Category Archives: vegetables

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, 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.

Local Demonstration Gardens: Learn Which Plants Grow Well In Your Area

African Blue Basil

African Blue Basil

As the summer ends, I like to visit the local demonstration gardens to see how the flowering plants and vegetables fared (especially during this hot, dry summer). Demonstration gardens are a great way to learn what works in the Washington DC metro area and how to manage our local issues, such as deer. The gardens are open to the public, every day, from dawn to dusk, free. Each county that has a Master Gardener program usually has at least one demonstration garden, managed by the volunteer Master Gardeners. To find such a garden, call your local county Master Gardener program representative (your local extension agent) and ask if they manage a demonstration garden. Some have several to showcase various environmental conditions and some use the garden as a place to teach or host workshops.

The Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia (Arlington and Alexandria) have five demonstration gardens:

  • Glencarlyn Library Community Gardens, corner of S. Third and S. Kensington Streets, off Carlin Springs Road, Arlington
  • Simpson Park Gardens (E. Monroe Avenue at the end of Leslie Avenue, next to the YMCA in Alexandria
  • Organic Vegetable Garden, Potomac Overlook Regional Park, Marcy Road, Arlington
  • Rock Quarry Shade Garden, Bon Air Park on Wilson Boulevard and N. Lexington Street, Arlington
  • Sunny Garden, Bon Air Park, Arlington

The Prince William County Master Gardeners manage a very large “Teaching Garden” at St. Benedict Monastery, 9535 Linton Hall Road, Bristow, VA. Within this large garden are mini gardens to illustrate certain conditions or issues, such as a deer resistant garden, shade garden, vegetable garden, and pollinator garden.

The Loudoun County Master Gardeners have Ida Lee Park on Ida Lee Park Drive, Leesburg, VA; which they also use as a teaching garden.

The Montgomery County Master Gardeners have a demonstration garden at the Agriculture History Farm Park, 18410 Muncaster Road, Derwood, MD.

The Prince Georges County Master Gardeners are fortunate to use the Kitchen Garden at the Riversdale Gardens and House Museum, 4811 Riverdale Road, Riverdale Park, MD.

To learn of more public gardens in the area, read the tab “Public Gardens” on my site, http://www.pegplant.com.

'Lady in Black' Aster

‘Lady in Black’ Aster

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!

August is the Time to Plant for the Fall and Winter Garden in the Washington DC Metro Area

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.

Virginia Cooperative Extension

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

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange is a Virginia-based seed company that also has very useful local information:

Fall and Winter Quick Reference

Fall and Winter Gardening Guide

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

Eggplant: Third Time Around

eggplant in EarthBoxThis is my third year of growing eggplant. I have my standard veggies I grow every year such as tomatoes and peppers but I also like to try varieties that are new to me. If the first attempt is not successful, I often try again and usually placing the plant in a different area of the garden helps.

The first year, I grew several Black Beauty eggplants in one garden bed by the side of the house. I started the seed indoors under lights early in the year and then planted the transplants outside in May. The plants grew well but the leaves were stippled. Tiny flea beetles had chewed small spots. This did not kill the plants, they still grew well but I got only one purple eggplant. The second year, I grew them in a different garden bed with better soil, more organic matter and more fertilizer. The plants were bigger with more leaves and very little flea beetles. They actually flowered quite a lot but the flowers withered, died, and fell off. No eggplant appeared. Because eggplants are wind-pollinated, the only thing I could think of was that there was not enough of a wind current in that area. The plants were in a bed that was a few feet away from a honeysuckle-covered fence. I even tried to hand pollinate with a brush but the regular maintenance of life made this difficult to do on a regular schedule.eggplant

