continuing education each year. There is an orientation on Monday, August 25, 6:30 to 8:30 pm in room 202A&B, Development Services Building 5, County Complex Drive, Prince William; and another orientation on Wednesday, August 27, 6:30 to 8:30pm, McCoy Conference Room, Sudley North Government Building, 7987 Ashton Avenue, Manassas. Must register for the orientation by calling (703) 792-7747 or e-mail master_gardener@pwcgov.org; http://www.pwcgov.org/government/dept/vce/Pages/Master-Gardeners.aspx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day!

Serendipitous snapdragons snap color in a Virginia garden for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, the 15th of every month.

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bicolor snapdragon

 

New Products Coming for Edible Gardens

Last week I wrote about the Independent Garden Center (IGC) show at the National Harbor, MD, and several new plant introductions. When I used to write about new plant introductions for Chesapeake Home magazine, I focused on what was truly new and different, not just the newest shade of red. Here are a few gardening products that would truly make a difference to a gardener. For more information and to see if the products are available at your local garden center, check the web site and Facebook page for the product.
Slug Gone is new to our country; it is British wool from sheep fleece that has been shaped into small, ¼ to ½ inch pellets, similar to rabbit food. Wool fibers have very fine scales with small barbs on the tip called cuticle cells. These enable the wool fibers to link together to form a mat. When wet, the pellets form a natural barrier to slugs both because the minute fibers irritate the slugs and the wet pellets spread to form a mat. This mat also becomes a barrier to weeds and helps retain moisture. What I like about Slug Gone is that it is a natural product, safe for children and pets. This product is distributed by Quince Creek in Pennsylvania which has a Facebook page called SlugGoneUSA. http://www.sluggoneusa.com or http://www.sluggone.com

Bag of Slug Gone with pellets in a plastic container

Bag of Slug Gone with pellets in a plastic container

Fabric aeration containers are not new, in fact, there are more brands and designs on the market now. Smart Pot is a well known brand that has been around for a number of years and is available in various sizes from 3 to 20 gallon, circular shapes. What you might not know is that Smart Pot has the Big Bag Bed, Wall Flowers, and Compost Sak. Big Bag Bed is a very large, circular fabric “raised bed” similar in size to the “kiddie pool” you would put in the backyard for toddlers. Its circular shape comes in three sizes: original, 50 inches x 12 inches; junior, 36 inches x 12 inches; and mini, 24 inches x 8 inches. These are intended to serve like raised beds and are designed so you can reach into the center from any point on the perimeter. Wall Flowers are 3 gallon bags that can be hung on a wall or hung over a rail, similar to a saddle bag. These are perfect for adding vertical color or even growing annuals and herbs on your deck. Compost Sak is 30 inches wide and 38 inches tall, with a 100 gallon capacity. You can throw in your refuse and let it decompose naturally. http://www.smartpots.com

Victory 8 Garden has taken fabric aeration containers in a different direction. Once filled with soil, their fabric containers become square-shaped, making them perfect for square foot gardening enthusiasts. The EZ-Gro Garden line of containers is designed to be “instant raised beds.” They come in several sizes: small, 2 feet x 2 feet; medium, 3 feet x 3 feet; and large, 4 feet x 4 feet, all almost a foot tall. They also have rectangles which look like two squares attached: small, 2 feet by 4 feet; medium, 3 feet by 6 feet; and large, 4 feet by 8 feet, all almost a foot tall. They have a line of just square containers called CuBe, which are 1 foot by 1 foot by 1 foot tall. You can either plant them singly or arrange the cubes in any arrangement: lines, squares, or rectangles. Using the square foot gardening concepts, Victory 8 Garden illustrates the number of plants that can be planted in one cube for most popular vegetables. Victory 8 Garden also sells DekProTek, which is a 1 foot by 1 foot wire mat, about an inch or two thick, that can be placed under the fabric container to allow air circulation and to protect the deck from too much moisture if the fabric containers are on a deck. http://www.victory8garden.com

DekProTek on left and a CuBe, folded with tag, on right

DekProTek on left and a CuBe, folded with tag, on right

New Plants Coming for Edible Gardens

When I wrote gardening articles for Chesapeake Home magazine, I would write an article every spring about new plant introductions. In the same vein, the following are a few new plants I learned from attending the Independent Garden Center (IGC) show at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Maryland. The IGC is “America’s largest marketplace for gardening products and plants.” As a trade show, I was allowed to attend as press, listen to speakers, as well as visit hundreds of booths where wholesale companies showed their products or plants to retail garden center staff. The following are new plants or ideas that I thought would be useful to people who are interested in edible gardening, have limited time & space, or are new to gardening in the Washington DC metropolitan area. Some of these will appear next year but if you don’t see these products in your local garden center, either ask for them or contact the company directly. This August 8 post will focus on plants and my next post will focus on products.

