Category Archives: Uncategorized

Happy Halloween!

Yesterday I received the electronic newsletter from Hudson Valley Seed Library in New York with an image of several snapdragon seed pods as their “Happy Halloween” message. When dried, the seed pods resemble skulls, a perfect Halloween image. Naturally, I then cut my snapdragon stalks in my garden and brought them into the kitchen to see if I too had skulls. Sure enough, the dried seed pods look just like skulls with their hollowed out eyes and mouths.

snapdragon seed pods

How is this useful you ask? Halloween potpourri! Just imagine the orange of dried calendula petals, the black of large seeds or beans, and several dried skulls in a glass pumpkin. Or put the mixture in a small basket and glue more skulls to the basket’s handle with a hot glue gun.

closeup of snapdragon seed pods

Happy Halloween!!

Cool Season Edibles: Expand Your Horizons by Planting Seeds

mustard

mustard

Last year at this time, I was furloughed due to the government shutdown. On a happy note, I had plenty of time to work in the garden and visited several well-known garden centers in Northern Virginia and one in Maryland to peruse their selection of cool season edibles. I was surprised to see a very narrow selection: plastic packs of broccoli, kale, and lettuce; one type of an onion; one type of soft neck garlic; and in one place, one plastic bag of hard neck garlic. To their credit there were raspberry, blackberry, and blueberry bushes in large plastic containers, usually at a reduced price. But even that selection was not representative; there are many other fruit bushes and brambles that do well in this area.

Many people are interested in eating healthy and growing their own food so I find it perplexing that garden centers don’t capitalize on this in the fall like they do in the spring and summer. Growing vegetables is the same, it’s just different vegetables. Several of my spring plants like spinach are grown again in the fall. In fact, I often use the same package of seeds. But then, most of my plants are started from seed. If you want to learn more about what is really possible, if you want to expand your choices of edibles, try growing your plants from seeds. Find companies that sell seed, ask for catalogs, and order a few seed packages of cool season edibles.

While you may see a few broccoli and kale transplants in the garden centers, you will find many types of broccoli and kale not to mention brussel sprouts, red and green lettuces, spinach, mustards (like a lettuce but peppery), mache, chard, endive, arugula, turnips, broccoli raab, cilantro, and dill from companies such as Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Seed Savers Exchange, and Territorial Seed Company. If you look at their web site or their catalogs, you will find that within each of these types of plants, there are many varieties, some more cold tolerant than others.

mache

mache

Don’t forget the “Asian” or “oriental” greens which tolerate light frosts here in my Zone 7 garden. Some of these are sold by the aforementioned companies while Kitazawa Seed Company sells 20 varieties of Chinese cabbage, 20 varieties of mustard, over a dozen varieties of pak choi, and different varieties of tatsoi, mizuna, and edible chrysanthemum greens.

pak choi

pak choi

mizuna

mizuna

Although these are not harvested and eaten in the fall, I would be remiss if I did not mention the wide variety that exists in the Allium family. Like I said, I only found one onion, one soft neck, and one hard neck garlic in the garden centers. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange has about 7 of each type of garlic, plus elephant, Asiatic, and turban garlic. They offer Egyptian walking onions, white multiplier onions, yellow potato onions, and shallots. Small bulbs like these are easy to plant:  dig, drop, and cover! Seed Savers Exchange and Territorial Seed Company sell many different types of garlic and shallots and Territorial Seed Company also offers multiplier and walking onions.

These are only a few of the companies that sell these types of seeds and bulbs, and this based on 2014 catalogs I have at home now. I have no doubt that other companies sell cool season edibles; this was just to provide a snapshot of what is possible to grow in the fall in the Mid-Atlantic area. Don’t assume that what you see in your garden center is all there is to grow. The world is full of possibilities!!

October In My Garden – A Weekly Report

Japanese anemones

Japanese anemones

October is a busy time in the garden; the cool weather and moist soil make it possible to enjoy a multitude of gardening activities. In anticipation of frost, I threw away the eggplants (they don’t fruit anymore) and the remaining cucumber plants, but left the peppers and Swiss chard in the ground.

