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.

 

Lemon Cucs Taking Over Garden Bed

Baby Lemon Cucumber

Baby Lemon Cucumber

I suffer from “have-to-have-it” horticulturist syndrome – usually brought on by reading or seeing an unusual plant. I first read about lemon cucumbers (Cucumis sativus) last year but it was too late in the year to start them. This year, I started a few from seed from Renee’s Garden, an online source of vegetable, herb, and flower seeds. Lemon cucumber is an old plant, an heirloom, with fruit that are cucumbers botanically speaking but look like inflated lemons. They are light yellow and are not supposed to taste like lemons but are supposed to be sweeter or less bitter than regular cucumbers. I have never eaten one but my regular cucumbers tend to get bitter because I cannot keep even moisture levels so the theory is that lemon cucumbers will solve all of my problems.My plan was to have the vine veggies, the cucumbers and the pole beans, wind up together on two wooden door frames, the French door types with spaces for glass. Last year, I bought several from Rebuild Warehouse in Springfield, Virginia, for a few dollars, sans glass of course. Rebuild Warehouse has building materials or home appliances that can be recycled, including garden items. You can get a lot of useful structures for the garden very cheaply – check it out.

I was going to attach two frames to the wooden railing along the garden bed, but then the top rail of the fence broke off (which kid sat on it?) and one of the door frames broke so I only had one. We tied the one door frame, long side, to the wooden railing with twine. I planted only a few lemon cucumber and pole bean seedlings in May, after last frost.

It is mid-July and if I did not tell you I had planted pole beans, you would have never known they were there. The lemon cucumber plants are taking over the garden bed, threatening to run over the beans, peppers, eggplants, and lettuces. So many bees swarm over the bright yellow flowers that I have to carefully pick the other vegetables, hoping I don’t get stung.

Lemon cucumbers covering frame

Lemon cucumbers covering frame

I was so surprised at how large the lemon cucumber plants were getting that I looked at the seed packet again and noticed (maybe for the first time) “vigorous.” The word does not do it justice. This is more of a hostile takeover but I love the vigor. Anything that healthy has to be good and anything that healthy will be kept in check with the first frost.

I look forward to picking the fruit; a few are a few inches long already. Lemon cucumbers can be eaten fresh or pickled and I suspect the novelty shape and color will attract kids. If I get as many fruit as there are flowers, I may be bringing some to the garden club. So far, lemon cucumbers are a success but will let you know more at the end of the year.

Abundant Tomatoes!

Last year, all my tomatoes ripened at the same time, in August. But the seeds (Rutgers) and the plants (grafted Mighty ‘Matos®) were given to me so I couldn’t complain. I had three EarthBox® containers, each with a Mighty Mato and a Rutgers side by side for a total of six plants. Between the two types, I saw no difference. Both performed well, both grew to the same height, and both had the same yield. However, I think this is because they were grown in EarthBox® containers on the deck. I have been growing tomatoes in EarthBoxes® since we have lived in this house and have never had issues with tomatoes.

Abraham Lincoln as a young boy in May

Abraham Lincoln as a young boy in May

Abraham Lincoln as a young adult, end of June

Abraham Lincoln as a young adult, end of June

This year, I had planned to space out the harvest time so I bought a seed packet of an early season tomato, Stupice. Before I was able to buy more seed, I was given seed packets of Abraham Lincoln and Rutgers so what could I do but plant all of them. Growing tomato from seed is easy; you can even do it in egg cartons indoors. These particular tomatoes are called “slicers,” fruit large enough to slice for sandwiches. Tomato plants also are classified as determinate and indeterminate. Determinate plants stop growing after the flower buds set fruit so you harvest tomatoes for a few weeks tops. The plants are bush-like, 2 to 3 feet tall. Indeterminate plants are vine like; the plants will keep growing and producing new blossoms even after the fruit sets. You can harvest all summer long. Stupice, Rutgers and Abraham Lincoln are heirloom indeterminates so I will be picking for a while but this year, I may try saving seed to grow more tomato plants next year.