When growing veggies, I am very aware of color and size. Tiffany Heater, Burpee Home Gardens Program Representative, showed me ‘Tangerine Dream,’ a compact pepper plant with bright orange peppers. Perfect for containers, patios, and edible landscapes, these tapered peppers look like hot peppers but only have a “hint of heat.” She also showed me Ruby Frills Basil, a frilly purple basil plant that can be used in containers with other plants for color and culinary use. Burpee of course is a well known name with a wide variety of plants and seeds, but it is important to note that they have a Patio-Ready line of veggies and herbs for those who live in condos or apartments.

This is dating me but I remember years ago when HGTV was new and it was just one television show. This week, I met Allison Beukema, Marketing Manager with HGTV Home Plant Collection, who explained to me how HGTV has grown so much it is now HGTV Home with many shows; a glossy, full color magazine; a great web site; and now the HGTV Home Plant Collection. The HGTV Home Plant Collection consists of Expression Annuals, Essential Perennials, Smart & Stylish Shrubs, and Patio Veggies & Herbs. Because we were talking about edibles, she showed me the Patio Veggies & Herbs collection featuring “container ready, edible style for the patio” plants. Next year, your local garden center may be selling compact veggies like basil, eggplant, cucumbers, tomatoes, sweet peppers, and hot peppers in white plastic pots with green “HGTV Home” imprinted on the side.

I was fortunate to run into David Wilson, Director of Marketing at Overdevest Nurseries – I had met him years ago at another gardening event and he was as enthusiastic as ever. He showed me the Footprints Edibles, “the next generation of gardening.” Footprint Edibles includes blueberries, peppers, strawberries, rhubarb, Swiss chard, tomatoes, and many different kinds of herbs. His booth had racks of plants in biodegradable pots plus a mini cooking show. While Jonathan Bardzik, a local Washington DC chef, was demonstrating how to cook with these plants, David showed me how the plant tags are imbedded with a code. He scanned the Basil ‘Thai Magic’ with the digimarc app on his phone, which started a videotape of Jonathan making Thai Basil Whipped Cream. I told David I had seen QRC codes on plant tags before and they linked to recipes. He explained that this is different because it links to a video. (Naturally, after I got home, I downloaded the app, scanned the code on the Basil ‘Thai Magic’ picture on the brochure, and it worked!). In addition to this feature, the Footprints Edibles web site has many recipes and videos showing you how to cook with the veggie or herb you just bought. It isn’t just about the plant but how you can use it in the kitchen!

Chef Jonathan Bardzik demonstrating cooking with Footprints Edibles plants

Chef Jonathan Bardzik demonstrating cooking with Footprints Edibles plants

My next stop was Proven Winners, which will be introducing the Sugar Mountain series of haskap plants (Lonicera caerulea). These are very hardy plants that produce a blueberry type of fruit. They are supposed to be shrub like, not as particular about soil as blueberries, and deer resistant. Recently, Proven Winners introduced the Lifeberry series of goji berry plants (Lycium barbarum) and mine are doing well. These types of shrubs are easy ways to get fruit and the beneficial antioxidants in your diet. I then crossed over the aisle and talked with Heather Gartner of Pleasant View, which also grows plants for Proven Winners but specializes in annuals and perennials. Heather is a gardener herself and together we looked at the Proven Winners 2015 Collection book, which is over 250 pages, looking for perennials known to attract pollinators, which are necessary for growing vegetables and fruit. Heather recommended ‘Cat’s Meow’ catmint, which provides a lot of purple flowers, and the Color Spires line of perennial salvias (‘Pink Dawn’ was cool). I then admired a tropical plant in her booth, a Cuphea hybrid that will be introduced in 2015. ‘Vermillionaire’ was in full bloom with many small, orange tubular flowers. At my home in Virginia, it would be grown as an annual, but it would flower well in the hot humid summers and would attract many hummingbirds!

