Category Archives: edibles

Starting Cool Season Veggies in Northern Virginia

Here is a handy chart courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange. Seeds or transplants of cool season veggies can be planted when the temperatures are at least 40 degrees, which is March and April in Virginia.  There are two types of cool season veggies. Hardy types can withstand a heavy frost and  temperatures as  low as 40 degrees so they can be planted two to three weeks before the average last frost. In Northern Virginia, the average last frost date is between April 10 and 21 so I arbitrarily pick April 15 to be able to remember. That means that I can either directly sow seed into the ground the weekend of March 25 (because I work during the week) or (having started the seeds indoors) I can plant the small plants into the ground. Semi-hardy plants can withstand a light frost and prefer slightly warmer temperatures toward 50 degrees so they have to be planted later, two weeks before average last frost date which would be the weekend of April 1. If a severe temperature drop would to occur, I would protect the plants by covering them with empty 2-liter plastic soda bottles that had bottoms cut off.

cool-season-crops-infographic

Fall is the Time to Plant Yellow Potato Onions

yellowpotatoonionFall is the time to plant yellow potato onions. Also known as perennial onions, yellow potato onions are edible, like onions, but perennial as in once you have them, you will always have them. I first heard of potato onions (Allium cepa var. aggregatum) from Pam Dawling, manager of the Twin Oaks Community farm in Louisa, VA. She, along with folks who live there, grow a variety of vegetables on 3 ½ acres to feed the 100 people who live in the community. Just reading her blog gives me a lot of great ideas and information on growing vegetables here in Virginia, although on a much smaller scale. I looked to her neighbor Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (SESE) in Mineral for a source of potato onions. SESE sells vegetables, flowers, and herbs that do well in the mid-Atlantic and Southeast (i.e., our hot and humid summers) which makes them a good source of seeds and plants for my area. They too have a blog, a website, and a print catalog full of information for growing veggies in Virginia.

Although I ordered the potato onions in the spring when I ordered seeds, I knew they would not be shipped until the fall. My shipment arrived right before Labor Day and the bulbs were wrapped in a white plastic netting, along with a 4-page pamphlet on cultural requirements.

According to SESE’s pamphlet, potato onions should be planted in early to mid-November for my Northern Virginia area.  Because they are bulbs, it is best to plant them in a well-drained, sandy loam soil with a neutral pH. They are heavy feeders; nitrogen should be applied when leaves are 4-6 inches tall but not during bulb formation.  The bulbs should be planted with ½ to 1 inch of soil above the bulbs and a 2-3 inch layer of mulch to control weeds and protect against temperature extremes. Rows should be 6 inches apart. I have not decided where to plant them yet but I know I will have to find a full sun, weed free area that I can water often.

By summer 2017, the bulbs should have grown and divided to produce many more bulbs. Each individual bulb should form a cluster of bulbs at the base, which visible in the shipment I received. After I dig up the bulbs, I have to cure them, and then select the large ones to use in the kitchen, like an onion, and re-plant the smaller ones in the fall (hence perennial). I am looking forward to trying these in the garden and cooking with them next year.

Success with Eggplant This Year!

eggplant (2)On June 13, I posted an article about my frustrations with growing eggplant here in Northern Virginia. I had tried several times only to be defeated by flea beetles or improper pollination. This year I tried growing them in EarthBoxes and I am pleased to say it worked. Not only do I have plenty of eggplant but my family loved my  eggplant parmesan! I really like eggplant as a summer annual in the garden: structurally, the plant provides large striking leaves and dark purple fruit. Now I am inspired to grow different varieties and to try different eggplant recipes. Maybe even get a few more EarthBoxes!

Believe It or Not: Now is the Time to Plant for the Winter Garden in Virginia

mustard

mustard

August is the time for harvesting and enjoying the summer’s bounty in the vegetable garden while thinking ahead to a winter’s garden. Even though it is hot and humid, planting carrots, green onions (scallions), and cole crops such as cauliflower, broccoli, broccoli raab, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and collards will give great yields in cold months. Later or by September, also consider planting spinach, Swiss chard, radish, turnip, and Asian or hardy greens such as mustard, tatsoi, mache, and kale. You still have time to plant garlic: that’s in October.