Octobergarden2014 055

roselle

My zinnias and Japanese anemones are still blooming, the yellow mums are happy with the purple asters (a great color combination), and (finally!) the roselle is blooming (see my September 13 post).

mums & asters

mums & asters

Plants are starting to change color, my favorite hydrangea, oak leaf (Hydrangea quercifolia), has a few red leaves. The panicles of tan and bone flowers are fragile dry but still very pretty (makes great cut flowers for vases that cannot hold water). However, my Annabelles (Hydrangea arborescens) have turned on me; their round flower heads are so black I cut them off and threw them away. The stems will get it in March next year to keep their shape.

oakleaf hydrangea

oakleaf hydrangea

Fall is a great time to get rid of the plants that are just getting out of hand. A few years ago I would have praised balloon flowers (Platycodon grandiflorus) as a great kid plant. Just before the petals open, the purple flowers inflate and my kids would pop them like bubble wrap.  A perennial, balloon flower emerges every year and grows to about 2-3 feet tall with arching stems.  In the fall, the leaves turn gold and the large seed pods disperse across the garden. Now, years later, I guess my garden has reached the point of significant mass of seeds, I can see small balloon flower plants all across the front garden, taking up space and creating havoc.  I ruthlessly cut the original plants back to prevent any more seeding and pulled out all the small, baby plants I could find. If you see a plant getting too aggressive, don’t be afraid to cut it back or pull it out.

balloon flower

balloon flower

Fall is also a great time for bean stew and I throw whatever greens I have into the crockpot. This time, I added Swiss chard (leaving a few leaves on the plants so the plants can still photosynthesis and grow) plus dried rosemary and thyme. For another dinner, I harvested the spinach, a cool weather green, and the red peppers to cook with chicken in a skillet.

Fall also is the time to lift and divide perennials. The previous owner had planted purple flowering, bearded irises and when we first moved here, I had divided them to the point that I had enough to fill the two front beds. Every April, a mass of purple would color the house for a few weeks but then for the rest of the summer, the green leaves would just sit there. Sure, they provided a green background for the front garden but now that I want more space for edibles, I decided to re-design the two beds. I cut the iris foliage back to 6 inches, pulled the rhizomes out, cut off the old & diseased parts, and gave the rhizomes to staff at the kids’ school, friends, and coworkers. I re-planted a few irises and I will lift and divide the yarrow (Achillea), red hot poker (Kniphofia), and black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia) from other beds to add color. In the spring, I will plant herbs and vegetables. Because the beds look a little empty now, the kids and I went to Grist Mill Park in Alexandria, Virginia, to fill bags with wood mulch to cover the beds. In Fairfax County, you can help yourself to free wood mulch year round at certain parks.  Later, as the county picks up the autumn leaves, you can get free leaf mulch, which is good for increasing organic matter. Since we don’t have a truck, we double bagged the Fiskars Kangaroo garden bag with 45 gallon plastic bags (get them at the hardware store). Wood mulch is heavy, we could only fill the bags half full but the leaf mulch should be much lighter, which we will get in November. November is a busy time in the garden; the cool weather and moist soil make it possible to enjoy a multitude of gardening activities . . .Septemberingarden2014 091

Fall is for Planting

Fall is Fantastic!  from Prides Corner Farms

Fall is Fantastic!
from Prides Corner Farms

It’s October — time to plant shrubs, trees, and hardy perennials. Fall is a great time to plant in our Washington, DC, metropolitan area. The cooler temperatures, increased moisture, and decreased sun/heat allow the plants to settle in the ground, send out roots, and get established. While the soil is still warm, roots continue to develop until the ground actually freezes so the plant’s energy goes into getting firmly settled in the soil, not on top growth. The shrubs, trees, and hardy perennials you buy now can be planted with minimal stress to them as well as to your wallet. Many garden centers are concerned with moving their inventory, especially the container grown plants that are outside. As winter approaches, discounts increase thus increasing the possibility of finding bargains.

Fall is such a great time to plant that today, October 1, the Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Terence R. McAuliffe, recognized October 2014 as “Fall Is for Planting Month” and “calls this observance to the attention of all of our citizens.”  Governor McAuliffe recognizes that “trees and plants support a healthy environment and are essential to human well-being.” For more on this proclamation, see https://governor.virginia.gov/newsroom/proclamations/proclamation/fall-is-for-planting-month/

Visit your garden center this month to enhance your landscape, support a healthy environment, and boost your well-being! For a list of garden centers in the Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC, area, view the “nurseries” tab at the top of my blog, http://www.pegplant.com.