This year, I am trying again. I started Black Beauty from seed indoors months ago. I actually got very good germination and end up with too many. I selected six robust seedlings and transferred them to my three EarthBoxes in May (EarthBox recommends two per box). An EarthBox is a self-watering container where the prescribed amount of fertilizer and dolomite are mixed in with the soil before planting. The plants do not dry out as quickly as if they were in a regular container because a screen separates the soil from a reservoir below so the roots can take in water if needed. For this experiment, it did not have to be an EarthBox, it could be any self-watering container big enough for eggplants with the proper amount of fertilizer. A self-watering container helps to alleviate the stress that occurs when the water fluctuates too much. Since I have to spend half my life in an office, I can’t always monitor the soil moisture level. Also, I happened to have three EarthBoxes because I used to grow tomatoes in them on the deck.

My theory is that growing the eggplants in an EarthBox with potting soil and the prescribed fertilizer and dolomite will provide the plants the optimum level of nutrients and soil texture so that the plants will not be stressed. Stressed plants attract harmful bugs and insects such as flea beetles.

I put one container on my deck in full sun and two by the other side of the house, also in sun.  They are deliberately placed in areas that get plenty of sun and cross-site ventilation.

eggplant flower budAs of mid-June, there are no or very few flea beetles, the leaves look very healthy, and I can see one flower bud. I know eggplant can be grown easily here in Virginia; I have heard others say they had bumper crops last year. Hoping for the best — gardening is an adventure!

Pak Choi Blooming Signals End to Spring

pak choi flowersWell I guess spring is over; the pak choi is blooming (or bolting as we gardeners say). I barely got to eat any, we have had so much rain here in Virginia.  I grow pak choi every spring. It is easy to start by direct sowing seed early in March but it bolts so quickly that harvesting in April and May must be a priority.  The stems and leaves taste good raw in salads or cooked, such as stir-fry. The flowers are a pretty yellow with four petals. Pak choi is a member of the cabbage or “Cruciferae” family, which is Latin for cross-bearing so all flowers in the family have the cross-shaped four petals and most are yellow colored. This one, Brassica rapa, is similar to bok choi, a type of Chinese cabbage, but smaller and milder to me.

Gardening is a lot like a play. There are several acts, each with its own set of actors entering the stage to give their performance and exiting to allow others the limelight. I am busy now helping other characters get ready for their scene that I let pak choi flower (eating now would be too bitter). In a month, during Act II, I will pull them out, save the seed, and replace with a mid-summer night’s dream.pak choi

Seedlings Ready to Go — Waiting for Rain to Stop!

Just waiting for the rain to stop so can plant marigolds, beans, and pumpkins!

marigoldsMarigolds, an annual that flowers all summer and into fall, can be started from seed easily (and cheaply if you saved seeds from last year!). I find it is best to start in a small container and then transplant. You can direct sow but birds may get them or rain may wash them away.

I had an old cell pack from something I bought at the nursery and filled with seed starting mix. Using a pencil to create a hole, I plopped a marigold seed into each cell, and watered. You can start inside under lights but it is not worth the space when you can  start outside in April and May and bring in if frost threatens. These are ready to transplant into the garden, it just has to stop raining!

beansBeans are so easy to grow you can direct sow or start in a container. Large seeds work well with jiffy peat pellets. After letting the pellets sit in a tray of water until they fully expand, pull back the netting at the top with two pencils, poke a hole, drop one bean per pellet and cover with soil.

bean rootsThese were started a while ago and have been ready to go into the garden bed but it has been raining!! You can see how the roots have come through the pellets and have interconnected themselves with other beans. When I plant these into the garden, I will separate, take off the netting, and remove the colored paper clips, which are my way of identifying the type of bean. I am starting different types of beans to celebrate this year as the International Year of Pulses (see my January article, https://pegplant.com/2016/01/25/celebrate-the-international-year-of-the-pulses-eat-more-beans/).