To determine when to plant look at the “days to maturity” on the seed packet. Count backwards from the average first frost date (Halloween in Northern Virginia) to determine when to plant. But the difference between fall and spring planting is the “Short Day” factor, which may not be addressed on the seed packet. If you are going to plant seed, you have to add 2 weeks to the numbers on the seed packet to allow for the cooler night temperatures and the shorter day lengths.  For example, to sow spinach seeds add the 7 to 10 days for germination, 35 days to reach maturation, and 14 days for the Short Day factor for a total of 56 to 59 days. Therefore, the latest one can sow spinach seeds is the beginning of September. The length of time would be shorter if nursery transplants were used instead of seed because they have a head start.

mache

mache

Also, find out the best temperature range for seed germination (start indoors versus outdoors), keep the seeds moist during dry times in the summer, and get to know each crop’s tolerance for cold (soil and air) to know if you should provide additional warmth with row covers. Good sources to learn more about fall/winter gardening are the local extension offices.

Virginia Cooperative Extension

Fall Vegetable Gardening publication #426-334

Vegetable Planting Guide and Recommended Dates #426-331

University of Maryland Extension

Planting Dates for Vegetable Crops in Maryland #HG16

Vegetable Planting Calendar for Central Maryland #GE-007

Successes in my Virginia Garden: July 2016

Cardinal climber among oregano and sage

Cardinal climber among oregano and sage

July is a good time to take stock of the garden and determine what worked and what didn’t. This year I tried growing cardinal climber because I have banisters and rails in several locations on my property. Cardinal climber (Ipomoea x multifida) is a flowering vine, grown as an annual in Virginia. It is easy to grow indoors in the spring from seed which I obtained from Renee’s Garden. In May, I transplanted them outside and trained them up to the banisters with yarn. They learned quickly and began to wrap themselves around the banisters. Now that it is hot, they bloom every day in full sun. The flowers are bright red and simple but I discovered that they add a pop of color against the other plants. The leaves are very lacy and the vines are light enough to weave into neighboring plants (I like it when two or more plants tumble into each other’s space).  Cardinal climber is a winner in my book.

Vanilla Cream marigold with Cossack Pineapple ground cherry

Vanilla Cream marigold with Cossack Pineapple ground cherry

The other winner flower this year is ‘Vanilla Cream’, part of the Alumia series of French marigolds from Park’s Seed. I started the seed indoors in the spring although it was not necessary, I could have started them outside later. In May I plant them outside in a row in front of a vegetable bed so the lawn service crew wouldn’t get too close to the veggies with the weed wacker. The marigold plants have filled out nicely. Each bushy plant has several blooms at a time. The flowers are unusual for a marigold, they are anemone-shaped and bright yellow. I like the fact that they are a clear solid yellow — they glow like beacons in the garden.

ground cherry

husks pulled back from ground cherry fruit on spoon

Speaking of yellow, this year I grew Cossack Pineapple ground cherries. I bought seed from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and started them indoors under lights in very early spring. I was surprised at how well they germinated. In May, I transplanted several in my tomato patch and although I thought I gave them enough space I did not realize how fast they grew. Mine are a few feet wide and tall and completely cover the ground. Members of the tomato family, the fruit is small like a pea covered in a papery husk. The husks are green on the plant and gradually turn yellow and drop to the ground. I have learned that some of the ones on the ground are empty, maybe something got to them before I did, so I gather the ones on the ground and gently touch the yellow ones on the plant to see if they will drop into my hand. The fruit really does taste like pineapple but without the zing so more like a cross between a pineapple and an apple. They can be eaten raw, used in desserts, or used in savory dishes like salsa.

These are just a few success stories in my garden, more to come!