Seed: To Save or Not To Save, That Is the Question

In my garden, I save seeds from certain plants every year and for others, I leave the seed for the birds. Seed saving is a great idea but whether or not you should save the seed depends on the plant.

dried seed pods on Hibiscus 'Lil' Kim'

dried seed pods on Hibiscus ‘Lil’ Kim’

If you are interested in saving the seed, ask yourself this: will you get the same plant as before? The first thing you need to find out is whether or not your plant is a hybrid or an open-pollinated plant. A hybrid is a plant that comes from the controlled cross breeding of two distinct species or cultivars. This is done intentionally to capture a desired trait such as flower color or disease resistance. If you saved the seed from this hybrid, the next generation will not look like your original plant. It will exhibit some of its parents’ (or even previous generations’) characteristics so you won’t retain the desired traits. For example, in September my Hibiscus syriacus ‘Lil’ Kim’ has interesting seed pods that look really easy to cut off, dry, and save. But this plant was deliberately created as a dwarf form of the species Hibiscus syriacus, commonly known as Rose of Sharon, a shrubby plant about 5 feet tall. If I planted the seeds next year, I would get a Hibiscus plant, that is one with hibiscus-like characteristics, but it may be small, medium, or large, with white, pink or lavender flowers.

If you have an open pollinated plant, the seed will produce the same plant as before with most flowers and herbs. There are exceptions in the vegetable world. There are some vegetables that self-pollinate such as tomatoes and beans so the seed retains the original characteristics. However, there are some vegetables that are pollinated by insects willing to travel to your neighbor’s garden to cross pollinate your neighbor’s vegetables with your vegetables. Peas, peppers, cucumbers, eggplants, melons, and squash are examples of vegetables that are cross-pollinated so the resulting seed may produce plants that do not have the same or desired traits as before. After you have decided whether saving the seed will result in the plant you want, consider these criteria:

1. Do you have enough of the plant or want more?

This spring I planted love-in-a-mist seeds (Nigella damascena), which I bought from the Green Spring Gardens gift shop in Alexandria, VA. Green Spring Gardens has stands of these small lavender-blue flowers that produce very interesting seed pods, perfect for dried flower arrangements. My seed only produced a few plants but fortunately, they flowered and produced seed. I want the seeds to disperse and germinate in the garden next year in the same place to get more plants (hopefully a stand of them just like at Green Spring Gardens). I could do this manually by saving seeds and planting next year or I could just let nature do it for me. I left the seed pods in the garden.

love-in-a-mist at Green Spring Gardens

love-in-a-mist at Green Spring Gardens

On the other hand, I have a few columbine plants, Aquilegia columbine, growing in one place.  I would like for them to grow in other places on the property so I cut the seed pods and put them in a paper bag. Later, when they were bone dry, I pulled the pods apart and put the tiny, glossy black seeds in a glass jar.

dried seed pods and seed from columbine

dried seed pods and seed from columbine

2. Is the seed useful in the kitchen?

I always grow plenty of dill and cilantro, some of which I harvest the leaves for cooking, some of which I leave alone and let the plants flower and “go to seed.” When the seed heads are brown, I cut them and let them drop into a paper bag and let dry some more. The dill seed is great for breads and rolls, the cilantro seed, which is known as coriander, is great for cookies and fruit salads. Sometimes, I use the seed for the garden the next year, just depends on how much baking is done in the winter.

dried dill seed head, in vase on napkin

dried dill seed head, in vase on napkin

3. Do you find it easier to save seed or just buy again next year?

The corollary being, how much time do you have? There are two basic methods for saving seed: dry and wet. With most of my herbs and flowers, I use the dry method because the seed themselves are in a dried pod so it is simple to cut the pods and put it in a paper bag. After a few weeks, when very dry, I put them on a plate, separate seed from the pod, and put the seed in a glass jar with a label. With pulpy, fleshy vegetables, I use the wet method. Parts of the fruit, such as tomatoes, are cut up or mashed and put in a jar with water. After days, depending on the plant, you eventually extract the seeds from the pulp and lay on a paper towel to dry.  The exact process depends on the vegetable. For detailed information on how to save seed (and for buying open pollinated seed), check out the Seed Savers Exchange (under the “Education” tab) and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (under the “Growing Guides” tab).

4. Do you want to attract birds or create winter interest?

If you want to feed the birds or try to achieve some architectural interest in the garden in the winter, you have to leave the seeds on the plants. I grow a lot of lemon basil because I use some plants for cooking while leaving others in the garden to flower and set seed. In late summer through fall, the yellow finches land on the swaying seed stalks and peck at the seeds. I also leave the coneflower (Echinacea) and black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia) plants alone. After they flower, they have stiff seed stalks and prominent seed heads that add interest in the winter and provide food for birds.

lemon basil plants gone to seed

lemon basil plants gone to seed

This September, my rue plant (Ruta graveolens) produced interesting seed heads far above the foliage. Rue is a well known herb but I use it as a landscape plant. Its gray, green foliage provides a lot of color and texture, it is drought resistant and seems to repel deer and critters, and it provides yellow flowers in the summer for me to cut and place in vases for the office. I was torn between harvesting the seed for more rue plants next year or leaving the seed heads for winter interest when I read that rue is a great companion plant for alpine strawberries (which I just grew this year) and for raspberries (which I also planted in my garden). Off with her head!

rue seed heads

rue seed heads

Learn More About Gardening – Join a Garden Club!