Candelabra-like clusters of flowers on Stupice

Candelabra-like clusters of flowers on Stupice

Tomato hornworm, plucked off tomato plant

Stupice spilling over EarthBox

So far, they are all doing well. I have two of each in each EarthBox for a total of six plants. There is so much lush green growth that I tie the vines to the wooden deck rails with torn up old shirts. As of mid-July, there must be a hundred little green tomatoes. Every day I look for that first blush of red. The Stupice is the best so far — great shape, does not flop over too much, and candelabra-like flower clusters that seem to hang in mid-air. Usually I have no diseases or pests but last week I spotted one tomato hornworm which I picked off and have not seen any more. Yesterday, tomato man peaked out from under the foliage but he’s a friendly.

Tomato hornworm, plucked off plant

Tomato hornworm, plucked off plant

We like to use the tomatoes in BLT sandwiches, salads, or just cut up raw with herbs. If I get too many I boil them for a few minutes, peel off the skin, and freeze in a bag. Later they go in the bean stew. For a special treat, we make bruschetta: top slices of French bread with a slice of tomato, a basil leaf, and a little cheese and broil for a few seconds. That’s summer!

Tomato Man

Tomato Man

 

 

Book Review: Jenks Farmer’s Deep-Rooted Wisdom

deeprootedwisdomRecently I had the opportunity to hear Augustus Jenkins Farmer, known as Jenks Farmer, speak at a local gardening club. The topic was crinums, a popular southern bulbous plant that produces tall clusters of lily-like flowers in the summer. Crinums are known for being excellent survivors, hard to kill, and often found in abandoned homes and cemeteries. Because he owns and operates LushLife Nursery, which specializes in crinum plants, he talked about the various types plus his own design experience. At the very end of the hour, he casually mentioned, almost as an afterthought, his new book, Deep-Rooted Wisdom: Skills and Stories from Generations of Gardeners. That, in a nutshell, is Jenks. He has a vast amount of horticultural education, experience, and knowledge but he is so humble and so down to earth that he almost forgot to mention his 248-page book. Writing it involved interviewing over 20 fellow gardeners, famous and not, across the southern United States as well as culling hundreds of color photographs to illustrate his manuscript and sidebars to further explain the point.

Although the title of Jenks’ book is Deep Rooted Wisdom, I think of it as back to basics. The second part of the title Skills and Stories from Generations of Gardeners is his roadmap to those basic principles. In his plain language style, Jenks writes about the basics of gardening through his experiences as well as through the lives of experienced gardeners. At the end, you don’t even know you have been taught horticulture.

Eleven chapters follow a simple format – first a common garden practice or skill and how it may have become complicated or changed over the years; second, the experiences of one or two teachers (other gardeners in the south); and third, “Updates and Adaptations,” a combination of the teachers’ wisdom with commonsense methods and practices for us to use, much like a take home lesson or summary. Starting with “Stacking Up,” Jenks expands on the traditional concept of an English “cottage garden” — a simple garden comprised of both beautiful and useful plants to, in this modern world, gardens in whatever little space exists to support plants that beautify as well as provide food. Through interviewing teacher Nan Chase who has an urban, edible garden and teacher Richard Hager who has a large, southern, cottage type garden, Jenks illustrates how plants can serve many purposes. In Updates and Adaptations, Jenks explains the many uses of bamboo, and how parsley, commonly thought of as a useless garnish, is used on his land as mulch, as a winter green, as a pretty flower that attracts pollinators, and as a useful herb in the kitchen. The second chapter covers soil but unlike other gardening books, Jenks explains the importance of soil microorganisms, including mycorrhizal fungi, and motivates you to use legumes to add nutrients back to the soil instead of synthetic fertilizers. Chapter three explains the importance of building up the soil with mushrooms and earthworms instead of tilling while chapter four favors watering by hand versus automatic watering systems in order to observe how the plants are doing. Chapter 5 and 6 are really about plant propagation – making cuttings and saving seed. By reading stories of how older generations have propagated and shared plants, you feel more comfortable trying a stem cutting yourself. Chapter 7 and 8 discuss hardware: making garden structures by hand and with natural material instead of buying everything from a store and using basic hand tools. Scavenging, my favorite chapter, is looking for the gem among the trash, looking for the plant that everyone forgot. It honors the lifelong tradition of finding and preserving plants in neglected areas. Chapter 10 teaches a holistic approach to insects and weeds and the last chapter, “Finding the Spirit,” encourages you to tell your own story through your garden while being aware that how you garden can impact the future of the land, as well as those around you.