Pumpkins also are large seeds that are easy to grow. This one is from seed saved from last year’s Halloween  pumpkin, one seed per  jiffy peat pellet (see last Halloween’s article on saving seed, https://pegplant.com/2015/10/31/happy-halloween-and-dont-forget-to-save-those-pumpkin-seeds/). I love the way it is so self-contained but it is not quite ready to be transplanted. The large “leaves” are the cotyledons, formed during the embryonic stage. The inner piece of green are the true leaves emerging. I am sure by the time it stops RAINING, the true leaves will have grown to the point that this will be ready to transplant into the garden if it does not FREEZE again!! pumpkin seed

Local Resource for Growing Tomatoes Successfully This Summer

year-of-the-tomato-logoThe University of Maryland Extension (UME) has a fantastic “Grow It Eat It” program. This year, they have declared 2016 as the Year of the Tomato. To celebrate this popular veggie, they created a site devoted to learning more about growing, harvesting, and preserving/canning tomatoes, http://extension.umd.edu/growit/2016-year-tomato. The site has a variety of resources: a list of local UME offices, contact information for Maryland’s gardening experts, and the list of the Master Gardener plant clinics for getting answers to tomato problems. It also has a link to their Youtube playlist of tomato information; recommended cultivars; winners of the 2015 tomato tasting events; and tomato-related articles on the Grow It Eat It blog. Although this is a UME resource, the information is applicable to those of us who live in the Mid-Atlantic area so Virginia and DC residents can enjoy the bounty. If you ever wanted to grow tomatoes successfully, now is the time!

You Can Grow That: Lettuce

lettuceYou can grow lettuce, it is one of the easiest plants to grow in the spring. Lettuce needs very little soil to grow and tolerates cool days and frosty nights. In the spring, lettuce should be given as much light as possible. Think container gardening or  garden beds where trees have not leafed out yet.

In my Northern Virginia garden, I  sow seeds in containers and the garden bed in March and again every 2 weeks thereafter until the end of May. Lettuce seeds are very small so just press them into wet soil. Afterwards, make sure the soil does not dry out, which may mean watering often, depending on the weather. The squirrels like to dig in my containers on the deck so I apply a dust of blood meal. In the garden bed, the slugs like to dine at night so I throw down broken eggshells. I tend to sow too many seeds so as the seedlings emerge, I pull to create more space for the remaining soldiers and use them in salad or transplant to other areas of the garden that are waiting for the warm weather veggies. The nice thing about lettuce is that you can grow them before the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants so you don’t need more land; you just double up on your existing land. This year, I sowed lettuce seed in March in a very large Smart Pot called the Big Bag Bed–it is the size of a kiddie pool! By April, I was able to transplant quite a few in a garden bed. Just now, in May, I planted peppers in between the lettuce in the garden bed so by the time it is summer the lettuce will have been pulled (it will be too bitter) and the peppers will grow into the space.smart pot

My family prefers the loose-leaf and romaine varieties. Loose-leaf, or cut and come again, has leaves that are loosely splayed outwards from the crown. They are the easiest to grow, quickest to harvest, and come in a variety of colors.  The entire plant can be cut at the base but most people cut the outer leaves as needed so the younger, inner leaves can take their place. Within this group are some of the best heat tolerant varieties. Romaine, also called cos, is not as sweet to me but I find that homegrown romaine is much tastier than store bought. Its stiff, vertical leaves are great for sandwiches and wraps. Romaine has the highest nutritional value of all the lettuces so it is a feel good mommy lettuce.pepper with lettuce

There are two other types that I have not grown. Butterhead, such as Bibb and Boston, has small heads of dark green leaves. These plants are so tight they have to be cut at the base and harvested whole. Crisphead is the familiar Iceberg, a tight ball of light colored leaves that requires a long cool season so it would be too challenging for me.

Try growing lettuce, you would be amazed at how it is easy and tasty!

You Can Grow That is a collaborative effort by gardeners around the world to encourage others to grow something by posting gardening articles on the fourth of each month. Visit http://www.youcangrowthat.com/blogs/ for more articles.