Sugar Mountain Blue Haskap

Sugar Mountain Blue Haskap

Peg’s Picks of August Gardening Events Washington DC Metro Area

Peg’s Picks of August 2014 gardening events for the Washington DC Metropolitan area with an emphasis on edible gardening

Virginia
The Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia host many events. The following are free, open to the public (that is, you do not have to be a Master Gardener), and registration is required. Call (703) 228-6414; e-mail mgarlalex@gmail.com; http://mgnv.org

  •  August 23, Saturday, 10:00 – 12:00 p.m., Fall Vegetable Gardening, Burke Branch Library 4701 Seminary Road, Alexandria, VA
  •  August 26, Tuesday, 7:30 to 8:30 p.m., Composting for Home Gardeners, Fairlington Community Center, 3801 S. Stafford Street, Arlington VA

The Master Gardeners of Prince William County has “Saturdays in the Garden.” Every month, from April through October, the Master Gardeners host an event from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm at the teaching garden at St. Benedict Monastery, 9535 Linton Hall Road, Bristow, VA., Free; must register in advance, (703) 792-7747. http://www.mgpw.org

Arlington Central Library hosts the “Garden Talks” series of free presentations every Wednesday evening from 7:00 to 9:00 pm starting mid-March through end of October. The website lists the topics and provides gardening resources for gardeners in the area. 1015 N. Quincy Street, Arlington VA; (703) 228-5990; http://www.library.arlingtonva.us/events/garden-talks/

Green Spring Gardens has several classes and workshops. Gardeners may be interested in “Backyard Composting Basics” on Saturday, August 2, 10:00 to 11:00 am. Registration and fee required via Fairfax County Park Authority’s ParkTakes; (703) 222-4664. 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA (703) 642-5173; http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/greenspring

Washington DC

Casey Trees is sponsoring a free Fruit Tree workshop, but must register in advance, Saturday, August 9, 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, Stuart Center, 821 Varnum Street, NE, Washington DC 20002; (202) 833-4010; http://www.caseytrees.org

The U.S. Botanic Garden is hosting “Fruits and Berries from City Lots Workshop,” in their conservatory classroom on Saturday, August 9, 10:30 am to 12:30 pm & a repeat performance on Sunday, August 10, 2:00 to 4:00 pm. The USBG has many other exhibits and events, check out their calendar on their web site.100 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington DC (202) 225-8333; http://www.usbg.gov

Maryland

The Washington Gardener magazine is hosting its 7th annual tomato tasting at FreshFarm Market in Silver Spring, Ellsworth Drive between Fenton Street and Georgia Avenue, Saturday, August 23, 10:00 am to 12:00 pm, free; http://washingtongardener.blogspot.com

The Behnke Nurseries Company has a variety of workshops including “Planting for Fall Crops” on Saturday, August 2, 10:00 am and 1:00 pm & Sunday, August 3, 10:00 am and 1:00 pm (same topic delivered four times). Free but registration required, (301) 937-1100l 11300 Baltimore Avenue, Beltsville, MD; http://behnkes.com

Learn to Grow Edibles at Grow It Eat It Open House

Next year, make plans to attend one of the Grow It Eat It Open Houses at the Agricultural History Farm Park in Derwood, Maryland. Grow It Eat It is Maryland’s Food Gardening Network, sponsored by the University of Maryland Extension. Managed by the Montgomery County Master Gardeners, all volunteers, the Grow It Eat It Open Houses are a great way to learn how to grow edibles in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area. This year, there was an Open House in March, May, and on Saturday, last weekend.

Cherokee Trail of Tears bean plant

Cherokee Trail of Tears bean plant

salad table in demonstration garden

salad table in demonstration garden

For this particular Open House, there were three concurrent “tracks.” One track was a series of presentations by Master Gardeners or Extension staff. I attended the first presentation entitled “Keeping Your Animals Out of Your Garden” in the conference room for an hour. Master Gardeners Erica Smith and Terri Valenti had an excellent powerpoint presentation and a very informative handout but what really added value was the fact that they have years of experience growing edibles despite many different animals in their area. They could answer questions easily, offer lessons learned, and were more than willing to spend time talking to people afterwards. Erica is responsible for many of the unique vegetables in the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden and writes for the Grow It Eat It blog. Terri has many years of experience growing a wide spectrum of edibles, including fruit trees. The second presentation was “Low Tunnels—How to Build and Use” by Master Gardener Gordon Clark. Gordon showed us how to erect a low tunnel, which is a method of erecting plastic over a garden bed to extend the growing season of small vegetables. Because he had been growing greens in the winter with this method, he was able to relate his experience and show us the materials he used. Starting from scratch, he pounded the rebars in the ground, erected the PCV pipes, and covered them with plastic in no time. It was easy to understand and easy to relate to the relatively low cost. I missed the third presentation on “Pests and Diseases” by Pat Lynch because I spent too much time in the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden looking at new veggies to try next year and talking to Master Gardeners. According to the brochure there was a presentation on food preservation by Faculty Extension Assistant Karen Basinger (the only presentation that had a fee and required registration), but I also wanted to hit a few farms on the Montgomery County Farm Tour and Harvest Sale so I had to leave early.