Although Jenks has written for many national gardening magazines, this is his first book and I hope there are more to come. Born and raised on Beech Island, South Carolina, Jenks has a B.S. in Horticulture from Clemson University and a Master’s degree in Public Garden Management and Forestry from the University of Washington. He has spent years designing the Moore Farms Botanical Garden and the Riverbanks Botanical Garden, both in South Carolina. Although he still designs gardens, writes, and travels giving lectures, he and his partner Tom Hall operate LushLife Nursery and grow crinums for sale. Check out his great web site at http://www.jenksfarmer.com. Deep Rooted Wisdom: Skills and Stories from Generations of Gardeners was published in March 2014 by Timber Press, Portland, OR; with a foreword by Felder Rushing.

Local, Gardening Media in Washington, DC, Metro Area

Gardening is a culture in a world as vast as the country or as local as your neighborhood. There are traditional media outlets that focus on gardening across the nation and there are local media outlets in our neighborhood. Below is a list of the traditional, gardening-related media in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area. This is a great resource for people new to the area or new to gardening in this area. This does not include social media – only because social media is too vast to capture here but it certainly serves as a resource as well. This is current as of July 2014 and will be saved in the Media tab above.

Newspaper

Every Thursday, in the Washington Post’s Local Living, local garden editor Adrian Higgins writes a gardening article and Barbara Damrosch, who lives in Maine, writes an article on growing edibles. These are in the print edition and online (http://www.washingtonpost.com). During the growing season, on some Thursdays, Adrian answers questions from the public from noon to 1:00 pm. You can e-mail the question in advance or e-mail during that time period. If you missed the session, you can read the questions and answers in transcript format, online.

You may find local gardening clubs’ meetings in the Washington Post’s Local Living section. There are many small, local papers that list such clubs as well.

Magazines

The Washington Gardener is a locally produced magazine, published four times a year. To subscribe, contact the owner, Kathy Jentz, 826 Philadelphia Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20910; (301) 588-6894. WGardenermag@aol.com; http://www.washingtongardener.com,

The Virginia Gardener is produced by State-by-State Gardening, P.O. Box 13070, Ruston, LA 71273; (318) 255-3149; http://www.statebystategardening.com/va. There does not seem to be a magazine for Maryland or Washington DC.

Television

Fairfax Public Access sponsors the Gardening News & Views show with Dr. John Buckreis on Monday, 9:00-9:30 pm; Saturdays 8:30 am; and Thursday 7:30 am on channel 10.

Merrifield Garden Center has the Merrifield’s Gardening Advisor show, Saturday, 8:00-9:00 am, on NewsChannel 8; http://www.wjla.com/news/newschannel-8/. At the end of their presentation you can call in with a question. If you missed the show, you should be able to view it on your computer by visiting Merrifield’s web site (see the What’s Happening tab) — really it is on YouTube. http://www.merrifieldgardencenter.com.

Home and Garden Television (HGTV) has gardening and landscaping shows, check the TV guide or their web site at http://www.hgtv.com. PBS has a variety of shows, check out your local station. The old Victory Garden has now become Edible Feast, check out http://www.ediblefeast.com. They also have special gardening shows that you can view online on your computer.

Radio

Andre Viette has a live, call in radio program called In the Garden with Andre Viette on Saturdays 8:00-11:00 am aired at several local radio stations (http://www.inthegardenradio.com for all of them or http://www.viette.com). You can listen live from your computer or podcast as well, 1-800-274-4273. In Washington DC, it is WMET, 1160 AM; in Leesburg, VA, it is WAGE, 1200 AM; in Annapolis, MD, it is WNAV 1430 AM; and in Frederick, MD, it is WFMD 930 AM.