You Can Grow That: Hyssop for the Fourth of July

hyssopToday’s “You Can Grow That” falls on July 4. “You Can Grow That” is a collaborative effort by gardeners across the nation to encourage others to grow something by posting about a plant on the fourth day of the month. Because today is Independence Day, I chose to write about hyssop, a popular colonial herb. Hyssop, Hyssopus officinalis, was introduced to the Americas by John Winthrop, Jr., in 1631. It is documented that he brought hyssop seeds, along with other herb seeds, from England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It is also documented that Quaker farmer and America’s first botanist, John Bartram, grew hyssop in Philadelphia. George Washington grew this herb at Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson’s records mention hyssop at Monticello. Bernard McMahon, a Philadelphia nurseryman, included hyssop in his list of kitchen herbs in his book, The American Gardener’s Calendar, published in 1806.

Traditionally, hyssop has been grown for medicinal and culinary qualities. Hyssop tea helps with chest congestion. As an antiseptic, hyssop has been used to heal wounds. The leaves have a menthol taste and can be used to flavor green or fruit salads, make tea, or used in preparing meat or game dishes. Flowers are used as a garnish or in salads. The leaves and flowers can be used fresh or dry (they dry well). Hyssop also is used in perfumes, liqueurs, and wines and as a strewing herb.hyssop

Today, hyssop is popular as a landscape edible and beneficial plant for pollinators. Hardy to zone 3, it is a perennial in my Virginia garden which is partly why it was so popular with the colonists. It comes back year after year and seems to be deer and pest resistant. I certainly have had no problems with mine. Hyssop has dark green, lanceolate leaves that are opposite to each other on the stem and each pair is at right angles to the one above, giving a whorled appearance. The plant is bushy if left to grow to its height of 2 to 3 feet but can be clipped to be a border plant. Mine rewards me with purple flowers from June through August but there are white flowered and pink flowered types as well. The flowers are small but many on a stem, which can be cut for flower arrangements.

Hyssop can be grown in full sun or morning sun to afternoon shade, in well-drained soil, with little or no fertilizer. It is easy to grow from seeds, cuttings, or division and usually the large nurseries will carry it in the herb section in the spring to early summer.

Saturdays In the Garden with Prince William County Master Gardeners

tweety statue

Tweety in the Woodland Garden

This month I attended “Saturday in the Garden” at the Teaching Garden. Hosted by the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) Prince William County staff and Master Gardener volunteers, this month’s event was “Lessons from the Deer Resistant Garden, Woodland Garden, and the Four Seasons of Interest Garden.” For me it was a 45-minute ride from my house in Fairfax County to Prince William County but easy to find. The program was free and outside in the garden, from 9:00 am to noon. Set on the grounds of the St. Benedict Monastery, the Teaching Garden is quite large, in full sun with the exception of the woodland garden and home to deer, critters, and ticks.

Solomon's seal

Solomon’s Seal in Woodland Garden

About twenty of us sat in chairs under tents while Nancy Berlin, coordinator of the Prince William County Master Gardeners, presented the speakers, all Master Gardener volunteers, and agenda. We received a handout listing each garden’s inventory of plants and characteristics. There were three presenters for three garden beds who first talked for a few minutes under the tent and then guided us to the beds. We also visited the Cook’s Garden and had the opportunity to buy plants culled from the gardens. The Master Gardeners gave everyone water bottles, milkweed plants, and a variety of seeds.

Harriet Carter started us off in the Woodland Garden, which was heavily shaded and vulnerable to deer. This garden demonstrates alternatives to growing grass in tree-shaded areas of one’s yard and is low maintenance with drifts of mostly native plants. Although it is basically dry shade, the volunteers have rain barrels and soaker hoses to use during extended times of drought. At this time of year, June, there were no flowers but Harriet showed us large photos of the spring blossoms for each plant. Harriet pointed out hellebores, witch hazels, bluebells, woodland phlox, toad lilies (“which deer do not eat”), Solomon’s seal (“the foliage make a good groundcover”), wood poppies, and epimediums. Harriet has the lead on this particular garden and you could tell it is a labor of love. She is trying to develop a glen of ferns, is learning that the yellow twig dogwood needs more sun, and just planted a summer blooming rose campion for a little bit of color. She also pointed out the garden’s “mascot,” a statue of a girl with small birds on her arms, named Tweety.