Gordon Clark bending pipe

Gordon Clark bending pipe

Concurrent to the other tracks, “Everything Tomatoes,” was attracting attention in a conference room/kitchen down the hall. Tomato enthusiasts were cutting many different types of tomatoes so people could taste and rate their favorite tomatoes. People were invited to share seeds, tomatoes, and recipes, sample tomatoes, learn how to save tomato seeds, and listen to cooking demonstrations all morning long.

Raising plastic over pipes to create a low tunnel

Raising plastic over pipes to create a low tunnel

The last track took place outside in the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden. The gardens themselves were very informative, people took time to make sure most of the plants were clearly labeled (which I always appreciate), and some signage had large timelines and photos depicting the plant’s growth. There were vegetables in containers, in beds, climbing up nets, and sprawling across arches; herbs in pots and in the ground; fruit shrubs; intensively planted beds; salad tables; straw bale gardening; flowers and bees and butterflies everywhere. A Master Gardener answered questions about composting; staff from the Montgomery County Recycling Center offered free compost bins and thermometers; and people demonstrated how to make trellises from bamboo. There were tables set up for Master Gardeners to distribute information on pollinators, gardening tools, starting seeds, and diagnosing plant problems. We had great weather and I came home with lots of handouts, ideas, and new veggies to try next year.

up close shot of ripe mouse melon

up close shot of ripe mouse melon

tromboncino squash

tromboncino squash

 

Lemongrass: Cheap Find at Market

 

lemongrass a month later, rooted one in pot showing new green growth

lemongrass a month later, rooted one in pot showing new green growth

Last month, my hairdresser told me that I could buy lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) from the market and root it by sticking it in water. My hairdresser is Thai and when I was young I lived in Chiangmai and Bangkok for four years so we always talk about Asian cuisine, plants, and gardening. Like a dutiful daughter, I went to the local Asian market and bought two stalks of lemongrass for two dollars. They did not have any roots but looked healthy and thick. I put one in a cup of water and kept it indoors by the window. I planted the other stalk in a pot of soil and kept it on the deck. If it did not rain, I watered it. A month later, the one in the cup of water shows no roots but the one in the pot rooted so well I had to dig the plant out with a trowel to be able to take photos of the roots. So that I don’t lose the one that did not root in water, I immediately put it in a pot of soil on the deck, hoping it will still root a month later. I have read that the stalks do root in water but mine did not for whatever reason.

lemon grass after bought from store, no roots

lemon grass after bought from store, no roots

The moral of the story is: get a lemongrass plant for a dollar at the Asian market. Lemongrass can be grown in a pot or in the ground but it can get as large as three feet tall with a fountain like shape of narrow, sharp leaves. It is grown for the leaves, not flowers, and requires full sun, warmth, and a well drained soil. Because of its strong vertical lines, lemongrass makes an excellent container plant for the summer, surrounded by flowering annuals. But it is a tropical and should be brought indoors in October here in Virginia before the frosts kill it.

lemongrass a month later, left one was in soil, right one was in water

lemongrass a month later, left one was in soil, right one was in water

As the name suggest, the leaves have a lemon fragrance and are used extensively in Asian cuisine. Chopped fresh stalks can be added to sauces, curries, soups, stir fries, seafood, chicken, and pork dishes. Commercially, lemon grass is used for ice cream, candies, and baked goods. It is also used in perfumes, candles, and cosmetics. At home, lemongrass can be used in potpourris, in the bath, or as a foot soak. Fresh or dried chopped stalks are used in beverages and teas. The stalks dry easily so feel free to harvest and dry if you do not want to bring the plant indoors in the fall. As an herbal tea, it makes the best lemon flavor plus it is relaxing to drink in the evening. In fact, I have been drinking Chamomile Twist, an herbal tea from the Spice and Tea Exchange in Old Town, Alexandria, that has dried lemongrass bits in it. Later, when my plants are well established, I will harvest stalks to dry for my own herbal tea blends.