Mike McGrath, garden editor for WTOP, 103.5 FM, an all news radio station in Washington, DC, has one-minute “Garden Plot” sessions on Saturday and “Yard Warrior” on Friday morning. He writes a gardening column every Friday on http://www.wtop.com and you can e-mail him your gardening issue/questions. Mike also hosts a Public Radio Show called You Bet Your Garden on Saturday mornings but depending on where you live you may not be able to hear it as it originates in Philadelphia (http://whyy.org/cms/youbetyourgarden).

Garden Sense Radio is hosted by Rick Fowler and Jos Roozen of Roozen Nursery, Inc., are on Saturday, 8:00 to 9:00 am., WMAL AM 630 and 105.9 FM. Call 1-800-721-6003 or visit http://www.radiogardensense.com for more information.

Kingsdene Nursery and Garden Center, Monkton, MD; sponsors “The Garden Club” radio show with Alan Summers on Saturday, 7:00 to 8:00 am, WCBM 680 AM. Call (410) 343-1150 or visit http://www.kingsdene.com for more information.

Peg’s Picks for July Events

FRONTmdfarmtourfinal2014July is the time to visit the public gardens, many of which have tours. Because there are too many to list here, see the tab or page above entitled “Public Gardens” and call to find out if a garden near you has guided tours and/or events. July is also National Park and Recreation month, sometimes local parks have demonstration gardens, classes, and tours. Below are just a few edible gardening related events this month.

Brookside Gardens, 1800 Glenallan Avenue, Wheaton, MD, has a catalog of classes for the season and the July edible related ones are below. Great place to take kids too. Must register, fee involved; (301) 962-1451.
http://www.montgomeryparks.org/brookside/
July 10, 10:00 am to 11:30 am, Dealing with deer
July 16, noon to 1:30 pm cooking class, truly tomatoes
July 19, 9:00 to 10:30 am, Low Tunnel construction Demonstration

University of Maryland Extension’s “Grow it Eat It” has a free summer open house on Saturday, July 26, 8:30 to 1:00 pm at the Agriculture History Farm Park, 18410 Muncaster Road, Derwood, MD.
http://extension.umd.edu/growit

The Montgomery County Farm Tour and Harvest Sale will take place on Saturday and Sunday July 26 & 27. Most farms will be open 10:00 am to 4:00 pm both days. A map and brochure are on the website.
http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/AgServices/agfarmtour.html

Open to the public, the Takoma Horticultural Club will have a speaker at their meeting on Wednesday July 16, 7:30 to 9:00 pm, Historic Takoma Building, 7328 Carroll Avenue, Takoma Park, MD. The speaker is Mike McConkey, who will talk about growing and propagating fruit trees. Mike owns Edible Landscaping, a nursery in Afton, VA, that specializes in edible fruit trees/shrubs for the Mid-Atlantic area, see http://ediblelandscaping.com).
http://www.takomahort.org

The Virginia Cooperative Extension in Prince William County has “Saturdays in the Garden.” Every month from April through October the master gardeners will host an event from 9:00 am to noon at the teaching garden at St. Benedict Monastery, 9535 Linton Hall Road, Bristow, VA. Free but must register in advance, (703) 792-7747. On July 12, there is a lecture on simple ways to use water wisely in your landscape plus a talk on the fall vegetable garden, tips for planting the fall vegetable garden and extending the season.
http://www.pwcgov.org/grow

The Arlington Central Library hosts the “Garden Talks” series of free, one-hour presentations every Wednesday evening from 7:00 pm to 8:00 pm starting in mid-March through the end of October. The web site lists the topics and also serves as a resource for gardening in the area.
1015 N. Quincy Street, Arlington, VA; (703) 228-5990.
http://library.arlingtonva.us/events/garden-talks/

July 2: no events
July 9: Gardening with and for kids
July 16: Foraging the wild edibles
July 23: (indoors) How vegetables are used around the world
July 30: Therapeutic gardening