There are many local garden clubs, societies, and organizations in the Washington DC metropolitan area. When summer ends and school starts, it seems that many garden clubs get back into business again, ready to have meetings and host great events! Because we have so many organizations it is hard to list them all here but to find a club near you, it is best to go to a larger umbrella organization to inquire about the local unit, or search on the internet by plant name or city (for a neighborhood garden club), or visit related sites such as public gardens. See the other pages (tabs) on my blog for local public gardens and nurseries; they also can serve as resources for finding local clubs.

The American Horticultural Society is a national membership organization but its physical location is called River Farm, 7931 East Boulevard Drive, Alexandria, VA  22308, (703) 768-5700 or 1-800-777-7931; http://www.ahs.org. The property is open to the public (call first); they have beautiful gardens, a children’s garden, and picnic benches (is on the Potomac River). The web site lists plant societies including native plant societies, clubs, and organizations. http://ahs.org/gardening-resources/societies-clubs-organizations.

The blog section of the web site for Behnkes Nurseries, in Beltsville, MD, lists Maryland garden clubs such as the Beltsville Garden Club, Silver Spring Garden Club, Takoma Horticulture Club, Brookland Garden Club, Burtonsville Garden Club, and Four Seasons Garden Club. There also is an Annapolis Horticultural Society, Hyattsville Horticultural Society, and a Maryland Horticultural Society. http://blog.behnkes.com.

The National Garden Clubs, Inc., is at 4401 Magnolia Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63110; (314) 776-7574; http://www.gardenclub.org.  There are 50 State Garden Clubs and the National Capital Area Club and hundreds of member garden clubs. In this area, the state level clubs are: Virginia Federation of Garden Clubs, headquarters is at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, 1800 Lakeside Avenue, Richmond, VA 23228; (804) 262-9887; http://www.virginiagardenclubs.org. Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland, Inc., is at 4915 Greenspring Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21209; (410) 396-4842; http://www.fgcofmd.org.  National Capital Area Garden Clubs is at the Arbor House, U.S. National Arboretum, 3501 New York Avenue, NE, Washington, DC 20002; (202) 399-5958; http://www.ncagardenclubs.org. Contact them for a local unit near you.

The Garden Club of America is headquartered at 14 East 60th Street, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10022; (212) 753-8287; http://www.gcamerica.org. Membership is by invitation only but contact the headquarters to see if there is a club near you.

The Garden Club of Virginia sponsors the annual Historic Garden Week in Virginia in April. Their headquarters is at the Kent-Valentine House, 12 East Franklin Street, Richmond, VA 23219; (804) 643-4137; http://www.gcvirginia.org

There probably is a native plant society in every state. In this area there is the Maryland Native Plant Society, which has a Washington DC chapter, and the Virginia Native Plant Society. Contact the Maryland Native Plant Society via P.O. Box 4877, Silver Spring, MD  20914; http://mdflora.org. Contact the Virginia Native Plant Society via 400 Blandy Farm Road, Unit 2, Boyce, VA 22620; (540) 837-1600; http://www.vnps.org.

There probably is an association for every type of plant and most have local chapters. Search the internet for the plant and related association or call your local public garden or extension office. The American Horticultural Society has a list of plant societies that you can contact to identify the local unit. For example, in our area we have the:

  • Camellia Society of Potomac Valley
  • National Capital Dahlia Society
  • National Capital Cactus and Succulent Society
  • National Capital Daylily Club
  • Brookside Gardens Chapter of the Azalea Society of America
  • Mason-Dixon Chapter (MD) & the Potomac Valley Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society
  • Arlington Rose Foundation
  • Maryland Daffodil Society and the Washington Daffodil Society

There are opportunities to volunteer at public gardens, which is like being a member of a garden club. For example, there is a Friends of Green Springs in Alexandria, VA; Friends of Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, MD; and the Friends of the National Arboretum. There is a similar organization called the All Hallows Guild of the Washington National Cathedral, which has extensive grounds and a garden. The Cathedral is located at Massachusetts & Wisconsin Avenues, NW, Washington, DC 20016; (202) 537-2937; http://www.cathedral.org/ahg.

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

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