bears breeches

Bear’s Breeches in the Four Seasons of Interest Garden

Jean Bennett gave us a tour of the Four Seasons of Interest Garden, which was one of the original gardens started by Sister Pat, a nun who also was a Master Gardener. This bed was created to show year round beauty and blooms from late March through mid-November. She said that in the winter they have colored bark from the yellow and red twig dogwood and flowers from witch hazels and hellebores. In early spring they have daffodils (they sell the daffodil bulbs in the fall), followed by iris and then dianthus, gaillardia, spiderwort, and red hot poker plants in the summer. One of the more unusual plants is the bear’s breeches. With its large coarse leaves, it is easy to see why deer don’t like them.  Jean recommended the sweet pepper bush as a nice native shrub to have at home. The threadleaf coreopsis and daylilies were just starting to bloom. The only ornamental grass in the garden was a red switch grass (“a great grass to grow in Virginia”). Currently its green blades are tipped with red but by fall the leaves will turn burgundy color.

Leslie Paulson showed us the Deer Resistant Garden although she cautioned that the only truly deer-resistant plant is the one the deer do not eat today. Leslie suggested using textured, thorny, fragrant, waxy, and/or poisonous plants. The younger the plant the more likely the deer will eat it and the younger the deer the more extensive their palate so they will try a wider variety of plants.

sumac

Sumac in the Deer Resistant Garden

Leslie showed us a beautiful sumac bush, only a few feet high. Sumac is a large shrub or small tree, very common on Virginian roadsides. It is more noticeable in the fall when the leaves change color but trained as a shrub in the garden, sumac adds elegance with its lacy leaves. Leslie recommended growing lion’s tail next to it because its tall orange flowering structures make a great combination. There was blue flowering nepeta which is in the mint family so deer do not like it (“the white flowering one behaves itself a lot better than the purple one”) and alliums (“all alliums are poisonous to deer”). There was a large area covered with fuzzy lamb’s ears, a low growing native type and a taller type with large flowers that bees love. Yarrow was blooming and two ornamental grasses, pink muhly grass and red switch grass, will provide color in the fall.

squashwithcontainer

Squash and Nasturtiums in the Cook’s Garden

Harriet gave us the tour of the Cook’s Garden which was fenced to keep out the groundhogs, rabbits, and deer. They use their own compost but are starting to experiment with cover crops such as alfalfa, buckwheat, and crimson clover to add nutrients back to the soil. To control small bugs they hand pick and put them in a jar with soapy water which they call the “bad bug swimming pool.” We saw potatoes blooming and tomatoes with basil planted nearby as a companion plant. There were Brussel sprouts under a row cover to keep bugs out, onions protruding out of the ground, and squash plants with nasturtiums nearby as a companion plants. Next to each squash plant was a plastic container with drainage holes submerged in the soil. Harriet explained that the squash leaves will cover the ground so filling the bucket with water will ensure that the water reaches the roots.  A large bushy cilantro plant was flowering in the corner, attracting pollinators. We then walked to another area that was netted on all four sides, much like a rectangular box, which contained sweet potatoes.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself and highly recommend this monthly event. I plan to go back at different times of the year to see how the plants change and to view the rest including the Zen, white, children’s, fairy, fragrance, mailbox, lavender, bee/butterfly/hummingbird, rock, shrub, and native plant sections. The gardens are open to the public every day but volunteers recommend that the public check in with the Monastery office before entering.

Saturday in the Garden is held once a month from April through October, 9:00 a.m. to noon, in the Teaching Garden, St. Benedict Monastery, 9535 Linton Hall Road, Bristow, VA 20136. The program is free but registration is requested to ensure adequate handouts and weather cancellation notifications. Call (703) 792-7747 or e-mail master_gardener@pwcgov.org to register; visit the link below for more information http://www.pwcgov.org/government/dept/vce/Pages/Saturday-in-the-Garden.aspx